Tuesday, June 29, 2010

BP Turning Tykes Into Activists (With Exclusive New Video)

June 29, 2010 at 10:24:23

BP Turning Tykes Into Activists (With Exclusive New Video)

By Daniel Tilson (about the author) Page 1 of 1 page(s)


For OpEdNews: Daniel Tilson - Writer

It's hard to know what to tell young children about the biggest news story of our time, the BP Gulf Oil Spill. Four-year-olds are curious by nature, to say the least. They're such indiscriminate information sponges that it can be darned difficult keeping big news of the "real world" out of their intake zone, even if you try.

Heaven knows must of us are careful not to sit them down in front of the evening news and go off to make dinner. But they still manage to catch wind of some of the more super-sized news stories of our day & age.

When that happens, it feels to this parent like the safest thing to do is offer some factual context, and some reassurance - enough information to create a basic understanding of what's happening, without nightmare-inducing levels of detail. Then let them question, comment, vent a little as needed, treating them like the little emerging citizens of the world that they are, complete with free speech rights (within reason, that is!).

That's what I ended up doing with my four-year-old this past weekend. She has been peripherally aware of the Gulf oil spill, especially living right near the coast in Florida. But we've shielded her from the more ugly aspects and images of the story, the way we do from any genuinely disturbing, scary input from this information overloaded world.

Early Saturday morning my daughter heard me talking on the phone about the Hands Across The Sand event, a fifteen-minute global happening where men, women and children would be gathering on coastal beaches worldwide, joining hands in peaceful opposition to the threat of continued offshore drilling.

When I got off the phone, Aliza was full of questions. So I carefully filled her in on what offshore oil drilling was, how BP's rig had exploded and sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, how oil had been gushing out ever since and how much trouble that was causing. I reassured her that it would get fixed, but I couldn't promise her it would never happen again.

That's where activism came into play.

Aliza was disturbed and dismayed when she heard about the oil spill and what it was doing to waters, wildlife and coastlines. She wanted to know if other kids knew about all this. And she wanted to know what she could do about it.

As she often does because she knows Daddy is a filmmaker, she asked me to grab the always handy little "Flip Video" camera and "take a movie", so she could "let the kids" know what was going on - and show them what they could do about it.

The thing of it is, once she felt like she had a better handle on this oil spill disaster story that been confusing her for a while, once she felt like she was able to have her say about it, and once she felt like she had done something to help prevent it from happening again...she seemed to feel much, much better.

Maybe The Next Generation Can Get Us Off Oil Once & For All...


Daniel Tilson was born and raised in New York City, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School, and New York University's Film and Television School, with a double major in Film/TV Production & Broadcast Journalism. Tilson established his own first (more...)

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

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Sticking the public with the bill for the bankers' crisis

June 28, 2010 at 21:57:04

Sticking the public with the bill for the bankers' crisis

By Naomi Klein (about the author) Page 1 of 1 page(s)
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For OpEdNews: Naomi Klein - Writer

My city feels like a crime scene and the criminals are all melting into the night, fleeing the scene. No, I'm not talking about the kids in black who smashed windows and burned cop cars on Saturday.

I'm talking about the heads of state who, on Sunday night, smashed social safety nets and burned good jobs in the middle of a recession. Faced with the effects of a crisis created by the world's wealthiest and most privileged strata, they decided to stick the poorest and most vulnerable people in their countries with the bill.

How else can we interpret the G20's final communiqué, which includes not even a measly tax on banks or financial transactions, yet instructs governments to slash their deficits in half by 2013. This is a huge and shocking cut, and we should be very clear who will pay the price: students who will see their public educations further deteriorate as their fees go up; pensioners who will lose hard-earned benefits; public-sector workers whose jobs will be eliminated. And the list goes on. These types of cuts have already begun in many G20 countries including Canada, and they are about to get a lot worse.

They are happening for a simple reason. When the G20 met in London in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, the leaders failed to band together to regulate the financial sector so that this type of crisis would never happen again. All we got was empty rhetoric, and an agreement to put trillions of dollars in public monies on the table to shore up the banks around the world. Meanwhile the U.S. government did little to keep people in their homes and jobs, so in addition to hemorrhaging public money to save the banks, the tax base collapsed, creating an entirely predictable debt and deficit crisis.

At this weekend's summit, Prime Minister Stephen Harper convinced his fellow leaders that it simply wouldn't be fair to punish those banks that behaved well and did not create the crisis (despite the fact that Canada's highly protected banks are consistently profitable and could easily absorb a tax). Yet somehow these leaders had no such concerns about fairness when they decided to punish blameless individuals for a crisis created by derivative traders and absentee regulators.

Last week, The Globe and Mail published a fascinating article about the origins of the G20. It turns out the entire concept was conceived in a meeting back in 1999 between then finance minister Paul Martin and his U.S. counterpart Lawrence Summers (itself interesting since Mr. Summers was at that time playing a central role in creating the conditions for this financial crisis allowing a wave of bank consolidation and refusing to regulate derivatives).

The two men wanted to expand the G7, but only to countries they considered strategic and safe. They needed to make a list but apparently they didn't have paper handy. So, according to reporters John Ibbitson and Tara Perkins, "the two men grabbed a brown manila envelope, put it on the table between them, and began sketching the framework of a new world order." Thus was born the G20.

The story is a good reminder that history is shaped by human decisions, not natural laws. Mr. Summers and Mr. Martin changed the world with the decisions they scrawled on the back of that envelope. But there is nothing to say that citizens of G20 countries need to take orders from this hand-picked club.

Already, workers, pensioners and students have taken to the streets against austerity measures in Italy, Germany, France, Spain and Greece, often marching under the slogan: "We won't pay for your crisis." And they have plenty of suggestions for how to raise revenues to meet their respective budget shortfalls.

Many are calling for a financial transaction tax that would slow down hot money and raise new money for social programs and climate change. Others are calling for steep taxes on polluters that would underwrite the cost of dealing with the effects of climate change and moving away from fossil fuels. And ending losing wars is always a good cost-saver.

The G20 is an ad hoc institution with none of the legitimacy of the United Nations. Since it just tried to stick us with a huge bill for a crisis most of us had no hand in creating, I say we take a cue from Mr. Martin and Mr. Summers. Flip it over, and write on the back of the envelope: Return to sender.


Naomi Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. To read all her latest writing visit www.naomiklein.org
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

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Latest Casualty of the BP Spill: Strip Clubs

To see the video click on the title...........for some reason I can't post things that I used to ...........like videos..........I just got a new computer with "windows 7"...........there are some features that I like but overall I still like XP best...........sorry, I digress..........LOLOLOL

Posted by Brian Merchant at 1:54 pm

June 28, 2010

Latest Casualty of the BP Spill: Strip Clubs

Cross-posted from Treehugger.

Lest you think the economic damage from the BP spill be limited to the seafood trade, tourism, and such industries directly dependent on an un-oiled Gulf of Mexico, we turn to one of the more unlikely institutions that’s seen its business dry up in the wake of the disaster: Strip clubs.

The Herald Sun reports:

An unlikely company has filed a claim for compensation regarding the disaster – a New Orleans strip club. The owners of The Mimosa Dancing Girls, located on the edge of New Orleans, claimed that the spill was bad for business as the fishermen who usually frequented the club cannot afford to spend money there …

Obviously, the impact of a disaster that puts entire industries out of commission is going to have a serious ripple effect — any business that previously relied on workers in the seafood industry is going to have a tough time, needless to say. And though many make the argument that some of these fishermen are getting paid by BP for doing cleanup work, it’s reasonable to assume that many will be saving that money, knowing that when BP no longer requires their services for cleanup, they may find themselves in dire financial straits.

Which is why it makes sense that many of the claims being filed now are not from fishermen, and that other industries may actually be getting hit harder right now: “officials at BP’s New Orleans claims centre said the bulk of claimants were no longer fishermen … As well as strip joint owners, restaurant waitresses, dock workers, plumbers and electricians also came to the centre, saying their livelihoods were severely hit,” the Sun reports.

For another example, just check out this CNN video of a business that is closing its doors tomorrow.

I’ll go ahead and state the obvious: the economic pain already being caused by the BP Gulf spill is already very real.

Should I Quit Being Christian?

Tikkun / By Be Scofield 35 COMMENTS

Should I Quit Being Christian? Some Questions for the New Atheists

The new atheists negate the contributions of religious people in the reforming of religion and the resisting of injustice.

June 28, 2010

I want your opinion about something. I’m a liberal religious person who doesn’t believe in doctrines, dogma or a supernatural God. 19% of members in my tradition identify as atheist, 30% as agnostic and the rest Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Pagan or otherwise. Many of us have been wounded by the bigotry, homophobia and dogma in the religions we grew up in and find refuge, support and community in my tradition. We come together on Sunday mornings to enjoy music and hear sermons about social justice, the power of community and how to live inspiring and meaningful lives. Some ministers may use the word God in an all-inclusive way but most choose to avoid the term because of its troubled history. Here’s my question for you: Should I abandon my tradition because liberal and moderate religion serves to justify the extremes? Is my participation in this religious institution providing legitimacy and credibility for fundamentalism, violence, oppression and bigotry done in the name of religion? I’m studying to be a minister in this tradition. It’s called Unitarian Universalism. Am I guilty by association? Should I jump ship? What do you think?

I know what Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins would tell me. They are two of the new atheists most responsible for spreading this idea about liberal and moderate religion justifying the extremes. Liberals are “aiding and abetting” the most dangerous religions because they give them credibility by participating in the institution of religion itself. Sam Harris states that moderates are “in large part responsible for the religious conflict in our world” and “Religious tolerance-born of the notion that every human being should be free to believe whatever he wants about God-is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss.” And Richard Dawkins states, “The teachings of “moderate” religion, though not extremist in themselves, are an open invitation to extremism.” And when asked about why he lumps liberal religions like Unitarianism in with fundamentalism Hitchens responded a reference to Camus stating that he believes all religion is comparable to rats and vermin.

Believe it or not I’m open to their ideas. As someone who is committed to ending oppression against marginalized groups including atheists (see my post ”We’re All Born Atheists”. I listen very carefully to what they have to say. While I don’t have any plans to drop out of my graduate school and abandon my career path anytime soon I want to consider this question they raise very carefully. Maybe you can convince me otherwise.

The first question I have for Harris and Dawkins is this, do other liberal and moderate things justify their extreme forms? For example if Harris drinks liberally or moderately shall we conclude that he lends credibility or legitimacy to alcoholism? Does his liberal behavior justify the tens of thousands of deaths each year which are attributable to alcohol abuse? Why? Why not? Does the pot smoker give credence to the heroin addict? How about politics? Does the liberal congressman Dennis Kucinich lend credibility to the Bush administration era policies that led to torture, war and occupation? Is Kucinich guilty for associating with the political system despite his fierce criticism of U.S. Imperialism? Was it enough for congressmen to speak out against the Vietnam War? Or should they have rid themselves of all government? Following Harris’ logic one could also say that the child building a baking soda volcano for her science fair legitimizes the most dangerous nuclear weapons that we have ever known because they both employ science. Can you think of any other real world examples that the logic of Dawkins or Harris would actually apply to? Or is this only true when it comes to religion? If so, what is unique about religion that makes this principle valid?

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"I'm a Nervous Wreck":

Mother Jones Online / By Mac McClelland 3 COMMENTS

"I'm a Nervous Wreck": Gulf Fishermen's Wives Face Trauma, Domestic Abuse, Economic Insecurity

The wives of the men whose livelihoods have likely been destroyed by the BP spill forever, grapple with an uncertain future and air their rage.

June 28, 2010

Oil stains cover the gloves of a Greenpeace official after he dipped them in oil floating on the surface in the Gulf of Mexico off Lousiana. Despite thick globs of oil that have coated their sandy beach, scared away tourists and forced fisherman to hang up their nets, Grand Isle residents insist the spill is no reason to stop drilling.

Inside a cool, shaded old plantation house in St. Bernard, Louisiana, we're all breathing in our favorite color and blowing out gray smoke.

This relaxation exercise is brought to a roomful of women by the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit founded in 2006 to provide rebuilding services to Katrina-ravaged St. Bernard Parish as well as offer "psychological rebuilding" through its wellness and mental-health center. Since the oil spill started, the organization has been looking to vastly expand its services to meet the area's latest mental-health crisis: the unrelenting depression falling on families living and working on the Gulf Coast. Everyone here except the three clinic workers and me is a fisherman's wife.

Michelle, the clinical coordinator running this early-morning support group, asks the five wives who have come what the St. Bernard Project can do to help them.

"I don't know, because I don't know what's gonna happen."

"We need work. For the wives."

"Whatever happens needs child care. If wives are gonna start workin', someone has to take care of the kids. A lot of fishermen have kids."

"The biggest issue is that our situation is unknown," a woman named Tammy says.* She is tough and broad and has a soothing husk in her voice like phone sex or five packs of cigarettes. Tammy is dressed in white and is eight months pregnant. I hope never to get in a bar fight with her. "They haven't stopped the oil, huh? This is like a time bomb. You can't prepare for what you don't know. But I can tell you right now that we need toilet paper."

The claims checks BP is supposed to be sending are eight days late, which means everyone's out of cash for necessities. The day before, cars lined up and down the nearby highway for a 38,000-pound food giveaway. This morning, like every morning, there was a line outside a church center in New Orleans East, in a part of town where stray dogs scavenge trashy lots and industry makes the air smell like burning toast. There, and at four other locations around Southern Louisiana once a week, Catholic Charities is giving out $100 grocery vouchers. Though they don't open until nine, sometimes it takes being at the doors by four in the morning, when it's somehow already hot, to get one, because they always run out. But you can't buy toilet paper with the vouchers—food only.

I remember that about the $75 grocery vouchers the Red Cross gave us as Katrina evacuees in 2005. The checkout clerk at a grocery store in Ohio wouldn't let me buy vitamins, and boy was I mad about that. Had I not already cried myself out at the Gap looking at a shirt that I already owned but might be underwater back home, I would have pitched a sobby fit in Giant Eagle.

"They won't even let you buy Dawn," Brenda complains. It's difficult to describe Brenda without employing the phrase "fiery redhead." In January, she moved out of the 10-by-16-foot FEMA trailer she'd been living in with four kids and a husband and cats and dogs. In the new house, she can't stop the kids from sleeping in her bed, because they got used to doing it, out of necessity, for so long. She thinks almost everything, including the following statement, is funny: "I mean, Dawn is related to food."

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Byrd's Life Of Learning‏

The Progress Report

June 29, 2010 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, Alex Seitz-Wald, Igor Volsky, and Tanya Somanader

Byrd's Life Of Learning

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), America's longest-serving member of Congress and a "titan" of the U.S. Senate, died on Monday after 51 years and eight full terms in the Senate. Throughout his tenure, Byrd held a number of leadership positions, including majority and minority leader and president pro tem. "Raised by an aunt and uncle in grinding poverty and essentially self-taught, Byrd read deeply -- especially the US Constitution, the King James Version of the Bible, histories of the Roman republic, and English political history. He rose to leadership in the Senate by massive effort and an unrivaled grasp of Senate procedure, which he shared with colleagues on both sides of the aisle." "His life is the Senate," said former senator Bob Dole. "He knows more about it than anyone living or dead. He doesn't watch television. He doesn't follow sports. He's dedicated his life to the institution and his family." Indeed, Byrd's career was one of great evolution through education and learning. Despite his early and ugly involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, Byrd later became "a passionate advocate for civil rights, and he was one of the most vocal supporters of legislation making the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. a national holiday." Later in his career, Byrd declared that he would change his vote on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which he initially filibustered. With his early opposition to the Iraq war, his ability to shape the Senate and its rules, and his tenacity to take on the coal industry, Byrd undoubtedly shaped his legacy and left a lasting imprint on the institution and our nation.

AN EARLY OPPONENT OF THE WAR: The New York Times' obituary notes that when asked how many presidents he served under, Byrd said, "None." "I have served with presidents, not under them," he would say. It was this belief in the legislature as a co-equal branch of government that led Byrd to stake out an early and rather prophetic opposition to the Iraq war. At a time when many lawmakers cowered to President Bush, Byrd opposed the 2002 congressional resolution often and loudly. It "amounted to a complete evisceration of the Congressional prerogative to declare war," he wrote in "Losing America," "and an outrageous abdication of responsibility to hand such unfettered discretion to this callow and reckless president." "How have we gotten to this low point in the history of Congress? Are we too feeble to resist the demands of a president who is determined to bend the collective will of Congress to his will -- a president who is changing the conventional understanding of the term 'self-defense'? And why are we allowing the executive to rush our decision-making right before an election?" Byrd asked in an October, 2002 New York Times op-ed. "We may not always be able to avoid war, particularly if it is thrust upon us, but Congress must not attempt to give away the authority to determine when war is to be declared." As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent observes, "Byrd's stand against the Iraq invasion is not just a testament to his own courage. It's also a testament to the cowardice of other members of his party at an absolutely critical moment -- an epic cave that may have altered the course of history and should never be forgotten." Byrd's opposition to the Iraq War "was made all the more forceful by the fact that he had staunchly supported the Vietnam War -- and could speak with the authority of someone who had an institutional memory of the consequences of that decision," Sargent added.

RESPECT FOR THE SENATE: A strong and loud defender of Senate rules and procedure, Byrd authored a multi-volume history on Senate procedure and often delivered lengthy speeches on the floor reminding his colleagues of the failures of the Roman Senate. "He was as much a part of the Senate as the marble busts that line its chamber and its corridors," President Obama said in a statement. "His profound passion for that body and its role and responsibilities was as evident behind closed doors as it was in the stemwinders he peppered with history." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) remembered Byrd as "one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen." "He was the foremost guardian of the Senate's complex rules, procedures and customs, and as leader of both the majority and the minority caucuses in the Senate, he knew better than most that legislation is the art of compromise." Known for his defense of the filibuster, Byrd still criticized the way in which Republicans manipulated the rules to thwart the legislative progress. "The right to filibuster anchors this necessary fence. But it is not a right intended to be abused," Byrd wrote in May of this year. "During this 111th Congress in particular the minority has threatened to filibuster almost every matter proposed for Senate consideration. I find this tactic contrary to each Senator's duty to act in good faith." "A true filibuster is a fight, not a threat or a bluff. For most of the Senate's history, Senators motivated to extend debate had to hold the floor as long as they were physically able. The Senate was either persuaded by the strength of their arguments or unconvinced by either their commitment or their stamina. True filibusters were therefore less frequent, and more commonly discouraged, due to every Senator's understanding that such undertakings required grueling personal sacrifice, exhausting preparation, and a willingness to be criticized for disrupting the nation's business. Now, unbelievably, just the whisper of opposition brings the 'world's greatest deliberative body' to a grinding halt. Why?"

GROWING SUPPORT FOR CHANGE: Once a strong proponent of the coal industry, Byrd began to advocate for reform of the industry towards the end of his career, working with other senators to craft global warming legislation that would smooth the transition for miners and the coal industry to a clean energy economy. In an op-ed published in December of last year, Byrd criticized mountaintop removal and urged the West Virginia coal mining industry to innovate and adapt to the growing threat of climate change. "To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say 'deal me out.' West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table." "The truth is that some form of climate legislation will likely become public policy because most American voters want a healthier environment," Byrd predicted. "Major coal-fired power plants and coal operators operating in West Virginia have wisely already embraced this reality, and are making significant investments to prepare. The future of coal and indeed of our total energy picture lies in change and innovation." Byrd also characterized Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-AK) resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon as a vote "to dismiss scientific facts" about climate change. He took Massey Energy to task for its "disregard for human life and safety" in refusing to fund a new school so students could move away from the company's coal processing plant. "Such arrogance suggests a blatant disregard for the impact of their mining practices on our communities, residents and particularly our children," Byrd said in a statement. "These are children's lives we are talking about." Following the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Massey mine in West Virginia on April 5, Byrd challenged Massey's statements about safety and "demanded explanations from the mine regulator for starting aggressive inspections after the disaster." "I cannot fathom how an American business could practice such disgraceful health and safety policies while simultaneously boasting about its commitment to the safety of workers," Byrd said. He also criticized the Mine Safety and Health Administration, saying he is "perplexed" as to how the tragedy could have happened "given the significant increases in funding and manpower" Congress has approved for the agency.

Tomgram: Stephen Kinzer, BP's First "Spill"‏

June 29, 2010

Tomgram: Stephen Kinzer, BP's First "Spill"

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: To check out the most recent review of my book, The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s, which just went up at Mother Jones magazine's website, click here (“...as in his daily dispatches, he takes on our war-possessed world with clear-eyed, penetrating precision...”). For all those of you who, in return for a signed copy of the book, sent in a contribution of $75 or more online by last Thursday -- and there were enough of you to make a real difference to TD’s finances! -- I signed away until my wrist hurt last Friday and the books went out to you Monday. For any contributions that came in later or by mail, I’ll try to do the next round this Thursday. In the meantime, many thanks to you all!

While I’m at it, let me recommend a second book. Some of you may remember Stephen Kinzer for his groundbreaking work on the CIA’s overthrow of a democratic Guatemalan government in 1954 in Bitter Fruit, or his more recent history, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Well, his newest book, Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future, has just been published. Andrew Bacevich calls it “history with a bite”; Juan Cole, “a must-read for anyone concerned with the future of the United States in the Middle East.” It’s a history-cum-critique-cum-policy-review of American folly in the Middle East, especially in relation to Iran, but also Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. It couldn’t be more relevant to this moment or more riveting. I’m almost done and can hardly put it down. So check out Andy Kroll’s intro below, read Kinzer’s dispatch, and then, remember, if you order my book and his (or anything else, book or otherwise) after arriving at Amazon via any of the TD book links to that site, we get a small percentage of your purchase at no cost to you -- and it does add up. Tom]

Only one industry in the world can make Wall Street’s earnings look like chump change: Big Oil. This is, after all, a business where a “slump” year for international oil giant ExxonMobil means annual profits of only $19 billion. A few years earlier, on the back of skyrocketing oil prices, the same company had netted $45 billion, the single largest annual profit in history, a sum that exceeded the gross domestic products of more than half the world’s nations. And as Exxon was drilling its way into the record books in the U.S. in 2008, Royal Dutch Shell was doing the same in Britain, hauling in $27.5 billion, or a mind-bending $75 million in profits daily. To keep the cash coming in, the five biggest oil and gas corporations have spent nearly $34 billion in the past three years on exploration. To keep American lawmakers off their backs or in their pockets, they’ve spent $195 million on lobbying over that same period.

Here’s what they haven’t spent their largesse on: oil-spill response. BP, whose American operations may never recover from its Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, told Congress it spent about $9.6 million in each of the past three years on research into safer drilling technologies. ConocoPhillips spent an even more meager $1.3 million -- and that was over three years. Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has ripped oil companies for their negligence, and called their preparations for future catastrophes “paltry.” Given the funding, it’s hardly a surprise that oil companies like BP are now stuck with antiquated and ineffective tools when a spill occurs, no less a spill a mile under the Gulf of Mexico’s waters. As the Associated Press reported recently, the main technologies being used in the Gulf -- oil dispersants, offshore booms, and skimmers -- are the very same ones employed to clean up the Exxon Valdez spill two decades ago.

Now that it’s helped create one of the great environmental catastrophes in history, BP has typically pledged to right its wrongs, including by giving $500 million to fund “independent research” into the impact of the Gulf spill on the marine and shoreline environment. Of course, you don’t need millions in funding to know that the effect of BP’s spill will reverberate throughout the Gulf coast region and along Florida’s white sand beaches for decades, possibly generations. As Stephen Kinzer, the acclaimed author of the newly published Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future, writes in his debut TomDispatch post, the Deepwater spill is hardly the first time BP has wreaked havoc on a nation and its people. Andy

BP in the Gulf -- The Persian Gulf
How an Oil Company Helped Destroy Democracy in Iran
By Stephen Kinzer

To frustrated Americans who have begun boycotting BP: Welcome to the club. It's great not to be the only member any more!

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Corporate Snakes In The Supreme Court Grass‏

We had already done nine parts in our series condemning various gross judicial errors in what we are calling the Supreme Court's "Corporations United" case, ruling that corporations can spend whatever they want to pervert our election process. We're not proud, we're not tired, but there is still more treacherous ground to cover so let's get back on it.

But first, we are valiantly trying to understand why we have even a single "Corporations Are NOT The People" bumper sticker left. Yes, you have requested and we have sent out tens of thousands of these beautiful 4 color process bumper stickers, mostly entirely for free not even charging for postage. Yes, hundreds of you have gotten the bulk packs to distribute these among your fellow activists and neighbors. But you folks have not picked us clean yet.

Get a pack of 25 for just a modest donation, which makes it possible to sent out all the free singles to those who cannot make a donation right now.

Bulk Corporations Are Not The People bumper stickers: http://www.peaceteam.net/bumper_stickers_bulk.php

Request one free for yourself if you have not done so already, and let's get this confront the Supreme Court movement visible and mobilized.

Free Single Bumper Stickers: http://www.peaceteam.net/bumper_stickers.php

And now, part 10 of the analysis series, in the plainest non-legalese we can muster.

In part 9, we addressed the outrage of the Supreme Court creating a super First Amendment right for corporations, while at the same time having zero tolerance for the free speech of ordinary people in cases where free speech actually was important to protect the interests of society, as in exposing police corruption. But Kennedy, writing for the rogue 5-4 majority even confuses in his opinion the difference between the speech of the people and the speech of media organizations.

The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, OR of the press . . ."

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are NOT the same thing. Otherwise why reference them separately? And yet Kennedy makes a big point in his opinion (at page 35) that the precedent he was so bent on overturning could potentially "ban the political speech of media corporations" themselves, despite the fact that there was no evidence that any such thing had ever happened in the 20 years since the Austin opinion originally issued.

Well, there is a very good reason why no such thing could be demonstrated, because as Kennedy himself admits, just two sentences in the opinion later, media corporations were EXEMPTED from the law he was determined to decimate. Moreover, media corporations have always been perfectly free to speak politically, it's called an EDITORIAL, and they do it all the time, something Kennedy might know if he ever came out of the 18th century cave his legal reasoning dwells in.

So the argument that allowing media corporations to speak politically in their editorial capacity is somehow prejudicial of the "free" speech of corporations to spend a king's ransom to buy ADVERTISING is not just a straw man argument, it is the argument of a man made of trash. For if media corporations cross the line and start financing their own ads for political purposes, and exceed the exemption which includes only "any news story, commentary or editorial" [2 USC 431(9)(b)(i)] that would be proscribed and properly so. All this Kennedy would know if he were intellectually honest or diligent enough to even read the actual wording of the statute he cites.

This kind of shoddy and hack attempt to make equivalence between things that are not even comparable is the foundation of rubble on which the whole opinion is built. Freedom of speech of the people does not equate to the freedom of the most dominant corporations to promote their own business interests by influencing elections. And yet, over and over in the opinion we hear the wailing crocodile tear violins that this is all about protecting the free speech of little people, like "small corporations without large amounts of wealth" (page 38). Scalia in his concurring opinion (page 4) jerks at the heart strings even harder talking about Quaker groups printing their own little pamphlets in colonial days and so on.

Different rules MUST apply to different kinds of organizations. The supreme error of the Supreme Court is to try to apply a one size only fits all rule, going to the extreme of equating purely profit driven artificial business entities with people who are live voting citizens.

But mostly, all this is just a total abdication of what judges are supposed to do, which is to make differential judgments. Kennedy whines that judges might have to make "intricate case by case determinations" (opinion page 12), making it sound like doing their JOB (making such determinations) is just too much of a big pain in the butt.

It is preposterous that a law cannot be crafted to distinguish between giant corporations and the comparatively tiny and faint voice of the people when swamped by wall to wall mega-advertising, if that was their real concern. Even more preposterous is the suggestion that if such a determination needs to be made, as required by them, that is an excuse for overturning any standard of determination at all.

For you see, Kennedy had already made a prejudicial determination, that the Austin case and any financial constraints whatsoever on corporate political advertising had to go. And he made that determination long before the case associated with this decision was even filed. He made that determination 20 years ago in his original DISSENT to the case he now so wrongfully overturns, and was just lying in wait all this time, like a snake in the grass, until enough reasonable centrists were replaced with right wing ideologues like himself, to get enough colluding votes to do the dirty deed of taking a wrecking ball to the precedent he had so long resented and despised, precisely what the principle of stare decisis is supposed to protect us from.

And all this should set up perfectly what will be last two parts in this series on this dreadful dictate, coming soon to a computer screen near you.

Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible.

If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at http://www.usalone.com/in.htm


1876 : Battle of Little Bighorn

June 25: 1876 : Battle of Little Bighorn

On this day in 1876, Native American forces led by Chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull defeat the U.S. Army troops of Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer in a bloody battle near southern Montana's Little Bighorn River.

Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, leaders of the Sioux tribe on the Great Plains, strongly resisted the mid-19th-century efforts of the U.S. government to confine their people to reservations. In 1875, after gold was discovered in South Dakota's Black Hills, the U.S. Army ignored previous treaty agreements and invaded the region. This betrayal led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations and join Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in Montana. By the late spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans had gathered in a camp along the Little Bighorn River--which they called the Greasy Grass--in defiance of a U.S. War Department order to return to their reservations or risk being attacked.

In mid-June, three columns of U.S. soldiers lined up against the camp and prepared to march. A force of 1,200 Native Americans turned back the first column on June 17. Five days later, General Alfred Terry ordered Custer's 7th Cavalry to scout ahead for enemy troops. On the morning of June 25, Custer drew near the camp and decided to press on ahead rather than wait for reinforcements.

At mid-day, Custer's 600 men entered the Little Bighorn Valley. Among the Native Americans, word quickly spread of the impending attack. The older Sitting Bull rallied the warriors and saw to the safety of the women and children, while Crazy Horse set off with a large force to meet the attackers head on. Despite Custer's desperate attempts to regroup his men, they were quickly overwhelmed. Custer and some 200 men in his battalion were attacked by as many as 3,000 Native Americans; within an hour, Custer and every last one of his soldier were dead.

The Battle of Little Bighorn--also called Custer's Last Stand--marked the most decisive Native American victory and the worst U.S. Army defeat in the long Plains Indian War. The gruesome fate of Custer and his men outraged many white Americans and confirmed their image of the Indians as wild and bloodthirsty. Meanwhile, the U.S. government increased its efforts to subdue the tribes. Within five years, almost all of the Sioux and Cheyenne would be confined to reservations.


Nygaard Notes #457‏

Nygaard Notes
Independent Periodic News and Analysis
Number 457, June 24, 2010

On the Web at http://www.nygaardnotes.org/


This Week: Rwanda

1. “Quote” of the Week
2. Rwanda: Challenging the Conventional Narrative
3. Rwanda In Recent Years
4. Rethinking The Genocide: Info on Rwanda



In the last issue of the Notes I talked about narrative. Narratives are the stories that we have in our heads, the big stories that we use to make sense of all the little stories that we hear: news stories, gossip, facts, and so forth. I stressed the importance of critically examining those inside-our-heads stories to make sure that they are sensible and provide a good framework for the facts that we come across in our lives.

Recently in the news in the U.S. has been a story about a lawyer from Minnesota who was just released a few days ago from a Rwandan prison after being arrested on charges of “genocide ideology.” Despite the fact that he is a U.S. citizen, and was being held in violation of the principle of free expression that the U.S. supposedly stands for, there was no strong effort on the part of the U.S. government to win his release. This is an important story on many levels, and is a nearly-perfect opportunity to illustrate how a distorted narrative can seriously distort our capacity to respond to human rights issues.

I confess that, up until a couple of weeks ago, I was as ignorant about Rwanda as I suspect are most USAmericans. As I began to look into the background of the Erlinder case for the purposes of explaining it to my friends and readers, I quickly and painfully became aware that I knew next to nothing about the background, and that what I did “know” was mostly wrong, or at least incomplete. That is, I had swallowed the conventional narrative and I was dismayed to learn how misinformed I was.

The good news about this, and in some ways the main message of this issue of the Notes, is that it really took me very little time at all to address my ignorance and to correct my misunderstandings on this important story. As one of the sources I cite in this issue puts it, “The world must take another look at the Rwandan war so as to avoid visiting the same tragedy on other countries, be they in Africa or elsewhere.”

With that in mind, this issue takes a look at recent history in Rwanda.



“Quotes” of the Week

A pair of quotations this week.

“Quote” Number 1:

The first “Quote” is found on page 20 of an August 2009 report called “Rwanda’s Application for Membership of the Commonwealth: Report and Recommendations of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.” It said there that:

“The genocide was (and continues to be) a defining moment in Rwanda. Yet there is considerable controversy about its origin and nature.”

“Quote” Number 2:

On November 19th 1996, the United Nations Security Council voted 14-1 to recommend a second five-year term as U.N. Secretary General for Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt. The one vote was that of the United States, which stood alone in vetoing the recommendation. “Quote” Number 2 is the following sentence, uttered in 1998 by that same Boutros-Ghali:

“The genocide in Rwanda was 100 percent the responsibility of the Americans!”

No wonder the U.S. vetoed him. This “quote” comes from the English translation of Montreal-based scholar Robin Philpot's book “Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali.”

Elsewhere in this issue of the Notes I tell you where you can find the original documents in which both of these “Quotes” can be found.


Rwanda: Challenging the Conventional Narrative

When it comes to knowledge of Rwandan history, my guess is that most people in the U.S. fall into one of two basic groups: People who have read and heard about “The Genocide” in that country in 1994—maybe they have seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda”— and people who know absolutely nothing at all about Rwanda. While it may seem like the first group is ahead of the know-nothings, it ain’t necessarily so, since a very large percentage of what they “know” is only one version of the story, and much of it is inaccurate. So I’ll start by going back to basics.

Rwanda is a small, densely-populated country in Central Africa, bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was the scene of incredible tumult in the early 1990s, culminating in a paroxysm of violence following the death of the President, Juvénal Habyarimana, in April of 1994. In the 100 days following the assassination, between 500,000 and one million people were killed.

The Conventional Narrative

Rwanda scholars Allan Stam and Christian Davenport report that “Like most people with an unsophisticated understanding of Rwandan history and politics, we began our research [in 1998] believing that what we were dealing with was one of the most straightforward cases of political violence in recent times.” A feature story in The Atlantic Monthly in 2001 offered a good, succinct example of the interpretation that most people have heard or seen: “In the course of a hundred days in 1994 the Hutu government of Rwanda and its extremist allies very nearly succeeded in exterminating the country's Tutsi minority. Using firearms, machetes, and a variety of garden implements, Hutu militiamen, soldiers, and ordinary citizens murdered some 800,000 Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu. It was the fastest, most efficient killing spree of the twentieth century.” (Faster than the 250,000 or so killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a few hours in 1945? No. Statements like this are red flags alerting us that we are in the presence of propaganda.)

A 2007 article in the London Guardian summarized the conventional narrative in one sentence: “Rwanda's civil war saw 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered by the Hutus—armed and supported by France.” Another widely-accepted part of the story is the U.S. role in all of this. That same Atlantic Monthly article referred to “a chilling narrative of self-serving caution and flaccid will” as the explanation for a situation in which “the U.S. government knew enough about the genocide early on to save lives, but passed up countless opportunities to intervene.”

That’s the conventional narrative: A “straightforward case” of tribal violence, in which a majority tried to wipe out a minority, with help from a major European power, while the U.S. stood by helplessly.

Genocide Denial?

Anyone with a different interpretation of the events of that time—and their numbers are growing—runs the risk of being accused of “denying the genocide.”

Montreal-based writer and activist Robin Philpot, one of the dissident scholars in this area, addresses the “genocide denial” charge, saying, “What about the genocide? What about the massacres? Everybody saw those images, the machetes, the bodies and skeletons. Nobody can claim that it did not happen. Of course not! However, the simplification of the Rwandan tragedy to a tale of ‘horrible Hutu génocidaires’ massacring ‘innocent Tutsis’ aided and abetted by France is aimed to hide the causes and protect the real criminals. Rwanda suffered a major human disaster. Like other such disasters, it had political causes. Any serious analysis will show unequivocally that that Manichaean, good guy-bad guy, tale was developed by Western imaginations for Western public opinion. The fact that tale has so easily taken root bears witness to our blind subservience to real power and historic contempt for Africa.”

Now, there’s a dissident voice for you! But he’s not the only one. In their 2009 book “The Politics of Genocide”, scholars Edward Herman and David Peterson suggest that the U.S. role may have been quite different than the conventional narrative would have it. They suggest that the U.S. may have actively supported one side in the conflict: the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF. Here’s how Herman and Peterson sum it up:

“The invasions, assassinations, and mass slaughters by which the RPF shot its way to power in Kigali [Rwanda’s capital] advanced many objectives, and their support by the ‘enlightened’ states are regarded by many of the defense teams that practice before the ICTR [International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda] as reflecting a quid pro quo between Washington and the RPF: Washington gains a strong military presence in Central Africa, a diminution of its European rivals’ influence, proxy armies to serve its interests, and access to the raw material-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, known as Zaire into 1997); while the RPF renews Tutsi-minority control of Rwanda, and gains a free hand to kill any perceived internal rivals, along with a client state’s usual immunities, money, weapons, foreign investment, and a great deal of international prestige.”

(A “client state” is a smaller, weaker state that agrees to perform a strategic role in the interest of the U.S. government, in exchange for which they receive the support and protection of the World’s Only Superpower.)

There’s much, much more to say about this, but I’ll leave it there for now, given the constraints of this modest newsletter format.

What I am trying to indicate here is that there are at least two dramatically-differing versions of recent history in Rwanda. One is a simple story of senseless and inexplicable “ethnic violence” in which the U.S. was guilty only of neglect and ignorance. The other is a more complex story, one in which the United States had a more active role in pursuit of its own interests in the region. Those interests were served better by having one side prevail over the other in the struggle for power in Rwanda in the early 1990s.

If it is true that the U.S. bears some significant responsibility for such a massive tragedy—and I think it is true—then we in the U.S. have a responsibility to understand how and why that is so. (See the list elsewhere in this issue for a list of places to go to learn more about Rwanda.)

All of the above has to do with the one bit of Rwandan history that some people know about, The Genocide of 1994. That was 16 years ago. Has anything of importance happened in Rwanda since then? That’s the focus of the following article.


Rwanda In Recent Years

After 1994 the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, came to power in Rwanda. In 2000 the leader of the RPF, Paul Kagame, became President when the Tutsi-controlled Parliament voted him in. In August of 2003 there was a presidential election that Kagame won in a landslide.

The World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) reported after the 2003 elections that “According to official voting results, the US-backed Kagame won 95.1 percent of the vote.” A remarkable figure, given that Kagame’s party had been in power for nine years and “Social and economic conditions in Rwanda [were] disastrous,” according to WSWS, an assessment supported by other reports. Some of the explanation for the “landslide” can perhaps be seen in a 2009 report by Amnesty International, which stated that “The 2003 presidential elections and the 2008 legislative elections in Rwanda were marred by intimidation and political opposition activities were severely restricted.”

In the years since Kagame began his 7-year term—indeed, since Kagame’s party took power in 1994—there has been sharp disagreement about his record.

The Minneapolis-based online newspaper MinnPost reported recently, “In the decade since Kagame, 52, became Rwanda's president, he has been showered with honors and tributes. Last year alone, he won a Clinton Global Citizen Award from the former U.S. president's initiative, an international medal of peace presented by Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California, a ‘Children's Champion Award’ from the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and a ‘Most Innovative People Award’ at the Lebanon 2020 Summit.”

Those are some of the “honors and tributes.” There’s another side to the story, however.

Rwanda’s ranking in the Human Development Index—put out by the United Nations Development Programme, a widely-accepted, if rough, gauge of national well-being—dropped from 158th out of 175 countries in 2003 to 167th out of 175 in 2009.

The human rights situation in Rwanda is problematic. Here are some comments from the 2009 Amnesty International report “Human Rights in Republic of Rwanda:” “Freedom of expression remained severely limited”; “War crimes and crimes against humanity committed during and after the genocide remained largely unprosecuted.” and “War crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] and RPA [Rwandan Patriotic Army] before, during and after the genocide remained largely unprosecuted”; and “Human rights work remained strictly controlled and limited by the government.”

On April 23 of this year Human Rights Watch said that recent actions by the Rwandan government demonstrate “a pattern of increasing restrictions on free expression in Rwanda ahead of August's presidential elections.”

Most relevant to this issue of Nygaard Notes, Amnesty reported that “The National Assembly [in Rwanda] amended the Constitution to give former Presidents immunity from prosecution for life, including for crimes under international law.”

Why would Rwanda pass such a law? It might have something to do with the status of the sitting President, Paul Kagame. The real-life hero of “Hotel Rwanda,” Paul Rusesabagina, in a letter to the Queen of England in 2006, stated that “President Kagame is an unrepentant criminal facing innumerable charges for crimes of war, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide...”

These are not just Rusesabagina’s opinion. Courts in both France and Spain agree that Kagame should come to trial under international law. A report from the Congo News Agency on December 12, 2008 stated that Kagame “is accused in the indictment [by a French court] of ordering the attack [in 1994] on the plane carrying then Rwandan President, Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi. Their deaths led to the genocide of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Judge Fernando Andreou Merelles of the Spanish Central Instruction Court issued indictments against 40 senior officers of the Rwanda Defense Forces formerly of the Rwanda Patriotic Army for committing mass killings after the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. He said he also has evidence against Paul Kagame who only escaped indictment because he is a sitting president.”

In order to entertain the idea that the President, or other members of the ruling RPF, might have blood on their hands, one must re-think the conventional narrative of The Genocide, since that conventional narrative sees Kagame as a genocide-ending hero. So it’s important to know that in 2008 the Rwandan Parliament adopted the “Law Relating to the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Ideology,” commonly known as the “Genocide Ideology Law.” The National Lawyers Guild in the U.S. says that this law “defines genocide ideology broadly, requires no link to any genocidal act, and can be used to include a wide range of legitimate forms of expression, prohibiting speech protected by international conventions such as the Genocide Convention of 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.”

The British free speech group Article 19 stated in a report last September that “Reports of authoritative media and human rights non-governmental organisations indicate that the legacy of genocide is being manipulated by the Rwandan government to suppress political dissent and opposition in a range of ways. Most significantly, this has been done through cases involving the crime of genocide ideology.”

What we see here is that the Rwandan president has arranged things so that he is legally out of the reach of the law for life and that to even think incorrect thoughts about some of the things of which he might be guilty makes one a criminal in Rwanda.

Which brings us to 2010, and the arrest of Minnesota human rights lawyer Peter Erlinder, which is what got Nygaard Notes interested in this story in the first place.

On April 30th of this year “a team of lawyers and process servers attempted to personally serve Rwandan President Paul Kagame with an eight count lawsuit,” according to Ann Garrison writing in the San Francisco Bay View. The eight counts include: Wrongful Death and Murder; Crimes against Humanity; Violation of the Rights of Life, Liberty and Security of Person; Assault and Battery; Violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and Torture.

One of the lawyers attempting to serve the papers was Peter Erlinder. Erlinder is one of the lawyers for the defense in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Erlinder also happens to be one of the lawyers defending one of the leaders of the opposition to Kagame, Victoire Ingabiré Umuhoza. “Ingabiré came back home in January 2010 after 16 years in exile in the Netherlands and immediately declared her interest in the country’s top political job,” according to the InterPress Service. That is, she plans to run for President against Kagame. Not only that, says MinnPost, but “She claimed that crimes had been committed against her Hutu people during the genocide as well as against the Tutsis. But only the Hutus were being prosecuted and punished, she said.”

The idea that members of the ethnic Tutsi group were not the only ones victimized in the crimes of 1994 is known in Rwanda as “Double Genocide Theory.” Garrison explains that “President Kagame accuses both Paul Rusesabagina, of Hotel Rwanda fame, and Victoire Ingabiré Umuhoza, the FDU-Inkingi Party’s presidential candidate, of ‘Double Genocide Theory’ because they dare to say that Hutus were also victims of crimes against humanity...”

So it was that on April 21st Ingabiré was arrested and charged with “Genocide ideology”. Peter Erlinder then went to Rwanda on May 23rd to defend Ingabiré against these charges, and shortly after his arrival he, too, was arrested, and charged with the same thing. This is not a technicality: these charges can land one in prison for 10 to 25 years.

It was the arrest of Mr. Erlinder and the strange response in this country to his arrest that got my attention. The State Department made no comment on the case until five days after Erlinder’s arrest, and then only said that the arrest of this U.S. citizen on grounds of incorrect speech “was the responsibility of the Rwandan government.” State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley would only go so far as to say that “we would like to see him released on compassionate grounds.” No stirring defense of “free speech” or condemnation of the Rwandan government’s suppression of human rights. Odd, no?

One has only to imagine the response from the U.S. government and media if an official enemy of the United States—Iran, say, or Cuba—had made a similar arrest. The fact that there was such a mild and tepid response to Erlinder’s arrest in Rwanda told me that the U.S. must have an interest in this region. Subsequent research indicates that this is indeed true, and what we see here appears to be another case where the power of the United States was used to cause untold suffering in a far-away land, a story which U.S. voters and taxpayers have been propagandized to forget. Or, rather, to replace with another story that better fits the racist Grand Narrative that says the United States is the Shining City on a Hill and Africa is the Dark (uncivilized) Continent.

That Grand Narrative, like the conventional narrative of The Genocide in Rwanda, has been constructed to protect certain groups of people and their interests. When we focus on “senseless tribal (religious/ethnic/age-old) violence,” it interferes with our ability to see the senseless violence perpetrated in the name of Empire. And that is a violence that we can do something about.

Resources for more thoroughly addressing this propaganda appear below.


Rethinking The Genocide: Info on Rwanda

I came into this Rwanda research project already skeptical of the conventional narrative due to my knowledge of the history of U.S. policy in Africa, and of U.S. foreign policy in general. Beyond fostering my skepticism, my knowledge of history was invaluable in assessing the sources at which I looked, a small fraction of which make up the list you see below.

For those who choose to look at some of these resources, I should say that I believe that the facts you will find there are mostly accurate, to the best of my knowledge. But I also want readers to remember that facts by themselves only have meaning when they can be placed into a larger story. Stories give meaning to facts, and different stories give the same facts different meanings. The story of “The Genocide” in Rwanda illustrates this point extraordinarily well.

I’m fairly certain that all of the following sources would likely be considered “radical,” if not criminal, among supporters of the current government in Rwanda. In fact, the recently-released lawyer, Peter Erlinder, was arrested by the Rwandan government for saying some of the things you will read here.

Resources on Rwanda

For a very basic recent history of Rwanda—3 pages—see Amnesty International “Timeline: Rwanda.” http://www.amnestyusa.org/countries/sudan/timeline_rwanda.pdf

For a dissident version of the past 50 years or so of Rwandan history, see Christopher Black’s “The Hidden Story Behind Rwanda's Tragedy,” in Black Star News http://www.blackstarnews.com/news/135/ARTICLE/5831/2009-07-03.html

A succinct look at the U.S. interest in Rwanda comes from Canadian academic and peace activist Michel Chossudovsky. His piece “Rwanda: Installing a US Protectorate in Central Africa,” can be found here: http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO305A.html

Independent journalist Ann Garrison published a piece on April 8, 2010 in the Fog City Journal, a San Francisco Bay Area-based publication, called “Rwanda Genocide: Honoring the Dead
Without Honoring the Lies.” Find it here: http://www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/2010/04/rwanda-genocide-honoring-the-dead-without-honoring-the-lies/

The Rwandan Documents Project was started by Peter Erlinder and its goal is “to collect and make available primary source materials from international and national agencies, governments, and courts that relate to the political and social history of Rwanda from 1990 to the present.” Check out “Articles and Commentaries” for some of Erlinder’s own writings: http://www.rwandadocumentsproject.net

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) put out a report in August of 2009 called
“Rwanda’s Application for Membership of the Commonwealth: Report and Recommendations
of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.” Noting that there is “considerable misunderstanding, or at least confusion, about Rwanda’s history, the politics of the genocide of 1994, and the record of the government led by the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) since the end of the genocide,” the report “examines the evolutionary factors which have shaped Rwanda’s present politics—particularly because the RPF evokes strong emotions of both approval and dislike.” The full 81-page report is found here: http://www.humanrightsinitiative.org/publications/hradvocacy/rwanda%27s_application_for_membership_of_the_commonwealth.pdf

The most recent summary of the human rights situation in Rwanda by Amnesty International is the 2009 Rwanda Report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/rwanda/report-2009

Those whose information about Rwanda has largely come from the movie “Hotel Rwanda” may wish to know something about the real-life hero of that movie. He founded The Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation which “advocates for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for Rwanda and the region.” Read about it here: http://hrrfoundation.org/

Quebec-based writer and activist Robin Philpot published a book called “Ça ne s’est pas passé comme ça à Kigali” (in English: “Rwanda 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard). The entire book is available online at the Taylor Report http://www.taylor-report.com/Rwanda_1994/ If you read nothing but the Conclusion, you will learn a lot.

Finally, the best list of resources (many more than in this list) is found on the website mentioned above, The Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation: http://hrrfoundation.org/reports/


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People Without Homes, Homes Without People

Thursday 24 June 2010

by: Brooke Jarvis YES! Magazine Report

Three years ago at the first US Social Forum in Atlanta, residents of cities around the country met and found they shared a common goal: Make sure that city life stays accessible to everyone. They formed the Right to the City Alliance, a coalition uniting urban rights groups to allies in their own cities and across the country, from Los Angeles to Boston to New Orleans. The members share the belief that urban dwellers not only have the right not to be priced out of their communities, but to help shape and design them.

The New York City groups who came together, many of whose members were grappling with homelessness, life in shelters or on public assistance, and the loss of affordable housing options, were particularly energized.

"At that point, I didn't know what gentrification was," said Nora Strachan, a member of Mothers on the Move, part of the Right to the City-NYC alliance, who was living in public housing at the time. "Then they tried to privatize my building, and I found out quick."

The struggle hasn't gotten easier in the last three years. Just this month, due to budget cuts, thousands of New York families will lose their Section 8 housing vouchers, sending many of them onto the streets or into the city's overburdened shelter system. Meanwhile, housing prices (not to mention the median income numbers used to determine what's considered affordable housing) are going up.

For the people who attended Right to the City-NYC's workshop at this year's Social Forum—many of them low-income New Yorkers active with Picture the Homeless, Mothers on the Move, and other member organizations of Right to the City—gentrification isn't an abstract idea, but a direct threat to their neighborhoods and their ability to stay in them.

"How do you know when gentrification is coming?" asked Diego Quiñones, an organizer in Harlem with Community Voices Heard, one of Right to the City's member organizations. "What does it look like?"

The answers were forceful: More police harassment. Suddenly, you need a permit to barbecue, to use public parks, or to hold a street party; sometimes you can't get a permit at all. Neighborhood names get changed: Alphabet City becomes the East Village, Spanish Harlem turns into SpaHa. "You can't even stand in front of your property without the police coming by," said one participant. "Bike lanes!" shouted another. "We asked for bike lanes for many, many years—now suddenly we're getting some."

But there's one sign that stands out, clear evidence you're in danger of getting priced out of your community: the arrival of luxury condos, some of them built where affordable housing units used to be.

Following the financial crash, the condos got harder to sell and became especially noticeable: new buildings with enormous price tags standing empty in low-income neighborhoods. It was, said Rogers of Picture the Homeless, an "ugly image of people without homes and homes without people."

And so, when Right to the City sat down to prioritize its first projects (following a year spent in community dialogues crafting an in-depth policy platform, which calls for recognition of the rights to community decision-making power; quality, low-income housing; federal stimulus funds; jobs; public space; environmental justice and public health), condos were key.

In the most comprehensive count of its kind, 150 residents and advocates walked the City's streets and combed its records, producing a report detailing just how many luxury condos were sitting empty in a city with record homelessness and an affordable housing crisis.

In six low-income neighborhoods, they found 4,092 empty housing units, offered for an average price of $2 million, some of which had been on the market for years. Collectively, the buildings were $3.8 million delinquent in back taxes.

Members of Right to the City are now meeting with the City Council and other City departments about what to do with the information they've gathered. "We surprised City officials," said Quiñones. "They didn't expect us to be so organized."

Right to the City is now pushing for New York City to acquire the delinquent buildings through tax foreclosure so that they can become permanent affordable housing for low-income New Yorkers (a pilot project of 400 converted units began in 2009); they're also proposing that tax breaks for condo developers be suspended. Civil disobedience in the form of condo takeovers and squatting is also under consideration, Quiñones said.

"I am nervous. I am afraid. But I'll be damned if I sit down and let them take my city just like that," said DeBoRh Dickerson, part of Picture the Homeless. "We've got a voice in this."

Right to the City is also supporting Housing Not Warehousing—a bill before the City Council, now with 28-cosponsors, which would require the City to officially replicate their count of vacant properties every year—and lobbying for "affordable housing" to be calculated according to local, neighborhood income rather than median income for the area, which is skewed by affluent residents of Manhattan and Westchester County.

"This is part of the move towards human needs and away from the profit motive," said Rogers. "It's why we need the Social Forum. It's bold, but this is the place to make bold statements."
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Stone's "Border" Shows Fall of South America's Berlin Wall

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Stone's "Border" Shows Fall of South America's Berlin Wall
Thursday 24 June 2010

by: Robert Naiman, t r u t h o u t Movie Review

On April 13, 2002, an event occurred in Venezuela which was as world historical for South America as the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Eastern Europe: a US-backed coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela collapsed. The Bush administration's efforts to promote the coup failed in the face of popular resistance in Venezuela and diplomatic resistance in the region.
The failure of the Bush administration's effort to overthrow President Chavez was world historical for South America because it sent a powerful new signal about the limits of the ability of the United States to thwart popular democracy in the region. In the years prior to the reversal of the US-backed coup, popular movements in South America had suffered from a widespread "Allende syndrome": a key legacy of the US-orchestrated overthrow of democracy in Chile in 1973 was the widespread belief that there was a sharp limit to the popular economic reforms that could be achieved through the ballot box, because the United States simply wouldn't allow formal democracy in the region to respond to the economic needs of the majority.
Following the reversal of the US-backed coup, a succession of presidents were elected across South America promising to reverse the disastrous economic policies promoted by Washington in the region through the International Monetary Fund for the previous 20 years and to promote, instead, the economic interests of the majority: Brazil elected Lula in 2002, Argentina elected Nestor Kirchner in 2003, Bolivia elected Evo Morales in 2005, Ecuador elected Rafael Correa in 2006 and Paraguay elected Fernando Lugo in 2008.
The story of this dramatic transformation has been largely untold in the United States. Our major corporate media are largely uninterested in the freedom narrative of South America, because it's significantly a narrative of freedom from control by US institutions and because the battle is ongoing, as shown recently by Washington's fury at Brazil for working against a US push for new sanctions against Iran and by Ecuador's decision to recall its ambassador after Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
But on Friday, Oliver Stone's new documentary "South of the Border" opens in New York (currently scheduled screenings nationwide are here). In this movie, Stone tells the story that the US media has missed. Because it's a Stone movie and because it's being commercially distributed, there's a strong possibility that many Americans who are not connected to the alternative press could have the opportunity to see and hear this story for the first time.
Stone introduces us to leaders that most people in the United States have never had the opportunity to see speaking for themselves.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez explains the Bush administration's effort to overthrow him:
Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, who got his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Illinois, explains why he followed through on his campaign promise to get rid of the US military base at Manta:
And Brazil's President Lula da Silva - recently vilified in the US media for his efforts to mediate a deal between the US and Iran on Iran's nuclear program, with pundits demanding that Brazil "get back in its lane" - explains that he has no interest in fighting with the US, but only wants to be treated as equals:
If many Americans get to see it, this could be Stone's most important movie in terms of its social impact, because it's forward looking: it's about a conflict that's going on right now and will continue in the future, pitting a South America that both wants to govern itself in the interests of the majority and speak its voice without fear in world affairs against the latter-day devotees of the Monroe Doctrine who want to keep the region subservient to the interests of US elites.

One would have hoped that Americans who saw Stone's Vietnam movies - "Platoon" and "Born on the Fourth of July" - would be much more likely to oppose the imperial quagmire in Afghanistan. But with so much of the media under corporate control, we need popular documentaries that speak directly to the issues of the day. "South of the Border" speaks directly to the relationship between the US and South America. If many Americans see it, it could help bring about a fundamental transformation in US policy toward all of Latin America. Maybe, sooner rather than later," as President Allende once said, we'll be able to look back at last year's US-supported coup in Honduras and say with confidence that it was the last.

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John Feffer | BP and Sado-Messochism

Tuesday 22 June 2010

by: John Feffer Foreign Policy in Focus

Have the messes we've been making finally reached a point where they can't be cleaned up?
Aside from the occasional asteroid and volcanic outburst, human beings are responsible for the greatest messes on the planet. We've polluted the air and water, punched holes in the ozone, and pumped enough carbon into the atmosphere to overwhelm the global thermostat. Nor is this merely a modern attribute of homo sapiens. As Jared Diamond points out in his book Collapse, we've repeatedly taxed the limits of our environment, from the heart of the Mayan civilization to far-flung Easter Island. We've hunted countless species into extinction and exhausted the soil to feed burgeoning populations. And what we once did on a local basis, we are now applying on a global scale.
There is certainly an element of sadism in how humans have behaved toward other species. But the messes we have created throughout our relatively brief reign on Earth have also been self-inflicted. We are consummate sado-messochists: We specialize in inflicting messes on ourselves. Has any other species been so thoroughly successful in fouling its own nest?
Which brings me to BP and the latest oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The pursuit of oil and the price paid in human suffering is well known to all those who saw the film There Will Be Blood, or read recent books by Peter Maass, Antonia Juhasz, and others. BP is no exception to this rule. It made its money on oil extracted — stolen, really — from what would later become Iran. These enormous profits sustained the British Empire in its dotage. When Iranian leader Mohammad Mossadegh threatened to nationalize Iranian oil in 1953, BP was a key reason behind the Anglo-American destabilization of his democratically elected government. Later, BP would make out like a bandit during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through its sales of bulk oil to the Pentagon.
Nor is BP a stranger to environmental disasters, considering its oil spills in 2000 and 2005, and the Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 workers in 2005. In the last three years, two BP refineries were alone responsible for 97 percent of the worst environmental and safety violations in the industry. And now BP is behind the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history. The gush in the Gulf sends the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez into the waters every four days.
There are many villains in this tragedy. BP executives promised "safety first" and instead pursued profits first. The Minerals Management Service granted exemptions for the environmental impact statements that should have been required for the Deepwater Horizon rig (among others). The Obama administration, attempting to curry favor with the "drill, baby, drill" faction, opened up previously off-limits waters along the East Coast and the Gulf Coast to offshore drilling only a few weeks before the disaster. The financial crisis was a result of a go-go spirit infecting Wall Street; the BP disaster was a result of a go-go spirit infecting Big Oil.
But really the biggest villain is us: our voracious desire for energy. We want energy to be like breakfast at Bob's Big Boy: lots of it at a rock-bottom price. Yes, Americans want an alternative energy future, but we also refuse to pay more at the pump to fund research into creating this future. This bottomless pit of need has pushed us into what Michael Klare calls an era of "extreme energy." We've already extracted the easy stuff. Now we're pushed to the margins — the Arctic, the bottom of the ocean — to get at what remains at the bottom of the bottle. We're pumping toxic cocktails deep into the ground to release natural gas from shale: a disaster in the making for our water supply. Our relentless pursuit of coal has already produced fly-ash spills that have done more damage to our environment than the Exxon Valdez. And of course we expend hundreds of billions of dollars to fight wars in energy-rich lands.
We believe, in our naïveté, that we can operate safely and effectively on the margins. "This Gulf coast crisis is about many things — corruption, deregulation, the addiction to fossil fuels," writes Naomi Klein in The Guardian. "But underneath it all, it's about this: our culture's excruciatingly dangerous claim to have such complete understanding and command over nature that we can radically manipulate and re-engineer it with minimal risk to the natural systems that sustain us." The serial messes we've made do little to undermine this false confidence.
Those who made the messes are often quick to promise to make things whole again. But that rarely happens. The environmental movement, it's true, has worked long and hard to restore devastated areas like the Adirondacks and the Hudson River. We can plant trees and dredge rivers. But we can't magically bring back old-growth forests or remove all the PCBs from the river. The Gulf, meanwhile, was already compromised before the oil spill. To give only one example, agricultural and livestock industries along the Mississippi have been dumping nitrogen into the river that produce an oxygen-poor area known as a "dead zone," which stretches as much as 7,000 square miles along the Gulf Coast.
We are, in other words, piling messes on messes. Stricter regulations, a sustainable energy program, making an example of BP so that others toe the line: all of this is necessary to rid ourselves of these sado-messochistic tendencies. But we might have passed the point of no return.
According to folk wisdom, if you put a frog in a pot of water and gradually (and sadistically) increase the temperature, the frog will not notice and eventually boil to death. Frogs, it turns out, are not that stupid. We homo sapiens, on the other hand, will climb into the pot and jack up the temperature all by ourselves. Then, instead of climbing out, we argue among ourselves. "The water isn't getting hotter at all," says one group. "Great hot tub!" says another. "Don't worry," opines a third, "Mr. Market will come along eventually and turn down the temperature." And now BP has added tens of thousands of gallons of oil to the simmering soup that we find ourselves in.
At this point the great sage Oliver Hardy would look us in the eye and conclude, "Here's another fine mess you've gotten us into."
The Messes Continue
We're currently making another mess of our relationship with Mexico. In the last month, U.S. Border Patrol has killed two Mexican citizens. As Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Laura Carlsen explains, the deaths have elicited a strong reaction from the Mexican government, which is already upset about rising anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.
"The growing criminalization and dehumanization of Mexican undocumented immigrants has fomented a legal limbo where human rights, including the right to life itself, fall prey to ill-defined national security concerns," she writes in Lethal Force on the Border. "It has fostered a political climate where security forces and vigilantes argue openly that fatal attacks on citizens from other countries in a non-war context are justified simply because they lack a visa. Such governance without respect for basic human rights is nothing but a dangerous lie."
The U.S. military continues to kill numerous civilians during operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. This has prompted FPIF senior analyst Adil Shamoo to ask whether the U.S. government simply values U.S. lives over the lives of others. "[The] mechanization of war has also resulted in treating other nations' citizens as less than equal to citizens of the United States," he writes in Are Foreign Lives of Equal Worth to Ours? "U.S. military actions kill innocent civilians in a repeated and almost routine manner. However, modern communications are informing people around the world that U.S. policies value other citizens less than" U.S. citizens.
Jeju Island is located just off the coast of South Korea. It's a semi-tropical location beloved of South Korean honeymooners. And it's also the location of proposed naval base that will, in part, advance U.S. security interests.
As FPIF contributor Kyouneun Cha explains in Jeju and a Naval Arms Race in Asia, South Korea "has indicated its interest in becoming more integrated into the U.S. missile defense system. In this way, by becoming caught in a conflict between China and the United States, the naval base could endanger Jeju Island and the national security of South Korea. According to Lee Tae-ho, deputy secretary general of People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy in South Korea, 'The Chinese government has a response strategy that first attacks U.S. missile defense in the case of an emergency. That means that the Jeju naval base will be targeted in an armed conflict between the United States and China.' Even short of war, the base will create tension among China, Japan, and Korea, which could escalate into a naval arms race in the Asia-Pacific region."
An Intelligence Failure?
James Clapper is Obama's choice as national intelligence director. He's come under fire for his ties to the military and the Bush administration. "None of these portrayals, however, gets to the two most important aspects of Clapper's career," writes FPIF contributor Tim Shorrock in Clapper: Managing the Intelligence Enterprise, "his ties to the $50 billion intelligence contracting industry, and his role in both developing and deepening the secret intelligence wars initiated by George W. Bush and intensified by the Obama administration."
Perhaps a greater intelligence failure involves Iran. "Despite a deep-seated lack of understanding between Iran and the United States, they share many common interests around which there is room for constructive bilateral engagement," writes Richard Javad Heydarian in An Iran-U.S. Grand Bargain. "Like NATO, Iran wants to see stability on its borders and reduce regional tensions, which have also hurt Iran's economy in terms of investments and trade. Tehran and Washington should move toward active and full engagement, but that will require both sides to shelve a history of conflict and obstinacy for a more cooperative and constructive future."
Finally, FPIF intern Aurora Ellis reviews a new book by Nora McKeon on the relationship between the United Nations and civil society. "McKeon acknowledges the political and economic limits of the UN in its attempts to curtail the powers of transnational corporations and the few wealthy governments of the world who impose a neoliberal agenda on the world's poor majority," Ellis writes. "She also recognizes the lack of political will within the UN and its inability to address structural inequalities or promote accountability. Yet, McKeon still insists that the UN is the only international institution with the potential to move forward."

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Supreme Court: Washington Can Release Names of Ballot Signers

Thursday 24 June 2010

by: Les Blumenthal McClatchy Newspapers Report

Washington - A near unanimous Supreme Court today ruled Washington state can release the names of the roughly 138,000 people who signed ballot petitions to overturn a same-sex domestic partnership law.
The court found the Washington Public Records Act covered the release of referendum signatures and the state has a responsibility to promote "transparency and accountability" in the electoral process. The high court said release of the names of petitions signers would help "root out fraud" and "ferret out" invalid signatures that could result from simple mistakes.
The lone dissenting justice was Clarence Thomas.
Religious conservatives had sought to keep the signatures secret because they feared retaliation from gay rights groups. The state had argued the Public Records Act required the release of those signing initiative and referenda petitions.
At the heart of the legal dispute is Referendum 71, which sought to repeal the "anything but marriage" domestic partnership law approved by the Legislature.

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These Empty Spaces

Thursday 24 June 2010

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t Op-Ed

My purpose in this life is to chronicle the events of our time, to shine a light on events and actions that damage us all, to reveal good works whenever they actually happen, and when possible, to show people places and times where they can make a difference should they choose to get involved. In the ten years I've been at it, I have seen everything: wars and rumors of wars; economic collapse and environmental calamity; state-sanctioned murder and torture and rape; theft, graft, fraud, deception and greed vast and dense enough to bend the light.
I have also seen millions upon millions of people pour into the streets to raise their voices as one against all these terrible things. I have seen people hurl themselves into political campaigns that have no hope of succeeding because they believed in the candidate, because the campaign message mattered as much as winning, and was made of so much truth that it required their labor. I have seen previously disconnected people get plugged in somewhere, anywhere, because they could no longer abide the silence of the sidelines.
I have seen a man, a veteran of the ongoing Iraq war, walk past me on the street on two prosthetic legs. I have looked into the eyes of too many people whose futures were charred to ash by the flagrant criminality that continues on Wall Street even to this very moment. I have watched helplessly as friends lost their jobs, their homes, and their hopes. I have seen people rise above all this, and I have seen people subsumed by it.
In 2006, I watched as the George W. Bush Big Top Circus finally, finally, finally crashed and burned under the weight of its own incalculable wretchedness. The American people finally stopped buying what he and his people were selling, and on one memorable November night, I watched as those people removed what had been total congressional power from the GOP and hand it to the Democrats. Then I watched as those Democrats failed to do anything even remotely close to stopping the wars, as they failed to thwart the noxious aspirations of the Bush administration, failed to properly investigate and expose the crimes of that administration, failed to impeach, failed to do anything but enjoy the new offices they got for holding majority power.
In 2008, I watched history unfold. The Democrats expanded their control in congress, and more importantly, a black man and a white woman grappled for the White House against a demonstrably unfit Republican from Arizona, a man whose final epitaph will someday credit him for further poisoning our political culture by elevating Sarah Palin to national prominence. On the night Barack Obama sealed his victory in the general election, the reaction across the country was two-thirds jubilation and one-third doomed dismay; in Boston, thousands of people took to the streets beating drums and banging pots as they shouted with joy, while others made hasty arrangements to buy as many guns as possible. That January, the world watched as the United States shrugged off two centuries of rancid history by inaugurating a president who, just fifty years earlier, would have been required to use a separate water fountain if he wanted to quench his thirst.
I was not lured into believing the 2008 presidential election was going to mark the beginning of a sea change in American politics. I approach politics and politicians with one simple rule in mind: if I have heard of a politician, count on that politician being deeply and perhaps irredeemably compromised. In order to achieve the kind of notoriety and financing required to be successful in politics, politicians have to sign their names on a number of dotted lines that are not in any way in the best interests of the people. There are exceptions to this, of course - Sen. Paul Wellstone was one, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich is another - but for the most part, a politician who has reached the lofty heights of genuine power and influence does so by donating themselves to the crooked interests that donated to them on the way up.
President Obama is no different. He took money from BP, which is killing the Gulf as we speak. He took money from the big banks and investment houses that raped our future even as they laughed their way into massive and undeserved bonuses. He is a creature of the "defense" industry, just like every president before him going back to Truman. He is an American politician who reached the highest possible position, and I knew going in that he would be, in the main, another compromised disappointment. Better, but not by much.
I thought I was prepared for this, but a year and a half into this brave new world, I feel...I don't know exactly what. I am glad Obama is the president, I am glad McCain is not, I am glad the derangement of Republican rule has been upended, I am pleased with a number of policy initiatives that have been undertaken, and yet there are these empty spaces in my mind and heart that actually, literally, ache. A few things are better, a lot of things are worse, and most things remain exactly the same. I knew it would be like this, but still, the emptiness is there.
My role is to chronicle these times. During all the years I have done so, I have been clinging to a belief that has managed to sustain me even on the darkest of days, a belief that has always filled some of that emptiness. It is a belief I fear our president has allowed himself to forget amid the cacophony of corporate power, military mayhem and runaway greed which binds him to a familiar course that, if left unchecked, will come to be the end of us all.
This belief is simple: America is an idea. We have borders, roads, cities, farms, armies, but that is not America. The idea that is America was forged in the crucible of Europe, when kings could mandate a state religion and incarcerate or kill whoever disagreed, when rights only existed if the powerful deemed them so. The idea that is America was forged upon the premise that these things were wrong on their face, that people are endowed with rights that cannot be taken away by fiat. At no time in history had any nation premised its existence on the bedrock truth that all of us are created equal until the Founders did so in Philadelphia, and in doing so, they created a self-improving process of national growth and redemption that functions through the will of the people alone.
We are an idea, and all of us are bound to it through the ink that explains us on old pieces of parchment. We are an idea, and in that idea, we can locate our nobility, our strength, and the better angels of our nature. Too many of us, including our president and congressional representatives, have forgotten this. Perhaps, if we remind them in strong enough terms, if we make We The People a true force for right instead of a catch-phrase, things would get better. Until then, the idea that is America will continue to wither, and the empty spaces within will endure.

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