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What-Really-Happened-to-the-1960sWhat Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy

Edward P. Morgan

2010, University of Kansas Press

 

Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.

– George Orwell, 1984

 

As a young and politically naïve college student, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to take several of Ted Morgan’s classes. His “Movements of the Sixties” course was hugely influential for me, primarily because exposure to the upheavals of that era taught me that the project of transforming our world towards a more democratic, just, and ecologically balanced future has deep roots. Standing confidently atop those long, sturdy roots transmits the possibility and hope that we can indeed change the world, because we already have. Indeed, the black freedom, anti-Vietnam War, women’s liberation, gay and lesbian liberation, welfare rights and other movements of the 60s era so successfully challenged the dominant capitalist institutions of the U.S. that those institutions have been scrambling for the last forty years to systematically minimize the possibility of future freedom struggles.

In this book, Ted Morgan documents a key component of that reaction: the two-pronged mass media campaign to denigrate and obscure the democratic promise that the movements of the sixties still hold, while at the same time co-opting the symbols and imagery of the sixties to make Corporate America “cool” and thereby sell more products. This media reaction has gone hand-in-hand with material forces, such as student debt, coercing the population into inactivity and obedience. In Morgan’s words, the result is a “depoliticized society,” with a “diminished ability to make history” (pg. 7). This book therefore becomes a weapon against rootlessness and despair, which I especially urge young people to read.

 

The Promise of Democracy

The 1960s are typically remembered as a time of turbulence and change. We all know the iconic images: assassinations, war, protests, urban riots, men on the moon, long hair, drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. Yet, it’s a decade that Americans are still trying to make sense of, justifying an endless stream of retrospectives like CNN’s latest 10-part weekly series “The Sixties.”  Ted Morgan’s necessary book What Really Happened to the 1960s provides answers you won’t find on primetime TV. In his writing, the underlying story of that decade was a clash between capitalism and democracy, one in which perhaps millions of Americans participated in social movements and challenged the country to become more just and more democratic (8). In some ways they succeeded and in others they failed. But as the book’s subtitle, How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy suggests, the true history of that struggle has been consistently distorted and hidden from view. What the media still cannot comprehend, or perhaps would seemingly most like to forget, is the democratic promise that formed the basis of those sixties social movements.

“[L]argely disappeared from memory [is] the surge in democratic empowerment in which large numbers of Americans of all ages organized themselves to confront and transform a range of injustices rooted in American institutions” (6, emphasis added).

As a practice of democratic empowerment, students initiated the lunch counter sit-ins to challenge legal racial segregation in the South. (1961)

As a practice of democratic empowerment, students initiated the lunch counter sit-ins to challenge legal racial segregation in the South. (1961)

Morgan goes on to define the phrase “democratic empowerment.”

“[D]emocratic empowerment means one’s unfolding ‘freedom to,’ a lifelong discovery of one’s authentic self, the discovery of which progressively frees one from manipulation by others and potentially by the disabling scripts of the unconscious” (51).

In other words, the sixties’ social movements, at their best, were not just about stopping racism or war on a systemic scale, but also about the self-realization of the millions of individuals involved on a personal level. Forty years later, I experienced the same rush of democratic empowerment when I attended my first organizing meeting and realized for the first time that in working with others I had the power to impact the world around me for the better. The meaningfulness and self-confidence that comes from a politically active and engaged life contrasts dramatically from the dominant modes of apathy and self-loathing inoculated into us by capitalist society and its mass media appendages. The experience of activism allows people to see themselves differently and to grow into their full potential, gaining courage as they take on greater and greater challenges – from speaking at a meeting, to holding a picket sign, to risking arrest in direct action.

As civil rights organizer Jim Lawson is quoted, “ordinary people who acted on conscience and took terrible risks were no longer ordinary people. They were by their very actions transformed” (51). Read the rest of this entry »


Upheaval Productions has produced some impressive documentary and interview footage on the most pressing issues of our day.  Here I am reposting 3 of their courageous interviews with 3 modern-day visionaries: Malalai Joya, a heroic voice of reason from the warzone of Afghanistan, Charles Bowden, who continues to shed necessary light on the underlying causes of US-Mexico border violence, drug trade and immigration, and George Katsiaficas, who has spent his life studying revolutions and popular uprisings around the world, and how ordinary people make positive social change.

Each video is about 10 minutes. I learned a lot from all three interviews, and I’m sure you will too.  Enjoy!

Malalai Joya is an Afghan activist, author, and former politician. She served as an elected member of the 2003 Loya Jirga and was a parliamentary member of the National Assembly of Afghanistan, until she was expelled for denouncing other members as warlords and war criminals.

She has been a vocal critic of both the US/NATO occupation and the Karzai government, as well as the Taliban and Islamic fundamentalists. After surviving four assassination attempts she currently lives underground in Afghanistan, continuing her work from safe houses. After the release of her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords, she recently concluded a US speaking tour. She sat down for an interview with David Zlutnick while in San Francisco on April 9, 2011. Read the rest of this entry »


I just saw this film and was blown away by its realism and its heart.  “Land and Freedom” (1995) is roughly based on George Orwell’s experience as a volunteer in the Spanish Revolution / Civil War of 1936 – 1939, which he journaled in his fantastic book Homage to Catalonia.

David is a British radical who goes to Spain to fight the Fascists, and discovers the reality of revolution, counter-revolution, and love.  The film does an excellent job portraying the political debates, struggles and betrayals between the various factions (Fascist, Communist, Anti-Stalinist Marxists, and Anarchists). The entire film is available in one video on youtube (109 min). It is directed by Ken Loach, and is in English and Spanish. Highly recommended!


Republished by Energy Bulletin, Countercurrents and OpEdNews.

The following exchange between Michael Carriere and Alex Knight occurred via email, July 2010. Alex Knight was questioned about the End of Capitalism Theory, which states that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth and that a paradigm shift toward a non-capitalist future is underway.

This is the final part of a four-part interview. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other sections.

Part 3. Life After Capitalism

MC: Moving forward, how would you ideally envision a post-capitalist world? And if capitalism manages to survive (as it has in the past), is there still room for real change?

AK: First let me repeat that even if my theory is right that capitalism is breaking down, it doesn’t suggest that we’ll automatically find ourselves living in a utopia soon. This crisis is an opportunity for us progressives but it is also an opportunity for right-wing forces. If the right seizes the initiative, I fear they could give rise to neo-fascism – a system in which freedoms are enclosed and violated for the purpose of restoring a mythical idea of national glory.

I think this threat is especially credible here in the United States, where in recent years we’ve seen the USA PATRIOT Act, the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations are “persons,” and the stripping of constitutional rights from those labeled “terrorists,” “enemy combatants”, as well as “illegals.” Arizona’s attempt to institute a racial profiling law and turn every police officer into an immigration official may be the face of fascism in America today. Angry whites joining together with the repressive forces of the state to terrorize a marginalized community, Latino immigrants. While we have a black president now, white supremacist sentiment remains widespread in this country, and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. So as we struggle for a better world we may also have to contend with increasing authoritarianism.

I should also state up front that I have no interest in “writing recipes for the cooks of the future.” I can’t prescribe the ideal post-capitalist world and I wouldn’t try. People will create solutions to the crises they face according to what makes most sense in their circumstances. In fact they’re already doing this. Yet, I would like to see your question addressed towards the public at large, and discussed in schools, workplaces, and communities. If we have an open conversation about what a better world would look like, this is where the best solutions will come from. Plus, the practice of imagination will give people a stronger investment in wanting the future to turn out better. So I’ll put forward some of my ideas for life beyond capitalism, in the hope that it spurs others to articulate their visions and initiate conversation on the world we want.

My personal vision has been shaped by my outrage over the two fundamental crises that capitalism has perpetrated: the ecological crisis and the social crisis. I see capitalism as a system of abuse. The system grows by exploiting people and the planet as means to extract profit, and by refusing to be responsible for the ecological and social trauma caused by its abuse. Therefore I believe any real solutions to our problems must be aligned to both ecological justice and social justice. If we privilege one over the other, we will only cause more harm. The planet must be healed, and our communities must be healed as well. I would propose these two goals as a starting point to the discussion.

How do we heal? What does healing look like? Let me expand from there.

Five Guideposts to a New World

I mentioned in response to the first question that I view freedom, democracy, justice, sustainability and love as guideposts that point towards a new world. This follows from what I call a common sense radical approach, because it is not about pulling vision for the future from some ideological playbook or dogma, but from lived experience. Rather than taking pre-formed ideas and trying to make reality fit that conceptual blueprint, ideas should spring from what makes sense on the ground. The five guideposts come from our common values. It doesn’t take an expert to understand them or put them into practice.

In the first section I described how freedom at its core is about self-determination. I said that defined this way it presents a radical challenge to capitalist society because it highlights the lack of power we have under capitalism. We do not have self-determination, and we cannot as long as huge corporations and corrupt politicians control our destinies.

I’ll add that access to land is fundamental to a meaningful definition of freedom. The group Take Back the Land has highlighted this through their work to move homeless and foreclosed families directly into vacant homes in Miami. Everyone needs access to land for the basic security of housing, but also for the ability to feed themselves. Without “food sovereignty,” or the power to provide for one’s own family, community or nation with healthy, culturally and ecologically appropriate food, freedom cannot exist. The best way to ensure that communities have food sovereignty is to ensure they have access to land.

Ella Baker championed the idea of participatory democracy

Similarly, a deeper interpretation of democracy would emphasize participation by an individual or community in the decisions that affect them. For this definition I follow in the footsteps of Ella Baker, the mighty civil rights organizer who championed the idea of participatory democracy. With a lifelong focus on empowering ordinary people to solve their own problems, Ella Baker is known for saying “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” This was the philosophy of the black students who sat-in at lunch counters in the South to win their right to public accommodations. They didn’t wait for the law to change, or for adults to tell them to do it. The students recognized that society was wrong, and practiced non-violent civil disobedience , becoming empowered by their actions. Then with Ms. Baker’s support they formed the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and organized poor blacks in Mississippi to demand their right to vote, passing on the torch of empowerment.

We need to be empowered to manage our own affairs on a large scale. In a participatory democracy, “we, the people” would run the show, not representatives who depend on corporate funding to get elected. “By the people, for the people, of the people” are great words. What if we actually put those words into action in the government, the economy, the media, and all the institutions that affect our lives? Institutions should obey the will of the people, rather than the people obeying the will of institutions. It can happen, but only through organization and active participation of the people as a whole. We must empower ourselves, not wait for someone else to do it. Read the rest of this entry »


Republished by Energy Bulletin, The Todd Blog, OpEdNews, Countercurrents, and translated into Turkish for Hafif.org.

The following exchange between Michael Carriere and Alex Knight occurred via email, July 2010. Alex Knight was questioned about the End of Capitalism Theory, which states that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth and that a paradigm shift toward a non-capitalist future is underway.

This is the second part of a four-part interview. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other sections.

Part 2A. Capitalism and Ecological Limits

MC: Capitalism has faced many moments of crisis over time. Is there something different about the present crisis? What makes the end of capitalism a possibility now?

AK: This is such an important question, and it’s vital to think and talk about the crisis in this way, with a view toward history. It’s not immediately obvious why this crisis began and why, two years later, it’s not getting better. Making sense of this is challenging. Especially since knowledge of economics has become so enclosed within academic and professional channels where it’s off-limits to the majority of the population. Even progressive intellectuals, who aim to translate and explain the crisis to regular folks, too often fall into the trap of accepting elite explanations as the starting point and then injecting their politics around the edges. This is why there is such an abundance of essays and videos analyzing “credit default swaps”, “collateralized debt obligations,” etc., as if this crisis is about nothing more than greedy speculators overstepping their bounds.

On the contrary, the End of Capitalism Theory insists there are deeper explanations for why this crisis is so severe, widespread, and long-lasting. Here’s one explanation: The devastating quaking of the financial markets, and the lingering aftershocks we’re experiencing in layoffs and cut-backs, are manifestations of much larger tectonic shifts under the surface of the economy. This turmoil originates from deep instabilities within capitalism, the global economic system that dominates our planet. The dramatic crisis we are experiencing now is resulting from a massive underground collision between capitalism’s relentless need for growth on one side, and the world’s limited capacity to sustain that growth on the other.

These limits to growth, like the continental plates, are enormous, permanent qualities of the Earth – they cannot be ignored or simply moved out of the way. The limits to growth are both ecological, such as shortages of resources, and social, such as growing movements for change around the globe. As capitalism rams into these limiting forces, numerous crises (economic, energy, climate, food, water, political, etc.) erupt, and destruction sweeps through society. This collision between capitalism and its limits will continue until capitalism itself collapses and is replaced by other ways of living.

Tectonic Plates Colliding - Capitalism is Ramming into the Limits to Growth, Causing Massive Shocks on the Surface of the Economy

The End of Capitalism Theory argues that capitalism will not be able to overcome these limits to growth, and therefore it is only a matter of time before we are living in a non-capitalist world. A paradigm shift towards a new society is underway. There’s a chance this new future could be even worse, but I hold tremendous hope in the capacity of human beings to invent a better life for themselves when given the chance. Part of my hope springs from the understanding that capitalism has caused terrible havoc all over the world through the violence it perpetrates against humanity and Mother Earth. The end of capitalism need not be a disaster. It can be a triumph. Or, perhaps, a sigh of relief.

Defining the Crisis

Rather than spend our time learning the language of Wall St. and trying to understand the economic crisis from the perspective of the bankers and capitalists, I think we can get much further if we take our own point of reference and then investigate below the surface to try to find the true origins of the crisis. This is what I call a common sense radical approach. Start from where we are, who we are, and what we know, because you don’t need to be an academic to understand the economy – you just need common sense. Then try to get to the root of the issue (radical coming from the Latin word for “root”). What is really going on under the surface? What is the core of the problem? If we can’t come up with a common sense radical explanation of the crisis, we’ll always be stuck within someone else’s dogma. This could be Wall St. dogma, Marxist dogma, Christian dogma, etc. So what is this crisis really about? Read the rest of this entry »


It’s becoming increasingly clear that we can no longer afford to imprison nearly 2 and a half million Americans, a disproportionate number of them black and Latino.  The choice is clear: break the bank to continue to punish people for mostly nonviolent offenses, or figure out a new way to operate “criminal justice” that actually heals people rather than just putting them in cages.

If we continue down a neo-fascist path we will be unable to treat prisoners as human beings, and continue to drive a racial wedge into the heart of the nation. Obama must remember that he is Black and stop these Jim Crow shenanigans. [alex]

The New Jim Crow
How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste

By Michelle Alexander

Originally published by TomDispatch.

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.

Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Excuses for the Lockdown Read the rest of this entry »


Yesterday, President Obama announced his new $3.8 Trillion budget proposal, including about a trillion dollars for war and military, including increasing expenditure on Nuclear Weapons by $7 billion!  Nuclear weapons? Really? That’s the change we can believe in?

[update 2/5: I should also mention the completely misguided funding of nuclear power plants as well, see Obama’s Nuclear Giveaway]

This news came alongside an announced “spending freeze”, which would exclude military/war and only affect social programs, like jobs, housing, education and health care. These are precisely the programs which need to be dramatically increased in this economic crisis, not frozen. This proposed freeze would last 3 years, meaning for the rest of Obama’s term in office we could see no new spending on any of the social programs that are desperately needed. The poor, the middle and working classes, and everyone who has hope for a more compassionate United States is essentially being locked out in the cold.

Candidate Obama himself campaigned against exactly such an “across the board spending freeze,” as we may recall if we can muster our memories back through one year of hazy distractions (luckily Youtube never forgets):

If they’re so interested in reducing spending, why not cut totally useless and destructive programs – like NUCLEAR WEAPONS?

Why is Obama backsliding on all of his campaign promises? It just so happens that even though there’s no sane use of additional nuclear weapons (the US stockpile is already over 10,000 warheads, and the Cold War is over), nuclear weapons corporations like Lockheed Martin spend millions of dollars to lobby politicians for this funding anyway. And sadly, they’re getting it because Obama is afraid of the Republicans.

Once again we are seeing the continued march towards war, death and neo-fascism. The needs of the population – from decent jobs and housing, affordable education and health care, to a healthy environment – are being denied in order to protect corporate and financial interests.

Here’s Democracy Now! with the nuclear weapons story, and an article from Norman Solomon on the spending freeze below:

Despite Non-Proliferation Pledge, Obama Budget Request Seeks Additional $7B for Nuclear Arsenal

As part of a record $3.8 trillion budget proposal, the Obama administration is asking Congress to increase spending on the US nuclear arsenal by more than $7 billion over the next five years. Obama is seeking the extra money despite a pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world. The proposal includes large funding increases for a new plutonium production facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico. We speak with Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. Watch video.

Don’t Call It a ‘Defense’ Budget

by Norman Solomon

This isn’t “defense.”

The new budget from the White House will push U.S. military spending well above $2 billion a day.

Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.

“Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors,” the New York Times reports this morning (February 2).

It isn’t defense to preclude new domestic initiatives for a country that desperately needs them: for healthcare, jobs, green technologies, carbon reduction, housing, education, nutrition, mass transit . . . Read the rest of this entry »


One year into Barack Obama’s presidency, and the U.S. wars and killing of civilians have continued unabated, in direct contradiction to his campaign pledges to put a stop to these. Today, two great videos explore this contradiction, including a Democracy Now! interview with veteran activist Allan Nairn, who explains in the simplest terms how the US continues to kill innocent people under Obama.

But first, “Jake Gyllenhaal Challenges the Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize” by Diran Lyons, a political remix video of scenes from Jarhead and Donnie Darko mixed with Obama’s own words displaying the hypocrisy of power – as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to devastate. Check it out! [alex]

And here is the transcript of the Democracy Now! interview with Allan Nairn, entitled “Obama Has Kept the Machine Set on Kill.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it’s almost been a year since President Obama’s inauguration and his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo.

For a critical look back over the Obama administration’s foreign policy and national security decisions in the last twelve months, we’re joined here in New York by award-winning investigative journalist and activist Allan Nairn.

In 1991, we were both in East Timor and witnessed and survived the Santa Cruz massacre, in which Indonesian forces killed more than 270 Timorese. The soldiers fractured Allan’s skull.

Over the past three decades, he has exposed how the US government has backed paramilitary death squads in El Salvador, in Guatemala, in Haiti. He also uncovered US support for the Indonesian military’s assassinations and torture of civilians.

He’s joining us now for the rest of the hour.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Allan Nairn.

ALLAN NAIRN: Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you start off with a broad overview, as we move into this first anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration, of his term in office?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, I think Obama should be remembered as a great man because of the blow he struck against white racism, the cultural blow. And he accomplished that on Election Day. That was huge. This is one of the most destructive forces in world history, and by simply—by virtue of becoming president, Obama did it major damage.

But once he became president, by virtue of his actions, just like every US president before him, just like those who ran other great powers, Obama became a murderer and a terrorist, because the US has a machine that spans the globe, that has the capacity to kill, and Obama has kept it set on kill. He could have flipped the switch and turned it off. The President has—turned it off. The President has that power, but he chose not to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean? Explain more fully.

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, the machine. The US spends about half of all—almost half of all the military spending in the entire world, equal to virtually all the other countries combined. More than half of the weapons sold in the world are sold by the United States. The US has more than 700 military bases scattered across dozens of countries. The US is the world’s leading trainer of paramilitaries. The US has a series of courses, from interrogators to generals, that have graduated military people guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in dozens upon dozens of countries. The US has a series of covert paramilitary forces of its own that get almost no attention. For example, right now in Iran, there are covert US paramilitaries attacking Iran from within, authorized by secret executive order. This was briefly reported, but it dropped from notice. In addition to that, there are the open attacks, the open bombings and invasions. Just in the recent period, the US has done this to Iran—to, I’m sorry, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Kenya. Currently in the Philippines, there are US troops in action in the south. And you could go on. This is the machine.

And then, in addition, there’s the support for a series of what the RAND Corporation itself—you know, RAND is an extension of the Pentagon—called US support for repressive non-democratic governments and for governments that commit aggression. There are about forty of them that the US backs. And I could run through the list. And the point is, Obama has not cut a single—cut off a single one of these repressive regimes. He has not cut off a single one of the terror forces. He has increased the size of the US Army, increased the size of US Special Forces. He has increased the level of overseas arms sales. In fact, the Pentagon, his Pentagon, was recently bragging about it. The same thing happened under the Clinton administration with then-Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. He has tuned it up. But you could just run down the list of countries where civilians are being killed and tortured with US weapons, with US money, with US intelligence, with US political green lights.

ANJALI KAMAT: So, Allan, what would you say is the difference between the preceding eight years under the Bush administration and this past year, as we move forward under Obama? Read the rest of this entry »

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