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January 11 - 15, 1999

Tuesday, January 12, 1999

Another hard rain

As the old year came to an end, Warren Hinckle mused in the pages of the Independent, "What happened to the San Francisco left? Seven years ago, they'd be in the streets asking for Clinton's head on a pike for carpet bombing Baghdad." And indeed, the streets of San Francisco have been astonishingly quiet during the past few weeks. The center of political conscience seems to have migrated east, to --- among other places --- Austin, Texas. The following statement appeared on the Internet last Saturday:

We have been working on a call to action with Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn. Below is the final draft, which all four of them have signed off on and given permission to distribute. Please publish, broadcast, post or forward as widely as possible.
Bob Jensen
Austin, Texas, Campaign for a Just Peace in the Middle East
512 471-1990

January 8, 1999

A Call to Action on Sanctions and the U.S. War Against the People of Iraq

by Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn

At the end of 1998, the United States once again rained bombs on the people of Iraq. But even when the bombs stop falling, the U.S. war against the people of Iraq continues through the harsh economic sanctions. This is a call to action to end all the war.

This month U.S. policy will kill 4,500 children under the age of five in Iraq, according to U.N. studies, just as it did last month and the month before that, all the way back to 1991. Since the end of the Gulf War, at least hundreds of thousands --- maybe more than 1 million --- Iraqis have died as a direct result of the U.N. sanctions on Iraq, which are a direct result of U.S. policy.

This is not foreign policy --- it is sanctioned mass-murder that is nearing holocaust proportions. If we remain silent, we are condoning a genocide that is being perpetrated in the name of peace in the Middle East, a mass slaughter that is being perpetrated in our name.

The time has come for a call to action to people of conscience. We are past the point where silence is passive consent --- when a crime reaches these proportions, silence is complicity. There are several tasks ahead of us.

First, we must organize and make this issue a priority, just as Americans organized to stop the war in Vietnam, and to protest U.S. policies in Central America and South Africa. We need a national campaign to lift the sanctions.

This kind of work has already begun, and those efforts need our help. For the past several years, individuals and groups have been delivering medicine and other supplies to Iraq in defiance of the U.S. blockade. Now, members of one of those groups, Voices in the Wilderness in Chicago, have been threatened with massive fines by the federal government for "exportation of donated goods, including medical supplies and toys, to Iraq absent specific prior authorization." Our government is harassing a peace group that takes medicine and toys to dying children; we owe these courageous activists our support.

Such a campaign is not equivalent to support for the regime of Saddam Hussein. To oppose the sanctions is to support the Iraqi people. The people are suffering because of the actions of both the Iraqi and U.S. governments, but our moral responsibility lies here in the United States, to counter the hypocrisy and inhumanity of our leaders.

Also, there has been a virtual embargo on news of the effects of the sanctions in the mainstream media. For the most part, the American people do not know what evil is being carried out in our name. We must continue to apply pressure on journalists at all levels --- from our local papers to the network news --- to cover this tragedy. We should overwhelm the major press with letters to the editor and put pressure on journalists to cover the story.

And we must realize this could be a long struggle. Preparations should begin for all the possible strategies, including civil disobedience once a sufficient number of people are committed. Direct action that forces a moral accounting likely is going to be necessary.

Whatever else we are doing, we should treat this as an emergency and put it at the top of our agenda. Existing groups can work on the issue, new groups may need to be formed, and national networks need to be built. A good central source of information exists at the Iraq Action Coalition website.

Without action by us, the horrors will go on, the children will continue to die. We must appeal to the natural sympathies of the American people, who will respond if they know what is happening. We must therefore bring this issue, in every way we can, to national attention. The only way to avoid complicity in this crime is to do everything we can, and much more than we have been doing, to end the sanctions on Iraq. This issue must be discussed in every household and every public forum across the country.

* * *

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the staff of the Working Stiff Journal; his home page is located at

More information about Voices in the Wilderness can be found at

The Iraq Action Coalition maintains a website at

--- Betsey Culp 1999

Wednesday, January 13, 1999

Convening a committee of conscience

It was a frigid, foggy, frozen custard morning in San Francisco. I wandered into the bagel shop across the street where a big band version of "Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover" --- the sweet, optimistic song from World War II --- was coming out of the speakers.

In the chill, a warm wave of hopefulness suddenly came over me.

I thought, "Why the hell are you so gloomy, Bruce? You only have the landlord bearing down on you, not the Luftwaffe.

"C'mon, man. You traverse these wonderful streets in this beautiful town with a bleak, Stygian cloud hanging over you. In the words of Greta Garbo, 'Dot's silly.'"

Besides, look at all the fun things we have to play with --- the news, for example.

"It's beyond satire," observes Al Hart.

It's the unreal to the surreal to the irreal --- and then on to the third reel.

* * *

In Britain, the Anglican Church is distributing posters with a Christ-like image of Che Guevara in hopes of sparking interest in Jesus.

I mean, you couldn't make this stuff up. What next? Posters with Patty "Tanya" Hearst, machine gun and all, to portray Mary Magdalene?

In New York, residents are all aflutter over a drive to have Hillary Clinton declare her candidacy for U.S. Senator in the Empire State. Perhaps she could run on the Wounded Party Party ticket.

A funny headline in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Jerry Brown (new mayor of Oakland) Expects Oneness," a piece about community unity and an obvious reference to Brown's various spiritual excursions.

It reminds me of the time I, quite alone, walked into Perry's restaurant on Union Street to be greeted by the young hostess who asked, "Are you one?"

I sat down to my Zenburger and wondered if I dropped my fork and no one heard it, did I really drop my fork?

* * *

Norm Howard on California's new governor, Gray Davis: "Pete Wilson is beginning to look exciting."

Davis delivered his State of the State address last Wednesday. Seems odd, that, considering he'd been governor for three days. What's the purpose of a State of Anything address anyway? The message is invariably "I'm in charge and you're not." Rarely is the oratory self-effacing. And no jokes.

Speaking of eloquence, the inauguration speeech by Minnesota Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura included this phrase, "Hoo-Ha!"

Williams Jennings Bryan would not be intimidated.

* * *

There's great confusion on Capitol Hill as senators try to figure out how to impeach a president.

"It's unprecedented!" is the recurring phrase from legislators.

Translation: We don't know what the hell we're doing.

But a solution is in the works. Yellow paperbacks have been distributed to all 100 senators. The title: "Impeachment for Dummies."

The Senate has decided to screen the testimony of witnesses in the impeachment trial in advance. Some jurisprudence. Why don't they just get the witnesses out of Central Casting?

Depending on the witnesses who might be called, this could be a protracted, tedious procedure. The American public is likely to quickly get bored. Unless Billy Crystal accepts the role of master of ceremonies. Pundits say the Senate trial of President Clinton is now about law, not sex. That does it. It'll get little attention now.

Funny no one describes the impeachment as "The Trial of the Century." It seems O.J. Simpson has retained the title.

* * *

President Clinton has employed three spiritual advisers to assist him down the "path of redemption." Most of us just need a second opinion --- not a committee.

This is so Clintonian. If there's a problem, don't address it. Just assign a task force to investigate it. Now, he's hired a team of experts to examine his soul. This way, he can, once again, deflect the truth.

One of his sherpas of conscience was in San Francisco over the weekend and expressed his dismay that the president's weaknesses might be used to destroy him.

I hate to say this, but that's called politics.

Just like in any ordinary life, weaknesses are invariably exploited. Human beings have a tendency to tear each other down. It's the nature of the beast. It's not nice but that's the way it is.

"It isn't enough to succeed," observed a cynical Gore Vidal. "Your friends have to fail."

It makes folks feel good --- after all, isn't that the important thing? --- to watch others go down the tubes. The trick is, don't give them the ammunition. I know. Easier said than done.

"Jealousy," said William Blake, "is the element that separates oppressed peoples." If the president is defeated by the Monica Lewinsky affair, the Rev. Philip Wogaman told the San Francisco Chronicle's Don Lattin, it would send the message that people will no find healing and acceptance if they reveal their addictions.

Gee, I remember when a defensive John Tower swore to the Senate he would not drink "beverage alcohol" if confirmed as Secretary of Defense. He did not encounter healing and acceptance at the time. As a matter of fact, he summarily got the boot.

But that's politics. The irony is that Bill Clinton, the consummate political animal, has created the means by which others may destroy him. That's the Greek tragedian touch to it all.

I can only imagine what my wife would have said if I had cheated on her and subsequently announced I was engaging three spiritual advisers to rectify my transgressions.

"Let your spiritual advisers make your dinner from now on!"

Clinton's team of spiritual repairmen have their work cut out for them. After all, the president couldn't tell the truth even if it were written on the TelePrompter.

President Clinton's selected soulful troika probably isn't enough. He needs a few copy editors of conscience, undercover officers from the Honesty Police. A whole Greek chorus would be even better.

--- Copyright Bruce Bellingham 1999

Friday, January 15, 1999

A postgraduate education

For the first time in over a decade of labor conflict, graduate student unions at the University of California finally forced university officials to sit down and discuss recognition of their unions after a four-day strike on all eight teaching campuses. The job action, coming the week before final examinations, threw classes and the state's premier public university system into turmoil.

State Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and State Senate President Pro-Tem John Burton then quietly brokered a deal in which the graduate student unions agreed to suspend their strike for 45 days, while administrators agreed to sit down within the first 10 of those days and discuss union recognition. That marked the first break in UC's historic position that graduate student employees are students, not workers, and therefore not entitled to union representation.

The associations of graduate student instructors on the UC campus are affiliated with the United Auto Workers. GSI unions have bargaining rights in 18 other university systems nationwide.

During the UC walkout, hundreds of grad students organized vocal and boisterous picketlines at the entrances to all the campuses, stopping deliveries. Many classrooms normally filled with students and instructors were empty. In others, knots of students organized self-study sessions without their teaching assistants.

On some campuses, university administrators tried to force the graduate students back to work. According to Anna Murasco, a teaching assistant at UC Davis, "I've seen letters in which TAs were told that they might not be hired again next year, and that they could even jeopardize their own oral examinations."

On many campuses, university administrators attempted to get professors and lecturers to take over instructional duties, while the lecturers' union, the University Council of the American Federation of Teachers, said UC couldn't make them scab. "Faculty are very supportive," said UC Riverside professor Edna Bonacich. "They feel it's a democratic issue. Faculty are not the employers here --- we don't control wages, conditions or class sizes."

The UC system, the largest public university system in the United States with 129,000 undergraduate students, depends on the labor of graduate student workers, who carry a great deal of the teaching load. While professors in many courses lecture to audiences numbering in the hundreds, teaching assistants provide instruction, hold discussions and answer questions in the smaller sessions between lectures, as well as grading papers and monitoring student performance. In some cases, associates even teach their own courses. Other graduate student employees include readers and tutors.

Barclay Scott, a Spanish TA at UC Berkeley, gets paid for 20 hours a week but said she basically works fulltime. "For example, they only pay us to hold office hours two hours a week," she said. "Language students need much more than that." Her students, like most taught by the striking instructors, supported the unions' demands. "Our working conditions are their learning conditions," explained Connie Razza, a TA at UCLA.

University administrators, faced with an impending strike, sought to replace traditional written final exams in many departments with multiple choice tests that could be graded by scabs. Both professors and students protested the move. Michael Watts, professor and director of UC Berkeley's Institute of International Studies, stated that "bringing in graduate student scabs at this late date to grade students would compromise the quality of their education."

For years graduate student workers have been trying to get the university to recognize their associations and bargain a contract, providing better pay and benefits, and giving the student employees basic workplace rights.

"Our position has always been that TA's are students first and foremost, and not employees," explained Chuck McFadden, a media relations spokesperson in UC's systemwide administration. On the Berkeley campus, where grad student organizing began over 15 years ago, there have been at least five previous work stoppages, including a major strike in 1992. Other campuses have seen similar stoppages. The latest strike, however, was the first to include all campuses simultaneously.

Earlier this year, the Public Employees Relations Board, which administers the state's Higher Education Employee Relations Act, held that the 500 grad student workers on the UC San Diego campus were employees within the meaning of the law. Last June, they voted by a 3-1 majority on the campus in favor of representation by their student employee association.

Then PERB rejected a university appeal, which again claimed that student employees weren't eligible to organize. The university would bargain for readers and tutors, said a letter from UC President Richard Atkinson, but "will refuse to bargain with respect to advanced-degree students at UC San Diego and at other campuses who perform the duties of teaching assistant, teaching associate, or teaching fellow." UC appealed a similar PERB ruling in Los Angeles.

University defiance made the strike inevitable. Beginning last May, campus strike votes were held among the system's 9,000 grad student workers. With more than half of them participating, the decision to authorize a strike received 87 percent support.

Administration stonewalling might not have been risky during the last sixteen years of Republican state administrations. But when administrators go to Sacramento to get appropriations next year, they face newly elected Democratic governor Gray Davis, and a Democratic legislature. Their intervention got the university to move.

According to Ricardo Ochoa, president of the Association of Graduate Student Employees at the UC Berkeley campus, "UC has been acting as though the law just doesn't apply to them, and people are angry at their arrogance. We've just had enough," he said.

--- Copyright David Bacon 1999

Photojournalist David Bacon ( is a contributing editor for the Pacific News Service.


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