Tuesday, April 29, 2008
"I share the belief of many of my contemporaries that the spiritual crisis pervading all spheres of Western industrial society can be remedied only by a change in our world view. We shall have to shift from the materialistic, dualistic belief that people and their environment are separate, toward a new conciousness of an all-encompassing reality, which embraces the experiencing ego, a reality in which people feel their oneness with animate nature and all of creation."
-Dr. Albert Hoffman
LSD Inventor Albert Hofmann Dead at Age 102
By Dylan Tweney April 29, 2008
Albert Hofmann, the pioneering Swiss chemist and advocate of psychedelics who discovered the hallucinogenic properties of LSD, died Tuesday. He was 102.
Hofmann reportedly died of a heart attack at his home in Basel, Switzerland.
Hofmann's most famous discovery happened on April 16, 1943. He was researching the synthesis of a lysergic acid compound, LSD-25, when he inadvertently absorbed a bit through his fingertips. Intrigued by the effect it had on his perception, Hofmann decided further exploration was warranted. Three days later, on April 19, he ingested 250 milligrams of LSD, embarking on the first full-fledged acid trip. That day became known among LSD fans as "bicycle day" because Hofmann began experiencing the drug's intense effects on his bicycle trip home from the lab.
In his autobiography, LSD, My Problem Child, Hofmann remembered his discovery this way:
"In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away."
The experience led Hofmann to begin experimenting with other hallucinogens and he became an advocate of their use, in both the arenas of psychoanalysis and personal growth. He was critical of LSD's casual use by the counterculture during the '60s, accusing rank amateurs of hijacking the drug he still refers to as "medicine for the soul" without understanding either its positive or negative effects.
In a celebration of Hofmann's 100th birthday in 2006, Hofmann told the crowd of well-wishers -- which included 2,000 researchers, scientists, artists and historians -- that "LSD wanted to tell me something. It gave me an inner joy, an open mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation."
Hofmann was also the first scientist to synthesize psilocybin, the active ingredient in psilocybin mushrooms, in 1958.
[Via BoingBoing and the Telegraph]
The following is from Albert's 100th Birthday celebration:
LSD: The Geek's Wonder Drug?
Ann Harrison 01.16.06
Albert Hofmann, the inventor of LSD is a century old and quite eloquent. He told the symposium gathered in his honor that acid gave him an inner joy and opened his mind, sensitizing him to the miracles of creation.
BASEL, Switzerland -- When Kevin Herbert has a particularly intractable programming problem, or finds himself pondering a big career decision, he deploys a powerful mind expanding tool -- LSD-25.
"It must be changing something about the internal communication in my brain. Whatever my inner process is that lets me solve problems, it works differently, or maybe different parts of my brain are used, " said Herbert, 42, an early employee of Cisco Systems who says he solved his toughest technical problems while tripping to drum solos by the Grateful Dead -- who were among the many artists inspired by LSD.
"When I'm on LSD and hearing something that's pure rhythm, it takes me to another world and into anther brain state where I've stopped thinking and started knowing," said Herbert who intervened to ban drug testing of technologists at Cisco Systems.
Herbert, who lives in Santa Cruz, California, joined 2,000 researchers, scientists, artists and historians gathered here over the weekend to celebrate the 100th birthday of Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered LSD here in 1938. The centenarian received a congratulatory birthday letter from the Swiss president, roses and a spontaneous kiss from a young woman in the crowd.
In many ways, the conference, LSD: Problem Child and Wonder Drug, an International Symposium on the Occasion of the 100th Birthday of Albert Hofmann, was a scientific coming-out party for the drug Hofmann fathered.
"LSD wanted to tell me something," Hofmann told the gathering Friday. "It gave me an inner joy, an open mindedness, a gratefulness, open eyes and an internal sensitivity for the miracles of creation."
Bent with age but still eloquent, Hofmann said he hoped the symposium would encourage the renewed therapeutic and spiritual use of LSD in supervised settings.
Lysergic acid diethylamide, a derivative of lysergic acid found in the alkaloids of the ergot grain fungus, has been illegal worldwide since the mid-1960s and still generates controversy. The conference was picketed Saturday by a splinter group from Scientology opposed to drug use.
The storied history of LSD as a mind-expanding tool began five years after Hofmann discovered LSD-25, and had what he described as a "peculiar presentiment" compelling him to resynthesize the drug. Without ingesting the substance, Hofmann managed to accidentally absorb enough of the chemical to experience its effects. In a second intentional trip, Hoffman said he had a frightening experience that gave way to feelings of rebirth.
During the 1950s and 1960s, LSD was found to be a promising tool for psychiatry and psychotherapy and was studied by the CIA as a potential interrogation weapon. It was criminalized after it escaped from the lab to be widely embraced by the youth culture.
Hofmannn said millions of people have taken LSD, but some had bad reactions when they took counterfeit drugs. He would like to see a modern Eleusis, the ancient Greek site that held the rituals of Eleusinian Mysteries which took place for two millennia beginning in 1500 BC. During the LSD symposium, mythologist Carl P. Ruck and chemist Peter Webster presented their research suggesting that an ergot preparation was the active ingredient for the Kykeon beverage used during the ritual.
"When Hofmann synthesized the chemical in LSD, he stumbled upon a 4,000-year-old secret," said Ruck, author of Road to Eleusis.
In 1958, Hofmann was the first to isolate the psychoactive substances of psilocybin and psilocin from Mexican magic mushrooms (psilocybe mexicana) which were among a variety of sacred plants used around the world to invite ecstatic and spiritual experiences.
The United States Supreme Court is now considering an appeal brought by the New Mexican chapter of the Uniao do Vegetal, or UDV, which uses the outlawed ayahauska brew in its ceremonies and cites the Eleusinian Mysteries as a precedent for a psychoactive Eucharist.
At the symposium, presentations of electronic trance music and psychedelic art by painter Alex Grey encouraged meditative and spiritual reflection for participants -- especially those in altered states of consciousness.
Participants eager to describe their modern-day spiritual LSD experiences were encouraged to contribute to a library of drug experiences on the Erowid website. Earth and Fire Erowid, who operate the site, presented a sampling of comments at the symposium and documented the two to five known deaths that have been associated with LSD.
Geri Beil of Cologne, Germany, who attended the symposium, recalled his own ecstatic LSD experience on an Indian beach on New Year's day, 2000. "I was crying from happiness, so thankful to my parents that they created me," said Beil. "This experience has not disappeared; it has had a lasting effect."
Like Herbert, many scientists and engineers also report heightened states of creativity while using LSD. During a press conference on Friday, Hofmann revealed that he was told by Nobel-prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis that LSD had helped him develop the polymerase chain reaction that helps amplify specific DNA sequences.
"When you study natural science and the miracles of creation, if you don't turn into a mystic you are not a natural scientist," said Hofmann.
In his presentation, artist Alex Grey noted that Nobel-prize-winner Francis Crick, discoverer of the double helical structure of DNA, also told friends he received inspiration for his ideas from LSD, according to news reports.
The gathering included a discussion of how early computer pioneers used LSD for inspiration. Douglas Englebart, the inventor of the mouse, Myron Stolaroff, a former Ampex engineer and LSD researcher who was attending the symposium, and Apple-cofounder Steve Jobs were among them. In the 2005 book What the Dormouse Said, New York Times reporter John Markoff quotes Jobs describing his LSD experience as "one of the two or three most important things he has done in his life."
But the symposium wasn't just a census of LSD-using notables. Attendees included psychotherapists and psychiatrists who discussed research into the therapeutic usefulness of psychedelic drugs.
Dr. Michael Mithoefer presented the preliminary findings of his study in Charleston, South Carolina, which is investigating whether MDMA is effective for treating post-traumatic stress disorder in people traumatized by crime or war.
Harvard University professor, Dr. John Halpern, discussed his proposed study -- now awaiting DEA approval -- using MDMA to treat anxiety in cancer patients.
The Florida-based Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) is supporting studies and research in Canada investigating the use of ibogain to treat drug addiction.
And a study at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, supported by the Heffter Research Institute, is investigating whether psilocybin effectively eases the anxiety of terminal cancer patients. Psychiatrist Charles Grob says his research group has located six of the needed 12 subjects and is looking for more participants.
While the data has yet to be analyzed, Grob told seminar participants that all the participants in the study have shown promising reactions, and he applauded the opportunity to share the data in an international gathering.
"It's very encouraging to see such a large number of people, including very knowledgeable people, getting together and sharing a common vision that these compounds have tremendous potential to facilitate healing, especially in areas that do not respond well to conventional treatments," said Grob. "There is global healing in these compounds which have been used for millennia by indigenous people that have much to teach modern man and modern woman."
MAPS founder Rick Doblin says his goal is to make psychedelic medicines into prescription drugs, lamenting that LSD is not yet being studied for therapeutic purposes. "We have been deeply touched by our experiences with psychedelics and it is hard that there is not a single legal study with LSD given to humans anywhere in the world," said Doblin. "We need to bring what is underground and illegal back into a legal context."
But Doblin notes that a group of people who say LSD provides relief from their cluster headaches have organized online and are pushing for a study at Harvard to explore a possible therapy using the drug. If Harvard accepts the MDMA study, Doblin says it could pave the way for the symbolically important return of psychedelic research at Harvard that halted during the tenure of Timothy Leary. His goal, says Doblin, is to secure an LSD study in time for Hofmann's 101st birthday.
Dr. Andrew Sewell, a psychiatrist and neurologist from the Harvard Medical School who studies alcohol and drug abuse, says most problems with LSD occur when users take an unknown dose they don't feel comfortable with, in an uncontrolled setting, without supervision to shield them from dangerous situations.
"LSD flashbacks are well-confirmed phenomenon but they are relatively rare and don't seem to cause as much trouble as the media would have you believe," said Dr. Sewell at the LSD symposium.
Dr. Sewell says people who have underlying mental disorders should not take LSD because it could make their symptoms worse. "Like any powerful drug, if LSD is used incorrectly it can cause more harm than good," said Dr. Sewell. "LSD is a potentially dangerous drug and should be taken under medical supervision."
"There is no evidence that LSD causes permanent brain damage -- and quite a lot of evidence that it doesn't," said Sewell. "We are lucky that we have over 1,000 papers written in the '50s and '60s when LSD was given to thousands and thousands of research subjects so we have a pretty good idea at this point what it does and does not do."
Asked if the world needs his invention, Hofmann said he hoped that the Basel LSD symposium would help create an appropriate place for LSD in society.
"I think that in human evolution it has never been as necessary to have this substance LSD," said Hofmann. "It is just a tool to turn us into what we are supposed to be."
I was involved in SDS in Ohio (the birthstate of SDS), so it was a different scene but the same underlying issues. The striking students at Columbia were an inspiration to college radicals across the country.
Forty Years After Historic Columbia Strike, Four Leaders of 1968 Student Uprising Reflect
Forty years ago this week, hundreds of students at Columbia University started a revolt on campus. Students went on strike. They occupied five buildings, including the president’s office in Low Library, and barricaded themselves inside for days. The students were protesting Columbia’s ties to military research and plans to build a university gymnasium in a public park in Harlem. The 1968 Columbia uprising inspired student protests across the country. We spend the hour with four of the strike leaders: Gustin Reichbach is now a New York State Supreme Court Justice; William Sales is now a professor at Seton Hall University; Tom Hayden is a former California state senator; and Juan Gonzalez, our own Democracy Now! co-host. [includes rush transcript] from Democracy Now.
Real Video Stream
Real Audio Stream
"Columbia Revolt", excerpts from documentary produced by Third World Newsreel
Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! co-host and a columnist for the New York Daily News. In 1968 Juan was a member of SDS and one of the only Latino activists on the Columbia campus.
William Sales, former chair of African American Studies at Seton Hall University. In 1968 he was a leader of the Student Afro-American Society at Columbia.
Gustin Reichbach, one of the leading figures in SDS at Columbia in 1968. He is now a New York State Supreme Court Justice in Brooklyn.
Tom Hayden, founding member of the Students for a Democratic Society and wrote the SDS manifesto known as the Port Huron Statement. Although he wasn’t a student at Columbia, he took part in the protests. He is the author of many books, including Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader. It was published earlier this month by City Lights.
Rush Transcript This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution. Donate - $25, $50, $100, More...
JUAN GONZALEZ: Forty years ago this week, hundreds of students at Columbia University started a revolt on campus. Students went on strike. They occupied five buildings, including the president’s office in Low Library. The students barricaded themselves inside the buildings for days. They were protesting Columbia’s ties to military research and plans to build a university gymnasium in a public park in Harlem.
The protests began less than three weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The 1968 Columbia uprising inspired student protests across the country.
Today, we’ll spend the rest of the hour looking back at this pivotal moment as part of our ongoing series, “1968: Forty Years Later.” Several of the student organizers are joining us in a moment, but first we begin with excerpts from the documentary Columbia Revolt by Third World Newsreel.
STUDENT ORGANIZER: We now deny we no longer have a say in decisions that affect our lives. We call on all students, faculty, staff and workers of the university to support our strike. We ask that all students and faculty not meet or have classes inside buildings.
We have taken the power away from an irresponsible and illegitimate administration. We have taken power away from a board of self-perpetuating businessmen who call themselves trustees of this university.
We are demanding an end to the construction of the gymnasium, the gymnasium being built against the will of the people of the community of Harlem, a decision that was made unilaterally by powers of the university without consultation of people whose lives it affects.
We are no longer asking but demanding an end to all affiliation and ties with the Institute for Defense Analysis, a Defense Department venture that collaborates the university into studies of kill and overkill that has resulted in the slaughter and maiming of thousands of Vietnamese and Americans.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Students at Columbia moved to take over buildings despite warnings from campus officials.
STUDENT ORGANIZER: In order to show solidarity of people with six strike leaders who they had tried to suspend, they decided to take Hamilton once again.
CAMPUS OFFICIAL: You are hereby directed to clear out of this building. I’ll give you further instructions if this building is not cleared out within the next ten minutes.
STRIKE LEADER: I’m asking how many of you here are willing now to stay with me, sit-in here, until…
STUDENT ORGANIZER: After three votes, a majority decided to stay.
STUDENTS: Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!
CAMPUS OFFICIAL: If you do not choose to leave this building, I have to inform you that we have no alternative but to call the police, and each student who is arrested will be immediately suspended.
JUAN GONZALEZ: The students then set up barricades inside the administration buildings.
STUDENT ORGANIZER: The first day in Math, we set up a defense committee, which took care of putting up the barricades. We decided what our policy would be toward police, toward jocks. We soaped some of the stairs. We taped the windows. We emptied bookcases and put them up in front of the windows in case teargas canisters did get through the tape.
STUDENT ORGANIZER: And it hung up a lot of people when there would be a little scratch or mar on the marble-top desks or something. And the second time we built barricades, these hang-ups disappeared, and we had decided that barricades were necessary politically and strategically, and anything went in making strong and, this time, permanent-type barricades.
STUDENT ORGANIZER: Defense is all taken care of. Security is a problem, letting people in and out of the buildings. Watches—we need people to watch the windows every night.
STUDENT ORGANIZER: We had a walkie-talkie setup, citizens’ band walkie-talkies, plus there were telephone communications to every building, which the university tapped. We had three mimeographs at work constantly, and there were people who did nothing during the strike but relate to the mimeograph machine. And there was a big sign on the wall, a quote from somebody in Berkeley, who says five students and a mimeograph machine can do more harm to a university than an army.
JUAN GONZALEZ: A week later, New York City police stormed the campus. Hundreds of students were injured, and 700 were arrested. Images of the police assault were broadcast around the country.
STUDENT STRIKER: Over 700 of us on charges of criminal trespass, resisting arrest, all kinds of other [inaudible], some of which was real and some of which was completely fake.
STUDENT STRIKER: I know of nurses and doctors that pleaded with the police not to proceed, to please let these men alone, and they would say, “No, no. Get away. This is our job.”
STUDENT STRIKER: I was arrested. They would not allow me to see a doctor. I had broken ribs. My face was cut. I got hit with a pistol under the eye and was bleeding there. And I wasn’t allowed to see a doctor ’til I got out of court, which was approximately ten hours later.
STUDENT STRIKER: I was awarded a fellowship for next year. What the hell does—I’m sorry, what does it mean? I’m going to strike. I hope every—I don’t see how any teacher, I don’t see how any student can attend this school anymore. And I was completely liberal about the whole thing. But this bust has radicalized everybody, and me very personally.
STUDENT: I was a nonviolent student. I was completely passive. I didn’t care what happened. I was completely neutral. I’m not neutral any longer. I’ll occupy buildings tomorrow.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt of Columbia Revolt, Third World Newsreel. When we come back from break, we’ll be joined by four of the student activists who led the strike at the university, now a dean of African American Studies, a former state senator, a judge and a journalist.
We’re now joined by four of the activists involved in the Columbia strike. In 1968, William Sales was a leader of the Student Afro-American Society at Columbia. He is now chair of African American Studies at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Gustin Reichbach was a leading figure in Students for a Democratic Society at Columbia in 1968, now a New York State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn. Tom Hayden is also with us. He was a founding member of SDS and wrote the SDS manifesto known as the Port Huron Statement. He wasn’t a student at Columbia, but he took part in the protests. His latest book is called Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader. And, of course, another one of the other Columbia strike leaders is with us today, my colleague and co-host, Juan Gonzalez. In 1968, Juan was a member of SDS, one of the only Latino activists on campus.
Here is Juan speaking forty years ago during the strike.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now we want to go into the dorms with all of you. Some of you who may not agree with a lot of what we’ve been saying here, who have questions, who support us, who want to know more, let’s go to the dorms, let’s talk quietly in small groups. We’ll be there. And everyone in Livingston—in Livingston lobby, in Furnald lobby and Carman lobby, we’ll be there, and we’ll talk about the issues involved, and we’ll talk about where this country is going and where this university is going and what it’s doing in this society and what we would like it to do and what we would—and how we would like to exchange with you our ideas over it. Come join us now.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Juan Gonzalez, courtesy of the Pacifica Radio Archives. Juan, you speaking forty years ago, explain the context.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, in the process of trying to build the strike, we were going into all the various dorms of the students and holding what SDS used to hold a lot of in those days, which were discussion groups or political discussions, group discussions, and we were trying to win over more people to the strike at that period of time. And this was after, obviously, the big—the major police occupation of the campus, which occurred on April 30th, and as the rest—throughout the rest of the semester, there was a strike that shut down the entire university for the rest of the year.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Gus Reichbach, now a judge, then a leader of SDS, please set the scene for us. How did this happen? Where were you before the strike?
GUSTIN REICHBACH: Well, I was one of the few law students who was involved in campus activity, antiwar activity, anti-gym activity.
The actual event itself was a spontaneous one, in terms of the actual occupation of the buildings. But the predicate for it was really years of organizing on the campus, really beginning in 1964. The year before, there had been a big demonstration about recruitment in ROTC. The gym was becoming an escalating issue. People were getting more and more responsive to the protest of the local community in Harlem, who was opposing the gym.
So, you know, we were often given, I’m happy to say, more credit than we deserve, in the sense that this was seen as a well-calculated plot, where at any point along that day things might have taken a different turn. In fact, probably if Dean Coleman in Hamilton Hall had opened his door and received the petition, the occupation may never have occurred. So things proceed in peculiar ways. But even though the events were unplanned, the lead-up involved years of organizing.
AMY GOODMAN: You mention ’64. Bill Sales, ’65, Malcolm X was gunned down not far from there, now, actually at the Audubon Ballroom, that’s been taken over by a new building, the Columbia University biotech building, also very controversial. Did that play a role, though that was three years before?
WILLIAM SALES: The Student Afro-American Society has very definite links to Malcolm X through the son of Kenneth Clark, Hilton Clark, who was one of the founding members of that organization, who was very much inspired by Malcolm X. SAAS always had a distinctly black nationalist aura about it that was basically its guiding principle. So we saw ourselves as being in a tradition that had been highlighted by Malcolm X. When we actually took over Hamilton Hall, we renamed it Nat Turner Hall of Malcolm X University.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Nat Turner was.
WILLIAM SALES: Nat Turner was a slave preacher who in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia led the largest slave revolt on the North American mainland.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Bill, one of the things, I think, that most people are not aware of, because sometimes they don’t connect all of the events leading up to a particular crisis, was the climate. As I’ve often mentioned, this strike or the occupation began less than three weeks after the King assassination. And the impact on young people then, not only of the assassination, but of the disturbances and rebellions that broke out in over a hundred cities across the country—any of you want to talk about what the climate for young people was at that moment, at that particular moment in history?
WILLIAM SALES: Well, I certainly can speak to the African American experience, and it certainly—what made it an important experience was that for the first time other than African Americans were also being caught up in that energy. But most of the people in Hamilton Hall had been in one or another urban rebellion. For instance, you mention the King assassination. That very night, I and Ray Brown and other people would go on to play leadership roles of the takeovers that were on 125th Street. First time anybody ever shot at me was a policeman shooting over my head on 125th Street as various stores went up in flames. We were also, much earlier that previous summer, in Newark during the Newark rebellions. We had raised funds in support of the families of students killed on February the 8th, I think, in Orangeburg, South Carolina, South Carolina state. So there was a continuous involvement in the turmoil of the day that incorporated larger and larger numbers of people who also would take over those buildings.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Tom, also the impact of the Vietnam War obviously on the students, not only Columbia, but other universities—again, it was a particular moment in history. The Tet Offensive had just occurred earlier in the year. Lyndon Johnson had announced his resignation. The Eugene McCarthy campaign was building up. What was, again, the impact of the war on all of us, but the other young people at the time?
TOM HAYDEN: Well, there was a New York Times op-ed piece this week by somebody who was there in Columbia, which said essentially that the war had nothing to do with the demonstrations. He also said, in defense of his behavior, that he was crazy. He said it eleven times in the article. He said that the war made him crazy. I think that there’s some truth in that, that people were driven to extremes, felt devastated particularly by the murder of Dr. King. I had been a community organizer in Newark in ’67. We went through—watched the killings of twenty-five, twenty-six people. The war was ever-present, and it’s a big difference from Iraq, because you could be drafted, and many of the young people in the community or on the campus could not vote. So I wouldn’t call the response crazy.
The logic of it was like in the 1930s. Industrial workers occupied factories in Michigan, because they didn’t have union representation, they didn’t have any protection, they didn’t have living wages. In my experience in the South in the early 1960s, black students and whites, some whites, sat in at lunch counters and went to jail and refused bail, because powerless people sometimes have to do that in order to get any leverage or get any attention. And so, the occupation of buildings by students who had no rights, trying to fight for people in Harlem who had no representation on the campus—the campus was run autocratically under an eighteenth century regulation that gave the president all power, no due process; if you’re going to get kicked out, like yourself, there was no recourse, there was no appellate process—that was the situation.
AMY GOODMAN: Tom, can you explain the founding of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society?
TOM HAYDEN: I wish I could. SDS was a kind of a clearing house for discussion. It was in response to two things: one, the imperative to do something in support of the Southern students who were sitting in at lunch counters and going to jail; and secondly, there was a rising awareness of the fact that students themselves, everywhere in the country, had no rights, no real power on campus, were treated like children. So SDS was about student power, but it was power to make a difference on campus and in the community and in support or solidarity with other movements.
AMY GOODMAN: And it was founded where and when?
TOM HAYDEN: It was founded slowly in a two-year period, and most people would date it as ’61. And then the Port Huron Statement, which was named after a town that’s called Port Huron—in a recent Michael Moore movie, actually, you can see what Port Huron looks like—the Port Huron Statement called for participatory democracy, an end to the Cold War or the nuclear arms race, and a focus on the internal problems of the United States, starting with race, poverty and civil liberties. And so, it became associated with all the movements that were starting spontaneously. I don’t think it was necessary to those movements, but it became a kind of channel where people could form chapters, discuss the situation, come together. It had a short life. It was a catalytic organization, I would say, a life of six or eight years.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And interestingly, I mean, I think it was—the importance about the Columbia strike was that it brought together a variety of movements that had been developing not only against the Vietnam War and racism on campus, but the gymnasium was sort of a—it brought the whole battle beyond the university itself, because I remember—I actually was not a member of SDS at the time. I was actually more involved in some of the liberal student tutorial programs that were in West Harlem and in East Harlem, and I got involved actually in January, because there was a protest at the gym site. Columbia University was building a university gymnasium, but it was taking public park land, and it was going to create a backdoor entrance for the Harlem community to use from time to time when the university saw fit to give it some time. And there had been no real discussion about this in Harlem. It was a deal that the university did with the city. So the community group that I was working with was participating in a protest at the gym site in January, four months before the strike, so I went, because it was our community group that was involved.
And all of a sudden, this young African American minister, whose name I don’t know—I’d never met him before—came up to me and three other Columbia students who were standing around, Mark Nason, who was a part of Columbia CORE, and a guy by the name of Will Stein. They were both organizers of Columbia CORE. And the young minister said—pointed to the three of us and said, “Follow me.” So he was a minister. I’m respectful. I’ll follow a minister. So he goes around the back entrance of the construction site and sits down in front of the bulldozers, and he says, “Here, sit down with me.” So the three of us sat down with him, and we were all arrested.
AMY GOODMAN: I never knew you followed orders so easily, Juan.
JUAN GONZALEZ: So, well, a minister, you know, give him respect. So we ended up all being arrested and spending the day in jail in the Tombs, and so that was actually my introduction to protest movement, and from a complete stranger who—and I didn’t even know Mark Nason or Will Stein at the time, but I got to know them better over the period of time.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you end up at Columbia University, being a student there?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Oh, well, I was a scholarship student from out of Frank K. Lane High School in Brooklyn, and I don’t really know how—I guess my college adviser had never heard of Columbia before.
AMY GOODMAN: And what year were you?
JUAN GONZALEZ: I was class of ’68. That was my senior year.
AMY GOODMAN: So this was the senior year?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, yeah. But I think the important thing is to understand that the land battle, because, as Bill and I were talking about this earlier, there has not been much of an analysis of the role of urban universities in their cities, and in—this university expansion is a huge problem in most major cities around the country where private universities exist, because they’re always gobbling up land for their own private interests that are cloaked as a public interest, an educational interest, but they are huge landowners, and they have enormous impact on what happens to the communities around them, whether it’s Johns Hopkins or University of Pennsylvania or Yale or any of these, Harvard, any of these universities. They’re all involved in the same thing.
And I think one of the interesting things that came out of the strike, and I think—is this pamphlet that the students produced in the midst of the strike called “Who Rules Columbia?” And somebody actually just gave me an old copy about a week ago, and I started to read it. And it is really an extraordinary analysis, not only of corporate influence on a university, but also on land policy on the university. And it’s particularly interesting because even in this pamphlet, it talks that forty years ago Columbia University was planning a major expansion into Harlem between 125th and 135th Street for a research park for military research. Now the university is only now completing that plan. Only they’ve turned it into a bioscience center, instead of a defense research center. But one of the things that we’ve done, since this pamphlet, I think, would be helpful for many students who are involved in campus activities, is we’ve taken the entire pamphlet and put it in a PDF file, and we’re putting it on the Democracy Now! website. So anyone who wants to download it can do so. And it’s an incredibly deep analysis of government and corporate involvement in university policymaking, specifically geared around Columbia University.
AMY GOODMAN: And it begins with a quote of Charles Beard, upon his resignation from Columbia University, October 9, 1917. “I have been driven to the conclusion that the University is really under the control of a small and active group of Trustees who have no standing in the world of education, who are reactionary and visionless in politics, narrow and medieval in religion. Their conduct betrays a profound misconception of the true function of a university in the advancement of learning.” 1917. And among those who wrote this—it was published by North American Congress on Latin America, NACLA, which is also now celebrating its fortieth anniversary—was Michael Klare.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Michael Klare, Stu Goodall. You know, it’s an enormous—considering that this is long before there were search engines and the internet, the depth of research that was done on the investments in Columbia, the landownership, it’s really an extraordinary document of research and analysis.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to talk about how the strike and occupation progressed, what it meant when the police were brought in, with our four guests. Three of them were students at the university; one, some call, an outside agitator, and he was Tom Hayden.
TOM HAYDEN: Please, I was the chair, the elected chair, of the Math Building commune, and I was arrested with everyone else.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Bill Sales, he’s now chair of African American Studies at Seton Hall University—are you correcting me, Bill?
WILLIAM SALES: Yeah, past chair.
AMY GOODMAN: Past chair of the African American Studies Department at Seton Hall University; Gustin Reichbach, now a New York State Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn; and Tom Hayden, a former California state senator, he was founder of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, and has a new book called Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader. We are also, for our radio listeners who can’t see today’s TV broadcast, showing lots of video and photographs. In fact, one of them that we just showed before the break was a photograph. Was it you, Tom, dragging Francis Fox Piven into the Math Building?
TOM HAYDEN: Yes. I was dressed in a nice shirt, tie. She was a professor. She was the author of a very influential book on social movements, on sit-ins, on industrial labor strikes, and she wanted to see for herself. And I believe today she’s the head of the American Association of Sociologists. I hope that doesn’t get her in trouble with David Horowitz, but there she is being brought into the Math Building to observe.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, of course, you were in Math, which was always seen as the radical occupation building. What were some of the groups that were in there in the Math?
TOM HAYDEN: Well, there was Up Against the Wall Mother-–can I say that?
AMY GOODMAN: No, no, no.
TOM HAYDEN: And Abbie Hoffman.
AMY GOODMAN: There’s a judge in the room.
TOM HAYDEN: Some diggers. I don’t know. It was mainly students, and most of what went on was to, you know, get peanut butter, get sandwiches, be prepared for tear-gassing and beatings. And it was a very—it was an intense but temporary community. And it was just a lot of discussion and an unforgettable experience, this thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Sales, was there division between the different student groups and especially between black and white?
WILLIAM SALES: Hamilton Hall, after the first day, was occupied by black students. We felt that it was necessary that we have a very clear, distinct identity inside of the whole demonstration. That being said, there was never any differentiation between demands that we advanced and demands of the larger strike. Secondly, we tried to make clear that the fact that we were in that building exclusively in no way should be interpreted as a split. It was an attempt at the time to suggest that there were divisions, animosities and what have you. There couldn’t be anything further from the truth.
TOM HAYDEN: You said last night there were a lot of Harlem residents there, too. Is that—
WILLIAM SALES: Well, it was really a community takeover. There were representatives of many movement organizations from the community core, from Harlem, representatives of the Oceanhill-Brownsville community school board struggle. There were students from NYU, from City College. There were, of course, West Harlem Community Organization residents, which was the primary community organize that took the lead in the opposition to the gym. So, in addition to students who had Columbia IDs, there were at least an equal number of these community forces who stayed with us throughout the demonstration.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And also, I think once—we initially were all in Hamilton together, but there was a discussion between some of the SDS members, myself, that was on the coordinating committee and SAS. And SAS said that they had wanted to occupy the building themselves, and we agreed. And so, it was actually a decision between both groups, and then the SDS members moved out and started occupying other buildings throughout campus, because I think that we understood that they needed to have a building that could completely be identified and seen by the community as a rallying point and a base area for the struggles of the community itself.
AMY GOODMAN: Gus Reichbach.
GUSTIN REICHBACH: I would just add that while certainly the specific demands were what motivated people, there was some transcendent issues involved. We came together—Tom talked about the powerlessness that people felt, the powerlessness about being able to stop the war, the powerlessness in confronting an institution that had an incredibly paternalistic and controlling aspect to it. So, part of this coming together—and it’s really a spontaneous coming together—was because we thought in some small way that we could be agents or wanted to be agents in the course of history, and we shared this electric moment where collectively all our hearts were touched by a certain passion and fire.
And so, that was really not that the demands were unimportant, not that the issues were unimportant, but there was this larger—and I don’t mean to reduce it to psychological terms, because I don’t think it was that. I think it was a fundamental political issue about powerlessness and the requirement of taking action, of doing something, of putting one’s body on the line, which I think now that I’ve reconnected with people, after many, many decades, have come to observe in terms of the lives we’ve led since that time, that, you know, this participation was this Sartrean moment of a fracture that really has altered, I think, for many of us the course of our entire lives since that time.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you become a judge after being a student leader?
GUSTIN REICHBACH: It’s very unlikely.
TOM HAYDEN: He went over to the law and order.
GUSTIN REICHBACH: Very unlikely. In fact, I had a lot of trouble getting admitted to the bar because of my participation. Law professors lined up to testify against my admission to the bar. Some testified in favor of my admission, so I guess I’m responsible for destroying the collegiality of the faculty, but I went through two years of loyalty hearings before the character committee. The thought of me becoming a judge was—it was unlikely I was going to become a lawyer, much less a judge.
But it actually—my becoming a judge is somewhat connected to ’68, in that I was brought into a local judicial race in Brooklyn to help elect the first Hispanic judge. There had never been an Hispanic elected to a judgeship in Brooklyn, and because of the peculiarity of the election law, they needed a second warm body in order to help elect Richie Rivera, who became the first Hispanic judge. But we organized, having learnt doing dorm organizing and going door to door. We ran a judicial campaign that was very similar, people knocking on doors, walking up flights. And at the end of the day, I won, beating—we ran—Richie and I ran as insurgents against the Democratic organization, and I won by the munificent total of 141 votes. So that’s how.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we talk about what’s happening today, I wanted to turn to the Columbia students today. Democracy Now! producers Anjali Kamat and Nicole Salazar went to Columbia University yesterday just before the big Columbia University ’68 event last night to speak with community members about the state of activism forty years after ’68. By coincidence, campus activists had organized a week of events around the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. It’s called “Five Years of Occupation, Five Days of Action.” Activists dropped a banner Thursday afternoon over the Butler Library building, calling for divestment from war profiteers and an end to the war. They also hooded the statue of the alma mater across the street. As hundreds of students were enjoying the sunshine and warm weather, a smaller group was reading aloud the names of Iraqis and Americans killed in Iraq since the start of the invasion.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 1: Monday, April 3, 2006, one death, [inaudible], gunfire. Monday, April 3, 2006, one death, Baqubah, gunfire.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 2: Back there, we’re reading names of—we’re reading the entire Iraq body count list, which is some 90,000 names of Iraqi civilians killed in the last five years in Iraq, plus the 4,000 names of American soldiers who have died. This, of course, is a tiny fraction of the civilian deaths in America. A more reliable estimate is put at 1.2, 1.4 million. But this is the list that we have.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 3: Our week of action, perhaps by coincidence, has coincided with Columbia University’s appropriation of the legacy of 1968, where it has now become a matter of establishment. Now it’s a matter of celebration. There was a janitor here yesterday when we were having our name reading, who just came, and while I was giving him a flyer, he described how forty years ago he was here, and he was speaking about how there was blood on the stairs of the Low Library, the administration building, and he was asking, “How is it that this blood is forgotten, and now there is such a celebration of it?”
STUDENT ACTIVIST 4: What bothers me most is that even if there were a situation as grave as in 1968, there would not be action, because we don’t relate personally to the war. You walk up to people, maybe ten percent will support the war. So why were only five percent of the entire campus at this rally? It should have been packed.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 3: This is one significant contrast between 1968 and today, is the level of student involvement. I think it has to do with the invisibility of the occupation, in general, and of the continuing war.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 2: One of the things that came out of 1968 was that Columbia disassociated itself from the idea and cut off its research—its research in terms of classified projects. By 1968, 48 percent of Columbia’s research budget was devoted to military-related research. What has essentially happened has been that Columbia has outsourced this research, so whereas Columbia once produced research for the government in exchange for, of course, enormous sums of government funding, today Columbia instead invests in private companies who carry out this research, and then those investment dollars are now what funds our non-military research.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 3: There’s no talk of divestment. There’s no talk of Iraq. It is treated as a foregone era.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 5: It’s forty years of ’68, five years of Iraq. It’s also sixty years of the Nakba in Palestine. And these are all—and it’s interesting that out of all of these, the ’68 is what is gaining, in some sense, the most traction. And I think on this campus, it is this sort of moment that we can look at and say this was possible, and not only to then be nostalgic about it, but then to create the conditions of possibility, where once again we can feel strongly enough to make it possible today on the issues that matter today.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 3: Our overall aim is to reclaim this campus as a space where occupation, colonization and war are simply not acceptable.
STUDENT ACTIVIST 5: We’ve received a lot of support. A lot of people have contacted us. And it’s very heartening. But I would also just urge people to think about not only what happened but what can happen and what we can make possible. And I think that is the legacy. If there is going to be a legacy, that should be the legacy.
AMY GOODMAN: Students at Columbia University yesterday, as all the commemoration activities of ’68 were taking place, talking about their concerns today. Throughout the week, they have been reading the names of the dead from the Iraq war. And yesterday, I think they had only made it up through 2006, yet they have been reading for days. Bill Sales?
WILLIAM SALES: Yes. I think it’s important to recognize that the community will speak this weekend, because Columbia is more of a threat to the integrity of West Harlem and Harlem today than it ever was in 1968, and we should understand that protest is alive and well, and there will be a march on the campus. This commemoration so far has included academicians and some, you know, superannuated activists, but it will, before the week is out, include a substantial number of very angry community people.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask Tom, you know, there’s a school of thought even, among some of the folks who used to participate in SDS and others, that the protests of that year, at Columbia and then later on at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, actually created a rightwing reaction that led to a lot of the problems that have since accumulated in American society, from the election of Richard Nixon on, that in essence it was actually counterproductive. Todd Gitlin, obviously, is one of the main proponents of this.
TOM HAYDEN: Sorry to hear that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Your perspective on that kind of analysis?
TOM HAYDEN: Well, the student movement and the civil rights movement, antiwar movements were reactions to a rightwing ascendancy, white supremacy in the South, and invasion of Vietnam. After a president said he wasn’t going to send American troops there, he went and sent 150,000 troops six months after he had been elected in. Those are the kind of factors that are left out of this narrative.
I think this strike at Columbia was a strike heard around the world. There were student strikes in, of course, Mexico, all across Latin America, all across Asia, Africa, Europe. Columbia might have been more famous, because it touched the nerve endings of the New York Times and the media capital of the United States. But there must have been—give me a suggestion—a hundred, 200 campus strikes, and by 1972, universities were simply on strike en masse. The semester didn’t end.
Now, I would say that it was a failure of Democratic Party liberalism to be specific, because they were, as some are still today, so wrapped up in the Cold War, in military spending, in anti-Communism, that they perceived Vietnam as being a threat to our way of life, as being an extension of Soviet imperialism. They refused to understand that it was a nationalist movement that was very difficult to defeat by foreign occupation, and it was a Democratic Party war from 1965 to 1968. So what were we to do? We couldn’t become Republicans. There was no party for us, as John Lewis said.
AMY GOODMAN: Recreate—go ahead, Gus.
GUSTIN REICHBACH: Well, there’s also another factor that’s never taken into consideration, in terms of a historical memory, which is it wasn’t SDS and antiwar activities that elected Richard Nixon. It was almost ten million white votes who voted for George Wallace. I mean, Humphrey lost to Nixon by really a handful of votes. Wallace carried five Southern states. In three of those states, it was Wallace first, Humphrey second and Nixon third. So it was a white backlash, not to the antiwar movement, but a white backlash to the black liberation struggle that really tipped the election. And everybody who blames the protesters in Chicago overlooks that important ingredient.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. Bill, five seconds.
WILLIAM SALES: I was just going to say that we defeated Goldwater in 1964 in the hope that we would prevent escalation of Vietnam, and it was Johnson, a Democrat, who involved us massively there. So I don’t know whether party politics completely explains the fundamental reactionary nature of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Bill Sales, I want to thank you for being with us; Gus Reichbach, now a judge in Brooklyn; Tom Hayden, his new book out is called Writings for a Democratic Society; and, of course, Juan. We’ll be—Tom Hayden and I—at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books tonight in Santa Barbara, tomorrow night in Los Angeles, and then we go on to Minneapolis and St. Louis and Fresno.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Saturday, April 26, 2008
12 Reasons Why Leaving Iraq Is the Only Sane Thing to Do
By Tom Engelhardt, Tomdispatch.comPosted on April 24, 2008 http://www.alternet.org/story/83035/
Since the press doesn't bother to ask key questions, here's an attempt to unravel the situation in Iraq.
Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been unraveling? And here's the curious thing: Despite a lack of decent information and analysis on crucial aspects of the Iraqi catastrophe, despite the way much of the Iraq story fell off newspaper front pages and out of the TV news in the last year, despite so many reports on the "success" of the President's surge strategy, Americans sense this perfectly well. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56% of Americans "say the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further casualties" and this has, as the Post notes, been a majority position since January 2007, the month that the surge was first announced. Imagine what might happen if the American public knew more about the actual state of affairs in Iraq -- and of thinking in Washington. So, here, in an attempt to unravel the situation in ever-unraveling Iraq are twelve answers to questions which should be asked far more often in this country:
1. Yes, the war has morphed into the U.S. military's worst Iraq nightmare: Few now remember, but before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, top administration and Pentagon officials had a single overriding nightmare -- not chemical, but urban, warfare. Saddam Hussein, they feared, would lure American forces into "Fortress Baghdad," as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled it. There, they would find themselves fighting block by block, especially in the warren of streets that make up the Iraqi capital's poorest districts.
When American forces actually entered Baghdad in early April 2003, however, even Saddam's vaunted Republican Guard units had put away their weapons and gone home. It took five years but, as of now, American troops are indeed fighting in the warren of streets in Sadr City, the Shiite slum of two and a half million in eastern Baghdad largely controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military, in fact, recently experienced its worst week of 2008 in terms of casualties, mainly in and around Baghdad. So, mission accomplished -- the worst fear of 2003 has now been realized.
2. No, there was never an exit strategy from Iraq because the Bush administration never intended to leave -- and still doesn't: Critics of the war have regularly gone after the Bush administration for its lack of planning, including its lack of an "exit strategy." In this, they miss the point. The Bush administration arrived in Iraq with four mega-bases on the drawing boards. These were meant to undergird a future American garrisoning of that country and were to house at least 30,000 American troops, as well as U.S. air power, for the indefinite future. The term used for such places wasn't "permanent base," but the more charming and euphemistic "enduring camp." (In fact, as we learned recently, the Bush administration refuses to define any American base on foreign soil anywhere on the planet, including ones in Japan for over 60 years, as permanent.) Those four monster bases in Iraq (and many others) were soon being built at the cost of multibillions and are, even today, being significantly upgraded. In October 2007, for instance, National Public Radio's defense correspondent Guy Raz visited Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, which houses about 40,000 American troops, contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees, and described it as "one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades."
These mega-bases, like "Camp Cupcake" (al-Asad Air Base), nicknamed for its amenities, are small town-sized with massive facilities, including PXs, fast-food outlets, and the latest in communications. They have largely been ignored by the American media and so have played no part in the debate about Iraq in this country, but they are the most striking on-the-ground evidence of the plans of an administration that simply never expected to leave. To this day, despite the endless talk about drawdowns and withdrawals, that hasn't changed. In fact, the latest news about secret negotiations for a future Status of Forces Agreement on the American presence in that country indicates that U.S. officials are calling for "an open-ended military presence" and "no limits on numbers of U.S. forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term U.S. security agreements with other countries."
3. Yes, the United States is still occupying Iraq (just not particularly effectively): In June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), then ruling the country, officially turned over "sovereignty" to an Iraqi government largely housed in the American-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad and the occupation officially ended. However, the day before the head of the CPA, L. Paul Bremer III, slipped out of the country without fanfare, he signed, among other degrees, Order 17, which became (and, remarkably enough, remains) the law of the land. It is still a document worth reading as it essentially granted to all occupying forces and allied private companies what, in the era of colonialism, used to be called "extraterritoriality" -- the freedom not to be in any way subject to Iraqi law or jurisdiction, ever. And so the occupation ended without ever actually ending. With 160,000 troops still in Iraq, not to speak of an unknown number of hired guns and private security contractors, the U.S. continues to occupy the country, whatever the legalities might be (including a U.N. mandate and the claim that we are part of a "coalition"). The only catch is this: As of now, the U.S. is simply the most technologically sophisticated and potentially destructive of Iraq's proliferating militias -- and outside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, it is capable of controlling only the ground that its troops actually occupy at any moment.
4. Yes, the war was about oil: Oil was hardly mentioned in the mainstream media or by the administration before the invasion was launched. The President, when he spoke of Iraq's vast petroleum reserves at all, piously referred to them as the sacred "patrimony of the people of Iraq." But an administration of former energy execs -- with a National Security Advisor who once sat on the board of Chevron and had a double-hulled oil tanker, the Condoleezza Rice, named after her (until she took office), and a Vice President who was especially aware of the globe's potentially limited energy supplies -- certainly had oil reserves and energy flows on the brain. They knew, in Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's apt phrase, that Iraq was afloat on "a sea of oil" and that it sat strategically in the midst of the oil heartlands of the planet.
It wasn't a mistake that, in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney's semi-secret Energy Task Force set itself the "task" of opening up the energy sectors of various Middle Eastern countries to "foreign investment"; or that it scrutinized "a detailed map of Iraq's oil fields, together with the (non-American) oil companies scheduled to develop them"; or that, according to the New Yorker's Jane Mayer, the National Security Council directed its staff "to cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the 'melding' of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: 'the review of operational policies towards rogue states,' such as Iraq, and 'actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields'"; or that the only American troops ordered to guard buildings in Iraq, after Baghdad fell, were sent to the Oil Ministry (and the Interior Ministry, which housed Saddam Hussein's dreaded secret police); or that the first "reconstruction" contract was issued to Cheney's former firm, Halliburton, for "emergency repairs" to those patrimonial oil fields. Once in charge in Baghdad, as sociologist Michael Schwartz has made clear, the administration immediately began guiding recalcitrant Iraqis toward denationalizing and opening up their oil industry, as well as bringing in the big boys.
Though rampant insecurity has kept the Western oil giants on the sidelines, the American-shaped "Iraqi" oil law quickly became a "benchmark" of "progress" in Washington and remains a constant source of prodding and advice from American officials in Baghdad. Former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan put the oil matter simply and straightforwardly in his memoir in 2007: "I am saddened," he wrote, "that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." In other words, in a variation on the old Bill Clinton campaign mantra: It's the oil, stupid. Greenspan was, unsurprisingly, roundly assaulted for the obvious naiveté of his statement, from which, when it proved inconvenient, he quickly retreated. But if this administration hadn't had oil on the brain in 2002-2003, given the importance of Iraq's reserves, Congress should have impeached the President and Vice President for that.
5. No, our new embassy in Baghdad is not an "embassy": When, for more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, you construct a complex -- regularly described as "Vatican-sized" -- of at least 20 "blast-resistant" buildings on 104 acres of prime Baghdadi real estate, with "fortified working space" and a staff of at least 1,000 (plus several thousand guards, cooks, and general factotums), when you deeply embunker it, equip it with its own electricity and water systems, its own anti-missile defense system, its own PX, and its own indoor and outdoor basketball courts, volleyball court, and indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, among other things, you haven't built an "embassy" at all. What you've constructed in the heart of the heart of another country is more than a citadel, even if it falls short of a city-state. It is, at a minimum, a monument to Bush administration dreams of domination in Iraq and in what its adherents once liked to call "the Greater Middle East."
Just about ready to open, after the normal construction mishaps in Iraq, it will constitute the living definition of diplomatic overkill. It will, according to a Senate estimate, now cost Americans $1.2 billion a year just to be "represented" in Iraq. The "embassy" is, in fact, the largest headquarters on the planet for the running of an occupation. Functionally, it is also another well-fortified enduring camp with the amenities of home. Tell that to the Shiite militiamen now mortaring the Green Zone as if it were ... enemy-occupied territory.
6. No, the Iraqi government is not a government: The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has next to no presence in Iraq beyond the Green Zone; it delivers next to no services; it has next to no ability to spend its own oil money, reconstruct the country, or do much of anything else, and it most certainly does not hold a monopoly on the instruments of violence. It has no control over the provinces of northern Iraq which operate as a near-independent Kurdish state. Non-Kurdish Iraqi troops are not even allowed on its territory. Maliki's government cannot control the largely Sunni provinces of the country, where its officials are regularly termed "the Iranians" (a reference to the heavily Shiite government's closeness to neighboring Iran) and are considered the equivalent of representatives of a foreign occupying power; and it does not control the Shiite south, where power is fragmented among the militias of ISCI (the Badr Organization), Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, and the armed adherents of the Fadila Party, a Sadrist offshoot, among others.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has been derisively nicknamed "the mayor of Kabul" for his government's lack of control over much territory outside the national capital. It would be a step forward for Maliki if he were nicknamed "the mayor of Baghdad." Right now, his troops, heavily backed by American forces, are fighting for some modest control over Shiite cities (or parts of cities) from Basra to Baghdad.
7. No, the surge is not over: Two weeks ago, amid much hoopla, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spent two days before Congress discussing the President's surge strategy in Iraq and whether it has been a "success." But that surge -- the ground one in which an extra 30,000-plus American troops were siphoned into Baghdad and, to a lesser extent, adjoining provinces -- was by then already so over. In fact, all but about 10,000 of those troops will be home by the end of July, not because the President has had any urge for a drawdown, but, as Fred Kaplan of Slate wrote recently, "because of simple math. The five extra combat brigades, which were deployed to Iraq with the surge, each have 15-month tours of duty; the 15 months will be up in July ... and the U.S. Army and Marines have no combat brigades ready to replace them."
On the other hand, in all those days of yak, neither the general with so much more "martial bling" on his chest than any victorious World War II commander, nor the white-haired ambassador uttered a word about the surge that is ongoing -- the air surge that began in mid-2007 and has yet to end. Explain it as you will, but, with rare exceptions, American reporters in Iraq generally don't look up or more of them would have noticed that the extra air units surged into that country and the region in the last year are now being brought to bear over Iraq's cities. Today, as fighting goes on in Sadr City, American helicopters and Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones reportedly circle overhead almost constantly and air strikes of various kinds on city neighborhoods are on the rise. Yet the air surge in Iraq remains unacknowledged here and so is not a subject for discussion, debate, or consideration when it comes to our future in Iraq.
8. No, the Iraqi army will never "stand up": It can't. It's not a national army. It's not that Iraqis can't fight -- or fight bravely. Ask the Sunni insurgents. Ask the Mahdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr. It's not that Iraqis are incapable of functioning in a national army. In the bitter Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, Iraqi Shiite as well as Sunni conscripts, led by a largely Sunni officer corps, fought Iranian troops fiercely in battle after pitched battle. But from Fallujah in 2004 to today, Iraqi army (and police) units, wheeled into battle (often at the behest of the Americans), have regularly broken and run, or abandoned their posts, or gone over to the other side, or, at the very least, fought poorly. In the recent offensive launched by the Maliki government in Basra, military and police units up against a single resistant militia, the Mahdi Army, deserted in sizeable numbers, while other units, when not backed by the Americans, gave poor showings. At least 1,300 troops and police (including 37 senior police officers) were recently "fired" by Maliki for dereliction of duty, while two top commanders were removed as well.
Though American training began in 2004 and, by 2005, the President was regularly talking about us "standing down" as soon as the Iraqi Army "stood up," as Charles Hanley of the Associated Press points out, "Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed to always slip further into the future." He adds, "In the latest shift, the Pentagon's new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when local units will take over security responsibility for Iraq. Last year's reports had forecast a transition in 2008." According to Hanley, the chief American trainer of Iraqi forces, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, now estimates that the military will not be able to guard the country's borders effectively until 2018.
No wonder. The "Iraqi military" is not in any real sense a national military at all. Its troops generally lack heavy weaponry, and it has neither a real air force nor a real navy. Its command structures are integrated into the command structure of the U.S. military, while the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy are the real Iraqi air force and navy. It is reliant on the U.S. military for much of its logistics and resupply, even after an investment of $22 billion by the American taxpayer. It represents a non-government, is riddled with recruits from Shiite militias (especially the Badr brigades), and is riven about who its enemy is (or enemies are) and why. It cannot be a "national" army because it has, in essence, nothing to stand up for.
You can count on one thing, as long as we are "training" and "advising" the Iraqi military, however many years down the line, you will read comments like this one from an American platoon sergeant, after an Iraqi front-line unit abandoned its positions in the ongoing battle for control of parts of Sadr City: "It bugs the hell out of me. We don't see any progress being made at all. We hear these guys in firefights. We know if we are not up there helping these guys out we are making very little progress."
9. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and fragmentation: The U.S. invasion and the Bush administration's initial occupation policies decisively smashed Iraq's fragile "national" sense of self. Since then, the Bush administration, a motor for chaos and fragmentation, has destroyed the national (if dictatorial) government, allowed the capital and much of the country (as well as its true patrimony of ancient historical objects and sites) to be looted, disbanded the Iraqi military, and deconstructed the national economy. Ever since, whatever the administration rhetoric, the U.S. has only presided over the further fragmentation of the country. Its military, in fact, employs a specific policy of urban fragmentation in which it regularly builds enormous concrete walls around neighborhoods, supposedly for "security" and "reconstruction," that actually cut them off from their social and economic surroundings. And, of course, Iraq has in these years been fragmented in other staggering ways with an estimated four-plus million Iraqis driven into exile abroad or turned into internal refugees.
According to Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times, there are now at least 28 different militias in the country. The longer the U.S. remains even somewhat in control, the greater the possibility of further fragmentation. Initially, the fragmentation was sectarian -- into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite regions, but each of those regions has its own potentially hostile parts and so its points of future conflict and further fragmentation. If the U.S. military spent the early years of its occupation fighting a Sunni insurgency in the name of a largely Shiite (and Kurdish) government, it is now fighting a Shiite militia, while paying and arming former Sunni insurgents, relabeled "Sons of Iraq." Iran is also clearly sending arms into a country that is, in any case, awash in weaponry. Without a real national government, Iraq has descended into a welter of militia-controlled neighborhoods, city states, and provincial or regional semi-governments. Despite all the talk of American-supported "reconciliation," Juan Cole described the present situation well at his Informed Comment blog: "Maybe the U.S. in Iraq is not the little boy with his finger in the dike. Maybe we are workers with jackhammers instructed to make the hole in the dike much more huge."
10. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and civil war: As with fragmentation, the U.S. military's presence has, in fact, been a motor for civil war in that country. The invasion and subsequent chaos, as well as punitive acts against the Sunni minority, allowed Sunni extremists, some of whom took the name "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia," to establish themselves as a force in the country for the first time. Later, U.S. military operations in both Sunni and Shiite areas regularly repressed local militias -- almost the only forces capable of bringing some semblance of security to urban neighborhoods -- opening the way for the most extreme members of the other community (Sunni suicide or car bombers and Shiite death squads) to attack. It's worth remembering that it was in the surge months of 2007, when all those extra American troops hit Baghdad neighborhoods, that many of the city's mixed or Sunni neighborhoods were most definitively "cleansed" by death squads, producing a 75-80% Shiite capital. Iraq is now embroiled in what Juan Cole has termed "three civil wars," two of which (in the south and the north) are largely beyond the reach of limited American ground forces and all of which could become far worse. The still low-level struggle between Kurds and Arabs (with the Turks hovering nearby) for the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the north may be the true explosion point to come. The U.S. military sits precariously atop this mess, at best putting off to the future aspects of the present civil-war landscape, but more likely intensifying it.
11. No, al-Qaeda will not control Iraq if we leave (and neither will Iran): The latest figures tell the story. Of 658 suicide bombings globally in 2007 (more than double those of any year in the last quarter century), 542, according to the Washington Post's Robin Wright, took place in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly Iraq. In other words, the American occupation of that land has been a motor for acts of terrorism (as occupations will be). There was no al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia before the invasion and Iraq was no Afghanistan. The occupation under whatever name will continue to create "terrorists," no matter how many times the administration claims that "al-Qaeda" is on the run. With the departure of U.S. troops, it's clear that homegrown Sunni extremists (and the small number of foreign jihadis who work with them), already a minority of a minority, will more than meet their match in facing the Sunni mainstream. The Sunni Awakening Movement came into existence, in part, to deal with such self-destructive extremism (and its fantasies of a Taliban-style society) before the Americans even noticed that it was happening. When the Americans leave, "al-Qaeda" (and whatever other groups the Bush administration subsumes under that catch-all title) will undoubtedly lose much of their raison d'être or simply be crushed.
As for Iran, the moment the Bush administration finally agreed to a popular democratic vote in occupied Iraq, it ensured one thing -- that the Shiite majority would take control, which in practice meant religio-political parties that, throughout the Saddam Hussein years, had generally been close to, or in exile in, Iran. Everything the Bush administration has done since has only ensured the growth of Iranian influence among Shiite groups. This is surely meant by the Iranians as, in part, a threat/trump card, should the Bush administration launch an attack on that country. After all, crucial U.S. resupply lines from Kuwait run through areas near Iran and would assumedly be relatively easy to disrupt.
Without the U.S. military in Iraq, there can be no question that the Iranians would have real influence over the Shiite (and probably Kurdish) parts of the country. But that influence would have its distinct limits. If Iran overplayed its hand even in a rump Shiite Iraq, it would soon enough find itself facing some version of the situation that now confronts the Americans. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote in the Nation recently, "[D]espite Iran's enormous influence in Iraq, most Iraqis -- even most Iraqi Shiites -- are not pro-Iran. On the contrary, underneath the ruling alliance in Baghdad, there is a fierce undercurrent of Arab nationalism in Iraq that opposes both the U.S. occupation and Iran's support for religious parties in Iraq." The al-Qaedan and Iranian "threats" are, at one and the same time, bogeymen used by the Bush administration to scare Americans who might favor withdrawal and, paradoxically, realities that a continued military presence only encourages.
12. Yes, some Americans were right about Iraq from the beginning (and not the pundits either): One of the strangest aspects of the recent fifth anniversary (as of every other anniversary) of the invasion of Iraq was the newspaper print space reserved for those Bush administration officials and other war supporters who were dead wrong in 2002-2003 on an endless host of Iraq-related topics. Many of them were given ample opportunity to offer their views on past failures, the "success" of the surge, future withdrawals or drawdowns, and the responsibilities of a future U.S. president in Iraq.
Noticeably missing were representatives of the group of Americans who happened to have been right from the get-go. In our country, of course, it often doesn't pay to be right. (It's seen as a sign of weakness or plain dumb luck.) I'm speaking, in this case, of the millions of people who poured into the streets to demonstrate against the coming invasion with an efflorescence of placards that said things too simpleminded (as endless pundits assured American news readers at the time) to take seriously -- like "No Blood for Oil," "Don't Trade Lives for Oil," or ""How did U.S.A's oil get under Iraq's sand?" At the time, it seemed clear to most reporters, commentators, and op-ed writers that these sign-carriers represented a crew of well-meaning know-nothings and the fact that their collective fears proved all too prescient still can't save them from that conclusion. So, in their very rightness, they were largely forgotten.
Now, as has been true for some time, a majority of Americans, another obvious bunch of know-nothings, are deluded enough to favor bringing all U.S. troops out of Iraq at a reasonable pace and relatively soon. (More than 60% of them also believe "that the conflict is not integral to the success of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.") If, on the other hand, a poll were taken of pundits and the inside-the-Beltway intelligentsia (not to speak of the officials of the Bush administration), the number of them who would want a total withdrawal from Iraq (or even see that as a reasonable goal) would undoubtedly descend near the vanishing point. When it comes to American imperial interests, most of them know better, just as so many of them did before the war began. Even advisors to candidates who theoretically want out of Iraq are hinting that a full-scale withdrawal is hardly the proper way to go.
So let me ask you a question (and you answer it): Given all of the above, given the record thus far, who is likely to be right?
[Tomdispatch recommendations: For another numbered piece on Iraq, check out Gary Kamiya's eminently sane reprise of the Ten Commandments as applied to the launching of the 2003 invasion -- to be found at Salon.com. ("Commandment I, "Thou shalt not launch preventive wars..."; Commandment VI: "Do not allow neoconservatives anywhere near Middle East policy... Special Bill Kristol Sub-commandment VI a: Stop giving these buffoons prestigious jobs on newspaper-of-record Op-Ed pages, top magazines and television shows. They have been completely and consistently wrong about everything. Must we continue to be subjected to their pontifications?"). Also let me offer a Tomdispatch bow of thanks to Cursor.org's daily "Media Patrol" column. Someone at that site with a keen eye for the less noticed but newsworthy pieces of any day (and an always splendid set of links) makes my life so much easier, when gathering material for essays like this one.]
Tom Engelhardt, editor of Tomdispatch.com, is co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture.
© 2008 Tomdispatch.com All rights reserved.View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/83035/
Food Riots Erupt Worldwide
By Anuradha Mittal, AlterNet
Posted on April 25, 2008
Food riots are erupting all over the world. To prevent them and to help people afford the most basic of goods, we need to understand the causes of skyrocketing food prices and correct the policies that have fueled them.
World food prices rose by 39 percent in the last year. Rice alone rose to a 19-year high in March -- an increase of 50 per cent in two weeks alone -- while the real price of wheat has hit a 28-year high.
As a result, food riots erupted in Egypt, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. For the 3 billion people in the world who subsist on $2 a day or less, the leap in food prices is a killer. They spend a majority of their income on food, and when the price goes up, they can't afford to feed themselves or their families.
Analysts have pointed to some obvious causes, such as increased demand from China and India, whose economies are booming. Rising fuel and fertilizer costs, increased use of bio-fuels and climate change have all played a part.
But less obvious causes have also had a profound effect on food prices.
Over the last few decades, the United States, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have used their leverage to impose devastating policies on developing countries. By requiring countries to open up their agriculture market to giant multinational companies, by insisting that countries dismantle their marketing boards and by persuading them to specialize in exportable cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, cotton and even flowers, they have driven the poorest countries into a downward spiral.
In the last thirty years, developing countries that used to be self-sufficient in food have turned into large food importers. Dismantling of marketing boards that kept commodities in a rolling stock to be released in event of a bad harvest, thus protecting both producers and consumers against sharp rises or drops in prices, has further worsened the situation.
Here's what we must do to prevent an epidemic of starvation from breaking out.
First, it is essential to have safety nets and public distribution systems put in place. Donor countries should provide more aid immediately to support government efforts in poor countries and respond to appeals from U.N. agencies, which are desperately seeking $500 million by May 1.
Second, we should help affected countries develop their agricultural sectors to feed more of their own people and decrease their dependence on food imports. We should promote production and consumption of local crops raised by small, sustainable farms instead of growing cash crops for western markets. And we should support a country's effort to manage stocks and pricing so as to limit the volatility of food prices.
To embrace these crucial policies, however, we need to stop worshipping the golden calf of the so-called free market and embrace, instead, the principle of food sovereignty. Every country and every people have a right to food that is affordable. When the market deprives them of this, it is the market that has to give.
Anuradha Mittal is executive director of the Oakland Institute.
© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/83457/
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Hillary Turns Up Heat, Threatens to 'Obliterate' Iran
By Robert Scheer, Truthdig
Posted on April 23, 2008
How proud the Clintonistas must be. They have learned how to rival what Hillary once termed the "vast right-wing conspiracy" in the effort to destroy a viable Democratic leader who dares to stand in the way of their ambitions. The tactics used to kneecap Barack Obama are the same as had been turned on Bill Clinton in earlier times, from radical-baiting associates to challenging his resolve in protecting the nation from foreign enemies. Sen. Clinton's eminently sensible and centrist -- to a fault -- opponent is now viewed as weak and even vaguely unpatriotic because he is thoughtful. Neither Karl Rove nor Dick Morris could have done a better job.
On primary election day in Pennsylvania, even with polls showing her well ahead in that state, Hillary went lower in her grab for votes. Seizing upon a question as to how she would respond to a nuclear attack by Iran, which doesn't have nuclear weapons, on Israel, which does, Hillary mocked reasoned discourse by promising to "totally obliterate them," in an apparent reference to the population of Iran. That is not a word gaffe; it is an assertion of the right of our nation to commit genocide on an unprecedented scale.
Shouldn't the potential leader of a nation that used nuclear bombs to obliterate hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese employ extreme caution before making such a threat? Neither the Japanese then nor the Iranian people now were in a position to hold their leaders accountable, and to approve such collective punishment of innocents is to endorse terrorism. This from a candidate who attacked her opponent for suggesting targeted strikes against militants in Pakistan and derided his openness to negotiations with other national leaders as an irresponsible commitment on the part of a contender for the presidency.
Clearly the heat of a campaign is not the proper setting for consideration of a response to a threat from a nation that is a long way from developing nuclear weapons. Obviously the danger of Iran's developing such weapons can be met with a range of alternatives, from the diplomatic to the military, that do not involve genocide and at any rate must be considered in moral and not solely political terms. Or is it base political ambition that would guide Clinton if she received that middle-of-the-night phone call?
If so, it cannot be assumed that Hillary Clinton as president would be less irrationally hawkish and more restrained in the unleashing of military force than John McCain. The latter, at least, has personal experience with the true, on-the-ground costs of militarism gone wild. Yes, I know that McCain still holds out the hope of winning the Iraq war that both he and Hillary originally endorsed, but for Clinton to raise the rhetoric against Iran in the midst of a campaign is hardly the path to Mideast peace, whether it concerns Israel or Iraq. It is bizarre that a politician who bought into the phony threat about Iraq's nonexistent WMD arsenal now plays political games with the alleged threat posed by Iran.
The war has accomplished only one major change in the configuration of Mideast power: Iran now holds uncontested supremacy as the region's key player. Whatever chance there is for stability in Iraq now depends on the blessings of the ayatollahs of Iran, whose surrogates were put in power in Baghdad as a consequence of the American invasion. It is totally hypocritical for Clinton or McCain to now talk about getting tough with Iran over the nuclear weapons issue, when both contributed so mightily to squandering U.S. leverage over Tehran.
To meet that potential nuclear weapons threat from Iran requires a serious, non-rhetorical, multinational response that makes clear that no nation has the right to obliterate the population of another, and that nations, even our own, that claim that right should be challenged as unacceptably barbaric. Instead, Clinton played into the thoughts of fanatics throughout the world who believe that might makes right and who take the United States -- which spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined (including many billions on new sophisticated and "usable" nuclear weapons) -- as both their enemy and an example to emulate.
What better argument do the ayatollahs need to justify their obtaining a nuclear "deterrent" than that the possible leader of the first nation to develop nuclear weapons, and the only one to ever use them to kill people, now threatens the people of Iran with obliteration?
Robert Scheer is the co-author of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq. See more of Robert Scheer at TruthDig.
© 2008 Truthdig All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/83291/