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ASUC Senate bill expresses no confidence in Napolitano September 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Education.
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Roger’s note: I am proud of my alma mater’s students (ASUC = Associated Students, University of California), who, in a time honored Berkeley tradition, have challenged a stupid and unethical establishment decision.

Napolitano1.Berkeley2011.Joh_

 

The ASUC Senate wasted no time at the beginning of the academic year, gearing up in its first meeting to debate a bill expressing that the senate has “no confidence” in Janet Napolitano as the incoming UC president.

Napolitano’s appointment raised concerns due to the policies she implemented in her previous position as Secretary of Homeland Security. In response, the ASUC Senate will debate SB 2, titled Bill in Support of Undocumented Students and Immigrant Communities, on Monday.

“The ‘no confidence’ comes from a lot of history — she has deported over 2 million undocumented immigrants,” said ASUC Senator Sean Tan, who authored the bill. “There’s a lot of fear in terms of what is her main priority as UC president, because she comes from a background of surveillance and apprehension and security.”

As Homeland Security Secretary, Napolitano played a role in enacting immigration policies such as Secure Communities, a program that allows local governments to report undocumented immigrants to federal officials.

Under her leadership, the Homeland Security Department deported a record number of undocumented immigrants, according to a report by UAW Local 2865, a UC student workers’ union.

“We call for a president devoted to rebuilding our capacity for teaching, research, and learning — not a specialist in cyber surveillance, law enforcement, and border security,” the union’s release states. “We demand that the UC Regents retract Napolitano’s nomination for appointment and reopen the process for selecting the UC president.”

If the bill is passed, ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai will present a list of priorities detailed in the bill to the UC Student Association. These priorities include holding mandatory annual trainings for the rights of undocumented citizens, holding town halls for the UC campuses in both Northern and Southern California regions and ensuring that Secure Communities will not be implemented on UC campuses.

“A vote of no confidence is more effective when someone has already been in office,” Mecklai said. “For me personally, it’s more impactful to list eight demands with a timeline of when she needs to follow through with them.”

But some UC officials feel it is too soon to judge how Napolitano will perform as UC president. UC spokesperson Steve Montiel believes students will see that she is a person of “great integrity” as they learn more about her.

“She’s coming to lead the University of California, not coming to lead an immigration enforcement program,” Montiel said. “It’s a whole different world.”

The bill also calls for ASUC President DeeJay Pepito to propose a review of the UC president’s selection process to the UCSA Council of Presidents because some students felt that they were unfairly represented in her appointment.

“We as a senate could look at possible policy changes on how the UC president is selected, because we had a real problem with how student voices weren’t heard,” Mecklai said. “My fear is that we’ll only attack Napolitano and not the process, and in 10 years, this will happen again.”

Student Regent Cinthia Flores said the bill provides a proper avenue for students to voice their positions about Napolitano’s appointment.

 

Jane Nho covers student government. Contact her at jnho@dailycal.org.

July 6, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Civil Liberties, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
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Roger’s note: As a UC Berkeley graduate, who as an undergraduate took part in free speech and anti-war protests, I maintain an abiding interest in the city and the campus.  The militarization of American police forces is an ominous development, and it is no coincidence that Berkeley is in the vanguard given its long and proud history of non-violent first amendment protest.  An imperial nation such as is the United States, which supports and spreads violence around the globe, will eventually see that violence erupt on its own shores.  This is surely the case with what we are witnessing today.  One is reminded of Malcolm X’s prophetic (in response to the Kennedy assassination): “the chickens have come home to roost.

 By Nick Sibilla, People’s Blog for the Constitution | Report, Friday, 06 July 2012 11:00

The police departments for Berkeley, Albany, and the University of California system have partnered together to buy an armored personnel carrier (APC). Not quite a tank, the APC is a Lenco Ballistic Engineered Armoured Response Counter Attack Truck, better known as a BearCat.

If approved, the APC will be paid for by a $200,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security’s Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). Created in 2003, UASI funds counterterrorism measures in “high-threat, high-density urban areas.” From FY 2003 to 2011, over $6.5 billion was appropriated for UASI. In FY 2012, UASI had funding worth $490 million.

However, David Muhlhausen, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has criticized UASI: ”Currently, there appears to be a virtual absence of independent, objective evidence indicating the effectiveness of UASI…Increased spending does not equal increased effectiveness.” Daniel Borgstrom, a former US Marine now active in the Occupy movement, recently urged the Berkeley City Council to reject the APC and police militarization: “I’m asking, please stay out of this urban warfare stuff.”

Meanwhile, Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan praised the BearCat, calling it “a defensive resource” necessary to protect officers from being killed. But according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks the deaths of law enforcement officials, no officers from UC Berkeley or Albany have been killed in the line of duty and only two Berkeley police officers have ever been killed by gunfire. The last Berkeley police officer killed in the line of duty was in 1973. Furthermore, as Radley Balko observes at the Huffington Post:

We’re now about halfway through 2012, and this year is on pace to be the safest ever for America’s police officers…Fifty officers have died on duty so far this year, a 44-percent decrease from last year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF). More remarkably, 17 have died from gunfire, down 55 percent from last year. (21 died in traffic accidents, the remaining 12 in various other incidents.) If the second half of this year follows the first, fewer officers will have died on duty this year than in any year since 1944, a time when there were far, far fewer police officers.

In addition, there have been significant concerns about armored vehicles’ ability to violate civil liberties and increase police brutality. A spokesman for the UCPD insisted that the BearCat “is not going to be used for protests or crowd control…it’s nothing to be feared.”

However, police in nearby Alameda County (which includes Oakland) used a $323,000 grant from Homeland Security to buy an APC from Xe Services (formerly known as Blackwater). That APC was even used to suppress protests by the Occupy in May 2012. The Inter Press Service elaborates:

Locally, police militarisation was evident at the Nov. 9, 2011 Occupy Cal demonstration at UC Berkeley, where combat-gear clad police injured peaceful protesters with baton strikes, and on Oct. 25, 2011 in Oakland, when similarly armed police nearly killed a young former Marine when they fired a tear-gas canister that hit him in the head.

Due to mutual aid agreements, whereby law enforcement agencies can assist each other, the UCPD could share the APC with both the Berkeley and Albany police departments. The decision to renew mutual aid has previously been postponed, thanks to efforts by the Coalition for a Safe Berkeley, which is advised by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

As Emily Odgers noted earlier this year, turning police into soldiers has eroded the Constitution:

This clash between Occupy protesters and police highlighted a need to stand in support of the protection of First Amendment rights. In the past ten years, there has been a decay of constitutional freedoms in America and the only way to get them back is through cooperative grassroots movements.

This is not just an issue for Occupiers or other activists; the First Amendment applies to everyone and it is necessary that the rights described within it are preserved for all, if they are to be preserved for any.

For more information about efforts to defend constitutional rights in the Bay Area, contact the BORDC organizing team This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

 

International Attention Focused on Berkeley Divestment Vote April 14, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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(Roger’s note: as a former elected member of the ASUC Executive Committee (1961 -1962), a precursor to the current Senate, I take special pleasure in posting this item on my blog.  The main argument for the apologists of Israeli apartheid, that it is unfair to single out Israel as a violator of human rights, is specious.  When addressing a particular political problem, one is not obligated to include all others.  Of course there are other governments worthy of condemnation (none more than the government of the United States of America); but the genocidal policies of past and present Israeli governments with respect to the Palestinian peoples, and particularly the Gaza massacre, represent major violations that neither can nor should not be ignored.)

Published on Wednesday, April 14, 2010 by The Daily California (UC Berkeley)by Allie Bidwell

International attention will descend on the ASUC Senate meeting tonight as senators consider upholding the passage of a controversial bill urging the student government and the University of California to divest from two companies that have provided war supplies to the Israeli military.

[Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s. (Wikimedia)]
Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s. (Wikimedia)

The bill names two companies-United Technologies and General Electric-as supplying Israel with the technology necessary to attack civilian populations in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The bill originally passed the senate March 17 by a 16-4 vote following about six hours of discussion. A two-thirds majority, or 14 votes, is needed in order to override the veto. 

Senators have received more than 13,000 e-mails, roughly split between both sides of the controversy.

Prominent figures including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, activist Naomi Klein and leftist MIT professor Noam Chomsky have spoken in support of overriding ASUC President Will Smelko’s March 24 veto of the bill. Local and national pro-Israel groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)-an influential Washington, D.C. lobby organization-Berkeley Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League have each stated the bill is divisive and unfairly targets Israel.

Supporters of the bill say divesting from the two companies would make a powerful statement against Israeli actions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which supporters have compared to apartheid-era South Africa.

In a recent letter to the UC Berkeley community, Tutu, who won the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts opposing apartheid in South Africa-said he endorsed the bill and urged senators to uphold the original vote, which he compared to similar efforts at UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa in the 1980s.

He said in an e-mail Tuesday that he had a message for ASUC senators.

“I salute you for wanting to take a moral stand,” he said in the e-mail. “(Your predecessors) changed the moral climate in the U.S. and the consequence was the Anti-Apartheid legislation, which helped to dismantle apartheid non-violently. Today is your turn. Will you look back on this day with pride or with shame?”

Wayne Firestone, national president of Hillel-a Jewish campus organization-released a statement last month condemning the bill. The statement stated that the bill is “one-sided, divisive and undermines the pursuit of peace” and ignores human rights violations of other countries.

“The ASUC bill will not contribute a whit to the advancement of peace in the Middle East and will only serve to divide the Berkeley community,” Firestone said in the statement.

Pro-Israel activist organization J Street U, joined 18 other organizations-including Berkeley Hillel, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, the Jewish National Fund and StandWithUs/SF Voice for Israel-in crafting an April 5 letter to UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer stating that they felt the bill was dishonest and misleading.

Among concerns listed in the letter was that the bill “unfairly targets” Israel while marginalizing Jewish students on campus who support Israel.

“Though it states that the ‘ASUC resolution should not be considered taking sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict,’ the exclusive focus on Israel suggests otherwise,” the letter states.

Critics of the bill have said senators cannot make a proper judgement of an issue as complicated as the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Student Action Senator Parth Bhatt, who voted against the bill, said he felt the ASUC should not take a stance on such an issue because it marginalizes one community on campus.

“I don’t think the ASUC should put any student in that position,” Bhatt said. “The conflict is very complex and something I don’t think our senators know enough about to vote on.”

But CalSERVE Senator Ariel Boone said she supported the bill because she felt compelled to defend human rights.

“I went to Israel and had a really interesting time with Berkeley Hillel in January, and I have Holocaust survivors among my family,” Boone said in an e-mail. “I have never felt so uniquely qualified to speak on an issue.”

AIPAC has recently stated the need for a strategy to combat anti-Israel sentiments on U.S. university campuses.

“How are we going to beat back the anti-Israel divestment resolution at Berkeley?” said Jonathan Kessler, leadership development director for AIPAC, at a recent conference of the lobbying group. “We’re going to make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote. This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses.”

But according to spokesperson Josh Block, the group did not take a position in the recent ASUC election.

“We don’t rate or endorse candidates,” Block said in an e-mail. “Of course we would always, publicly and consistently encourage pro-Israel students to be active in civic and political life.”

Read statements in opposition and in support of the divestment bill:

Naomi Klein

Noam Chomsky

Desmond Tutu

Hillel

Letter to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of UC Berkeley George Breslauer

AIPAC Video

© 2010 The Daily Californian

How Sports Attacks Public Education March 5, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Sports.
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Published on Friday, March 5, 2010 by The Nationby Dave Zirin

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass

On Thursday, I was proud to take part in a student walkout at the University of Maryland in defense of public education. It was just one link in a National Day of Action that saw protests in more than 32 states across the country. I am not a student, and haven’t been since those innocent days when Monica Lewinsky mattered, but I was asked to come speak at a post walkout teach-in about the way sports is used to attack public education. It might sound like a bizarre topic, but it’s the world that students see every day.

At the University of Maryland, as tuition has been hiked and classes cut, football coach Ralph Friedgen makes a base salary of 1.75 million bucks, which would be outrageous even if the team weren’t two-steps past terrible. Friedgen also gets perks like a $50,000 bonus if none of his players are arrested during the course of the season.

Ground zero of the student protest movement is the University of California at Berkeley. Over at Berkeley, students are facing 32% tuition hikes, while the school pays football coach Jeff Tedford 2.8 million dollars a year and is finishing more than 400 million in renovations on the football stadium. This is what students see: boosters and alumni come first, while they’ve been instructed to cheer their teams, pay their loans, and mind their business.

The counterargument is that college athletic departments fund themselves and actually put money back into a school’s general fund. This is simply not true. The October Knight Commission report of college presidents stated that the 25 top football schools had revenues on average of $3.9 million in 2008. The other 94 ran deficits averaging $9.9 million. When athletic departments run deficits, it’s not like the football coach takes a pay cut. In other words, if the team is doing well, the entire school benefits. If the football team suffers, the entire school suffers. This, to put it mildly, is financial lunacy. A school would statistically be better off if it took its endowment to Vegas and just bet it all on black.

If state colleges are hurting, your typical urban public school is in a world of pain with budgets slashed to the bone. Politicians act like these are problems beyond their control like the weather. (“50% chance of sun and a 40% chance of losing music programs.”)

In truth, they are the result of a comprehensive attack on public education that has seen the system starved. One way this has been implemented is through stadium construction, the grand substitute for anything resembling an urban policy in this country. Over the last generation, we’ve seen 30 billion in public funds spent on stadiums. They were presented as photogenic solutions to deindustrialization, declining tax bases, and suburban flight. The results are now in and they don’t look good for the home teams. University of Maryland sports economists Dennis Coates and University of Alberta Brad R. Humphreys studied stadium funding over 30 years and failed to find one solitary example of a sports franchise lifting or even stabilizing a local economy. They concluded the opposite: “a reduction in real per capita income over the entire metropolitan area….Our conclusion, and that of nearly all academic economists studying this issue, is that professional sports generally have little, if any, positive effect on a city’s economy.” These projects achieve so little because the jobs created are low wage, service sector, seasonal employment. Instead of being solutions of urban decay, the stadiums have been tools of organized theft: sporting shock doctrines for our ailing cities.

With crumbling schools, higher tuitions, and an Education Secretary in Arne Duncan who seems more obsessed with providing extra money for schools that break their teachers unions, it’s no wonder that the anger is starting to boil over. It can also bubble up in unpredictable ways. On Wednesday night, after the University of Maryland men’s basketball team beat hated arch-rival Duke, students were arrested after pouring into the streets surrounding the campus. In years past, these sporting riots have been testosterone run amok, frat parties of burning mattresses and excessive inebriation. This year it was different, with police needing to use pepper spray and horses to quell the 1,500 students who filled Route 1. In response, students chanted, “Defense! Defense!” At the Thursday teach in, I said to the students that I didn’t think there was anything particularly political or interesting about a college sports riot. One person shot his hand up and said, “It wasn’t a riot until the cops showed up.” Everyone proceeded to applaud. I was surprised at first that these politically minded students would be defending a post-game melee, but no longer. The anger is real and it isn’t going anywhere. While schools are paying football coaches millions and revamping stadiums, students are choosing between dropping out or living with decades of debt. One thing is certain: it aint a game.

© 2010 The Nation

Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

Charlie and Me December 29, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Autobiographical Essays (Roger), Charlie and Me.
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(I think I can say honestly that I loved both my parents equally, and I believe that their influence on my life and character was equal as well.  However it was Charlie, intellectually and politically oriented like myself, who could both inspire me and get under my skin.  He was clearly a less secure individual than my mother, and I don’t think I ever achieved anything of any significance whatsoever without thinking about how it would please my father.  I cannot vouch for all the historical facts in the “story” that follows, especially with reference to the year 1941.  What I know about the events of January 26/27, 1941 are all hearsay, my having been minus one day old at the time; but I was young then and had a good ear.) 

 

1941

 

Hitler’s armies are in control of most of Western Europe, and the Japanese military is cooking up a secret plan to attack the main US naval base in Hawaii, which will represent a daring move to demolish in a single blow America’s capacity to wage war in the Pacific.  It is January 26, 1941, and it has just begun to snow in Newark, New Jersey.

 

At about 8:30 PM, Charles Hollander leaves the grocery store that is owned and operated by his cousin Morris where he earns the ten dollars a week that supports him, his wife, Anne, and their two year old son Neil.  He steps out onto Springfield Avenue and decides that the storm is not so bad that he cannot save five cents by walking to their Jacob Street flat instead of taking the bus.  Then he stops for a moment for a second thought.  He gives himself a mental kick in the pants for thinking of saving a nickel when his wife is in her ninth month and due at any moment.  He catches the first number five that passes going east and heads for home.

 

Charlie, as he is known to just about everyone, was “political” in his youth.  He presided over a reform-oriented Democratic “Club” whose political hero and inspiration was Jersey’s own Woodrow Wilson.  With his quick mind and law school background Charlie was considered by many to be an up and comer.  Instead, he chose to buck the party establishment by joining a reform ticket that opposed the party bosses in a primary election for the State Assembly.  To the injury of a losing campaign was added the insult of being blackballed from the party’s patronage (including WPA jobs).  For good.

 

Despite the sudden and rude termination of his dream for a career in party politics, Charlie had no lasting regrets.  For it was through his political involvement that he became good buddies with Max Korabiak, the husky son of a Ukrainian immigrant, who drove a truck making deliveries for his father’s burgeoning ice and coal business.  Ice boxes (before refrigerators could be found in most homes) demanded to be kept ice cold in the summer, and furnaces consumed tons of coal in the winter. Max was proud and ambitious, and a later business failure was to lead to what in those enlightened times was called a “nervous breakdown.”  Max ended up spending the rest of his adult life wheeling and dealing and outliving several generations of attendant staff at the same State Hospital for the Mentally Ill in upstate Overbrook, where he also was able to look after the well-being of his mother, Sadie, who had been confined several years before with the same amorphous diagnosis and where she also made her home until her very last days.

 

At one of their Democratic Club’s annual dances, Max had introduced Charlie to his younger sister, Anne; and though both Anne and Charlie had arrived at the dance with their own dates, they left together.  It was but a few weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, 1933, that Charlie borrowed his friend S. Donald “Red” Rappaport’s Model A Ford and eloped with Anne to the poor man’s Niagara Falls: Elkton, Maryland.  Red came along as a witness.

 

Whether Anne’s hard working old world style tyrannical father, William “Bill” (neé Vasily) Korabiak, had no use for Charlie because he was poor or because he was Jewish is hard to say.  Probably a little of both.  Upon their return from Elkton – it had been an overnight trip and they were back in time for the New Year’s Day party at the Korabiak home cum ice dock cum coal bin on Hunterdon Street, with no one being any the wiser about their new marital status – Anne continued to keep house and raise her three younger brothers (as she had done since she had “dropped out” of the sixth grade when her mother left the home for good) until Charlie could save up enough cash to rent the Jacob Street flat.  When months later she finally broke the news to her father and took leave for good, old Mister Korabiak now had another reason to hate Charlie, one that hit much closer to home.  Charlie had, in effect, signed Anne’s Emancipation Proclamation, thereby causing Bill the net loss of one full time domestic indentured servant.

 

Charlie arrives at the Jacob Street flat shortly after 9:00 PM.  He is exhausted, for his day at the grocery store is long and tedious, and the walk from the bus stop to the house is all uphill, but he is relieved to find everything ship shape.  Little Neil is crying, but what else is new. After grabbing a quick supper – Anne had already eaten – Charlie will now have to take over the seemingly endless task of getting the baby to sleep so that Anne can rest.  He says a silent and secular – for the religious part of his Judaism really never took root – prayer that the new baby will be a quieter one.  The law of averages, he thinks to himself, has got to be in our side on that score.  Charlie tries to put out of his mind the fact that once the recalcitrant Neil decides to trade weep for sleep, his kitchen duties – in the form of a sink full of dirty dishes and a hamper full of soiled diapers – await his attention.  His responsibility for these kinds of chores goes back beyond Anne’s pregnancy.   Having escaped from one slave master, she was not about to replace him with another, albeit a younger and more handsome one.  She was a grade six drop out, and the new wave of feminism was decades away from raising its unruly head, but Anne was ahead of her time.  Charlie was expected to pull some of the domestic weight.

 

As he sleepwalks through the dishes, Charlie’s mind drifts back to that last visit to Dr. Hautman’s office.  Hautman, a tall, dark haired handsome man, a half-generation older than Charlie, was a general practitioner, that’s about all there was in those days.  He charged only what you could afford, gave you all the time you needed, both in the examining room and with making payment.  He never sent a bill, and he never considered making house calls anything other than part of his job.

 

While Anne would be getting dressed in the doctor’s examining room, he and Charlie are talking about the war that day in the front office.  Two peace loving Jewish men agonizing over what seemed to be the inevitability despite Roosevelt’s apparent hesitancy of their country once again getting sucked into the middle of another European conflagration.  Although Hitler’s attitude toward Jews was well known by then, no one could have imagined the atrocities that were to follow, so it was not that unusual that many American Jews were blasé about getting involved.   Neither Charlie nor the good doctor would have considered themselves “isolationists,” yet both men were cynical about what would be achieved by fighting another World War.

 

“They said the last one was the ‘war to end all wars,’” the doctor reminded Charlie who had mentioned that he was starting to see no way the U.S. could not get involved again, “I don’t know about you, Charlie, but why is it that the big shots always call the tune, and it’s the young kids that go over and get shot at?  Sure Hitler’s a maniac, but who drove the Germans into his arms with the impossible reparations debt from the war?  Wilson tried with the League of Nations and where did it get him?  I’ve got two boys a lot closer to fighting age than your little Neil.  Those boys mean everything to me and Sarah, and I’ll be damned if I want to see them sent five thousand miles to die on foreign soil.”

 

Charlie nodded agreement.  “When will the fools that run this world ever learn, when will they ever learn?” he added, shaking his head.

 

Charlie had completed training with the Civilian Military Training Corps (CMTC), a sort of non-academic R.O.T.C. for civilians, and when called up would enter the army as a second lieutenant (unbeknownst to him at the time, however, he would never see active duty due to a bone deformity that caused him to fail his physical when he finally tried to enlist).

 

“Charlie, I want you to know something.  If somehow we get dragged into this thing, and when you are called up, I don’t want you to be worried about Anne and the kids.  I will take care to make sure they are in fine health when you get back, and you can take that to the bank.  And don’t worry about money, O.K.?  Right now everything is as it should be with Anne.  The baby’s gong to be as big and healthy as the last one.  She could be popping out any day now.  You understand what I’m telling you?  I’m counting on it being a girl.”

 

 

 

1987

 

Here is how I became a city councilor.

 

For years I had resisted the temptation to run for political office in Toronto.  I was in my seventh year as Executive Director of the now legendary 519 Church Street Community Center, and I won’t deny that I wasn’t at times restless for a change.  But I had plenty to keep me happy right where I was.  I had had the opportunity to take a lead role in the development of City of Toronto policy toward city funded but independently run community centers, and therefore to a certain extent I knew my way around City Hall.  Of late, in reaction to the Mulroney Conservative government’s cuts and privatization of the student summer employment programs that had been initiated in the Trudeau era, which had a profoundly negative effect on the ability of non-profit organizations to provide a wide range of community and social services over the summer, I had helped to organize and was national coordinator of the Save our Summer Coalition (S.OS.).

 

Since emigrating to Canada in the summer of 1968 to avoid up to five years in a federal prison for my anti-Vietnam war activities, I had slowly gotten my feet back into the waters of political activism; and, since 1980 when I took the position at The 519, I was even drawing a decent salary, thanks in part to my friend Anna Furstenberg’s having convinced me that it is possible “to do well while doing good.”  It was not quite the same as the street level political activism I had known in Southern California. There I had been involved in helping to support the United Farm Workers, under Cesar Chavez, by organizing boycotts of non-union grapes and wine; I had gotten involved with the Black community in various Civil Right demonstrations and projects; and, of course, was involved in a wide range of anti-Vietnam War activities, including the picketing of local draft boards and military installations, demonstrating against Dow Chemical, the maker of the horrendous napalm bombs that was eating flesh of thousands of innocent Vietnamese civilians, and organizing and participating in teach-in and sit-ins at various campuses.

 

I had spent several frustrating years involved with the Democratic Party.  Although my inclination, which had taken root in my student years at Berkeley (1958-1962), was for direct action of the street variety, until the revolutionary gusts that swept the nation beginning in the mid-sixties, it seemed as if the Democrats were the only game in town for progressive political activists.  The final straw for me, however, came shortly after the 1964 presidential elections, where I had poured heart and soul into the campaign to elect “peace candidate” Lyndon Johnson in an Armageddon like battle against the war-mongering Barry Goldwater.  It was Johnson, of course, who, once elected, proceeded to escalate US involvement in Vietnam that lead eventually to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides and expansion of the conflict into Cambodia and Laos.

 

After leaving the Democratic Party, I had studied, adopted, then rejected anarchism and was beginning to become interested in the Marxist-Humanist movement founded by Raya Dunayevskaya.  When I got to Canada and learned that there was a third party — a socialist party! – I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  It wasn’t long, however, before I discovered that the New Democratic Party (NDP) had pretty much abandoned its socialist CCF roots.  It was socialist in name only, it was no longer looking to transform but rather to reform.  I soon saw the logic of whoever it was who had characterized the NDP as nothing more than “Liberals in a hurry” — that is, reformers with no desire to remake a system that was structurally flawed.

 

So, although I was under no illusions, and although I did not choose to join the Party, I could not deny, especially since I was directly involved via my work at the community center with city government, that on neighborhood-based issues, it was generally the NDP that could be counted on for support, both with respect to policy and practical assistance.  I therefore was quite willing to actively back NDP candidates in the old Ward 6 where I worked and especially in Ward 7 where I lived.  In so doing, I got to know, became friendly with, and worked side by side with a number of NDP grass roots activists as well as elected city councillors.

 

Nevertheless, when John Piper jogged into my office at The 519 at lunchtime one afternoon, and those who know John will know that I mean that literally, I outright rejected his suggestion that I seek to become the NDP candidate in the Ward 7 by-election to replace Joanne Campbell, who had resigned to accept an appointment from the Provincial Liberal government.  Joanne, a life-long New Democrat representing a Ward with a twenty year tradition of sending hard-working progressives to City Hall, had become somewhat of a controversial figure several months prior to her resignation when she announced that she would no longer participate in the NDP caucus at City Council but rather would sit as an “independent”.  Many Torontonians are under the illusion that party politics do not apply at the city level since the Liberals and Conservatives do not run under the party banner but rather call themselves “independents.”  However, a true independent at city council is as rare as a true idealist, and the same Liberal and Conservative organizations that support provincial and federal candidates are mobilized for the city level campaigns (in fact, city council has always served as the “minor leagues” for many a future Liberal and Conservative member of the provincial and federal parliaments).  The NDP, on the other hand, openly and formally nominates candidates who, when elected, participate in a caucus, albeit without the discipline that is exercised at the senior levels of government.

 

A couple of weeks before John’s appearance at my office, I had received a phone call from Joanne’s assistant at City Hall, Jeff Evanson, to inform me that Joanne would be resigning the next day, that he would be running in the by-election to fill the vacancy, and could he count on my support.  He neglected to mention to me that he would be running as an “independent” with the active, if clandestine, backing of the Liberal Party (who found him a Provincial job after losing the election).  Oblivious to the impossible to conceive of at the time fact that I would be Jeff’s opponent in that election, and although I assumed he would probably win the NDP nomination and get my eventual support, I told him (assuming that he was asking for my support for the NDP nomination) that I could not offer my public support until I knew who all the candidates were.  It had always bugged the hell out of me that so many people gave their public endorsements based upon the first person to ask for it; and I later came to find out as a city councilor that this was also the case amongst councilors when lobbying their colleagues for support for a particular council vote or appointment.  So much for principle in politics.

 

In any case, since I had long ago decided that it would be against my principles to be an NDP candidate for anything, it didn’t take any real consideration on my part to reject Piper’s suggestion.  John Piper is that unusual combination of intellectual and jock.  He is one of the most persistent and persuasive persons you will ever want to meet, or not want to, as the case may be.  He filled me in on what an Evanson victory would mean for Ward 7, that is, nothing less than a Liberal coup d’etat.  He told me that the NDP needed to come up with a strong candidate fast (this was June and the by-election was to be held in November), and that he was only asking me to participate as a candidate in the nominating process to help develop a strong field of candidates.  He showed me a list of people who were considering entering the race for the nomination, including the Labor Council’s Linda Torney, a person for whom I had and have tremendous respect.

 

Our meeting ended up with my withdrawal of an outright rejection in favor of my agreeing to at least consider the possibility.  This was a major step for me, one that showed that I was not immune to setting principle aside when it came to realizing a practical strategic objective, in this case, not letting the Liberals get away with the sleazy and dishonest attempt to “steal” Ward 7 with their “independent” candidate.

 

After consulting with family, friends and confidants, I decided I would take the plunge.  Since I would be running, if nominated, not simply to carry the NDP banner but rather to stop Jeff Evanson, i.e., actually to win; once I made the fateful decision, I put every ounce of my energy into it.  When it became finally known who would be seeking the NDP nomination, it became clear both to me and to the Ward 7 NDP executive, that because of my history of community involvement I was the only one with a chance, albeit an outside one (given Evanson’s virtual “incumbency” and head start), to actually win the seat (Linda Torney had decided not to seek the nomination).

 

Although I freely admit, and did so at the time, that my decision to join the NDP and run for a city council seat as an NDP candidate was a compromise with a previously held principled position, I was determined that when it came to issues and matters of policy, the NDP was going to have to live with my political radicalism and independence of thought, which was not negotiable.  Since there is no policy “platform” and no disciplined caucus at the city level, it seemed to me that I could do this without deceiving either the Party, the electorate or myself.  But could the NDP live with me?

 

I met with the members of the local executive informally.  Piper had been their emissary, and although they were prevented from making a formal endorsement, they wanted to give behind the scenes encouragement to the person they considered to be the strongest candidate for the nomination.  A couple of the members of the executive were excited to have an unabashedly “left” candidate, others were glad just to find someone who had a bit more than a hope in hell to beat Jeff Evanson.  Everyone was worried about my past radicalism, especially since I made it, as that intellectual giant Richard Nixon would say, “perfectly clear” that I did not intend to move one inch closer to the NDP mainstream from where I stood about six and a half miles to its left.  “Is it true that you were a draft dodger,” I was asked.  “No,” I replied – sighs of relief all around – “actually I was more like a deserter.” 

 

Largely through the efforts of a few dedicated friends and associates and the amazing organizational efforts of my then wife, Cathy Crowe, I won the nomination with a comfortable margin, even though one of the other candidates, University of Toronto campus chaplain Eilert Freirichs, gave a speech at the nominating meeting that was ten times better than my own.  With the nomination in hand, in the general by-election it was me against Jeff Evanson and a handful of fringe candidates with no organizational backing (including an ex-landlord of mine and a drag queen).

 

The campaign was one of the most salient experiences of my life.  I don’t think I ever worker harder over a sustained period of time.  Because of what Jeff had done in using his NDP job as a springboard to running as an “independent”, secretly supported by the Liberals, against an NDP nominated candidate, the race took on the aura of internecine warfare.  Many NDP supporters had no idea of what Jeff had done and gave him their support believing that he was going to be like Joanne, a more independent minded NDP’er.  Although I had years of community organizing and he had basically done only party work, Jeff was now the “community” candidate and I was the “party hack.”  Oh, sweet irony.  Former NDP allies were now on opposite sides of the fence, and life long friendships were strained (Piper, for example, had grown up with Joanne Campbell and is best friends with her and her husband, ex-NDP councilor Gordon Cressy; the friendship weathered the storm; the first thing I did when I won the election was to work to mend fences; Ron Kaplansky, a graphic designer who did Evanson’s campaign sign and literature designs, is now a good friend of mine; Jeff, however, did not give me the traditional courtesy of conceding defeat on election night).

 

We had a hell of a lot of ground to make up.  We spent tons of money to hire the best NDP organizers available (the debt incurred remains unpaid to this day).  Piper served as interim Campaign Manager until we were able to bring on the incomparable Sherril Game; a future Provincial Consumer Affairs Minister in the Rae government, Marilyn Churley, was the campaign secretary.  Piper, who was later to become Ontario Premier Bob Rae’s public relations director and was subsequently forced to resign in disgrace when he made a serious tactical error in an attempt to protect a Cabinet Minister who had been falsely accused of sexual abuse, designed an unbeatable campaign strategy, but one that would only work if there was enough time.

 

I won by 222 votes.  If the campaign had lasted another week, I think I would have won by 2000.  We had a lot to overcome, but we had all the momentum.  Victory, to use a cliché, was sweet.  The first thing I did, of course, upon being confirmed as the winner, was to phone my dad with the good news.

 

You know, my father had been in politics for a short time in his youth.  He too was something of a maverick.  He had been President of a Democratic Party “Club” and had unsuccessfully bucked the Party establishment, which cost him any chance of further advancement.  He was never nearly as radical in his beliefs as I am, but much of what I have learned about principled behavior in politics I have learned from him, more from his actions than his stated beliefs.  It’s funny for me to say this, because my father is always preaching pragmatism to me.  “You have to stoop to conquer,” is one of his favorite sayings.

 

My father graduated from Mercer Beasley School of Law in Newark (long since, I believe, absorbed into Rutgers University) but never practiced law.  For some reason, after his first unsuccessful attempt at passing the New Jersey bar, he lost heart.  He had lost both his parents before he was twenty, and in his teens took off riding the rails hobo style to California, where, had he been a little more shrewd, would have landed a bit part in a John Wayne movie.  His ultimate destination was Japan, which he never made.  After losing his one and only election and his betrayal of the party bosses, he dropped out of political activism never to return.  He remains more or less progressive in his outlook, and I am sure he never voted Republican.  Maybe because of being so seriously burned when he ventured outside the boundaries of the established order of the world where he thought he saw his future (i.e., the New Jersey Democratic Party), he became a strong advocate of “working within the system.”  He could never fully endorse my decisions to work outside the system, although at some level I know he understands my uncompromising idealism and my “impractical” obsession with principle.

 

Although my Dad left politics for good after his defeat, he kept in touch with some of his old buddies, one of whom, Isaiah “Ike” Turner, was the first Black elected to Newark’s city council.  How many times has he told me the (possibly Apocryphal) following story about Ike’s first council meeting: It would goes without saying that the white incumbents were not apt to give a cordial welcome to this “uppity Nigger” who dared to think he had a right to elected office.  So how does old Ike deal with the cold shoulder he receives when he takes his place at his very first council meeting?  He introduces a motion to give members of council a significant raise in pay (something that almost all politicians lust after but have to be careful about proposing).  The motion passes unanimously, and from that day forward Isaiah “Ike” Turner is one of the boys.

 

Would you like to know what I did at my first council meeting?

 

In Council procedures there is something called an “Order Paper motion” which any member of Council can put on the Council agenda in order to get an issue directly before the Council.  It is used when there is no time to follow the normal laborious committee process on a particular matter of urgency; or – and this is what I often found advantageous — when there would be no hope to get a recommendation passed by a committee and put before the Council (Council committees are notorious for killing controversial initiatives before they can reach the Council as a whole for debate).

 

At my first Council meeting I put a motion on the Order Paper to the effect that the Council declare Toronto a “disaster area” with respect to the problem of homelessness and request immediate emergency assistance from the provincial and federal governments.  Order Paper motions are debated after the Council has disposed with all its committee vetted business, so that it was late in the evening when it came up, and the members were tired and grouchy.  Those who did not consider my motion a scandal treated it as a joke.  I was made fun of and ridiculed – who is this rookie councilor with this screwball motion?  Nevertheless, the Council was forced to take its collective head out of the sand, and a two-hour debate, the first of its kind, took place in Council chambers on the city’s crisis in housing.  Needless to say, the motion did not carry.  The vote was something like 35-4.  Not even all my NDP colleagues voted for it.

 

The Ghost of Ike Turner was not pleased, and I never became one of the boys.

 

(Twelve years later, in response to the tireless organizing and lobbying by Cathy Crowe and the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, the Toronto City Council, and then municipal council’s across Canada, passed similar motions, calling for federal intervention in the housing crisis.)

 

And yet, despite the fact I was not prone to follow in the hallowed footprints left by Ike Turner’s fancy footwork in the council chambers of Newark, New Jersey, no one was more proud of me for my seven years as perpetual outsider and a constant thorn in the side of Toronto Council …than my dad.

 

 

 

 

1968

 

I first became seriously aware of the US involvement in Vietnam while I spent the summer months of 1964 as an intern at the National Council of Churches’ (NCC) Washington, D.C. office on Maryland Avenue, a hop, skip and jump from the Capitol building.  In many ways it was an idyllic summer for me.  We house-sat for a wealthy union bureaucrat in his posh mansion off of Connecticut Avenue, sharing it with Djawah, an Indonesian graduate student.  Linda and I were at that time in our second year of marriage and still childless.  She had landed a summer job in the State Department.  We were invited to attend the celebration for the independence of Malawi, and I danced with Miriam Makeba.  During the day, I mostly hung out in the Capitol building drifting from committee room to committee room.  I had virtually no responsibilities as an intern; there was no supervision to speak of.  I saw liberal Senator Yarborough from Texas get into a near fist-fight with ultra-conservative Strom Thurmond outside a Senate hearing room.

 

In another hearing room I heard some strange phrases I didn’t fully understand: “military advisors, limited engagement … dominos”.  It was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee discussing the country’s involvement in a small country in Southeast Asia, a former French colony that almost nobody had ever heard of, where some kind of a civil war was going on that for some strange reason former Presidents and the current president, Lyndon Johnson had been worried about enough to send United States soldiers, excuse me, advisors, over to help out the good guys in the south but in a “non-combatant” capacity.

 

Vietnam.

 

This was just before the war between the Viet Cong and the corrupt South Vietnam puppet regime had entered into the consciousness of the average American, but mountains of information passed through the NCC Washington office including some disturbing criticism of U.S. intervention in Vietnam by apparently well-informed critics.  Although Civil Rights was foremost on my and almost everyone else’s mind that fateful summer (the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 was before the Congress, and Linda and I spent as much time as we could at the twenty-four hour prayer vigil in front of the White House), I decided to follow up on what had been suggested by the Vietnam critics and began to look for more information about a war in a country that I had not previously known existed.

 

At summer’s end, having made my decision, after one year of graduate studies in theology (at Princeton Theological Seminary), to become a theological seminary drop-out, Linda and I went back to Southern California, and I resumed teaching at a Lutheran private school where I had previously taught for a year after my graduation from Berkeley.  While in Washington I had introduced myself to Jim Corman, a young progressive/liberal Democrat who represented the 22nd Congressional District in California where we would be taking up residence.  I was impressed with him and accepted his request that I work as a volunteer in his campaign for re-election in the November elections.  However, it was not the congressional races that were front and center in that election. 

 

In San Francisco’s Cow Palace earlier in the year, what many considered to be the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party had gained control of the convention and nominated as there presidential candidate the right-wing “extremist” ideologue, Barry Goldwater (who in today’s Republican Party would fall somewhere well left of center!).  “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he intoned.  The Republican theme was “In your heart, you know he’s right,” In my heart I knew he was wrong!  You have to remember that this was in the middle of the Cold War, and to my thinking putting the nuclear trigger in the hands of an avowed Hawk was to risk the very survival of the planet.  Most of the nation agreed, and, thanks to some pretty nifty television scare commercials connecting Goldwater with nuclear holocaust, Lyndon Johnson was re-elected in a landslide.

 

What also slid, however, was Johnson’s commitment to keep the peace.  When he assumed the presidency following the Kennedy assassination, he had kept in tack most of the Kennedy Cabinet, including such shinning lights as Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.  With the counsel and support of these men, Johnson took the nation into the morass of Vietnam and what turned out to be the United States’ first great military defeat in history.  It would appear that the boys of Camelot were out for more than a friendly joust.

 

The sinking of an American battleship in the Gulf of Tonkin was all the pretext that was needed to win the support of the Congress (only two out of a hundred voted against the Bay of Tonkin Resolution in the Senate, Barry Morse of Oregon and Ernest Gruening of Alaska) and the bulk of the American public for a major expansion of the United States participation in the war.  By that time I had read much of the early anti-war literature (Howard Zinn, Robert Scheer, etc.), which was overwhelmingly convincing.  I had learned that after the final defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu, it was the US government that set up the puppet regime in South Vietnam that broke the peace treaty that would have unified the country (I was shocked to learn that then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had lobbied the Cabinet and President to help the French out of their jam at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 by dropping the Atomic Bomb on the Vietnamese.  Eisenhower vetoed this plan.  The same Eisenhower, who spent as much time during his presidency playing golf as Ronald Reagan did nodding off, also warned the nation in his Farewell Address, a warning absolutely unheeded, of the dangers of the “military industrial complex.”  For these two events old Ike still holds a warm spot –albeit a small one — in my heart).

 

My intuition and reading told me that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a phony one designed by the U.S. military and government to get public and political support for a dramatic escalation of U.S. commitment in the civil war.  This was subsequently confirmed years later.  I therefore participated in the earliest of the anti-war activities, which consisted initially mostly of “teach-ins” as high school and university campuses.

 

My personal history as an anti-war activist pretty much followed the course of the anti-war movement itself, which escalated in intensity parallel to the government’s taking the nation deeper into the Vietnam quagmire. I was still a “believer” (that is, an evangelical Christian) at the time, and along with a handful close comrades, was involved in a Congregational Church in Pacoima, a transitional community in the San Fernando Valley of northeast Los Angeles, where an influx of Blacks and Chicanos were transforming the nature of a previously white neighborhood.  I therefore concentrated much of my anti-war activism within the confines of the “faith community.”  We offered educational programs on the Vietnam War to local Christian congregations, and when they refused to even listen, we would picket them for their un-Christian like refusal to get involved in the greatest moral issue of the day.  As delegates representing our local congregation, we took an anti-war resolution to the regional conference of the Congregational Church, and when it was defeated after a vigorous debate, we donned sack cloth and ashes and sat-in at the alter of the Pasadena United Church at which the meeting was held.  We were cursed, threatened and spat upon at many of the churches we picketed and accused of being everything from unpatriotic to Communist.  When our own Pacoima congregation ultimately refused to take a public position against the war, we picketed outside our own church (one of our gang, Lew Fretz, eventually left the States and has been living and teaching in at Hamilton University in New Zealand, where he has preserved our original picket signs showing Vietnamese children being burned with napalm and uses them as illustrations in the course he teaches on U.S. History).  I think the congregation finally got fed up with us and asked us to look for a “more compatible fellowship” after one Sunday evening worship service where we had volunteered to lead the “Bible study.”  Instead of the traditional exposition of a particular Biblical text, we put on a skit in which a series of the poor and suffering individuals approached a student of the Bible asking for help and were rewarded with quotes from the Bible.  We ended the skit by tearing pages from the Bible, igniting them with a match, and singing a popular Christian hymn: “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”  Our minister, the Reverend Paul Kittlaus, with all the majesty of the British queen, was not amused.

 

Our core group consisted of Pete Flint, our moral leader and political guide, who had been drafted into the Marines during the Korean War and who had received a dishonorable discharge for his anti-war activities; Lew Fretz, who had just received his doctorate in History from Stanford; Lew’s wife, Margaret Fretz, a schoolteacher; Dick Bunce, a friend from and recent graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary; Linda Page, my wife, who was working on her doctoral thesis in Sociology for Princeton University and teaching at San Fernando Valley State College (today know as California State University at Northridge); and me.

 

We attended all the protest demonstrations.  We organized anti-war activities at Valley State in cooperation with Tom Lasswell, a campus chaplain and member of our Pacoima congregation, and with the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).  We recruited John Buchanan, a Professor of Speech at Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys to run as an anti-war candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the 43rd State Assembly District.  We picketed Dow Chemical, the maker of the infamous napalm.  We demonstrated at local draft boards and the local National Guard headquarters at the Van Nuys Airport.

 

I cannot tell you how many times I burned my draft card.  This was before the days of photocopy machines, so there was a technical problem.  I cannot remember how we solved it, but I ended up with a supply of draft cards and even made Newsweek Magazine where a photo shows me along with two others in front of the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles, draft-card torch in hand. 

 

And what was my draft status?  1-0, if that means anything to you.  I had been 1-A, that is, prime draft material.  However, I applied to my local draft board for “conscientious objector” status, as I had been counseling many others to do, and – only because of my religious background – it was granted to me.  [Note: insert here something of the history of conscious objection, Quakers, etc.]  This did not protect me from the draft, rather it meant that if drafted, I would be able to do “civilian public service” at home rather than go into the armed forces either as a soldier or a medic (conscientious objectors with 1-A-0 status serve as medics on the battlefield).

 

Aware of the fact that I was likely to be drafted (I was twenty-four years old in 1965, and young men were drafted up to the age of twenty-six), I looked for work that would qualify as civilian service and was hired by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) to do venereal disease epidemiology with the Los Angeles County Health Department.  Sure enough, I was drafted in 1966 and was successful in having my health department work qualify as my civilian service. My job was to interview patients diagnosed with Syphilis and to bring in their sexual contacts for examination and possible treatment.  I worked out of health centers in Watts (South Central Los Angeles), which was predominantly Black, West Hollywood, which was predominantly Gay, San Fernando, which was predominantly Latino, and Van Nuys, which was predominately white middle class.  If you ever need a survey course on the sexual habits of a broad spectrum of society, I’m your guy.

 

It was sometime in 1967 that I went to UCLA to listen to a talk given by David Harris, who had formed a movement, which he called “The Resistance.”  David had first made news when, as Student Body President at Stanford, he was kidnapped by members of the football team who proceeded to cut off his long hair.  He went on to become seriously involved in anti-war activities and married the popular folk singer, Joan Baez.  His message to young men of draft age was that using their draft deferments (e.g., student deferments, conscious objection, etc.) to keep out of the war was in effect a form of collaboration with the war effort.  He called for total non-complicity with the Selective Service System (i.e., the draft).  I was struck by the logic of his position, which also underscored the fact that it was uneducated poor whites and Black men who were making up a disproportionate part of the waves of soldiers sent over to slaughter and be slaughtered in the jungles and swamps of Vietnam.  David himself was eventually drafted, refused to be inducted, and was given a five-year prison sentence, which he served until paroled.

 

For me, becoming a part of the Resistance meant giving up the “privilege” of my conscious objector status.  I was helped along with this by my employer, who at that same time ordered me to shave my beard and transferred me out of the “field” and into the downtown administrative offices of the USPHS.  Rebel that I was (and am), I refused on both counts and was unceremoniously fired.  Rather than finding other suitable “civilian service” work, I ignored this obligation.  Instead, I helped found and taught at the “I-Thou University of Young People” (Guinness world record for most pretentious Name of School), an alternative school in the tradition of A.S. Neill’s Summerhill.  In effect, I had gone AWOL.

 

Soon I received a visit from two FBI agents who wanted to know about my anti-war organizing and my non-compliance with my obligatory civilian service.  I refused to speak with them.  Several months later, in June of 1968, I was indicted by a federal grand jury for the crime of refusing to perform civilian service as a conscious objector, and I was arrested by the same two agents.  I was home one afternoon having lunch with Alex, a huge brooding sixteen year old who was living with us a foster child and attending the school.  I answered the door, and before I could swallow what was left of the baloney sandwich I was still chewing in my mouth, I was handcuffed and ushered out to a car where I was transported to the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

 

This was the first time I had been arrested since I was ten years old and caught by the local police throwing rocks through the window of an abandoned house (haunted no doubt) on Halloween night in Irvington, New Jersey.  At that time I was roughly sat down in the back seat of a squad car, given a stern lecture, let go with a warning, and stumbled home shaking in my boots (I have a vague recollection that I may also have wet my pants).  This time I felt an intense vulnerability with the cuffs on, and began to imagine myself the victim of police brutality.  But the two agents were professionals, they realized that my alleged “crime” was of a political rather than a violent or anti-social nature, and on the ride downtown in their beat up and aging Plymouth (was the FBI having budget problems?) we engaged in a lively and heated argument about the moral imperative to commit civil disobedience in the face of your government committing crimes against humanity.  I got as far as having them admit that they would have resisted under Hitler (sure they would have), but Vietnam, they insisted, was not the same thing.

 

At the L.A. Courthouse I was given the traditional one phone call, which I used to call home, and arranged for Linda to be notified at the college so she could drive downtown and bail me out.  I had male friends who had been arrested during demonstrations who had been raped at the infamous L.A. County Jail, and I had no desire to put myself in that position.  It turned out that I was released by signing what is called a “Personal Surety Bond,” in my case in the amount of one hundred dollars.  This was the simplest and most innocuous way of being released once arrested, and I admit that I felt cheated and undervalued.  I didn’t even have to put up any money.  It just meant that if I jumped bond, I owed the government one hundred dollars (in 1973, when from Canada I plea bargained with the U.S. Attorney to be able to return to the States – this was before the general amnesty – the charges of “interstate flight to avoid prosecution” were dropped, and I pled guilty to the main charge of failing to perform civilian service and was given eighteen months probation.  But no one ever thought to dun me for the hundred bucks!).

 

Out on bond I had a life-changing decision to make: stand trial where conviction was assured and serve up to five years in a federal prison (plus a $5000 fine), or flee.  I was married at the time and the father of a one-year old daughter.  I did not have the courage or the strength of principle of a David Harris, who was also married with a child, and I decided, in consultation with my family, to leave the States and start a new life in a foreign haven.  I did some research, and, although we would have preferred to settle somewhere in Latin America, it seemed as if the only countries where there was absolute safety from being extradited were Sweden and Canada (Canada will not extradite to the United States a person accused of a crime that is not a crime in Canada).

 

Linda and I decided that we had no desire to exile ourselves as far away from home as Sweden, and Canada offered the opportunity to live in a French culture.  We opted to settle in Montreal.  I had draft counseled a student of Linda’s, Jim Falconi, who had fled to and was living in Vancouver.  I would “slip out” of the country by flying to Vancouver to stay with Jim until Linda finished the school year and could drive up with our daughter, Malika, and join me before heading east to La Belle Province (Quebec). Falconi shortly thereafter also moved to Montreal, changed his first Name to Giacamo, and we ended up managing together the Montreal Paperback Bookstore, whose owner was the eccentric Julian Wedgwood, heir to the Wedgwood china fortune (Julian once showed me an elaborate chart of his family tree, with Josiah Wedgwood, the founder of Wedgwood China at the center, and he pointed out that one of his ancestors was Charles Darwin.  I was duly impressed).  Today Giacomo Falconi, who adopted the separatist politics of Quebec, owns and operates a prosperous rare book shop in Old Montreal.

 

The hardest part of going into exile, of course, was going to be the leaving behind of family and friends.  For security reasons no one could know about our plans except my political group and my parents.  The discussion with my parents was heart rending.  They “understood” and did not understand at the same time.  My father was caught between his pragmatic ethic and, I believe, the knowledge that what I was doing was moral and right.  My parents have gone through all kinds of “stages” with me over the years, from my conversion to rabidly evangelical Christianity, to my student shit-disturbing (including locking horns with Clark Kerr, the illustrious President of the University of California), to my political radicalism, to the Hippie days, and to my present life in South America (my fourteen years as a community center administrator — salaried! — and city councilor in Toronto, I think were the only ones that were really easy on their souls).  They have not always agreed with me, but never once have they withdrawn their moral and emotional support.  My mother told the FBI where they could go (and it wasn’t a very nice place) when they came looking for me; and my father, who worked in the aerospace industry, was put in an awkward position by my actions.

 

As my father had watched my escalating radical activities – we were living in the same general area of the San Fernando Valley – I could sense a growing uneasiness on his part.  This was based entirely, I realize mostly in retrospect, on his concern for my personal safety.  But he used all the ammunition he had at his disposal to dissuade me from taking so many risks.  He argued that I could achieve more by “working within the system,” that, yes, you have to “stoop to conquer.”  I can remember some pretty heated arguments.  But, as I say, there were never threats, ultimatums, or withdrawal of friendship and emotional support.  In spite of his fears for me, I know that my father never ceased to be proud of what I was doing.  He later (while I was living in “exile” in Canada) went downtown to the federal courthouse for the Los Angeles trial of Daniel Ellsberg, the government researcher who had leaked the infamous “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed much of the government’s lies and treachery.  He introduced himself to Ellsberg and proudly told him about my having had to go into exile because of my opposition to the war.  When Vietnam era Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, published his book admitting that Vietnam was a huge mistake, my dad phoned to congratulate me “on being right all along.”

 

It was a typical smoggy morning in early June as my parents, accompanied by Linda and one year old Malika, drove me to the Burbank Airport where I would fly to San Francisco and connect to Vancouver.  I thought I saw FBI agents everywhere.  The farewells in Burbank were, of course, highly emotional. I thought I would never again be able to set foot on United States soil.  You can imagine how my parents must have felt as I boarded the aircraft that would take me thousands of miles away, possibly never to be able to return.

 

It is the only time in my life I have ever seen my father cry.

 

 

 

 

1941

 

Charlie would later joke to Neil and me that his secret weapon in getting us to sleep at night when we were babies was to sing to us, because we immediately would fall asleep so as to not have to listen to his operatic interpretations.  But the fact of the matter is that Charlie actually has a pleasant tenor voice, and he did succeed in lilting both Neil and himself into dreamland that night on the studio couch in the living room at about ten o’clock.

 

He awoke just after midnight to the sounds of the snowstorm lashing against the windowpane just above his head.  Apart from the howl of the angry winds, the house remained in complete silence.  Anne had gone to bed who knows what time, and must be sleeping comfortably in the adjacent bedroom.  Charlie looked outside and thought to himself, “better that it not be tonight with the storm raging as it is.”  Anne was still suffering with the remnants of her flu, and although Dr. Hautman said not to worry, going out in this weather certainly was not what the doctor ordered.

 

Everything was set for the big moment.  The old ’34 Packard that Anne’s brother Ernie had loaned them was parked downstairs a half a block south on Jacob Street, and there was gas in the tank.  When the moment came, they would drive Neil to Charlie’s sister Molly’s to be left in her care, and phone Dr. Hautman from there since they had no phone in the house on Jacob Street. 

 

Charlie thought to himself, with a smile, about Dr. Hautman’s prediction of a girl.  He really didn’t care that much, as long as Anne and the baby come out of it O.K. either sex would do.  A girl would be nice, however, maybe one a little quieter than Neil, although apart from his nightly colic, Neil was really a pretty cute baby, and Charlie thought to himself I really have nothing to complain about.  He had a lovely and devoted wife, a half decent roof over his head, and the country seemed to be about to pull itself out of the depression.  Although what he earned in Morris’ grocery was barely enough to get by on, it was a job, and in those times simply having a job was everything.

 

But the ominous possibility of another war crept again into his thoughts and put something of a crimp into his reveries.  He already had one potential future soldier, and the thought of that cuddly dark haired toddling noise maker someday going off to kill and, what would be unthinkably horrendous, be killed himself, was not something any parent should ever have to contemplate.  Yeah, maybe a girl after all.

 

Charlie took a long and loving glance at Neil, who was by now deeply and safely into sleep.  He gently lifted himself up and carried the baby to the crib in their bedroom at the foot of the second hand maple wood bed that he shared with Anne.  Upon looking up he saw to his surprise that she was not asleep, but rather sitting up with her back against the headboard.  Although the room was mostly in darkness, enough light peeked through the bedroom window from the lamp-post outside so that he was able to make out the expression on his pregnant wife’s face.  What he saw left no doubt in his mind.

 

It was time.

 

With hardly a word said between them, Charlie began to dress Neil as rapidly as he could without waking him.  Although Neil fought bedtime with stubbornness that sometime drove both Charlie and Anne to despair, once he was gone he was gone.  Thank god for that.  Anne’s “overnight” case for the hospital was already packed and ready to go.  As Charlie dealt with the baby, Anne slowly got up from the bed and began to dress herself.  She hadn’t mentioned it to Charlie, but the contractions had actually begun in the mid afternoon.  Since they were sporadic and spaced widely apart, she hadn’t been sure it was the real thing, and it was right in character with her stoicism that she didn’t bother to say anything.  But now that her water had broken and the contractions were beginning for real, there was no doubt about the imminent arrival of number two.

 

Charlie sat with Neil in his lap, the baby fully dressed and ready to go.  Heavy woolen pants, sweater and jacket, all hand me downs from one of his sister Rose’s boys.  The tiny watch cap, scarf and mittens that Anne had knitted and the cheap rubber boots they had picked up in the second hand shop.  He watched Anne as she was in the final stages of putting on her winter clothes, and he urged her to put on a second sweater as he could see what the wind was doing outside.  He couldn’t help thinking again, for the millionth time since they were married how lucky he was.  Anne was a real beauty.  He thought of the way she looked when he first met her eight years ago.  With her hazel green eyes, her radiant skin, and her flapper hair-do she could have passed for Mary Pickford.  According to her brother Max she had had tons of “suitors,” and Charlie still couldn’t really understand why she had picked him.

 

They really didn’t know one another when they ran off to Maryland that New Year’s Eve of ‘33.  Charlie was so smitten that he would have driven to the moon and back if that was what it would have taken to make her his wife.  Anne was impressed with Charlie, he was the first one bright and serious enough for her to even consider marriage, and marriage for Anne was her Underground Railroad to freedom.  She could tell he was a good man, an honest and kind man.  He was Jewish but she didn’t care, and that was something for a Ukrainian girl.  She might not yet have been in love, but when he proposed, she didn’t hesitate.  She knew her father would be furious, but she never imagined it would take a full five years before his stubbornness would wear down and break the wall of silence he had built between them (William Korabiak and Charlie would eventually become great friends, and Charlie loves to tell how Bill once told him, “Charlie, you a good man, I like you; only thing, you is poor.”  Neil and Roger as children never experienced either a hint of their grandfather’s anti-Semitism or any antipathy toward their father.  Nor had they a clue about the tyrannical character of his younger days.  To them “Pop” was always a sweet white haired affectionate grandpa; and, when as adults they heard the stories about his tyranny, intolerance and philandering from their parents and aunts and uncles, it couldn’t have come as more of a surprise).

 

With the overnight case safely placed on the back seat of the car, Charlie went back to the flat to fetch his wife and child.  With Neil in one arm, he used the other to guide Anne gently down the steps from their second floor flat, out the front door and onto the front porch, which by now was almost completely covered with snow.  He was treating her as if she were a breakable antique which prompted her to say, “It’s O.K., Charlie, I’m all right, I won’t fall, just get me into the Packard and for god’s sake drive carefully.”

 

It was just before one in the morning when they got to Molly’s.  Molly and Morris were first cousins so Molly’s maiden name and married name were one in the same (if she had been Latin American where they use both parents’  surnames, she would have been called Molly Hollander Hollander).  The sad thing was that their daughter, Lorna, was born deaf, and in those days schools for the deaf did not teach American Sign Language, so that Lorna’s ability to communicate was always limited.  Morris and Molly, groggy eyed from sleep, took a minute to come alive.  Mollie fussed over Neil while Morris attempted to get Dr. Hautman on the phone.  Anne was starting to have stronger and closer contractions, and Charlie was beginning to worry that they might not get to the hospital on time. Morris finally got through to the doctor, who asked a few questions then said he would be on his way to the Presbyterian Hospital.  He was a lot closer than they were, so he would be sure to be there when they arrived.  He told Morris to tell Charlie that there was plenty of time, that he shouldn’t tarry, but that there was no need to rush.  Charlie didn’t need to be reminded that driving conditions were getting worse by the minute.  Morris volunteered to accompany them to the hospital, but Charlie said no, someone has to be rested to take care of the store tomorrow, that Morris should get some sleep.  He would call from the hospital as soon as there is news.

 

It would normally have been about a fifteen-minute drive from Molly’s house in the nearby suburb of Irvington to Newark Presbyterian.  In this weather it was going to be a half hour or more.  Anne sat in the front seat next to Charlie, endured the contractions with her characteristic stoicism, and on the whole was calmer than Charlie, who couldn’t refrain from asking her how she was doing every thirty seconds.  “Don’t worry, stop talking, and keep your eyes on the damn road.”

 

It was close to two a.m. when they entered the emergency, were interviewed by the receptionist, filled out forms, etcetera.  It was close to two thirty when Anne was finally admitted.  Charlie was nodding off as they waited in the reception area, and when they came for Anne, she was halfway down the long hallway before he realized they were taking her up to the maternity ward.  He had to run to catch up and barely got to where she was sitting in a wheel chair before the elevator arrived.  This was the last he would see of her until after the delivery.  He gave her a peck on the cheek, told her to be brave, and had a forlorn look on his face as the elevator door opened and the nurse pushed his about to deliver wife into it.  As the door shut in his face, Charlie felt moisture running down his cheek. 

 

He stood immobilized for a minute, then he wiped his face with his handkerchief and then went back to the emergency reception area to ask how he could find Dr. Hautman.  He was told to wait, and in a matter of a few minutes the doctor appeared with a smile on his face.  “Hi, Charlie, didn’t I see you here just two years ago?”

 

“It seems like yesterday,” Charlie answered, “She just went up, I guess we’ve both got a long night ahead of us.”

 

Hautman nodded, and they discussed the routine.  He promised Charlie he would periodically brief him on how things were going, but that if he could find a way to make himself comfortable on one of the hard waiting room chairs, he should try to get some sleep.

 

“You still putting your money on a girl?” Charlie asked as the doctor started away toward the elevator.

 

“Do we need another putz in this world?” he quipped as he strode away without looking back.

 

Charlie dozed on and off through the night, waking with a start whenever the doctor or a nurse nudged him to give him the news that the delivery was proceeding as it should.  “What about her cold?” he asked Dr. Hautman, who had come into the waiting room at just after seven o’clock to inform Charlie that Anne was ready and going into the delivery room. 

 

“It’s not a problem,” the doctor answered, “the delivery is going smoothly, and her general health is excellent.  She is a strong woman, don’t worry.  It’s going to be just fine; I’ll see you in less than a half hour.”

 

That half hour lasted longer than all the previous half hours put together. Did Charlie pace?  Is the Rabbi kosher?

 

At last Dr. Hautman strode into the waiting room with a broad grin written across his face.  He spoke before Charlie had a chance to say anything.  “You are a father again, my friend.  Everything went perfectly.  Anne and the baby are fine.  A real scrapper, over eight pounds.”

 

“And?” said Charlie.

 

“And what?” A pause.

 

“Oh, yeah,” said the doctor, almost as an afterthought and with a wry smile, “cannon fodder.”

 

The Best and the Brightest Led America Off a Cliff December 8, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Education.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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(Note from Roger: I thought the very last line was a gratuitious cop-out; but otherwise an interesting analysis.)
www.truthdig.com
Posted on Dec 8, 2008
AP photo / Douglas Healey

By Chris Hedges

The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredded constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the feet of our elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers. The collapse of the country runs in a direct line from the manicured quadrangles and halls in places like Cambridge, Princeton and New Haven to the financial and political centers of power. 

The nation’s elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by its nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent and often subversive. They organize learning around minutely specialized disciplines, narrow answers and rigid structures that are designed to produce certain answers. The established corporate hierarchies these institutions service—economic, political and social—come with clear parameters, such as the primacy of an unfettered free market, and with a highly specialized vocabulary. This vocabulary, a sign of the “specialist” and of course the elitist, thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions. It destroys the search for the common good. It dices disciplines, faculty, students and finally experts into tiny, specialized fragments. It allows students and faculty to retreat into these self-imposed fiefdoms and neglect the most pressing moral, political and cultural questions. Those who defy the system—people like Ralph Nader—are branded as irrational and irrelevant. These elite universities have banished self-criticism. They refuse to question a self-justifying system. Organization, technology, self-advancement and information systems are the only things that matter. 

“Political silence, total silence,” said Chris Hebdon, a Berkeley undergraduate. He went on to describe how various student groups gather at Sproul Plaza, the center of student activity at the University of California, Berkeley. These groups set up tables to recruit and inform other students, a practice know as “tabling.”

“Students table for Darfur, no one tables for Iraq. Tables on Sproul Plaza are ethnically fragmented, explicitly pre-professional (The Asian American Pre-Law or Business or Pre-Medicine Association). Never have I seen a table on globalization or corporatization. Students are as distracted and specialized and atomized as most of their professors. It’s vertical integration gone cultural. And never, never is it cutting-edge. Berkeley loves the slogan ‘excellence through diversity,’ which is a farce of course if one checks our admissions stats (most years we have only one or two entering Native Americans), but few recognize multiculturalism’s silent partner—fragmentation into little markets. Our Sproul Plaza shows that so well—the same place Mario Savio once stood on top a police car is filled with tens of tables for the pre-corporate, the ethnic, the useless cynics, the recreational groups, etc.”

I sat a few months ago with a former classmate from Harvard Divinity School who is now a theology professor. When I asked her what she was teaching, she unleashed a torrent of obscure academic code words. I did not understand, even with three years of seminary, what she was talking about. You can see this absurd retreat into specialized, impenetrable verbal enclaves in every graduate department across the country. The more these universities churn out these stunted men and women, the more we are flooded with a peculiar breed of specialist. This specialist blindly services tiny parts of a corporate power structure he or she has never been taught to question and looks down on the rest of us with thinly veiled contempt.

I was sent to boarding school on a scholarship at the age of 10. By the time I had finished eight years in New England prep schools and another eight at Colgate and Harvard, I had a pretty good understanding of the game. I have also taught at Columbia, New York University and Princeton. These institutions, no matter how mediocre you are, feed students with the comforting self-delusion that they are there because they are not only the best but they deserve the best. You can see this attitude on display in every word uttered by George W. Bush. Here is a man with severely limited intellectual capacity and no moral core. He, along with “Scooter” Libby, who attended my boarding school and went on to Yale, is an example of the legions of self-centered mediocrities churned out by places like Andover, Yale and Harvard. Bush was, like the rest of his caste, propelled forward by his money and his connections. That is the real purpose of these well-endowed schools—to perpetuate their own. 

“There’s a certain kind of student at these schools who falls in love with the mystique and prestige of his own education,” said Elyse Graham, whom I taught at Princeton and who is now doing graduate work at Yale. “This is the guy who treats his time at Princeton as a scavenger hunt for Princetoniana and Princeton nostalgia: How many famous professors can I collect? And so on. And he comes away not only with all these props for his sense of being elect, but also with the smoothness that seems to indicate wide learning; college socializes you, so you learn to present even trite ideas well.”

These institutions cater to their students like high-end resorts. My prep school—remember this is a high school—recently built a $26-million gym. Not that it didn’t have a gym. It had a fine one with an Olympic pool. But it needed to upgrade its facilities to compete for the elite boys and girls being wooed by other schools. While public schools crumble, while public universities are slashed and degraded, while these elite institutions become unaffordable even for the middle class, the privileged retreat further into their opulent gated communities. Harvard lost $8 billion of its endowment over the past four months, which raises the question of how smart these people are, but it still has $30 billion. Schools like Yale, Stanford and Princeton are not far behind. Those on the inside are told they are there because they are better than others. Most believe it. 

The people I loved most, my working-class family in Maine, did not go to college. They were plumbers, post office clerks and mill workers. Most of the men were military veterans. They lived frugal and hard lives. They were indulgent of my incessant book reading and incompetence with tools, even my distaste for deer hunting, and they were a steady reminder that just because I had been blessed with an opportunity that was denied to them, I was not better or more intelligent. If you are poor you have to work after high school or, in the case of my grandfather, before you are able to finish high school. College is not an option. No one takes care of you. You have to do that for yourself. This is the most important difference between them and the elites.

The elite schools, which trumpet their diversity, base this diversity on race and ethnicity, rarely on class. The admissions process, as well as the staggering tuition costs, precludes most of the poor and working class. When my son got his SAT scores back last year, we were surprised to find that his critical reading score was lower than his math score. He dislikes math. He is an avid and perceptive reader. And so we did what many educated, middle-class families do. We hired an expensive tutor from The Princeton Review who taught him the tricks and techniques of taking standardized tests. The tutor told him things like “stop thinking about whether the passage is true. You are wasting test time thinking about the ideas. Just spit back what they tell you.” His reading score went up 130 points. Was he smarter? Was he a better reader? Did he become more intelligent?  Is reading and answering multiple-choice questions while someone holds a stopwatch over you even an effective measure of intelligence? What about those families that do not have a few thousand dollars to hire a tutor? What chance do they have? 

These universities, because of their incessant reliance on standardized tests and the demand for perfect grades, fill their classrooms with large numbers of drones. I have taught gifted and engaged students who used these institutions to expand the life of the mind, who asked the big questions and who cherished what these schools had to offer. But they were always a marginalized and dispirited minority. The bulk of their classmates, most of whom headed off to Wall Street or corporate firms when they graduated, starting at $120,000 a year, did prodigious amounts of work and faithfully regurgitated information. They received perfect grades in both tedious, boring classes and stimulating ones, not that they could tell the difference. They may have known the plot and salient details of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” but they were unable to tell you why the story was important. Their professors, fearful of being branded political and not wanting to upset the legions of wealthy donors and administrative overlords who rule such institutions, did not draw the obvious parallels with Iraq and American empire. They did not use Conrad’s story, as it was meant to be used, to examine our own imperial darkness. And so, even in the anemic world of liberal arts, what is taught exists in a moral void. 

“The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic,” William Deresiewicz, who taught English at Yale, wrote in “The American Scholar.” “While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite.”

Intelligence is morally neutral. It is no more virtuous than athletic prowess. It can be used to further the rape of the working class by corporations and the mechanisms of repression and war, or it can be used to fight these forces. But if you determine worth by wealth, as these institutions invariably do, then fighting the system is inherently devalued. The unstated ethic of these elite institutions is to make as much money as you can to sustain the elitist system. College presidents are not voices for the common good and the protection of intellectual integrity, but obsequious fundraisers. They shower honorary degrees and trusteeships on hedge fund managers and Wall Street titans whose lives are usually examples of moral squalor and unchecked greed. The message to the students is clear. But grabbing what you can, as John Ruskin said, isn’t any less wicked when you grab it with the power of your brains than with the power of your fists.

Most of these students are afraid to take risks. They cower before authority. They have been taught from a young age by zealous parents, schools and institutional authorities what constitutes failure and success. They are socialized to obey. They obsess over grades and seek to please professors, even if what their professors teach is fatuous. The point is to get ahead. Challenging authority is not a career advancer. Freshmen arrive on elite campuses and begin to network their way into the elite eating clubs, test into the elite academic programs and lobby for elite summer internships. By the time they graduate they are superbly conditioned to work 10 or 12 hours a day electronically moving large sums of money around. 

“The system forgot to teach them, along the way to the prestige admissions and the lucrative jobs, that the most important achievements can’t be measured by a letter or a number or a name,” Deresiewicz wrote. “It forgot that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.”

“Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul,” he went on. “These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions. I don’t think there ever was a golden age of intellectualism in the American university, but in the 19th century students might at least have had a chance to hear such questions raised in chapel or in the literary societies and debating clubs that flourished on campus.”

Barack Obama is a product of this elitist system. So are his degree-laden Cabinet members. They come out of Harvard, Yale, Wellesley and Princeton. Their friends and classmates made huge fortunes on Wall Street and in powerful law firms. They go to the same class reunions. They belong to the same clubs. They speak the same easy language of privilege and comfort and entitlement. They are endowed with an unbridled self-confidence and blind belief in a decaying political and financial system that has nurtured and empowered them.

These elites, and the corporate system they serve, have ruined the country. These elite cannot solve our problems. They have been trained to find “solutions,” such as the trillion-dollar bailout of banks and financial firms, that sustain the system. They will feed the beast until it dies. Don’t expect them to save us. They don’t know how. And when it all collapses, when our rotten financial system with its trillions in worthless assets implodes and our imperial wars end in humiliation and defeat, they will be exposed as being as helpless, and as stupid, as the rest of us.

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