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“And yet I swear this oath— America will be!” –Langston Hughes

Posted by Charles II on July 4, 2014

I’m not much of one to celebrate the Fourth. I’ve seen many foreign lands and known many of their residents, enough to know that America is no worse than many other countries, and better than quite a few. I’m in no manner anti-American or pro-any other country. But I know my history.

America is the nation that made the promise of equality, of liberty, and of the freedom to pursue happiness… at the very time it held slaves in chains and Native Americans at the point of a gun, a time when women and children were chattel, and people were in many places free to practice their religion only if they were Protestants. America was founded on a great hypocrisy. Yet the ideals that were enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and then in the Constitution have inspired people yearning to be free–including people crushed by our own nation. The Haitian Revolution, for example, was inspired by the French Revolution, which was, in turn, inspired by the American Revolution. We helped to crush the Haitians and have been doing so again and again even to this day. Despite our terrible character as a nation, something in our national soul yearns toward freedom, justice, compassion, and truth. As the Apostle Paul said, we are at war within ourselves, between a materialism that leads toward empire abroad and rampant inequality at home, and a deep spiritual yearning toward peace abroad and righteous living at home.

And so, one way I celebrate the Fourth is with Langston Hughes, the great African American poet who, writing from the depths of Depression and that American apartheid called Jim Crow wrote:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Take a look at what Shanikka has to say.

Posted in freedom | 3 Comments »

Understanding the Arab Spring

Posted by Charles II on November 5, 2011

BookTV had an exceptional segment on the Arab Spring. Usually I watch these things expecting to learn nothing new. I learned two new things: that it actually matters to sign petitions and that not just the Israeli embassy, but also the Saudi embassy was attacked in Cairo.

Now, technically, I didn’t learn that bit about the Saudi embassy just now: I posted on it here. But it was such a blip in the news that it vanished down the memory hole. Just failing to repeat news is enough to erase it.

And this should remind us that systems of censorship do not require that news be eliminated. As long as certain events are marginalized, it has the same effect as outright censoring them.

At any rate, I strongly recommend this show. Lucette Lagnado adds the valuable (and rare) perspective of an Egyptian of Jewish ethnicity. And Sinan Antoon provides vital cultural and historical memory. Even the former WSJ reporters were impressive.

The following segment (2PM-3PM Eastern) is on Labor. Probably worth watching.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, freedom | 1 Comment »

If you want a new nation, write a new Constitution

Posted by Charles II on November 5, 2011

It seems increasingly clear to me that the first American Republic has failed and that we need to look forward to the second or, at the very least, to a transformation of the American Republic as profound as that of the New Deal.

Now, people have despaired many times. The Civil War certainly seemed like an irretrievable failure, yet somehow we pulled together and went on. The Great Depression seemed as if the capitalist system as a whole was unsalvageable, yet we salvaged it and re-wrote the social contract. Those terrible days of the 1960s, when we lived under the nuclear shadow and national leaders were being cut down seemed as though they would end in chaos.

So, it is not events alone that determine when a system fails. It is something inherent in the system itself. Just as a person can be terribly wounded, yet survive because of the will to live, a nation must have a will to live. Nations can exist for a time on the imperial hunger, a will to dominate and feast on the wealth produced by others. Unless they care about truth and about including all their members in their decisions, however, they inevitably make bad decisions, inflict the consequences on the weaker members, and fragment as more and more people start to understand that they are disposable.

That’s our history over the last ten years. Most Americans–even those not occupying– realize that they are regarded by the elites as pieces of trash. Fewer and fewer Americans believe that they enjoy the very spare list of human rights enumerated in the Constitution. Half of us don’t vote, and many of us who do believe that our concerns are not heard above the din of the Koch brothers and the corporations.

There is a movement in Congress to write a constitutional amendment to reduce the power of money in politics. I believe this is too narrowly focused. The problem with elections is equalizing the power of the voices of the people. It’s fine by me if Exxon has a voice. I just want it to be about as loud as my own. So we have to address the whole crooked system: from poll taxes and the exclusion of prisoners from voting to a media controlled by a hundred people to the power of corporate money.

I propose the following language:

“The right of the people to be accurately informed on issues pertinent to selecting representatives to government being essential to maintaining freedom and prosperity, elections shall afford all candidates access to means of communication adequate to discuss issues with their prospective constituents, shall forbid the use of concentrated wealth to corrupt elections, and shall require that all persons shall be able to vote.”

I think that the existing system will have to collapse to create an opening for a new one. But I would be happy to be proven wrong. But whether the first Republic is ending, or simply being transformed, we need to have a vision–a positive vision– of what we want. It is this vision of the “America that will be,” as Langston Hughes called it, that amounts to our national will to live. If we fail to dream, darker forces will have the opening they have always wanted.

Posted in Constitution, Constitutional crisis, freedom | 4 Comments »

Egyptian kabuki

Posted by Charles II on July 13, 2011

As I predicted in February, the Egyptian military and the oligarchy behind it are not departing. The promised reforms increasingly look to have been a sham to buy time. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, DemocracyNow:

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, I really think the Egyptian revolution has reached a critical turning point, and we’re seeing—we’re bracing now for a showdown between the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which has ruled the country since February 11th when Mubarak stepped down, and to the thousands, the tens of thousands of protesters that have taken to the streets across the country.

Tahrir has really—it’s entering the sixth day of a sit-in that’s reminiscent of the one that captured the world’s attention back in January and February. And there’s sit-ins being staged in Alexandria and Suez and Mansoura. And as you said, the heart of the matter really lies in the fact that the basic demands, the very basic demands, of the revolution have gone unfilled, with little indication that there’s a path for any real kind of change, that the calls for justice and accountability for members of the former regime have gone unanswered, that the revolutionary demands—one of the cries, the main cries, was “Bread, freedom and social justice”—have all but been abandoned. And on Friday, as you said, we saw this massive protest take place in Tahrir and across Egypt.

But what really happened since then is that this sit-in has continued to grow in Tahrir.
yesterday we saw an attack on the square. There was a group of armed men, some wielding swords, tried to attack the square. They were overcome. Two of them were detained, and one of them was handed over to police, although there was a lot of argument over whether to hand people over to the very institutions that they’re protesting against.

[Update: More detail from Marisa Holmes, truthout]

The Arab Spring is turning into Repression Summer. And I predict there will need to be many Winter Patriots if Egypt is to become a genuine democracy.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, freedom | 5 Comments »

Don’t mourn. Organize.

Posted by Charles II on July 4, 2011

Once, many years ago while campaigning door-to-door, I got into a discussion with a woman as to what freedom is. Thinking that she would respond with words asserting freedom of speech, press, religion, and so on, I asked her, “Is it just the right to buy whatever you want?” To which she said yes, for her, that’s what freedom meant.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that she had a point. A free market is an important component of a free society. Without it, the satirical social commentary of Michael Moore, Robert Greenwald, and others would never have reached millions of people… of course, more and more, genuine exercises of free speech like those examples are more the barnacle on the ship than the keel. More broadly, the standard of living that allowed a previous generation to imagine a consumer-led economy created the space for the freedoms commemorated in the Constitution. Franklin Roosevelt mentioned freedom from want as an essential freedom, and he was right. Being free to buy and sell is an important freedom. But it is surely not the only one.

While certain freedoms, such as the right to same-gender marriage, have continued to expand, freedom overall has been in decline at least since the decisions of the USSR and China to open their societies. In the United States, assassination, torture, kidnapping, wiretapping, and entrapment are now treated as if they were legal under some circumstances. There is a determined effort to impose right-wing ideology and a bizarre version of Christianity on the whole country. The loss of any restraint on campaign finance, the stripping of union rights, the targeting of organizations for defunding–all of these are major blows of freedom. The peace dividend which should have restored American productivity has been swallowed up in wars big and small. The financial crisis has reduced many across the developed world to poverty.

And in the developing world, authoritarian or oligarchic rule is still the norm. There may be pushback in the Middle East, but on the American continent and in subSaharan Africa, not to mention Bahrain, the situation is bad. For Americans, I believe there are no higher priorities in defending freedom, other than the US, than Haiti, Honduras, and Mexico. Wherever we can help, we should help, if only by standing in solidarity with others. The drive toward global oligarchy is a blind, self-destructive madness. It will end badly.

The two-year anniversary of the coup against democracy in Honduras passed, little-noticed, on June 28th. The Resistance has formed a political party. Mrs. Manuel Zelaya may run for president. But nothing will have changed until there is real truth, and real justice. Honduras is an object lesson for us, if only we will see.

On this Fourth of July, I find it difficult to celebrate. So many American have forgotten what it means to be free. It means being a full partner in a society. Citizens are like neurons in the brain. Rich and poor, smart and dumb, we all have something to add to the national conversation. When we are all full partners, the nation is wise. The fewer partners there are, the stupider the nation becomes, until at last it blunders into pointless wars, reckless finance, and the demonization of its own citizens.

But just as I find it difficult to celebrate, I refuse to mourn. It has always been thus: a few people–a perilously few people– act as the lamps to the rest, helping them to see more. When they see more, they do wisely. There are moments when things seem very dark. This is one of them. But it is not a time to mourn what is lost. It is the time to light lamps.

Posted in freedom, Honduras | Comments Off on Don’t mourn. Organize.

How free are we?

Posted by Charles II on April 7, 2011

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment — The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. FDR, 1/6/41

There are not jackbooted soldiers in the streets of America.
There is not a gigantic gulag filled with political prisoners.
There is more than one political party.
Americans are not forced to attend meetings for political indoctrination.
There are many newspapers, radio stations, and television stations.

And yet, the United States shows a number of the hallmarks of a nation under authoritarian rule.

* Certain forms of torture are explicitly claimed to be legal, as is targeted assassination (indeed, torture is routinely used against common criminals in US prisons).
*One fourth of the prisoners in the world are in the United States.
* Five million people are outright excluded from political participation.
* The public shows very high levels of misinformation on many important issues.
* The press refuses to discuss certain topics, or does so in perverse ways.
* Jackbooted thugs have been deployed in the streets of one city, New Orleans.
* Numerous people are prevented from working for what amount to political reasons. These include whistleblowers, union activists, other political activists, but also, for example, non-fundamentalist Christians in fundamentalist sections of the country.
* A governor has threatened to use the National Guard against peaceful protestors, and another has arrogated to himself the power to seize and disincorporate towns and cities.
* People are afraid to talk openly, especially in public spaces, about controversial topics.
* Activists are arrested and imprisoned over increasingly vague crimes, particularly using the anti-terror statutes.
* Political figures are hounded (Clinton) and even jailed (Siegelman) using phony scandals.

What confuses the issue is that in authoritarian countries, the central authority is usually the State. In the United States, elected/appointed officials are only a part of the State. The major banks, for example, control the Federal Reserve and therefore enormous wealth. Corporate wealth is highly concentrated, such that perhaps 200 people sitting on the boards of the top corporations control the flow of most of the wealth of the nation. The press is highly concentrated and the control of it rests in the hands of a few dozen board members and CEOs. A few dozen billionaires control a disproportionate amount of wealth. So, to the roughly 600 key elected officials in Washington, the top leaders of the military and intelligence agencies, the nine Supreme Court Justices, the fifty governors and the 200 top legislative officials of the states, and the mayors of the largest 20 cities: add another 500 key players in finance and media, whose power clearly rivals that of the elected government: that is the American government.

By this estimate, fewer than 1500 human beings decide the fate of 300 million others. Of that 1500, probably fewer than 100 are central to what happens. This is roughly the size of the Soviet decision-making apparatus. That there are divisions of opinion within this government does not make it less authoritarian. As Wikipedia says,

“In practice, however, the degree of control the party was able to exercise over the state bureaucracy, particularly after the death of Stalin, was far from total, with the bureaucracy pursuing different interests that were at times in conflict with the party. Nor was the party itself monolithic from top to bottom, although factions were officially banned.”

The US in 2011 is not the Soviet Union in 1932-3. But is it free?

* When the public routinely understands the issues…
* When one of the channels on my television comes from a union…
* When torture is banned in jails…
* When money doesn’t rule politics…
* When people freely talk politics and religion…
* When no one is afraid to send a letter to the editor…
* When everyone can vote, and almost everyone wants to…
* When no one is denied a job because of political belief or for being honest…
* When fear of hunger, homelessness, and denial of medical insurance are not used as intimidation by employers…

Then, I will start to think of the United States as a free nation. And I think that FDR would agree that this is not a vision of a distant millennium, but something that can and should be accomplished in our lifetimes.

Posted in freedom | 1 Comment »

Dare we hope? Mubarak steps down/updated

Posted by Charles II on February 11, 2011

I witnessed the moment when the Al Jazeera feed came on and said “Breaking News”. At first, I thought it was a replay of last night’s speech. But when they said that he had handed power to the military, I realized that it was today.

Egypt must travel a long road to leave the darkness that has covered it for 30 years. But the light that is shining now is a great light that may lead many nations to freedom. I only hope that people in every corner of the American empire, from Honduras to Kenya to our own often benighted country are learning the power of peaceful opposition by a united and determined people.

From Jed Lewison, one of the many Kossacks who have followed this story with extraordinary talent and determination:

Update: As far as I know, there is no evidence to support the rumor that Glenn Beck, whilst muttering about Code Pink’s victory, has departed for Sharm el-Sheik to join his comrade Hosni Mubarak.

Adding: My prediction for Egypt was that after an extended period of kabuki, the military remains firmly in charge, and that prediction remains. Even without the uprising, Hosni Mubarak was a US asset whose useful life was nearly over. The extent of US stupidity in extending him even the slightest assistance other than guaranteeing his safe exit is impressive (yes, we did have to pretend to support him so as to not spook our other dictators, but we went well beyond that). So now the military is formally in charge of the country. Since they have detained and tortured people, there’s no reason to think that they will relinquish that control. But perhaps they can modernize Egypt’s politics so that the graft is a little less visible and crippling.

Of course, if the people want it, they can claim their freedom. Just as plainly, it will come only at a price.

Added: Best of Free Republic (below the fold)
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, freedom | 5 Comments »

Going Stasi: the Vigilante Project

Posted by Charles II on August 3, 2010

Glenn Greenwald writes about a post by Forbes writer Andy Greenberg as follows

[Chet] Uber is the Executive Director of a highly secretive group called Project Vigilant, which, as Greenberg writes, “monitors the traffic of 12 regional Internet service providers” and “hands much of that information to federal agencies.” More on that in a minute. Uber revealed yesterday that Lamo, the hacker who turned in Manning to the federal government for allegedly confessing to being the WikiLeaks leaker, was a “volunteer analyst” for Project Vigilant; that it was Uber who directed Lamo to federal authorities to inform on Manning by using his contacts to put Lamo in touch with the “highest level people in the government” at “three letter agencies”; and, according to a Wired report this morning, it was Uber who strongly pressured Lamo to inform by telling him (falsely) that he’d likely be arrested if he failed to turn over to federal agents everything he received from Manning.


He [Chet Uber] says the 600-person “volunteer” organization functions as a government contractor bridging public and private sector security efforts. Its mission: to use a variety of intelligence-gathering efforts to help the government attribute hacking incidents….According to Uber, one of Project Vigilant’s manifold methods for gathering intelligence includes collecting information from a dozen regional U.S. Internet service providers (ISPs). Uber declined to name those ISPs, but said that because the companies included a provision allowing them to share users’ Internet activities with third parties in their end user license agreements (EULAs), Vigilant was able to legally gather data from those Internet carriers and use it to craft reports for federal agencies. A Vigilant press release says that the organization tracks more than 250 million IP addresses a day and can “develop portfolios on any name, screen name or IP address.”… its volunteer staff includes former NSA official Ira Winkler and Suzanne Gorman, former security chief for the New York Stock Exchange.

250 million IP addresses is, basically, everyone in the US.

Combine this organization with the wiretapping done by US government agencies, and you have a far more effective police state than ever existed in East Germany.

Added: Here is Project Vigilant(e)’s man. He looks to me as if he is on narcotics.
Added: Scott Horton had exactly the same reaction as I did, calling his post: Tales from StasiLand: The Internet Vigilantes,; and calls “astute” the following analysis from Glenn Greenwald:

There are serious obstacles that impede the Government’s ability to create these electronic dossiers themselves. It requires both huge resources and expertise. Various statutes enacted in the mid-1970s — such as the Privacy Act of 1974 — impose transparency requirements and other forms of accountability on programs whereby the Government collects data on citizens. And the fact that much of the data about you ends up in the hands of private corporations can create further obstacles, because the tools which the Government has to compel private companies to turn over this information is limited (the fact that the FBI is sometimes unable to obtain your “transactional” Internet data without a court order — i.e., whom you email, who emails you, what Google searches you enter, and what websites you visit –is what has caused the Obama administration to demand that Congress amend the Patriot Act to vest them with the power to obtain all of that with no judicial supervision).

But the emergence of a private market that sells this data to the Government (or, in the case of Project Vigilance, is funded in order to hand it over voluntarily) has eliminated those obstacles. As a result, the Government is able to circumvent the legal and logistical restrictions on maintaining vast dossiers on citizens, and is doing exactly that.

I’d call that astute, too.

Posted in abuse of power, freedom, NSA eavesdropping, wiretapping | 11 Comments »

This Is What Decency Looks Like

Posted by Phoenix Woman on November 13, 2009


Ten-year-old Will Phillips, in the West Fork School District in Washington County, Arkansas, did something very brave recently:

There’s a 10-year-old lad, a fifth-grader at West Fork Elementary, who decided he wasn’t going to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school anymore because there was no liberty or justice for all in America, as the pledge’s rote recitation asserts.

He’d concluded that gay people didn’t get equal justice or liberty in this country and that he was loath to mouth something suggesting they did.

That is to say the boy was thoughtful, sensitive, courageous and free.

And it wasn’t just a one-time action, either:

The class had a substitute teacher that week, a retired educator from the district, who knew Will’s mother and grandmother. Though the substitute tried to make him stand up, he respectfully refused. He did it again the next day, and the next day. Each day, the substitute got a little more cross with him. On Thursday, it finally came to a head. The teacher, Will said, told him that she knew his mother and grandmother, and they would want him to stand and say the pledge.

“She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up,” Will said. “I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ‘With all due respect, ma’am, you can go jump off a bridge.’ ”

Will was sent to the office, where he was given an assignment to look up information about the flag and what it represents. Meanwhile, the principal called his mother.

“She said we have to talk about Will, because he told a sub to jump off a bridge,” Laura Phillips said. “My first response was: Why? He’s not just going to say this because he doesn’t want to do his math work.”

Eventually, Phillips said, the principal told her that the altercation was over Will’s refusal to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and admitted that it was Will’s right not to stand. Given that, Laura Phillips asked the principal when they could expect an apology from the teacher. “She said, ‘Well I don’t think that’s necessary at this point,’ ” Phillips said.

And of course, since he’s sticking up for gay people, he’s getting the usual sort of harrassment. But he’s standing firm, if you will, in his refusal to stand for a pledge that he believes is untrue.

You are a good young man, Will Phillips. Good and brave and honorable. I can’t wait to see what you’ll be like in another ten years.

Posted in Constitution, family values, freedom, gay rights, heroes | 6 Comments »

From the staggering account… of the Sermon on the Mount

Posted by Charles II on February 1, 2009

Cue Leonard Cohen.

Happy Muscovites cheer Putin's economy with tar and feathers party and torchlight parade

Shaun Walker, London Independent:

The Kremlin’s rule is beginning to look much shakier than at any time since Vladimir Putin came to power, after a series of protests in cities across its vast landmass this weekend by Russians disgruntled about the economy. And as the country starts to feel the effects of the global credit crunch, there are also signs of a growing rift between Prime Minister Putin, and his hand-picked successor as President, Dmitry Medvedev….

In Moscow, a motley band of communists, anarchists and liberals gathered at several points across the city to protest against Kremlin rule. At one spot, a dozen protesters taped over their mouths with white tape, held up white placards with no slogans, and handed blank white flyers to passers-by. Bemused by such a conceptual approach to protest, the police rounded them up and arrested them anyway, and the organiser got five days in prison.

Mr Putin has made several speeches blaming the economic chaos on America, and says he expects things to improve by the end of the year. State-controlled television is playing down the crisis, and most newspapers are also toeing the Kremlin line, but the internet is a worrying medium for those in charge, and offers a forum for dissenters to exchange ideas.

Sail on!

Posted in freedom, Russia | 1 Comment »

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