January 30, 2014

Taking that final step to honesty

GUEST: Mattathias Schwartz, international reporter and author of "Why are we still fighting the drug war?" published in "The New Yorker" this January, talks about America's misguided and bloody militarization of the Third World countries.

We had a good discussion with Mattathias about the investigative reporting he did in Honduras. He was able to trace some killings to American forces, suggesting at least that the "war" on drugs has been a human rights failure that has not diminished the supply in the least. Tens of billions spent with no evidence that any of it has been worthwhile. 

Gary asked the best question, "Why do you think we are still fighting the drug war?" Of course, it was the question posed in the title.

Mattathias surprised me by answering that it was probably a way to militarize Central and South American countries at a time the Iran Contra scandal made military aid difficult for Reagan. Reagan used the war on drugs to sell a program with quite a different agenda. 

When I asked him about why he never answered this question in his article, he told us that The New Yorker wanted fact based journalism, not conjecture. The article wasn't a polemic, but an attempt to report exactly what was known.

I am not sure that I buy it. By asking the question, he could have at least put in Reagan's military goals during the period. Or tied the war on drugs to the US militarization of the region. Or would that have been too much for a mainstream publication like The New Yorker?

At issue is the assumption of benign intentions. We lost the Vietnam War because we naively wanted to bring freedom to a country that wasn't ready. We were misled on Iraq; Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction. Who knew?

As long as the media doesn't suggest otherwise, the US public can go on dreaming about how noble our foreign policy is. We have spent an incredible amount of money on the war against drugs, and killed any number of innocent people, but hey, it was another honest mistake. Bull shit it was. And how our mainstream media tries to avoid taking that final step to honesty. 

January 23, 2014

It's too soon to die

GUEST: Susan Letendre, Regional Organizer for Witness for Peace New England and the delegation coordinator for "Built to Last," talks about upcoming trips to Cuba planned by her organization.

By surviving the US government blockade, Cuba has managed to create an agricultural society without fertilizer or pesticides. It is only one aspect of a sustainability campaign that provides a model for what America could look like in twenty years. Instead of becoming one of the world's largest oil producers, our country could follow Cuba's example in organizing communities that can take care of their own. Instead of creating a few billionaires amidst millions of impoverished citizens, America could become a true beacon of democracy. Our immense wealth could be used to save our species from nuclear war and global warning.

History shows us the spectrum of leadership that humanity can produced. There are the visionaries like Mandela and Castro, and there are the small minded bureaucrats of empire like Obama. We must learn to choose more wisely if our descendants are to see another century.

Or as Pete Seeger wrote:
One blue sky above us
One ocean lapping all our shore
One earth so green and round
Who could ask for more
And because I love you
I'll give it one more try
To show my rainbow race
It's too soon to die.

January 17, 2014

Our common curriculum

Barbara Stemke, former teacher and labor Services Representative as well as Citizen Action volunteer for immigration reform, talks about a new organization in Kingston, the End the New Jim Crow Action Network.


Barbara, Gary and I discussed our white perspective on ending the "new Jim Crow" in America. It seems like we hadn't completely understood the old Jim Crow, the long history of racism in this country. All three of us have been involved in progressive causes for quite some time, of course. We have all opposed racism, both in our own country and abroad. But how effective can a white person be unless he/she really understands the underlying racism of our popular culture?

Michelle Alexander's book does just that. The history of racism that should be taught in all our schools. There should be discussion groups between whites and people of color on how we can work together to overcome an unfair and unjust system. We need to listen to each other's fears. We need to identify how our ruling class promotes racism to win elections, and to dissipate the power of working people. We have to look at our media in a new light.

We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire can teach us the process. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander can provide our common curriculum.

January 10, 2014

While the trains run to Buchenwald

GUEST: Adam Roufberg, local human rights activist, peace researcher and radio show host, talks about his recent trip to Switzerland and the West Bank to gather support for Youth, Art & Levante of Palestine.
Adam and I were motivated by the same person, Yonaton Shapira:

Yonaton spoke at Bard College and then on Adam's radio program (along with Tarak Kauff and myself). Yonaton's courage and patient belief in the progress of human rights for Palestinians set an example that is as inspiring as it is impossible to follow. But Adam and I both believe that we can do our part in exposing the illegal and immoral occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the long standing racist abuse that is part of daily life for millions of Palestinian people.

Gary and I have discussed whether we are spending too much time on Israel. Is it part of what ClassWars and Activist Radio was supposed to accomplish? Is Israeli and US imperialism part of class wars?

Of course, we have taken ClassWars and its radio program in many directions. Even a quick review of this blog, or of our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/classwars shows how many topics we have covered. Palestine, however, is a frequent topic, especially in the last several years. In part it is because I tend know about interesting guests from my work with the Middle East Crisis Response in the Hudson Valley http://www.mideastcrisis.org.

More than my access to potential guests working for human rights in Palestine, however, is the fact that Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine is a microcosm by which we can understand US imperialism in the world. The empire is the antithasis of democracy in its use of racism and militarism to benefit the very few, the criminals who run these invasions and occupations in our name. Israel, like most colonies, embodies the evils of imperialsim with less subterfuge. Looking in the mirror of Israel, we can see our own society, ignorant of what is being done, hopeful that our lives will go on without having to think about other people's suffering. We are the "good Germans" while the trains run to Buchenwald.

January 4, 2014

Understanding the journey

GUEST: Rami Efal is an Israel born activist whose grandparents survived the holocaust and who served in the Israeli army as a criminal investigator and a guard at a maximum security prison for Palestinians. We talk about his recent peace-building activities, including an interfaith international retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau with Germans, Poles and Palestinians from the West Bank.

We have had Rami on the program before, so we were especially interested in talking to him when he returned from an international retreat at Auschwitz.

The Holocaust casts its shadow on Palestine. The unthinkable horror of what the Germans did to the Jews during World War II remains the irrational motive behind much of the world's support for Israel, the apartheid regime whose policies towards Palestinians seem at times to come straight from the Third Reich. 

Never again for the Jewish people, or never again for all of humanity? Those are the two conflicting messages of the Holocaust. The first message is used to excuse the militarism and racism that Israel directs towards the Palestinian people, who were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. No barbarism is too great if it protects the Jewish people from another Auschwitz.

The second message is for the world. No people should ever again be treated like animals, stripped of their land, locked in prisons, humiliated, and murdered by a racist state. One's hope for peace in the world depends on the second message. We will treat each other like human beings or we will annihilate our species.

However we can transition from the first message of the Holocaust to the second is worth pursuing. A Zen retreat to Auschwitz-Birkenau will move some people in its exploration of suffering, guilt, and transformation. Rami was the perfect guest to take us there. Unsparingly honest about his feelings, he understands the journey that must be made.