Friday, December 11, 2015


Thanks to the “occupy” movement, INEQUALITY, 1% vs. 99%, can no longer be covered up. It’s at the center of social and political debate, and Thomas Picketty (among others) has shown that it is intrinsic to capitalism, more and more pronounced as the system ages.

Now Donald Trump is propelling another phenomenon out of the shadows of denial, and suddenly the word “FASCIST” is being uttered by many who derided use of the term as inappropriate in the context of US politics. News commentators are beginning to worry. Even Russ Douthat, conservative columnist of the NY Times, is taking the emerging voice of fascism seriously, although he worries mainly that Trump, the would be “Il Duce”, spells trouble for the GOP brand.

Does the problem begin and end with Donald Trump?

He’s just the boldest, the least inhibited in inflaming the racist violence that has given him a solid lead in the GOP race. Look at the 
substance, at the cardinal issues before the country. Is he more of a war hawk than the rest of the contenders? Is he more committed than the others to fomenting violence against Planned Parenthood? Isn’t the smell of fascism also in the air surrounding Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as they vie to win Trump’s supporters when (or if) his candidacy fades. And what of Carly Fiorina, lying murderously about Planned Parenthood, hoping to ride that lie to a place on the GOP ticket?

The fact is that the seeds of fascism are as endemic to aging capitalism as the spiraling of extreme inequality. Fascist tendencies are an inevitable byproduct of oligarchy, of obscene wealth and power in the hands of a few families. The Koch brothers, Adelson, and a few others want political control as unlimited as their fortunes. The “Citizens United” ruling of the Supreme Court gives them a green light, subordinating democracy to the rule of corporate wealth.

Fascist voices are certainly not new to our American political history. But what’s happening now is not just a reminder of evil demagogues and shameful experiences from times gone by. Today’s flirtation by the ultra-right with fascist “remedies” is rooted in frustration with declining US power in a chaotic world and also its fear of demographic realities that are making the country harder to control.

The extreme right’s fascist temptation is more dangerous than ever because it exploits fears over fanatic acts that inflict the experience of war and terror on randomly targeted Americans. In the wake of the Paris massacres, such fears have already propelled fascistic parties to significant electoral victories in France and elsewhere in Europe.

Fear can determine political outcomes. But as much fear as Trump and his mates seek to profit from, they are also arousing a counter fear, a fear of themselves, of fascist ideas and racist demagogy.

It may not be beside the point to note the response to the proliferation of videos that reveal the face of fascism in recurring acts of police violence against black Americans. Look at Chicago and around the country. More and more people say enough, don’t give in to fear, and tremors are shaking more than a few political and police dynasties. But that’s another story.

The Trump and GOP assault on Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants and refugees may blow back on them as their fascist affinity is recognized. That’s why, as Douthat reflects, the GOP establishment is in a tizzy over Trump’s brazen appeal to its militantly racist base. Trump is spilling the fascist beans. Most Americans may not be willing to swallow.

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Thanks to John Whitbeck for pointing me to this article, published today in Jewish Business News. It is a brilliant essay on terrorism and politics. In focusing on 'absurdity' and the wrong-headedness of most of the world's heads of state, it doesn't delve into the clash of imperial ambitions that further international chaos and raise the specter of another world conflagration. But that's for other articles, some of which Uri Avnery has already written with his customary sparkle of wisdom and wit. 

There is no such thing as “international terrorism”.

To declare war on “international terrorism” is nonsense. Politicians who do so are either fools or cynics, and probably both.
Terrorism is a weapon. Like cannon. We would laugh at somebody who declares war on “international artillery”. A cannon belongs to an army, and serves the aims of that army. The cannon of one side fire against the cannon of the other.
Terrorism is a method of operation. It is often used by oppressed peoples, including the French Resistance to the Nazis in WW II. We would laugh at anyone who declared war on “international resistance”.
Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military thinker, famously said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means”. If he had lived with us today, he might have said: “Terrorism is a continuation of policy by other means.”
Terrorism means, literally, to frighten the victims into surrendering to the will of the terrorist.
Terrorism is a weapon. Generally it is the weapon of the weak. Of those who have no atom bombs, like the ones which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which terrorized the Japanese into surrender. Or the aircraft which destroyed Dresden in the (vain) attempt to frighten the Germans into giving up.

Since most of the groups and countries using terrorism have different aims, often contradicting each other, there is nothing “international” about it. Each terrorist campaign has a character of its own. Not to mention the fact that nobody considers himself (or herself) a terrorist, but rather a fighter for God, Freedom or Whatever....

Read more

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Still can't believe it. 94 today, Nov. 21st.

(According to my dear, long departed, Mother, our absent-minded Dr. Niemointin filed two days late, so my birth certificate erroneously makes Nov. 23, 1921 "official".)

I'm constantly reminded that, although I'm lucky, I'm not unique. Everyone who remarks on my age is sure to tell me about someone who's 96, 101, or even 105. But my body finds new ways each day to remind me that I really am old, even if in pretty good shape 'for my age'.

November is also my time to remember anniversaries. Gail and I happily celebrated our 5th this November 4th. Roz and I married on November 25,1942, when we were 22 and 21, and were together for 66 years until she died. I've 'lucked out' not only re longevity, but in love, marriage and family.

Carrying on....

Monday, November 16, 2015


ISIL’s crusade is reaching out to inflict the horrors of war on civilian populations wherever possible. It has to be defeated — in the Middle East and anywhere it tries to strike.

That can only happen if there is a major shift in policies that contributed much to the horrendous chaos that opened up Iraq and Syria to ISIL. But as we have seen before, acts of terrorism can be exploited to fuel fear, nativist hatreds, and a clamor to unleash US military might. That is exactly what we’re getting from the GOP presidential aspirants. The Democratic candidates have said little so far. Bernie Sanders properly points out he’s “no fan of  ‘regime change’” and cites his vote against the disastrous Iraq war. Hillary Clinton hasn’t said much beyond asserting her toughness.

Obama and Kerry seem to be considering a shift away from stubborn policies that have failed. Obama’s press conference after the G20 Summit in Turkey is essential reading. With patience and clarity, he repeatedly counters the gang-up of hawkish reporters. There’s a departure from the long-standing ultimatum that Assad must go before any negotiated effort to end the Syrian civil war; he pulls back from the refusal to have anything to do with Russia and Iran in negotiations concerning the Syrian tragedy or the fight against ISIL. Obama insists that there must not be a return to a US invasion and war that misfired in Iraq with such devastating consequences. He suggests the need for collective strategies involving the UN, recognizing the primacy of the people and nations of the Middle East both on the relatively short-run challenges and the long-range progress of the region.

Culling the positives out of Obama’s press conference and summarizing them here may make the outlook seem brighter than it is. There are enormous obstacles, some of them based on the reality of extensive US military intervention and imperial interests that continue to drive our foreign policy. For that matter, competing economic interests and power rivalries characterize all the “players” in the drama. Progress and peace require a degree of cooperation among nations that have selfishly wrought havoc in the Middle East since the First World War. Even harder, it requires encouragement and faith that the people of the Middle East can overcome the legacy of imperialism, tyranny and religious fanaticism. That outlook flickered briefly, but brilliantly, in the Arab Spring.

My focus is on the extreme importance of what happens in the United States in the wake of the ISIL assaults in Paris and the likelihood of more to come. Obama’s apparent opening toward a new approach deserves support. Its model is the recently negotiated P+1 agreement with Iran. This situation is more difficult because it requires not only a collaborative agreement to end the Syrian war, but developing a common strategy to defeat ISIL. Beyond that, any degree of success depends on serious efforts to cope with the appalling human misery overwhelming millions throughout the Middle East.

Americans can’t let the hawks stampede us back into panic and illusions that US military supremacy can remake the world. Obama’s effort to change course (at least to some degree) is still fragile, far from an accomplished fact. It demands support from the majority of Americans who have had enough of endless wars. We should insist that the Democratic candidates support inclusive diplomacy and the United Nations. Hillary might benefit from reading Obama’s press conference comment on  “no fly zones”, a proposal with which she continues to curry favor among the neocons.

There is a nightmare, I must admit, that haunts me. It is that Obama’s tentative move away from a divisive, war-oriented foreign policy gets aborted. An America headed by Cruz or Rubio or Fiorina (or even by a Democrat who doesn't commit to a new vision in foreign policy) would be inviting again the worst catastrophes of the 20th Century. The nightmare gets worse if Netanyahu is our closest ally.

But, in today’s very complicated and dangerous world, I like a lot of what Obama had to say in his Ankara press conference. I believe it reflects the better judgment of the majority of Americans. If we organize and speak out, the nightmare may fade.

Monday, November 9, 2015


This week, with 17,000 rheumatologists gathered at Moscone Center in San Francisco,  the American College of Rheumatology gave its highest award, the Gold Medal for lifetime achievement, to David Wofsy. Gail and I were there and shared the week-end with David's immediate family. Modest, as he has always been, David's acceptance speech credited his outstanding accomplishments to all the wonderful people who became his colleagues over many years. But permit this old man to boast a bit, especially since it's the truth. David is more than a fine scientist, doctor and teacher; he is admired by friends, co-workers, students and, yes, his whole loving family for the kind of person he is, for his character and values as a human being. I take pleasure in his contributions to science, health and education, but also in the social conscience that moves him. As an undergraduate, David and a few of his friends lay down in front of McNamara's car at Harvard to protest the Vietnam War; as an intern at UCSF, he helped organize against intolerable conditions and for unionization; and as a professor and dean, nothing has been more important to him than to open the medical field and graduate training to large numbers of black and brown students. It may not be a gold medal, but this is my salute to a special son. I only wish Roz and Carla, mother and sister, could have been here to embrace OUR BOY.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


Two stories in today’s NY Times

An Ex-President Points the Way to Peace

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was short and flawed. But his ex-presidency is long and remarkable. No ex-president can match him in integrity, courage and commitment to peace and humanity. He goes anywhere, talks with anyone, brings antagonists together to seek paths to peace. Also, much to his credit, he was the first US leader to dare to give Israel’s occupation the name it deserves: apartheid.

His proposal to end the Syrian crisis is not based on military strikes from any side in the conflict, nor on the US ultimatum that Assad’s ouster is a pre-condition for any cooperation among interested parties. It is to bring together representatives of rival nations who have a common interest in ending the catastrophic civil war and defeating ISIS. Transition to a reformed and more stable Syria could emerge from negotiations arranged by the United Nations and inclusive of the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  That’s the formula that worked in the P+1 Iran agreement.  That, not bombs and “no fly zones”, is the way forward.

It’s crucial to require presidential candidates Sanders and Clinton to endorse the Carter plan. That, along with opposition to the Trans Pacific Trade Pact, might make Hillary’s relationship with the neocons considerably less cozy.

An FBI Chief and Shades of J. Edgar Hoover

"With his remarks, Mr. Comey lent the prestige of the F.B.I., the nation’s most prominent law enforcement agency, to a theory that is far from settled: that the increased attention on the police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals." (NY Times)

Much of the nation is opening its eyes to racist patterns of lethal violence and brutality in police conduct, as well as in the justice and prison systems. Now, the voice of J. Edgar Hover rises from the grave through the medium of current FBI Director, James B. Comey. Let’s remember. Liberals and progressives who got their FBI files could not fail to note a pervasive preoccupation with race. If you are white and associate with blacks or are active in civil rights causes, that’s reason for suspicion and surveillance. (For me, the first item in my file was a censored letter sent to me while I was in the army: the correspondent noted that visiting French troops were integrated and complained that ours were segregated.)  If you demonstrated to protest the lynching of Willie McGee, you’re considered a subversive. Of course, if you’re Martin Luther King, or any black activist, you are targeted for slander and counter-intelligence schemes, and if you’re a Black Panther you can be shot dead.

Don’t let that legacy go on.  The biggest problem of our surveillance and “security” state is that the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI are hidden from public scrutiny and are not accountable when they violate laws, abuse civil rights, or even when they have engaged in torture.  The FBI Chief should not be inciting more police aggression at this critical and volatile time. Comey should go.

Linda Asher: Yes, Carter has been invaluable,  and on top of that not self-vaunting, self-glorifying. He keeps his eye and hand on reason, compassion, and effective possibilities.  There are still jerks out there who take the time to vilify him. And Comey:  He behaved well in that one refusal to do Cheney's will (in the hospital room) so one thought he might have a mind of his own, or at least a determination to do no wrong by falling into the judgments of others.  In the black panthers film, a great (and to me unfamiliar) line from Hoover was  (quote imprecise--you can straighten me out ) in response to query about surveillance and Justice : " Justice takes a back seat to public safety concerns. " His monstrosity  (and freakiness!) remains unacknowledged by most public figures.
Paul Taub: Very interesting ideas from President Carter, I totally agree with you about how important his post-Presidency work has been. I bet we’ll look at Obama in the same way in another 25 years, it’ll be interesting to see where he focuses his attention after 2016!
Sally H: Since you don't have an icon on your blog to post to FaceBook, I have to ask: may I put a link to the current Carter/F.B.I. blog on my FB page?  Both subjects are covered in ways I'd like to put my name behind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


As Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation boils over again, and Netanyahu unleashes brute military force once more, this article by Professor Khalidi penetrates the fog that allows the United States to bolster an Israeli government engaged in enforcing ever-expanding occupation and apartheid.

Rashid Khalidi
October 12, 2015
The New Yorker

Last month, Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, announced before the United Nations General Assembly that the twenty-year effort to establish a Palestinian state through the Oslo process had failed. This declaration was long overdue. The Oslo Accords, which were signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization and brokered by the United States, have been a disaster for Palestinians and a boon to those who wish to maintain Israel’s nearly half-century-old occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Their bitter fruits can be seen in the current upsurge in violence against Palestinians and settlers in the occupied territories.

Oslo was not designed to lead to Palestinian statehood or self-determination, in spite of what the P.L.O.’s leaders at the time appear to have believed. Rather, it was intended by Israel to streamline its occupation, with the Palestinian Authority acting as a subcontractor. In Oslo and subsequent accords, the Israelis were careful to exclude provisions that might lead to a Palestinian political entity with actual sovereignty. Palestinian statehood and self-determination are never mentioned in the text, nor were the Palestinians allowed jurisdiction over the entirety of the occupied territories. Israel’s intention is even more clearly visible in the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, which followed the start of the Oslo process. There were fewer than two hundred thousand Israeli colonists in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem when negotiations began. Now, according to the Times, there are about six hundred and fifty thousand of them.

The P.L.O. leadership, for its part, played a weak hand poorly. It failed to capitalize on the expertise that its delegation had accrued in Madrid and Washington in the two years prior, sending to Oslo inexperienced negotiators with little knowledge of the situation in the occupied territories or international law. As a result, Oslo reinforced rather than evened out the political imbalance between Israel, an undeclared nuclear power supported by the world’s sole superpower, and the Palestinians, a stateless people living under occupation or in exile. With the weight of the United States tipping the scales heavily in its favor—diplomatically, militarily, and through pressure on the Arab states—Israel was able to impose its will, entrenching an apartheid system in which millions of Palestinians live under military rule, with no rights or security, while Israel appropriates their land, water, and other resources. The only part of Oslo that was faithfully implemented, in fact, is the protection that the P.A. provides to Israel by policing its own people.

In his U.N. speech, Abbas, one of Oslo’s architects, declared that he would no longer abide by its terms unless Israel stopped running roughshod over them. This declaration won’t mean much unless it’s translated into concrete action, like dissolving the P.A. or halting cooperation between the P.A.’s paramilitary police and the Israeli army. There is no indication of either of these things happening anytime soon.

It is long past time to end the farce of a never-ending peace process that only increases Palestinian suffering. What is needed instead is a totally new paradigm, one based on a respect for international law, human rights, and equality for both peoples. As the Obama Administration has demonstrated with Cuba and the Iranian nuclear deal, taking a new and more just approach to long-standing, seemingly intractable problems can yield results. The same should be done with U.S. policy toward Israel-Palestine, despite the political pressure that is sure to be exerted by the Israel lobby to prevent any change to the status quo.

The American people are far ahead of their cowed politicians in this regard. A growing number of them—particularly young people, people of color, and progressives—oppose unconditional U.S. support for Israel. Last December, a poll conducted by Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, found that thirty-nine per cent of Americans support imposing sanctions or “more serious action” on Israel over its refusal to stop settlement construction. And according to a Gallup poll from February, although sixty-two per cent of all Americans would support Israel over Palestine if asked to choose sides, that figure has dropped ten points among Democrats since 2014. Senior officials in the party would do well to take heed.

The United States and the international community arm, financially underwrite, and diplomatically support the military regime that Israel has imposed on Palestinians. This external support, without which Israel’s occupation and settlement regime could not continue, needs to end if a just and lasting peace is to be achieved. Instead of delivering increased military aid to Israel—the country already receives the astronomical sum of three billion dollars a year, and President Obama promised more as consolation for the passage of the Iranian nuclear deal, which Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, vociferously opposed—the United States could begin by making the aid conditional on respect for domestic and international law. This was recently called for in a letter to the State Department by Representative Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota.

It is time for American politicians and policymakers to stop hiding behind the fictions of Oslo. If they really wish to avoid more of the same, they must abandon bankrupt strategies and meaningless platitudes and act vigorously to end a system of military occupation and colonization that would crumble without their support. 

Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, and was an adviser to the Palestinian delegation at the Madrid-Washington Palestinian-Israeli negotiations of 1991-93. His most recent book is “Brokers of Deceit.”