Tuesday, December 04, 2007

UPDATE: Baby Bonds Coming Back to Bite Hillary in the Butt?

You may recall my post of about a month ago in which I wrote of my disappointment with HRC for conceding the "baby bond" program idea so easily to the Republicans. Well, it turns out I wasn't the only one who noticed her lack of spine. A left leaning group in Iowa has unveiled the first independently funded ad of the 2008 election season, and it attacks Hillary Clinton for --- you guessed it --- throwing out the baby bond with the bathwater --- and backing down to Giuliani in the process. "Is this the kind of Democrat you want as president of our country?"the Democrats for Courage ask. It is a fine question with only weeks until the caucuses.

Check it ot here at ABAUM'S WORLD>

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Two New Videos Featuring Yours Truly

For those of you who are keeping track, my job has recently given my a few opportunities to appear in digital media, on the comcast network and more recently on YouTube. Below, please enjoy these two videos in which I make an appearance. The first is a video put together by Comcast about City Year's Opening Day in Washington DC. It has been put up on Comcast's website and I believe is available on Comcast On Demand. This is a great, short clip that will give you a lot of context into what I am doing this year in DC:

Opening Day 2007

This second clip is a really cool video put together by some arab-american filmmakers at powershift 2007, the largest gathering to specifically focus on stopping global warming in American history. It was an inspiring, powerful event, and I was really honored to participate in this video, an opportunity afforded to me by the always-wonderful Jeff Arak, who worked round on the clock as one of the over 100 film-makers in attendance. This one is really enjoyable, and Josh "brownies" Kahn Russel of Brandeis fame also makes an appearance!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On More Than Just Baby Bonds, Clinton Disappoints

For a while there, I was beginning to believe Hillary Clinton was a good choice for the Democratic nomination. But a small little story published today about her shifting position on "baby bonds" speaks volumes about her fecklessness, her political unreliability, and even the quality of her judgment.

For the majority of people who are probably unaware of what the "baby bond" idea is and anything about Hillary's position on the subject, here's a quick recap. A few months ago, Time magazine ran a much-discussed cover story about the future of National Service in America, and issued a ten-point plan for making it a defining characteristic of our national life (a goal which, as an AmeriCorps Member, I most whole-heartedly endorse). Of these goals, one of the most innovative an exciting is to set aside a $5000 for every child born in America, that will accrue interest at an average rate of about 7% and be accessible by the individual after they turn 18 if an only if they do a year of national service. Currently, AmeriCorps members receive a $4725 educational stipend at the end of their year of service that can only be out toward education. The baby bond initiative would take roughly the same amount of money and put it as a kind of "down-payment" on every American citizens future. It would create a tremendous incentive for our citizens to serve their country, and the bonds of those who reject service will be returned to the Treasury.

I think this would be an ingenious way to invest in our people, encourage national service, and bring Americans together in a way that will strengthen our communities and better the civic life of our nation. Which is why I got so excited when just a few weeks ago, Hillary Clinton spoke openly about her support for a baby bond program at a Congressional Black Caucus forum, saying, "I like the idea of giving every baby born in America a $5,000 account that will grow over time. So, when that young person turns 18, if they have finished high school, they will be able to access it to go to college or maybe they will be able to put that down payment on their first home, or go into business."

At the time, I was excited about the prospect of the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination speaking publicly about an idea I support, but I was also troubled to a certain extent by the missing tie to national service. In Clinton’s words, Time’s carefully constructed baby bond program for National Service was turned into another automatic entitlement. It lost all sense of social responsibility, and I believe it is for this reason that even Democrats polled week rejected the idea, with 38% in favor and 47% opposed. However, I tried to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt; obviously, I thought, she knew that the idea for baby bonds was intimately connected to the dire need to engage our citizens in national service, and thus remained both heartened by the boldness of her words and enthusiastic about her future endorsement of this wonderful initiative.

How quickly I was proven wrong. Only weeks after rolling out the baby bonds idea, Hillary caved to political pressure from Republicans and poll numbers suggesting Americans weren’t enthusiastic about the baby bonds idea. So, to use the words of a campaign spokesman for John Edwards, “new polling data seems to have pressured the Clinton campaign to throw out the baby bond with the bathwater.” She’s ditched the baby bond idea and is now testing out an idea for helping people put money into their 401(k) accounts, for retirement.

Sadly, all this shifting on a proposal she herself introduced only a few weeks ago seems to confirm the fact that Hillary Clinton is a political opportunist who will pursue whatever the polls tell her is right, and even worse, will favor timid, incrementalist approaches to government that will fail to assertively fix the many challenges we face as a nation. Of course if Hillary gets the nomination, Democrats should support her - I’m not saying she’s worse than any single Republican running - but right now, at primary season, I suggest we all take a long hard look at Hillary Clinton, and decide if she, and not Obama, Edwards or even Richardson, would really be the best choice to nominate in 2008.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Police State much?

What is even more disturbing than the fact that a UF student was tasered by police for asking John Kerry a question at a student forum this week is that hundreds of students stood by and did nothing while this occurred.

It is terrifying to imagine that we live in a country where the basic freedom of speech can be so repressed.

Watch the video here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Politics of Protest - a personal account

As September approaches and the Jewish High Holidays near, a time of reckoning will come not only for Jews, but for every citizen of America, as it is in this month when General Petraeus will deliver his report to Congress on the state of the war in Iraq, and some hard decisions about when and how to begin bringing our troops home may finally be made. As we make our way into our fifth year at war in Iraq, American troops continue to die (over 3700 to date), and they continue to be injured at an average rate of well over 100 a week (25,000 injuries since the war began).

The bleak reality of this cycle of death and despair was made all the more poignant for me today at a MoveOn political protest I attended this evening with my roommate, Josh, and our friend Tomer, two fellow Jews from Miami. It was a day of striking juxtapositions. In the morning, I arrived on a Capital Hill shrouded in intrigue and scandal, the impact of a freshly retired attorney general nearly outweighed by news of Republican Senator Craig's gay bathroom sex scandal. It was a sour day for Republicans, and as I gave a tour of the Capital to my roommate later that afternoon, I swaggered with a certain sense of ownership and pride. My guys were winning. Perhaps, for once, justice was being done.

After work, we walked down Pennsylvania Avenue for happy hour at Hawk and Dove, where Tomer met us for a few beers and a ripe political discussion. As usual, it was about the war - specifically, the incredible waste of resources and live squandered so recklessly (even criminally) by this Administration. By 6:30, I was excitedly leading the way to the political protest planned for 7 o'clock this evening, where we would have the opportunity to stand in the shadow of the Capital and demand our troops be returned safely home soon.

The protest was situated at the foot of the reflecting pool that glimmers before the imposing dome of the Capital's Western Terrace. On a strip of grass made lush by the summer's humid breath stood dozens of citizens with red and yellow signs calling for our troop's return home. A makeshift staging area with four large speakers stood facing the Washington Monument, while on the opposing street, a handful of overweight white men flew American flags, waved angry placards and screamed right-wing vitriol at the peacefully assembled crowd. The weather turned a gorgeous summer dusk, the warm breeze and clear August sky a gentle contrast to the abrasive conservatives howling at the other end of the field. By 7:15, the crowd had swelled to well over 100 people, who respectfully listened to a young woman state the purpose of the rally: to send a clear message to Congress that Iraq is a militarilly unwinnable religious civil war from which our troops should be extracted with deliberate safety and haste.

we were arranged in small groups, in circles of ten to fifteen a peice, and handed pamphlets listing, in chronological order beginning on January 1st of this year, the amount of American servicemen and women killed in Iraq, day by day, with the names of their hometowns and states listed after each date. The number of Americans injured each week, a number that averages well over a hundred for the last six nine months, was listed at the end of each seven day period. Our task allowed us a simple way to recognize the sacrifice who have so valiantly given their lives for this terrible war: read the numbers and cities, and grasp the enormity of the loss to our nation. I stood next to Tomer and Josh, and began reading the first two-week period.

As the pamphlet made its way around the circle, and others I do not know took their turns at the page, I was particularly moved by the sincere anguish in their voices, and the simple drama of their simplest actions: the trembling tenor of a woman in her fifties, whose continuous efforts to light the candle extinguishing in the wind seemed akin to the efforts of a heartbroken generation, who have tried to light the flame of peace only to see it snuffed out again and again; a wise old white-haired man, moved to speak out by the repeated mention of his hometown of Santa Fe, whose straining eyes turned to tears at the thought of the poor, young Hispanics dying in disproportionately large numbers intensified his feelings of injustice. It took us nearly 25 minutes to read all the names, in a solemn ceremony that drove home the real cost of this losing war.

After finishing our task, the group reassembled for a final moment, to gather our resolve and observe a moment of silence for the fallen. As we took our leave from the Capital, I felt sad, yet resolute - still cynical about our prospects for getting this callous Adminstration to fulfill the will of the American people and effect a change in our Iraq policy, yet strangely renewed in my faith in our democracy. Together, Tomer, Josh and I made our way back towards Pennsylvania Avenue, and a subway ride home. What I didn't know is that in minutes, I would be involved in a confrontation that would once again shake my faith in the security of the liberties we take for granted - to assemble and speak freely without fear.

As we approached the Metro stop near the National Archives, the robust sounds of symphonic band filled the air with a majestic luster. Sure enough, it was the Navy band, giving a free concert to what must have been at least 500 people standing in a semi-circle in the large rotunda directly in front of the stone columns of the National Archives. As we approached the area to catch a glance of the action, the signs in my hands seemed to raise themselves high up over my head. As I passed a homeless black man sitting off to the side of the show, he called out "that's right! It's Vietnam all over again - I fought there ya know..." He must have been responding to my signs, the first a simple message written in block white letters against a bright red background: "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS. BRING THEM HOME." The second, more complex poster features a yield sign reading "IRAQ WAR ------- WRONG WAY." Around this red dot, in blue letters against a yellow background, reads the slogan "Keep 'em safe. Bring 'em home."

With these signs in my hand, I hopped atop a marble structure upon which many people were sitting, and defiantly raised my signs up over the heads of the crowd. I held them above the tops of the white flags held in neat rows by the members of the Navy, and kept them proudly displayed for the duration of our National Anthem, which accompanied the presentation of the American flag by naval officers in crisp white uniforms before the attentive masses. Nearly all the people there had their heads forward, watching the pomp of the band at play, and payed no notice to my quiet presence at the back of the crowd. Yet within a minute and a half, three burly federal officers in plainclothes were standing behind me, and though I tried to avoid their presence, I could not ignore the largest gentleman say in a quiet, yet firm tone, "Sir, you have the right to protest, but not here."

I stepped down from the platform, taking the signs into my hands, and respectfully approach the three men in gray suits seeming to tower above me.

"What seems to be the problem, officers?"

The black man who initially spoke to me took a step back, and a more aggressive, hostile white man standing in the middle (the other mens' superior) took a step forward to declare "you can either roll that up and stay here to enjoy the concert, or leave."

"I don't understand," I replied, being careful to speak in a friendly, calm tone, "I'm just standing here quietly holding my sign. I'm not disturbing anyone. Don't I have a constitutional right to assemble?"

"You have rights," the black officer interjected, seemingly sympathetic to my cause, "but you can't do protest here. This is federal property."

The increasing ridiculousness brought an awkward smile to my face, "but sir, then shouldn't that allow me to stand here all the more? This is public land. I wish I had a copy of the constitution, so I could show it to you right here. I have a right to assemble, to free speech!"

"Not without a permit" was the reply. "You can't do that here."

"What if I was wearing a t-shirt that had this slogan on it. Would you throw me out then?"

"I'm not going to explain it to you anymore," the man in the center snapped, his blood pressure rising visibly.

"Sir," I replied, "this just doesn't seem right. I'm simply asking you why I, a citizen of this country, am not aloud to peaceably demonstrate my right to free speech on public land."

"I'm not going to argue with you, I'm not explaining it to you" he repeated.

I, too, was becoming increasingly incensed. "I suppose if this sign just said 'Support the Troops,' but not 'Bring Them Home,' then that would be acceptable here, right?"

"Yes," the black man replied.

"I see. So I just can't do this in front of them," I said, gesturing to the members of our armed forces lined up before us, the music swelling in the background; "they're the ones I want to protect! I want them safe. I want them home."

"I'm not going to tell you again," the man in the middle almost shouted, "I'm not going to argue with you. Either roll up those signs or go."

"Come on guys," I said to Tomer and Josh, who had stood quietly to the side observing the events as they unfolded, "this isn't right. Let's go home."

As we made our way deep into the subway, I seethed with anger and disappointment. This is our country, a place where a citizen cannot peaceably express in public a view shared by more than 2/3 of the American people? A place where a law abiding patriot is threatened and nearly arrested for merely holding a sign? I berated myself for not being braver and sticking up for my principles; "I should have been arrested tonight. All I had to do was refuse to roll up my signs, and I would be sitting in the back of a cop car right now, on my way to get booked in the local DC jail. It would have been awful; it would take hours to process me, and then you guys would have had to have bailed me out," I said to Josh, "and then I would have had to call my lawyer, and fight this charge. And for what? A gesture, however meaningful, that would have caused me great discomfort and expense, that would go entirely unnoticed."

Well, it is my hope that by telling this story on my blog, it will not go unnoticed. Citizens of America: we must demand our rights and continuously renew our commitment to retaining them, or they will be taken from us. We must be ever vigilant. Real patriots, regardless of political affiliation, should know this much is true.

I am attaching a copy of the First Amendment for your reading pleasure. I'd love to hear your comments on how you think that actions these officers took that night in any way reflect the values enshrined in this sacred text.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Political Meditation on the Recent Threat by Chinese Leaders to Use the "Nuclear Option" of Dollar Sales

Some of the unfortunate side effects of our expensive, illegitimate war on Iraq include having racked up a massive amount of debt from our "enemies" to finance a war against our other "enemies;" borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. That's what we've done with China and Iraq, racking up nearly a trillion dollars in foreign debt to China while spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a war of choice in Baghdad. That's right: we've racked up over a trillion dollars in foreign debt to a Communist dictatorship that tramples on human rights and whose trade with Sudan accounts for nearly 80% of the genocidal government’s financing.

Now, for the first time ever, the Chinese government has threatened to use their nearly trillion dollar US bond holdings as a "bargaining chip" in talks with the US. Translation: if we try to put pressure on Beijing to do any number of things to advance the American cause of liberty and justice in the world --- cutting off finances to the Sudanese Government, ending the detention and live-organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China, or adopting any number of religious and political freedoms --- they can threaten to engage in a massive sell off of US Bonds that could cause our economy to collapse. The blundering foreign and economic policies of the Bush era have given the Chinese yet another weapon in their diplomatic arsenal to wield as a means of continuing their immoral behavior. What’s worse, our continued borrow-and-spend war policy could even put the United States in a position where the Chinese could use their bond holdings as blackmail to extract deep concessions from the United States, putting our whole country at risk.

Then there's Iraq --- if you can still even call this 19th century hodgepodge held together by guns and oil for a handful of generations a country. It has split into armed camps, torn by civil war, with Shiites controlling the South, Kurds establishing a precarious autonomy in the North, and the battleground in the center. The situation there has so fully deteriorated that even today, two million are internally displaced, another two million have fled the country entirely, and over half a million people have died either directly by insurgent or American violence, or indirectly, by the disease and starvation that has crippled the country under American occupation. To quote a recent article by Chris Hedges, the former Middle East Bureau Chief of the New York Times, “one in three Iraqis are in need of emergency aid, but the chaos and violence is so widespread that assistance is impossible. Iraq is in a state of anarchy. The American occupation forces are one more source of terror tossed into the caldron of suicide bombings, mercenary armies, militias, massive explosions, ambushes, kidnappings and mass executions.” It’s a bloody mess that has taken the lives of nearly 3700 American soldiers and wounded tens of thousands more; a military adventure that has squandered hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money and an immeasurable amount of political capital fighting a battle that has weakened our reputation and position of power on the global stage and, most disturbingly, bred a new generation of Arabs that view America with fear and suspicion.

Others countries are taking note. They see America vulnerable and weak, losing a war it never should have waged, and suddenly, our enemies have multiplied, and our so-called friends make increasingly daring political moves that threaten the National Security and Economy of our nation. For it is not only in China where Human Rights are being abused by a country we both trade and compete with. From Russia to Venezuela, we have seen the increasingly aggressive and anti-democratic posturing of so-called democratic countries that have used American disregard for law and freedom to justify their own guilty ways. America, a country that should serve as a beacon to the nations, has spent six years showing us her dark side, and neither she nor the world are better for it.

It is time for a new, real change of direction in this country, not just in Iraq, but in the way our Politics works. We need politicians who are going to be honest and transparent with the American people; women and men who will soberly assess the myriad of challenges facing us both at home and abroad and attack them as problems which can be solved with hard work, shared sacrifice, and a recommitment to the fundamental ideals that make our nation great: liberty and justice for all. That is why it is so essential for us to elect the right President in 2008 – not just a Republican or Democrat, but an individual who will lead our country forward with the best interests of the American people at heart. It must be a person willing to change course in Iraq and restore our place on the world stage while remaining vigilant against our enemies, devise solutions to closes the disgraceful gaps in education and healthcare that prevent all American from succeeding, and rally the world to solve the climate crisis. Furthermore, this person must do it in a way that unites the American people around a common sense of purpose and resolve.

When I look at the Democratic field of candidates, I see several individuals who I believe posses the character and intelligence to meet this historic challenge; on the Republican side, I see a pack of angry old white men whose fear-mongering and jingoistic sloganeering represent the death throes of an old kind of Politics that no longer has a place in the United States of America. In 2008, we the people have no choice. We must form a more perfect union. With so many challenges facing our country in the coming decades, it is no longer a matter of choice; it is an ultimatum.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Fourth of July I Will Never Forget

A pretty amazing, true story about what happened to me this July 4th in DC. Already posted on the face, here it is for the world to enjoy.

Today was my first Independence Day in Washington DC, and it leaves me with a wonderful story to tell. This afternoon, David and I set out for a day on the National Mall, to take part in the many festivities going on there. We arrived by the capitol in the early afternoon, and by 4:15 had made our way to a stage set up between the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool, where the Navy Band was giving a performance. We sat down to enjoy the show around 4:15 with Kate, a coworker from my office, until the performance was cut short at 5:00, with an announcement that heavy thunderstorms were moving into the area, and the entire mall was to be closed. All were advised to find shelter in various museums and government agencies until the storm passed.

David and I set out for Independence Avenue, and soon found ourselves sitting in the lobby of the Holocaust Museum, of all places. There we sat for a good twenty minutes folding paper cranes while people continued to gather in the hall. Suddenly, there was an announcement; all were glad to hear that we were being moved from the hard stone floor of the lobby to the two theaters in the building, where we could more comfortably- and safely- wait out what had quickly turned from a thunderstorm to a tornado warning.

Soon we were sitting among around 500 people in the largest auditorium in the Holocaust Museum. At the front of the room, a young woman on the museum staff led the visitors inside with a firm voice, and then proceeded to answer questions from the audience (about anything but the weather). As Dave and I sat in one of the back rows, I had an idea: wouldn’t it be fun for all of us to seize the spirit of the day and sing some patriotic songs together? It seemed like a fanciful idea, but David prodded me on. “Just go up to the lady at the front of the room and ask her. You can do it.” I thought, what the hell. It’s the Fourth of July. We should be celebrating! After a few more moments of deliberation, I stood up and made my way to the front of the crowded auditorium, where I asked the young woman if I could ask the audience if they would like to be led in song. Before she could give me a firm answer, her boss came into the room, to give everyone more information about the situation and the weather. After six or seven minutes, he made his way out, and I, perched at the bottom of the stairs, stood up to once again lay claim to the stage. “Sure,” she said, “go ahead. Just don’t expect me to get involved.”

So I hopped up on the stage, introduced myself to the audience, and asked them if they would like to join me in a few patriotic songs to celebrate our country on this Independence Day. With smiles and voices of assent, the crowd cheered me on, as I led them in a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.” Following that, I polled the audience, and suggestions from the crowd had us singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” (twice!) and “America the Beautiful.” Then, I had a simple idea; how about singing our National Anthem? With loud exclamations of approval, I asked the crowd to stand and remove their hats, and invited anyone with an American flag to join me up on the stage. As hundreds came to their feet, about a dozen individuals- older women, fathers, children- joined me up on the stage with their flags waving. Together, we put our hands on our hearts and sang a stirring rendition of the National Anthem.

With the song over, I thanked the crowd, took a polite bow, and made my way back up to my seat in the back next to David. A security guard came over and asked me for my name and address so the Museum could send me a thank you note. We left shortly thereafter- the storm cleared up, and we ended up enjoying a most magnificent fireworks show in front of the reflecting pool- but for the rest of the day, I could not get the smile off my face, nor will I ever forget the wonderful opportunity I took to turn frustration into celebration this July 4th in the Holocaust Museum.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

read a poem!

Sure its the kind of cheeseball rhymer your high school English teacher made you read... but admit. Who hasn't at some point had a bit of a love affair with the beautiful Annabel Lee, in her sepulchre there by the sea?
We could all use some more poetry in our lives.

Annabel Lee

It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.

For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It isn't every day a US president apologizes to you personally...

But it happened to me today.
Check out this article in the Washington Post. The Brandeis "some student" who asked the question to Carter about page 213? Me.
Cool huh?

Jimmy Carter's 'Peace' Mission To Brandeis
Ex-President Still Stands by His Controversial Palestine Book

By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; C01

WALTHAM, Mass., Jan. 23 -- Former president Jimmy Carter flew north to Brandeis University to speak on Tuesday of his hurt at the personal attacks by some American Jews that followed publication of his latest book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," which urges Israel to turn away from a policy of creating "Bantustans" on the West Bank.

"This is the first time that I've ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward and a plagiarist." Carter paused and squinted at the audience. "This has hurt me."

At the same time, he acknowledged, with a flash of his trademark smile, that he did not simply stumble into the title of his new book. "I can see it would precipitate some harsh feelings. I chose that title knowing that it would be provocative."

Provocative mission accomplished.

Carter, who won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize partly for brokering peace between Israel and Egypt in 1998, has a long history of involvement in the Middle East. But the former president has encountered much criticism since the publication of his latest book, in which his frustration with the current Israeli policy in the West Bank is palpable. In particular, he has attracted much anger for his use of the word "apartheid," redolent as it is of South Africa's policy of state-sanctioned racism.

Fourteen members of the board of the Carter Center at Emory University in Atlanta recently resigned in protest, and several expressed particular disappointment with the use of the word "apartheid."

Carter did not step back from the word Tuesday. He noted that he and his successors, notably Bill Clinton, have tried and failed to nudge the Palestinians and Israelis toward a lasting peace. The last six years, he said, have been marked by failure on all sides. The administration of George W. Bush all but abandoned such efforts, putting the onus on the Palestinians to turn their back on PLO leaders and now the fundamentalist Islamic Hamas leadership. And the Israelis, too, have all but abandoned negotiation, he said, turning instead to the building of walls.

Carter spoke of Israeli's decision to build barriers and set aside certain highways for Israelis only as creating a "spider web" that constricts and divides historic Arab lands. The West Bank, he said, has become a place of "Bantustans, isolated cantons," referring to the territories created for black South Africans under apartheid. He noted that many liberal Israelis, from newspaper journalists to professors to peace activists, also refer to Israeli policy on the West Bank as apartheid, albeit a policy grounded not in racism but in a religion-based desire to control land.

Israelis "have all used and explained the word 'apartheid' in much harsher words than mine," Carter said.

The Israeli government and others have defended the barriers as a successful tool to prevent suicide bombings against civilians. Fatalities from such bombings have fallen by 90 percent since the construction of the barriers, according to government officials.

Carter referred several times to the fact that his arguments might stir anger in a largely Jewish audience. But the former president received a mostly polite reception at Brandeis, a nonsectarian college founded by Jews where 50 percent of the students are Jewish. Students and faculty gave him a standing ovation at the beginning and end of his talk. But in between he received a number of tough questions. As a moderator noted, "There are not too many matzoh balls coming your way."

In particular, some students challenged Carter on a sentence that has brought him much grief. On Page 213 of his book, Carter wrote: "It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel."

This sentence, the students noted, suggests that suicide bombings are a tactic of war, to be suspended only when peace is achieved. Carter agreed -- and apologized -- and said this sentence was a great mistake on his part.

"The sentence was worded in an absolutely improper and stupid way," Carter said. "I apologize to you and to everyone here . . . it was a mistake on my part."

He added that Palestinians who embrace terrorism draw no support from him. Calls for the destruction of Israel, he said, "are completely obnoxious to me. I would have no brief for them and no sympathy for them."

But Carter insisted that one botched line in his book should not drain his larger argument of its power. He urged Brandeis to send a delegation of students and professors to the West Bank and to report back on their findings. "You decide if I was accurate," he said, leaving little doubt as to what he thought they would find.

It was an argument that left more than a few students shaking their heads afterward. They said Carter is not quite so rare a voice on college campuses as he might imagine. They said they were familiar with his arguments and acknowledge some of the criticisms of Israel.

Yuval Brokman, a 20-year-old junior majoring in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, said, "He underestimates how hard it is for Israel to live in that part of the world. It's ridiculous to think that they have a choice. The Palestinian people have been oppressed more by their own leaders."

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Great Crime of the Century: Global Warming and Exxon Mobile's Fraud

I've been down in New Orleans the last week trying to help reconstruction in the Gulf Coast region, on a mission with Brandeis and National Hillel. The place is still a disaster area; people are saying its going to be 5, 7, even 10 years before the situation is as close to as good as it was pre-Katrina. Despairingly, I have also encountered the fear of some that New Orleans may soon be forever lost; that a rise in sea level of even a few feet worldwide could render the city completely uninhabitable. Please read this recent interview with the Executive Director of Greenpeace, as he provides tremendous insight into our present situation and the forces keeping us from confronting it with integrity and seriousness.

Monday, January 8th, 2007

Global Warming Heat Wave? January Temps Hit Record Highs Across Northeast

Temperatures this weekend reached record highs across the Northeast climbing to 72 degrees in New York and New Jersey and hitting almost 70 in Boston and Connecticut. The world's 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1994 with 2006 the sixth warmest on record. We take a look at global warming with Greenpeace USA executive director, John Passacantando. [includes rush transcript]
Britain's Meteorological Office predicted that 2007 is likely to be the hottest year since record-keeping began in the mid 1800's. The organization cited rising temperatures due to global warming from greenhouse gases and human activity - combined with the naturally occurring El Nino- as likely to break the earth's temperature record this year. The world's 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1994 with 2006 the sixth warmest on record.

Just recently, the Bush administration, under the threat of a lawsuit, agreed to declare polar bears an endangered species. The bears' arctic habitat has experienced declining ice coverage due to global warming.

Greenpeace was one of three organizations that filed a lawsuit against the government. We speak with John Passacantando, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA.

AMY GOODMAN: John Passacantando is the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. He joins us in the studio from Washington, D.C. Welcome to Democracy Now!, John.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, first of all, this record heat that we’re experiencing in the Northeast, can you talk about the crisis of global warming now?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Well, with no particular weather event can we say this is from global warming, but what we can say from a heat wave like we're experiencing in the East is that this is exactly what the scientists have been telling us to expect from global warming: not only increasing temperatures, but disturbed weather patterns and much warmer winters. Now, while some people have been sunbathing this weekend and enjoyed the warmer weather, most people understand that there's something very wrong with this, that this effects the size of the insect populations we're going to see in the spring. It's going to affect birds when they migrate. It's going to effect so many things. It’s going to effect when water falls and when reservoirs are filled, and that throwing this kind of wrench into our climate systems is a very dangerous thing.

AMY GOODMAN: The polar bear, explain what your lawsuit was about.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Well, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the National Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace launched a -- we proposed that the US government list the polar bear as endangered or threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. The Environmental Protection Agency dragged its feet on this for a full year and didn't rule on this until the very last day, when -- we had sued them, and they were forced to rule on this and has now proposed that the polar bear be listed as threatened. They now have a year to come up with a management plan.

The difficulty the government is in is that this is the first time the Endangered Species Act has been used to protect a critter -- in this case, the polar bear -- from global warming. In other words, not from a localized impact of losing land to developers, for example, but in this case, from losing ice pack that the polar bears need to survive in the Arctic, which was at a record level of shrinkage in 2005 and a near record in 2006. So the government, on the one hand, is saying we are going to ultimately list the polar bears as threatened. On the other hand, the government is speaking out of the other side of its mouth, saying we're still not sure if global warming is happening or what exactly the impacts are.

AMY GOODMAN: Right now, Greenpeace has experienced an IRS audit. Can you talk about what you went through and who you think was behind what happened to you?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Well, it's very clear, and it ties to the larger story about global warming. Why has the United States been so far behind the other industrialized nations in recognizing that global warming is from our emissions, CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels, and so far behind taking actions? It comes down to a concerted effort by companies like ExxonMobil. Our records at Greenpeace show -- and this is all documented on a research website called exxonsecrets.org -- that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil funded groups that were going to be skeptical of global warming, in some cases lie about the truth about global warming, gave them almost $20 million to confuse the American public about global warming.

Greenpeace, being one of the groups that was exposing these lies, ExxonMobil -- it was later found -- created a small group called Public Interest Watch. Public Interest Watch in 2004 wrote a completely erroneous report that said Greenpeace was doing illegal things with its money. This report instigated an IRS audit that Greenpeace went through for a three-month period in 2005. Greenpeace came through this audit with flying colors, but what we later learned, a Wall Street Journal reporter found that ExxonMobil funded the group that called for Greenpeace to be audited, in fact funded the group in its entirety, in the year that it published the report, 2004. So ExxonMobil has been involved in a whole array of attempts to confuse the American public and to delay any measures to put a cap on global warming pollution.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does the US stand in relation to the rest of the world on this issue?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: The US stands incredibly far behind virtually every other industrialized democracy. The US has essentially taken the position of ExxonMobil to the international negotiations, expressing skepticism about the science of global warming, when, in fact, it is airtight, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, now with decades of research, is showing the public just exactly what is happening from global warming. So the US administration, the Bush administration, has essentially run the oil industry's agenda.

The analogy is to the tobacco companies. The oil companies have denied global warming is a problem, and the US administration has repeated that, and now, as the evidence becomes so irrefutable, it becomes so obvious the administration is taking almost a flat earth position. They’re saying, “Well, we know something's happening, but we still need more evidence and more research.” It's an effort to stall.

And hopefully, now with more Democrats in the Congress and Democrats in the majority, they can push through this, actually have the hearings they need to have to expose this lie that was perpetrated on the American people by ExxonMobil and others through our government, because I believe it was really one of the great corporate crimes of the late 20th and the early 21st century.

AMY GOODMAN: John Passacantando, what about the government scientists, like the NASA climate expert, James Hansen, who has been talking about the squelching of government research that is taking place?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Again, this is part of the same pattern, where this government, at the behest of its oil company contributors, has been told not to put out information about global warming, not to allow the scientists to talk about their expertise with the press, about the connection between global warming and hurricanes. That happened at NOAA. There's been pressure on Dr. James Hansen at NASA and others, Rick Pilkey [phon.] at the Environmental Protection Agency. There have been numerous scientists who have come forward and gone public with the fact that they have been really shut down working for the government, and there are many others that we have talked to that are still afraid to come forward. So there’s been a -- really a great crime has been perpetrated on the public, in terms of allowing the public to know what the government scientists know about global warming.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, John Passacantando, there’s a website, exxonsecrets.org. Can you explain how it works, what it is?

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Yes. Exxonsecrets.org is -- at Greenpeace, we've been gathering for about 15 years everything we can find, when it comes to the connection between ExxonMobil and other companies -- the American Petroleum Institute, the trade association, the auto companies -- funding the lies about global warming, knowing that until we pull their hands, the hands of these big corporations, off of the public policy, we’re not going to get public policy that stops global warming; we'll only get policy that keeps the status quo, these guys making a lot of money selling this oil to burn. So we put all this research on a public site, exxonsecrets.org, so journalists could look at this -- and all our sources are there -- and do their own research.

Interestingly, many of our FOIAs are up there, as well, showing the conversations between the Bush administration and the American Petroleum Institute, the auto makers, the oil producers. And if you go to the White House website, whitehouse.gov, and under the search bar you just put in “Greenpeace,” you'll get a long list of all the FOIAs we did, which has a remarkable -- it’s a remarkable library of conversations, and readers will see that their government was truly in bed with the energy industry.

AMY GOODMAN: And the connection of the extreme weather that we've been seeing in Colorado -- we talked about the Northeast being record heat -- Colorado, these massive snowstorms.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO: Yes, and again, any one event I can't link straight to global warming. We know that part of this is due to an El Nino event, where parts of the Pacific are hotter than usual. This is a very old cycle, a cycle that predates human-induced global warming. Scientists are right now trying to decipher just how much El Nino is effected by global warming, if indeed there are more extreme and more frequent El Nino events from global warming, but they're not absolutely positive on that yet. What we do know is the kind of heat we're experiencing here, the kind of superstorms we saw in Katrina and Rita, the kind of raging wildfires that we've seen record numbers of in the West, all of that is exactly what the scientists have been telling us to expect from global warming.

AMY GOODMAN: John Passacantando, I want to thank you for being with us. Greenpeace USA is his organization.

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