Saturday, November 22, 2008

Our Duty Is Not Done When We Leave The Voting Booth
Thoreau Reminds Us Of A Simple Truth
Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette 11/19/09

For those of us still celebrating the election of Barack Obama; for those of us still wandering around wonderingly letting those words roll joyfully off the tongue: "President Barack Obama"; for those of us still celebrating not just the end of the Bush nightmare but 30 years of right-wing Republican misrule, it might be time to ponder the words of Henry David Thoreau.
As far back as the 1850s that great Yankee radical warned us - as we have often been warned by our best and brightest -- not to fool ourselves into thinking our duty ends as we leave the voting booth. For, verily, it just begins. "Even voting for the right thing is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail," Thoreau warned in Civil Disobedience.
The duty of Americans, he noted, was to know their duty and act upon it, not to leave it to the politicians we've voted into office.
The first duty of those who elected Obama is to spend these next weeks until that historic inauguration mapping out in our own minds exactly what is the "change we believe in:" and what that change will look like in actual policies.
And the first worry -- the prime directive for those who hope that hope is again possible -- is that, having awakened from a long slumber, the American electorate will go back to sleep, safe in the false belief that they have done their job. .
So what change should we be looking for Obama in inaugurate after his inauguration?
Language is the first change. We must have a new narrative, the story, which explains to ourselves and the world what we as a nation are about. The terms of political discourse must be agreed so we are talking about the same thing in the same way. Over the last 30 years the Republicans have successfully cast the very things which make a nation - government and the revenue it collects to sustain the country - as the root of all evil. We should speak of efficient, transparent government as a general good. And we must speak this way because we believe it.
What does government do? Go to our Constitution and re-read, recite, the preamble where it is all perfectly clear: Government exists to "form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty…" That is the standard against which all policy decisions should be judged. That would be a welcome change indeed.
Obama's superior oratorical skills and leadership charisma could lead us in a national "teach in" on this subject; just as he did on race during the campaign. But We The People must learn the lesson, take it to heart and act on it.
The economy is the next place for change. Our economic well-being is a long way off. And the devil is in the details most of us struggle to understand. We have tried to spend our way out of trouble bailing out the private sector on Wall St. Obama must try spending our way out of trouble in the public sector on Main St. -- an economic stimulus package which does not favor the financial sector nor send checks back to us.
The country has to pay for Bush's mistakes and misrule, and the greedy self-deception the nation went along with: that we could speculate our way to wealth. And while we can't by happiness, we can buy off unhappiness. We can spend for our future, as well as pay for past mistakes. What we need most is spending which creates jobs, keeps jobs not yet lost, and modernizes our nation before we crumble further.
The stimulus package - which could mean another trillion dollars in debt - should involve revenue sharing. The federal government has to send billions to state and municipal governments to expand spending on schools and teachers; home visit nurses; social workers; public defenders; libraries and librarians; emergency workers, police, and public hospitals. Other than promoting the general welfare, this revenue sharing will also keep people on government payrolls as a bulwark against the increasing unemployment which will roll down upon us before Wall Street is mended.
We must have change which favors our collective future by spending on infrastructure. Compared to Iraq or the bail out, the price to build a nationwide, high-speed railway system is a pittance, two or three score billions. Yet the short and long-term jobs it would create, and the energy it would save over a generation as it modernizes our very notion of travel and our addiction to oil, is incalculable.
That high-speed rail system would also require our finally modernizing bridges and roads. For in the midst of the worse financial crisis in 80 years all the bills for the bipartisan neglect of our infrastructure are overdue. (Indeed, China announced just such a spending package and it was the first ray of hope in Asia's stock markets since the crash. If China can be that farsighted, why can't we?)
Global Warming, the ten million pound gorilla in the room. Cutting the energy America burns is a top priority if the human race is to avoid catastrophe. Obama must make that national policy. But one needed change to the whole discussion is to finally declare as a top priority the urgent search for the technology to replace the internal combustible engine. Obama must declare that change a national mission with greater fanfare than when President Kennedy declared we would put a man on the moon in a decade.
The development of a green economy - not only as a moral good, but the next wave of economic development - must become economic policy. The economic stimulus package could seed billions to help do just that. If the big Detroit automakers want a government bailout, give it to them. Thirty or fifty billion dollars now to keep them afloat is well worth it, IF the price tag is Detroit makes even 50 percent of its cars hybrids or electric in 10 years. No one disputes that the technology is all there. It is time for the government to secure the blessings of any future at all by helping where needed, and forcing where necessary, this change. Bailing out Ford and GM is the right place to start. Obama could sell that to the country and set it all in motion if he is the agent of change he appears to be.
Foreign Policy: We must not saddle Obama with a "troops out now!" solution to Iraq. The U.S. will be out, by mutual agreement, within the first two years of his term. And much of that time will involve the actual withdrawal. We must give him the time.
Chastened as we are by Iraq, Obama should forevermore limit America's "exporting of democracy" to supporting free, transparent elections and accepting whomever is elected: Jihadist or not; anti-American or not. And that begins with restoring the free and fair election the Islamist Hamas won in Palestine in 2006. That election brought the change the Palestinians wanted.
In the days ahead we'll all have to find and embrace our inner policy wonk, if we want help the man of hope. The change We The People need is to accept that our vote is doing nothing but expressing an opinion. Now the work truly begins.
So let's all order up some more newspapers and news magazines to keep our finger better on the pulse. And while we wait for the subscriptions to kick in, we should continue to enjoy the possibilities this election has unleashed. That we need not be wearied, but energized. If we but keep our own feet to the fire, as well as Obama's, then in four years time we will still believe in change. And find that hope is not a emotion, but a lifestyle.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An Obama Win Just The Beginning

Palin will lead the Paleolithic Wing of GOP in the split
(published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette 10/23/08

Casting a wary eye over the political and economic landscape these days brings to mind nothing so much as that old Chinese saying: There is a great confusion beneath the heavens -- and the situation is excellent!
The confusion arises from the meltdown of both the economy and the McCain/Palin campaign. The excellent situation this confusion offers up is an election in which not only will Barrack Obama win the presidency; but the Republicans will lose the White House, both houses of Congress and its 30 year stranglehold on American politics and political discourse.
This election decides not just who gets the government, but who sets the American agenda for the next 12-25 years. For while there is much confusion about what to do now and for the next 10 years to restore and maintain our economic well-being; nowhere is there as much confusion as inside the GOP. For 30 years the Reagan/Gingrich/Bush government-is-the-root-of-all-Evil, taxes are the wages of sin, god-guns-and-gays Culture Warriors have dominated this country. And now they are reaping what they have sown. From New Orleans to Baghdad, from Main Street to Wall Street, from failing banks to failing schools, from the get go of 9/11 to Gitmo they have bankrupted this country, heaped scorn and shame upon our nation, and are finally -- amidst the wreckage of their wicked ways – out of steam, out of ideas, and come November 4th, out of power.
The GOP transformed into the Confused Old Party is George Bush’s greatest legacy.
If this sounds like counting chickens before their hatched then consider: McCain’s campaign has failed precisely because he abandoned his maverick-with-new-ideas persona and ran as an old school Republican sucking up to the right-wing base, indulging in character assassination, and finally, vainly, trying to keep from drowning by choosing Sarah Palin as a sop to the Paleolithic wing of the party. He could, in fact, not run a campaign other than he did. What possible ideas could McCain have run on and still captured the nomination? He is a prisoner of the Republican ideology. Not only did it not save him, it was throwing a stone to that drowning man.
The financial meltdown finally showed a somnambulist electorate, in the starkest terms, that he and the GOP have nothing to offer in the 21st century. (And if you believe that God takes an interest in human affairs, perhaps the economic crisis erupting in so timely a fashion as to help Obama over the top was His way of making up for 9/11 exploding so early in Bush’s first term and the carte blanche it gave him.)
And so during this time of great confusion the election could very well result in this most excellent situation: a Democratic win in the White House and Congress might cause the GOP to go down in defeat and then split in two.
Indeed, such a split has been whispered of already, mostly by Republican Young Turk intellectuals who have declared that the GOP cannot go on winning elections as the party which hates government, science and immigrants. McCain’s defeat will prove them right.
Add to those Young Turks the weight of old-party stalwarts like James Baker -- who must rue the day they helped President Bush “win” the 2000 election only to watch him spurn their advice and blunder his way into two disastrous wars under the tutelage of the neo-cons. Indeed, a number of conservative pundits like George Will and David Brooks already have thrown in the towel on this election and the strategy which caused its defeat.
These Young Turks and old stalwarts – that is to say the conservatives who wince in shame every time a Republican candidate has to raise their hand and swear they don’t believe in evolution – swallowed hard over the past decades so long as the Paleolithic wing won elections. But their pact with the devil will be broken by their impending defeat and they could form a critical mass which will split the party.
If this seems like pie-in-sky it is because the Culture Warriors – now led by Sarah Palin -- still control the public face of the party and no one will break ranks to such a degree until after their defeat.
But consider November 5th. The only weapon left in the old school GOP is to treat an Obama victory much the way the Gingrich GOP did Bill Clinton’s election: as if an assassin has crept into the nursery. That is, to act only as a spoiler. But the gaping maw of our economic crisis is too frightening for the radical right to simply retreat into its bunker and whip up an hysteria as if Barack Bin Laden has been chosen by the electorate.
Not that they won’t try. Palin and the Paleolithics have no ideas other than to play spoiler. Let them. If they do they will quickly force those Congressional Republicans who don’t go down in defeat to chose, before the midterm election in 2010, between moderating their policies or face losing even more seats. That prospect is as likely as any to create a split in the party. And such a split will free Obama to govern as the kind of president the campaign has not allowed him to be as a candidate.
There is a precedent here. In Britain through the 1980s and early ‘90s the Conservative Party of Margaret Thatcher and “Thatcherism” were as dominant and invulnerable as the Republicans here. Yet their defeat by Tony Blair (in an election as historical as this one) cast the Conservatives into the wilderness for 12 years while they reinvented themselves. When they win the next election, which they probably will, a “Thatcherite” Conservative could not get a portfolio in that government any more than Osama bin Laden could be the next king of Saudi Arabia.
The only real cloud threatening to rain on this glorious parade is that the electorate, the sovereign citizenry, having awoken from their disturbed slumber of the past 8 years, will take an Obama victory as a sign to go back to sleep and “leave it to the professionals.”
Among the many tasks facing that “skinny kid with the funny name” is to lace hope with some Red Bull and pour it down our gullet. Drink up everyone – the kool aid is excellent.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The One Good Reason To Celebrate the 4th: The Word

Published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, 4 July 2008
The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen Colonies of the United States of America

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Each 4th of July begins with a sigh. How to celebrate the birth of my nation? How do I celebrate the birth of one of the most unique nations in the history of the world?
For many years I didn't - feeling the 4th of July was to my sense of patriotism what St. Patrick's Day was to my sense of Irishness: an excuse to party, cookout, drink, parade, get with friends or family.

But the real meaning of the day was utterly lost, obscured by the hubbub of cheap gimmicks, shopping sales and festivities.

And then, of course, there is The History.

Each human birthday conjures up the life we have led to date; and the older we get the less a birthday can be a celebration, what with all our unanswered wishes and unwashed days stacked up all around us.

So too, each birthday of a nation: we hang out our flags -- which bear each day, each act, noble and ignoble stitched to its stars and stripes for all to see. If you have the sense and courage to see.

For every Washington or Lincoln there is a Sitting Bull or Geronimo. For every Jefferson or Roosevelt, a Sojourner Truth or Frederick Douglass. For every Daniel Shay there is a Jeffrey Amherst. For every Bunker Hill or Normandy or there is a Vietnam or Iraq.

For each moment of soul stirring nobility there is an act of villainy.

Only the words have remained unchanged.

Read the opening of the Declaration of Independence and there you will see -- unsullied by time, humanity or history - there you will see our great cause for celebration.

For stated there in words more artful and concise than ever penned, stated there is the simple, clear and unambiguous Idea which compelled us to became a nation. The very foundation stone upon which all else was to be built -- both for us and the world.

Despite our sins as a nation, the United States of America remains the only nation truly founded on an idea.

The Declaration begins with the words "When in the course of human events" - what a masterly way to describe politics in all their complicated and convoluted details: human events. Not religions, not ideologies, not identities, but simple human events.

And that first sentence - and what a sentence, 71 words long! - that first sentence holds a lesson long lost on American politicians: when you seek to do something which will effect others, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind" compels you to explain your actions to the international community. Not a subservient respect, but a decent one.

Then come the 35 words which revolutionized the world - the words which are offered as the only explanation as to why the colonies dissolved the bonds which connected them to Britain and became a separate nation: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Again the mastery and perhaps the only true genius of those flawed men in Philadelphia that hot summer of 1776. "We hold these truths to be self-evident…" There needs be, in fact can be, no discussion whatsoever as to the truth because it is as self-evident as land is dry and sea is wet. As self-evident as a sunrise, a rainbow, a thunderstorm.

And what truth is so utterly self-evident? The utterly revolutionary idea that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

No document in the previous 3000 years or the subsequent 232 can match those 27 words as an artful and concise summary of human aspiration. No document can match it as a truth around which to organize our human events. No better ideal has ever been laid down for us to aspire to, or fail to achieve.

And the true genius of the Founders is that those combined 35 words have stood and can stand the test of changing times, laws, customs and "isms."

The Declaration may say "men" but as times changed there is no one who does not understand "men" to mean mankind, and thus human kind. Some pundits try to sell the notion that the "pursuit of happiness" - my favorite part - originally meant "accumulation of property." But as times changed the definition of "happiness" has too, but not the meaning of the words, the promise that its pursuit is a fundamental right.

Furthermore, it has been pointed out before that the phrase "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights" means that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness cannot be taken away (alienated) by man, government nor even God, the creator who has endowed us with those rights.

But neither the writers nor the signers of the Declaration invented such ideas. They were the product of the Enlightenment, a decades long evolutionary leap in consciousness when humanity tried to liberate itself from millennia, of feudalism and absolute monarchies to place at the center of the universe, not the king nor his subject, but the citizen, the individual beholden to no one. And thus the singular notion that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

The Declaration turned the world upside down: no longer did the Creator endow sovereigns; but only unalienable rights which belong to sovereign citizens.
It was as radical a "discovery" in human events as proving the earth revolved around the sun, or was actually round. Those were also ideas that people were a long time accepting, and many simply tried to ignore or repress for decades or centuries.

And yes, even as the ink dried on the Declaration, even as the United States was in the moment of its birth, we began to fail to live up to that those principles, that ideal.
But the words had been indelibly written, the idea born, and the world was a much better place for it.

So today and every 4th of July let us celebrate not the nation, the men nor women, not the deeds villainous nor heroic, but the Words, the Idea the United States has given to the world.

In fact, cut out the opening to our Declaration of Independence on this page and read it out loud at your picnic or cookout. And if you are, like me, a person of hope, a patriot, while reading them see if those words do not create a lump in the throat, a feeling that we as a nation have done one thing utterly right.

Read also to learn anew that those words do offer a clear way forward, a map to where we all want to get. But also a light, to find our way home when we are lost.

Friday, June 27, 2008

An Education "Miracle" That's Not Working

published in Daily Hampshire Gazette 6/25/08

Summer arrives officially on the last day of school. And as millions of students begin another summer holiday, thousands of adults will spend the same time figuring out who to fire, or not rehire, so as to close school budget gaps across the country.
Holyoke, where I teach, just announced another 2.2 million dollars in cuts on top of the 25 million dollars already cut over the past seven years -- and so issued pink slips to dozens of teachers. Northampton is wielding the knife as will districts all over the country. But fear not, dear parents, dear citizens, dear students. Fear not because standards will not be lowered, your child's education will not suffer and no impact will accrue to our nation from a generation's worth of devastating cuts to our national K-college system.
And if we believe that then we deserve the "downsized" education our children receive, the mediocre college some of them will be qualified to attend and the worker-bee career they will get because hey, somebody's got to hew wood and draw water for those who are being educated to run the country.
How is it that We The People continue to accept these draconian cuts? Can you imagine the howl which would go up if Congress cut infantrymen out of the army while insisting it fight two wars by arming cooks and clerks? Can you imagine the popular uprising that would break out if police departments were told to eliminate their homicide divisions but increase the number of homicides solved?
And yet this is precisely the nefarious Catch 22 schools across the country are forced to accept. All teachers are informed that all students can meet all state standards and be prepared for college, while simultaneously being told we will accomplish this with the ever-increasing less we are given by school boards, state legislatures and the federal government. Words like "flexibility" are tossed at principals and teachers to explain how this impossible task is to be alchemically achieved. As if Jesus was able to feed the multitude with a handful of fishes and loaves by being flexible.
And on top of this absurdist endeavor, states and the Feds have hung the albatross of standardized testing around the necks of superintendents, principals and students. What mad fool could invent the equation that "Years of under funding + over crowding = Higher Standards"?
Students in Massachusetts must pass 4 MCAS tests to receive a diploma even if their high school record is one of perfect attendance and all B minuses. Indeed, my 8th graders will be the first class which must pass the social studies MCAS even though the Holyoke School Board "saved money" by eliminating all social studies teachers in middle school several years ago. (But being "flexible" the district just gave social studies to its science teachers to teach. The very subject which conveys history and citizenship was tossed off as if it was an elective like volleyball.)
Why is it so beyond the pale to say that standards should always go up, but as demands are increased on students, teachers and principals, the community, state and nation are duty bound to fully fund all mandates? Or why can we simply not admit that the academic excellence legislators and citizens will not pay for cannot be expected of our children?
Indeed, when I teach my students an MCAS prep unit I begin by pointing out that M-C-A-S is an anagram for S-C-A-M, and that is what the MCAS is: a scam. A cynical shell game, in which elected officials and tax payers pretend to care about education by raising the bar while simultaneously lowering the ladder students have to reach it.
But let's be clear: the equation is not that more dollars automatically means better results. Mere money cannot buy education nor enlightenment.
What Holyoke, Massachusetts and the United States of America are not doing is investing in its educational system. And that investment includes a modern physical infrastructure of buildings, desks, labs and shops; over-flowing libraries resplendent with more than enough books; highly trained teachers from the top of their university class who get help from districts to achieve their Master's and PhD's (including art and music teachers who aren't shunted to converted closets like the proverbial step-child because we recognize the research which points to the primacy of those disciplines in every child's education.)
Investment also means political investment in our public education system - that it take center stage in our national political life rather than being a carnival sideshow where circus barkers debate the inherent "evil" of Evolution or the wickedness of teacher unions while America becomes the least educated of all developed nations.
And yet in the nation which invented the maxim "There's no such thing as a free lunch", we get taxpayer uprisings and self-righteous rebellions when asked to pay for the excellence we demand.
This nation was founded on one and only one principle: that all people are created equal. But we know that we are not. That foundation stone of our society means only that all must be treated equally, all must be given the chance for an equal shot in life. And the primary, maybe the only way for all to be equal is a first rate education from pre-school through college. The public education system is the place where the rubber of all our honorable promises meets the hard road of what we are willing to pay for. And for 30 years now those promises have been getting run over.
What is most objectionable to me as an educator is the hypocrisy of a nation which will neither fully fund a quality education for all children, nor admit it is unwilling to do so, while carrying on as if it will.
Being a teacher in America now reminds me of nothing so much as the Biblical tale of Pharaoh bidding the Jews to make bricks without straw. But as even my five year old will tell you - making bricks without straw produces only mud. And the "mud pies" being created in schools across America will do us no end of harm when they are laid on top of one another to build our nation's future.
Joe Gannon, teacher and writer lives in Florence. His 8th grade class in 2006-2007 had the most improved Language Arts MCAS scores in Massachusetts. He can reached at

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Avoiding the next "Mission Accomplished" Debacle

Can Obama or Clinton Avoid A Bush Moment Leaving Iraq?
Published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette 4/24/08

The fifth anniversary of President George Bush’s “Should you survive to a hundred you will never live it down ‘Mission Accomplished’” debacle has passed. So it is time to worry about the Mission Accomplished misfortune awaiting the next administration of our (Please God!) Democratic president.
For the only worse thing America could do other than invade Iraq, is to leave it.
Indeed the same hubris which afflicted Bush and Co. in thinking the invasion would be a “cake walk”, might be necessary to insure an American withdrawal. The same reckless disregard for the price Iraqis paid for the invasion might be needed to effect a removal of our troops.
This is because the only way to successfully withdraw from Iraq – that is to leave it without an ensuing bloodbath – is to reinvent American foreign policy in general.
The situation in Iraq has gone through several stages from the general chaos the destruction of the Iraqi state unleashed in 2003; through the anti-American insurgency of 2004-2005; to the Shiite/Sunni civil war of 2006-2007.
Now however, and with many qualifications, the main difficulty facing that poor nation is that it is a failed state: that is, there is no central government but rather a collection of militias which control their own turf: Kurds to the north; Shiites in the oil rich south and a collection of former anti-American insurgents known as “Awakening Councils” in the central Sunni heartland; and of course the government in Baghdad.
And failed states always succumb to the Faustian Catch 22 that no militia will give up arms until there is a negotiated central government, and no negotiated central government can emerge until the militias disarm and disband. So the militias fight it out until the last man is standing.
Einstein once famously said that God does not play dice. But the Creator must have a powerful sense of irony as America in Iraq now finds itself in the precise position that its old nemesis the Soviet Union faced in Afghanistan. After years of being bloodied and squandering its resources in Afghanistan, the Soviets simply packed up and went home. Leaving the then failed state of Afghanistan to descend into a civil war so hellish the Afghan people welcomed the youthful Taliban as heroes when they brought the fighting to an end.
But by then the Soviet Union no longer existed.
And while many anti-war Americans selfishly call Iraq “Bush’s War”, the truth is it is America’s War and any terror unleashed by our withdrawal will fall upon our heads and souls. As will possibly years of instability in a region accurately known as a powder keg of possible instability.
And that is why the sentiment “Troops Out Now!” must be amended to Troops Out Now Without A Bloodbath Later!
And that will be well nigh impossible without a make over in American foreign policy. And while America seems ready to vote for Obamaesque Hope, it has got to be ready for a sea change in policy too.
Without a new “Coalition of the Necessary” to lay the groundwork for a stable Iraq years after an American withdrawal, then the “Afghanistanization” of Iraq is a foregone outcome. Because if America does not form that Coalition, then it will be in the interest of a number of neighboring states to foment instability so as to achieve their goals through proxy militias.
And that Coalition must include first and foremost an Iran with which we have respectful relations whether or not it wants to build a nuke or insult Israel. Because the United States made Iran a regional superpower when it invaded Iraq. (And because unlike the Soviet Union Iran will be around forever.)
Then there is the single largest obstacle to any change in the entire region: Palestine. The next president will have to risk a break with our old ally, Israel, to compel a two-state solution within the first year of his administration. A homeland for the Palestinians (which insures security for Israel) is the sine qua non of an American withdrawal from Iraq – for as the concentric ripples of instability spread through the region from our violent hubris; so too will ripples of cooperation spread from our peacemaking humility.
Such a peace settlement will also require the cooperation of – and therefore normalized ties with – Syria, Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah, and most importantly the Palestinian Hamas movement. And Hamas will not undertake such an endeavor without new elections which will probably propel it to power once again as the last free election did in 2006.
Which is to say that a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, as opposed to an abandonment of that nation to its bloody fate, will require a repudiation of seven years of the “War on Terror” rhetoric which Bush has sown in the American psyche. Can Americans find their way in the world without the touchstone of terrorism to ground them? What language, what narrative, can a new president create to bring about the great psychological shift in American thinking -- and the thinking of Americans -- so necessary for a successful withdrawal from Iraq?
For make no mistake, without such an elemental change in psychology and policy, there are only two possible outcomes in Iraq. First: We will withdraw precipitously and it will become a fratricidal failed state whose oil-wealth-fueled aftermath will send seismic shock waves around the world. Or second: Getting American troops out of Iraq will remain the hot button issue -- in 2012.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bitter Dead-Enders -- Republican and Democrat

The Dead Enders in America tried to ring the death knell for Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy last week. And for America too.
The Dead-Enders -- those that wish only to fight the culture wars over God, abortion, guns and evolution while America slips into financial ruin, spiritual death and political dementia -- the Dead Enders finally got the “Gotcha!” they’ve been waiting for.
Obama’s remarks at a San Francisco fund raiser about “bitter” white, working class folk clinging to their guns, religion and xenophobia will be playing at your local Swift-Boating Cineplex until the Democratic National Convention, and possibly held over until November. And its popularity as a dirty trick will be helped in no small part by the leader of the Democratic Dead Enders – Hillary Clinton, who brought out all guns to blast Obama for nothing more than his candor and insight.
Because the “Gotcha!” that they’ve got is not that Obama actually dissed the white ethnics known as Reagan Democrats, the gotcha is that Clinton, Fox News and CNN now have official “proof” that Barack Obama is too smart and honest to be president of the United States.
An unabashedly smart and honest leader, in many ways, is what this election is really about. And why it is a seminal opportunity in what is too often a horse-and-pony show. This might be the last election in which America can choose leadership which will alter what increasingly appears to be our fate: that the American Experiment of the last 250 years will turn out to be an evolutionary dead end.
Think of it this way: What nation in the world – given the choice -- would ally itself to the US through NAFTA rather than join the European Union with its economic tigers from Ireland to Spain? Given the choice who would choose to be paid in yankee dollars rather than Euros as you’d be making 50 percent more? Given the choice who would choose the American health care, or child care system, over Canada’s? Who would rather ride the Amtrak “Water Buffalo” than a sleek Japanese or European “Gazelle”? Who would choose the American public school system which produces the most under-educated graduates in the industrialized world?
Given the choice who would choose to be America? The world’s lone “hyper power” is a reviled bully mired in the bloody chaos of Iraq where its multi-billion dollar state-of-the-art military is getting bested by ragtag militias. Our economy is wilting under the burden of the Iraq fiasco, draconian tax cuts and one ruinous financial ponzi scheme after another brought about by a frenzy of deregulation which the Republican Dead Enders promised 25 years ago would set us free. Who indeed would choose America except the poor immigrants so mistrusted and hated by the very Dead Enders who’ve led us to the precipice?
And all of this occurs in the warming pressure cooker of climatic change when once again the United States – with 5 percent of the world’s population greedily devouring 25 percent of the world’s resources -- is completely out of step with science and forward thinking policy.
This election truly offers a choice between the Dead End ideas of the past 25 years and a new way of thinking and seeing – a chance for a new majority to emerge which is not bound by the self-destructive, divisiveness of the phony culture wars. And a desire to vote for Hillary so she can be the first female president is as Dead End an idea as voting for Obama so he can be the first black president. Racism and sexism are as real and important phenomenon as patriotism and terrorism. But they are still “isms” in an age dominated by “tions” – pollution, education, United Nations, solutions.
Barack Obama represents the only choice in this election for some new ideas to lead us to a new way of doing things, a new way of organizing our national priorities. To do this he must be braver than the average politician and smarter than the average citizen.
And that might be why the bell tolled last week.
In case you missed it Obama, answering a question about why he lags in the polls in Pennsylvania, said
“You go into these small towns…and like a lot of small towns…
the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing replaced
them. And they fell through the Clinton and Bush administration,
and each successive administration has said that somehow these
communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s
not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion
or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant
sentiment or antitrade sentiment as a way to explain their
And from that prescient analysis, filled with his usual empathy for people, the McCain and Clinton Swift-Boaters are fashioning a noose from the word “bitter” with which to hang both Obama’s presidential ambitions and America’s hopes for real change.
The increasingly desperate Clinton responded with a treacly homily about her church going family, and Daddy teaching her to shoot -- as if she has faith in any god other than her own ambition, or is shooting for anything other than her own coronation. She will use his honesty to leverage more Super Delegates to her tally and drag out the nomination fight, feeding the Republicans ammunition as she goes.
And she is helping to hand the Republican Dead Enders precisely the poison bullet they need: to tar Obama as the too-smart boogey man; the “elitist, effete intellectual” who makes us too nervous about our own intellectual failings to win the presidency.
Clinton is already trying to turn Obama’s insightfulness into attack ads portraying him as somehow un-American for calling it not only as he sees it, but as it actually is.
But should he yet squeak past Clinton’s Dead Ender juggernaut the Republican Dead Enders will use it against him without mercy.
Obama may yet prove himself too smart for America’s breeches. And if we reject him for it then we deserve the dunce, and the dunce cap, we will get.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Why Martin Luther King Had To die

King's Death Doomed U.S. and All

will be published Friday 4/4/08 Daily Hampshire Gazette

Forty years ago April 4th a shot rang out in Memphis which changed America forever when it killed Martin Luther King Jr. But the seeds of that assassin’s bullet were sown exactly a year before when King delivered his greatest and most everlasting speech: “Why I oppose the war in Vietnam”.
For the most important question is not the tail-chasing, conspiracy laden “Who killed King?” But the far more tragic “Why did King have to die?”
And on April 4th, 1967 he gave the speech which sealed his doom – and maybe America’s too. For in that speech he laid down his agreed upon mandate as a civil rights leader, and picked up the mantle of true revolutionary. In that speech he made it clear that his goal was not for Rosa Parks to sit wherever she wanted, but to dismantle what he said were the very foundations on which America stood. The “triple evil… of racism, economic exploitation and militarism.”
Since his death America sadly has embraced the sanitized King of the 1963 “I have a dream” speech who wanted nothing more than for “little black boys and girls to join hands with little white boys and girls” in a rainbow version of America The Great. But by 1967 King himself had come to realize how meager that vision was, and found himself compelled against all advice to issue his unequivocal call for a “radical revolution in values.”
It was the bankrupting of the country and its unconditional surrender in the War on Poverty – through the squandering of resources in Vietnam -- which made him declare America a “society gone mad on war.” The single greatest American in the nation stood at a pulpit and declared the United States “the single greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
He told a country convinced of its moral superiority that it acted like “a policeman of the whole world.” He had the outraged courage to warn that he heard “God telling America ‘You’re too arrogant! And if your don’t change your ways I will rise up and break the backbone of your power and place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know My name!’”
King also ripped into the refusal of many Americans’ to oppose the war behind a cloying concern for “our troops” when he laid at their feet responsibility for the vets returning “physically handicapped and psychologically deranged” by the wounds they suffered and the violence they inflicted.
In that speech King declared his “eternal hostility to militarism” and issued a thinly veiled call to draft resistance when he specifically told the young men of America to “take a stand” against the war.
And all of this was not because we were losing in Vietnam; not because we were wrongly involved in someone else’s civil war; not because it was too expensive or making America less safe. No, his implacable opposition to the war came from his singular conviction that it was immoral.
Most touchingly, however, King made it clear his condemnation came from love. “I love America…There can be no great disappointment where there is no great love.” Above all what he wanted was for America “to come home” to its founding ideal that all people are created equal. “Come home America.”
And that love of country pushed him even further. Years after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts became law, King was still not satisfied and declared his intention to escalate his struggle to include the “glaring contrast of poverty and wealth” in the richest nation on earth. He placed in this non-violent sights the multinational corporations which not only exploited Third World nations, he said, but “profited” from the Vietnam war and so opposed its speedy end.
But to truly understand that this speech is what marked him for death, you must listen to it. For it was not just the message which got him killed, but the medium. Go to YouTube and sit through those 22 minutes and 48 seconds of spine-tingling oratory and you will understand that someone listening in real time – whether James Earl Ray, J. Edgar Hoover or John Q. Public – shuddered, and decided that King must die.
But the King lives. Not in our official, non-threatening “remembrances” of him over a three-day weekend in January; but in our current national malaise which has reduced our political discourse and electoral politics to such a dumbed-down state that the sovereign citizenry, to which we all belong, seems more like an idiot man-child still lumbering through the world destroying nations, killing innocents by the thousands and bankrupting our children’s futures, while the gap between the One Percent and the rest of us grows ever wider and wilder.
True prophet that he was, King foretold of this malaise in 1967 when he warned that “a nation which spends more money on military defense than programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” As America continued to do that for 41 years, that spiritual death is long upon us.
And it does not matter what spiritual enlightenment we pursue individually or in small valleys, there is a core part of our collective spirit into which rigormortus has set.
The continuing price we pay for that bullet 40 years ago is that King in 1957 was far outside the mainstream consensus on race in this country; yet the arc of the moral universe bent towards him and the consensus shifted to meet King. In 1967 he was again far outside the mainstream consensus on America’s need for a “moral revolution”, and had he lived the country might yet again have shifted to meet him.
Dr. King would only be a bit older today than John McCain. What prospects America might have had if King had been alive on 9/11; or in 2003 when Bush marched Iraq and the US over the cliff of illegal, “preemptive” war?
If that sounds like crass nostalgia, go to YouTube, listen to that speech and when King says Vietnam hear Iraq, when he says communism hear terrorism, and you’ll know that after 40 years being dead, Martin Luther King Jr. is still our leading light.

On Condi Rice, General Ripper and the Middle East

U.S. Amnesia in the Middle East

Published 3/14/08 Daily Hampshire Gazette

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s fruitless visit to the Middle East last week
has brought to mind General Ripper from the movie “Doctor Strangelove”. The demented Ripper, you might recall, starts a nuclear war because he is convinced the “Ruskies” have poisoned America’s “purity of essence” by fluoridating its water supply.
And while the film remains a sly allegory for our time, there does seem to be something contaminating America’s essence which causes a kind of political amnesia when it comes to brokering peace in that part of the world.
In her frantic shuttle diplomacy to bring about some kind of settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians which might dilute History’s utter condemnation of her president, Rice has been sidelined by events on the ground in Gaza where the Islamist Hamas trades bombs and casualties with the Israeli Defense Forces.
And that is precisely where amnesia comes in. The latest roadblock in the road map to peace was setup, we seem to have forgotten, not with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in the late ‘60s; nor the first nor even the second Intifada in the ‘80s and ‘90s; but in 2006 when Hamas handily won about the freest and fairest elections ever held in that part of the Arab world.
But the crisis which derailed Bush’s hope for “redemption” – and worse, makes it less likely the next administration can broker a real peace – began after the election, we seem to have forgotten, when Israel, the U.S. and even the European Union began a campaign to undermine and delegitimize that impeccably democratic vote. Why? Because Hamas is a “terrorist” organization – meaning it will not give up guns and bombs as a way to fight an occupying power? Because only the US and EU and Israel get to vote for whomever they want and the rest of the world must merely do as it is told?
Again, amnesia as much as hypocrisy seems to be in play.
Don’t we remember that in a tiny corner of Europe there has long been a deadly political battle over rights and territory which seems to be religious war? In Northern Ireland – now blessedly if uneasily at peace for almost 10 years – a “terrorist” group known as the IRA took up both the ballot as well as the bullet in 1981 when a “terrorist” named Bobby Sands won a seat in the British parliament while on hunger strike for POW status. He died, and in 1983 Gerry Adams, the leader of the “terrorist” Sinn Fein won that same seat.
The Protestant Unionists refused to negotiate with the Catholic Terrorists unless the IRA renounced violence and their desire to drive the British into the sea. The IRA refused to surrender its founding principles until irreversible negotiations were underway.
Sound familiar?
But Sinn Fein, with Gerry Adams elected to parliament but refusing to take a seat there, kept standing in mostly local elections and winning. As it did, more and more of its supporters were drawn to a negotiated peace deal, and away from armed struggle. And when that peace was finally made it was between the “extremist” camps of the hard line protestant Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, whose leaders were so-called terrorists. Today these implacable enemies run the government together, while the once favored moderate parties of both camps have virtually ceased to exist. (Which may be why the Palestinian Authority went along with the subversion of Hamas’ victory – the hidebound, corrupt PA may fear the same future.)
But peace would not have happened had those democratic elections which brought the IRA to public office been subverted. Instead the proponents of armed-struggle-forever would’ve prevailed.
What amnesia, what loss of political essence, makes the powers-that-be and the citizenry overlook such a successful formula for peace in Palestine? Is it that the Northern Irish are white Christians and the Palestinians are Arab Muslims?
The Palestinians knew perfectly well what they were doing when they voted for Hamas. As did the Catholics of West Belfast when they voted for the IRA. As the latter’s vote was honored, so must the former’s be. All democratically cast ballots are equally sacred, or democracy is just another word for flim-flam.
What peace in the long, sectarian war in Northern Ireland reminds us is that you do not insist an armed group with a legitimate grievance give up its guns and grievances before real peace is offered. Rather, you draw it further and further into elected politics so that, as happened in Northern Ireland, the moderates in the extremist camp can show results from the democratic process. But you certainly don’t teach it that it is a waste of time to engage in democratic politics. And the real extremists in Hamas are trying to make precisely that case – having tried the ballot and been overthrown, there is a rational argument to be made that nothing is left but the bullet and the bomb.
The tangled obstacles now thwarting Rice’s frantic efforts can only be removed by restoring those election results and pledging to let whomsoever the Palestinians choose as their leaders, lead the way to negotiations between enemies. Rice and Bush will not do that, the next Administration must.
Only that will restore the peace process’ purity of essence.

School Integration is dead; School Equityis the key

In our schools, Equity more than Integration

Published 7/23/07 Daily Hampshire Gazette

In 1903 W.E.B. Dubois foretold that the question of the 20th century was the question of the color bar. He was right, as it took until 1956 for the U.S. Supreme Court to proclaim segregation in public schools unconstitutional. And it took America until 1965 to declare all Americans equal by passing the voting rights act and other civil rights legislation.
A few weeks ago the Supreme Court begged the question as to whether color is still the question of the new century when it declared school integration plans unconstitutional – including the temerity of citing the 1956 landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education case to uphold the majority’s reactionary, activist agenda.
And while we perhaps could expect no more from such a conservative court, the damage done by that ruling is perhaps worse than at first look. Other than setting back well-intentioned integration plans, the ruling could deplete even more vital energy from citizens who believe it of paramount importance to turn back such a ruling-- which seems to want to turn back the political clock to a darker day.
And yet integration itself – as a policy goal requiring enormous political resources -- has not been of paramount importance for almost thirty years. We often forget that Brown vs. Board of Education was not necessarily meant to enforce integration, as to halt legal segregation..
What is of paramount importance – in our schools – is the horrific decline in education quality for a generation. Since the right-wing led “tax revolts” of the 70’s (Prop 13 in California, Prop 2 ½ here) reduced or capped the property taxes which govern a school’s basic funding, and therefore excellence, the quality of our national public school system has declined woefully. The white flight which followed busing and integration plans made it that much easier for the “tax revoltistas” to earn a sympathetic ear from the whites who fled.
As such, whether liberals want to acknowledge it or not, Integration has long been supplanted by Equity – the iron clad assurance that all schools in all districts have precisely the same resources according to their needs – as the most fundamental issue “segregating” today’s public school students. To put it bluntly – it is not as important if children learn in an integrated classroom. It is important only that they receive a quality education. And as America remains an overwhelmingly segregated nation – in terms of housing and neighborhoods – the truth of the matter is that black and Latino students do attend mostly segregated schools, which also provide an inferior education. But then so do most school districts outside our affluent communities. We must ask which is most important: diversity or excellence in education? As in most of our public schools we have neither, it may very well be we need to choose one to focus our limited energy and resources on.
When I taught at an over-crowded, under-funded high school in South Central L.A. my journalism class did a study of all the standardized test rankings published in the Los Angeles Times, and to no one’s surprise those rankings – with exceptions that proved the rule – followed zip codes from wealthiest to poorest neighborhoods all over the city.
Closer to home in Holyoke, where I teach now, $25 million has been cut from the school budget in just the past six years in a racially mixed district which is on the verge of being declared incompetent because of low standardized test scores. Of what use is it to spend enormous resources and energy integrating a school district when enormous budget cuts are the rule, rather than the exception, in cities and towns all over America?
My students in L.A. did not suffer from the lack of white classmates, their neighborhood was 90 percent Latino and 10 percent Black, as was their school. They suffered from the poverty of their education: from the lack of highly qualified teachers, the lack of books, the lack of music and art classes, the lack of clean bathrooms and enough support staff, the lack of commitment by their city, state and nation to secure them a quality education not based on their parents income, but their need.
This is why Equity is a far more radical issue than Integration has been for a generation, or maybe ever was. Equity would require a re-ordering of national priorities not seen since the New Deal. Equity as the law of the land, would require a new permanent method for funding schools other than property taxes which assure poor schools in poor neighborhoods. Equity would require a significantly greater expenditure of human and financial resources in low-income communities from South Boston to South Central because – as we often forget -- ignorance is to poverty what knowledge is to power.
And in America we often confuse poverty with race. We overlook that there are far more poor whites than blacks or Hispanics.
The supreme court ruling pushes back both integration and equity, because the primal response of many liberals will be to fight on for integration if only because a reactionary majority on the court has overturned it. But to say “Yes!” to integration merely because the court said “No!”, is only to play into the Right’s continuing domination of the American political agenda.
It is in our public schools where we give the truth (or more often the lie) to our founding proposition that all people are created equal. If you believe in that Equality, then School Equity is the question of the 21st century.

Henry David Thoreau on US in Iraq

Our obligation to a ‘broken Iraq’

Published 2/8/07 Daily Hampshire Gazette

News and photos of the big anti-war march in Washington D.C. and the Valley last week brought to mind Colin Powell and Henry David Thoreau.
It was Powell who warned President Bush in 2002 that if the U.S. “broke” Iraq by invading it, the U.S. would own that broken wreck. It was also Powell, of course, whose pernicious testimony before the United Nations helped the United States do precisely that: leave Iraq a broken wreck which will not be mended any time soon.
And yet I find myself in complete agreement with Powell: Republican or Democrat, southern conservative or Valley liberal, the United States as a nation "broke" Iraq and now we "own" it -- not its oil, not its land, not its people: we own the wreckage. And whether you're a "stay the course" die hard or a "troops out now" dissenter, those opposing camps are conjoined twins on one issue: neither believes that we own the wreckage in Iraq.
The former wants to hand the bloody mess over to the Iraqis themselves, (They stand up, we stand down); and the latter wants to hand it over to some imaginary U.N. or Arab force. (As if the world will take ownership or our wreckage.)
Dispirited by the inability of either camp to put forth any plan which places the Iraqi people at its center, and thus claim the wreckage which engulfs them, I turned to Thoreau. Good ole Henry David.
The Massachusetts born and bred radical whose seminal "On Civil Disobedience", first published in 1849, echoed so strongly down the decades it inspired both Gandhi and Martin Luther King. The pamphlet began as a speech Thoreau gave to explain why he spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax levied by Congress to finance the war against Mexico, which annexed the southwest and California to the stars and stripes. He refused to pay the tax because he believed the war to be "illegal", a mere land grab. (And don't Senators Hilary Clinton and John Kerry wish they'd been so brave?)
This story could end there, except Thoreau was such a citizen of the world, he took it one radical step further. In a passage which could not but take the breath away of any American who reads it today, Thoreau used the metaphor of a drowning man to explain the duty of all citizens to overthrow both slavery and the war against Mexico, though both profited their nation: "If I have unjustly wrestled a plank from a drowning man, I must restore it to him, though I drown myself…(The American people) must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people."
Who among us today, left, right or center, would make such a claim in regards to owning the wreck we have made of Iraq? We accept the benefits of being the lone hyper-power in the world (we are 5 % of Earth's population yet consume 25 % of it resources), but when it comes to Iraq we either blame it on their President Bush, or assure ourselves that our candidate will make it all right somehow so long as we get out fast.
Yet here again Thoreau already awaits us with a mirror held up to our double standards. Referring to the selection of presidential candidates by "editors and politicians by profession" he condemns the sovereign citizenry who wash their hands of true responsibility by "adopt(ing) one of the candidates thus selected as the only available one, thus proving that he is himself available for any purposes…" of that candidate.
"Any purposes" including, not so much wrestling a plank from a drowning Iraq as climbing out of the pool altogether, but nevertheless watching Iraq drown. I believe Henry David Thoreau would not have approved of America's withdrawing from Iraq, because he would have known that once out we will wash our hands of it, and only tsk-tsk at the carnage we see on our televisions.
He would've wanted America to pour its wealth and well-being into that wreckage even if it cost us our existence, because he knew what we have forgotten: Politics is not about policies domestic and foreign, not about sticking it to conservatives or liberals: it is about our own souls, and the soul of our nation.

Who Killed Denis Donaldson?


Published 4/13/06 in the Valley Advocate

Denis Donaldson was a friend of mine. On April 4th he was found tortured and shot-gunned to death in the ratty cottage in Donegal to which he had fled last December after admitting he was a British spy inside the IRA and Sinn Fein for 20 years.

I first met Denis in 1981 as a cub reporter for the Daily Collegian trying to make my bones covering the IRA hunger strike in Northern Ireland’s jails. Ten prisoners starved themselves to death that summer to protest Margaret Thatcher’s revoking their status as political prisoners..

After a long interview at Sinn Fein’s west Belfast headquarters, where he was an awkward but effective press spokesman, he invited me home for dinner and I lived with his family for that heroic, heart-breaking summer as those emaciated wraiths were buried by tens of thousands of mourners (Several of whom had been elected to the Irish and British parliaments while going 60, 63, 68 days without food.)

Denis came from a long republican tradition: his maternal grand parents were with the rebels during the Easter uprising against British rule which created the Irish republic. His father was an IRA man and spent World War II interned by the British without trial. In the early 1970’s, Denis and two of three brothers also were interned by the British as IRA men, and with the police sweating his youngest brother for information on the older ones, his mother packed the youngest off to America -- from which he never returned.

When the news came last December that Denis had outted himself as an informer for the British, I was scandalized – but it was like finding out a favorite uncle had been a commie spy in the Cold War, it’s over. Denis’ war was supposed to be over too.

I followed stories about him in the Irish press. The day before he was killed I read an interview by a reporter who detailed where and how Denis was living – in an old shack without running water nor electricity where he chopped his own wood for heat. I thought then I’d like to find Denis, talk to him. Tell him I do not judge him, but still owe him for his hospitality from years ago.

And now he is dead, and his last seconds were spent trapped in an old shack, raising up a hand to fend off four shotgun blasts. He saw his killers coming, and he probably knew them.

And all I can think now is: What a waste. What an unspeakable waste. In Northern Ireland, South Africa, the former East Germany, all such places where spies, informers and traitors were used by Authority to undermine people’s desires for change, for freedom.

And to what end? The IRA was so infiltrated that, as the Atlantic Monthly noted recently, at one point in the 1980’s the IRA’s top spy catcher was interrogating its top volunteer on suspicion he was really a top British agent – he was, but so was his interrogator!

South Africa’s ANC, too, was thoroughly infiltrated at home a abroad. East Germany had almost literally half the country spying on the rest. And what good did all this spying ultimately do? None, ultimately. It did not, could not, change the political outcome in those countries. All those informers, the ruined families, gruesome executions, and all it did was delay what the world now acknowledges as an inevitable outcome: apartheid was a freakish throwback and had to end; the Berlin Wall was so rotted inside a few thousand citizens tore it down.; and the Irish will live in peace because a 21st century European Union has no place for dirty sectarian wars when a clear path to peace is at hand.

All that spying -- the coercion, blackmail, and bribes -- which creates informers, all it did was delay the day of deliverance which the march of history had scheduled. And when the inevitable new day dawns, it leaves thousands of Denis Donaldsons lurking in the shadows, in a permanent dusk, hated by their old comrades and their old handlers as well. For the police and soldiers despise snitches as much as the rest of us do. As Denis once did

And yet governments still believe that spies and spy masters are an essential part of politics. Is not our national shame over reports from Guantanomo Bay and Abu Gharab a by-product of this faith in the shadowy world of spies and informers? That secret information and secret agents are more powerful than open politics and negotiations?

Being of Irish descent I thought I too had hard and fast beliefs about informers and traitors. Now, like all the Irish everywhere, I’m sorely sick to learn of one more gruesome death from a Troubles which should finally be over. Instead the Orangemen will point fingers and refuse to govern with Sinn Fein, and the Fenians will close ranks and refuse to expose Denis’ killers. And the British and Irish governments will continue to bob around like rubber ducks in a storm-tossed bathtub.

Rest In Peace Denis Donaldson. Thank God your mother Nelly died years ago. The shame of it would’ve pained her to death. As it is, she has already welcomed you home. If only your legacy could be that no one ever need be recruited to inform again. But that day will never come so long as governments truly believe the dark shadowy world of spies and informers is the best place to make, or prevent, political change.
925 words

Joe Gannon, a former freelance journalist in Central America and Northern Ireland, is now a screenwriter living in Western Mass.

Darwin was right: just look in the bible

Darwin was Right. Just look in the Bible.
March 2007
On the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth this month, it is time to put an end to the battle in the "culture war" between the Theory of Evolution and Creationism.
Or it is at least time to call that battle what it is: nothing more than a shell game run by people who like to hear themselves talk, and want to fiddle while America burns in the fires of global warming, increasing inequality, and decreasing educational achievement.
So let's be clear: Darwin was indisputably right about evolution -- but God got there first. Because the Book of Genesis was the first clue to our evolutionary past.
Anyone with a passing familiarity of the Theory of Evolution and Genesis can see right off that the differences between the two, while clear, are nevertheless so small that to fuel a "culture war" over them automatically qualifies one as a nihilist.
And a quick comparison with other culture's creation stories shows how uncannily similar Genesis is to evolution.
The vaunted ancient Greeks believed creation began with a giant black bird, Nyx, who mothered an egg with the wind, which she sat on for ages before giving birth to Eros, and the two halves of that egg created heaven and earth.
The Hindus believed the universe was a dark ocean, upon which floated a giant cobra in whose coils Vishnu was born.
The Chinese believed the universe was a black egg, in which heaven and earth were mixed until the god Pangu split the egg to also create heaven and earth.
The Mayan Popul Vuh comes somewhat close to Darwin as they believed monkeys were an early but failed attempt by the gods to create Man.
Yet there are no other creation "theories" which approach Darwin's like Genesis.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and the darkness was upon the face of the deep."
That is as fine a writerly description of the earth which existed billions of years ago as Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould might have penned.
True, Genesis says God created Heaven and the Earth first, and then said "Let there be light". But that verse always brings to mind the Big Bang -- the light which ended all darknesses.
Genesis then goes on to support what the average citizen (or voter) would agree is the overwhelming logic of evolution: after the stars and planets (heaven and earth); came the land and oceans (firmament and seas); then came the lesser organic life of grass, herbs and fruit trees; then came animals: birds, fish and finally land animals; then on the last day human beings.
Does this square precisely with evolution? No. But for a text written some 3000 years ago, it is a remarkably prescient description of what Darwin saw in nature 150 years ago when he published Origin of the Species.
And that brings us back to the nihilistic "culture war" over Creationism.
That the very broadcast technology Creationists use to spread their views is wholly the product of the Scientific Method which imagined evolutionary theory is a screaming irony lost to them.
But then, ultimately, the televangelists and right-wing leaders who make this a battle in the "culture war" are not remotely interested in creation, God nor godliness. They are interested only in stoking the fires of resentment and alienation which give the Republican Party an electoral edge on "values" issues.
But what these nihilists really make war on is "doubt" itself. Doubt, the very foundation of faith, without which there can be no faith. They want to banish Doubt, the very thing which most stirs the human mind (God given or evolved). For the flip side of Doubt is not Certainty, but Curiosity. And it is curiosity which first got Man to ask "Why?" The answer has evolved over the centuries, but the question remains unchanged.
The partisans of Evolution, too, can learn a valuable political lesson from comparing Darwin and Genesis: This battle can and will NEVER be won by fighting it on the Creationists' terms. For there is no way to do so except to pry Believers-in-the-Book from their faith. And for, say, the white ethnics who vote Republican values over their pocketbooks every four years, their faith is often the most that they have. Not all that they have, but the most.
And there are those Evolutionists for whom this battle is not about ideas, but about forcing people to acknowledge that their faith is a fraud. There is truly a section of the Left which despises Christianity, whatever their reason. And thus they too fuel the nihilistic "culture war".
So on this august anniversary, let us pay tribute to Darwin (who like Galileo and Newton was a believer), let us pay tribute to him by declaring an end to the phony war over Creationism. Darwin was right. Just look in the Bible.
Joe Gannon, writer and teacher, can be reached at