Indoctrinating a new generation by William Blum
Is there anyone out there who still believes that Barack Obama, when he’s speaking about American foreign policy, is capable of being anything like an honest man? In a March 26 talk in Belgium to “European youth”, the president fed his audience one falsehood, half-truth, blatant omission, or hypocrisy after another. If George W. Bush had made some of these statements, Obama supporters would not hesitate to shake their head, roll their eyes, or smirk. Here’s a sample:
– “In defending its actions, Russian leaders have further claimed Kosovo as a precedent – an example they say of the West interfering in the affairs of a smaller country, just as they’re doing now. But NATO only intervened after the people of Kosovo were systematically brutalized and killed for years.”
Most people who follow such things are convinced that the 1999 US/NATO bombing of the Serbian province of Kosovo took place only after the Serbian-forced deportation of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo was well underway; which is to say that the bombing was launched to stop this “ethnic cleansing”. In actuality, the systematic deportations of large numbers of people did not begin until a few days after the bombing began, and was clearly a reaction to it, born of Serbia’s extreme anger and powerlessness over the bombing. This is easily verified by looking at a daily newspaper for the few days before the bombing began the night of March 23/24, 1999, and the few days following. Or simply look at the New York Times of March 26, page 1, which reads:
… with the NATO bombing already begun, a deepening sense of fear took hold in Pristina [the main city of Kosovo] that the Serbs would now vent their rage against ethnic Albanian civilians in retaliation. [emphasis added]
On March 27, we find the first reference to a “forced march” or anything of that nature.
But the propaganda version is already set in marble.
– “And Kosovo only left Serbia after a referendum was organized, not outside the boundaries of international law, but in careful cooperation with the United Nations and with Kosovo’s neighbors. None of that even came close to happening in Crimea.”
None of that even came close to happening in Kosovo either. The story is false. The referendum the president speaks of never happened. Did the mainstream media pick up on this or on the previous example? If any reader comes across such I’d appreciate being informed.
Crimea, by the way, did have a referendum. A real one.
– “Workers and engineers gave life to the Marshall Plan … As the Iron Curtain fell here in Europe, the iron fist of apartheid was unclenched, and Nelson Mandela emerged upright, proud, from prison to lead a multiracial democracy. Latin American nations rejected dictatorship and built new democracies … “
The president might have mentioned that the main beneficiary of the Marshall Plan was US corporations, that the United States played an indispensable role in Mandela being caught and imprisoned, and that virtually all the Latin American dictatorships owed their very existence to Washington. Instead, the European youth were fed the same party line that their parents were fed, as were all Americans.
– “Yes, we believe in democracy – with elections that are free and fair.”
In this talk, the main purpose of which was to lambaste the Russians for their actions concerning Ukraine, there was no mention that the government overthrown in that country with the clear support of the United States had been democratically elected.
– “Moreover, Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. … But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state that could make decisions about its own future.”
The US did not get UN Security Council approval for its invasion, the only approval that could legitimize the action. It occupied Iraq from one end of the country to the other for 8 years, forcing the government to privatize the oil industry and accept multinational – largely U.S.-based, oil companies’ – ownership. This endeavor was less than successful because of the violence unleashed by the invasion. The US military finally was forced to leave because the Iraqi government refused to give immunity to American soldiers for their many crimes.
Here is a brief summary of what Barack Obama is attempting to present as America’s moral superiority to the Russians:
The modern, educated, advanced nation of Iraq was reduced to a quasi failed state … the Americans, beginning in 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one dubious excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, tortured without inhibition, killed wantonly … the people of that unhappy land lost everything – their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women’s rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives … More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile … The air, soil, water, blood, and genes drenched with depleted uranium … the most awful birth defects … unexploded cluster bombs lying in wait for children to pick them up … a river of blood running alongside the Euphrates and Tigris … through a country that may never be put back together again. … “It is a common refrain among war-weary Iraqis that things were better before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003,” reported the Washington Post. (May 5, 2007)
How can all these mistakes, such arrogance, hypocrisy and absurdity find their way into a single international speech by the president of the United States? Is the White House budget not sufficient to hire a decent fact checker? Someone with an intellect and a social conscience? Or does the desire to score propaganda points trump everything else? Is this another symptom of the Banana-Republicization of America?
Long live the Cold War
In 1933 US President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the Soviet Union after some 15 years of severed relations following the Bolshevik Revolution. On a day in December of that year, a train was passing through Poland carrying the first American diplomats dispatched to Moscow. Amongst their number was a 29 year-old Foreign Service Officer, later to become famous as a diplomat and scholar, George Kennan. Though he was already deemed a government expert on Russia, the train provided Kennan’s first actual exposure to the Soviet Union. As he listened to his group’s escort, Russian Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, reminisce about growing up in a village the train was passing close by, and his dreams of becoming a librarian, the Princeton-educated Kennan was astonished: “We suddenly realized, or at least I did, that these people we were dealing with were human beings like ourselves, that they had been born somewhere, that they had their childhood ambitions as we had. It seemed for a brief moment we could break through and embrace these people.”
It hasn’t happened yet.
One would think that the absence in Russia of communism, of socialism, of the basic threat or challenge to the capitalist system, would be sufficient to write finis to the 70-year Cold War mentality. But the United States is virtually as hostile to 21st-century Russia as it was to 20th-century Soviet Union, surrounding Moscow with military bases, missile sites, and NATO members. Why should that be? Ideology is no longer a factor. But power remains one, specifically America’s perpetual lust for world hegemony. Russia is the only nation that (a) is a military powerhouse, and (b) doesn’t believe that the United States has a god-given-American-exceptionalism right to rule the world, and says so. By these criteria, China might qualify as a poor second. But there are no others.
Washington pretends that it doesn’t understand why Moscow should be upset by Western military encroachment, but it has no such problem when roles are reversed. Secretary of State John Kerry recently stated that Russian troops poised near eastern Ukraine are “creating a climate of fear and intimidation in Ukraine” and raising questions about Russia’s next moves and its commitment to diplomacy.
NATO – ever in need of finding a raison d’être – has now issued a declaration of [cold] war, which reads in part:
“NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday [April 1, 2014] reaffirmed their commitment to enhance the Alliance’s collective defence, agreed to further support Ukraine and to suspend NATO’s practical cooperation with Russia. ‘NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our territory and our people. And make no mistake, this is what we will do,’ NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. … Ministers directed Allied military authorities to develop additional measures to strengthen collective defence and deterrence against any threat of aggression against the Alliance, Mr. Fogh Rasmussen said. ‘We will make sure we have updated military plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments,’ he said. NATO has already reinforced its presence on the eastern border of the Alliance, including surveillance patrols over Poland and Romania and increased numbers of fighter aircraft allocated to the NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States. … NATO Foreign Ministers also agreed to suspend all of NATO’s practical cooperation with Russia.”
Does anyone recall what NATO said in 2003 when the United States bombed and invaded Iraq with “shock and awe”, compared to the Russians now not firing a single known shot at anyone? And neither Russia nor Ukraine is even a member of NATO. Does NATO have a word to say about the right-wing coup in Ukraine, openly supported by the United States, overthrowing the elected government? Did the hypocrisy get any worse during the Cold War? Imagine that NATO had not been created in 1949. Imagine that it has never existed. What reason could one give today for its creation? Other than to provide a multi-national cover for Washington’s interventions.
One of the main differences between now and the Cold War period is that Americans at home are (not yet) persecuted or prosecuted for supporting Russia or things Russian.
But don’t worry, folks, there won’t be a big US-Russian war. For the same reason there wasn’t one during the Cold War. The United States doesn’t pick on any country which can defend itself.
Cuba … Again … Still … Forever
Is there actually a limit? Will the United States ever stop trying to overthrow the Cuban government? Entire books have been written documenting the unrelenting ways Washington has tried to get rid of tiny Cuba’s horrid socialism – from military invasion to repeated assassination attempts to an embargo that President Clinton’s National Security Advisor called “the most pervasive sanctions ever imposed on a nation in the history of mankind”.But nothing has ever come even close to succeeding. The horrid socialism keeps on inspiring people all over the world. It’s the darnedest thing. Can providing people free or remarkably affordable health care, education, housing, food and culture be all that important?
And now it’s “Cuban Twitter” – an elaborately complex system set up by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to disguise its American origins and financing, aiming to bring about a “Cuban Spring” uprising. USAID sought to first “build a Cuban audience, mostly young people; then the plan was to push them toward dissent”, hoping the messaging network “would reach critical mass so that dissidents could organize ‘smart mobs’ – mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice – that might trigger political demonstrations or ‘renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society’.”It’s too bad it’s now been exposed, because we all know how wonderful the Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan, and other “Arab Springs” have turned out.
Here’s USAID speaking after their scheme was revealed on April 3: “Cubans were able to talk among themselves, and we are proud of that.”We are thus asked to believe that normally the poor downtrodden Cubans have no good or safe way to communicate with each other. Is the US National Security Agency working for the Cuban government now?
The Associated Press, which broke the story, asks us further to believe that the “truth” about most things important in the world is being kept from the Cuban people by the Castro regime, and that the “Cuban Twitter” would have opened people’s eyes. But what information might a Cuban citizen discover online that the government would not want him to know about? I can’t imagine. Cubans are in constant touch with relatives in the US, by mail and in person. They get US television programs from Miami and other southern cities; both CNN and Telesur (Venezuela, covering Latin America) are seen regularly on Cuban television”; international conferences on all manner of political, economic and social issues are held regularly in Cuba. I’ve spoken at more than one myself. What – it must be asked – does USAID, as well as the American media, think are the great dark secrets being kept from the Cuban people by the nasty commie government?
Those who push this line sometimes point to the serious difficulty of using the Internet in Cuba. The problem is that it’s extremely slow, making certain desired usages often impractical. From an American friend living in Havana: “It’s not a question of getting or not getting internet. I get internet here. The problem is downloading something or connecting to a link takes too long on the very slow connection that exists here, so usually I/we get ‘timed out’.” But the USAID’s “Cuban Twitter”, after all, could not have functioned at all without the Internet.
Places like universities, upscale hotels, and Internet cafés get better connections, at least some of the time; however, it’s rather expensive to use at the hotels and cafés.
In any event, this isn’t a government plot to hide dangerous information. It’s a matter of technical availability and prohibitive cost, both things at least partly in the hands of the United States and American corporations. Microsoft, for example, at one point, if not at present, barred Cuba from using its Messenger instant messaging service.
Cuba and Venezuela have jointly built a fiber optic underwater cable connection that they hope will make them less reliant on the gringos; the outcome of this has not yet been reported in much detail.
The grandly named Agency for International Development does not have an honorable history; this can perhaps be captured by a couple of examples: In 1981, the agency’s director, John Gilligan, stated: “At one time, many AID field offices were infiltrated from top to bottom with CIA people. The idea was to plant operatives in every kind of activity we had overseas, government, volunteer, religious, every kind.”
On June 21, 2012, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) issued a resolution calling for the immediate expulsion of USAID from their nine member countries, “due to the fact that we consider their presence and actions to constitute an interference which threatens the sovereignty and stability of our nations.”
USAID, the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy (and the latter’s subsidiaries), together or singly, continue to be present at regime changes, or attempts at same, favorable to Washington, from “color revolutions” to “spring” uprisings, producing a large measure of chaos and suffering for our tired old world.
- William Blum, America’s Deadliest Export – Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else, p.22-5
- Walter Isaacson & Evan Thomas, The Wise Men (1986), p.158
- Washington Post, March 31, 2014
- “NATO takes measures to reinforce collective defence, agrees on support for Ukraine”, NATO website, April 1, 2014
- Sandy Berger, White House press briefing, November 14, 1997, US Newswire transcript
- Associated Press, April 3 & 4, 2014
- Washington Post, April 4, 2014
- Associated Press, June 2, 2009
- George Cotter, “Spies, strings and missionaries”, The Christian Century (Chicago), March 25, 1981, p.321
Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.
Serious issues regarding constitutional law rose to the surface on Friday as a US federal judge dismissed a court case against the US government by families of three Americans killed in US drone strikes in Yemen.
Judge Rosemary Collyer of the US District Court in Washington ruled that the Americans killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011 had no recourse to the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, as the legal team for the families had argued, because the US military did not make an effort to restrain the three individuals who were killed.
The Fourth Amendment explicitly states that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons…against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
“Unmanned drones are functionally incapable of ‘seizing’ a person; they are designed to kill, not capture,” she wrote. Although Collyer wrote that the plantiffs presented a reasonable argument that the US government violated the American right to due process, “the court finds no available remedy under US law for this claim.”
The judge suggested it was not within the bounds of the courts to rule against current military planning.
Imposing penalties on particular government officials in this case “would impermissibly draw the court into the heart of executive and military planning and deliberation,” she wrote. It would “require the court to examine national security policy and the military chain of command as well as operational combat decisions.”
“In this delicate area of war making national security and foreign relations the judiciary has an exceedingly limited role.”
Killed in the drone strike was New Mexico-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who, according to US officials, was a member of Al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate, and Samir Khan, a naturalized US citizen who had moved to Yemen in 2009.
Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was also killed in the attack.
The question as to who should be held responsible for the extrajudicial murder of American citizens without due process in the US legal system seems to have been left hanging in the balance of the legal scales.
“The question presented is whether federal officials can be held personally liable for their roles in drone strikes abroad that target and kill US citizens,” Collyer commented in her opinion. “The question raises fundamental issues regarding constitutional principles, and it is not easy to answer.”
Collyer said that the US officials named as defendants in the case, which included Leon Panetta, the former defense secretary and CIA chief, and David Petraeus, also a former CIA chief, as well as a four-star general, “must be trusted and expected to act in accordance with the US Constitution when they intentionally target a US citizen abroad at the direction of the president and with the concurrence of Congress.
“They cannot be held personally responsible in monetary damages for conducting war.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights served as legal representation for the families.
“This is a deeply troubling decision that treats the government’s allegations as proof while refusing to allow those allegations to be tested in court,” said ACLU lawyer Hina Shamsi. “The court’s view that it cannot provide a remedy for extrajudicial killings when the government claims to be at war, even far from any battlefield, is profoundly at odds with the Constitution.”
Meanwhile, Center for Constitutional Rights lawyer Maria LaHood said the judge “effectively convicted” Anwar al-Awlaki “posthumously based solely on the government’s say-so.” LaHood said the court found that the constitutional rights of the murdered individuals “weren’t violated because the government didn’t target them.”
“It seems there’s no remedy if the government intended to kill you, and no remedy if it didn’t. This decision is a true travesty of justice for our constitutional democracy and for all victims of the US government’s unlawful killings,” LaHood argued.
The United States is facing tough international criticism over its drone program, which was created to attack suspected terrorists in places like Pakistan and Yemen. Last month, the UN Human Rights Committee, which is comprised of 18 independent experts, called on the Obama administration to evaluate its use of the aerial attack vehicles to assassinate militants abroad, as well as provide information as to how it chooses its targets.
The US should “revisit its position regarding legal justifications for the use of deadly force through drone attacks,” investigate any abuses and compensate victims’ families, the watchdog added in its conclusions.
The Obama administration significantly increased the number of drone strikes after the president took office in 2009, but the attacks have begun to decrease in the last year.
Last month, civil rights groups sounded the alarm when US Attorney General Eric Holder said it was “hypothetically possible” for the US to unleash a drone attack against an American on US soil.
“It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the president to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” Holder wrote in a letter dated Match 4th and disclosed by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Perhaps there are lessons for other small communities from the conditions, positive and negative, of Winsted, Connecticut (the Town of Winchester), a community of about 11,000 people nestled in the beautiful Litchfield County Hills.
First, Winsted is unique in numerous ways. Northwestern Connecticut Community College, established in 1965 through local initiatives, has expanded its facilities. Winsted is the second smallest community in the U.S. to have a community college located within its boundaries. About the size of Manhattan in New York City, the Town of Winchester sports two lakes plus Crystal Lake, the drinking water reservoir, two rivers named Mad and Still, and an abundance of woods and meadows.
When its Winsted Memorial Hospital closed in 1996, the citizens did what no one else had managed to do after losing their hospital. They mobilized and reopened the closed facility with the Winsted Health Center, offering hospital level services except for overnight stays.
The country’s first law museum (the American Museum of Tort Law) and the first art museum devoted exclusively to America’s working men and women (the Wall of America) are being built in Winsted. These are not far from the fine Winchester Historical Society. Winsted is served by two newspapers – the weekly Winsted Journal and the daily Torrington Register-Citizen, and a vibrant cable access channel, where the Community Lawyer shares a program.
The Winsted Volunteer Fire Department with its three stations has continued to serve its people since 1862. A fourth station was added a decade later. Visitors have observed the architectural beauty of the churches in this community. The Town Hall and Post Office are easily accessible on Winsted’s Main Street. A new pottery studio has opened with cubicles for pottery artists and eager newcomers.
Winsted even has two summer camps for children from the cities.
Unlike most municipalities outside of New England, Winsted has the ultimate democratic town meeting, referendum form of local government. If used in an informed manner, it is hard to make excuses that the residents cannot be in charge, to the extent permitted by state and federal mandates.
Yet, notwithstanding Winsted’s many attractive features, there is a serious absence of operating civic pride among many of its residents that holds back their community. Even before Winsted’s hitherto, bustling factories closed or left town after World War II, before the county courthouse moved away, before the railroad station was closed, talking down Winsted made up too much of the people’s small talk.
To be sure, the scars of these losses remain. Jobs are hard to find in town, especially for the youngsters graduating from the local high school. Now more of a bedroom community, job holders commute to Hartford and other Connecticut cities to earn their living. One result is that there is less time for and interest in participating in local civic and political work, though there are still numerous clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, Elk, Lions and Knights of Columbus) that provide opportunities for social interactions.
The decline of the local economy has lessened the ability of many residents to pay for the repairing and upgrading of the public works. However, year after year of deferred maintenance leads to rundown streets, bridges, sidewalks and other public facilities and increases the costs of eventual restorations.
Each generation of young residents tend to disparage their hometown as they move out. With the advent of the internet’s virtual reality and the introverted self-absorbing, 24/7 enabling gadgets, the separation from the reality of their town and its older historically-minded residents grows.
As the town’s fiscal health deteriorates, demoralization sets in under the cries of those who accentuate the negatives and ignore the positives, instead of embracing the pathways toward recovery. One result is that good people in Town Hall quit their jobs. Yet, the town manager, Dale Martin, remains solidly optimistic. Another consequence is that there is low voter turnout. A third result is that fewer people want to run in elections for town government positions and its various boards, even though very little money is needed for their campaigns. Potential candidates can almost walk the entire town, its hill country and around its seven mile, home-studded Highland Lake.
Throughout our country, communities are turned around first by the organization of enough civic character and steadfast civic personality to make the difference. A small number of determined people can tap the many under-utilized assets of their community and carry the day. I would guess that in Winsted, about one hundred people of diverse talents, including the younger generation, can forge the path to recovery, with the support of a more silent majority.
There are enough lessons from American history where towns such as Winsted can find encouragement from those who have overcome much greater odds. There are plenty of manuals, articles, case studies and available federal and state help so that civic revivalists need not re-invent the wheel. Visit Kettering, New England Futures or the Citistates Group for more information.
There are also local traditions of civic resiliency in the history of every community. Winsted overcame three devastating floods from the nineteen thirties to the mid-nineteen fifties, until civic pressure on key political figures from Washington to Hartford got a dry dam built. No floods since.
People who give up on their civic pursuits, citing futility, often have overcome far more challenging hurdles in their own personal family and work life – illnesses, unemployment, accidents and other fateful pressures. Civic organization can produce a better community – it’s a lot easier than we think!
After 94 years, on January 27, 2014, the world lost Pete Seeger. The world is the lesser for that loss. The accolades for this giant of folk songs and herald of all causes just, are pouring in from around the world. He is celebrated for regularly showing up at mass protests, for singing songs so transcendent (This Land is Your Land; We Shall Overcome; Where Have All the Flowers Gone) they are sung in many foreign languages all over the earth and for his mentoring and motivating of millions of people and children.
Pete Seeger overcame most of his doubters and adversaries. On his famous five string banjo, he inscribed the slogan, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”
No less than the Wall Street Journal, after reprinting an ugly commentary on Seeger’s earlier radicalism, wrote: “troubadour, rabble rouser, thorn in the side of the bloated and complacent, recipient of the National Media of Arts, American idealist and family man, Seeger maintained what Mr. Springsteen called his ‘nasty optimism’ until late in life.”
At a Madison Square Garden songfest for Seeger’s 90th birthday, Springsteen added: “Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience.”
I met and spoke to Pete Seeger a few times and can attest to his steady determination and uplifting spirit. All the above are measures of this authentic man and his rare traits of character, personality, intuition, scope and focus.
The man’s character shone when he was subpoenaed before the powerful House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in August 1955, along with other outspoken entertainers and actors, he refused to take the easier way out and invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination. Instead, he made himself vulnerable to later prosecution by pleading the First Amendment and his right to free speech, petition and assembly.
After rejecting the Committee’s probe about whom he associated with politically and his beliefs, he suggested that they discuss the music that the committee members found so objectionable. He offered unsuccessfully to sing his songs, then and there, before the startled clenched-jaw politicians.
“I think,” he told them, “these are very improper questions for any American to be asked especially under such compulsion as this.” In those days, that was an astounding act of courageous character.
He paid the price, when he was prosecuted and convicted before winning his appeal. In those years of “commie symps” witch-hunts by McCarthyite zealots, his career nearly collapsed. Television networks banned him for over a decade; record companies shunned him; concerts dwindled. So what did he do? He continued recording, touring among everyday people around the country, learning music from them and singing on street corners, at union halls, churches, schools and what he called “hobo jungles.”
He quit a popular band he formed – the Weavers – after it did an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes. More recently, according to his producer, Jim Musselman, and record label (Appleseed Recordings), he turned down an offer by BP of $150,000 to use one of his songs in a commercial, even though he could have given the money to charity.
Complementing this sterling character, Seeger possessed a stunningly functional personality. His resilience in overcoming setbacks, ideological adversaries and smear specialists was legendary. That was because he never let his ego get in the way and wear him down and he recognized the big picture of social change and how he could use his stardom to amplify the people’s efforts for peace, justice, the environment and other necessities of the good life. It helped mightily that he was married to the stalwart Toshi for seventy years.
“The key to the future of the world,” he remarked in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.” In 2009, he said his task was “to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.” He placed his greatest hope in women wisely teaching their children. Three years ago, he won a Grammy for his album, “Tomorrow’s Children.”
His connection with audiences of all kinds, here and abroad, was uncannily attuned to getting them to participate and sing. For Mr. Seeger, it was not about the song or the singer – these were the means – it was about the audience’s own experience.
He disliked the overwhelming sound of rock that blotted out the lyrics. The lyrics, he believed, were what needed to be communicated and therefore had to be heard, sung and understood. That is one reason he avoided electric guitars and other electrified instruments.
In his biography by David Dunaway, titled How Can I Keep From Singing: Pete Seeger, Mr. Seeger spoke about rural traditions. “I liked the strident vocal tone of the singers, the vigorous dancing. The words of the songs had all the meat of life in them. Their humor had a bite, it was not trivial. Their tragedy was real, not sentimental.”
Arlo Guthrie, son of the great Woody Guthrie, a mentor of Seeger’s, played with Pete for nearly fifty years. He spoke to Time Magazine about his magic in getting audiences to “relax and sing along with him. My eyes just opened up and I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of me. He would just wave his hand, and you could hear people singing…Someone who has not [seen him] will find it hard to believe. It was almost as if he had some extra sense that allowed that kind of response. There’s no one else I have ever seen in my life that has had that, on any country, on any continent or in any city. Nobody came close.”
His intuition was augmented by a vast knowledge of American history, astonishing memory and what one reporter called “a vast repertoire of ballads, spirituals and blues songs.”
Seeger’s scope covered just about every social justice cause that arose from the people and some that he helped ignite such as opposing wars and cleaning up rivers. He knew what he was singing about, such as when he focused on his beloved Hudson River. He launched his famous 106-foot sloop, the Clearwater, whose journey with musicians up and down the Hudson unleashed civic and litigation energies that have greatly reduced the pollution of that storied river. Again and again, the Clearwater would take adults and children on these trips so they could appreciate the river, learn, sing, and resolve to combat the polluters, such as General Electric and its dumping of PCBs. The children, recounted Musselman, would go home knowledgeably motivated and urge their parents to act. The work done on the Clearwater is now a model for cleanup efforts in other rivers.
This man, who led sing-alongs and gave benefit concerts for the downtrodden and the defiant, would bring his audience to silence and then joyous singing. Imagine, today’s domineering, ear-splitting, flashing bands jetting their fans into frenzied, uproarious, sweaty reactions with the sounds drowning out the lyrics. That was never Seeger’s vision. Thank goodness he leaves behind hundreds of hours of music that stimulates both the ears and sweetens or alerts the minds.
Musselman related a powerful example of how Pete Seeger communicated at gatherings. He quotes Seeger as saying, “Nelson Mandela went from prison to the presidency of his country without a shot being fired. The Berlin Wall came down without a shot being fired. And did anybody think there would be peace in Northern Ireland? There is always hope when it comes to unlikely social change.”
“Pete planted many seeds all over the world,” Musselman concluded. That is why Pete Seeger lives on.
Every night gunshots lullaby me to sleep
In ruins of abandoned buildings
the broken glass is
where we bottle up all our broken dreams. . . .
Hold the dream with me, as it breaks loose from Jameale Pickett’s poem. Something beyond the insane dance of crime and punishment is happening, at least this year, this moment, in Chicago’s high schools. Young people are getting a chance to excel and become themselves, as more and more schools find and embrace common sense, also known as restorative justice.
The funding is fragile, precarious, but some schools in struggling communities are figuring out how to break the school-to-prison pipeline, even though the system as a whole remains wrapped up in suspensions, expulsions, zero tolerance and racism.
“The Obama administration on Wednesday urged school officials to abandon unnecessarily harsh suspension and expulsion practices that appear to target black students,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported recently.
“In Chicago, although black students in 2009 made up 45 percent of (the Chicago Public Schools’) enrollment, 76 percent of all CPS students who received out-of-school suspensions were black, according to Department of Education data. When it came to expulsions, black students made up 80 percent of those who were expelled.”
And, as of data from a few years ago, one in four African-American students gets suspended at least once during the school year in Illinois — the highest rate in the nation. Suspensions become blemishes on one’s record that are almost impossible to erase. But worst of all, the conflict at the root of every suspension, in the old system of zero tolerance, goes unaddressed — indeed, unacknowledged, either by the school system or the media. Yet every unaddressed conflict festers and grows.
Motivations to success are few and futile
so when I walk
I always keep my head down.
I can’t go to school because . . .
education is decapitated.
But something is different where Jameale does go to school. He’s a sophomore at Uplift Community High School, on the North Side of Chicago, in the neighborhood known as Uptown. He read his poem as part of a ceremony last week that I was (to my great honor) invited to attend, in which some 25 students accepted their certificates as peace ambassadors.
All of them had received intensive training in what is known as peer conferencing, which is a central facet of the growing restorative justice movement. Peer conferencing is a healing-based approach to conflict resolution, in which students trained in the process sit in a circle — a “peace circle” — with those involved in a dispute of some sort and guide a discussion, often intense, that ends in an agreement about how to repair the harm that was done.
It’s the precise opposite of the escalating craziness of a zero-tolerance, police-dependent approach to trouble at school. It’s about restoring the whole, not punishing bad kids over and over and over, until they leave school and wind up in jail. Such an approach results in the broken glass and shattered dreams — the “decapitated education” — that so many young people in poor, struggling neighborhoods experience. It’s wrecking American society.
But the devastation begins so simply. At the awards ceremony, Ana Mercado of Alternatives, Inc., the local social service agency that trained the Uplift peace ambassadors, told of a typical peer conferencing circle that had recently been held. A teacher was having a problem with a student who kept talking in class — oh, the simplest sort of problem! But it’s the kind of thing that can escalate until the student is expelled. In this case, however, a calm discussion in a peace-circle setting revealed that the teacher had “said something that made the student feel disrespected. The teacher and student met and talked it through. They now have a great relationship.”
End of story. It’s so simple, so lacking in “newsworthiness.” Yet this is how peacebuilding works.
And: “Students have so much more influence with one another than adults have,” Hope Lassen, also of Alternatives, pointed out. Last fall, at the start of the school year, she went around to every English class at Uplift and recruited students to become peer conferencing leaders and peace ambassadors. Some of them had been suggested by teachers, but: “You need the students who have gotten into trouble a lot, as well as the ones who are the primo joiners that teachers love,” she said.
This is the kind of thinking that starts making this process real. It transcends the simplistic, punitive paradigm and values every student at the school.
So far this year, the students have held 16 conferences, 15 of which have ended in agreements that were successfully completed; 129 days of suspension were prevented. As one teacher said at the awards ceremony: “This is the best year I’ve seen at Uplift. It’s the first year we haven’t had any brawls,” which he attributed to the peer-conferencing program. “We truly do see the fruits of your labor.”
Jameale, who talked to me after the ceremony, pointed out that “restorative justice starts at the school level, but most students live in the community. We’re also impacting the community in a positive way.”
During his training to be one of the school’s peace ambassadors, participants were asked at one point “to tell one of the deepest moments in our life,” he said. He told people: “Before I was born, my father died. I’d never told anyone that.” But in the telling, he understood its emotional impact: “I needed to protect everyone around me.”
And in the revelation: “It made me feel I was connected to you, and you to me.”
This is how his poem ends:
A people RISE
from the chalk outlines . . .
A people who reclaim what is rightfully theirs
Their City &
Pope Francis’s (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) promise that the Church would stop protecting pedophile priests doesn’t include the Duluth, Minnesota Diocese.
On January 22, the Diocese in Duluth Minnesota petitioned Judge David M. Johnson to dismiss the public nuisance count in a sexual abuse case involving Father John Nicholson. This latest action continues attempts to evade justice and protect the accused priests. If the Diocese was not complicit in the crimes it should have instead turned the priests over to authorities and provided all of the evidence it has.
Today’s hearing could lead to the release of secret documents that detail what the Diocese of Duluth bishops and officials knew about these many priests accused of sexually abusing children, when they knew it, and what they did in response to the abuse reports will be released.
Survivor Michael DeRoche, along with his attorneys and other sexual abuse survivors, previously sought the release of a secret list of 17 priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse that the Diocese of Duluth finally released on December 31, 2013.
The information provided by the Diocese of Duluth shows that more than 50 parishes in the Diocese had at least one of the accused priests with them at one time or another and that the pedophile priests were simply moved from one parish to another to continue their abuse of children. This type of aiding and abetting of sexual crimes against children has been the norm in many Catholic diocese around the world. Documents released in European abuse cases prove that the Vatican approved and directed the continued support of pedophile priests, the cover-ups and the attacks on the victims when they sought justice.
The evidence continues to show that the catholic church has always been an institution that abuses children and the sexual abuse of children is an integral part of the church’s culture. The one billion plus Catholics who turn a blind eye to the crimes of their church share in the guilt and should be held accountable. It is mind boggling why the institutional crimes against the most innocent and vulnerable of humanity has been tolerated for so long and by so many.
Note to the faithful – If your church abuses children it has nothing to do with God or goodness and is instead something evil and criminal and if you continue to support the church with your silence then you share responsibility for its actions. If you don’t want to be support evil then leave the church and speak out against it. Demand justice for the countless victims. Let God know that you have some measure of goodness in your heart.
If you happened to catch any of the news coverage of Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea last week, you might have spotted in the big man’s entourage a white guy with an Amish-style beard, as in clean-shaven cheeks and no moustache. That’s Joseph Terwilliger, 48, a statistical geneticist who splits his time at Columbia University and the University of Helsinki. Suffice it to say, even losing the beard Terwilliger would be no ordinary geneticist.
For starters, his passion is the tuba. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the Peabody Conservatory of Music and has since tooted with groups as diverse as the New York City Opera and the Tubonic Plague tuba quartet. “About 15% of my income comes from music,” Terwilliger says. Other diversions include impersonating Abe Lincoln and taking second place in a Nathan’s hot dog eating contest.
Terwilliger’s scientific career is equally intriguing. He has jetted off to western China, the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and Iran in search of novel traits in nomadic populations. “Most of my work has been on trying to identify natural experiments that mimic experimental conditions in a way that might help us to understand the genetics of normal human variation in health and disease,” he says. Terwilliger has also lectured in Cuba, China, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, and, he says, “many other places where relationships between their government and ours are poor.” He’s a longtime critic of the human genome project and the HapMap project, arguing that backers of those massive enterprises were misleading in suggesting that genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and other approaches would quickly pinpoint disease-risk genes meaningful for public health. “GWAS has been an abject failure in uncovering much of the etiology of complex human diseases,” he argues. “Many of my colleagues who work for large genome centers have no choice but to continue to promote the technology they have invested millions of dollars in, as they have factories set up and employees whose livelihoods hang in the balance.”
“Joe is a unique character, eccentric, brilliant, libertarian, and a lot besides,” says longtime collaborator Kenneth Weiss, a geneticist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. “He is a voice to be heard, and thinks 10 times faster than most of the rest of us. He’s basically a very good-hearted guy, but one who does enjoy notoriety!”
Which brings us to North Korea. Terwilliger has been to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the country is formally known, eight times in the past 5 years. Twice he went as a tourist, and twice to study the North Korean dialect. He has a good professional reason for visiting the Hermit Kingdom: He and colleagues have a large, ongoing study of the Korean diaspora aiming to compare the relative contributions of genetics, culture and the environment to health-related traits. Last July, he taught human evolutionary genetics at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), founded in North Korea’s capital in 2009 by Christian Korean-Americans. And now he’s been to North Korea with Rodman—three times and counting. ScienceInsider caught up with Terwilliger at his perch in Helsinki.
Q: Any big surprises last week?
J.T.: Every time I visit the DPRK I see things from a different perspective. Of course going there with Dennis Rodman is entirely different from going there as a teacher and shopping at local markets as we did last summer. I have been all over the country, and seen Korea from many different perspectives, and the one thing that is invariant in all those different vantage points is how sweet and kind the citizens of the DPRK are. The Korean word 소박함 describes perfectly the innocence, warmth, sincerity, and kindness of the North Korean people.
One anecdote from last week. We were at the new Masik Pass ski resort near the East Coast of the DPRK, which was just opened in the last month. We were the first foreigners to visit it after it opened. I was sliding down the bunny slope in a tire tube and got turned around and lost control. A Korean man then blocked my tube and was knocked down hard enough to the ground to have been hospitalized for a possible concussion from the collision. I then kept moving in the tube and five other Korean men also were knocked to the ground in their effort to stop my tube from going off a 100 foot cliff that was located at the bottom of the bunny slope.
I had the chance the next day to meet these men and thank them, and every one of them was gracious, sweet, and wonderful to me, even though one of them even had to go to the hospital because of my accident. This genuine sweetness and kindness is typical of people in the DPRK. People are the same everywhere, and interaction with them can only be a good thing.
Q: How did you become part of the Rodman entourage?
J.T.: In April of 2013, I saw an online auction for charity where people could bid on the chance to play H-O-R-S-E with Dennis Rodman. So I bid and won, solely because I wanted to tell him that I supported what he was doing and would be happy to assist him if he needed any help on the ground, as I was going to be in the DPRK teaching and living there in July.
A few weeks after the H-O-R-S-E game, Dennis’s agent contacted me and asked if I could help find a way to get Dennis back to the DPRK without involving Vice magazine and their media crews who made his previous visit less than ideal. We eventually chose a friend of mine, Michael Spavor, a Canadian living in Yanji, China, to organize the visas and logistics with the DPRK Olympic Committee and Sports Ministry. Together, he and I and two student volunteers organized the return trip in September and helped with translation and cultural advising during his trip.
The September trip was one of the most amazing things I have ever been involved with in my life. And I almost could not even go, as I suffered a retinal detachment the last night I was teaching in Pyongyang in July and had to have emergency surgery on my return to NYC to repair the retina. They had to perform a complete vitrectomy and attach a scleral buckle to the eye, and I had to remain face down with a gas bubble in my eye until the third week of August. The trip to Korea was on September 1st, so I was very close to missing the entire thing. While my vision was not good, I was cleared to travel and had the experience of a lifetime.
The rest is history, as we then worked on the logistics for setting up the basketball game held last week, and the training session in late December.
Q: Has the experience changed your life?
J.T.: No, I have kept a very low profile. Sure, it has come out that I was there, and my photo is all over the place, but most people just ask, “Who is the crazy looking bearded guy with Dennis?” so it has had very little direct effect on my life. I was just there to assist him, to help with translation. Basically I was there as Dennis’s friend who happens to speak Korean.
While it seems very normal to me at this point, if someone had told me in January 2013 that a year from then I would be hanging out in Pyongyang with Marshal Kim Jong Un, Dennis Rodman, Cliff Robinson, Charles D. Smith, Kenny Anderson, Doug Christie, and Sleepy Floyd, I would have laughed in your face. But they were all wonderful to me, and especially to the basketball players who joined us for this game. They were all there for positive reasons, to interact with local people, to teach basketball, to make people smile by doing what they do best, and by generating money to support deaf children in Korea. Their intentions were entirely selfless and noble, and they did a positive thing, despite the enormity of the criticism they have received on returning home. Any form of interaction is a good thing when done between people of nations whose governments have hostile relationships.
Q: Last July, you spent 3 weeks teaching at PUST. What was that like?
J.T.: I viewed this as a great opportunity to experience the DPRK as a resident, and also to help build a positive and trusting relationship with people in the DPRK, a necessary prerequisite for some future scientific exchanges. I viewed my role there as one of showing the positive side of the American people to a population who has heard mostly negative stereotypes about us.
I engaged the students, taught them scientific critical thinking, and showed an understanding of their society and culture which most foreigners do not even try to get into. I spoke Korean with their grammatical styles and their accent, and I showed familiarity with their culture. Students all wrote me very sweet notes attached to their final exams about how they really appreciated my efforts to understand their country and needed to think twice about their opinions of the American people as a result of our interactions.
They said the very same thing about their experiences viewing Dennis Rodman’s visit to their country in February of 2013. Many students talked about how much they loved watching that basketball game on television, and how many had even read Dennis’s autobiography and admired him for being so frank about the difficulties he had in his life. And when they saw him saying nice things about their country and their leader it really affected their views of American people, seeing one in this light for the first time. To this end, an enormous amount of goodwill had been engendered by Dennis’s efforts at sports diplomacy, as well as the impact I think I was able to have on my small class of students by doing the same things with science as the vehicle of choice.
Q: Rodman’s basketball diplomacy is one of the few things the United States has going with North Korea right now. Do you see an opportunity to engage the North Koreans through science diplomacy?
J.T.: I have tried to do this by teaching at PUST last summer, and may go back in the future as well to pursue that further. I would love to have the chance to help them with epidemiological or genetic studies in the DPRK, and would love to work with their students to help them going forward. Every time I have been there, including last week, I was asked when I would come to teach again, and they seemed very positive about the potential for further interactions on a scientific level going forward. I have no specific agenda at this time, but hopefully something will materialize in the near future! Science, music, sports, culture, academics all have the potential to build bridges between people with no risk to government and no political overtones, and I hope that I will be able to help build such bridges between our countries in the future, using the trust and connections I have built with them over the past several years.
I hope to have more opportunities to interact with the North Koreans on a scientific level—in fact that was a large part of my motivation to get involved with Rodman’s efforts as a way to build contacts, connections, and trust, so something positive could happen down the road.