Tuesday, March 31, 2015


We’re back. Gail and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take a one-week cruise around Cuba, stopping for a day at each of five different ports. It was a Canadian-Greek ship, the Louis Cristal, making its last Cuba Cruise of the season, probably the first to include a small but significant number of passengers from the United States.

We’re so glad we did it, even though the heat and long, slow lines at immigration were pretty taxing for this old man. I’ve always wanted to set foot in brave “little” Cuba, to feel its legendary warmth, creativity, and musicality. It was only a week, but one of the joys of a lifetime.

I’m not tempted to expand this eye-blink of a trip into an “expert” commentary on Cuba. Our interaction with Cubans on the ship and in a couple of the towns was more than we anticipated. It was friendly, frank and relaxed. Frustration was openly expressed, especially with restricted Internet access and arbitrary authority over permission to travel. There was deep pride in culture and country, and in the fact that government cares about people, about education, health, and making sure that food supplies are available to the poor.

What shines through all the negative propaganda in our country about Cuba is the miracle of its survival and its remarkable record of humanitarian contributions. Most recently, Cuban doctors and health personnel led the world in direct response to Ebola in the most ravished African countries.

A personal little side-story added to my experience on this trip. Way back around 1950, when I was chair of the Labor Youth League, I met the leader of the Cuban youth movement at a meeting in Mexico City. It was only for a few days, but we hit it off and shared a lot of exciting conversation about our hopes for a better world. His name was Flavio Bravo. We were never to meet again.  

I Googled Flavio before the cruise and found that he had been a leader in Cuba’s mission to save Angola’s independence against a contra-style mercenary war. He later became the head of the Cuban National Assembly. As far as I could tell he was still alive, although he had to be a nonagenarian like me. I was hopeful, and I wrote him a letter that a tour leader said she would try to have delivered.

A couple of days later, a guide in Santiago de Cuba mentioned having served in Angola. We talked. He said he served with “our leader”, Flavio Bravo. He described him in the warmest terms, the way I remembered him so many years past. He told me Flavio’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, among those who brought ideas of Socialism to the Americas.

Sadly, Google’s story was incomplete. Flavio died a few years ago. My new Cuban friend took my sympathy note to give to Flavio’s family.

I can’t leave off without mentioning the fellow-American passengers who became our good buddies along the way. Surprising and so satisfying that friendship can blossom in just a few days.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015



There could be no clearer demonstration of the destructive psychology of “American exceptionalism” than the way the negotiations with Iran are being viewed.

Of course, the most egregious attitude, defiant of constitutional precedent and contemptuous of international law, is in the letter of almost the entire GOP Senate majority to the Iranian government. What the GOP ignores completely, the media treats as an occasional footnote: France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain (the UN Security Council +1) are vital participants in the negotiations and any hoped for agreement. They too, not just Obama, would be wiped away by “the stroke of a pen” with which the outlaw Senators promise to trash any agreement.

From hubris to humiliation, the Senators had to be enlightened by the Iranian foreign minister. He suggested that they misread and defied US constitutional proscriptions about the conduct of foreign policy. No surprise that they also had to be informed about international law. Apparently it doesn’t exist for them: war is the preferable alternative to diplomacy and international cooperation.

Meanwhile Democrats, including more than a few who have gone along with efforts to sabotage the Iran negotiations, are offended by the brazen partisan behavior of Netanyahu, Boehner and now the GOP Senators. It’s time to see this issue as far beyond petty politics. It’s a matter of war or peace, one battle in the existential fight for the future.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


The battle over whether the Iran negotiations go forward or are forced to fail is bigger than the terms of any “deal”. An agreement won’t decide any of the great issues of our time, but it bears on which way the world will turn in this century.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and Iran are at the table negotiating a difficult issue. Sadly, that’s a rare phenomenon in a world torn by chaotic violence, wars, big power rivalries, and fears of worse to come. Negotiations and cooperation could be viewed as a sign of hope, one small step toward coming together on humanity’s most unavoidable challenges: climate change and the threat of nuclear war.

Why is Netanyahu hysterical? Why is he rallying the GOP and a majority of Congressional Democrats against Obama’s “bad deal”?

I don’t think it’s only a ploy on the eve of Israeli elections. Nor is it a genuine fear of an imminent or soon-to-be danger that Iran will bomb Israel. It’s more likely that a nuclear-armed Israeli government, if run by expansionists and ultra-orthodox “settlers”, would bomb Iran than the other way around.

What makes him desperate is the threat that serious diplomacy poses to the policies and ambitions of Israel’s extremist right wing government. The Iran negotiations reveal a fissure between strategic interests of the United States and those of Israel’s occupiers and expansionists. While virtually every politician in America swears undying loyalty to Israel, and the armaments and money flow unabated, there is considerable unease about constraining US policy according to the desires of an increasingly ostracized Israeli government.

Incredibly, Netanyahu never mentioned the “Palestinian problem”, but it was surely in his calculations.  The process of real negotiations, especially involving a wide diversity of governments, runs completely counter to the formulas that have sustained and expanded the occupation. Either Israel could rely on the United States, its partner and chosen “mediator”, or it could defy even the US negotiators by expanding settlements, building walls, or countering resistance with indiscriminate military force.

Now the rest of the world is beginning to play a significant part. Condemnation of apartheid, boycotts, support for a Palestinian State cannot be dismissed. Despite Netanyahu’s loud declarations in the name of “all Jews”, many Jews in the United States and Israel are angered by his distortion of “Never Again” into a justification for oppression and violence against others.

What about Netanyahu’s Congressional audience, those who cheered him wildly and are ready, at his bidding, to do their utmost to undercut Obama and doom the negotiations?

Some may know not where the road leads; other Democrats may be offended, but are too intimidated to protest. But here is the real menace: the spectacle that Boehner sponsored was nothing less than the gathering of a war party that seeks full control of US foreign and military policy.

US foreign policy is and has been on a wrong and dangerous course. It remains driven by the “American Century” delusion, the concept that the USA is and will always be the sole superpower.  Despite the many failed wars and missions, there remains the faith that our colossal military superiority and alliances such as NATO can ultimately prevail in securing “world order” consistent with US interests and “exceptional” values. But this changing world requires something different. None of the crises and hugely difficult problems can be mitigated without putting common interests above divisions of “friend or foe” dictated traditionally by conflict over spheres of influence.

That’s another whole story. But what happened this week in Washington is striking evidence that it matters whether voices of sanity gain ground even in limited ways (eg the Iran negotiations, recognition of Cuba, partial agreements on climate change, easing tensions over the Ukraine) or if a “bipartisan” war party takes full command of the controls.

Nothing could be worse — for us, for the Israelis and Palestinians. for the world — than a committed hawk as US President in axis with a Dr. Strangelove at the head of an ultra-right Israeli government.