Tuesday, December 16, 2014


“I would do it again in a minute”

There are more than a few people in Washington who think like Dick Cheney. What would they not do “again in a minute” if they could?

Torture? No hesitation.

More wars? Of course.

Pulling the nuclear trigger? At least “moral” questions wouldn’t get in the way.

What’s even scarier than the torture revelations? The CIA, the NSA and their ubiquitous contractors drive US operations all over the globe.   Their network of interventions, subterfuge and surveillance is unlimited, secret and unaccountable. The Senate’s “torture report”, still mostly “classified”, lights partially one corner of a labyrinth.

But that little light puts big questions in focus. These are the people — this is the morality — we are asked to trust with the largest Big Brother surveillance system ever fashioned? ‘Don’t worry. It’s only meta-data. Trust us.’

The news of the last few weeks exposes a deep crisis of failed justice. Torturers and assassins remain unpunished in Washington. No one accounts for taking Black lives.

Still, some blindly repeat the mantras of American exceptionalism. ‘Only in America’ would the truth be acknowledged. What about Argentina and Chile? South Africa? Russia?

Yes, it’s good to know that on matters of torture most Americans are not like Cheney. On this, a salute goes to John McCain. But it’s worth being reminded that there are Cheneys and Pinochets under all flags.


Let's share a YouTube gem that Gail and I found yesterday, We read a review of a concert by a young pianist and wanted to hear for ourselves. So we asked YouTube for Danil Trifonov and heard (saw) him play Mozart's 23rd piano concerto. It was nothing short of marvelous. It's a heartfelt holiday gift from us to you. (Hope a short ad doesn't get in the way.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


It's sheer self-torture to watch and listen to Eric Garner's last few minutes of life. But it's there complete on video — no words need be added to explain the anger that fills the streets tonight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Transcript of a segment from today’s PBS NewsHour (Judith Browne-Dianis is a civil rights attorney and Co-Director of  the Advancement Project):

GWEN IFILL: And, yet, Judith Browne-Dianis, when we look at the faces protesting not only in Ferguson, but around the country in the last couple of nights, not only is it an interesting and diverse crowd. It’s also a very young crowd.
GWEN IFILL: Does that mean that they are more — less optimistic, more pessimistic?
JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: Well, I think that they are experiencing the overcriminalization at levels that older folks aren’t and they really have — they’re bringing energy to this movement.
They see this not only as the fight of their lives, but the fight for their lives. And so, across the country, when you looked at all of those rallies yesterday, you saw young people — you know, this is — they are the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of our time.
GWEN IFILL: Who were very young.
JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: That’s right. Exactly.
And so we’re seeing the same kind of action of young people bringing energy to a movement and also having clarity of purpose around what they’re doing.
GWEN IFILL: Does it feel different to you?
JUDITH BROWNE-DIANIS: It feels different in that, first of all, this is the end of status quo for them, that they understand that they have to be disruptive, that nonviolent civil disobedience will be used like it was before. But I think that there’s a level at which they feel like this is much — this is about their daily existence, whether or not they can survive, whether or not they can breathe, whether or not they can walk down the street without being harassed. And so there’s a very personal thing about trying to survive and be Black or be Latino. And so, in that way, it is different.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Another birthday coming up this Friday: 93!  Inconceivable for most of my life, especially when I was in my teens and twenties and couldn’t see myself “over 30”.

Now it seems no one is amazed except me. Wherever I go, people shrug — “Oh, I know someone 95”, or “There’s this lady just wrote a book and she’s 105.”

Anyway, I continue to be amazed! And no matter how many are as old or older than yours truly, I count the many, many more, especially my dear ones, no longer with us.

(maybe more than you want to know)

Lucky as I am to be in relatively good shape, Mother Nature rarely lets me forget that nonagenarians are really very old. Aches and pains, though tolerable, are always there. My eyes aren’t serviceable enough to read books or newsprint for more than a few straining minutes. Virtually all my reading is on a computer screen or a Kindle. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stay awake through the PBS NewsHour. Worse, I can’t avoid dozing repeatedly at concerts and plays. I won’t give up music, but only an occasional exceptional play is worth the challenge.

Still, I can bend down (slowly) to pick up the morning paper off the ground. With a little well-practiced contortionism, I can put on my socks. I walk the approximately 3 miles around Lake Merritt most Tuesday mornings. I do some cooking and baking. I still have a current events discussion group to facilitate every Friday at the Downtown Oakland Senior Center. And I still blog more or less often about what’s on my mind.

    “But especially the people….” *

What makes it all worthwhile? It’s the people I love, many gone, some thankfully present. It’s the many struggles and hopes we’ve shared that shape my life from its beginnings through nearly a century. I’m very lucky in my family, my friends, my comrades. I won’t list my comrades here, but the older I get, the more deeply they’re embedded in my heart and memories. My family, from my parents to my grandchildren, has always been true to values that connect with people everywhere who commit to equality and social justice. I couldn’t be fonder or prouder of my children, David and Carla. The hardest thing I’ve had to bear was the loss of Carla, a rare and wonderful person, taken by breast cancer at the prime of life.

I’ve been very lucky in love. Roz and I were as together as any couple could be for 67 years, until she died in 2009. I was alone for one miserable year. Then Gail came along and life is rich and enjoyable again.

Maybe there will be more birthdays coming. Maybe my next birthday message will be more typical of me, a bit more “political”. But for now, let’s just stick with the “personal” and soak up all the warmth and love we need.

From the song, "The House I Live In", written by Abel Meeropol and Earl Robinson in 1943

Saturday, November 8, 2014


The best single political reform idea is Bernie Sander’s proposal to make Election Day a national holiday, DEMOCRACY DAY.

Our political system has become dangerously less democratic, more and more in the grip of super wealth, gridlocked when it comes to the elementary interests of the vast majority of the public. The clearest indicator of this crisis is that a large majority of the electorate doesn’t vote, reflecting widespread disillusionment as well as enactment of deliberate voter restriction measures.

Many ideas for structural reform of the political and electoral system, including constitutional changes, get floated. Most seem so unlikely that they only distract from the reality of current battles on vital issues. 

But I think there are two reform measures that have a great potential for capturing attention and support to change the political climate and Save Democracy. One is movement to overturn the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” ruling. The other is the Sanders proposal for a national holiday on Election Day.

Both measures tap directly into very widespread public concerns: disgust with the obscene buying of elections and of government itself by the oligarchs; growing resentment at the rigging of the electoral process and restrictions on the right to vote.

Of course, Sanders’ idea is far from a cure-all. There are fundamental problems with the two-party system and within the Democratic Party. And nothing is more important than the fight to win on critical economic and social issues.

Still, the Sanders proposal is simple and direct. It cuts through political machinations and makes democracy central: Do we celebrate the right to vote? Who thinks it’s to be feared? 

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Part of the 50th FSM reunion was a panel:

ASSESSING THE RADICAL LEGACY OF THE SIXTIES: WINS, LOSSES, AND MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKING  Presenters: Bettina Aptheker, Michael Lerner, and Leon Wofsy; Moderator: Troy Duster

The following is an excerpt from my presentation:
I’ll pass on “Monday morning quarterbacking”. The fact that there was a backlash, that Reagan and the Right exploited it, was not in the power of FSM to prevent. The movement unleashed great energy and spontaneity; no “leadership” could have fine-tuned FSM to both achieve its goals and avoid unleashing the fury of the Right.

That doesn’t diminish the “wins”. FSM did win. Against stubborn and violent resistance from a paternalistic Administration and a corporate dominated Board of Regents, it won recognition that the First Amendment applies and is binding within the University. The battle that produced that win was the inspiration for similar free speech eruptions on campuses in every part of the country and internationally. And “free speech” turned out to be more than an abstraction. It sparked challenges to arbitrary authority; it soon merged into a powerful upheaval in opposition to the war in Viet Nam.

The “radical legacy of the ‘60s” generated significant cultural change, it loosened the prevailing “norms” of society; it made serious inroads, especially among young people, against society’s deeply rooted taboos that suppress social interactions and personal relationships. In the aftermath of the upheavals of the ‘60s, the women’s movement and the historic fight for gender and sexual equality burst through traditional restraints.

The radical legacy of the ‘60s didn’t begin or end with FSM. Nothing quite matches the remarkable heroism and overall significance of the civil rights struggle in the South, and of course FSM has recognized how much of its own inspiration flowed from that.

Before the FSM and since, the radical legacy confirms that moral courage and persistence, renewed by new generations of youth, can make important headway on vital social issues even as the political and economic system becomes more reactionary and oppressive. That, however, is a huge and growing challenge for society. How it’s met depends on more than radical hopes and actions. A serious change of course becomes possible when events finally prove to the broadest majority that that the present course is disastrous (case in point, Vietnam). It would seem that evidence of failure, of things falling apart at home and abroad, is beyond denial — but here we go again.

So, as we celebrate the radical legacy of the ‘60s, it’s more than a matter of modesty to recognize that new generations will need some answers beyond what’s gone before.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


This piece is longer and more general than I like and I've struggled over it.  Please, if you have the patience (for this and perhaps the shorter foreign policy pieces of August 3 and 13), help me out with a comment or question — even a brickbat. 

The most fateful national debate on overall foreign policy since the end of the Cold War may be underway.

The rise of ISIS highlights the historic dilemmas that now entangle our foreign policy. While scrambling over what to do next in response to that crisis, the United States and NATO are engaged in a perilous tug of war with Russia in Eastern Europe.  

If the contours of the debate are confined to the positions staked out in the NY Times (8/31/2014) by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham on one side and Secretary John Kerry on the other, nothing but more and greater tragedy is ahead. 

We desperately need a powerful and vocal challenge not just to both sets of proposed tactical choices, but to the very direction of US foreign policy. We need a fundamental change of strategic course, an alternative vision of where we should be heading.

As violence and disarray mount and the limits of US power are too obvious to be ignored, “coalition” is part of every suggested remedy. McCain/Lindsey are back again with the Bush/Cheney “coalition of the willing”, a US directed military alliance. That coalition gave us the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and brought us to the tragedy unfolding now. Kerry’s version of coalition is beset by contradictions: it doesn’t rise above differing national interests, assumes that the US determines who and what is acceptable or not. It slides back into renewed reliance on military intervention with the risk of unending war.

The coalition building that the world needs, and urgently, goes beyond how to manage current messes. It is not a matter of designating friends and enemies and choosing sides on that basis. It should aim to bring out the broadest common interests of people in all nations. The measure of success should be whether violence and war are effectively reduced: are we brought closer to a time when atop the agenda of the United Nations and most governments are the existential problems of climate change, poverty and inequality, and eliminating the danger of nuclear catastrophe?

As important as the USA is in world affairs, it cannot and must not assume that it can decide and enforce the terms of “world order”.  If the emphasis of foreign policy is on punishing “foes” rather than on political and diplomatic efforts to mitigate problems, the feasibility of collective efforts in crisis situations is undermined.

The most direct resort to war and brutality in today’s world is sparked by messianic religious feuds and ethnic conflict. Extreme doctrinaire crusaders are willing to massacre “the other” whether in Damascus, Baghdad, or Gaza. A lot of history goes into this tragedy, not least the role of colonial and imperialist powers. Yet despite clashing economic ambitions and greed over control of energy resources, no nation benefits from this disastrous violence and chaos.

It is instructive to look at countries which our politicians and most of the media assume are, to one degree or another, our “enemies”, e.g. Iran, Russia and Syria. Whatever their perceived national interests and their collision with US policies, they don’t like the advance of ISIS any more than we do. There are conflicts of interests, but serious communication and negotiations cannot be shut off in favor of threats and punishment. Hard as it may be for hawks on all sides to acknowledge, we need each other and an inclusive approach to international cooperation if disasters can be averted and serious problems dealt with positively rather than exacerbated.

We have to face and learn from the failures, essentially without exception, when the response to a crisis is US dominated military intervention. To Iraq and Afghanistan, we can now add Libya. Humanitarian crises throughout the Middle East are almost as staggering as in the aftermath of world wars. There are more recruits than ever for aggressive armies committed to messianic religious crusades and sectarian warfare. And now there is ISIS.

In Europe, the main focus of US foreign policy has been expanding NATO, pushing a military alliance ever further east, aggravating traditional national and internal ethnic antagonisms. Instead of encouraging agreements based on mutual respect for differing interests and cultural histories, force and the threat of force hover over all problems. This contrasts with attitudes that made German reunification possible or that made for a peaceful transition from Czechoslovakia to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Instead, in the Ukraine, military confrontation and aggressive nationalist ambitions prevail, hawks face off and Cold War looms again.

Similar dangers may not be far off in Asia, Africa, and Latin America if hawkish military and economic confrontations dominate foreign policies of world powers. No country wants a world engulfed in war, but only a major change of course toward international cooperation, despite all difficulties, can prevent it.

There are fundamental problems that keep fueling tensions. One is gross inequality among and within nations, mainly economic, but also political and military. Another is differing systems of political expression and recognition of human rights. However they may be mitigated, both are problems that will be with us for a very long time. Can we keep them from propelling us into repeated military conflict?

How the USA, as the most powerful of nations, could help reduce inequality is obviously a huge and complex subject. Suffice it for this essay to suggest reactivating the pursuit of collective disarmament agreements, especially toward elimination of nuclear weapons; expanding cooperative humanitarian aid and health programs; renouncing sanctions that impoverish and starve populations; recommitting to an effective United Nations.

In this day and age, the demand for freedom of expression is universal. It’s not just a political matter. Free speech may be denied by an authoritarian government; it can also be neutered effectively by oligarchic financial dominance over the political process. Despite our democratic traditions and hard-won advances over some glaring forms of oppression, freedom remains a work in progress for us.

There is no doubt that the future of every country depends upon whether its people can bring about real progress toward democracy and equality. That is a fateful issue for China and Russia, for Israel and the gulf monarchies, however varied the issue takes form in country after country. The situation won’t be improved by any country conceiving itself as the knight on a white horse, and certainly not by military intervention. When abuse of human rights creates a humanitarian crisis, there is no substitute for maximum international cooperation and assistance, as much as possible through the UN.

These are extremely difficult times. The decisions made may have consequences far more fateful than anticipated when this century began. We can flail along deciding whom to arm and whom to fight, as crisis points shift from week to week. Or we can decide not to follow those on any side of a dispute who are always ready to pour fuel on the flames. Isolating forces of aggression and brutality from whatever source demands cooperative efforts among all whose interest it is to resist and enhance prospects for peace.

It’s time to use our still great influence to help change the climate of international relations, tapping into the vast reservoir of common interest to prevent endless war.

That outlook has had some powerful champions at critical junctures in the past. Voices of reason, with a variety of social and economic views, were there when needed: from George Kennan and Michael Gorbachev as the Cold War wound down, from George McGovern, Eugene McCarthy, and Jesse Jackson at earlier moments.

Our people want to be free of perpetual war. Can that sentiment give rise to new voices of reason that will offer an alternative way in this time of decision?

Monday, August 25, 2014


As Israel’s atrocious war against Gaza and the Palestinians continues, the worldwide movement to condemn, oppose, and boycott Israel spreads. It’s not a movement that speaks with one voice, but what’s universal is outrage over the war, also the demand that the occupation be ended. Lifting the shameful blockade of Gaza has come into focus as critical to even a short-term peace agreement.

Inevitably debates are intense among people who are horrified by what is happening, but differ on why things have come to such a pass and what should be done. I’ve been entangled in one such debate with a friend and, unfortunately, we’ve hit a dead end.

He cites recent articles by former “liberal Jewish Zionists” who now write about “the end of liberal Zionism”. I agree with much of their analysis, but have resisted making hypothetical “one state” or “two state” formulas the focus of attention. What’s central is the need for a powerful, many-faceted struggle that makes ending the occupation so urgent that it can no longer be deflected or deferred.

I’m drawn to another recent article, a message from Desmond Tutu, published in the Israeli paper Haaretz, and initiated by the international organization Avaaz in support of the global boycott against the occupation. He addresses the people of Israel and Palestine, recognizing that they, in concert with the global movement, have the capacity to move beyond the “current status quo.”  He offers no political formulas, no absolute “solutions”, just vital principles and values, with confidence that struggle against injustice will produce the answers. I admire his wisdom and inclusiveness. (I suppose reservations may be noted: religious faith is not part of my outlook; also, Bishop Tutu doesn’t mention that armed resistance contributed to the essentially non-violent liberation of South Africa.)

Back to my unhappy debate with a friend:  he insists, to my frustration, on using the thoughtful articles by self-described former Zionists to label me a “liberal Jewish Zionist”. No denial or discussion works; I’m lumped with Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohn. It matters not that I am and have been for many years a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Middle East Children’s Alliance, that I support the boycott against the occupation, or that I have never been a Zionist. I have not identified with the liberal/Zionist organization, J Street, although I surely welcome its challenge to the far right Jewish establishment. It doesn’t matter that I support full equality for Palestine, including unification, self-determination, and the right to establish a sovereign and viable state. Nor does it matter that I believe no state should be based on religious or ethnic supremacy.

Near as I can figure out, the problem is that I recognize that Israel exists. Its existence is a significant factor in any process that can change the status quo and result, as Tutu puts it, in ‘liberation for both Palestinians and Israelis’. No one can determine just how things may evolve; no one should be in a hurry to close any doors to possible progress. 

The fact that one recognizes Israel doesn’t make one a Zionist, any more than recognizing the USA makes one an imperialist, or recognizing Saudi Arabia makes one a monarchist.

By the way, I don’t think that “liberal” and “Zionist” are ipso facto “dirty words”, nor should they substitute for discussion or debate. Personally, I bristle at being labeled a “liberal Jewish Zionist”. At least one can choose to identify or not as a “liberal” or a “Zionist”. As for being a Jew, I don’t have or want a choice. (For what it’s worth, my friend is neither Jewish nor Palestinian.)

Well, this outpouring of personal emotion is pretty self-serving. I’m letting go of some frustration, trivial alongside the reality of current happenings. Maybe, though, it’s my small plea that people with many common values leave some room for differing opinions.

Together:  End the occupation. End the blockade of Gaza. Stop the war now.