May 23, 2011

Tough Love for Israel

This is my letter to the President and Congress about the need for a viable Palestinian state.

I hope that you support President Obama's statement that for the peace and security of Israel and Palestine, Palestinians must have a sovereign state with contiguous territory based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps.

Israel truly will never have peace until they are willing to end their occupation and support a viable Palestinian state. Unfortunately Netanyahu made it clear that Israel is not yet ready to accept the existence of such a state.

I hope that you will use the considerable influence the US has with Israel because of the billions of dollars in aid that we give to them every year. Israel needs help to find the way to peace, call it tough love if you will. Because of our close ties to Israel and because of the substantial aid we give them, the United States is in the best position to give them that help. We can do that by making it very clear that while we do support Israel, we will not continue our aid while they are on their present self-destructive course.

Please let me know what actions you will be taking to bring about a just settlement for both Israel and Palestine.

May 04, 2011

May 4 - Student mobilizations

As it happens May 4 has been a significant date for several social justice movements led by students.

On May 4, 1919 a large demonstration in Beijing protested against the treatment of China in the Versailles treaty. The movement that this was a part of became known as the May 4 Movement. It was largely led by students who supported a broad liberalization of their society. They wanted to adopt western values of democracy and an end to the strict class divisions of traditional Chinese society. They supported literature in the vernacular language of the the people, rather than just being for the intellectual class. Politically they opposed foreign domination of China and thought that by adopting western values, China could become a self-reliant nation that could control its own destiny. This movement was very influential among intellectuals and students who later went on to reshape Chinese society.

On May 4, 1989 the democracy movement centered around Tienanmen Square in Beijing was building strength and marked the 70th anniversary of the May 4th Movement with a rally that brought out 100,000 people into Tienanmen Square. The Democracy Movement advocated an end to the domination of the Communist Party and the institution on democratic institutions and free speech. The movement paralleled similar movements in other Communist countries that led to the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In China, however, the movement was crushed when the military marched on Tienanmen Square on June 4, killing anywhere from several hundred to several thousand people.

On May 4, 1961 in the United States, the first of the Freedom Rides began. Students from around the country came to the South to challenge segregation of interstate transportation. They rode Greyhound and Trailways buses in groups of black and white people riding together and using the facilities at bus stations together in defiance of segregation laws. They were met with mob violence and eventually the governor of Alabama had to call out the National Guard to protect them and to forestall the use of federal troops. These rides were an important milestone for the Civil Rights movement and eventually forced the end of segregation in public transportation.

On May 4, 1970 four students at Kent State University were shot by the Ohio National Guard while protesting the Vietnam War following President Nixon's announcement that he was expanding the war into Cambodia. Their deaths and the death of two more students at Jackson State in Mississippi the night of May 14 sparked a nationwide student strike by as many as 4 millions students and mobilization against the war. Hundreds of universities closed down in the face of the protests. Many students were galvanized into action by the thought that "it could have been me". They were in danger if they were drafted to fight in Vietnam and now they were in danger if they stayed in school. They felt personally threatened and responded with renewed action against the war.

May 02, 2011

Obama’s Mission Accomplished Moment

Now is President Obama’s moment when he could declare that our mission to capture Osama Bin Laden has been accomplished and it is now time to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan and let the people there negotiate a peace agreement. That is the message of an ex-Marine who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and came out to the White House Sunday night to urge us to Rethink Afghanistan.

It took 10 years but they finally killed Osama Bin Laden. Its being presented as a victory for our side but really, 10 years for the largest and most sophisticated military machine in the world backed by the largest and most sophisticated intelligence service in the world to track down and assassinate one man is more of an embarrassment than a great victory.

What should be more embarrassing is the fact in the past 10 years we have killed far more innocent people than al Qaeda did on September 11 and in the decade since then. And the wars we started on the pretext of seeking revenge have escalated the violence, escalated the suffering and lent credence to al Qaeda’s strategy of violence. When Bin Laden conceived of the attacks on September 11, he hoped to lure the United States into a war in Afghanistan that would destroy its empire. This was, after all, a strategy that played a major part in bringing down the Soviet Union. Bin Laden hit the jackpot. He got the US into not one but two wars, in Afghanistan AND Iraq. Of course, he didn’t care about the devastation these wars would cause. He thought that that devastation would further his cause. And he found an enemy in George W Bush who also thought that war would further his cause without concern for the innocent people caught on the battlefield who died by the hundreds of thousands and were driven from their homes by the millions.

When President Obama stood before the cameras May 1 and announced his victory, I thought of the day in 2003, 8 years to the day earlier, when President Bush flew out to an aircraft carrier to speak under the now famous “Mission Accomplished” banner. Bush’s mistake was that he wasn’t satisfied to declare victory with the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime. If he had been able to declare victory and leave Iraq at that moment, he might now be remembered as the man who liberated Iraq, rather than the one who brought devastation to it. It is impossible to say for sure how that historical moment would have played out but it doesn’t matter because what Bush, and when I say Bush I mean the whole neo-con ensemble he fronted for, really wanted was occupation and economic domination by his corporate buddies of that country. The rest of the Middle East and the rest of the world was to follow. President Obama promised change but by and large he has followed the same policies in regard to the wars.

I was shocked and embarrassed for my country by the behavior of the crowds I saw on TV Sunday night. It looked like their team had won the Super Bowl, down to the guy with no shirt and a can of beer and the chants of “USA USA USA!” When some people celebrated after September 11, it was shocking and outrageous to us. Now more people have been killed and I can only think about how people in other parts of the world are going to react to our reaction. It is bound to boost the standing of terrorists just as their power was being undercut by the nonviolent power of the Arab Awakening in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere.

Our President tells us that our act of revenge will now likely lead to acts of revenge against us. And we will no doubt exact revenge for them. This leads nowhere. War is not the answer.