Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Emergence of World Citizenship

Proposals to prevent war and enlarge human freedom have been advanced for centuries. Even before the industrial revolution transformed aggression from a regional tragedy into a global threat, philosophers and politicians looked beyond the borders of their own nations.
     In 1792, for the French revolutionist Jean Baptiste du Val-De-Grace, the answer was a World Republic that would place human rights above the rights of individual states. Three years later, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant proposed a similar but more modest plan: a confederation of nations. Urging world citizenship and freedom of movement, he envisioned a “covenant of peace” would some day make national conflict obsolete.
     Diplomats and statesmen struggled with formulas for transnational order for the next century. Finally, in 1899, at the urging of Czar Nicholas, an agreement – The Hague Treaty – was reached between 24 states. Recognizing that modern warfare and weapons posed a threat to humanity, these nation-states pledged at least to attempt the settling of their differences through “pacific methods” rather than force and violence.
     Ten million people died during World War I anyway. The massive violence of that conflict was a sign that few nations could ignore. 
     In the aftermath, the League of Nations was established. Like plans before it, however, the League was complex and largely ineffective, burdened with responsibilities while deprived of real authority. Despite human rights declarations dating from 1789 in France, the League still represented only states, with no mention of the sovereignty of ordinary people. Within four years of its creation, it began to split into hostile alliances.
     During the next World War, at least 60 million people died, more than half of them civilians, and in 1945 the “nuclear age” crashed into existence when atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities. The nature of war had become global and the survival of humanity was now at stake. Yet the nation-state war game continued unabated. By this time, the idea of some global authority could no longer be shrugged off. The possibility of nuclear warfare made the choice clear: global coordination or oblivion. But what kind?
     The United Nations, also launched in 1945, was more like a forum than a government. It could not legislate on worldwide problems, nor enforce its views through any means but military action. Its members, all nation-states, still remained absolutely sovereign, free to make treaties or declare war without a nod to the UN.
     Over the next half century, whenever UN decisions or Charter provisions stood in the way of some “national” agenda, they were ignored. As the Cold War gave birth to a nuclear arms race, as more than 50 armed conflicts between nations “great” and “small” created millions more victims, it became apparent that this latest attempt to create peace through a confederation of nations was a sterile and often deadly exercise. War, deprivation and torture gave grim daily testimony to the fact that the UN was largely powerless to protect and promote peace or human rights. 
      So long as the nation-state’s self-imposed amnesia persists, wars are inevitable. Like previous attempts to “rationalize” conflict without a fundamental transfer of sovereign power, the UN can only succeed in rare cases, when armed conflict no longer serves the selfish interest of the belligerents. Mainly, it is a hostage of the system it is expected to transform.
     But if the confederal approach isn't the form of “higher authority” that can break nationalism’s spell, moving us to a workable and democratic world order, what will?

Declaring World Citizenship

We live in a geocentric world of nation-states, preoccupied mainly by “national” problems of the economy, society and politics. No matter where we live, for most of us the “nation” is the center of our political universe – the point around which revolve other nations and, supposedly, the rest of the world.
     Our attachment to our nation, whether by birth or adoption, is not merely legal; it is profoundly emotional. Yet when nations deal with other nations, these attachments are given no weight. In the “international” context, the individual is nowhere to be found. Yet all nations claim to represent the very people they so often ignore. And ironically, most nations actually claim to derive their very legitimacy from their citizens. But if the people themselves are truly the source of each nation’s authority, it follows that the highest authority is humanity as a whole.
     In any case, the power of nation-states certainly doesn't make them the only legitimate participants in decision-making. In a world threatened by war and injustice, responsible citizenship means a powerful assertion of humanity’s sovereignty. As Thomas Paine put it, “individual human beings, each in his or her own personal and sovereign right, enter into a compact with each other to produce any government.”
     For such a higher authority to become a reality, however, a new compact is also needed, a global civic contract that transcends the national paradigm. The good news is that such a contract already exists, both naturally and legally.
     Founded by Garry Davis in 1948 and formally established in 1953, the world citizens movement is both an extension of the individual and an expression of humanity as a whole. It grows from your sovereignty and mine, and from our shared commitment to each other’s protection and survival. It is a horizontal network based on natural rights and the human rights affirmed by national constitutions and international agreements like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is also “vertical,” the political expression of a world community by those who recognize the limits of the planet itself.
     In 1945, while observing delegates at the founding of the UN in San Francisco, E.B. White wrote: “Whether we wish it or not, we may soon have to make a clear choice between the special nation to which we pledge our allegiance and the broad humanity of which we are born a part.” World citizens make the second choice. 
     At the start, declaring yourself a world citizen was often symbolic, a way to embody a new transnational civic identity, one adopted by millions of people who registered as world citizens beginning in 1949. Gradually, however, it became more: an embryonic structure for the evolution of a global movement. An administrative arm, the World Service Authority, was established in 1954, and began to identify people from all corners of the planet, issuing documents to anyone who pledged allegiance to the new global compact.
     In the decades since then, world citizens have worked to overcome the psychological barriers imposed by the polarized nation-state system. For example, the movement and the documents used by world citizens expose the anti-democratic core of most nation-states. But for many people – especially refugees and other victims of nationalism – world citizenship is more basic. For them, it means global political asylum.
     Today the world continues to endure the incessant roar of chaos and conflict. But the primary causes of the chaos are nation-states themselves. Appeals to nationalism won't solve the problem. They are the problem.

A Global Response

It doesn't require much, certainly not the surrender of any personal  freedom, the renouncing of “national” citizenship, or disloyalty to the nation of one’s birth. World citizenship simply replaces allegiance to an outdated political system that emerged in the 18th century with a modern global contract that recognizes the dynamic interdependence of our time.
     We are linked across many artificial frontiers; communication, science, commerce and ecology don't recognize borders. In these areas and more, we already have one world. Many barriers are crumbling. World Citizenship makes our politics more consistent with reality.
     To help build the movement, the World Service Authority responds to the needs of world citizens not only by issuing documents such as birth and marriage certificates, visas and passports. It has also sponsored study commissions, established a court and experimented with a monetary system.      
     The World Court of Human Rights was established in France by a General Assembly of World Citizens in 1972. A provisional statute for the court was drafted, and later the World Judicial Commission was set up to handle preliminary complaints filed by world citizens. The International Court of the Hague only handles cases between sovereign states, and only if both parties agree to the litigation. The UN Commission on Human Rights is powerless to help individuals when their interests and the arbitrary will of a nation-state collide.
     World citizens, whose exercise of their human rights can contravene existing “national laws,” need a new kind of court, one grounded on the legal defense of global rights and accessible to all. As the first Chief Justice of the World Court, Dr. Luis Kutner explained upon accepting the post, “The international community has come to realize that human rights are not an issue to be left solely to the national jurisdiction of individual states. These rights obviously need protection at a higher level within the framework of international law.
     Over the years, a number of study commissions have also been formed to deal with specific issues. Experts, all advocates of a just and democratic world order, have been recruited to pursue research in areas such as health, space, culture, economics, women, education, forestry, political asylum, communication and cybernetics.
   The World Passport remains the most widely used document, a practical symbol and a useful tool for travelers. Contributors to the WSA's Refugee Fund have made it possible to issue passports for free to thousands of refugees and war victims, at least half of them women and children.
     In sum, world citizens constitute a self-empowered global community of sovereign individuals who support an emerging body of “common world law,” including human rights covenants, the Stockholm Environmental Declaration and the Nuremberg Principles. This is not a parallel government or a supra-national federation. It's a meta-government of free human beings.

Written with Garry Davis for Passport to Freedom: A Guide for World Citizens

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Thinking Globally: Beyond Fear and Loathing

Looking at the behavior of many political leaders, it's easy to conclude that government itself isn't to be trusted. Whether the men (and occasionally women) in charge head regimes dominated by military cliques or ethically-challenged bureaucrats, they rarely inspire much faith that the State will consistently promote fairness and protect individual rights in exchange for the power it assumes and penalties it imposes.

     In the US, this suspicion dates back to the colonial secession from England - a primal rejection of illegitimate central authority. Since then, distrust and fear of government has fueled many forms of resistance - from Daniel Shays' 1786 tax revolt to Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. But as Gary Wills argues in his study of government distrust, A Necessary Evil, the real victims of this attitude are the millions of poor or shelterless or medically indigent who have been told, over the years, that they must lack care or life support in the name of their very own freedom. Better for them to starve than to be enslaved by 'big government.' That is the real cost of our anti-government values.
     In the late 20th century, this distrust - often buttressed by specious constitutional arguments about state's rights, individual freedom, and the sanctification of private enterprise - has fueled a global crusade to privatize services, shred safety nets, and turn management of the planet over to a corporate and bureaucratic elite with its own rules. Since Ronald Reagan successfully redefined the US federal government as the problem, not the solution, we've been told that government is basically wasteful and ineffective - if not crooked - while business is dynamic and effective, the best way to protect liberty and produce wealth.
     As I've mentioned before, anti-government attitudes make people susceptible to reactionary, often isolationist appeals. Even though they may understand that no single nation can control violence, reverse environmental destruction, or protect basic rights around the world, many also believe that any form of global management is either fantasy or a potential nightmare - the dreaded One World Dictatorship.
     Only one problem: it's already here, operating behind closed doors and accountable only to those managing its administrative agencies. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund virtually run the economies of many countries, primarily in the interest of transnational industries and global financial interests. Sure, the UN plays a small role, as a forum for dialogue and a convenient place to dump problems. But even there, the real power lies with the five permanent members of the Security Council - the US, Britain, France, China, and Russia.
     Meanwhile, the World Trade Organization (WTO) continues the transfer of economic decision-making to the global level, turning human beings and the environment into tools for expanding trade and commerce. Rather than worrying about secular humanists or black helicopters, those concerned about the New World Order might want to consider the open conspiracy to create a Corporate World Order.
     Some suspicion of government's potential power is certainly legitimate and relevant. Yet, the form of centralized power that most threatens us today isn't public, it's private: the negative power of big business and elite financial institutions. These interests, influencing and sometimes even determining the actions of governments, ought to be the main focus of scrutiny and action. Conveniently, the same interests lead the campaign to convince us that freedom means me against the world or me against the government. Appealing to fears of government intrusion is a convenient way to derail intrusions on the right to profit at the expense of the general health and well-being, and exploit in the name of freedom.
     One step in the right direction is certainly the emerging movement to challenge our de facto world government, the mobilization against globalization that protested the [1999] WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle. More accountability, as well as consideration of environment, labor, and human rights impacts, is the least we should ask. Beyond that, however, we need to move beyond fear of government and work for democracy at the world level.
     Clearly, we need some planet-level guidance, to ensure health and freedom for all, and deal with arms proliferation, malnutrition, toxic materials, and genetic engineering, among other problems. Rather than continuing to accept the myth that government is inherently evil, let's begin the new millennium by working for effective and participatory global governance, a high authority that nurtures children, helps poor regions develop along sustainable lines, and defines and enforces global standards of human rights.

By Greg Guma, originally published as an editorial in Toward Freedom, December 1999

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Is a Progressive/Libertarian Movement Possible?

If a multi-issue movement could bring people together across the usual ideological barriers around galvanizing issues, how about this list: end corporate welfare, bring the troops home, new economic priorities, roll back repressive laws, and full financial transparency.
When was the last time a politician came across like the lone voice of principle railing against the dangers of an imperial presidency? That’s what it looked in Spring 2011 when Ron Paul, the Texas libertarian running for the Republican presidential nomination, wrote candidly about the War Powers Resolution, the Patriot Act and mission creep after 9/11. The column was called “Enabling a Future American Dictator.” At times he sounded a lot like Bernie Sanders.

In the column Paul noted that the 60-day deadline for getting congressional approval of military action in Libya under the 1973 War Powers Resolution had passed without notice. Predictably, he chided President Obama for not seeking a congressional OK and wondered whether he ever would. Forget Paul’s party for a moment. Wasn’t he right?

The Constitution, specifically Article 1 Section 8, clearly states that the power to declare war rests with the legislative branch. The original idea was to prevent the president from exerting the powers of a king. But presidents have been manipulating and ignoring such constitutional limitations for more than a century. Given the expansive nature of the federal government, Paul warned that “it would be incredibly na├»ve to think a dictator could not or would not wrest power in this country” at some point in the future. A bit of negative extrapolation there, but still, many people across the political spectrum do worry that it could indeed happen here.

It’s the kind of argument you expect to hear from Sanders. Actually, the two lawmakers did sometimes join forces when Bernie was a Congressman. Later, the godfather of the Tea Party movement and the junior Senator from the People’s Republic of Vermont teamed up to propose military budget cuts and push for a more thorough audit of the Federal Reserve.

Were these just isolated moments of Left and Right collaboration? Or could a movement that attracts both progressives and libertarians actually develop?

Paul also pointed to the Defense Authorization bill. It “explicitly extends the president’s war powers to just about anybody,” he claimed. The problem --- Section 1034, which asserted that the US is at war with the “associated forces” of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Bringing in civil liberties, Paul asked how hard it would be “for someone in the government to target a political enemy and connect them to al Qaeda, however tenuously, and have them declared an associated force?” It’s an argument that Left-leaning activists should find relevant.

His forecast was that even if we assume the people in charge at the moment are completely trustworthy – a major assumption – the future is far from certain. “Today’s best intentions create loopholes and opportunities for tomorrow’s tyrants,” Paul warned. Given the current crop of potential national leaders, it’s hard to disagree.

While a Texas Republican may not be the best messenger for a new alliance, Paul did have a following, based largely on his strict libertarianism and 2008 presidential run. Then the financial crisis seemed to spark something new: the potential for a convergence between progressives, liberals and traditional libertarians. In January 2011 Ralph Nader called the prospect of such an alliance the nation’s “most exciting new political dynamic.” Another element was generational change. Sparked by the excesses of elites and the wealthy few, a resistance movement fueled by youthful energy – an American Spring? – began to show the potential to catch fire and break down political boundaries. Among the issues that framed its agenda were intervention and military spending, individual freedom, and financial reform.

One of the unifying themes is the desire to limit, and whenever possible reverse the influence of centralized wealth and power. Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist, has frequently expressed this perspective, forging alliances that cross party lines to challenge corporate secrecy and the powers of international financial institutions.

Much of Sanders’ early legislative success came through forging deals with ideological opposites. An amendment to bar spending in support of defense contractor mergers, for example, was pushed through with the aid of Chris Smith, a prominent opponent of abortion. John Kasich (now Ohio governor), whose views on welfare, the minimum wage and foreign policy as a congressman could hardly be more divergent from Sanders’, helped him phase out risk insurance for foreign investments. And a “left-right coalition” he helped to create derailed the “fast track” legislation on international agreements pushed by Bill Clinton.

The impact of the strategy was clearly felt in May 2010 when Sanders’ campaign to bring transparency to the Federal Reserve resulted in a 96-0 Senate vote on his amendment to audit the Fed and conduct a General Accounting Office audit of possible conflicts of interest in loans to unknown banks.

Here is Sanders’ overall view in a nutshell: International financial groups protect the interests of speculators and banks at the expense of the poor and working people – not to mention the environment – behind a veil of secrecy. Meanwhile, governments have been reduced to the status of figureheads under international management, both major political parties kowtow to big money flaks, and media myopia fuels public ignorance. Many libertarians, even a good number of Tea Party people, agree.

But how do you mobilize and unite people across traditional cultural and political lines? A key may be found in sovereignty and nullification campaigns. Diverse as these efforts are, most rest on the proposition that the states and sovereign individuals created the national government. Therefore, they have the right to at least challenge the constitutionality of federal laws, and potentially even decline to enforce them. Though this may sound more conservative than not, liberals and leftists do also adopt such a stance at times.

The unifying idea goes something like this: In the face of oppression (however you define it) withdrawal of consent can make all the difference. When people refuse their cooperation, withhold their help, and maintain their position, they deny their opponent the support that oppressive, hierarchical systems need. Gene Sharp, author of Social Power and Political Freedom, once observed, “If they do this in sufficient numbers for long enough, that government or hierarchical system will no longer have power.”

Centuries back, the tactic was used when American colonists nullified laws imposed by the British. Since then states have used it to limit federal actions, from the Fugitive Slave Act to unpopular tariffs. Before 1800, support for nullification emerged in reaction to the Sedition Act, which prompted the Kentucky Resolve of 1798, written by Thomas Jefferson, and the almost identical Virginia Resolve penned by James Madison. In Section One of his version, Jefferson wrote:

Resolved, that the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principles of unlimited submission to their General Government; but that by compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States and of amendments thereto, they constituted a General Government for special purposes, delegated to that Government certain definite powers, reserving each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self Government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force . . . .

That the Government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that as in all other cases of compact among parties having no common Judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well as of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.

In plain English, this means that federal authority isn’t unlimited, and if it goes too far government actions need not be obeyed. In essence, Jefferson suggested that the federal government isn’t the “final judge” of its own powers, and therefore various states have a right to decide how to handle any federal overreach. Madison’s Virginia version declared that in the case of a deliberate and dangerous abuse of power, states not only had a right to object, they were “duty bound” to stop the “progress of the evil” and maintain their “authorities, rights and liberties.”

After Jefferson enacted a trade embargo as president in response to British maritime theft and the kidnapping of sailors, state legislatures nullified the law using his own words and arguments. On February 5, 1809, the Massachusetts legislature declared that the embargo was “not legally binding on the citizens of the state” and denounced it as “unjust, oppressive, and unconstitutional.” Eventually, every New England state, as well as Delaware, voted to nullify the embargo act.

Moral for Jefferson: Be careful what you resolve.

Two centuries later, in August 2010, the Missouri legislature used similar logic to reject the health care mandate in the Democrat’s health care reform, followed by a flood of legal challenges from state officials. In recent years, several states have also either passed or proposed legislation or constitutional amendments designed to nullify federal laws in the areas ranging from firearms to medical marijuana.

The Tea Party movement, set in motion in 2009 by widespread disapproval of the federal government’s bailout of financial institutions, initially swelled into a tidal wave of anti-big-government sentiment that helped the Republican Party regain control of the US House in 2010. Supporters said the movement marked a return to core values. Critics called it reactionary and possibly racist.

It is certainly funded in part by wealthy interests who see its angry members as tools to advance their own deregulation, limited government agenda. And yet, the Tea Party phenomenon is also a loose and relatively diverse association that includes fiscal conservatives, Christian fundamentalists, secular libertarians and more. A March 2010 poll estimated 37 percent support for its basic economic agenda, although that may have been its high water mark. The main take away is that it encompasses a variety of impulses, from orthodox libertarianism and neo-isolationism to populist anger directed at elites, deficit spending and perceived threats to US interests.

Some have written off the recent anti-federal government rebellion as a Republican ploy. But there have certainly been Left-wing crusades against federal abuse of power in the past, and liberal nullification campaigns to decriminalize marijuana and bring National Guard units home from wars overseas.

Will most Tea Party people join forces with progressives? Not likely. The main obstacle is several generations of cultural war, passionate and sometimes violent disagreement over racism, abortion, immigration, entitlements and climate change, among other things. In fact, progressives and Tea Party people can sometimes perceive different “realities.” Since 2008 many on one side have decided that Obama is a socialist, maybe even a Muslim Manchurian Candidate. On the other side, many say he is at best a sell out, and in some ways has doubled down on the mistakes and abuses of the previous administration. One group says climate change is a hoax or at least exaggerated, and the government should institute literacy tests for voting. The other sees ecological (or economic) catastrophe around the corner, thinks guns should be carefully controlled, and sometimes even argues that states ought to seize public resources as “trustees” of the commons.

At the same time, however, there’s enough common ground to attract people from across the conventional divide. Don’t both libertarians and progressives believe that the size and reach of the US military should be limited? Don’t both think that civil liberties are being eroded by executive orders and legislative overreach? Beyond that, they also agree, perhaps more than either has yet acknowledged, about the greed and dysfunction of big institutions, and the need for more transparency and oversight. In this regard, Sanders has pointed the way. At times libertarian voices are even bolder than progressive counterparts, especially those who say that the War on Drugs should end and most if not all drugs should be legalized. But Sanders is gradually joining this campaign.

If that’s not convincing, ask yourself what could happen without some attempt to create a progressive-libertarian connection. Most libertarians, Tea Party members and others dissatisfied with the status quo will be actively wooed and deceived by conservative demagogues. Many will be sidetracked into grievance and resentment. Where else will they have to go? So, shouldn’t there be a struggle for the hearts and minds of all those disillusioned casualties of the financial crash and culture war?

Still, it remains to be seen whether the issues on which there isn’t much common ground – and these should not be underestimated – will make it impossible to create or sustain some solidarity. It would certainly help if an alliance of some sort had a chance to grow outside the two-party system. But that requires credible leaders and a basic agenda.  

In any case, if a multi-issue alliance could bring people together across the usual ideological barriers around galvanizing issues, how about these: end corporate welfare, bring the troops home, new economic priorities,roll back repressive legislation, and full financial transparency.

Such a list is probably incomplete, and for some, may not go far enough. Fair enough. But it does potentially bridge some of the divisions that keep many people fighting among themselves while realigning conventional politics. In the long run, a Progressive-Libertarian alliance probably wouldn’t last. But before it faded – if people overcame some traditional divisions, if the debate really changed and some  new thinking took hold – wouldn’t the stakes be worth it?

This is adapted from Greg Guma's Rebel News Round Up, originally broadcast live on The Howie Rose Show, Friday, June 3, 2011, on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

We're All Socialists Sometimes

Like most western democracies, for many decades the US government has been operating with some socialist programs – within an undeniably capitalist economic system. But what are we really talking about? We clearly don’t have the state running the economy. It can barely manage itself. But we have adopted programs designed to increase economic equality – and sometimes programs that have done the opposite. 
In other words, we’ve had redistribution of wealth. As Bernie Sander has been arguing in his presidential campaign, during the last few decades it’s largely been redistribution toward the top.
What do socialists believe? Most would probably agree that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth, creating an unequal society. Basically, a no brainer so far. Where they disagree is about how much and what type of government intervention will work. A few advocate complete nationalization of production. But more prefer some state control of capital within a market economy, while democratic socialists often talk about selective nationalization of key elements in a mixed economy, along with tax-funded social programs. On the other hand, libertarian socialists don’t favor state control and prefer direct collective ownership – workers coops, workers councils, basically workplace democracy.
Libertarian socialists, like libertarians in general, weren’t happy about the 2008-2009 financial bailouts. Democratic socialists, in contrast, felt they didn’t go far enough. And most capitalists? Well, many decried the situation but went along. Some even chirped that “we are all socialists now” – at least as far as losses are concerned.
The truth is, Americans have been adopting socialist ideas – although not living in a socialist society – for many years, and the sky hasn’t fallen. But this doesn’t matter to the politicians and talking heads who hawk “out of control” government and a hostile takeover of the country. 
The attempt to stir up fears about socialism, and link it to xenophobia and un-American activity, is a cheap but tried-and-true political ploy. That's probably why it appeals to Donald Trump. It’s also the latest incarnation of an ongoing culture war based on resentment, ignorance, and selfishness. The subtext is that we are not equal, that being "truly American" includes a very narrow set of values, and that the government shouldn’t be a force for equality. How Sanders defines the issue -- and handles the topic from here on -- may determine whether voters decide he's electable or ultimately just a protest candidate. 
But let’s give a conservative the last word. During the 2008 presidential campaign, George Will put it this way: “Ninety-five percent of what the government does is redistribute wealth. It operates on the principle of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Case in point: we have sugar subsidies. Costs the American people billions of dollars but they don’t notice it it’s in such small increments. But the few sugar growers get very rich out of this. Now we have socialism for the strong – that is the well-represented and organized in Washington like the sugar growers. But it’s socialism none the less and it’s not new.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Jeb's Dark Alliances: Bush, Batista & the Contras

Over the years various researchers and investigations have suggested, even asserted at times, that as Vice President George Bush, along with some of his national security advisers, maintained close ties with a secret air-re-supply operation in El Salvador during the Reagan years. In October 1986, a week after the Nicaraguan government shot down a plane carrying supplies for the Contras, front page press reports actually announced that the operation led to both the CIA and Bush.

When it was revealed that Contra resupply project Chief Felix Rodriguez met several times with Bush and a key aide, the VP claimed they didn't discuss Nicaragua. That actually worked! But here's where it gets really interesting: the trail also led to the vice president’s son, Jeb. According to the Manchester Guardian, Jeb Bush “long acted as a liaison man with the fiercely pro-Contra, anti-Cuban and Nicaraguan settlers in Miami.”

Yes, this is the Republican "establishment choice" for 2016.

When the Iran-contra scandal began to break in October 1986, mainstream sources like CBS Evening News and the Miami Herald quoted unnamed officials as saying that Jeb Bush had served as his father’s chief point of contact with the contra rebels. Jeb’s denials were narrow. He didn't deny being his father’s liaison to the contras, only the idea that he had participated "directly" in the illegal contra resupply effort directed from the White House.

And yet, like Keyser Soze, such stories just vanished. George Bush, by then heir apparent to Reagan, was insulated from probing questions as he campaigned for president for the next two years. The one person who connected the CIA, NSA and the mercenary forces on the ground. Instead of being investigated he became president.

Robert Parry, an Associated Press reporter who investigated the Reagan-Bush administration’s secret support for the Contras, confirms Jeb Bush’s association with Contra supporters operating out of Miami. More recently, he recalled that one Nicaraguan businessman with close ties to both Jeb and the Contras told Parry that Jeb Bush was involved with a pro-Contra mercenary named Tom Posey, who was organizing groups of military advisers and weapons shipments. In 1988, Posey was indicted along with several other individuals on charges of violating the Neutrality Act and firearms laws. The charges were dismissed in 1989 when a federal judge ruled that the US was not "at peace" with Nicaragua.

Jeb was also integral in securing a number of “pardons” of Cubans involved in terrorist acts. A prominent example was his intervention to help release Cuban terrorist Orlando Bosch from prison and grant him US residency. A notorious figure, Bosch was convicted of firing a rocket at a Polish ship en route to Cuba and was implicated in many other acts of terrorism, including the 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane, which killed 73 civilians.

The Cubana Airlines bombing and several other major acts of terrorism by Cuban right-wingers occurred while George H.W. Bush was CIA director and was working closely with anti-communist Cuban exiles employed by the CIA, including Rodriguez, a close associate of Bosch’s alleged co-conspirator in the Cubana bombing Luis Posada Carriles.

Bosch’s release, often called a pardon by media, was the result of pressure by hardline Cubans in Miami -- with Jeb Bush as their point man. In July 2002, while he was Florida’s governor, Bush nominated Raoul Cantero, grandson of Cuba's deposed dictator Batista, as a Florida supreme court judge despite his lack of experience. Cantero had previously represented Bosch and acted as his spokesman, once describing Bosch on Miami radio as a "great Cuban patriot.”

Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana recounts that in 1984 Jeb “began a close association with Camilo Padreda, a former intelligence agent under the Batista dictatorship, overthrown by Fidel Castro. Jeb was then the chairman of the Dade county Republican party and Padreda its finance chairman.” Later, Padreda was convicted of defrauding the housing and urban development department of millions of dollars.

With baggage like this, it's hard to imagine Bush making it through the race -- or just the primaries -- without opening up his shady past. And as for improving relations with Cuba, at least Trump would just want his name on a casino.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pacifica Radio: What Went Wrong?

In late 2008, faced with layoffs, a crash crunch, lawsuits, and a long-term decline in listenership, the National Board of Pacifica Radio, the original listener-supported network, decided to seek a $1 million dollar loan, reportedly using station assets as collateral.

In response, Ricco Ross, chair of Los Angeles station KPFK-FM’s Local Board wrote to Chief Financial Officer Lonnie Hicks and the National Board, calling for greater transparency and consultation in such decision making, and asking sister stations in Berkeley, New York, Houston, and Washington, DC to stand with KPFK against the action.

The letter concluded: "This appropriation of station assets without notice and consultation sets a precedent that endangers every station in Pacifica." A motion passed by the KPFK LSB called for the National Board “to require a repair and repayment plan as a condition for its approval of any collateralized loan agreement." Almost a third of the loan would go toward payment of a smaller loan obtained the previous summer.

Since August, the organization’s Executive Director and Human Resources Director had resigned, staff was reduced at most stations, and many national staff positions were cut. On the other hand, CFO Hicks returned to work in October after a three month leave of absence. A new ED job description was written, but the search had yet to begin. Meanwhile, discussion forums speculated about receivership, bankruptcy, and breaking up the network. National Board Members and most managers remained silent.

At KPFA, the resignation of Business Manager Lois Withers was announced. According to an editorial posting on Pacificana, a KPFA-based online forum, “While Ms. Withers is known by many as capable and responsible in her position as Business Manager, the more recent memory of her tenure was marred by her role in escalating a simple volunteer matter into a disproportionate action of calling the Berkeley Police into the KPFA building and exacting violence on volunteer programmer, Nadra Foster. The original charges? Using the phones, and printing paper.”

A dispute also brewed over the KPFA Local Station Board’s decision to hold its November monthly meeting outside of the local signal area, along with postponement of the next meeting until January 2009. In New York, a lawsuit over the 2007 station board elections at WBAI had yet to be settled. Other lawsuits against stations and the network drove up legal costs. In Washington, DC, questions were being asked about the financial results of a 30th anniversary gala for WPFW.

Nevertheless, compared with recent news about station collapse and a phantom foundation set up to salvage what's left after bankruptcy and investigations, those were the good old days.

Such developments bring to mind my last in-person words to the PNB as Executive Director, delivered at a quarterly meeting in Los Angeles on July 27, 2007. I’d just come to an agreement with the Board on the terms of my departure; I’d offered to remain on the job until a thorough search could be done, and to help with a transition, but the Board passed on that option. Still, many of the problems and issues being discussed were addressed in that 12-minute report. It was, in abbreviated form, my basic assessment of Pacifica’s situation.

A financial crisis was likely and imminent, I said, but much could be done. Specific proposals to reform and revitalize Pacifica – many under discussion for years – were presented again. In short, the diagnosis was public and a plan was on the table. But some in governance and management weren’t persuaded, enough at least to make timely action next to impossible. Here’s what I said:

Report to the PNB, July 27, 2007

When I applied for this job, some of the Board members said that they were impressed with the fact that I’d studied the organization and its problems pretty seriously, and, in a sense, I got here by examining Pacifica as a journalist might and reflecting back to the Board what I’d found. Since then, however, there has been at times less interest in what I’ve learned by actually doing the job, and, at times, also limited enthusiasm for some of my proposals to address the problems that I’ve identified. But so it goes.

For the record, however, I’ve made several proposals and would like to reiterate them. I’ve suggested management reorganization, including more accountability of local management to national priorities and standards. There has been some controversy about that. I’ve advocated more aggressive and coordinated national programming, including a new national program and local programs carried by all sister stations, and national editorial priorities that are reflected in programming across the network. I’ve suggested that, like any other news organization, this one should have editorial priorities which change as circumstances change. Right now, I believe that those editorial priorities ought to be: ending the war on terror, health care for all, a restoration of democracy, and building ecological security. That is not to say that other issues and sub-issues are not also important. But these represent issues of great national concern, and which would – if reflected in national programming -- distinguish Pacifica as an independent radio network.

I have also argued for a serious investment, more serious than we have been able to provide so far, to technological re-tooling, including Internet channels with interactive content, more investment in new equipment, and increased distribution that empowers more listeners. I’ve suggested – and we are making some progress on this – more coordinated marketing and promotion with a serious and consolidated development and outreach budget, and training for affiliate stations. And finally, increased leadership within the independent media community, and work with other organizations on free speech campaigns.

But how has it gone? Slowly. Management organization has run up against concerns about local autonomy and, I think, a suspicion about the possibility that there could be another national power grab. Collaborative programming – we’ve made some improvements there, but there remains a sentiment that each station should control its own airwaves and that substantive changes should never be made without a long, thorough and, some would say, seemingly interminable process of consultation with many stakeholders.

Technological investment has been delayed by a tendency to create budgets from the bottom up, an approach that leaves overall issues that concern the national organization for last, and makes reductions in spending on network-wide needs the easiest solution when money is tight, as it is now. And coordinated marketing, which has been discussed with the term “branding,” has also proven difficult in an organization where no one really speaks for the organization without fear of being blindsided from within. There is not much consensus about image, except perhaps to be a passionate cheerleader for every good cause that comes along. I’m not denigrating those things, but a laundry list of causes is not a very effective way to market a radio network.

Meanwhile, Pacifica is grappling with several crucial issues: Adapting to fundamental changes in audio distribution, declining listenership and the erosion of Pacifica’s traditional revenue source, and, after five years with a new experimental structure, the need to make some serious adjustments. The current digital distribution project is an attempt to address one of these issues, and election-related bylaws changes acknowledge and address another. But declining audience and listener loyalty can only be fully addressed by looking hard at programming, and this is linked to unresolved questions about Pacifica’s mission and organizational structure.

Our CFO predicts that Pacifica is facing contraction and a cash crunch in the near future. But even if that doesn’t happen, and can be avoided in the next few months, the underlying problems remain and will resurface.

Earlier, I’ve mentioned that a re-evaluation of Pacifica’s mission is in order. This mission dates from Lew Hill’s 1946 prospectus for KPFA, arguably still the most crucial document in the organization’s history. One the key parts said that Pacifica would “engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between individuals of all nations, races, creeds, and colors; gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflicts between any and all such groups; and promote the study of political and economic problems, and the causes of religious, philosophical, and racial antagonisms.”

You know these words. This remains a fundamental philosophical statement for Pacifica. The idea behind these words is that peace can emerge from dialogue – that is, diverse groups openly communicating with one another. Not objective indisputable truth – none of us have that – an open exchange of ideas that helps us to know each other as human beings, dialogue that demonstrates the possibility that we can have peace in practice.

But today, too often, we have instead argument, an often angry struggle over ideology, airtime, and assigning blame that keeps Pacifica from creating constructive connections between people. On top of that we sometimes even have censorship; self-censorship actually, groupthink, avoidance of tough but necessary disagreement. So, I repeat: Pacifica’s mission needs serious study and reflection, a real long-overdue dialogue about the fundamental intentions of this organization – in this time.

The organization also needs a serious look at democracy as it is being practiced here. I hear it said that Pacifica is a “bold experiment,” a representative democracy of listeners. But to me it looks very much like a confederation, a very tentative association of communities –the stations – that view themselves as relatively sovereign, and operate under a common constitution – the bylaws – but with a weak central authority – the national office. My experience is that this structure makes it difficult to reach decisions, and to ensure that, even when decisions are made, that they’re actually carried out. It’s difficult to make even the simplest bylaw amendment, for example to increase efficiency, save money, or improve continuity.

The national organization is, by design, dependent on the stations, which view themselves as semi-independent. Without local cooperation and agreement, the central organization can’t provide essential services, and as a result, the funding of priorities like research, national infrastructure, development, and marketing is consistently neglected. In some quarters there is open hostility to the national organization, as if it’s some kind of parasite feeding off the stations. Therefore, it’s not very surprising that some managers and staff sometimes refuse to implement decisions made by the national board or national office.

In short, what I am saying, and what I have been saying for a year and a half, is that Pacifica’s confederal structure doesn’t work. For democracy to function compromise is essential. A minority that loses will only play along if it feels that the winning side is playing fair. This becomes difficult when groups adopt a stance of moral absolutism, or form factions. And we see both here. When factional disagreement becomes public and intense, the organization suffers from disunity, charges and counter-charges about the conduct of the elections, fraudulent or unethical conduct, and repeated attacks on so-called enemies. This is beginning to seriously undermine the legitimacy of the organization’s democratic process.

So, I ask you once again, as I asked when I traveled across the country: Are we running a media organization, or are we trying to build an alternative government? I hope it’s the former. ...

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my assessment of the situation, but I think it would be irresponsible if, after two years, I didn’t share with this community what I’ve learned and some of the reasons why I am leaving. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe a new Executive Director can make this organization work just as it is. I hope so, and I’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity to help. Pacifica remains, despite everything I’ve said, a unique and important institution, and I sincerely hope it will continue to make a significant contribution to lasting understanding between nations and people in the years ahead.

FURTHER PACIFICA READING: Check out Quiet Meltdown for more on the crisis; Planet Pacifica is the inside story of my early months as CEO, combined with episodes from Pacifica’s history. AUDIO: Report to the PNB, Greg Guma, July 27, 2007.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Debs and Sanders: Revolutionary Campaigners

To understand Bernie, consider Eugene Debs

“To me, socialism doesn’t mean state ownership of everything, by any means, it means creating a nation, and a world, in which all human beings have a decent standard of living.-- Bernie Sanders, 1990

Listen: Bernie reads Debs (from Sanders documentary)
Read more: 14 Things Sanders has said about socialism

Bernie Sanders has a plaque honoring Eugene Debs on the wall of his Senate office in Washington. It is an abiding admiration, stretching back decades. Before becoming Burlington mayor in 1981 -- but after four "third party" races for statewide office in the 1970s -- he produced and narrated a 28-minute documentary, Eugene V. Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary, 1855-1926.

For a better understanding of Sanders' philosophy and style, it helps to know a bit about the political figure he admired as a young radical in Vermont, during and after the Vietnam War.

A century ago, American politics was dominated by men who could command a public stage, telling jokes and stories with ease, making arguments and issuing indictments in long speeches. Of course, most of them relied on prepared remarks, but Eugene Debs seemed to speak from the heart. No tricks or effects, just electrifying straight talk.

Much like Bernie Sanders, Debs could inspire a crowd. He could be angry and funny, sarcastic and sentimental, sometimes poetic or even prophetic. But his target was always the same - big capitalists and their bankers, judges, politicians, editors, and even conservative unions leaders. He called on workers to join a moral struggle against "wage slavery." Industrialists were making a mockery of democracy, he charged, using their control of production to pervert the will of the majority.

For more than 30 years Debs was the most visible (and often controversial) spokesmen for a socialist vision in America. Critics said he was a menace, an apostle of anarchy and chaos. Eventually, he went to prison for his anti-war beliefs. In the end, the movement to free the presidential candidate who was simultaneously "democracy's prisoner" launched the American Civil Liberties Union and changed the terms of free speech during wartime.

In 1894, Debs first took center stage in the growing struggle between industrial capitalists and their workers. It was during one of the most dramatic and disruptive labor protests in American history -- the American Railway Union strike against the Pullman Palace Sleeping Car Company.

By 1901 he had moved from preaching about a cooperative commonwealth to openly promoting socialism as leader of the new Socialist Party of America. By then a "professional revolutionary," he ran for president every four years. The party had 150,000 members by 1912, and had elected hundreds of people as mayors, councilors, commissioners and state representatives. 

As the centerpiece of the ongoing Socialist campaign, Debs often toured the country in a Red Special railcar filled with posters, reporters and party dignitaries. At the height of the tours he gave hundreds of speeches a month, consistently mesmerizing his audiences. 

In 1912, Debs kicked off his fourth presidential campaign to a sold-out crowd in Madison Square Garden and received a half-hour standing ovation. It was the same everywhere he went.  He painted vivid word pictures of worker slaughter in mines and mills and the impending battle between "the multi-millionaire and the pauper." He touched an emotional core for anyone concerned about the new concentrations of wealth, even if they were skeptical about his socialism.

Part of the appeal was his claim to be part of the working class. Debs was largely self-educated and began working on the railroads at fourteen. From there he became a union leader. But his message also had appeal for middle class men and women (even though the latter couldn't yet vote). 

Critics saw socialism as an alien ideology, imported by immigrants. But Debs challenged that notion. He was a midwesterner, fighting capitalism in the spirit of Tom Paine and Walt Whitman. To back it up, he lived a conventional middle class life with his Kate in Terre Haute, Indiana, a small industrial city.

In the turning point presidential race of 1912, Debs argued that both Woodrow Wilson, the Democrat, and Theodore Roosevelt, running on his reform "Bull Moose" party platform, missed the main point -- that workers and owners were natural enemies with irreconcilable interests. Both were trying to ease the symptoms of injustice, but ignoring their cause.

That year Debs got almost a million votes, doubling his 1908 tally. It looked like the Socialist Party and Debs were here to stay. But then came World War I, and in its wake Debs ended up in federal prison in 1919 for speaking out against war. A year after that, as a movement built for his release, he ran for president again. Before the end of 1921, he was released by President Warren Harding.

Although Debs didn't get as far as Bernie Sanders in persuading Americans to join a political revolution and consider socialist solutions, he began the dialogue. Debs also provoked a national debate about the meaning of the First Amendment. In a post-war age of oppressive conformity, he sparked the birth of the modern civil liberties movement and convinced many people that society should better protect those who dissent, especially when they refuse to support the majority in the heat of war. 

It's easy to see why Bernie Sanders, already the longest serving Independent in US congressional history and leading US voice for democratic socialism today, still admires him. But he has some distance to go to match Debs' enduring impact and legacy.

(On this track, Bernie reads from a Debs speech in his 1970s documentary on the socialist leader.)