Remembering a Priest, a Diplomat, and a Voice for Palestine

Miguel-D'Escoto-Brockmann

(Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

Father Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, who died a few days ago, was a Catholic priest and former president of the UN General Assembly. The Nicaraguan diplomat was also a leading voice of conscience on Middle East peace — as well as a cherished friend, loved and admired by both of us, who became an inspirational figure to many around the world.

As much as anyone we ever encountered, Father Miguel lived as he preached. He worked and lived among the poor and struggled for years against dictatorship and injustice in his country. We want to pause not only to mourn this personal loss, but also to call attention to his public role both in his native Nicaragua and as a citizen of the world — an identity expressed most powerfully by way of his devotion to the United Nations.

A Priest and a Diplomat

A Maryknoll priest, Father Miguel became an early and impassioned practitioner of liberation theology. He later gained international fame as Nicaragua’s foreign minister in the Sandinista government during the 1980s, a period during which his small country was plagued by the notorious Contra guerrilla insurgency that had been funded, equipped, and trained by the U.S. government.

Years later he was elected president of the UN General Assembly — just weeks before Israel’s Operation Cast Lead began in late 2008. He quickly moved to become perhaps the world’s leading spokesperson for Palestinian rights.

Richard first encountered Father Miguel in the mid-1980s when he was preparing a historic case before the International Court of Justice against the United States for its role in aiding the Contras and otherwise committing acts of aggression, including the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors. He worked closely with Father Miguel in a New York townhouse on how to proceed at The Hague with a legal argument that might produce a level of international accountability for Washington’s flagrant violations of Nicaraguan sovereign rights under international law.

In a stirring decision reached by the World Court in 1986, the main grievances put forward by Nicaragua were upheld, and although the United States boycotted the proceedings, it ended up complying with major findings of the decision. It was not only a moral and political victory, but a vindication of Miguel’s underlying belief that international law, not violence, was the basis of peace and justice in the relations among nations.

After retiring from official life in 1991, Father Miguel was only pulled away from his religious ministry on behalf of the poor when he was elected to head the General Assembly — as an individual, not as a representative of his government.

Miguel took on that role, traditionally considered a largely ceremonial position leading a too-often marginalized organ of the UN system, and almost immediately emerged as an influential global voice who spoke powerfully in support of Palestinian rights under international law. He courageously opposed Israel’s brutal Cast Lead military operation, defying the always present geopolitical pressures mounted by Washington on behalf of Israel. In his defense of Palestine throughout those weeks of war, and in his later commitment to forcing the UN to take environmental justice seriously, he aimed to transform the General Assembly into a potent force for global justice.

He never gave up this dream, collecting his thoughts in a widely distributed booklet bearing the title Reinventing the UN: A Proposal. The subtitle was a transparent summary of the text: “How to make the UN a functional organization capable of dealing effectively with the great XXI century challenges confronting Mother Earth and humanity.”

A Voice for Gaza — and International Law

Within hours of the first airstrikes against Gaza, Father Miguel condemned Israel’s actions as “wanton aggression by a very powerful state against a territory that it illegally occupies.” He insisted it was time for the General Assembly “to take firm action if the United Nations does not want to be rightly accused of complicity by omission.”

In following days, the UN Security Council —which under the UN Charter is supposed to take primary responsibility for peace and security issues — discussed and debated and consistently failed to respond to the growing Gaza crisis, mostly because the veto-wielding United States was active in blocking action. Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the midst of the slaughter of Gazan civilians, famously remarked, “We don’t need a cease-fire yet.”

Some urged Miguel to wait, hoping that the Security Council would eventually act and the General Assembly could meekly fall in line. But such a cynical suggestion outraged the priest. As the airstrikes turned into a full-scale ground invasion, he called Israel’s war “a monstrosity.”

We were both working with Father Miguel during that frantic time. As the days passed without an Assembly initiative, his patience waned, and he asked for help drafting a speech to respond to the urgent moment. Afterward he convened a special session of the entire General Assembly and delivered a stirring address condemning the assault, which had already killed over 1,000 Palestinians — a third of them children. “If this onslaught in Gaza is indeed a war,” he said, “it is a war against a helpless, defenseless, imprisoned population.” The small territory “is ablaze,” he lamented. “It has been turned into a real burning hell.”

As the “unlawful” but internationally recognized occupying power of Gaza, Father Miguel explained, Israel owed Gazans protection — along with “food, water, education, freedom of religion, and more.” Instead, “Gaza’s civilians find themselves locked inside a lethal war zone behind a wall surrounding their densely populated territory.” Under assault and hemmed in by an illegal Israeli blockade, “they have no means of escape.”

In such circumstances, the priest insisted, “it becomes the responsibility of the international community as a whole, represented here in the United Nations, to provide that protection.” Yet he charged that “some of the most powerful members of the [Security] Council” — like the United States — were bent on “allowing the military action to continue” while the façade of a diplomatic process unfolded. That, not coincidentally, “matched perfectly the unambiguous goal of the occupying power.”

To that end, Father Miguel urged an uncompromising General Assembly resolution calling for both an immediate ceasefire and an end to Israel’s blockade. Remarkably, he linked those demands not only to international law, but to the international social movements that had emerged to support the same calls under it:

Our obligation is clear. We, the United Nations, must call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and immediate unimpeded humanitarian access. We, the United Nations, must stand with the people around the world who are calling, and acting, to bring an end to this death and destruction. We must stand with the brave Israelis who came out to protest this war, and we must stand with those in the frightened city of Sderot who called for “Another Voice” to answer the fear of rocket-fire with reconciliation and not war.

We must stand with the hundreds of thousands of people who have stopped the trains, petitioned their governments, poured into the streets around the world, all calling for an end to war. That is our obligation, our responsibility, our duty, as we work, mourning so many deaths, for an immediate ceasefire.

Father Miguel will be long remembered and deeply missed by friends and the many lives that he touched forever. He was not only a religious figure, but a truly spiritual presence. So many times we were told at the UN that Father Miguel was not a politician or diplomat, but something far more valuable and rare at the UN, a man of unquestionable integrity and spirituality who fearlessly spoke truth to power and rather innocently expected others to do the same.

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Remembering the Costs of the Iraq War in the Age of Trump

(Photo: Flickr / Duncan Rawlinson)

(Photo: Flickr / Duncan Rawlinson)

About 54 cents of every discretionary dollar in the federal budget goes to the military. And that’s been true for a very long time.

Despite his claimed opposition to current wars, President-elect Donald Trump has promised to end limits on Pentagon spending, increase the size of the U.S. military, and even to expand the US nuclear arsenal. Military budgets will likely go up over the next four years, not down.

Now more than ever, it is important for us to remember what past wars have cost — all the costs. George W. Bush’s Iraq War continues today, though U.S. military involvement is different and it’s morphed into the “global war on terror.”

And the costs continue to rise.

So it was appropriate, indeed necessary, that the Iraq war — its lies and its costs — was the subject of an important tribunal coordinated by the antiwar activist group Code Pink in Washington, DC, in early December.

It’s easier these days to talk about the lies. That part of the war’s origins has become part of the acceptable discourse of mainstream U.S. politics, culture, and history. At the People’s Tribunal on the Iraq War, scores of Iraqi and American witnesses — academics and analysts, U.S. veterans and Iraqi health workers, journalists, diplomats, peace activists, and more — described the sordid chronicle of lies that set the political stage for the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Among the witnesses was the heroic Barbara Lee of California, the sole member of Congress to vote against Bush’s Authorization for the Use of Military Force two days after the 9/11 attacks, an authority quickly extended beyond Afghanistan to justify the illegal war in Iraq.

Other witnesses included retired colonel Ann Wright, a former ambassador who was the first foreign service officer to resign her position in protest of the invasion of Iraq. Inder Comar, the plaintiffs’ attorney in Saleh v. Bush, a class-action lawsuit against Bush and other top administration officials, testified about the illegality of the Iraq War, how it constituted a war of aggression.

The roster of witnesses, in person and by video, went on. From military historian Andrew Bacevich to antiwar activist and Iraqi businessman Andy Shallal, from Center for Constitutional Rights director Vince Warren to antiwar poet Sarah Browning, from Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Dan Ellsberg to Jeremy Corbyn, the longtime antiwar activist and leader of Britain’s Labor Party.

There was little that was new to most of those watching, yet the parade of four-minute testimonies provided a staggering reminder of the lies that had been asserted, reported, repeated, and left unchallenged except by a brave, initially small, but ultimately majority-reflecting antiwar movement. It was a reminder for history.

Read the rest at TheNation.com.

The post Remembering the Costs of the Iraq War in the Age of Trump appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Remembering Fidel Castro: “This Was a Life That Got Things Done”

The recent passing of Fidel Castro has sparked widespread conversation of his life and legacy.

“So many people just don’t know about him, but it’s very evident to people around the world, particularly people of oppressed countries, the giant that Fidel Castro was.  This was a life that got things done.” IPS’ Netfa Freeman told Jared Ball on I Mix What I Like.

Freeman shared that despite the various opinions of Castro that will be spread during this time, he should be known as one of the greatest ideologues of our time.  The host agreed with Freeman that in Castro’s case, his image as an ideologue meant that he was able to approach issues with integrity and steer and inform people on pressing issues.

“This is someone who talked about the climate change disaster and what it means for the third world before anyone was talking about it,” Freeman said.

The panelists said they hope that Castro’s impeccable leadership is not lost in remembrance of him.  “One of the things that made Fidel a giant is that he knew it wasn’t just about him. He was able to lead a revolution that prepared the people to be in charge and go on in his absence,” Netfa explained.

Freeman recognized that while many are deeply saddened by his passing, some will not join the mourning of the fallen leader, and he addressed some of the burden of Cuba that Castro was made to carry.

“We should separate the shortcomings of a country from the shortcomings of an individual leader of that country,” Freeman told Ball.

With the miscellany of perspectives on the life and impact of Castro, Freeman charges those that are more informed to defend his legacy. “When a leader passes, they get more attention and not all of it is correct,” Freeman said. “For those of us that know more about him, it gives us an opportunity to correct that stuff.”

Listen to the full article below.

The post Remembering Fidel Castro: “This Was a Life That Got Things Done” appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Netfa Freeman is the events coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Remembering Michael Ratner: Radical Lawyer, Global Activist, Loyal Friend

Michael Ratner with Vanessa Redgrave

Michael Ratner with Vanessa Redgrave

One of our movement’s champions, Michael Ratner, died yesterday. He was one of the greats among radical lawyers. With his colleagues at the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild and beyond, he linked brilliant, innovative legal approaches with creative strategies for advocacy, activism, and mobilization.

Michael sued in U.S. courts to implement the decision of the International Court of Justice holding the Unite States liable for bombing Nicaragua. He defended inmates charged in the Attica prison uprising. He worked to get protesters out of jail, among them Central American activists and Palestinian human rights defenders. And he was among the first to say that detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison, held without charge or trial in the so-called “global war on terror,” deserved lawyers, legal rights, and a challenge to their illegal detention.

 Michael was a consummate internationalist, committed to international law as well as global activism on Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, Palestine, and further.  He helped create Palestine Legal, a team of lawyers and legal workers he mentored to defend Palestinian rights activists in the U.S.  He worked with CCR founder and longtime IPS board member Peter Weiss along with CCR’s Rhonda Copelon to figure out ways to use U.S. law to go after military dictators around the world.

 In 2006 Michael, along with his CCR colleague Maria LaHood and their client Maher Arar, a Canadian whom the U.S. had sent off to Syria to be tortured in 2002, accepted IPS’s annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award. It was presented by acclaimed actor-activist Vanessa Redgrave.

 Michael was an extraordinary human being. The last time I saw him was at the flag-raising of the just-reopening Cuban Embassy in Washington in July 2015. He was, he said, more excited than at any moment other than the birth of his children.

Beyond his passion for justice and his powerful insistence on standing up to oppression and oppressors, Michael was a funny and incredibly loyal friend. I still remember an unexpected phone call years ago from Michael, who had just heard I had been diagnosed with cancer. He just wanted to tell me, “If you need any help, any money, if there’s anything, anything that you need – another doctor, a new drug, anything – you call me. I’m here.”  And he always was.

 His death is a huge loss for all of us. But what a gift that we had Michael with us for so long. Now it’s our turn to be inspired by his commitment to justice and challenged by his fierce courage in fighting for it. As his CCR comrades wrote yesterday, “Today we mourn. Tomorrow we continue his work.”

The post Remembering Michael Ratner: Radical Lawyer, Global Activist, Loyal Friend appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Keynote Speaker, Addressing General Assembly Commemoration, Stresses Vital Importance of Remembering How … – StarAfrica.com

Keynote Speaker, Addressing General Assembly Commemoration, Stresses Vital Importance of Remembering How
StarAfrica.com
NEW YORK, 29 March 2016 / PRN Africa / — Most people, including those of African descent, would prefer not to remember slavery due to feelings of pain or guilt, yet it was vitally important to underscore the many ways in which enslaved Africans and

and more »

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Keynote Speaker, Addressing General Assembly Commemoration, Stresses Vital Importance of Remembering How … – StarAfrica.com

Keynote Speaker, Addressing General Assembly Commemoration, Stresses Vital Importance of Remembering How
StarAfrica.com
NEW YORK, 29 March 2016 / PRN Africa / — Most people, including those of African descent, would prefer not to remember slavery due to feelings of pain or guilt, yet it was vitally important to underscore the many ways in which enslaved Africans and

and more »

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEC_Y3q4LPqz6iG8WgjRyM5wd4RSg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779072576345&ei=AIcSV6iBF86xhAHm6pfYAQ&url=http://en.starafrica.com/news/keynote-speaker-addressing-general-assembly-commemoration-stresses-vital-importance-of-remembering-how-enslaved-africans-shaped-modern-world.html

Keynote Speaker, Addressing General Assembly Commemoration, Stresses Vital Importance of Remembering How … – StarAfrica.com

Keynote Speaker, Addressing General Assembly Commemoration, Stresses Vital Importance of Remembering How
StarAfrica.com
NEW YORK, 29 March 2016 / PRN Africa / — Most people, including those of African descent, would prefer not to remember slavery due to feelings of pain or guilt, yet it was vitally important to underscore the many ways in which enslaved Africans and

and more »

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEC_Y3q4LPqz6iG8WgjRyM5wd4RSg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779072576345&ei=tU4JV8C6K6WBwgGXkIPQCQ&url=http://en.starafrica.com/news/keynote-speaker-addressing-general-assembly-commemoration-stresses-vital-importance-of-remembering-how-enslaved-africans-shaped-modern-world.html

Keynote Speaker, Addressing General Assembly Commemoration, Stresses Vital Importance of Remembering How … – StarAfrica.com

Keynote Speaker, Addressing General Assembly Commemoration, Stresses Vital Importance of Remembering How
StarAfrica.com
NEW YORK, 29 March 2016 / PRN Africa / — Most people, including those of African descent, would prefer not to remember slavery due to feelings of pain or guilt, yet it was vitally important to underscore the many ways in which enslaved Africans and

and more »

|||||||http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNEC_Y3q4LPqz6iG8WgjRyM5wd4RSg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=52779072576345&ei=XBYAV9idMtOOhAG-_qbQDg&url=http://en.starafrica.com/news/keynote-speaker-addressing-general-assembly-commemoration-stresses-vital-importance-of-remembering-how-enslaved-africans-shaped-modern-world.html

Remembering Martin Sabo, A Champion of Fairness

IPS Director John Cavanagh, Director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good Chuck Collins, and Representative Martin Sabo, 1998.

IPS Director John Cavanagh, Director of the Program on Inequality and the Common Good Chuck Collins, and Representative Martin Sabo, 1998.

 Minnesota Congressman Martin Olav Sabo died earlier this week, after retiring from Congress in 2006.

Rep. Sabo was lead sponsor of legislation called the Income-Equity Act, which he championed for almost a decade. Sabo’s Act would have eliminated the tax deductibility of excessive CEO pay if it exceeded 25 times the average worker pay in a firm. If, for example, the lowest paid worker in a firm was paid $ 13,000, the corporation would not be able to deduct more than $ 325,000 of salary as a business expense. After Sabo’s retirement, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) picked up the baton and has continued to introduce the legislation.

Rep. Sabo was motivated by a deep sensibility about fairness for working people. He believed companies should not be encouraged, through the tax code, to undervalue their workers and overvalue top management. He saw the legislation as a catalyst, in the late 1990s, for a discussion about growing income inequality.

One fond memory we have of working with Congressman Sabo is captured in this 1998 photo of IPS Director John Cavanagh and I at a Capital Hill Press Conference with Rep. Sabo. We were releasing our fifth annual Executive Excess report on CEO pay and downsizing. In September, we will release our 23rd annual report.

John is holding a clever prop to dramatize the pay gap between average worker and CEO pay. Andrew Boyd, my colleague at the time at United for a Fair Economy, constructed a small portable Washington Monument, something I could disassemble and carry on an airplane.

The actual Washington Monument, visible from our press event, is 555 feet tall. In 1997, if the Washington monument represented average CEO pay, the average worker pay was equal to 21 inches tall, the size of our mini-monument. This comparison illustrated how CEOs were paid over 326 times average worker pay.

At the press event, Congressman Sabo pointed out how the ratio was growing and the “Workers Washington Monument” was shrinking. In 1970, the Workers Washington Monument was 13 feet, six inches tall, representing a 41 to one pay ratio. In 1996, it was 32 inches tall, representing a pay gap of 209 to one.

Since 1998 the annual CEO-worker pay ratio has bounced up and down. In 2014, according to Executive Paywatch at the AFL-CIO, the gap was 373 to one, which means the Workers Washington Monument would be under 18 inches tall.

The mini-Washington monument made several other 2008 appearances, including the annual shareholder meeting of General Electric. I testified in favor of shareholder resolution to limit excessive pay at G.E. and lifted up our mini-monument to illustrate the national pay gap. As part of my testimony, I pointed out that if General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s pay was represented by the full-size Washington monument, average worker pay at GE was equivalent to a sideways LifeSaver.

IPS did dozens of educational events with Congressman Sabo, both in Minnesota and in Washington, DC. Rep. Martin Sabo saw the dangers of inequality emerging decades before other political leaders. We will miss him.

The post Remembering Martin Sabo, A Champion of Fairness appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Remembering “Harvest of Shame” – Mother Earth News

Remembering "Harvest of Shame"
Mother Earth News
Many of these scenes are far from pretty, children left unattended and uneducated while their parents go work in the fields all day harvesting vegetables and fruit for little pay, families of six living in their cars sleeping in the woods on the side

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