Category Archives: Culture

Israeli shapes a U.S. law enabling campus purges


How would Americans like it if, say, North Korea dictated a law barring criticism of that country on U.S. campuses.

We imagine lots of folks would get righteously upset.

But an Israeli propagandist and former Deputy Prime Minister has done just that.

From the Intercept:

After Donald Trump’s election emboldened white supremacists and inspired a wave of anti-Semitic hate incidents across the country, the Senate on Thursday took action by passing a bill aimed at limiting the free-speech rights of college students who express support for Palestinians.

By unanimous consent, the Senate quietly passed the so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, only two days after it was introduced by Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Tim Scott, R-S.C.

A draft of the bill obtained by The Intercept encourages the Department of Education to use the State Department’s broad, widely criticized definition of anti-Semitism when investigating schools. That definition, from a 2010 memo, includes as examples of anti-Semitism “delegitimizing” Israel, “demonizing” Israel, “applying double standards” to Israel, and “focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations.”

Critics have pointed out that those are political — not racist — positions, shared by a significant number of Jews, and qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

According to the draft, the bill does not adopt the definition as a formal legal standard, it only directs the State Department to “take into consideration” the definition when investigating schools for anti-Semitic discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Now why do we say that the law is the creation of an Israeli propagandist?

That’s because those key words — demonizing, delegitimizing, demonizing — are the formula created by Israeli political propagandist, Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs and a good friend of Sheldon Adelson, the zealous Ziocon and Las Vegas casino magnate, and newspaper publisher who poured $25 million into a Trump-supporting PAC and sits on Trump’s inauguration committee.

Sharanksy,’s formulation is a brilliant semantic coup, employing words of such vagueness that they can be applied to virtually any critic of Israeli policies.

We know that, because they have been applied to us, repeatedly, first when reporting on the actions of a campaign launched against the Berkeley Daily Planet, a paper that came under fire from a motley crew of militant Ziocons angry because the paper published letters critical of Israeli government policies toward its Palestinian population.

Hillary Clinton lead the way

Attesting to the brilliance of Sharansky’s word-spinning is the fact that it was adopted as the adoption of that very definition of antisemitism by the State Department under Hillary Clinton.

Surely it’s legitimate to criticize the actions of a government which clearly applies double standards by seizing land and homes of non-Jewish citizens while not taking the same actions toward the property of its Jewish citizens.

Similarly, one could question’s Israel’s legitimacy, given that the state was created as the result of an accord between by the British and French governments without the consent of those who lived their, the majority of them not Jewish.

As for demonizing, what word could be more vague?

Trump-inspired hate floods the nation’s classrooms


Not only are incidents of overt racism and hatred on the rise in the nation’s schools, fear is leading teachers not to talk about it.

From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

In the first days after the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project administered an online survey to K–12 educators from across the country. Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools have responded. The survey data indicate that the results of the election are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students. Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.

Also on the upswing: verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags.

Teaching Tolerance conducted a previous survey in March, when we asked teachers how the primary campaign season was affecting our nation’s students. The 2,000 educators who responded reported that the primary season was producing anxiety among vulnerable students and emboldening others to new expressions of politicized bullying. Teachers overwhelming named the source of both the anxiety and the behavior as Donald Trump, then a leading contender for the Republican nomination.

Since Trump was elected, media have been awash in reports of hate incidents around the nation, including at schools. Some detractors have characterized the reports as isolated, exaggerated or even as hoaxes. This survey, which was distributed by several organizations (see About the Survey for a complete list), via email and social media, offers the richest source of information about the immediate impact of the election on our country. The findings show that teachers, principals and district leaders will have an oversized job this year as they work to heal the rifts within school communities.

The survey asked respondents a mix of easily quantifiable questions and also offered them a chance to describe what was happening in open-ended questions. There are over 25,000 responses, in the form of comments and stories, to the open-ended questions. It will take time to fully analyze and report on those comments. This report provides a high-level summary of the findings.

Here are the highlights:

  • Nine out of 10 educators who responded have seen a negative impact on students’ mood and behavior following the election; most of them worry about the continuing impact for the remainder of the school year.
  • Eight in 10 report heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students.
  • Four in 10 have heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and people based on gender or sexual orientation.
  • Half said that students were targeting each other based on which candidate they’d supported.
  • Although two-thirds report that administrators have been “responsive,” four out of 10 don’t think their schools have action plans to respond to incidents of hate and bias.
  • Over 2,500 educators described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric. These incidents include graffiti (including swastikas), assaults on students and teachers, property damage, fights and threats of violence.
  • Because of the heightened emotion, half are hesitant to discuss the election in class. Some principals have told teachers to refrain from discussing or addressing the election in any way.

Read the rest.

Chart of the Day: European celebratory isolation


blog-drinks

From Eurostat, which reports:

13.0% of the population aged 16 or over living in the European Union (EU) reported in 2014 not being able to get together with friends/family for a drink or meal at least once a month due to lack of resources, while 17.8% could not afford to regularly participate in a leisure activity.

Working age people (aged 25 to 64) were slightly more affected. The shares in this age group stood at 13.9% and 19.6% respectively, while they were 11.0% and 16.3% for young people (aged 16 to 24) and 11.2% and 13.5% for the elderly (aged 65 or over).

Around one third of the population in Hungary (36.5%), Romania (35.7%) and Bulgaria (30.0%) said they could not afford to get together with friends/family for a drink/meal at least once a month. High shares were also observed in Greece (20.7%), Malta (19.2%), Ireland (18.4%) and Lithuania (17.4%). The elderly in Romania are particularly affected: in the age group over 65, the share there reaches 43.0%. In Hungary, the share is higher among the young (40.0%).

At the opposite end the scale, the share was below 1% in all age groups in Sweden. Less than 5% of the population feel unable to get together with friends/family for a drink/meal at least once a month also in Finland (1.5%), Denmark (3.2%), the Netherlands (3.3%), the Czech Republic (3.4%) and Luxembourg (4.1%).

Chart of the day: Faith in democracy plummets


From the New York Times, based on a new survey from the Journal of Democracy:

blog-demos

Images, flags, burning desires, and Vietnam


Following up on our previous post about Donald Trump’s to criminalize and deport folks who burn flags as a means of protesting malignant policies of the American government, we are old enough to remember the Vietnam War, the American government’s failed effort to cement a regime in then-South Vietnam that would dance to a tune orchestrated in Washington.

At the start of World War II, Vietnam was part of the French colony of Indochina, and during the war, Japan invaded and seized control of the region, and a powerful guerilla movement spring up under Ho Chi Minh — who was provided with arms and advisors by the Allies.

Nine years after the war’s end, Vietnam was ruled by Emperor Bao Dai, who had grown increasingly unpopular, Ho’s forces, meanwhile had turned against the French, inflicting a disastrous and decisive defeat of a trapped French army at the battle of Dien Bien Phu on 7 May 1954.

As a result, the nation was partitioned at, with the north governed by Ho and his allies, and Bao Dai ruling in the South, with an election to be held in 1956 to decide on reunification and the leadership of a united Vietnam.

But with U.S. back, Ngô Ðình Diêm defeated Bao Dai in a 1954 election in the south, and the U.S. began pouring in military aid while cutting off the north from sorely needed access to resources.

That same year, as the Pentagon Papers noted, “President Eisenhower is widely quoted to the effect that in 1954 as many as 80% of the Vietnamese people would have voted for Ho Chi Minh, as the popular hero of their liberation, in an election against Bao Dai.”

Since neither the U.S. nor the South Vietnamese governed had signed the treaty calling for the elections, the vote was never held [talk about yer foreign interference in an election. . .].

The stage was thus set for war, and events in Vietnam were elevated into a major Cold War confrontation, with the Soviet Union backing Ho and the U.S. backing Diem.

The U.S. spent lavishly supporting Diem’s military, while Soviewt aid to the North was less extensive, although it did include the war’s decisive weapon, tjhe virtually indestructible AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle, a weapon more durable than any then used by the U.S., and still in use among guerilla forces around the world.

The North supported guerilla forces in the south, the famous Viet Cong, and they steadily eroded the Diem military.

Under John F. Kennedy, American military “advisers” were dispatched to the South, quickly assuming combat roles before becoming the dominant force supporting the Diem regime.

But Diem, a member of the country’s small Catholic community, was immensely unpopular among the country’s majority Buddhists, and the first and most dramatic instance of protest involving fire occurred on 11 June 1963, when in protest of Diem’s repression of the country’s Buddhists, a monk named Thích Quang Duc immolated himself at an intersection just a few short blocks from the Presidential Palace in Saigon.

Images of the act prompted a wave of outrage against Diem that swept around the world:

blog-fire-monk

As the war intensified, the draft began to loom larger in the lives of young American men, many of whom could see no valid reason for killing and being killed in a nation many had never heard of before the war flared into a raging conflagration.

One young man who received his draft notice announced he would not servem declaring:

“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. . .Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

A year later he would declare:

“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father.”

And thus Muhammad Ali earned a federal prison sentence, emerging from behind bars to prove himself the greatest pugilist America has ever produced.

Organized protests began to arise [some of which we participated in], and on 15 October 1969, more than two million Americans marched against the war.

One emblematic action of protests throughout the Vietnam war was flag-burning, here illustrated by protesters demonstrating at the 20 January 1969 presidential inaugural of Richard M. Nixon:

blog-fire-flag

Needless to say, the flag-burnings outraged Republicans of the day.

But the most potent and iconic symbol of the war was the result of the American military’s use of fire bombs during the conflict, delivered sometimes by U.S. jets and, in this instance, by American-supplied South Vietnamese fighter-bombers.

It happened on 8 June 1972, when the village of Trang Bang was targeted with napalm bombs because of intelligence suggested that it harbored Viet Cong guerillas.

One of those burned by the napalm was a nine-year-old girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, and the image s of her flight from the devastation captured by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut burned their way into the American conscience, revealing the ruthless strategy employed by the United States to win at all costs:

blog-fire-vn

But a second photo, showing her grandmother carrying the seared corpse of one of her cousins is perhaps ever more devastating:

blog-fire-vn-2

Perhaps no one better captured the hypocrisy of criminalized flag-burning with the burning of human bodies by a detestable weapon of war that did esnl’s favorite alternative press cartoonist of the 1960’s, R. Cobb, in this brilliant 1967 graphic for the Los Angeles Free Press:

blog-fire-cobb

As for the legality of burning the American flag, here’s the bottom line from Texas v. Johnson, the 21 June 1989 Supreme Court ruling that is currently the law of the land:

If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

We have not recognized an exception to this principle even where our flag has been involved.

But with Republicans in full control of the White House and national legislature and poised to gain control over the Supreme Court, we expect that Trump will get his wish, one way or another.

Finally, back to Vietnam

The Vietnam War taught the American government two important lessons.

First was an end to the draft.

While virtually unreported by the American media, the real reason Richard Nixon realized he had to end the war was the rebellion of U.S. troops along the Demilitarized Zone [DMZ] separating the two halves of Vietnam.

That’s what happens when you draft young men to fight for a cause for which they see no valid reason to sacrifice their own lives.

Ripping unwilling combatants away from their homes, families, and jobs is a sure-fire way to foster resentment and rebellion, nowhere better shown that in Daniel Zeiger’s brilliant 2005 documentary Sir! No Sir!, recorded here from a broadcast on BBC:

Sir! No Sir! A Film About The GI Movement Against The War In Vietnam

America turns to mercenaries, embedded reporters

Since Vietnam, America has fought its war with mercenaries, soldiers recruited often from the nation’s poorest regions, where youths facing bleak prospects at home are drawn to the military by promises of job training, education funds, and a position they are assured will imbue them with self-dignity and respect.

No more unwilling combatants; rather, a military filled with those who see no other alternative than lives filled with misery.

The second lesson the Vietnam war taught Americans military and political elites was that free-roving reporters could capture images and stories threatening to their interests by revealing powerful counter-narratives to the official line.

Hence the evolution of the embedded reporter, carefully contained and controlled.

And by criminalizing flag-burning, Donald Trump would deprive protest movements of one of their most powerful symbolic acts.

How regulatory processes fail to protect tribal lands


Following up on our earlier post about indigenous protests against corporate developments threatening emotionally invested sacred landscapes, Chip Colwell, Lecturer on Anthropology at University of Colorado—Denver, addresses the failure of the regulatory process to adequately consider the tremendously deep and vital associations between tribal people and their ancestral landscapes.

From The Conversation, an open access academic journal for the lay reader:

This summer, Tim Mentz Sr. took to YouTube to tell the world about the destruction of his cultural heritage. A former tribal historic preservation officer of the Standing Rock Sioux, Mentz wore a baseball cap, rimless glasses and two thin braids of graying hair. He was upset and spoke rapidly about the area behind him, an expanse of the Great Plains cut by a new 150-foot-wide road.

Two days before, Mentz had testified to the D.C. District Court to report the area that lay in the path of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) corridor holds 82 cultural features and 27 graves. By the next day, DAPL construction workers graded the area. Behind where Mentz stood in the video was a place known as the Strong Heart Society Staff, where a sacred rattle or staff was placed within stone rings. Here members of the elite warrior society would come to make pledges. Mentz explained the site is tangible evidence that Strong Heart members followed a “spiritual path.”

As an anthropologist who has worked with Native Americans for more than a decade to document their sacred places in the paths of new power plants, power lines, water pipelines and more, the battle in North Dakota is all too familiar.

I have seen how the legal process behind environmental and archaeological reviews for energy projects, such DAPL, work – and often don’t work. The tragedy in North Dakota for cultural heritage – and the violence against protesters that has resulted – comes in part from a failure of the U.S. legal system. Consultation with tribes too often breaks down because federal agencies are unwilling to consider how Native Americans view their own heritage.

“Archaeologists – they don’t see these,” Mentz said in the video of features, including graves, within the Strong Heart Society site. “The [archaeological] firm that came through here walked over these. They do not have a connection that we have to our spiritual walk of life.”

Irreplaceable heritage

If completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline would run from North Dakota to Illinois for nearly 1,200 miles, carrying up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day. DAPL would meander across the landscape, through farms, around cities, buried underground and across more than 200 waterways. The passage of the pipeline over and under waterways requires permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This federal authorization in turns requires compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

Passed into law in 1966, the NHPA arrived in the churning wake of WWII, when America’s waiting future was threatening its irreplaceable past. The expansion of American infrastructure – highways, dams, electrical grids – was swiftly destroying ancient archaeological sites, cemeteries and historic buildings. With the NHPA, Congress declared that preservation of America’s shared heritage is in the public interest.

When considering a new undertaking, a number of effects on historic properties must be considered: direct (like physical destruction), indirect (like spoiling a viewshed), short-term, long-term, or cumulative (like how one pipeline may not harm a site, but perhaps a dozen of them will). The NHPA does not guarantee preservation. But it requires that decision-makers balance America’s interest in development with the need to honor its history.

Continue reading

A tale of two indigenous land protest movements


The Dakota Access Pipeline [DAP] is a 1,600-mile pipeline being built to carry high-grade petroleum from North Dakota’s fracked-up Bakken Shale proposed across North and South Dakota and on through Iowa to Illinois.

The only problem, besides all the environmental worries connected with oil, fracking, and constructing a pipeline that could leak into some of the nation’s most environmentally sensitive landscapes and waterways, the project is being driven through land considered sacred by several of the nation’s indigenous tribes.

Native American take a different view of land that do the statutes of states and the federal government, which see land as property, susceptible to “improvements” — usually those proposed by folks looking out to make a fast buck.

Indigenous people tend to see land different, as a living thing of which they are a small but significant part.

Mother Earth, in other words, is more than just as advertising slogan.

The DAP passes through landscape — a better term than the purely utilitarian land favored by legislators, banksters, and corporateers — considered sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux, and it was a woman, tribal Historic Preservation Officer LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who formally launched the protest movement against the project by opening the Sacred Stone Camp on April 1.

The protest has been joined by other indigenous groups, environmentalists, and scientists concerned about the ecological impacts and threats to endangered species.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday that protesters blockading pipeline construction must end by 5 December or mass arrests would follow, and the Obama administration shows no sign of intervening as of this writing.

Which brings us to the story of another protest, and a successful campaign launched by women to thwart a housing development of scared landscape north of the U.S. border.

From the National Film Board of Canada, a 2009 documentary film by Sara Roque:

Six Miles Deep

Program notes:

A documentary portrait of a group of women who led their community, the largest reserve in Canada, Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, in an historic blockade to protect their land. On February 28, 2006, members of the Iroquois Confederacy [also known as the Haudenosaunee or People of the Longhouse] blockade a highway near Caledonia, Ontario to prevent a housing development on land that falls within their traditional territories. The ensuing confrontation makes national headlines for months. Less well known is the crucial role of the clan mothers of the community who set the rules for conduct. When the community’s chiefs ask people to abandon the barricades, it is the clan mothers who overrule them, leading a cultural reawakening in their traditionally matriarchal community.