Saturday, February 19, 2011

Overthrowing the Invincible Why Did Egyptians Succeed, Where Americans Fail? By ERIC WALBERG

Western media always welcomes the overthrow of a dictator -- great headline news -- but this instance was greeted with less than euphoria by Western -- especially American -- leaders, who tried to soft-peddle it much as did official Egyptian media till the leader fled the palace. Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak was a generously paid ally for the US in its Middle East policy of protecting Israel, and the hesitancy of the Western -- especially US -- governments in supporting fully what should have been a poster-child of much-touted US ideals was both frustrating and highly instructive.

Canadian government support for Mubarak was even more staunch until vice-president Omar Suleiman's 20 second resignation speech 11 February, clearly written with a metaphorical gun to one or both of their heads. This craven loyalty to an autocrat reviled by his people was the US-Israeli preferred solution. Much better to cool the passionate revolutionaries, allow the system, so beneficial to Israel, to adjust and survive.

But perhaps more important, much better to continue Egypt's state-of-emergency laws that allow the regime to keep Israel critics and devout Muslims under raps, and just as important, allow the US to "render" undesirable Muslims there to be tortured. Imagine if the records of these renditions over the past decade by the US (and Canada) to Egypt were to come to light, falling into the hands of the revolutionaries, much like Britain's secret treaties in WWI fell into the Bolsheviks' hands?
"They're not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube," quipped Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper glumly. He could well be articulating -- in his own tasteless way -- the sentiments of the Egyptian military establishment, which had no use for a Mubarak dynasty and sided with the rebels, though at a considerable cost. Those now in power, nominally headed by Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces Mohammed Tantawi, must push determined demonstrators out of Tahrir Square, get people back to work, shut down further strikes, and keep their US military advisers (not to mention the US president himself) assured that the centrepiece of Egyptian foreign policy remains in place. Truly a messy task.

It is hard to believe now that just a few weeks ago, Mubarak was invincible, his visage gracing at least one page in every newspaper every day, meeting with some Western leader, posing with Israeli notables, confident that he was in control of his desert ship-of-state. After the initial euphoria, and as evidence of his misrule and the perilous state that he left Egypt in pours out of newly liberated media, people are overwhelmed, irritable and depressed. People have undergone a wrenching shift in their thinking in the past three weeks.

Iranian leaders note the eerie coincidence with their own revolution of 11 February 1979 overthrowing the shah (1941-79). A national holiday, more than half the population of Iran was out on the streets celebrating along with Egyptians when Mubarak finally resigned last Friday evening. US commentators prefer to compare the revolution to the overthrow of Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos (1965-87) and Indonesian president Suharto (1968-98). They even suggest it could lead to another Iranian revolution.

Despite the many differences, Iran and Indonesia are the closest parallels: an anti-colonial revolt against a repressive pseudo-Muslim autocrat whose corruption and nepotism undid him. Those revolts triumphed when the army and police gave up supporting the US-backed leader, much as Egypt's security apparatus did. The long repressed Muslim Brotherhood is the Sunni equivalent of the Iranian clerics. Even if the US can steer Egypt into the secular Indonesian model, it will still have to come to terms with the fact that Indonesia does not recognise Israel, that any future Egyptian government will almost surely renegotiate the 1979 peace agreement with Israel.

It seems that Egypt's suffering and oppression are something alien to Western experience. But this is far from the truth. As the fervour spread like wildfire during the first few weeks, I recalled how the leftist community in Toronto is just as self-righteous and eager for change, how neoliberalism has left Canadian society with yawning income disparities not much different than those of Egypt. The most obvious difference being that the general standard of living in Canada is higher and the middle class (still) more numerous. But the very idea of such a spectacular event as happened here to address issues of social justice is impossible to imagine there or in the US.

It struck me that the most stark and instructive parallel is not with Indonesia or Iran, but between pre-revolution Egypt and the current US, which, like Egypt, has reached the end of the same gruelling 30-year neoliberal road that Egypt did under Mubarak's reign, jettisoning any pretense of a just society. The coincidences abound: both the US and Egypt began their ill-fated journeys in that very 1981, with the ascendancy of US president Ronald Reagan and the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadat, though El-Sadat had actually pre-empted Reaganomics with his infitah, dismantling of much of Egypt's socialism.

Each US presidency since then has either embraced or been pressured by the exigencies of capitalism and electoral democracy to enact greater and great tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, meanwhile cutting social services and increasing spending on so-called defence. Each "new" government has regularly flouted the consensus of the electorate on all major issues, from the environment, social services, jobs, to weapons production, invasions, drug laws and the Cubas and Irans which in defiance dare to flout the empire.

Income disparity is arguably the strongest impulse to revolt. As measured by the Gini coefficient (0 is perfect equality) Egypt stands in a far better light at .34 than the US .45 (Canada is .32).
So why did Egyptians succeed spectacularly where Americans -- in even greater need of a revolution -- fail spectacularly?

Egyptians seem to be much more politically astute than their American counterparts, more willing to admit that their leaders take bribes, lie, follow policies dictated by business or lobbies and which counter public opinion.

But the key to understanding why a revolution like Egypt's is impossible in the US is the fact that, unlike Egypt's army (composed mostly of conscripts), the US has a mercenary (excuse me, professional) army, which would have little compunction to fire on any group threatening the sanctity of the political establishment. Conscription is a vital brick in building a democratic society, an safeguard allowing the society to be dismantled if it turns into a jail or a brothel, a brick which has been lost to the US and its satellites. A brick that Egyptian protesters used to telling effect.
Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people "have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities". So what are Egypt's prospects of creating a thriving democracy? They would be wise to listen to Kerry and to observe the US system, though not to copy it but on the contrary to learn from its sorry state.

Why would Americans expect a president to be fair and hear them when he must raise a billion dollars from corporations to outspend his equally compromised rival in elections? New York Times analyst Bob Herbert looked enviously at Egyptians' longing for democracy, comparing the US political system to a "perversion of democracy", bemoaning that at the very moment Egyptians are discovering it, "Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away."

And yet Americans blissfully pledge their allegiance, weep on 4 July and during presidential inaugurations, despite the unassailable evidence of the injustices both domestically and abroad of the system they live under. Egyptians, though just as nationalistic, were able to see through the facade of their pseudo-democracy and rise up to overthrow the guilty parties. They are the heroes of all true democrats in the world. The few people particularly in North America who see through their own quite transparent political facade can only look on wistfully.

What became the anthem of the revolution — "Why?" by Mohamed Munir — was written, presciently, a month before the 25 January spark that burned away (let's hope) much of the chaff accumulated during 30 years of neoliberal "reforms". He cries out to his homeland like a spurned lover who vows to take his country back from the usurpers:
If love of you was my choice
My heart would long ago have changed you for another
But I vow I will continue to change your life for the better
Till you are content with me.
How different from the equivalent American song — Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" — self-pitying and hopeless in this, the world's sole superpower:
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
'Till you spend half your life just covering up.
Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at

February 18 - 20, 2011 Remember Palestine, January 25, 2006 How "Democracy" Got Strangled in Its Crib By YONATAN MENDEL

It was five years ago. I remember myself hesitating. I knew that it was the right decision, and that nothing would happen, but still, to go alone, to meet a leader of Hamas, a former prisoner, in his village, made me a bit apprehensive. It was 2005, during my Masters programme at SOAS, when I had returned to my home city of Jerusalem to conduct fieldwork. The thesis I wrote dealt with the "myth and reality of the unification of Jerusalem", and was based on interviews. Following a few meetings with Israeli and Palestinian scholars and politicians, from different streams, I realised that I still didn't have Hamas's viewpoint.
Muhammad Abu-Tir, a resident of Umm-Tuba village in the eastern part of Jerusalem, seemed like the perfect man for the mission. He was a candidate to the then upcoming Palestinian elections, and represented Hamas in the Jerusalem District. Almost as importantly, he had an orange beard. He coloured his beard in glowing orange henna, a Muslim tradition that goes back to the days of Prophet Muhammad, and for me, an Israeli who grew up in a society that treats "Hamas" and "terrorism" as synonymous, it was the detail that made him the least threatening Hamas member around. "Real terrorists", I pondered, "do not have orange beards."
A few days later, in accordance with the instructions I received from Abu-Tir's assistant, I stopped my car at the entrance of Umm-Tuba and waited. After a while a young Palestinian man, about my age, approached the car and looked inside. He then asked me to follow his car, and I did. Umm-Tuba, which is part of municipal Jerusalem and of what the Israeli establishment calls "our united capital forever and ever", was revealed to me during the next few minutes as nothing but a part of the city. It was neglected and dirty, straightforwardly discriminated against, and connected to the city on paper only.
Abu-Tir waited for me outside his house, sitting on a white brick wall, and greeted me as I parked the car. The whole situation was awkward for me. Abu-Tir probably felt this embarrassment. He invited me to the balcony, where we sat for almost two hours. He asked me first about the studies in London and my childhood in Jerusalem. Then we spoke about his Jerusalem, and about Hamas.
Abu-Tir was nothing like I had imagined. His political vision was clear and included neither my annihilation, nor "throwing the Jews into the sea". Instead, he opposed violence against civilians, and supported a Palestinian non-violent struggle to end the occupation. He said Hamas would be willing to accept the two-state solution as long as it was based on the 1967 lines and the end of the Israeli occupation. He said that Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas (assassinated by Israeli Apaches in 2004, aged 68, while in his wheelchair) had also publicly supported, on a few occasions, a similar solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I knew that this was not the whole truth; that the military wing of Hamas spoke in a different voice to its political leaders, and that even within the political leadership a range of views existed. As a Jerusalemite, I also remembered well that Hamas was responsible for dozens of dreadful operations, which included explosions of buses and restaurants, in which hundreds of Israeli civilians had been killed. However, for me, the fact that I sat with Abu-Tir, in his house, and heard about Hamas as a response - to Fatah's corruption, to Israeli occupation, to the continuation of settlements building, to the despair which quickly spread in the Palestinian street – brought me to rethink the deceit hidden beneath the Israeli, and worldwide, concept of "terrorism".
A few months later, on January 25, 2006, Abu Tir was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) for his Jerusalem constituency. The elections took place following US encouragement to "democratise" the political system in Palestine, and resulted in a historical victory for Hamas's "List of Change and Reform". British politician Edward McMillan-Scott, the European Parliament Vice-President, headed a group of 30 European MPs to Palestine who were charged with ensuring that the elections were held legally. The Carter Centre, which had monitored 62 election-campaigns worldwide up to this point, was also sent to Palestine in order to make sure that the Palestinians voted democratically. And they did. Hamas won 74 seats out of 132, and was so able to create a majority government on its own. It defeated Fatah, its main rival, whose share of seats decreased from 75 per cent of to just 35 per cent. It was obvious that the Palestinian people in 2006, just like the Israelis in 1977, the British citizens in 1997, or the US people in 2008, voted for a change.
What happened next was a political avalanche. The Quartet (US, Russia, the EU and the UN) and Israel stated that they were suspending all tax revenues and financial aid previously given to the Palestinian government. Hamas was not the party they had wanted to win the elections, and they were willing to go great lengths in order to demonstrate this to the Palestinian people. According to the New York Times, officials from Washington and Tel Aviv were saying at the time that "the US and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government."
These anti-democratic pressures eventually forced Hamas to accept the compromise suggested by the Quartet and formed a unity government. But also this government did not last for long. Existing disputes within Hamas were compounded by the increasing perception that the movement's influence within government was disproportionate to their victory in the elections. Following massive internal wrangling, Hamas eventually violently took over the Gaza Strip, and in the West Bank, President Abbas responded with a wave of arrests and attacks against Hamas gunmen and strongholds.
Following the clashes, Abbas ordered the establishment of a new government, and appointed Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank official, as Prime Minister. Interestingly, in the same elections Fayyad was a candidate, and his party came sixth and last – after Hamas, Fatah, PFLP, and behind the anonymous parties of "The Alternative", and "Independent Palestine". It was another indication of the democratic lesson that the Palestinian people learned, or did not learn, in January 2006.
Exactly five years after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, on January 25,  2011, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians marched into the streets of Cairo and shouted "irhal, irhal" ("leave, leave") to their dictator. There was something noble in their spontaneous protest and desire for democratic elections, and the US - unlike its reaction in the Palestinian case study – did respect the people's desire. Perhaps a new internalization emerged, according to which the short-term benefits supplied by a current dictator do not serve the long-term interests of the specific country, and of the international community.
The US, and the "West" generally, have yet to acknowledge that the same is the case with Hamas.
In the five years that have passed since the rejection of the Palestinian's democratic decision, perhaps some short-term desires were fulfilled, but judging by the broader interests of the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the "West", things have gone incredibly wrong. Israeli building in the settlements continues. Jerusalem elected the most right-wing and extremist mayor it ever had. Liberman was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. An Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip began and continues until the present day. An Israeli offensive in Gaza culminated in the death of 1,400 Palestinians and massive destruction. Rocket fire into Israel didn't stop, and during 2010 at least 163 shells hit the country. The Israeli soldier Gil'ad Shalit was kidnapped and the negotiation for his release have failed. Lastly, the Gaza flotilla raid, in which Israeli Navy Seals killed nine Turkish civilians in international water created a great diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey. All in all, it seems that in the last five years since Hamas were totally rejected Israel has only further radicalized, and also lost its only friends in the Middle East.
The current hope for many Israelis, Europeans and the US, is the possible election of Zipi Livni to the post of Prime Minister. But also Livni, if elected, will not negotiate with Hamas, and will so continue the Israeli rejection of the most popular Palestinian political movement. She may sign an agreement with a non-elected Palestinian leadership but the Gaza Strip will not be part of it. Historical Palestine, which shrank following the 1947 Partition Plan, and shrank further following the 1948 War, and even more following Israeli settlements projects, will then become even smaller and include a hollowed, awkward, West Bank, with no real sovereignty, no airports, no army, no access to the sea, and not even a border with Jordan. The Israeli desire to separate from the Palestinians and never to see them again will be her greatest incentive, but unfortunately she will have a non-democratically elected Palestinian partner to sign it. A peace treaty between the Israeli haters of Hamas and the Palestinian haters of Hamas will be signed, and will signal the start of the countdown to the next war.
Hamas must play a part in Palestinian politics - next to, above or under the current non-elected government. Not because they are nice, but because they represent the majority of the Palestinian population of the Occupied Territories. Having Hamas as part of the debate is the key to ending the inhuman Israeli siege on Gaza, to supporting the Palestinian economy and thereby ending its dependence on UN support with its concomitant negative impact on Palestinian society. It is also the only tactic that could bring about the release of Shalit in return for Palestinian prisoners, a truce, or a long-term agreement. The international community, and "the only democracy in the Middle East", should begin to realise that supporting the Fatah dictatorship is going against its very interests.
But sadly, the "international community" has shown incredibly high levels of cowardice in the last five years. Understanding that Hamas is the key but realising that nobody can say it, the general political statements of the world's leaders have time and again included always heavy criticism of the Israeli siege, another paragraph voicing anxiety about "the peace process", but nothing, not even vague, about Hamas. David Cameron said that "Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp." Nicola Sarkozy said that "the siege on Gaza will not free Israeli soldier Shalit." Hillary Clinton said that "The US has been repeatedly urging Israel to ease the siege on Gaza." Even the former Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, said that "the siege on Gaza must be lifted." They all know that in order to step forward in any negotiation, in order to end the siege on Gaza, or to release Shalit, they must mention Hamas. And they all refrain from doing so.
The Egyptian people are currently fighting for democratic elections in their country. The world should support any result of the Egyptian elections, which will hopefully be held in the next coming months. However, unlike the Egyptians, or the Bahrainis, or the Tunisians, who are still waiting for a democratic change in their countries, the Palestinians are waiting for more than five years for the world to accept its decision. Particularly in light of events in Egypt, it is time to rethink the consequences of not acknowledging, and not accepting, the Palestinian democratic decision.
Yonatan Mendel is an Israeli scholar, currently finishing his PhD at Cambridge University, Department of Middle Eastern Studies. He formerly worked as a journalist in Israel, and is currently a contributor to the London Review of Books. He can be reached at

February 18 - 20, 2011 What "Moment of Opportunity?" Palestinian Deadline Doomed By NICOLA NASSER

The international Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia on Middle East peace and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) seem set on an agenda that perceives September 2011 as an historical political watershed deadline. ODDLY, THE ONE COUNTRY NOT MENTIONED IS ISRAEL! Among the partners to the Quartet – sponsored Palestinian – Israeli "peace process," practically deadlocked since the collapse of the US, Palestinian and Israeli trilateral summit in Camp David in 2000, only the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu seems adamant to set a completely different agenda that renders any endeavor by the Quartet to revive the process a non – starter, thus dooming the September deadline beforehand as another missed opportunity for peace making.

Denying they are containment measures aimed at political survival to avert potential Palestinian simulation in the aftermath of the regime changes in Egypt and Tunisia, the PLO is bracing for what it declares as indeed "the" watershed deadline in September 2011 that would make or break its decision to resume as a partner to the "peace process." The PLO is reshuffling its negotiations department as well as the cabinet of the self-ruled Palestinian Authority (PA) and has called for presidential, legislative and local elections by next September to empower itself with electoral legitimacy ahead of that deadline, encouraged by what the Quartet perceives as a "really important moment of opportunity," in the words of the Quartet's representative the former UK prime minister Tony Blair, which is an "opportunity" created by the Arab popular uprisings that so far have swept to the dustbin of history the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes, both considered for decades major pillars of the Middle East "peace process."

Blair's "moment of opportunity" (Sky News on Feb. 14) was voiced also the next day by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who told the London School of Economics that, "Time is a factor, and urgent progress in the Palestinian-Israeli settlement is necessary." TO USE THE WORD "URGENT" IN ANY MANNER IN DISCUSSING OR DESCRIBING THE PERPETUAL JAW-JAW BETWEEN THE PALESTINIANS AND THE ISRAELI'S WHO HAVE ASTRONOMICAL ADVANTAGES OF ARMS, FUNDS, MILITARY HARDWARE, MILITARY PERSONNEL, IS TO OVERLOOK THAT ISRAEL, THAT MOST COWARDLY OF NATIONS, WILL DO NOTHING UNTIL THE FORCE BROUGHT TO BEAR UPON IT BY WORLD PRESSURE - MOST LIKELY ECONOMIC - FORCES ISRAEL'S HAND ... WHILE THE FACTS ON THE GROUND ARE THAT THE SETTLERS WILL SETTLE MORE LANDS, ABSCOND MORE POTABLE WATER, ETC, ETC, ETC ... FORTUNATELY, VERY FEW JEWS WISH TO LIVE IN ISRAEL, THE U.S. BEING THE LIGHT SHINING FORTH, LIKE A BEACON LIKE UNTIL A HILL, SO THE RUSSIANS FALSELY CLAIMING JEWISH BLOOD WILL BE FIGHTING, ULTIMATELY, ONLY FOR THE LAND UPON WHICH THEY STAND, AND THERE WILL BE NO ONE THERE TO SUPPORT THEM On the same day while on a visit in Israel and the PA, the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, citing the "significant changes in Tunisia and of course in Egypt," said "there is an opportunity for us to try and engage better and more quickly on resolving the issue" of the peace process. On Feb. 12 the UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, citing the "one of the good things that might come from the events in Egypt and Tunisia," joined the "peace opportunity" choir to urge that "it is vital now to take this (the peace process) forward" because "in a few years time a two – state solution will be much, much more difficult to achieve." Citing the same "changes," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told the annual dinner of the Jewish organizations (CRIF) in Paris on Feb. 9 that "it is urgent to revive direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians." Three days earlier, on Feb. 6, even the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, addressing the 11th annual Herzliya security conference and similarly citing the regional "dramatic events of the recent period" which make it "necessary for us to take the Israeli – Palestinian conflict off the regional agenda," urged Netanyahu that it is a "must" Israel does "this as soon as possible." It was also noteworthy that the secretary-general of the NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, found it necessary to contradict the official Israeli statements that the recent change in Egypt and Tunisia proves that Arab – Israeli conflict is NOT the source of instability in the Middle East. "The lack of a solution to the Israel - Palestinian conflict continues to undermine the stability of the region," he told the Herzliya security conference.


To "do this," it seems that all those who see in the collapse of the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt a "moment of opportunity" have set a timetable throughout the September deadline. THIS CONSTRUCT IS SO BOGUS THAT I SHALL NOT COMMENT ON IT. ONCE THE EGYPTIANS HAVE THEIR OWN DEMOCRATICALLY SELECTED GOVERNMENT, THE PALESTINIAN MILITARY POSITION BECOMES MUCH STRONGER ... ISRAEL HATES FIGHTING WHERE THEY HAVE LESS THAN 1,000 TO ONE NUMERICAL ADVANTAGE  In addition to the PLO's measures, the UN Secretary General, in a press conference on Feb. 8, reminded that the Quartet will meet at the ministerial level in mid – March and decided at its latest meeting in Munich earlier this month "to step up its search for comprehensive Middle East peace," adding the Quartet "expects to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials separately in Brussels at the beginning of March." Meanwhile, Paris will host a new international donor conference in June. Ahead of her meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier in the week, the EU's Ashton sounded affirmative on the Palestinian make – it – or – break – it September deadline, thus raising Palestinian expectations to the highest level possible without revealing whatever she might conceal of Israeli forthcoming to vindicate it. "It is a timeframe that everybody has signed up to," she said, and while admitting it would be "challenging," she added: "I think we have to try and reach it." In Munich, the Quartet's statement on Feb. 5 similarly reiterated its support for "concluding these (Palestinian – Israeli) negotiations by September 2011," when the PLO negotiators hope to see international recognition of their aspired state come true.

This deadline was initially set by U.S. President Barak Obama when he, IMAGINE THAT, THE POTUS THINKING HE CAN TELL ISRAEL WHAT TO DO IN ISRAEL?  HE CAN'T EVEN TELL DEMOCRATS HOW TO VOTE !! on last September 2, re-launched Palestinian – Israeli "direct" talks declaring they should be concluded a year later and, in his speech delivered to the UN General Assembly later that month expressed his hope that, "when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations — an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel."

In spite of their bitter "disappointment," which was expressed on record by Abbas, with U.S. and European repeatedly broken past promises, PLO presidency and negotiators wishfully continue to make believe and insistently opt to being held hostage to renewed similar promises, hoping their "peace partners" would, by a miracle, commit to their words. Building on these "promises," the PLO mandated its Palestinian Authority's cabinet of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with a two – year plan for building the institutions of a "state" that is scheduled to be completed by September.

However, Obama's re-launched "direct" talks were suspended three weeks later, collapsing on Obama's helplessness vis – a – vis Israel's challenge to his on record call for the extension of the suspension of the ongoing expansion of the Israeli illegal colonial settlements on the area designated for a Palestinian state. FURTHER EVIDENCE OF OBAMA'S IMPOTENCE (AND THE IMPOTENCE IN GENERAL OF THE US PRESIDENT, STATE DEPT, MILITARY, ETC, TO IMPOSE THE WILL (BUSINESS INTERESTES OF THE AMERICAN CORPORATE STATE) OF IT'S CONSTITUENTS UPON OTHER NATIONS Accordingly there are no negotiations to be "concluded" by September.


Suddenly, the Quartet sees a "moment of opportunity" to re–launch the negotiations and possibly to meet the September deadline. Ironically, the opportunity is found in the demise of the regional pivotal Egyptian pillar of the "peace process," which could not help the process out while it was still in power. The reader is owed an explanation.

True the post – Mubarak military transitional regime had already pronounced its commitment to the treaties signed by its predecessor "regionally and internationally," implicitly including the peace treaty with Israel, but committing to this treaty is one thing and committing to the previous active Egyptian role in the "peace process" is another. At least for a year and for the near future thereafter the new regime will be too preoccupied internally to spare time for a role in a process that has proved futile over the past two decades, let alone that the foreign policy of the new emerging regime, especially in the regional arena, is still a guess.

Both Israel and the PLO are obvious losers of the absence of the Egyptian role in the process, and consequently weaker. Obviously, the Quartet perceives a weaker PLO - - which has just lost its Egyptian major Arab backer, and saw its U.S. backer renege on its promises and its European advocates of a two – state solution helplessly following in the footsteps of their U.S. leader - - would be in a position to be more receptive of a Quartet pressure to resume direct negotiations with its Israeli protagonist, which the Quartet failed to influence.
Readers may be reminded that a weaker PLO which lost its Iraqi backer following the Kuwait war in 1991 was unmercifully pressured to accept the historical concession of recognizing Israel on four fifths of its historical homeland, which in turn paved the way for convening the 1991 Madrid Middle East peace conference and later the Oslo accords to which the PLO has been held hostage ever since, wishfully believing that the international community which sponsored both events would ultimately deliver on its promises on a Palestinian state in return.

PLO peace credentials could only be challenged by its own people. 1600 documents revealed recently by Aljazeera satellite TV station and British The Guardian show how far the PLO negotiators have gone in their concessions for peace; Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has resigned in consequence, his department is now being reshuffled and he went on record to say that the leaked documents endangered his life. Never in PLO history its leadership was so isolated and its legitimacy and credibility challenged internally as it is now, thanks to the broken promises of the U.S. – led sponsors of the "peace process."

Obviously, next September is the moment of truth for the PLO. Then, it has no choice but to deliver on its own promises to its people or face Palestinian waves of the Tsunami of the revolt of Arab masses against the status quo, which would become impossible to sustain even for the shortest period of time unless the PLO is empowered with the long promised and long awaited Palestinian state. The PLO has no interest whatsoever in sustaining the status quo; Israel is the only beneficiary. This unbalanced political equation is a recipe for disaster, not for peace making.

The alternative was predicted by the Arab – Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, Hanin Zoubi, who declared recently that "maybe we can free ourselves of (Israeli) occupation as well," citing the example of the Egyptian Intifada and noting: "Israel has been relying on the weakness of the Arab people, but now this has been changed."

Taken by the overwhelming surprise of the Intifada of the Arab masses in Tunisia and Egypt, the world public opinion seems to forget that "Intifada" is an Arab word coined for the first time in a Palestinian context to describe a civil and peaceful revolt and uprising against the Israeli military occupation that brought the PLO officially into the occupied territories and the "peace process."

The current status quo is ripe for another Intifida that would certainly take the PLO out of both, unless the Quartet takes immediate action to avert such a drastic shift of events, but the Quartet action is no more urgent than in Israel. Squeezed between external and internal pressures, the PLO as a peace partner is at its weakest breaking point and could not afford the slightest additional pressure.

Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.

February 18 - 20, 2011 A Conversation With Isabel Wilkerson Home is Where the Hatred Is By TOLU OLORUNDA

Home is where the hatred is
Home is filled with pain and it
Might not be such a bad idea
If I never, never went home again
—Gil Scott-Heron
They returned home to a Jim Crow South that expected them to go back to the servile position they left. Most resented it and wanted to be honored for risking their lives for their country rather than attacked for being uppity. Some survived the war only to lose their lives to Jim Crow.
—Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (New York: Random House, 2010), p. 145.
Men lynched, castrated, and burned alive for using their tongues as weapons—against a terror state that told them each day they counted less than human. Women hanging from trees, their fingers severed and stored in jars as souvenir, throngs of ecstatic worshippers cheering, commemorating a weekly ritual—the women probably talked back in a way that suggested they forgot their place in the society they were born into. Angry mobs banging down doors in the dark night, searching out a young man accused of stealing turkeys—if found, a tree needs watering.
Hang onto your rosary beads
Close your eyes to watch me die
6 million Black Americans in the South had seen enough to know Death had their names written in blood; so starting World War I a great migration began—many, like Nicodemus, creeping through the night to elude the paranoid suspicions of their vengeful captors. They slipped onto freight trains, crammed into cars, and dragged their feet for long walks from a place more hell than home, unsure of the future but desperate in conviction. And with heads pressed forward, never looking back—at a ghastly past that had made migration compulsory—they fled the South for the North, commencing a sprawling relocation which slashed in half the South's Black population within six decades.
Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Boston University professor, documents this heretofore unengaged history in her grand new text, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, a dexterous and detailed look into what became of a movement—told through the trails of three central characters—without which Motown might have never found meaning and Jazz might have never found new notes, relegating John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Louis Armstrong to obscure footnotes in the book of time.
Recently I had the chance to speak with Wilkerson on the scope of her research, ongoing migration in the 21st century, and the unique literary approach used to tell this great story until now never told.
Thanks for taking the time out of your chaotic schedule to speak with me. I guess the personal is political because your mother migrated from Georgia to Washington, D.C., and your father from Southern Virginia to Washington, as well.
Yes. I literally would not exist if they had not made that decision because they never would have met. They were from different parts of the South, and the culture, believe it or not, is different from state to state. My experience growing up first generation in the New World made me very aware of how that experience is very close to the immigrant experience—and I identified in school with people whose parents had migrated from around the world—because you're having to forge your way in a place your parents can only help you so far in trying to adjust to.
6 million Black Folks?
Correct: beginning in World War I, with the opening and great demand—really desperate need—for labor in the steel mills and on the railroads in the North. And that was the beginning of the defecting from the caste system in the South, continuing until after the 1960s, when the system, as it had been known in the South, was dismantled. So that went on for almost three generations—people leaving.
And I guess the concept of Citizenship is prominent in your book because this act you describe as migration—which we normally think of as an inter-national affair: relocation from one country to the next. But for these brave men and women who embarked on this journey, and in such massive proportions, it almost suggests they couldn't have been recognized as citizens of and by their very country.
Oh, absolutely. They were not recognized as citizens; they didn't even have basic human rights. Their citizenship was not recognized in the land of their birth. And so they got about trying to find a place where it would be recognized and where they could live freely as citizens. And they shouldn't have had to do that—but it was necessary: they could either stay in a caste system that restricted every inch of their movement, or they could leave. This was the choice every African-American family in the South had to face.
So they make the migration from the South to the North, thinking this might be night-and-day, hell-and-heaven; but they get to the North and find out that trying to flee one terror doesn't exclude the existence of another terror awaiting you.
Many of the assumptions about them followed wherever they went, partly because the South was not another country, even if it acted like it in many respects. They found great resistance and hostility because they were coming from places where they were underpaid or earning no wages at all, so there was some fear that wages might go down and also fear from Blacks already there that this could endanger their already tenuous positions. So it's one of the great tragedies of the 20th century, and it's going on now with groups coming from faraway lands, just trying to make it in this forbidden and hostile environment, which end up pitted against each other, not realizing how much they share in common.
These misconceptions, your book documents, were expressed by the layman, the working-class woman who had to compete with someone willing to work for lower wages; but they were also expressed by sociologists and economists. You quote economist Sadie Mossell who, speaking of the mass migration to Philadelphia, wrote, "With few exceptions, the migrants were untrained, often illiterate, and generally void of culture"; and sociologist E. Franklin Frazier: "The inarticulate and resigned masses came to the city … [and] the disorganization of Negro life in the city seems at times to be a disease" (260-261).
And that's an assumption made about people arriving from a faraway place who are misunderstood, underappreciated—their motivations and full humanities are not recognized even by the people with whom they should have the most in common. It was not just Whites in the North, but Blacks as well, making assumptions and judgments about them, which made the transitions difficult. They had all the challenges you could imagine, which in some ways are proxy for what any new immigrant group has to go through when they come to a new place. And I would hope the book helps people feel more empathy for what it takes to make that great leap: to recognize what they had to go through to get there—that's astonishing!—and what they left behind.
If more Blacks had migrated from the South to the North, do you think the South would have remained the South as we know it? And what possible consequences for the North—since people and things were left behind, as you point out. If more had left, fed up with the brutality of Jim Crow, would the north have had its own southification?
I think the North did have a southification. Think about it. Look at what happened to the family which tried to move into the apartment in Cicero. First they had a difficult time getting in the building: they were turned away before they could actually move in; and when they did they couldn't stay because the people took all their belongings and hurled them out the second floor window and burned it all. They even went as far as ripping out the radiators and faucets. It was a mob scene—not in the South but in the North. These were working-class, recent eastern and southern European immigrants who were themselves feeling insecure and economically threatened in this foreign place.
But I think that had more people left, the Civil Rights Movement would have taken off earlier because there needed to be a critical mass of people leaving in such numbers with a velocity that would make an impact on the South and would ultimately embolden the states to say, Enough has happened—now is the time to make our move. And the North only began paying much attention to the atrocities in the South when it was attracting so many Black people—when the cities began changing dramatically, demographically. All these factors were interconnected.
And what separated those who stayed from those who left?
That's a really good question. You might be able to answer that question, too, when you think about the people in the community where you came from—who stayed. I don't make a judgment whether it's a good or bad thing to leave, as an individual. I look at it as necessary to make the change we now all benefit from—as such a necessary historical moment that it's hard to imagine what life would be like had they not left. The people who stayed tend to be more the keepers of the culture, the ones tied to the sentiments and history of a place. Those who left are more restless, impatient; they have an agitation for something better and different. I heard people say over and over again, "If I stayed, I would have died. I would have said something that would have gotten me in trouble."
I sense that this great migration is very much applicable to what we're going through today. There was story a couple months back of Hispanics fleeing a small town in Connecticut following persistent police brutality: hardworking business owners just leaving in droves; they couldn't take it anymore. So I guess it's still going on today.
Oh, it's still going on because human behavior is fairly predictable—people react a certain way when exposed to certain stimuli. And the continuity factor in all these cases is economic insecurity. So I would hope by reading this book people would recognize and see the humanity in anyone seeking to leave a place for someplace better, and recognize this as the background of all Americans—there would not be a country without migration: relocation, dislocation, adjustment.
And people don't realize that if you've come a long, long way to get to a place, you cannot fail. Failure is not an option. You're too far from home. You can't even afford to stumble. You have to succeed. So that means the people who come here are often determined and courageous people who are misunderstood as wanting to take advantage, when often they are coming with the same hopes and ambitions as anyone who's ever crossed the Atlantic, or the Rio Grande, or the Pacific to get here.
We hear that a whole lot with the Mexican, Middle-Eastern, African influx these days. I mean, people do think it's about spitting in the faces of blue-collar workers, when it's anything but. And I hope your book helps people, the literate public at least, understand something it needs knocked into its head: that immigrants are simply trying to establish a better life for themselves.
Exactly. I also would add, though, that the caste system, being what it is, means a lot of assumptions are made about African-Americans who have been here for a while, who have been forced to live like immigrants in their own country. So I also hope the book helps newer immigrants empathize with, and see the humanity, the commonality with people they may not know have lived the immigrant experience, as well. I hope it fosters greater understanding on both sides. We haven't yet had a dialogue to see how much we have in common, and in the absence of it: suspicion, resentment, hostility—all these replace what could have been an opportunity for understanding.
Now, you could have written the book in some dreadful, legalese, textbook format. But you chose something, I think, more poetic, something magisterial—narrative journalism, which in long-form demands a lot of time, hard work, extensive research. And it was fascinating to see that in 2010 someone was still keeping alive that legacy.
Thank you. I chose it because I wanted to pull the reader into that world beyond imagining-right-now: when you think of the daily terrors, arcane laws, and then the hard decisions the people made to move, and even what they encountered when they made it to this New World. I wanted the readers to picture themselves in those same situations: see what they saw, feel what they felt, and to ask, What would I have done in the same situation?
So I wanted it to come alive for the reader, which means an extra layer of work because you do all the research necessary to write the more scholarly book, which is important for the furtherance of intellectual understanding, then you take another step, though, to get deep into the lives of the characters to tell their story: you spend a lot of time with them. I wanted to reach as many readers with a story that has been, in my view, the greatest underreported story of the 20th century. And I thought people needed to know about it.
One of my inspirations was The Grapes of Wrath, which is a seminal novel about the Dust Bowl migration, and yet there was no Grapes of Wrath for the Great Migration, which is by many times a larger relocation of people within the borders of this country.
How did this decade-long hustle match with your former gig as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times?
Oh, totally different. In other words, because it was so much bigger than any single topic I had ever tackled, it just took so much more time. But, really, it was the scale. I mean, the attention to detail, sitting down and talking to people, doing additional research: all that I would have done for any piece I would write for The Times. This was just so much bigger in scale. You're talking 6 million people leaving over the course of three generations, the need to really talk about it from a century-long experience, the precipitating events, and the need to follow people afterwards. So you're exploring 100 years of history, and that's a lot. That's a lot of material.
Yeah, I don't think you'll find out what Ms. Ida Mae was wearing at ten-years-old, or what she was thinking at thirteen, after 10 minutes of interview.
Yeah, one phrase might have taken an afternoon.
And if it's not too personal a question, I'm just wondering where the funding came from, to be able to travel back to all these places and…
That's a good question. I mean, it's all part of the work of making it happen. For one thing, it's nonfiction, so publishers provide an advance, very much like the music industry. And on that basis you make it work. But for 100 years of history, over 1,200 interviews in four different states in the North and three in the South, I had to get additional support. So I was awarded a Guggenheim: they recognized faith in the work and my commitment to complete it. And I also took teaching positions. I taught at Princeton and Emory. I had a lectureship at Northwestern. I continued to write—took short breaks. I did all that to supplement it.
But you had to create multiple selves to be able to teach and simultaneously embark on this great journey.
It also meant watching the budget. I remember catching a plane ride to California which had three or so stops. Soon as you went in the air it came back down. I stayed at the cheapest hotels at airports. You know, you do what you must to make it work.
How do you whittle down 1,200 subjects to 3?
Everybody had a certain strength and a window into the migration that they were sharing with me. But it really came down to about 30 people on my list, all very strong personalities—something that made them of interest. The book would still have maintained the same overarching goal, but the specifics would have been different, which would have affected the experience of the reader. I always wanted people the reader could identify with and see themselves in. So the deciding factor ended up being one person for each migration stream, and then I needed each to be different from one another. They had to all be leaving for different reasons, with different motivations. And they all needed to emerge from different classes. Finally, just great storytellers and characters in their own rights, who you would want to sit down and listen to.
Every now and then, you come in as a character—introduce the first-person pronoun. It's usually short-lived, but I'm curious about the literary decisions you made to bring yourself in, tell the story of your mother and father, and then take yourself out.
That is really a great question because I struggled with that: I am a journalist who was trained to not use the first-person. So to use it felt like a wild leap into unknown territory. But I think it was probably more comfortable because I was talking not about me but my parents, who were part of that migration and generation. I felt it was necessary to help the reader understand the inspiration for the book, where the passion came from, to give a window into my awareness of the similar experiences of my family: it's not as if I'm on the outside looking in. I am an observer, but one who has seen it up-close in my own life.
I did it with great thought each time. And other times I used the first-person had only to do—generally speaking outside of the Methodology section—with driving down the Mississippi with Ida Mae, and she wants to stop on the side of the road to pick cotton. And because I'm there, I can't say, "She was with someone who was driving, and suddenly they stopped." I was hoping for an authenticity, integrity, and intimacy in the work itself.
You flipped Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried for "The Things They Left Behind," a small section in the book.
Yes! Of course. Thank you! I love that book!
So what got you thinking you could tell stories with the abandoned possessions of these people?
Well, you know, I just love that book. Telling stories through things is a kind of art unto itself. And it has great meaning. I mean, what people choose to carry and what they leave behind—by definition, things were left behind because many people left on-the-run. And those things become emblems, symbols of loss, homesickness and heartache. And every person who leaves a place has something tangible they had to leave behind, and I think that makes it real for the reader, too.
The idea of just saying, They left, sounds so simple; but saying, "They would never be able again to sit down with their mother for a cup of coffee or grits and bacon"—that has a different connotation and meaning. It's a way of cataloguing the loss and sacrifice.
Speaking as the first Black woman (Feature Writing, 1994) awarded a Pulitzer for individual reporting in journalism, would you like to see more Black writers involved in this sort of long-form, time-sapping, hopefully timeless, work your book is such a shining example and legatee of—as opposed to much of what we have today, which really could be described as fast-food novels? Shouldn't there be a more vigorous push from the different levers we have for more Black involvement in narrative nonfiction and literary journalism?
I absolutely believe that and hope the book opens the door for more of this kind of work. I hope it has proven there's an audience for it and there's a desire for it. The issue, of course, is that it takes a lot of time, a lot of resources, a lot of determination and perseverance; and it just takes so long. A person has to really feel within themselves that it's worth all that. No one can make that decision for you.
I hope there will be more such work because this is one opportunity to humanize a people that have often been left to the assumptions of conventional wisdom, rather than the reality of their lives and heart desires. And it can only come through when you take the time to make people feel really comfortable enough to tell their stories. It's a delicate thing that takes a lot of time. There's a need for stories to be told from the perspectives of ordinary people, not just the celebrities and household names. With ordinary people, truth and wisdom is found.
Certainly. And I think just as Mr. Talese did with Unto the Sons for his people, you've done for Black people with The Warmth of Other Suns—bringing to life stories of everyday people who would normally go uncounted in history; but now generations to come would pick up this book to discover what life was like and the legacy that birthed them. So you've told this epic story; took you 15 years, 1,200 interviews, and god knows how many miles and how many airplane rides—
You're right about that.
How quickly do you take up another project after exhausting so much energy and time on this?
I'm still in the process of trying to make sure this book gets into the hands of as many people. My goal was just for people to read it. You know, there was a library with 147 holds on the book. Some people may not get the book till 2013! And so I am thrilled the word has gotten out and people want to read; it shows we have more in common than we've been led to believe, it helps humanize people who—as you've indicated and I agree—would otherwise go uncounted, unheard from; and, of course, these people are getting up in years, so there was a great effort on my path to try to get the stories told before it was too late. So right now, I'm thinking about that, but I can say about the next project that it would not take 15 years because I would never have taken on something if I knew it would take that long. But it's a good thing I didn't know.
Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic currently living in Michigan. He can be reached at:

February 18 - 20, 2011 El Paso Diary: Day 20 in the Trial of Posada Carriles Judge Cardone By JOSÉ PERTIERRA

Judge Kathleen Cardone continued the case of Luis Posada Carriles in El Paso until next Tuesday, February 22, 2011, at 8:30 a.m. The defense attorney, Arturo Hernández, moved last week to dismiss counts one through three of the indictment: those having to do with his client's false statements about the bombs that exploded in Havana in 1997. This morning, the judge was supposed to have announced her decision regarding that motion, but she surprised everyone by deciding to delay the case another seven days to "deliberate calmly."
Good morning
Both the defense and the prosecution met yesterday behind closed doors with Judge Cardone. This is a judge who enjoys many such meetings, even some ex parte, meaning that she meets first alone with the defense and later with the prosecutors (or vice versa). Although it is permitted, this is rare during criminal litigation.
Today's hearing lasted less than ten minutes. The judge entered the courtroom with a worried expression on her face. After a dry "good morning," she asked the attorneys, "Are you ready for the jury?" No one said no. It would have been logical for at least one of the attorneys to ask about the pending motion for dismissal, yet none did. They remained at ease at counsel table—like characters in a chronicle of a case foretold.
The members of the jury filed in and walked slowly toward their seats. When they were all situated, Judge Cardone told them, "Oftentimes there are complicated matters that require a lot of thought, and I still have some legal matters to resolve." She apologized for the delay and told them, "I want you to know that I don't take these steps lightly." She then continued the case until Tuesday, February 22nd. The judge reminded the jurors that they could not read or listen to news about the case nor conduct research about it on the Internet. Her smile appeared strained as she dismissed the jury until next week.
The jurors filed out of the courtroom with no clue about the legal controversy that had precipitated yet another delay in the case. Judge Cardone rose, and without looking at the faces of the attorneys still in the courtroom or saying a word, opened the door to her chambers and made her exit.
The FBI cables
Things came to a head after Luis Posada Carriles' attorney lodged objections. Arturo Hernández asserted that the prosecution had not shared two declassified FBI cables that would have exculpated Posada Carriles. The first, dated September 24, 1997, reported that an FBI informant had said that Fidel Castro was responsible for the bombs exploded in Havana. From this FBI "source," Attorney Hernández deduced that "the bombing campaigns were the opportunistic brainchild of Fidel Castro, then absolute dictator of Cuba, and his intelligence services, for the purpose of deflecting attention away from the upcoming visit of Pope John Paul II."
The U.S. government attorneys, alleged defense counsel, had failed to turn over this FBI report to him until only a few weeks ago, which resulted in him not having had time to subpoena the author of the document or identify the source that provided the information so that both might be brought to El Paso to testify.
The prosecutors responded to these arguments yesterday. In a pleading filed with the court, they discounted the credibility of the source that provided that information to the FBI, because "the United States has conferred with the FBI Agent who wrote the September 25, 1997 document, who stated that the document was based on the statements of an uninformed source who was biased against Cuba."
The prosecution added, "the FBI eventually conducted a more thorough investigation of the Havana bombings, which did not reach the conclusion that the Cuban government was in any way involved in planning the bombings."
Posada Carriles' lawyer also complained in his motion that the government had failed to disclose to the defense a second FBI report that contains "extremely important exculpatory material." Arturo Hernández summarized the document dated November 18, 2004 as having stated that the "Castro regime had undertaken a plan to assassinate the Defendant in the year 2004."

This, Hernández, "is evidence of extreme bias against the accused by the Castro regime." In its response yesterday, the prosecution discounted this FBI report as simple conjecture from an unreliable source, and further cited as an example a third FBI report dated May 11, 1999 that says that the government of Guatemala—not Cuba —had organized the attempt made on Posada Carriles' life in the 1980s.
The prosecution characterized all three FBI reports as "unreliable, unfounded conjecture." Consequently, wrote the prosecution in its response to Posada Carriles' attorney, the reports are not relevant to the case.
Posada Carriles' complaints about the Cuban inspector
Another of the complaints from Posada's defense attorney is that the Cuban inspector who testified last Wednesday, Roberto Hernández Caballero, is allegedly a Cuban counterintelligence agent. We don't know if this is true, because the judge abruptly interrupted the prosecutor's direct examination of the inspector and the question had not been posed to him yet.
But in their answer to attorney Hernández's motion to dismiss, the prosecutors did challenge the defense's underlying major premise. "The defendant's entire premise is based on his argument that the fields of criminal investigation and counterintelligence are somehow contradictory." The prosecutors pointed out, "In fact, in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is responsible for investigating counterintelligence matters and has a Counterintelligence Division within its National Security Branch. It is certainly possible that a foreign government could also assign counterintelligence duties to its FBI agents."
Trial or travesty?
Judge Cardone said that next week she will rule on the defense motion and decide whether to dismiss the counts related to the defendant's role in the bombs that exploded in Havana in 1997. If she throws out those charges, none of the three Cuban witnesses will testify, and the trial against Posada will be reduced to whether the defendant lied about his manner of entry into the country: whether he came by boat or by pickup truck—a true travesty.
The case is now in the hands of Judge Kathleen Cardone. She was born in New York in 1953 and moved to Texas to attend law school at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. She graduated from St. Mary's in 1979.
In Texas judges are elected to their positions unless a vacancy occurs, at which time the governor appoints the judge. In 1995, a vacancy in Texas' Judicial District 383 arose, and the governor at the time—George W. Bush—named Kathleen Cardone to the post. Her tenure was short, however, because she had to submit to an election the next year and lost. Judge Cardone went back to work as an attorney and began teaching at a local community college. She also became an aerobics instructor.
Governor Bush, however, had not forgotten her. In 1999, state officials created Texas Judicial District 388, a new judicial district, and Governor Bush quickly named Cardone to fill the slot. Judge Cardone's joy was again short-lived, however. The next year, she had to stand for election to retain her seat on the bench and the voters defeated her once more.
Perhaps out of gratitude to George W. Bush for having placed so much faith in her, in 2000 Kathleen Cardone made a $500 contribution to Bush's presidential campaign. Her candidate of choice was declared the winner of that controversial election and became the next president. On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush named Cardone the federal judge in El Paso: the third time he had given her a judicial position. Since federal judgeships are lifetime appointments, Judge Cardone need never again worry about losing another election.
In a 2004 article about Texas judges who lost state elections but later received a lifetime appointment to the federal bench—Judge Cardone mentioned among them—University of Houston professor Robert Carp is quoted as saying, "Judgeships often go to people who have served the party in some way. It's not an uncommon phenomenon or situation for someone who moves to the federal bench to have some political ties." (Joe Black, "Judge who lost election in line for a lifetime job," Houston Chronicle, Washington Bureau, May 20, 2004, 12:17 a.m.)
Barely four years after President George W. Bush named Cardone a federal judge, the case of Luis Posada Carriles fell on her doorstep. And on May 8, 2007 (less than five months after the case had begun), Judge Cardone dismissed it. She ruled that the government had deceived and entrapped Posada Carriles—and that it had done so to get him to make false declarations so that the government could later indict him for perjury. Judge Cardone was scathing in her criticism, "The Government's tactics in this case are so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice. As a result, this Court is left with no choice but to dismiss the indictment."
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes the federal court in El Paso, reviewed the record on appeal. The Court remanded the case for trial, ruling that Judge Cardone had committed reversible error by dismissing the case. "...There simply is no basis for the district court's conclusion," wrote the appeals court in its 35-page decision issued on August 14, 2008.
Two questions
Once again the case is at a critical juncture. Judge Cardone has already dismissed the indictment once. Is she inclined to do so again?
If she throws out the indictment—or any of the counts therein—Judge Cardone would have to be certain that the Court of Appeals would not find grounds for reversing her decision again and level still more criticism against her reasoning. She would need to find solid legal ground for a decision to dismiss. Could this be the reason she needs more time to deliberate?
José Pertierra practices law in Washington, DC. He represents the government of Venezuela in the case to extradite Luis Posada Carriles.
Translated by Machetera and Manuel Talens. They are members of Tlaxcala, the international network of translators for linguistic diversity.

February 18 - 20, 2011 Actors' Union vs. Movie Producers Conflict of Interest, Hollywood-Style By DAVID MACARAY

I recently had lunch with David Clennon, the movie and television actor (Being There, The Thing, The Right Stuff, Syriana, Ghost Whisperer, thirtysomething, Saved, Boston Legal, etc.), at a coffee shop in Santa Monica.  We were there to share a meal and discuss some union issues.  In addition to being a distinguished actor, Dave Clennon is also a committed political and labor activist. 
How committed?  He once turned down a role on the hit television series, “24,” because he felt the show’s depiction of torture indirectly contributed to the U.S. government’s use of torture as a legitimate form of interrogation, and, accordingly, to the public’s acquiescence or tacit approval of it.  In the real world, turning down a paying gig because of political principles is rare; in Tinsel Town, it’s practically unheard of.
As for the labor scene, what made the last couple of Screen Actors Guild (SAG) negotiations so frustrating and disappointing to Clennon and other SAG activists is the glaring conflict of interest that exists within the movie industry.  Indeed, when you hear it explained, it seems truly bizarre.  
The group with whom SAG (with 120,000 members) negotiates its contracts is the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), the people who more or less run the movie business.  On one side of the table you have the rank-and-file actors, looking for a larger slice of the pie, and on the other side you have the producers, looking to retain the whole pie.  At first glance this “actors vs. producers” scenario seems like any other labor vs. management scrimmage.
However, what makes this SAG scenario so different is that some of the union’s most influential members happen to be producers themselves.  It’s a concept that’s hard to wrap your mind around.  Recalling my days as a negotiator, Clennon asked, “How would you feel about having the CEO of the company you’re negotiating with also being an influential member of your union?”
And of all the successful hyphenates (actor-producers) in Hollywood, none is more successful or more formidable than Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan), who owns Playtone, his own production company.  Not only does Hanks earn more as a producer than as a performer (and he’s very well paid as a performer), it’s been said that Playtone consistently employs more actors each year than any studio in town.
Given his executive profile, his acting whiskers, and his unique role in the union, to say that Tom Hanks wields considerable clout is a gross understatement.  In truth, he is arguably the single most influential human being in Hollywood. 
Of course, the problem with having union members like Hanks (and Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Robert DeNiro, et al) is immediately apparent.  As successful producers or multi-millionaire actors (or both), their needs donmac’t coincide with the needs of SAG’s rank-and-file members who rely on such things as TV residuals and DVD sales to make their living. 
While George Clooney no longer has to worry about residuals from “ER,” or his cut from future DVD sales, the majority of SAG’s membership still do.   Residuals and DVD sales are vital to them.  And, as happens at every negotiation with the AMPTP, the producers are reluctant to part with their money.  It’s always been a battle.  Which is why it’s so alarming to have as your union spokesmen people who, to put it bluntly, not only don’t need the money as much as you do, but may have an entirely different agenda.
In February of 2008, a “secret,” invitation-only meeting was held to discuss the upcoming SAG negotiations.  Hanks, Clooney, James Cromwell, Mike Farrell, and Melissa Gilbert (former SAG president), among others, were in attendance.  They represented a group of SAG members called “Unite for Strength,” who were opposed within SAG by another group, a more activist faction, known as “MembershipFirst,” of which then-president Alan Rosenberg was a member.
Hanks and his supporters were worried that Rosenberg and company were going to enter the upcoming negotiations with a giant chip on their shoulder, that they were going to be overly aggressive in pursuing a new contract, particularly after concluding that the Alliance had screwed them out of money and benefits in previous negotiations.  The rumor circulating among the cognoscenti was that the MembershipFirst crew was looking for payback. 
The fact that the WGA (Writers Guild of America) were already on strike (they would stay out 100 days), was another burr under Unite for Strength’s saddle.  Clearly, the writers taking so militant a stand—and being out for so long a period—had put the fear of God into the moderates.  Unite for Strength was worried that Rosenberg, who’d been reported to be hanging out with Patrick Verrone, president of the striking WGA, was going to follow the writers’ lead and force the Actors Guild into a strike.
Normally, in the run-up to a negotiation, a rumor like this would be gold, a cause for jubilation.  Every union in America prays for the leverage provided by this kind of pre-negotiation notoriety, where you’re perceived as already being in full-blown strike mode—especially these days, when so few unions actually pull the plug.  Typically, when unions engage in saber-rattling displays, nobody (including their own membership) believes them, which is why management is so willing to call their bluff. 
But this was different; this threat was perceived as real.  Having the producers genuinely fearful that the bargain could wind up in a ditch was manna from Heaven.  Unfortunately, instead of parlaying this perception into dollars and cents, Hanks and others moved to squelch the opportunity.  They moved to squelch it because they were well-heeled company men who had absolutely no interest in rocking the boat.
On February 14, 2008, Unite for Strength took out full-page ads in the trade papers, urging the parties (SAG and AMPTP) to sit down together and “just talk,” ostensibly as a means of averting any hostility.  The damage that such a reckless tactical blunder can do in the run-up to a contract negotiation—publicly circumventing the elected leadership—is incalculable. 
Then, the next day, February 15, Hanks and Clooney took it a step further.  At what was presumed to be Hanks’ urging, they co-authored a letter to the editor that appeared prominently in the Los Angeles Times, in which they cautioned the actors to approach the negotiations in a rational, open-minded fashion. 
What this amateurish, sad-sack plea did was effectively strip Rosenberg of the only trump card a union has—i.e., evidence of unwavering membership solidarity.  Basically, the only thing that Hanks and Clooney’s letter succeeded in doing was to announce to the world that SAG was riddled with dissension.  Well done, boys.
Of course, what happened next was predictable.  The Alliance exploited the dissension, the subsequent contract offer was ratified, the MembershipFirst slate was soundly defeated in the next SAG Board of Directors election, and the “moderates” took charge of the Guild.
So the question that Dave Clennon and others have raised remains unanswered.  And it’s a good question.  Indeed, it’s the same fundamental question that was made famous by the 1930s Florence Reece labor song of the same name:  Which Side Are You On?
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at