Michael Ratner Speaks Up

May 29, 2007

To the Editor:
>The assertion that the Democrats cannot overcome a presidential veto
>does not excuse their failure to set withdrawal dates. All financing
>for the war originates in the House; if the Democrats had tied
>financing of the war to a withdrawal timetable, a presidential veto
>would mean that the president had no money to fight the war.
>The House Democrats had the power to cut off or restrict financing;
>they failed to exercise it. The setting of benchmarks for the Iraqi
>government in the proposed bill is meaningless. The determination of
>whether Iraq meets those benchmarks is up to the president. Does anyone
>doubt what his determination will be?
>I have seen this before. Year after year in the 1980s, Congress
>mandated that the government of El Salvador meet certain human rights
>requirements and left the determination to the president. Year after
>year, despite no real improvement in human rights, the president
>dutifully certified the contrary, and the aid to El Salvador continued.
>Sadly, if the Democrats continue on their current course, the war will
>be with us for a very long time.
>Michael Ratner
>New York, May 23, 2007

Imagine a Man….

May 27, 2007

wealthy, successful, gifted, and strong.  He sees himself as an exceptionally good person, uniquely virtuous, his actions always guided by the highest purposes. It’s true that he has robbed and murdered several of his neighbors, burned down their homes, appropriated their land and pillaged their resources. But remember, he’s a man of unique virtue and high purpose, an exceptionally good person, at least in his own mind. What should we do with such a man?

History Lesson

May 27, 2007

Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri said that it was a bad idea for the Senate to investigate the prewar predictions by so-called and self-styled US intelligence agencies.  He called for the nation to stop rehashing past controversies and to focus on”the myriad of threats we face today.”Exactly!” as Stephen Colbert would say. It’s hard enough to keep things straight today, and if you add in yesterday and the day before, let alone last year, things just get too confusing.  Moving on.

Whenever the powerful announce that we’re in a crisis and that we don’t have time for discussion or consideration, that can be easily interpreted: don’t ask any questions; don’t think about it; shut up and get in line.

The US military is reported to be viewing “The Battle of Algiers,” the brilliant anti-imperialist film dramatizing the French occupation of Algeria, searching for lessons about how to be successful in an “counterinsurgency.”  The big lesson is of course beside the point: don’t invade another country; as soon as you put your first boot into foreign soil, you own every problem; your miserable humiliating defeat is inevitable, the only open question, at what cost?

Thanks to Grace Lee Boggs…a piece by James Boggs

May 26, 2007

As we commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion,
this article from  the Op-Ed page of the Sept. 23, 1972 New York Times
is worth revisiting. Jimmy was born May 28, 1919 and died July 22,

The black movement has gone through a number of stages in the last 15
years. First, there was the civil rights movement which reached a
critical stage with the Birmingham confrontations of 1963, and which
finally collapsed with the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King
Jr. in 1968. Then, there has been the black power movement which began
to rise with Malcolm in 1963-4, and which mushroomed into a national
movement following the Watts uprising of 1965 and the Newark and
Detroit rebellions of 1967.

Today we are still in the stage of trying to clarify what black power
means. At the present time most “movement” people are still in the
purely nationalist stage of black power. That is to say, most of those
who call themselves black power advocates are trying to find a solution
for blacks separate from a solution for the contradictions of the
entire United States. Actually this is impossible. Therefore, many
black nationalists are going off into all kinds of fantasies and dreams
about what black power means – like heading for Africa, or isolating
themselves in a few states, or whites just vanishing into thin air and
leaving this country to blacks.

We have yet to come face to face with our contradiction that just as
it has been on the backs of the black masses that this country has
advanced economically, so it is only under the revolutionary political
leadership of black people that this country will be able to get out of
its contradictions. We are hesitant to face up to this truth because it
is too challenging. We have the fear which always haunts the
revolutionary social forces, the fear of not  knowing whether they can
win, the lack of confidence in themselves and in their ability to
create a better society.

This is not a fear that is unique to blacks. All revolutionary social
forces have this fear as they come face to face with their real
conditions of life and the growing realization that they must assume
the revolutionary responsibility of changing the whole society, so that
their lives as well as those of others in the society can be
fundamentally changed. Because the task is so great, it becomes much
easier to evade the tremendous challenge and responsibility for
disciplined scientific thinking and disciplined political organization
which are necessary to lead revolutionary struggle.

Confronted with this political choice, many of those who have been
frustrated by the failure of the civil rights movement and the
succeeding rebellions to solve all our problems have begun to put
forward all kinds of fantastic ideas as to what we should now do. Some
say we should separate and return to Africa. Some say we should
separate but should remain here and try to build a new black capitalist
economy from scratch inside the most advanced and powerful capitalist
economy in the world! Some say we should join the Pan-African movement
of the African peoples in Africa and build a military base in Africa
from which we will eventually be able to attack the U.S.A.

Others say we should just struggle for survival from day to day, doing
whatever has to be done for survival. And finally, others have just
given up struggling for anything at all, and have turned to astrology
or drugs or religion in the old-time belief that some metaphysical
force out there in the twilight zone will rescue us from our dilemma.

We have to examine all these theories realistically and
scientifically—whatever their origin and whosoever is proposing them –
whether they are our friends or our relatives; whether or not they are
old comrades with whom we have demonstrated and gone to jail in the
past; whether or not we admire them for their past deeds or for their
charismatic personalities or because they make us feel good when we
hear them rapping against “the man.” All these personal considerations
are irrelevant measured against the real miseries of our present
conditions in this country and the real future which we must create for
ourselves and our posterity in this country. We live in this country,
our labors have laid the foundation for the growth of this country. Our
contradictions are rooted in this country’s unique development and can
only be resolved by struggles under our leadership to eliminate the
roots of these contradictions in this country.

As we look at our communities, looking more and more each day like
wastelands and fortresses, as we look at our younger brothers and
sisters scrambling and nodding on the streets of our communities, as we
think of the children whom we will be bringing into this world—we
cannot just grab on to any ideas of liberation just because they are
being pushed by old friends of ours or because they give us an
emotional shot in the arm.

We can start by categorically rejecting astrology, drugs, religion,
black capitalism, separatism and also all those messianic complexes
that someone else or we ourselves are going to become “the leader” whom
the black masses are waiting for, to lead them out of the wilderness of
their oppression. In other words, we can start by turning our backs on
all the various escape routes by which many people are still traveling,
in the vain hope that somehow they can evade grappling with the real
contradictions of this country, this society.

Pro-war, Anti-war…

May 23, 2007

The cowardly Democratic Party, one of the two major pro-imperialist parties in the US,  collapsed in the face of executive opposition to its wimpy time-table-for-withdrawal. The Democrats woofed noisily about the responsibility of the so-called Iraqi government, insisting that it step up and play its puppet  role more perfectly, and then settled back into their comfortable and customary scold-and-whine position. All the bluster might provide  (they hope) a little needed cover for the betrayal.

Billions more down the drain of war and conquest, murder, rape, torture, and theft. Bush wins, and the predictable result: no justice and no peace—unpopular power trumps popular will.

Let’s keep working for the day he’ll be held to answer as a war criminal. A day of both justice and peace.

Joel and I on C-SPAN, and his resonse to a viewer

May 23, 2007

Dear Mr. Wood,

Thank you for your note.  If the C-Span discussion came across as sounding like I advocate one particular political position that schools should promote, that’s unfortunate.  I don’t.  I advocate for free and open exchange of ideas, especially controversial ones — that’s how you teacher students about democracy.  You might like to read the introduction to the book where I outline some reasons I think the conversation is currently biased in schools and why it shouldn’t be. Or my chapter in the book called “Politics and Patriotism in Education.”  You’d also enjoy Gerald Graff’s chapter: “Another Way to Teach Politically Without P.C.: Teaching the Debate About Patriotism.”  It’s the debate that we all want taught, not a particular position.

I’m against indoctrination as I’m sure you are and that’s why I’m concerned about the way these discussions are censored in schools.  I’d like it if people like you and I could appear together in classrooms after the pledge is recited and talk about the pledge and why each of us thinks it’s important, who doesn’t, why, its history, and so on. If you’re interested in more of what I think on this (and I realize you may not be), here are a few links to articles that are related:


In particular:
– The Kappan special issue on democracy and civic engagement
– “Reconnecting Education to Democracy: Democratic Dialogues”
– “The Politics of Civic Education”
– “Teaching Democracy: What Schools Need to Do”
– “Educating the ‘Good’ Citizen: Political Choices and Pedagogical Goals”
– “Education for Democracy”

As you expected, it’s a bit lengthy to get into a discussion on school choice.  Suffice it to say, there are now a growing number of studies that show clearly who benefits if school choice includes private school choice: wealthy students, at the expense of poorer ones. From my reading of the research, voucher systems that include taking the money away from desperately underfunded public schools are (mostly) a cynical effort to simply end public education in the U.S.A. — even though public schools are one of the most successful social institutions in the history of the country (read, for example David Tyack’s The One Best System or Tinkering Toward Utopia — two excellent books).  I’m all for some choice within the public school systems.  There are many excellent theme-based public schools out there and we should support them.

With best regards,

Joel Westheimer, Professor
University Research Chair in Democracy and Education
Director, Democratic Dialogue
University of Ottawa (Ontario)

“They Think We Want to Take Over Their Country”

May 18, 2007

said an army officer incredulously as he led the search in Iraq for 3 missing GI’s. He couldn’t believe the lack of cooperation from local people in helping locate his comrades.

Most Iraquis have concluded that the US wants to take over their country. Aside from empty platitudes about democracy and freedom, what exactly is the evidence to the contrary?

Wolfowitz, War Criminal

May 18, 2007

Paul Wolfowitz resigned from the World Bank after careful negotiations in which the bank’s board noted that his mistakes were in “good faith.” How nice.

His “ethical mis-step” involved getting his girlfriend a nice job and good pay. Period. He engineered the unfolding nightmare in Iraq, led the decimation of worker’s rights and the deepening emisseration of the poor around the world in the name of “restructuring,” oversaw huge transfers of wealth from the Third World to the imperial headquarters, and this was the best the board could do? Well, of course, on those deeper and more fundamental ethical issues the board is in full agreement with Wolfowitz. It’s a through-the looking-glass world, and any hope for ethical clarity from those gangsters is a fool’s errand.

Let’s look forward to the day Wolfowitz will be tried as a war criminal. Let’s work for peace, and let’s never forget.


May 16, 2007

The prewarUS goal (!!) of three million barrels of Iraqui oil production a day has never come close, and now a new government report estimates that between $5 and $15 million dollars a day of declared oil production has gone missing over the four years of occupation. Billions in theft and graft. Like we don’t know.

Needless Killing

May 13, 2007

I heard an interview with an American in Iraq who claimed that the Marines deplored all “needless killing.” Well, of course. But how to seperate the needless from the other kind— the killing most needful? If you buy the Big Lie that got the US to Iraq in the first place the distinction may seem reasonable if bizarre, otherwise it’s the rantings of a madman, a down-the-rabbit-hole picture of the world, his brain on drugs. It’s all needless, all the blood and destruction on the hands of Bush and Cheney to start.

The American went on to express sympathy for the troops, noting that he knew “the pressure they’re under.” Hmmmm? Pressure  from Bush? From Big Oil? And by the way, any sympathy for the pressure experienced by the people living under the boot of occupation?

He answered that— cliche alert— “this is a new kind of war” because it’s a “counter-insurgency” (see, e.g., Viet Nam, Algeria, India, Afghanistan, Mozambique…).  He elaborated by way of a Marine slogan he’d learned: “Be kind and courteous, and plan to kill anyone you meet.”

Americans abroad.