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.”

Monday, October 12, 2015


An American fascist caucus has formed within the US Congress.

John Boehner and Kevin McCarthy are too weak to satisfy the Ted Cruz cohort. Don’t underestimate the caucus. It has a constituency and the support of the Koch and Adelson fortunes. Worse, what distinguishes it from Boehner, McCarthy and nearly all GOP presidential hopefuls is strictly tactical: boldness versus some caution regarding the most practical route to presidential power. The raw political power of the extreme right is now a clear and present danger to our country and to the world.

Is this over the top? I admit to being old enough to have my thoughts scarred by bitter memories of a previous century. But I do remember how long it took most of the world to recognize the face of fascism. I do remember that the way was paved by disbelief and disunity, even mockery, as democratic institutions cracked and finally crumbled.

There is no easy political answer. Only the American people can turn things around. The response to Bernie Sanders is hopeful. His message is rallying millions to organize and fight for economic and social equality. For her part, Hillary Clinton has moved over to oppose the pro-corporate Trans-Pacific Trade Pact, but remains distinctly hawkish on foreign and military policy.

But the most important moment is now, not a year from now. In addition to so many urgent issues progressives are acting on, nothing  is more important than to arouse people to anger over the spectacle now enfolding in Congress. There is a wrecking crew at work. It is taking aim at everything worthwhile in the country, hell-bent on replacing democracy with oligarchy. It is spearheading total commitment to military confrontation and war.

It’s time, maybe past time, to put aside rose colored glasses, time to turn the tide.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Note: I'm reposting this piece in an attempt to escape the clutches of an invasive marketing system. First posted 9/19/2014, it has apparently been sent out without my permission to thousands of bloggers seeking to find advertising outlets for for their entrepreneurial web sites,  many touting diet fads, "get rich" schemes, or pornography. As I result, my blog has been flooded with thousands of "hits" that overwhelm  any statistical information I might find useful. Between big corporations and government spying, nothing remains of truly free speech and rights of privacy.

This post is my article in a book published in observance of the 50th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement:
FiftyYears of Free Speech: Perspectives on the Movement that Revolutionized Berkeley, with editors Meg Elison, Gina Cova, Chloe Hunt and Alex Berryhill, published by The Daily Californian and Independent Berkeley Student publishing company, (Berkeley, CA)


Fifty years.

Most students who experienced FSM are alive to tell the tale. Probably most members of the faculty of 1964 are not. They would surely be astonished to see “what time hath wrought”, how warmly UC has come to embrace the unruly band that refused to abide by institutional “norms” in 1964.

Image change over time is not uncommon, though it can be quite spectacular. When we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday, the conventional narrative overlooks how he was vilified for opposing the Vietnam War, how much the entire civil rights movement was hounded by the FBI and considered by successive presidents of the United States to be a thorn in the side.

So we might well remember how hard the authorities fought against the free speech demands. The UC administration and the Regents resisted stubbornly; campus protesters were confronted by police and, over the next few years, by a hostile governor who ordered in the National Guard.

I was almost 43 when FSM burst on to the Berkeley campus, having joined the faculty only two months earlier.

FSM took us, the faculty, on a very bumpy ride. A few got on board when students surrounded the police car in Sproul Plaza. Most were unresponsive, a few annoyed and hostile, most assuming the disturbance would soon blow over. The mass arrests at Sproul Hall on December 2nd changed the mood, a majority shocked by the use of such force at the behest of campus administrators.

I remember standing with Professor Howard Schachman at Sproul Hall right after the students were dragged out and arrested. We decided to enlist our colleagues to convene an ad hoc meeting of faculty that evening. That meeting in the old Life Sciences Building formed the Committee of 200, which rallied a large majority of the faculty to the side of free speech, culminating in the historic Academic Senate vote of December 8th. Of course that landslide vote marking the FSM’s victory was guaranteed in advance when campus police tried (and failed) forcibly to keep Mario Savio from speaking at the Greek Theater convocation.

We listen in awe today to the remarkably thoughtful, poetic and inspired speeches of Mario Savio, but I’m reminded that some administrators were so blinded by rage that they could say, as one did to me: “he speaks the language of the gutter”.  I’ve told the story elsewhere (a chapter in the Zelnik and Cohn book about FSM) of my being asked for advice at high levels of the UC administration, advice that was rejected because it was supportive of the students. Moreover, adding injury to insult, a record of that “confidential” encounter was passed on to the FBI and appeared in my FBI file obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

FSM gave something very important to faculty who came to its support. It gave (or evoked) courage and a sense of community with the students.

Soon after the FSM prevailed, students and much of the faculty used their “free speech” to protest the Vietnam War. Governor Reagan, who had conspired with J. Edgar Hoover to oust UC President Clark Kerr as too liberal, felt that speech shouldn’t be free after all. When students and faculty decided to hold a “Vietnam Commencement” supporting graduating seniors who had pledged not to fight in Vietnam, Reagan and the Regents banned the event. But it took place anyway, thousands filling Sproul Plaza, and 300 faculty standing together on the steps of Sproul Hall in direct defiance of the ban. Threatened punishment failed to materialize.

Later still, during the Regents’ effort to eliminate People’s Park, Governor Reagan ordered the National Guard to the Berkeley campus, unleashing tear gas indiscriminately from swooping helicopters. A delegation of faculty went to Sacramento to plead for sanity. When the Governor called them in for a tongue lashing in front of massed news cameras, the faculty delegation took him on and actually achieved remarkably favorable coverage by the media.

So FSM wasn’t the end of the fight for free speech. For some, it continued in support of efforts for affirmative action and establishment of ethnic studies. For many more, it carried on to divestment of UC’s holdings in apartheid South Africa. And that didn’t come easily either.

FSM turned out to be an important part of many lives, my own included. We have every reason to be proud of what happened at UC, of the spirit that added to the University’s greatness.

Among other things, those years gave me some of the most valued friendships of a lifetime. There were Mario Savio, Bettina Aptheker and Jack Kurzweil; Conn Hallinan and Brian O’Brien, who helped form the union of graduate assistants; and many more who were students back then. Among faculty, my dearest memories are of Reggie Zelnik and Larry Levine, young assistant professors in 1964 who risked their careers without hesitation to stand for free speech before most of the faculty was ready to pay attention. Like Mario, they died much too soon. So did Pat St. Lawrence, another good friend who in 1964 was the only woman among tenured faculty in biology.

Then there are Howard Schachman, Charlie Sellers, and a few other nonagenarians like me, still rolling along with no regrets that our part in UC’s story is more than academic.

I’m still using my free speech. You are invited to share your views with me:  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


After much deliberation, our Jesuit governor has signed “death with dignity” into California law. That’s good news and I take it personally. I seem to be in pretty good shape “for my age”, but this is an option I may or may not soon need. It’s something one thinks about when a 94th birthday is coming up.

The new California law is more evidence that progress at the level of public opinion and cultural advancement goes on even when governmental institutions are stagnant and/or reactionary. When will that reality register in the battle to curtail gun violence? And when will it bring about abolition of the death penalty?