Thursday, May 31, 2007


May 31 - Yippies and Yuppies

Reading the response to my yesterday’s post, I’’m struck by the thought of what happened to the participants in the Vietnam anti-war movement: coopted by the system, many of them eventually became yippies.

Ciny Sheehan announced that she is stepping back from the activities so far pursued by the anti-war movement, partly because of divergent directions, and partly because of the burden on her personally. But she repeated several times that she had come to realize that the movement is up against the imperial agenda of corporate America.

I’m sure that is a big step for Cindy Sheehan who, like most middle class Americans, were not brought up on the literature of class warfare. So it should give us pause. The same spirit of initiative that made Cindy found a movement when her son was killed in Iraq, has now led her to cast off the education and training she was given all her life to accept without question the system that has made us the richest country on earth - and the greatest empire.

I’m confident that in future efforts, she will explore new paths for America. Common sense tells us these will eventually lead to a middle way between what the Europeans call “savage capitalism” and the planned economies by which the Soviets, Chinese and others tried to create more egalitarian societies.

The question is, will today’s activists be more resistant to co-optation than their forebears of the seventies, or will Yuppiedom prevail?

The challenge of global warming, that will require serious government curbs on industry, is now playing out in the tug of war over the EPA’s newly decreed (by the Supreme Court) responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases. This battle could represent a turning point not only in the fight against global warming, but in the recognition that government is there to serve the well-being of the human community.

This philosophy is what enabled the Scandinavian countries to reach a level of civilization that the rest of us can only envy. Their social-democratic systems have been duly dismissed by the media. Yet they not only provide for their own, they are in the forefront of humanitarian aide to victims of brutal regimes that suit the needs of empire.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


I'd been so impressed with Morris Berman's "Dark Ages America" that I tracked him down in Mexico where he recently moved, convinced, as he brilliantly demonstrates in that book, that there is no hope for America in the foreseeable future.

Among other things, he told me he has always believed that peoples get the governments they deserve. Personall, I've periodically verfied that belief, which had been handed down to me when I trained under the head of the French News Agency in Rome, and found it to be generally true.

The one thing that always bothered me about it was, precisely, the role played by the media in shaping the judgement of "the people".

If you missed "Democracy Now" on Memorial Day, look it up on the web. It's an hour-long expose of the way the American media covered the lead-up to the Iraq War, with comparisons of how it covered the wars of the twentieth century. A brilliant documentary, I'm sorry I did not write down the name of the author, as I was still moving furniture around in my new and even smaller apartment.

You have to wonder why someone like Dan Rather took so long to see the light: an after the horse got out of the stable mea culpa is not much use. Of the big names, only Phil Donahue spoke out forcefully against the war before it started - and lost his job as a result.

But the big question is this: how far back can you reasonably chicken and egg the responsibility of "the people" for what they get? Are the ill-informed "people" responsible for the prevalence of biased news that keeps them ill-informed?

To the extent that there are the Amy Goodman's and Jeremy Scahills out there who do what's right rather than what brings in big bucks, one could say that Joe Sixpack could listen to them - that he could seek out alternative media sources even if they're not readily available. But he'd have to know that these sources of information exist! It was from a woman at a US Cuba Sister Cities Conference that I first heard about Democracy Now, and when I publicize it, even in progressive circles, it's news to most people.

You could argue that today the average Jane or Joe could put out his/her own news and opinions by blogging. But isn't the problem for bloggers that they reach so few people unless they can afford to advertize - which brings us back to square one?

So in the end, do people get the government they deserve?

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Reading history books is not the only way to do this. Many films tell forgotten or ignored stories that shed light on what's going on today. "Lawrence of Arabia", although highly romanticized, is an obvious example. But it only reminds us of things we already know. "Khartoum", an equally old technicolor enterprise, tells a story that most people probably didn't pay much attention to when the film came out. Yet it goes a long way toward explaining the crisis in Darfur, and Sudan generally.

In particular it shows where the Sudanese government's high handedness probably harks back to: the time when Sudan was a pawn in the power games played by the waning Ottoman Empire, Britain and Egypt. When school means learning Sudanese history instead of British or American history, populations and their leaders are likely to have attitudes that flow from events which we ignore. A disposition for revenge is the least of these attitudes; not accepting to be told what to do by outsiders is the greatest.

Both agendas of the Sudanese government are sequels to history. The first, vividly portrayed in "Khartoum" is affirming Islam by the sword, with the result that it currently treats black aminists as less than human. The second is standing firm against U.N. involvement in peacekeeping - which Sudanese history labels as just one more instance of imperialist interference.

If you have more faith in books, try reading "The Last Mughal", by William Dalrymple, and reflect on the fact that a vast country like India was for centuries ruled by Islamic Mongol (Mughal) rulers, who were as enlightened for their time as we wish our own rulers were today.

I'd like to hear from history teachers as to the urgency of vastly enlarging the scope of our mandatory history courses.