Archive for July, 2006

>The Anti-Empire Report

2006/07/31 Leave a comment

>Some things you need to know before the world ends

by William Blum (July 22 2006)

The End Is Near, but first, this commercial.

There are times when I think that this tired old world has gone on a few years too long. What’s happening in the Middle East is so depressing. Most discussions of the eternal Israel-Palestine conflict are variations on the child’s eternal defense for misbehavior – “He started it!” Within a few minutes of discussing/arguing the latest manifestation of the conflict the participants are back to 1967, then 1948, then biblical times. I don’t wish to get entangled in who started the current mess. I would like instead to first express what I see as two essential underlying facts of life which remain from one conflict to the next:

1) Israel’s existence is not at stake and hasn’t been so for decades, if it ever was, regardless of the many de rigueur militant statements by Arab leaders over the years. If Israel would learn to deal with its neighbors in a non-expansionist, non-military, humane, and respectful manner, engage in full prisoner exchanges, and sincerely strive for a viable two-state solution, even those who are opposed to the idea of a state based on a particular religion could accept the state of Israel, and the question of its right to exist would scarcely arise in people’s minds. But as it is, Israel still uses the issue as a justification for its behavior, as Jews all over the world use the Holocaust and conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

2) In a conflict between a thousand-pound gorilla and a mouse, it’s the gorilla which has to make concessions in order for the two sides to progress to the next level. What can the Palestinians offer in the way of concession? Israel would reply to that question: “No violent attacks of any kind”. But that would still leave the status quo ante bellum – a life of unmitigated misery for the Palestinian people forced upon them by Israel. Peace without justice.

Israel’s declarations about the absolute unacceptability of one of their soldiers being held captive by the Palestinians, or two soldiers being held by Hezbollah in Lebanon, cannot be taken too seriously when Israel is holding literally thousands of captured Palestinians, many for years, typically without any due process, many tortured; as well as holding a number of prominent Hezbollah members. A few years ago, if not still now, Israel wrote numbers on some of the Palestinian prisoners’ arms and foreheads, using blue markers, a practice that is of course reminiscent of the Nazis’ treatment of Jews in World War II. {1}

Israel’s real aim, and that of Washington, is the overthrow of the Hamas government in Palestine, the government that came to power in January through a clearly democratic process, the democracy that the Western “democracies” never tire of celebrating, except when the result doesn’t please them. Is there a stronger word than “hypocrisy”? There is now “no Hamas government”, declared a senior US official a week ago, “eight cabinet ministers or thirty percent of the government is in jail [kidnapped by Israel], another thirty percent is in hiding, and the other thirty percent is doing very little”. {2} To make the government-disappearance act even more Orwellian, we have Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in late June about Iraq: “This is the only legitimately elected government in the Middle East with a possible exception of Lebanon”. {3} What’s next, gathering in front of the Big Telescreeen for the Two Minutes Hate?

In addition to doing away with the Hamas government, the current military blitzkrieg by Israel, with full US support, may well be designed to create “incidents” to justify attacks on Iran and Syria, the next steps of Washington’s work in process, a controlling stranglehold on the Middle East and its oil.

It is a wanton act of collective punishment that is depriving the Palestinians of food, electricity, water, money, access to the outside world … and sleep. Israel has been sending jets flying over Gaza at night triggering sonic booms, traumatizing children. “I want nobody to sleep at night in Gaza”, declared Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert {4}; words suitable for Israel’s tombstone.

These crimes against humanity – and I haven’t mentioned the terrible special weapons reportedly used by Israel – are what the people of Palestine get for voting for the wrong party. It is ironic, given the Israeli attacks against civilians in both Gaza and Lebanon, that Hamas and Hezbollah are routinely dismissed in the West as terrorist organizations. The generally accepted definition of terrorism, used by the FBI and the United Nations amongst others, is: The use of violence against a civilian population in order to intimidate or coerce a government in furtherance of a political objective.

Since 9-11 it has been a calculated US-Israeli tactic to label the fight against Israel’s foes as an integral part of the war on terror. On July 19, a rally was held in Washington, featuring the governor of Maryland, several members of Israeli-occupied Congress, the Israeli ambassador, and evangelical leading-light John Hagee. The Washington Post reported that “Speaker after prominent speaker characteriz[ed] current Israeli fighting as a small branch of the larger US-led global war against Islamic terrorism” and “Israel’s attacks against the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah were blows against those who have killed civilians from Bali to Bombay to Moscow”. Said the Israeli ambassador: “This is not just about [Israel]. It’s about where our world is going to be and the fate and security of our world. Israel is on the forefront. We will amputate these little arms of Iran”, referring to Hezbollah. {5}

And if the war on terror isn’t enough to put Israel on the side of the angels, John Hagee has argued that “the United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West”. He speaks of “a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ”. {6}

The beatification of Israel approaches being a movement. Here is David Horowitz, the eminent semi-hysterical ex-Marxist: “Israel is part of a global war, the war of radical Islam against civilization. Right now Israel is doing the work of the rest of the civilized world by taking on the terrorists. It is not only for Israel’s sake that we must get the facts out – it is for ourselves, America, for every free country in the world, and for civilization itself.” {7}

As for the two Israeli soldiers captured and held in Lebanon for prisoner exchange, we must keep a little history in mind. In the late 1990s, before Israel was evicted from southern Lebanon by Hezbollah, it was a common practice for Israel to abduct entirely innocent Lebanese. As a 1998 Amnesty International paper declared: “By Israel’s own admission, Lebanese detainees are being held as ‘bargaining chips’; they are not detained for their own actions but in exchange for Israeli soldiers missing in action or killed in Lebanon. Most have now spent ten years in secret and isolated detention”. {8}

Israel has created its worst enemies – they helped create Hamas as a counterweight to Fatah in Palestine, and their occupation of Lebanon created Hezbollah. The current terrible bombings can be expected to keep the process going. Since its very beginning, Israel has been almost continually occupied in fighting wars and taking other people’s lands. Did not any better way ever occur to the idealistic Zionist pioneers?

But while you and I get depressed by the horror and suffering, the neo-conservatives revel in it. They devour the flesh and drink the blood of the people of Afghanistan, of Iraq, of Palestine, of Lebanon, yet remain ravenous, and now call for Iran and Syria to be placed upon the feasting table. More than one of them has used the expression oderint dum metuant, a favorite phrase of Roman emperor Caligula, also used by Cicero – “let them hate so long as they fear”. Here is William Kristol, editor of the bible of neo-cons, Weekly Standard, on Fox News Sunday, July 16:

“Look, our coddling of Iran … over the last six to nine months has emboldened them. I mean, is Iran behaving like a timid regime that’s very worried about the US? Or is Iran behaving recklessly and in a foolhardy way? … Israel is fighting four of our five enemies in the Middle East, in a sense. Iran, Syria, sponsors of terror; Hezbollah and Hamas … This is an opportunity to begin to reverse the unfortunate direction of the last six to nine months and get the terrorists and the jihadists back on the defensive.”

Host Juan Williams replied: “Well, it just seems to me that you want … you just want war, war, war, and you want us in more war. You wanted us in Iraq. Now you want us in Iran. Now you want us to get into the Middle East … you’re saying, why doesn’t the United States take this hard, unforgiving line? Well, the hard and unforgiving line has been [tried], we don’t talk to anybody. We don’t talk to Hamas. We don’t talk to Hezbollah. We’re not going to talk to Iran. Where has it gotten us, Bill?”

Kristol, looking somewhat taken aback, simply threw up his hands.

The Fox News audience does (very) occasionally get a hint of another way of looking at the world.

Iraq will follow Bush the rest of his life

Here comes now our Glorious Leader, speaking last week at a news conference at the G8 summit in Saint Petersburg, referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin. “I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there’s a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same thing”. {9}

It’s so very rare that Georgie W makes one of his less-than-brilliant statements and has the nonsense immediately pointed out to him to his face – “Putin, in a barbed reply, said: ‘We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly’. Bush’s face reddened as he tried to laugh off the remark. ‘Just wait'”, he said. {10}

It’s too bad that Putin didn’t also point out that religion was a lot more free under Saddam Hussein than under the American occupation. Amongst many charming recent incidents, in May the coach of the national tennis team and two of his players were shot dead in Baghdad by men who reportedly were religious extremists angry that the coach and his players were wearing shorts. {11}

As to a “free press”, dare I mention Iraqi newspapers closed down by the American occupation, reporters shot by American troops, and phony stories planted in the Iraqi press by Pentagon employees?

The preceding is in the same vein as last month’s edition of this report in which I listed the many ways in which the people of Iraq have a much worse life now than they did under Saddam Hussein. I concluded with recounting the discussions I’ve had with Americans who, in the face of this, say to me: “Just tell me one thing, are you glad that Saddam Hussein is out of power?”

Now we have a British poll that reports that “More than two thirds who offered an opinion said America is essentially an imperial power seeking world domination. And 81 per cent of those who took a view said President George W Bush hypocritically championed democracy as a cover for the pursuit of American self-interests.” The American embassy in London was quick to reply. Said a spokesperson: “We question the judgment of anyone who asserts the world would be a better place with Saddam still terrorizing his own nation and threatening people well beyond Iraq’s borders”. {12}

They simply can’t stop lying, can they? There was no evidence at all that Saddam was threatening any people outside of Iraq, whatever that’s supposed to mean. It may mean arms sales. Following the Gulf War, the US sold around $100 billion of military hardware to Iraq’s “threatened” neighbors: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Gulf States, and Turkey.

As to the world being a better or worse place … only Iraq itself was and is the issue here, not the world; although if the world is a better place, why am I depressed?

The peculiar idea of tying people’s health to private corporate profits

Steven Pearlstein is a financial writer with the Washington Post, with whom I’ve exchanged several emails in recent years. He does not ignore or gloss over the serious defects of the American economic system, but nonetheless remains a true believer in the market economy. In a recent review of a book by journalist Maggie Mahar, Money-Driven Medicine (Harper Collins, 2006), Pearlstein writes that the author tries to explain “why health care costs so much in the United States, with such poor results”. She has focused on the right issues, he says, “the misguided financial incentives at every level, the unnecessary care that is not only wasteful but harmful, the bloated administrative costs”. However, “in making the case that the health-care system suffers from too much free-market competition and too little cooperation, Mahar means to drum up support for a publicly funded national system. But in the end, she mostly makes a convincing case that no health-care system will work unless we figure out what really works and is cost effective and then get doctors, hospitals and patients to embrace it.” {13}

“Unless we figure out what really works and is cost effective” … hmmm … like there haven’t been repeated studies showing that national health plans in Western Europe, Australia, Canada, and elsewhere cover virtually everyone and every ailment and cost society and individuals much less than in the United States. Isn’t that “working”? I spent five years in the UK with my wife and small child and all three of us can swear by the National Health Service; at those times when neither my wife nor I was employed we didn’t have to pay anything into the system; doctors even made house calls; and this was under Margaret Thatcher, who was doing her best to cripple the system, a goal she and her fellow Tories, later joined by “New Labour”, have continued to pursue.

And then there’s Cuba – poor, little, third-world Cuba. Countless non-rich ill Americans would think they were in heaven to have the Cuban health system reproduced here, with higher salaries for doctors et al, which we could easily afford.

It should be noted that an extensive review of previous studies recently concluded that the care provided at for-profit nursing homes and hospitals, on average, is inferior to that at nonprofits. The analysis indicates that a facility’s ownership status makes a difference in cost, quality, and accessibility of care.{14}

Sale! Western Civilization! New, Improved! $99.99, marked down from $129.99. Sale!

There’s currently a call in the United States to get rid of the one-cent coin because it costs 1.2 cents to make the coin and put it into circulation and because many people find the coins a nuisance. I have another reason to get rid of the coin – hopefully, doing so would put an end to the ridiculous and ubiquitous practice of pricing almost everything at amounts like $9.99, $99.99, or $999.99. Or $3.29 or $17.98. What is the reason for this tedious and insulting absurdity? It began as, and continues to be, a con game – trying to induce the purchaser to think that he’s getting some kind of bargain price: Less than $10! Less than $100! In my local thrift shop, catering almost exclusively to poor blacks and Hispanics, virtually all prices end in .97 or .98 or .99. Every once in a while, when the nonsense has piled up to my nose level, I ask a shop manager or corporate representative why they use such a pricing system. They scarcely have any idea what I’m talking about. Sometimes in a shop when I’m discussing with a clerk the various price options of something I’m thinking of buying, and I say, “Okay, let’s see, this model is $60 and …” S/he’ll interrupt me with: “No, it’s $59.99”.

Is this any way for people to relate to each other? Comes the revolution, and we write a new constitution, Paragraph 99 will ban this practice.

You can’t make this stuff up

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread”. Anatole France, 1844-1924

On April 14 a federal appeals court ruled that the Los Angeles Police Department cannot arrest people for sitting, lying or sleeping on public sidewalks on Skid Row, saying such enforcement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because there are not enough shelter beds for the city’s huge homeless population. Judge Pamela A Rymer issued a strong dissent against the majority opinion. The Los Angeles code “does not punish people simply because they are homeless”, wrote Rymer. “It targets conduct – sitting, lying or sleeping on city sidewalks – that can be committed by those with homes as well as those without”. {15}


{1} Washington Post, March 13 2002, page 1

{2} Washington Post, July 16 2006. page 15

{3} Washington Post, July 3 2006, page 19

{4} Associated Press, July 3 2006

{5} Washington Post, July 2 2006, page B3

{6} Sarah Posner, The American Prospect, June 2006

{7}, Horowitz’s site

{8} Amnesty International news release, 26 June 1998, AI INDEX: MDE 15/54/98

{9} Associated Press, July 15 2006

{10} Ibid.

{11} The Independent (London), May 27 2006, page 32

{12} Daily Telegraph (London), July 3 2006, page 1

{13} Washington Post, July 9 2006, page F3

{14} Washington Post, June 21 2006, page 9

{15} Los Angeles Times, April 15 2006

William Blum is the author of:-

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
(Common Courage Press, 1995)

Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (Zed Books, 2002)

West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (Soft Skull Press, 2002)

Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
(Common Courage Press, 2004)

Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

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it if the website were mentioned.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Word Magic

2006/07/29 Leave a comment

>by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (July 26 2006)

One of the big impediments to a sane foreign policy is the bad habit of labeling and then believing in word magic. The instant something or somebody is labeled, our politicians and press began reacting to the label and not to the reality. That’s what general semanticists refer to as belief in word magic.

Words are just symbols, and quite often inaccurate symbols in terms of how they relate to reality.

The most obvious examples are Hezbollah and Hamas, which have been labeled “terrorist organizations”. We tend to think, sensibly, that terrorists’ main occupation is planning and executing attacks. So, if we examine Hezbollah and Hamas, that should be the case with them if they are indeed terrorists.

In fact, they are not. Hezbollah and Hamas have elected representatives in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories. The bulk of their work is humanitarian. They operate a welfare system and provide medical care and education facilities. Hezbollah maintains a militia, and there is a small military wing of Hamas. The military wing of Hamas has committed acts, primarily suicide bombings, that can fairly be called terrorist acts. But should the entire organization be labeled terrorist?

Hezbollah hasn’t committed a terrorist act in more than twenty years. All of its attacks have been against the Israeli military, with the exception of the Katyusha rockets that they fire in response to Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty. It is not an act of terrorism for a military unit to attack another military unit. These World War II rockets cannot be aimed except in a general direction. The logical definition of terrorism is an attack against civilians, and that includes what the US and Israel refer to as collateral damage.

(If you are killed or crippled by a high explosive, what difference does it make if it was delivered by plane, artillery, rocket or truck? For that matter, what difference does it make if the person killed you on purpose or just didn’t care if you got killed?)

Because of word magic, our government refused to recognize the Hamas government that was fairly elected in a free and democratic manner. We don’t talk to Hamas. Nor do we talk to Hezbollah. Because we have labeled Syria and Iran as “supporters of terrorism”, we don’t talk to them, either.

It’s pretty hard to conduct diplomacy with people you don’t talk to. If our government had taken the position that it would not talk to the Soviet Union and China, the Cold War would likely still be going on. Talking to people with whom you have disagreements is more important than talking to people who already agree with you.

Relations between nations are not unlike relations with people. There are only three alternatives that I can think of: You can talk to people; you can ignore people; or you can attack them. By far, talking is preferable to attacking.

As a result of our silly labeling and belief in word magic, we have zero influence with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Our politicians can bloviate to the media what these organizations and countries should do, but they are just adding to air pollution when they do so. In the Middle East, our word is no good.

That’s bad, because the Middle East is changing. Every time there is a free election, the Islamists win. It’s only a matter of time before paid-for allies – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan – have their governments displaced by people who admire Hezbollah and Hamas and hate us.

This doesn’t have to be, but to prevent it, we need to deal with reality and not with labels. We need to talk to people.

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten

Categories: Uncategorized

>Class Act

2006/07/28 Leave a comment

>by Lewis H Lapham

Harper’s Magazine (July 2006)

We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few.
We cannot have both. – Justice Louis Brandeis

Among the voices of conscience speaking truth to power during the raucous decade of the 1960s, none was more impassioned or as often heard as that of William Sloane Coffin Jrn, the once-upon-a-time chaplain of Yale University who died on April 12, in Strafford, Vermont, at the age of eighty-one. The obituary notices (“CIA Agent Became Beacon of Anti-War Movement”, “Preacher on Behalf of the Poor”) recalled the spirit of an age that wore its politics on its many and multicolored sleeves – protests against racial discrimination and the Vietnam War, demonstrations in favor of women’s rights, marches and counter-marches on the pilgrim roads to Woodstock, Selma, Chicago, and the Pentagon.

Coffin having been vividly present whenever the occasion demanded the issuance of a manifesto or the raising of a fist, the fact of his death prompted the latter-day custodians of liberal opinion in New York City to wonder why neither they nor any of their associates (politician, activist, consultant) seemed to know how to muster the moral or intellectual force to swing a wrecking ball into the crumbling facade of the Bush Administration. The concern was carried over the distance of a week’s news cycle as a topic of conversation invariably leading to a rhetorical question about the flowers gone missing in the old Pete Seeger song. Every morning’s paper was bringing reports of Republican incompetence and corruption; the president’s poll numbers were dribbling down the White House drains; large numbers of citizens (in Kansas as well as in California) were posting caustic sarcasms on the Internet (about the war in Iraq, the price of gasoline, the government’s plucking the feathers of the poor to fluff the pillows of the rich, et cetera), but the Democratic Party wasn’t formulating the principle of a coherent opposition, and where was Bill Coffin now that he was so sorely missed?

Unavailable for interviews and otherwise engaged, on April 20 the guest of honor at a funeral service in Riverside Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The plain pine box, simply dressed with white lilies and a folded American flag, stood in the center of the transept in front of a standing-room-only crowd of maybe 900 people brought together in praise of a life that most of them, men and women over the age of fifty, had come to know and love as members of the congregation that Coffin served as the church’s senior minister during the decade of the 1980s.

The ceremony began with a meditation for solo violin, and as it moved through the sequence of hymns, anthems, prayers, scripture readings, and choral responses, the words and the music brought to mind the separation of powers that over the last fifty years has resulted in the divorce of the country’s moral energies from its political thought and economic theory. The choir sang “America the Beautiful” and Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, the joint appearance on the program of the verses temporal and spiritual evoking the memory of a time and place when love of country wasn’t an emotion reserved for men in uniform. Bill Moyers said of Coffin, “There burned in his heart a sacred rage”, which echoed the once commonplace belief that the passions engendering the hope of secular justice and those acknowledging the proofs of divine justice were forged in the same fire. James Carroll’s eulogy summed up in a set of four paradoxes Coffin’s notion of democracy as a later and more expansive reading of the New Testament – “A first white man to stand with blacks in the civil rights movement. A patrician who was tribune of the nobodies. A patriot who had served his country nobly, but was suddenly in disobedient dissent. A critical thinker with a simple faith.”

Under the high and vaulted roof of neo-Gothic stone the singing of the choir drifted upward into a late afternoon light glorified by its passage through three tiers of stained glass, and as I listened to the pouring out of thanks for what Carroll praised as “the sermon that was his life”, I remembered the late Arthur Miller once saying of Coffin that if you know him long enough, you can almost become a Christian. Or, if not a Christian, a democrat in Coffin’s sense of the word – that is, anybody who knows that “to show compassion for an individual without showing concern for the structures of society that make him an object of compassion is to be sentimental rather than loving”.

In the distinction was the difference in feeling between what was taking place in Riverside Church and the election-year wisdom of a Democratic Party that over the last quarter of a century has come to resemble a troupe of performance artists capable of little else except the showing of emotion. The would-be friends of the common man (scriptwriters, fund-raising agents, politicians both incumbent and insurgent) can be relied upon to weep on cue – for the homeless and the oppressed, for endangered rain forests and disappearing Africans, for any aggrieved interest group that knows where to send the check. When, however, it comes to the work of restructuring the status quo, they find reasons not to fool around with the heavy machinery – to say nothing possibly unpatriotic or uncivil, to stay the course in Baghdad, vote for the bankruptcy and drug-prescription bills, endorse the windfall tax laws comforting the corporations and the top-tier rich. Best to let the Republicans lose the November elections on their own faith-based initiative.

Which was the message that Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, brought to the party faithful meeting in New Orleans on the same day of Coffin’s funeral. “The biggest issues of the election”, the chairman said, “are character issues”, and the Republicans were going to “lose big” on their sorry record of untrustworthiness and dishonesty. As a campaign slogan, Dean proposed “‘tough and smart’ because what the Republicans have done is tough and not very smart”. In answer to questions about what it was the Democratic Party might stand for, Dean said that sometime in September the committee probably would distribute some sort of “values piece”.

I didn’t know Coffin as a friend, or even as a remote acquaintance’; we’d been near contemporaries at Yale in the 1950s (Coffin graduating from the Divinity School in the same year that I graduated from the college), but we weren’t apt to run across each other at Mory’s or the Harvard game. When he became a public figure in the early 1960s – boarding a freedom-ride bus in Alabama, jailed in Florida and Maryland for consorting with black persons, helping students to resist the military draft, indicted by the federal government on charges of conspiracy – I got used to seeing him at hastily summoned press conferences, a man whose quarrels with Providence seldom failed to make the six o’clock news. If I couldn’t find my way to his belief in God or Jesus, at least I could take heart from his courage and his eloquence; his acts of civil disobedience I could place within the long-abiding tradition of Protestant dissent that came ashore at Plymouth Rock in 1620, founded Yale College in 1701, informed the sermons of Jonathan Edwards, gave voice to the essays of Henry David Thoreau, was still present in the pulpit of Battell Chapel when Coffin, delivering his first message as the university’s newly appointed chaplain in the autumn of 1959, told the arriving members of that year’s freshman class, “The Lord forbids our using our education merely to buy our way into middle-class security”.

Coffin’s preaching of what he called “the uncomfortable gospel” didn’t win the hearts and minds of the alumni content with the blessings of Mammon and firm in the opinion that a university chaplain was somebody with the good sense to know that the higher truths were best served by their translation into institutional press releases and expedient paraphrase. The paperwork marked Coffin as a man with the proper qualifications – born in the manger of wealth and privilege, raised in New York and Paris as a favored son of the American plutocracy, educated at Andover and Yale (1949) like his father, William (Yale 1900, a president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and grandfather, Edmund (Yale 1866, co-owner of W & J Sloane and Company), tapped for membership in Skull and Bones; four years in the US Army during and shortly after World War II followed by three years of service in the CIA; fluent in four languages, married to the daughter of Arthur Rubinstein, the virtuoso concert pianist.

The alumni perhaps could have forgiven Coffin’s way with words. (“Every nation makes decisions based on self-interest and then defends them in the name of morality”. “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat”.) What was damnable was the fact that the man not only practiced what he preached but also knew whereof he spoke. The chaplain’s wide acquaintance with the management teams that owned and operated the American oligarchy taught him the truth of Christ’s observation about the rich man and the camel, as hard for the one to enter the kingdom of Heaven as for the other to pass through the eye of a needle. The mistake was to think of the heavenly city as a travel destination, a place instead of a state of mind, the beachfront properties slightly more upscale but otherwise not much different from those available in Acapulco or Cap d’Antibes.

Coffin located the kingdom of Heaven in the freedom to love the world and all its miracles, none more wonderful than the people who inhabited it. At Yale in the 1960s, struck by the irony that “the young bent upon becoming wealthy and thinking they are fulfilling themselves are in fact limiting themselves”, Coffin presented the art and practice of democratic politics as a sure means of escape from the prisons of the self. “To love effectively”, he once said, “we must act collectively…” Or again, suggesting an all-purpose cure for the myriad forms of shriveling self-hatred, “Love measures our stature: the more we love the bigger we are. There is no smaller package in all the world than that of a man all wrapped up in himself.” The propositions aligned Coffin’s thinking not only with the teachings of Christ but also with the Baron de Montesquieu’s eighteenth-century treatise “The Spirit of Laws”, a text much relied upon by the framers of the American Constitution that grounds the working of a democratic government with the principle of virtue. Carried forward into the twentieth century, the idea of the res publica, being more valuable than “finances, opulence, and luxury”, found expression in Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal, in the Truman Administration’s enactment of the Marshall Plan, in John F Kennedy’s New Frontier (“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”), and in Lyndon Johnson saying of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “Should we defeat every enemy and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation”.

Coffin left Yale in 1975, his departure welcomed as a timely deliverance by the alumni who disapproved of his rendering so little ground to Caesar and deplored his all too frequent encounters with the police. After accepting appointment as senior minister of Riverside Church in 1977, he continued to speak in public, most often and most forcibly on the subject of nuclear disarmament, but it was easy to lose sight of him because the news media no longer were inclined to take notice of what he said. His voice went out of fashion in what came to be known as the Me Decade; small was beautiful, and it was thought wise to hedge the bets of idealism with prudent balances of self-interest. The investment proved sufficient to finance the bull market in utter selfishness that was the glory of Ronald Reagan’s Morning in America and continues to sustain the imperial narcissism of the current Bush Administration. Audiences believing that money is the answer to all their prayers don’t like to be told that instead of loving things and using people, “people are to be loved and things are to be used” or listen to Coffin say that “those who fear disorder more than injustice invariably produce more of both”, that “nationalism, at the expense of another nation, is just as wicked as racism at the expense of another race”, that “the police are around in large part to guarantee a peaceful digestion for the rich”, that “Hell is truth seen too late”.

When the benediction had been given, and as the congregation joined with the choir in the singing of the recessional, members of Coffin’s family (children, grandchildren, brother, cousins) carried the body out of the church at the height of their shoulders, bearing it aloft as if offering a gift or presenting a prize. So it was, and so it is for anybody prepared to honor or receive it. The composition of the crowd in the church – like the ones seen at performances of classical music in Lincoln Center, no A-list celebrities or delegates from the major news media in attendance, a television camera recording the event for archival purposes – pose the question as to whether we live in a society that still wishes to hear voices on the order and magnitude of Bill Coffin’s. He was a man of his time, exceptional but not an anomaly, one of many others in his generation who viewed the American political enterprise as the making of a joyful noise unto the Lord, a way out of their own loneliness and fear, a becoming part of the larger and more interesting self otherwise known as the public interest and the common good.

The Democratic Party’s embarrassing loss of its once abundant moral energies provided the topic for an essay published in The American Prospect during the week of Coffin’s funeral under the title “Party in Search of a Notion”. Michael Tomasky, the journal’s editor, likened the latter-day Democrats to dogs trained with electrical shocks to the condition of “learned helplessness”, crouching in the corners of “resignation and fear”, clutching their “grab bag of small-bore proposals” and their “hodgepodge of narrow and specific fixes”, afraid to come forth with a broad and generous vision of the just society that might give them the courage of their soidisant convictions.

Two years before he died, Coffin published a small book entitled Credo, summing up the lesson of his life and setting forth some of his thoughts about the meaning of democracy. Any anxious Democrat looking for a bigger issue than the one dreamed of in the philosophy of Howard Dean wouldn’t need to do much more than copy out the text 500 times on the nearest blackboard.

Lewis H. Lapham is the National Correspondent for Harper’s Magazine.

Bill Totten

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>Kill ‘Em All, Let God Sort Us Out

2006/07/28 Leave a comment

>Landmines and WMDs are Verboten. Ban Bombs Too

by Ted Rall (July 25 2006)

The bloodied faces of the Shaito family, decimated when an American-made helicopter gunship fired a missile into their minivan, has become the symbol of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. “Don’t go to sleep, mama!” Ali Shaito shouted through a torrent of tears mixing with his own blood. “Don’t die! Please don’t die!” A widely distributed photograph caught the sad-eyed Muntaha Saito’s last moments. A mother to her dying breath, she used her last ounce of strength to reach out to comfort her frantic son. Muntaha’s sister, mother Nazira and uncle Mohammad were also killed in the attack. Eleven other members of the Shaito family, who had evacuated their village after they were ordered to do so by the Israeli military, suffered severe injuries.

The Israeli military said that the Shaito van was hit as part of a barrage of twenty missiles fired at vehicles “suspected of serving the terror organization [Hezbollah] in the launching of missiles at Israel, and were recognized fleeing from or staying at missile-launching areas”. The Israelis were thousands of feet away. How could they have “recognized” anything? Obviously, they couldn’t.

Accidental killings of civilians are inevitable in war, but casualty rates have soared in wars waged by the United States and other wealthy nations that unleash high-tech air forces against defenseless enemies. Western militaries increasingly rely upon aerial bombardment in lieu of deploying infantry troops on the ground, who can see what’s what and who’s who – but expose themselves to greater risk. The result of this bombing-oriented policy is the reverse of what one should expect from civilized countries, and it’s why the United States has killed more innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq – about 200,000 – than enemy troops.

Anyone who has witnessed modern warfare firsthand can see that bombing is a sloppy business. I watched helplessly in 2001 as B-52s pulverized a town in northern Afghanistan, killing hundreds of civilians in an area controlled by the Northern Alliance – America’s ally against the Taliban. It wasn’t the pilots’ faults. How could they know who was doing what thousands, if not tens of thousands, of feet below? They didn’t and they couldn’t, no more than the IDF helicopter personnel who launched that lethal missile at the Shaito’s van. It defies logic, common sense and the facts, yet the American, Israeli and other Western militaries continue to perpetuate the fiction that they (a) have access to reliable intelligence and (b) use reliable intelligence to target their bombs and missiles.

According to neutral observers in southern Lebanon, Israeli warplanes have been bombing vehicles indiscriminately, even in areas where they had dropped pamphlets warning civilians to flee. According the New York Times, “Lebanese Red Cross ambulance drivers complained about narrowly avoiding Israeli fire themselves as they cleared out the wounded, and a Lebanese freelance photographer, Layal Najib, 23, was killed when an Israeli missile struck near her car, about five miles from near the scene of the Shaito family bombing”.

If, as our leaders repeatedly claim and most citizens believe, our object is to kill our enemies while sparing civilians, bombs, missiles and other aerial projectiles consistently fail to deliver. They are almost never effective in combat. In 2002 a Hellfire missile targeted an impoverished Afghan nicknamed “Tall Man” Khan because a drone plane operator mistook him for the even taller Osama bin Laden. Another Hellfire attack in January 2006 killed 18 civilians, including five women and five children, in Pakistan. Ayman al-Zawahiri, whom the US claimed to have killed in the Pakistan bombing, later turned up on an Al Qaeda video. From the bunker filled with Baghdadi civilians blown to bits during the first hours of the US invasion of Iraq to the thousands slaughtered in the indiscriminate bombing of Fallujah, the history of bombing is one of repeated failure followed with official claims of success.

The word “indiscriminate” is inherently inseparable from “bombing”. The claim that bombs can strike their targets with pinpoint precision is one of the greatest marketing scams ever perpetuated on the American public. So why the hell do we keep using them?

For one thing, bombs – or more accurately, bomb makers – are stocks. Politically connected defense contractors are paid handsomely to replace the billions of dollars worth of bombs we drop on Muslims – the vast majority of whom we have nothing against. But there’s a second, even more disturbing reason the American people lend their tacit consent to the cult of Bomb ’em All, Let God Sort Them Out: We value the lives of our troops a lot more than those of civilians in other countries. We’re willing to slaughter them en masse in order to minimize casualties among our own.

Think about it: 200,000 dead Afghans and Iraqis, but no one – not even the left – really cares. 2,500 dead American soldiers, and Bush’s popularity sinks to those of cable companies and month-old liver. As far as we are concerned, a foreigner’s life is worth a thousandth of an American’s … maybe less. Perhaps our transparent disregard for foreigners’ lives is why they take us less than seriously when we come to “liberate” them.

If we want to rule the world, we can continue to murder the citizens of other countries with the cavalier attitude of a child squashing an insect. If we want to lead the world, we should ban the use of bombs, missiles and other barbaric tools of indiscriminate terrorism against civilian populations, and urge other nations to do the same.

Ted Rall is the editor of Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists, a new anthology of webcartoons.

Copyright 2006 Ted Rall

Bill Totten

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>History: Flux or Narrative

2006/07/27 Leave a comment

>Hegel’s notion of progress is oddly relevant to today’s politics

by John Gray

New Statesman (July 17 2006)

There is something comic in the unflagging appeal by political thinkers to the belief that history is a process of dialectical development. In its original meaning in Greek philosophy, dialectic meant the give and take of argument. There was no suggestion that it applied outside the sphere of philosophical reasoning, and Socrates – its supreme practitioner – did not imagine that the logical structures of argument would ever be replicated as large-scale movements in history.

The modern idea of dialectic came later, when Hegel fused Greek logic with the Christian belief in history as a redemptive narrative. History came to be seen as an inherently rational process, each phase of which includes and transcends all that has gone before. The charm of historical dialectic is that it underwrites progressive hopes. Hegel’s fantasy captivated Marx, and generations of western leftists looked to the Soviet Union as embodying the next stage of historical development: secular, socialist and internationalist. After an interlude of more than seventy years, Russia has returned to Orthodoxy, Eurasian geopolitics and a type of capitalism not too different from that of the late-tsarist period. Today, many of the same leftists look to the US as the vanguard of the global civilisation they once foresaw in the Soviet Union – a deliciously barmy view at a time when the US is in the grip of Christian fundamentalism and US power is in steep decline.

As the Greeks understood, history is a process of drift; where there are patterns to it, they are commonly cyclical rather than dialectical. Yet there are times when something like a dialectical transformation can be glimpsed amid the chaos. Such a shift seems to be under way in the microcosm of the British two-party system.

Margaret Thatcher aimed to destroy socialism in Britain, and in this she succeeded; but she thereby removed the enemy in relation to which her party had defined itself for most of the 20th century. With their reason for existence gone, the Conservatives began to fall apart. New Labour completed the process: by defining itself in Thatcherite terms, the party removed the last remnants of the Conservatives’ identity. At the same time, Labour set a limit on its political viability and guaranteed its own demise.

While new Labour remains locked in the rhetoric and policies of the 1980s, the Tories have moved on. Aiming to recreate the stodgy, deferential Britain of her childhood, Thatcher created the highly fragmented and individualistic country we have today. By making peace with the society she unwittingly brought into being, David Cameron has signalled the end of the Thatcher era, and thereby of new Labour, an unalterably Thatcherite construction. He has no intention of reversing any of Thatcher’s – or Blair’s – core policies; indeed, he is likely to extend them. Yet by consigning Thatcher to the memory hole, he has made new Labour redundant and ensured its collapse. In a process that will surely delight all who believe in the logic of history, the Tories have emerged as the dialectical negation of Thatcherism that is poised to take Thatcherism to an even higher stage of development.


Copyright (c) New Statesman 1913 – 2006

Bill Totten

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>The Insane Brutality of the State of Israel

2006/07/27 Leave a comment

>Atrocities in the Promised Land

by Kathleen Christison, former CIA analyst

CounterPunch (July 17 2006)

Words fail; ordinary terms are inadequate to describe the horrors Israel daily perpetrates, and has perpetrated for years, against the Palestinians. The tragedy of Gaza has been described a hundred times over, as have the tragedies of 1948, of Qibya, of Sabra and Shatila, of Jenin – sixty years of atrocity perpetrated in the name of Judaism. But the horror generally falls on deaf ears in most of Israel, in the US political arena, in the mainstream US media. Those who are horrified – and there are many – cannot penetrate the shield of impassivity that protects the political and media elite in Israel, even more so in the US, and increasingly now in Canada and Europe, from seeing, from caring.

But it needs to be said now, loudly: those who devise and carry out Israeli policies have made Israel into a monster, and it has come time for all of us – all Israelis, all Jews who allow Israel to speak for them, all Americans who do nothing to end US support for Israel and its murderous policies – to recognize that we stain ourselves morally by continuing to sit by while Israel carries out its atrocities against the Palestinians.

A nation that mandates the primacy of one ethnicity or religion over all others will eventually become psychologically dysfunctional. Narcissistically obsessed with its own image, it must strive to maintain its racial superiority at all costs and will inevitably come to view any resistance to this imagined superiority as an existential threat. Indeed, any other people automatically becomes an existential threat simply by virtue of its own existence. As it seeks to protect itself against phantom threats, the racist state becomes increasingly paranoid, its society closed and insular, intellectually limited. Setbacks enrage it; humiliations madden it. The state lashes out in a crazed effort, lacking any sense of proportion, to reassure itself of its strength.

The pattern played out in Nazi Germany as it sought to maintain a mythical Aryan superiority. It is playing out now in Israel. “This society no longer recognizes any boundaries, geographical or moral”, wrote Israeli intellectual and anti-Zionist activist Michel Warschawski in his 2004 book Towards an Open Tomb: The Crisis of Israeli Society (Monthly Review Press). Israel knows no limits and is lashing out as it finds that its attempt to beat the Palestinians into submission and swallow Palestine whole is being thwarted by a resilient, dignified Palestinian people who refuse to submit quietly and give up resisting Israel’s arrogance.

We in the United States have become inured to tragedy inflicted by Israel, and we easily fall for the spin that automatically, by some trick of the imagination, converts Israeli atrocities to examples of how Israel is victimized. But a military establishment that drops a 500-pound bomb on a residential apartment building in the middle of the night and kills fourteen sleeping civilians, as happened in Gaza four years ago, is not a military that operates by civilized rules.

A military establishment that drops a 500-pound bomb on a house in the middle of the night and kills a man and his wife and seven of their children, as happened in Gaza four days ago, is not the military of a moral country.

A society that can brush off as unimportant an army officer’s brutal murder of a thirteen-year-old girl on the claim that she threatened soldiers at a military post – one of nearly 700 Palestinian children murdered by Israelis since the intifada began – is not a society with a conscience.

A government that imprisons a fifteen-year-old girl – one of several hundred children in Israeli detention – for the crime of pushing and running away from a male soldier trying to do a body search as she entered a mosque is not a government with any moral bearings. (This story, not the kind that ever appears in the US media, was reported in the London Sunday Times. The girl was shot three times as she ran away and was convicted to eighteen months in prison after she came out of a coma.)

Critics of Israel note increasingly that Israel is self-destructing, nearing a catastrophe of its own making. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy talks of a society in “moral collapse”.

Michel Warschawski writes of an “Israeli madness” and “insane brutality”, a “putrefaction” of civilized society, that have set Israel on a suicidal course. He foresees the end of the Zionist enterprise; Israel is a “gang of hoodlums”, he says, a state “that makes a mockery of legality and of civil morality. A state run in contempt of justice loses the strength to survive”.

As Warschawski notes bitterly, Israel no longer knows any moral boundaries – if it ever did. Those who continue to support Israel, who make excuses for it as it descends into corruption, have lost their moral compass.


Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and has worked on Middle East issues for thirty years. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession. She can be reached at

Bill Totten

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>In a Perfect World

2006/07/26 Leave a comment

>by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (July 24 2006)

In a perfect world, military power would match the brainpower of the people who wield it. Alas, it’s not a perfect world, and the mismatch between power and smarts is sometimes wider than the Grand Canyon.

Remember when Paul Wolfowitz was in the Defense Department? Why, he told Congress that the Iraqis will greet us as liberators and Iraqi oil will pay for the war and the reconstruction. Can’t beat that deal – getting rid of a dictator the president doesn’t like virtually cost-free.

Well, about a half-trillion dollars and more than 2,500 dead Americans later, it is safe to say that Mr Wolfowitz was wrong. He was wrong about the greeting, wrong about the oil, wrong about the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. Fortunately, he’s gone to the World Bank, where the only things he can screw up are economies.

Donald Rumsfeld was wrong, too. He thought a light force could quickly end the war. It did win the first war, against Saddam Hussein’s obsolete, demoralized conventional forces. It’s still fighting the insurrection that followed. A few weeks ago, the US military announced a major crackdown that was going to clean out Baghdad street by street, house by house. Well, weeks later, the US military announced that attacks in Baghdad have increased by forty percent. Looks like “housecleaning” was a little more difficult than the generals figured.

Last week, the Israelis sent a special-ops force into Lebanon to ambush the Hezbollah fighters. Instead, Hezbollah ambushed the Israelis. Israel is learning for the second time that conventional forces don’t fare well against guerrillas. That’s why Hezbollah is in south Lebanon and the Israelis, who occupied it for twenty years, are not. Don’t blame the Israelis, however. We learned the same lesson in Vietnam and promptly forgot it in time for the Iraq War.

Since it is clearly impossible to keep dunderheads and other less-than- brilliant people out of power, we should concentrate on reducing the power of government. That was the strategy of the Founding Fathers. They wanted government to be difficult, not easy or streamlined. That’s why they put all the checks and balances in the Constitution.

But the checks and balances have all been eroded, starting with Abraham Lincoln, who simply appointed himself dictator. But we the people could put them back if we tried hard enough. Making war impossible without a formal declaration of war by Congress would be a good start. It’s already in the Constitution. Politicians just ignore it. Voters should penalize every politician who ignores the Constitution.

Making sure that nothing in the Defense Department budget lasts more than two years is another brake on power. That, too, is in the Constitution, but, of course, the politicians evade it. Everything connected with the military should sunset every two years. Make defense officials start from scratch and justify every dollar they want to spend. We are already the biggest spender on the military in the solar system, and what has it gotten us? Wars we can’t win, terrorist attacks we can’t deter, diplomacy that has been gutted in favor of force, and a ticket to the bankruptcy court somewhere down the line.

We need to amend the Constitution so that when there is a dim bulb in the White House, he or she will have to get permission from two-thirds of both houses of Congress before he or she can push the nuclear button. Needless to say, a large number of the worst weapons in the world are controlled by one of the worst leaders in the world. Until he learns to handle a hurricane, I don’t think he should be trusted with World War III.

It would also be a good idea to cut off the air conditioning in the Senate and the House and their office buildings, starting every April 30 and lasting until October 1. That would not only save a lot of energy, but it would probably spur Congress to get its work done on time.

Well, a fellow can dream, can’t he?

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten

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