August 29, 2013

Push TIAA/CREF into doing the right thing

GUEST: Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace Director of Advocacy, talks about boycotting corporations that profit from the illegal Israeli occupation.

One such corporation is TIAA/CREF. It invests in many Israeli companies that make products in the illegal settlements of the West Bank.

TIAA/CREF also puts shareholders assets into companies like Caterpillar that sells the special bulldozers used to destroy Palestinian homes.

Many of us can raise these objections with TIAA/CREF because we have invested a part of our college salaries in the firm. Where is the "moral investing" that TIAA/CREF talks about in its literature? 

But there is progress. 
Steve Tamari, TIAA-CREF Investor said: “I welcome the news that as a TIAA-CREF investor, I am no longer profiting from SodaStream, whose main production facility operates in an illegal settlement on Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. I urge TIAA-CREF to drop the remaining companies in their portfolio profiting from confiscating Palestinian land and contributing to illegal settlement expansion. I hope in the coming year to see TIAA-CREF divest from the French multinational Veolia, which operates transportation, water-treatment, and garbage services for illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.”
Now is the time to do your part.

August 28, 2013

Arc towards justice

GUEST: Ellie Bernstein, Hudson Valley activist and director of the new film, "Ghost Town: The Hebron Story," talks about the challenges of film making in the occupied West Bank.

We all do what we can to bring justice for the Palestinians. I used to think it was a simple matter of letting enough people know about Israel's ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. But things must be more complex to have lasted this long. There is the Israeli Lobby with its money, religious fanaticism, and virtual chokehold over Congress and the president. There are the weapons manufactures and defense contractors that have put us all on the "cross of iron." There is the disinterest of the American and Israeli people. Human rights for Arabs?

So we just keep plugging along, with boycott stickers, letters to the editor, film showings, etc., hoping that one day Martin Luther King's view of history will prove to be correct. Let us continue our work to bend that arc towards justice.

August 15, 2013

Journey back from the abyss

GUEST: Rami Efal, former Israeli guard in a maximum security prison for Palestinians, talks about his journey from being a member of the Israeli Defense Force to meditating in a Buddhist monastery and translating "Breaking the Silence" testimony into English.

One of the first things that Rami did when he came to America is to find a Palestinian to talk to. He had never really met one, even though he had served for a time in a maximum security prison for Palestinians.

Rami is political in his brutal honesty about growing up in a country that doesn't think about its occupation of the Palestinians. Palestinians  are only dangerous non people. That is where Rami started his journey of self discovery, and I think that peeling back the layers must have taken a lot of courage.

I particularly liked Rami's connection to Breaking the Silence. The IDF soldiers we have interviewed on Activist Radio have never been angry. Only honest, brutally honest.

Rami talks about becoming centered by acknowledging of the truth around oneself. For peace to come, Israel has to make this same journey back from the abyss of racism and militarism.

Beware the Neighborhood Watchman

By Gary

I was recently discussing the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman case with David Marc, who is known for his books in the communications, but is also an astute political observer.  We were lamenting the fact that the legal case in Florida, and most of the media conversation, has focused almost exclusively on the question of whether Zimmerman acted in self-defense.  In a court of law in a state which has adopted “Stand Your Ground” legislation and the balance of justice is heavily tilted toward the person who pulls the trigger, this should not come as a shock.  But in the media, writers, reporters, and editors are not limited by the narrow prescripts of the law.  Their conversation need not be so blinkered; they are free (even obligated) to entertain broader concepts such as justice, ethics, and history.

David noted that in all the commentary regarding Martin’s murder (let’s call it what it is), no one, not even Al Sharpton, raised the history of Neighborhood Watch groups.  Zimmerman was not just a passing bystander; the sole reason for his presence on that Florida street was in the role of neighborhood watchman.  He was, in other words, looking for trouble.  In his armed defense of his turf, Zimmerman was following in the footsteps of the most notorious neighborhood watch group in U.S. history: the Ku Klux Klan.  Just like George Zimmerman, Klan members felt themselves to be protecting the safety of their neighbors and extending the arm of law and order.  And, just as many in the community have rallied to Zimmerman’s defense, the Klan was a fraternal organization that enjoyed broad support for much its history.  After a period of decline, which came after Jim Crow laws institutionalized the intimidation of Blacks, the Klan revived in the 1920s as a powerful anti-immigration, anti-Semitic, anti-civil rights group with an estimated 4 million members nationwide, many of whom participated in a massive march on Washington in 1925.  Only after decades of murder and mayhem did the Klan come to be seen by a majority of Americans as the terrorist organization that it was.

But is the Klan an extreme outlier, or merely the foremost example of a strain of violent vigilantism that runs through the history of the country?  There has always been a thin line in the U.S. between the reflex for self-preservation and self-determination on one side, and a faith in law and law enforcement on the other.  Anyone who has participated in a protest or committed an act of civil disobedience has crossed that line.  But such acts are borne of a profound (perhaps na├»ve) belief in the power of organized citizens to make things better by putting strategic pressure on the prevailing powers.  Amazingly few of such actions have been violent.  Protesters generally wish to improve the law, not take it into their own hands.  In other words, a protester may be an outlaw, but he/she is not a vigilante.

What is the difference?  The outlaw is driven to act by intolerable circumstances and takes only those measures which will restore the balance of fairness and justice.  Driven more by need than greed, he/she is likely to be an anti-war or environmental activist, a whistleblower, or just a shoplifter of food and clothing, but not a gun-toting bank robber or revolutionary, despite frequent media portrayals to the contrary.  He/she acts out of conviction or desperation, not fear.  The vigilante, by contrast, takes extra-legal action because he/she has allows fear of “the other” – someone of a different color, caste, or ethnic group – to overcome all restraint and empathy.

The great tragedy in the Martin/Zimmerman affair – beyond the murder of a teenager – is that Stand Your Ground, both the law and the mentality, has legalized and institutionalized vigilantism.   Stand Your Ground follows a long-established American tradition in which punishment is preferred to forgiveness, incarceration is stripped of opportunity for rehabilitation or redemption, and more energy is spent blaming victims than seeking social solutions.  It is a bold step toward a brutal, dystopian society in which fear and hatred are protected, and guilt or innocence is irrelevant.

But it is crucial to recognize that this is not an inherent human condition, a kind of survival of the fittest in which “fitness” is defined by who the quicker trigger finger.  Stand Your Ground doesn’t make our streets safer – quite the opposite – and it isn’t really intended to.  It is part of a larger campaign that seeks to maximize corporate profits, minimize public resources that cannot be monetized or exploited for competitive advantage.  Technically, Stand Your Ground is an extension of the so-called Castle Doctrine, which allows a person to use deadly force to defend their home.  But this law makes a radical leap.  This law is not about giving families the right to protect themselves, but creating a right for any White person with a pretext to shoot first and (maybe) ask questions later.

This break with legal and ethical tradition did not come as the result a grass roots movement, but is the product of a concerted campaign driven by an unholy alliance of three forces: gun manufacturers, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  Seizing the opportunity afforded when Republicans established majorities in many state legislatures, ALEC drafted model Stand Your Ground legislation and, supported with millions of dollars from gun manufacturers and other ALEC member businesses, joined the NRA in lobbying for its adoption.  In a remarkably short time, Republican officials in 22 states adopted the law, often word-for-word, from the ALEC template.

Usefully, The Tampa Bay Times has conducted an extensive case review of Stand Your Ground claims.  Their research points unequivocally to the fact that the Zimmerman defense, which played shamefully on racist fears of young Black males, is consistent with most Stand Your Ground cases that come to court (remember, law enforcement wasn’t even going to bring charges against Zimmerman until there was an outpouring of outrage).  When the shooter is Black, conviction is likely; when the perpetrator is White, much less so.  In America, a young Black man is simply not free; even if he is minding his own business, he can be gunned down and then portrayed as a perpetrator.  As one blogger put it, Trayvon Martin was put on trial for his own murder…and found guilty.

 If fear is the animating force behind most vigilantism, the truly scary thing is that race-based fears are so broadly shared and widely condoned.  The Zimmerman case is not an isolated incident; the violence is not the result of personal vendetta, but of tribal warfare.  The Southern Strategy, perfected by staunch segregationists such as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, and adopted almost whole in recent decades by the Republican Party, is based on planting fears among White Americans that their tenuous standing in society is threatened by Black people, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, or other “others.”  Recent demographic shifts only exacerbate these fears.  New voter suppression laws, which purport to fight a voter fraud problem that does not exist, are desperate attempts to maintain White supremacy by disenfranchising minority, immigrant, and student groups.

One might view these draconian laws on a superficial, Republican vs. Democratic, level.  But Stand Your Ground, Voter ID, and other so-called reforms aimed at reducing health care, privatizing education, or rolling back environmental and workplace protections, are part of a bigger power grab.  In each of these cases, the victims are either poor or sympathetic to those in poverty.  This divide, between those entrenched, moneyed powers (the 1%) who impose austerity, and the working stiffs (the 99%) who cling to their dreams of democracy even as their economic and social security is decimated, is a global problem that poses just as great a threat to the survival of the species as climate change.  Whether the agent is the Republican Party, the Tea Party, or the Klan, they are all doing the grunt work for the plutocrats. From their ranks will inevitably emerge vigilantes like George Zimmerman, a home-grown terrorist.

August 14, 2013

GUEST: Bill Moyer, co-founder and Executive Director of the Backbone Campaign, talks with us about the creative use of theater and spectacle in the resistance.

How to change the direction of our country from empire to constitutional democracy? Some countries have made the transition, but many have not. Empires always enrich the elite, but do so by first exploiting the rest of the world, and then by cannibalizing the home country.

Julius Caesar expressed his horror at what his fellow citizens had become. A few, very rich families owned everything, and everyone else lived on the breadline. Welcome to the New American Century.

Bill Moyer has found a way through his Backbone organization to resist our emerging dystopia. He does it with theater, satire, and a certain youthful bravado (see the projection on the Bank of America branch above).

Without fun, the revolution is a very stogy thing indeed. But theater brings more than that to our national discourse. It forces all of us to look at our surroundings in a different way. Instead of being inviolate, our banks can be exposed and even ridiculed for their constant lawlessness and overriding greed.

Break Up B of A! My hat is off to the Backbone Campaign!

August 2, 2013

Consequences of our flawed reasoning

GUESTS: Members of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign flotilla. We go to their encampment on the Hudson River.

I very much enjoyed my interviews at the encampment near Saugerties. I was impressed by the number of people in the flotilla, as well as their organization. There were hundreds of people being fed and entertained.

I also realized that my political thinking is somewhat restricted when compared to indigenous philosophy. Their subtile and polite message is that the "newcomers" to their world have been greedy and destructive, putting all life on earth in peril. In a way, their thinking is closer to the truth than so much of our political discourse. Our brightest minds are looking for a technological fix for our wasteful and self indulgent lives, so that we can continue living as we want. Many of us suspect that approach to be self deception. Our natural world is too complex for a new variety of GMO, a new oil pipeline or nuclear power plant to fix it. Our culture lacks the wisdom to save our species, and in our blindness will will destroy all life on earth.

Are indigenous peoples' warnings to be forever ignored until it is too late? Are they the Cassandra of our modern age, warning us of the catastrophic consequences of our flawed reasoning and hubris.