Nov 202012
 

THE VELVET REVOLUTION   

Speaking of democratic revolutions… Play dedicated in memoriam of “Grovel” Havel for services to the Empire beyond the call of duty.

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Act 1, Scene 1

(A cafe in upper west side of Manhattan not far from Columbia University. Grovel Havel sits with an editor of N.Y. Review of Books and a professor sympathetic to the New Left… drinking coffee… a cigarette hangs from his lip in the style of Jean Belmondo. He is wearing casual clothes.)

GH: Nothing works under Communism but everybody does his job. The workers pretend to work and the regime pretends to pay them. It is a form of resistance… Czech style.

NYRofB Editor: It must be terribly difficult to work under a Stalinist regime.

GH: They control everything: radio, television, book publishing; they have a small group of mediocrities who run the Writers’ Unions and the major journals. We survive, thanks to Western solidarity.

Prof: Doesn’t the financial speculator Soros fund many of the Czech dissidents?

GH: Yeah, what do you expect when you face a totalitarian monster, you take support from wherever you can. In the US, you can afford to question some of these foundations – for us they are a lifesaver.

NYR of B: Most of the Left in this country use double-standards, denouncing US policy in Indochina but they always have reservations about criticizing Soviet abuses in Eastern Europe.

Prof: (Indignant) That’s not true!

GH: (Grins) Come on.. .This is all in the family. I sympathize with the students’ rebellion, the Civil Rights movement in the United States. It’s the same libertarian spirit as in Prague 1968. We identified with Paris, Berkeley; we were all part of the same struggle against all the authoritarian crap. It’s all about freedom. Only it’s easier to fight in the West because, despite all the atrocities, you are democracies. I know… (he nods to the Professor) capitalist democracies.

NYR of B: Basically the Communists are “bourgeois” without our democratic values.

GH: (Grins) They like the old palaces, the neckties and shirts, and they fall over themselves to have a dacha in the countryside, while they condemn the “bourgeois life style” of the dissident intellectuals. They drool over the svelte daughters of the old aristocracy. .. ‘Ape and grope’ Communists.

NYR of B: How long did you stay in the Gulag?

GH: (Fidgets in his seat, hesitates) Well, it was a prison not a concentration camp – about 4 weeks.

Prof: Did they torture you?

GH: Psychological pressures – interrogations, repeating the same boring questions. The worst of it was they didn’t let me read or write or talk to my friends.

NYR of B: Just like the Chilean secret police that Washington put in power.

GH: (Hesitates, mulls over his response) Well, in a way, you’re right. Dictatorships have their own logic.

Act 1, Scene 2 – Cafe in Prague 1989

GH and four of his friends, a musician, a journalist, a philosopher and a free lance writer active in the human rights movement.

GH: They fell without glory and without regrets, like a big tree with rotten roots. The people were magnificent. What happened the last few weeks was historically unprecedented. Millions of people peacefully protesting and the regime in retreat… finally they admitted their bankruptcy and handed over power. A Velvet Revolution. Salud! (He raises a glass of whiskey, the others follow.)

Musician: We are having a concert to celebrate. Now we can play what we want, where we want. We can travel and read and talk freely. They thought just because we had paid, permanent positions that we should read our notes and have no opinions. Now we’ll have it all. ..freedom and a civilized life, just like the West!

Journalist: Yeah, maybe. Now you’ll compete with rock, video and cassettes from the big music companies in the US and England and Germany. But you’re right, I’d rather be starving than feed at the state trough and write lies in the Party Press.

Philosopher: This is a great opportunity to change things… to become like Sweden or Germany.. .a welfare state and freedom. I’ve been going from one assembly to another. It’s amazing, there are discussions everywhere. People want to talk and debate. All sorts of views have emerged, liberal, nationalist, democratic socialists, even free marketers, ex-landlords and pre-war right-wingers.

Free-lance writer: Maybe we’ll have a Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan for President. They are the most popular Western politicians (some frowns and laughter in the group).

Philosopher: That’s natural, they were the most anti-Communist. “The enemies of our enemies are our friends.” Most people don’t know anything about “the West” and if they don’t learn fast, they’ll get their pocket picked again.

GH: Come on, what do I hear some nostalgia for the fallen regime? We have our destiny in our hands. We have to be responsible. We can celebrate our independence, but we must also recognize that we are part of the West. Our culture, our traditions. Before Communism we were part of Western civilization not Slavic

Free-lance writer: Should we split off from Slovakia?

GH: (Dismisses him with a wave of the hand.) You’re impossible. We have a historic relation with the Slovaks. We will provide the leadership and they will follow.

Act 1, Scene 3 – Cafe in Washington, D.C

(GH sits with a group of US congress people and aides.)

Congressman for a Southern State: That was a wonderful speech Grovel – you’re not offended if I call you by your first name?

GH: Of course not, it is my name. (Jovial laughter)

Congressman from the South: “You know that critique you made of Marxism’s materialism was right on the mark. I remember when I was a poor kid on my father’s farm. I was inspired by the local minister who preached a similar lesson about how the spirit conquers bodily needs. I sure appreciated that because there were many time we didn’t have enough to eat.

GH: (Fidgets a bit uncomfortable.) Well, who knows if I don’t make it as President. I can turn to the pulpit (everyone laughs).

Senator from New York: That a brilliant turn of a phrase, turning Marx’s dialectic on its head. “Consciousness determines existence, not vice versa.”

GH: (Smiles). Yeah. A Russian writer in the fifties wrote a book called “Not by Brad Alone” that touched a sensitive nerve. (GH picks at a juicy morsel of filet mignon.)

Congressman from the West: (picks up a piece of bread) Well I agree to a certain point. Only I wouldn’t want to go too long without any material sustenance.

GH: Of course that was only a metaphor…

Congressman from Texas: You know Grovel we sure appreciate your recognizing the beauty of our democracy. I mean, we have some problems in our urban cities but you put it all in perspective. This is the best of all democracies and we know that, as an intellectual with a critical eye, you didn’t flatter us to get any foreign aid handouts.

GH: (a serious and sincere look crosses his face): I meant every word of it. You can’t reduce people to their class positions or class interests. People have other more basic spiritual and cultural identities.

(All in chorus – “That’s right!”)

Congressman from Northwest: I bet you got a lot of rebuilding to do. The Communists ran everything into the ground. I hear they gave you a parachute along with your ticket when you got into one of those Soviet made airplanes.

GH (laughs): Not quite. But it’s a good idea to bring a cushion to sit on (everyone laughs.)

Congressman from the Northwest: Well if you decide you want to upgrade your air fleet, give me a call and I’ll put you in touch with some friends at Boeing.

Congresswoman from the Midwest: Oh come on, this is no time for business.

GH (takes card from Congressman): I’ll keep it in mind. I greatly appreciate all the support the US gave us over the years in throwing off the Communist yoke.

And I don’t just mean the material support – the moral inspiration of a living democracy was just as important.

(Everyone lifts their glass to toast GH. They begin to chant “Grovel, Grovel.”)

Southern Congressman: “Morality determines existence”, isn’t that another way of saying it?

(GH nods).

Act II – Scene I (Presidential Palace)

(GH with open neck sport shirt sitting on a desk covered with papers under a fine crystalchandelier besides gold gilded walls. His aides dressed in sport shirts and designer blue jeans stand around casually joking.)

GH: (Smoking) Where is the court jester, the honor guards? (He looks around at the lavish decor with an ironic smile.) So this is what the Velvet Revolution was all about?

(The aides laugh.)

Aide one: We are role models for the good life under capitalism.

Aide two: It isn’t the form, it’s the substance that counts.

Aide three: Nothing is too good for the democrats.

Aide four: What will my ex-trotskyist comrades in Paris say?

GH: (lights up a cigarette) Well, we’ll put up with it for now. This is Chat political people wanted. The President should live in the Presidential Palace. So we’ll put up with it. I’ll sleep in a different bedroom each night ‘till I get used to it.

GH: (Puts feet on the desk, puffs away on his cigarette) What’s on the agenda?

Aide one: A meeting with an executive from Volkswagen. They want to buy into Skoda.

Aide two: A committee of former landowners who want to reclaim their farms.

Aide three: A representative from the Vatican who has a list of Church property to be reclaimed and reconstructed.

Aide four: Two unemployed women from the Actors Union who want us to restore the state subsidy to the theater. They are very good looking, by the way.

GH: (Smiles) Let’s start with the theater group. That’s what we know the best.

(Enter two attractive women. GH rises to greet them. Tthe aides stand exchanging greetings with them. Some of the aides seem to know them)

GH: (Jovial, with a wry ironic smile.) Welcome to the People’s Presidential Palace. Have a seat. (He sits casually on the edge of the desk.)

Actress 1: Thanks for responding to our petition so rapidly. Sorry to be so insistent, but the theater world is in turmoil; the elimination of the state subsidy has been a crushing blow Over 80 percent of the actors and actresses are out of work.

Actress 2: When we went to the Ministry of Culture they told us that we should forget about the old Stalinist system. They told us we are free and should find our own money.

Actress 1: You know Grovel, we were all in the struggle against Stalinist censorship. After I signed the Helsinki petition, I couldn’t get an acting job for a long time…

GH: (Interrupts) I know, I know. I had a girlfriend who was in your theater group. She told me all about your struggle. (He smiles.) That was a difficult time, but we managed to have some beautiful moments together. Sharing meals…

Actress 1: Yeah but we didn’t get any of the Soros Foundation dough either. It always went to the better known dissidents.

GH: (Slightly annoyed at what he perceives to be a poison dart.) Well look, the times have changed. Freedom has a price and if we are going to be like the West we can’t have the State do everything. It’s because the State funded everything that they could censor.

Actress 1: I don’t follow. That was the Communist state. This is a democratic state. You can subsidize without censorship.

GH: Of course, of course (he quickly interrupts her with a sheepish grin.) Look, I’ll talk to the Ministry and see if we can restore some kind of funding. But I suggest you talk to some private sources. You know in the US most of the cultural activity is funded by big corporations. Talk to Volkswagen. Yeah, why not Soros?

Actress 1: They left after the Communist regime fell.

GH: (Looks at his watch.) Look, why don’t you leave your telephone number with one of my aides and we’ll arrange another meeting with people from the Ministry. It’ll work out, take my word for it.

(As they leave, he lets out a sigh of relief.)

Aide 1: These artsy, fartsy types are still living in the past. Don’t you think? (The other aides look to see how Gil will react.)

GH: Well, they have a problem, but you know the transition is going to be very complex. A little pain before prosperity. We’re going to change a lot of hats before it’s over. (All the aides nod in agreement.) Especially the cultural issues in a market economy.. .that’s a thorny issue..

GH: (Becomes ironic again.) Bring in the German comrade from Volkswagen. That will be easier to deal with. What with German capital and technology and Czech skills we can do wonders.

Aide 1: And our wages are one-fifth of what they pay over there.

Aide 2: They’ll find markets.

Aide 3: We’ll have a foothold in the Common Market.

Chorus of Aides: We will become part of the West.

Act II – Scene 2 Cafe in Prague

(The two actresses sipping a coffee with a pair of writers.)

Writer 1: (Looking at the want ads in the paper.) The Housing Authority returned my apartment building to an ex-Nazi sympathizer and he immediately quadrupled the rent and tried to throw out some old retirees who have been living there for 30 years.

Actress 1: (Reading the newspaper.) Here’s an apartment just for you, “artistic studio in the old center” – only $500 (in dollars no less) a month.

Writer 1: That’s my salary for the month!

Actress 2: Price of freedom my boy, that’s what Grovel told us.

Writer 2: What did he tell you?.

Actress 1: Knock on the doors of Volkswagen, McDonalds – see if they’ll fund you.

Writer 2: Why not try the porno circuit. They have ads looking for “open-minded actresses willing to learn on the job.”

Actress 1: Don’t laugh. One of the ballerinas has taken up an occasional gig to pay the rent.

Writer 1: Who read books anymore? A friend of mine who is a bookseller told me they just warehoused Grovel’s last book, Consciousness and Existence, to make space for the latest Stallone and Schwartzenegger videos.

Actress 2: That’s consciousness over existence for you.

Writer 2: Yeah, anybody who can forge a property title and get a credential verifying that they are a bona fide political exile coming back to claim their piece of real estate.

Actress 1: McDonald’s is negotiating with the bishop to lease space in the Cathedral.

Writer 2: The Pope’s coming to give a mass and mobilize the faithful. He has a long list of property to reclaim before the Americans and Germans gobble it up.

Actress 1: Hey, maybe. Disney will buy the State Theater.

Actress 2: Didn’t you hear it’s going to become a disco? The Russian Mafia and a group of NY real estate developers are buying it. It’s a good way to launder drug money.

Writer 1: (Sarcastic.) Rumors, rumors. The point of the matter is you have to adapt to the new times. I’ll go to work writing advertisement jingles to sell deodorants.

Actress 1: Plenty of malodorous smells.

(A group of tourists walk by, one asks to take a picture of them. They ignore them.)

Actress 2: Maybe we should charge to pose for the tourists. “Unemployed leftovers from Communism.”

Writer 1: No, they are American. We should advertise ourselves as “the Former Freedom Fighters turned entrepreneurs!”

Actress 2: Yeah, selling child porn to clean old Brits.

Writer 2: Are you going to call Grovel’s aide? Maybe they can send you on tour, if you sleep with him.

Actress 1: (Blows smoke in his face.)

Act 2 – Scene 3 The Presidential Palace

(Grovel is wearing a button-down pin stripe shirt with a subdued tie and dressy suspenders. His aides are dressed in suits and ties. His secretary, receptionist and administrative assistant file in and out of his office bringing him papers to sign, ushering visitors in and out.)

Secretary: Ms. Olc is here to see you President Havel.

(He rises and waves her in. She is a woman in her late 50s to early 60s, elegantly dressed with silver streaks of hair.)

MO: “Grovel, how good to see you. When was the last time? Wasn’t it at the fundraiser on the upper east-side with all those Peace and Democracy types and those wealthy Jewish investment brokers?

GH: (Cool and businesslike.) You have a good but selective memory. What can I do for you?

MO: (She looks him straight in the eye.) We have a property claim, you know. The Communists confiscated our country estates along with our financial assets and family holdings in Prague.

GH: That’s being looked into by our Commission to Return Properties.

MO: (As a teacher to a student.) My dear Grovel, that’s a start but its not good enough. You know there are still many old line Communists in positions of power – the current judicial process could take years. (Raises her voice, indignant righteousness.) In the meantime, all those state farmers continue to exploit our land.

GH: Do you want me to throw them off the land? (He becomes a bit testy.)

MO: (She fixes an icy glare.) I think it would be a positive signal to the World Bank and our friends in the US government and the European Union that this government really wants to make the change to a market economy irreversible.

GH: (Heaves a slight sigh.) You’re right, it’s very important to give the right signals to The EU. I’ll look into signing a Presidential decree.

MO: You’re a wise, President Grovel. The people will love you. We’ll invite you for dinner once we get the country house fixed up.

GH: (Murmurs under his breath.) The “right people” already love me. (She takes her leave). While Grovel calls in his secretary to dictate a decree “enabling former landowners to reclaim their land in order to prepare the soil for the planting season.”

(The receptionist announces the Finance Minister, Klaus Louce. The administrative assistant leads him into the office.)

KL: Good morning, Mr. President. I have the list of enterprises to be privatized

GH: (Glances at the list.) It includes everything except the water, air and pavement. (slightly ironic.) How did you miss them?

KL: We are working on finding a private water company, but the one in England has a record of high E. coli content and excessive rates.

GH: Of course, efficiency must be balanced with public safety.

KL: We’ll put them on the auction bloc shortly: 50% to foreign buyers, 50% for the wage earners.

GH: How will that work?

KL: The workers will get shares, but investors will run the firm – hire, fire, etc.

GH: That’s fair enough. What about the price?

KL: Mr. President, the price is secondary. It’s getting the firms into the market, making capitalism irreversible. It’s a good policy to sell cheap and get the connections with the Germans and the Americans.

GH: That means entry into NATO and the EU. You have my support. (They shake hands. As KL leaves, Grovel mutters) “as if it mattered, he announced the privatization in yesterday’s newspapers.”

(The secretary announces a Party leader from a Czech nationalist group. He enters boldly – they embrace.)

Otto Benclic: Greetings President Havel.

GH: Let’s not be formal. What’s on your mind?

OB: The Slays and their emotional nationalism, their inferiority complex will wreck the country.

GH: (Looks pensively.) Too close to Russia too far from the West.

OB: They say we are hogging all the government subsidies, that we are closing all their defense industries.

GH: (He rises from his chair and paces the room, stroking his tie.) Let them go their own way. It’s a tragedy. I have tried to convince them that this transitional period will be painful for all of us and that they have to share their part of the burden.

OB: All they talk about is the fact that their economy depends on the arms industry. That unemployment is double the rate here.

GH: (Yawning, a bored look.) We can only try to persuade them to stay with us. Ultimately they will decide and have to live with the consequences of a separation. We have Germany, We don’t need them.

OB: But a break up will make us a smaller country.

GH: (Putting on a grave face.) Yes it will be a tragedy. They are stuck in the old Stalinist model of heavy industry and arms exports. Isn’t it more humane to have more unemployed and fewer arms? It’s a tragedy.

GH: (Strokes his silk tie. Walksaround the desk and leads OB out of the room. Walks around the office engaging in a soliloquy.) So much has changed. Who would have imagined that we democrats would be leaving the Warsaw Pact to join NATO; choose to be junior partners with Germany rather than stay with the Slovaks. Evict collective farmworkers to return land to the landowner. (He stops and brightens up and becomes ironic.) Yeah and the Marxists would say that my policies or consciousness reflects my bourgeois existence. Who needs to bother with them anymore… they don’t exist. Whatever the social costs, they are secondary. We are becoming a civilized Western country again.

Act III – Scene I

(Prague a former cafe turned into a fast food hamburger joint. It’s a get together of GH’s old intellectual friends, the musician, journalist, philosopher and free lance writer. They sit on plastic chairs, drinking coffee out of styrofoam cups, under neon lights.)

Journalist: So you’re off to New Zealand. Volkswagen won’t pay for a second violinist at the Prague symphony?

Musician: It was that or playing background music in an upscale bordello for visiting Italian businessmen.

Journalist: And you my versatile philosopher, you converted your mother from a Communist to Judaism and are off to Israel.

Philosopher: They offered me a post at Negev University teaching re-educated Palestinian prisoners the ethical imperatives of new Jewish land settlements around Jerusalem.

Journalist: Very ecological. You will lower the electrical bill for the Shin Bet.

Philosopher: It’s a job with a decent apartment and beautiful view of the desert.

Journalist: (Ironic) And I stay around here and try to uphold the principles of the Velvet Revolution. Yesterday I was almost lynched when I wrote about all the Marxist books that were removed from the library and all the professors kicked out of the University. They said I was a Stalinist nostalgic.

(The Musician looks off at the next table at a teenage hooker who is drinking a coke. Her dress is up by her umbilical, her boots half-way up her thighs.)

Musician: Ah, this is the new Prague spring. All the orifices are being ventilated.

Free-lance writer: I am paying the rent writing subtitles for soft core porn that features Lithuanian adolescents and unemployed Romanian soccer players.

Journalist: ‘What a cosmopolitan culture. What do you think Grovel would say about it?

All together: “It’s the price of democracy.” (They laugh a bit too long )

Philosopher: (looks out the window as a funeral car goes by) Someone died and they’re stuck in a traffic jam.” (Car horns blare, people curse…)

Free-lance writer: As Grovel would say, “we have become a civilized nation again.”

Musician: But you know despite the lay-offs after privatization and the collective farmers getting kicked off the land, Grovel is still very popular in the polls.

Philosopher: Why not? The harder you kick them the better they like it.

Free-lance writer: Wisdom from the future sheepherder’s violinist. Come on that’s émigrés sour grapes. He’s a great President; he told us we would resurrect a national culture and we are inundated with Hollywood trash and a quartet of middle age Englishmen singing 1960s songs in falsetto voices, short pants, emerging paunches. He said we would have an independent policy and, we run with the begging cup to the Germans, go on our knees to be buggered by NATO. Grovel’s a fantastic dialectician.

Journalist: The visit of the American Secretary of State evokes an erotic image. Albright mounting Grovel while he tells the world it’s different from when the Bear squeezed us.

Philosopher: (Musing and in relation to nothing.) Everyone is out for himself today.

Musician: And before?

Free-lance writer: You had an apartment you could afford, a month’s vacation, a secure job and sense of solidarity against the authorities. Now we suck up to the West Germans, run to three different jobs and get evicted to make room for a U.S. investment broker who want to ‘imbibe European culture in the old quarter of Prague’.

Musician: You’re an incurable nostalgic. (Pretends to play a violin and sings “Bring back the good old days!”)

Free-lance writer: If we succeeded in ‘68 with Dubcek it would have been different.

Journalist: Would be.. .could be… You got Grovel so forget Dubcek. You got Klaus and not Sik. So make the best of it; learn German, English and get a job writing press handouts for the new men of power. That’s what intellectuals do in the free market these days.

Musician: (Gets up.) I prefer the New Zealand shepherds.

Philosopher: I prefer the sunsets over the Negev.

Free-lance writer: I think I’ll ask that teenage hooker if she wants me to find her a clean Canadian diplomat.

Journalist: What happens when you pick up crap with a velvet glove?

Act III – Scene II

(In the Office of the President. Grovel paces the floor anxiously awaiting his next visitor. The receptionist announces US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.)

Grovel: (Moves forward to meet her, arranges his tie, puts on an ingratiating smile. She nter. He extends his hand a bit prematurely.) Secretary Albright, what a pleasure to have you visit us. (They shake hands.)

Albright: Yes, I enjoy being back here after so many years. You know, the city has changed, so much traffic and pollution.

Grovel: That’s the cost of prosperity – everybody has a car now.

Albright: Of course! Let’s get to this business about your application to join NATO. Is your government ready to abide by the rules of NATO?

Grovel: (Sententiously.) It’s a great opportunity for, us to be part of the West. It’s the best way to consolidate our democracy and deter the Russians if Yeltsin drinks himself into the grave.

Albright: (Smiles for a second and then becomes business like.) We provide protection but there is a price; reciprocity. We want to be able to build bases and to relocate missiles and nuclear warheads when we decide its a strategic necessity.

Grovel: (Frowns for an instant) That will have to be discussed with the parliament and…

Albright: (Interrupts him.) Grovel. This isn’t a literary exercise. You’re the President. Do you want to be part of the West? You have to shoulder part of the burden.

GH. (Fawning) Of course. Don’t get me wrong. I have no objection but we have a democracy. I’ll have to call the party leaders. There won’t be any problems. It’s of the utmost importance for our independence to be under US leadership in NATO.

Albright: (A mixture of cynicism and thinly veiled contempt.) There’s only one superpower today, Grovel. Your are making the right choice. The only choice.

Grovel: (Smiles weakly) It’s our own free choice and the great majority of the people support it.

Albright: (She gets up, shakes hands and starts to walk out.) Goodbye.

Albright: (Soliloquy in the doorway) Where does he get off with all that spiritual bullshit and holier than thou attitude? Telling us what the “real meaning” of NATO is all about.

Ha. We only organized it, put it under our command and showed our European allies how to shine our boots. (Stops, reflects.) I guess he’s so used to, mouthing all that mushy gook to his liberal camp followers he really believes he can walk on the Danube. How did he put it in that article of his… “We the free people of the Czech Republic will provide a new definition of the purpose, mission and identity of NATO…” Listen Grovel, NATO is about U.S. power, get it, telling the world we are ‘Number One’. (Face reddens, stops, reflects and brightens up.) I guess there’s no harm in letting Grovel put a moral varnish on our march to the Russian border. Sometimes I wonder if he’s bucking for my job, describing the “new NATO” as “a guarantor of Euro-American civilization and thus as a pillar of global security.” I like it… Makes you feel good while we’re sticking it to the Russians. Oh Grovel, if you ever lose your job I’ll get you a position at the United States Information Agency. S  till he’s a pompous ass. Every time you talk to him it seems like he’s reading a draft of a piece he’s submitting to the New York Times op-ed page or an open letter to New York Review of Books Still that high-falutin rhetoric makes it easier for liberals to swallow our power politics. (Smirks.) For a guy with such high moral standards, he could borrow Monica’s knee pads. (She laughs gleefully.)

Grovel: (Soliloquy) She’s more of a mediocrity than I thought. But you know if you represent a great power, you can spell your name backward and still get respect. Look at Reagan, he fell asleep at meetings and still everyone in Europe thought he was a genius. Ach… What an opportunist she is. Anything to curry favor. First she is a hatchet person at the U.N. for the Neanderthals in Congress. Then she is a woman and gets in the Cabinet, then she is a Czech to talk to the Europeans, then she discovers she’s Jewish to verify her credentials to make Middle East policy. (He throws hands up in a dramatic gesture.) What I have to sacrifice for this country…

(Knock on the door.)

GH: Come in.

Secretary: (Walks in.) There is a group of writers. They claim they have an appointment.

Grovel: I don’t want to see them. They’re probably looking for a job. Send them to the Ministry of Culture.

Secretary: They said they got purged for their ideas.

Grovel (Indignant) Part of the nomenclature hacks probably from the Stalinst Writers Union. (Presses buzzer, an aide rushes in.) Escort those unemployed Stalinists out.

Aide: You mean those middle-age professors of literature?

Grovel: How do you know they teach literature?

Aide: One of them was my professor. He supported Dubcek and got kicked out by the Stalinists and taught classes in his tiny apartment for a while.

Grovel: Alright, you go talk to him. Maybe find him a job in some high school.

Act III – Scene 3

(3 years later, 4 intellectuals return to cafe. Noisy background of US music, neon lights, plastic tables, Starbuck coffee.)

Free-lance writer: Welcome to the class reunion. Or maybe we shouldn’t use such outmoded jargon.

Musician: I came back because the airfare from the US has been discounted and I need to sell my deceased mother’s apartment.

Philosopher: You left New Zealand?

Musician: Yeah. The Labor government, following in the footsteps of Grovel, ended the state subsidy for the symphony. We were told to find a patron among the sheep farmers to subsidize our chairs.

Philosopher: And in the US there is public funding?

Musician: Some, but mostly there are professional fundraisers who get money for all of us. The moneybags deduct it from their corporate taxes and get their names written into the program with their spouses. (Turns and faces the philosopher.) And you my dear Maimonides, do you still give lectures at the Negrev on the justice of blowing up the family houses of suspected terrorists?

Philosopher: (Stiffens up.) The anti-Semitic undertones in Central Europe are surfacing again. I now teach at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I have a chair endowed by a distinguished New York garment manufacturer and his family. It’s wonderful. I give only one graduate seminar a year and a series of lectures for philanthropic groups like the Hadassah on topics like “What it Means to be a Jew” or “Mixed Marriages: Threat or Opportunity?”

Journalist: That’s very exciting. Almost as exhilarating as my rewriting scripts of old US soap operas for Czech TV audiences. But it pays well and I got my kids in a private school with all the brats of the junior managers working for multinational corporations.

They now speak Czech with a German or English accent. They’ll do better than I’ve done.

Free-lance writer: I’m out of luck. I wasn’t circumcised. I couldn’t find a CEO to subsidize my computer and I didn’t have the stomach to drink myself into refrying US soap operas.

Philosopher: You’re an anti-Semite and full of resentment.

Musician: You’re stuck in the past.

Journalist: So, how do you ‘make a living?

Free-lance writer: Selling Grovel’s books on the street corner at a 90% discount.

Writer: How do you make a profit?

Free-lance writer: I get them free from a warehouse.

Musician: Just selling Grovel? Do you sell that many?

Free-lance writer: The foreign tourists buy the translated versions of Grovel especially when I forge his signature and dedication. It’s strange, a lot of Americans with a peculiar drawl ask for a book called the “Spirit Over Existence” that one of their politicians recommendes. I sell them what I got and tell them it’s a problem of translation. But I also sell the old Marx, Lenin collections to antiquarians. Those cheap editions of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Gorky sell for at 50 cents a copy to a few grey haired Czechs who still read. I write in the morning and sell in the afternoon.

Philosopher: And in the winter?

Free-lance writer: My wife works for an advertising agency and I write travel stories about places I never visited.

Journalist: That’s imaginative writing. What happened to your novel on the Velvet Revolution?

Free-lance writer: (Starts to talk, but notes that there is little interest. The philosopher is watching the thinly clad tourists. The musician is glancing at the Financial Times and the journalist is suppressing a yawn.) It’s about two-thirds finished. It’s about the betrayal of the revolution. How everything we fought for has been perverted. (He stops.)

Philosopher: Well gentlemen. I have to be leaving. I have a meeting with a joint businessmen-philosophers’ conference on ethics and leverage buyouts.

Free-lance writer: How to say you’re sorry when you get caught, eh?

Musician: I’m off too. We are rehearsing a special performance for Grovel and his honored guest the Viceroy Albright.

Free-lance writer: Stick a cigarette in his mouth and tell him he hasn’t changed a bit.

Journalist: (Tightens his lips and nods his head in dismay at the writer..) You’re so self-destructive. You know it was clever to be an outsider when you were younger and fought the good fights against the Stalinists, especially when you had the West by your side.

Soros pouring millions, Amnesty running around publishing reports, National Endowment for Democracy paying the rent. Anything you wrote, creative or crap, that was critical was picked up by the N.Y. Times, Le Monde or the New York Review of Books (Stops and speaks slowly and emphatically.) But that time has passed. They got what they want. The CEOs squat around the boardrooms in their high rises making deals with Klaus, Grovel and the rest of them. They aren’t interested any more in dissidents criticism. Now it’s time to be a promoter, an entrepreneur, a celebrant of the good times.

It’s self-destructive to keep writing about the new porno-culture, the inequalities, the ripoffs of privatization, the new rich. Who cares? Not the young people. Look around you. The high school girls trying to seduce German businessmen so they can buy Calvin Klein jeans and spend the night in a disco, while their boyfriends piss their beer on the side of the Cathedral. And the, Pope praises Grovel and present him with a list of 327 rent-yielding properties to be reclaimed.

Free-lance writer: You’re an inspiration. You should write my book.

Journalist: Look, I know what you think of our former comrades. They sold out and I have too, but at least I know it.

Free-lance writer: The old Czech way, fight the battle inside while conforming on the outside. Isn’t that what we railed against for so many years during the post-Dubcek years?

Journalist: You’re right, but you got nothing to show for it. And worse, who’s going to back you today? When you’re fighting global capitalism? It’s better to try to fight for little things on the inside.

Free-lance writer: Like have one of your soap opera hero’s recycle his condoms – green safe sex.

Journalist: Meanwhile you’re on roller skates going from one job to another and selling the books of your arch enemy, Grovel Havel.

Free-lance writer: Don’t you see, I’m getting back at him selling “Consciousness Over Existence” for 25 cents.

Journalist: You think he cares? He can’t even remember the title of that book. He’s writing a new book called Green Velvet. The opening sentence begins, “Here come the stock brokers – open your legs and enjoy it”.

Free-lance writer: (Wry smile.) This will run its course. The Czech people are not donkeys. The workers will someday wake up to the fact that they make one- fifth what they make in Germany and work longer hours.

Journalist: You’re really a dreamer. The older workers know they lost something: security, health plans, vacations, but they are holding out for their pensions. The younger ones work to consume. The last thing they think about is rebelling. They want their stereos, their own Volks, even if they beat all the work norms to get them. The capitalists get out of the workers what the Communists only tried: higher productivity, bigger profits..

Free-lance writer: It’ll take time. Meantime if you need a ghostwriter to help you re-write a soap or two give me a call.

Journalist: No way. If you didn’t exist, I wouldn’t include a hero recycling condoms.

Dec 232011
 

 

* ONE YEAR AFTER FBI SUBPOENA, CIVIL LIBERTIES PROTECTIONS IN US FRIGHTENINGLY ERODED EVEN FURTHER

By maureen, Electronic Intifada

A year ago yesterday, I got the dreaded house call from the FBI. I was at home working when two agents rang my buzzer and asked to speak with me.

I had been expecting such a visit; on 24 September 2010 the FBI raided the homes of prominent anti-war and international solidarity organizers I have worked with over the years in Chicago, as well as the homes of activists in the Twin Cities and the office of the Anti War Committee there. In the weeks that followed, more Palestine solidarity organizers and Palestinian Americans in Chicago were delivered subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago as part of an investigation into violations of the laws banning material support for foreign terrorist organizations.

I declined to speak with the two agents who visited me; they then gave me a subpoena to appear before a federal grand jury on 25 January 2011. I spent last Christmas and New Year convinced that I would soon be in federal prison for civil contempt of court. Even though it meant we risked being jailed, all 23 of us who have been subpoenaed as part of this grand jury fishing expedition have refused to testify. We have asserted that our first amendment rights guaranteed by the US Constitution, protecting free speech and freedom of association, are being trampled on.

A first amendment issue

The grand jury — essentially a secret court in which you’re not allowed to have a lawyer, and there is not even a judge presiding over the proceedings — has been long abused as a tool of inquisition into domestic political movements. Indeed, no specific crime has been identified related to our case.

The FBI’s operations manual for the September raids, discovered last April to have been accidentally left amongst a raided activist’s files, make it clear that they wanted to question activists about associational information — who activists know and work with in the US, Colombia and Palestine, and how activists organize and what they believe. They wanted people to name everyone they know who has ever traveled to the Middle East or South America.

It is also obvious the FBI put up the LA County Sheriff to raid the home of veteran Chicano liberation activist Carlos Montes last May; he faces trumped-up technical firearms violation charges and serious prison time. The FBI was on hand during the raid to question Montes about his political associations (an organizer of the 2008 Republican National Convention protests, he was named in the search warrant used to raid the Anti War Committee office) and took material from his home related to his long history of political organizing. They even took a kuffiyeh — the traditional checkered Palestinian scarf — only one example of many demonstrating how federal agents so arbitrarily confiscated property from activists’ homes.

And while the threat of indictments looms, I am not spending Christmas and new year’s in federal prison for civil contempt of court. This is, I believe, thanks to the vocal protest that countless people around the US and around the world have made in support of the 24 of us and in support of civil liberties. This is a huge victory. But at the same time, civil liberties and constitutional protections have further eroded even in the last year. More protest must be shown before the situation gets even worse. […]

READ @ http://electronicintifada.net/blog/maureen/one-year-after-fbi-subpoena-civil-liberties-protections-us-frighteningly-eroded-even

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* IT’S TIME TO FREE BRADLEY MANNING

By The Young Turks

http://current.com/shows/the-young-turks/videos/its-time-to-free-bradley-manning

Nineteen months after U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was first arrested, the first pre-trial hearings have finally begun. Manning faces 22 charges, including “aiding the enemy” and the unauthorized release of half a million reports and cables — even though, according to the American government, no one has been proved hurt by Wikileaks publishing the cables, and none were classified as top secret. “He did our soldiers a world of good,” Cenk says. “Time served is plenty enough time. Scooter Libby served no time and he betrayed a CIA agent. That caused real harm. Dick Cheney — no time. Karl Rove — no time. It’s time to free Bradley Manning.”

READ AND VIDEO @ http://mydd.com/users/theyoungturks/posts/its-time-to-free-bradley-manning

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* 99% PLAN NEW TAX WAR ON SUPER RICH IN 2012

By Paul B. Farrell, MarketWatch

[…] War rises from a black hole in the souls of our enraged youth

Listen to Kalle and White describing the energy driving OWS movement. It comes from deep within the collective soul of a new generation of young Americans who have been disenfranchised by clueless politicians who are trapped deep inside a corrupt two-party political system no longer capable of changing. And our youth are enraged. Listen:

“This primal cry for democracy sprang from young people who could no longer ignore the angst in their gut — the premonition that their future does not compute, that their entire lives will be lived in the apocalyptic shadow of climate-change tipping points, species die-offs, a deadening commercialized culture, a political system perverted by money, precarious employment, a struggle to pay off crippling student loans, and no chance of ever owning a home or living in comfort like their parents. Glimpsing this black hole of ecological, political, financial and spiritual crisis, the youth and the millions of Americans who joined them instinctively knew that unless they stood up and fought nonviolently for a different kind of future, they would have no future at all.”

Yes, America’s youth are the voice of the 99%, Americans inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions. American youth are fueling “the greatest social-justice movement to emerge in the United States since the civil rights era.”

But never lose sight of the real war here. Yes, there’s a war between the richest 1% of Americans who have seen their income grow 265% the past generation while the incomes of the other 99% have stagnated or fallen. Yes, the wealth gap is bigger now than it was in 1929 just before the market crashed.

Super Rich vs. America’s future

But to truly understand how this class war is predicting what lies ahead, know that class war is not just between the Super Rich and the 99%. It is more a generational war between America’s youth and a wealthy entrenched establishment. The young helped elect the president. Expected “change we can believe in.” Unfortunately it got worse, and they’re mad as hell.

Investors especially better watch out: This pent-up energy in America’s youth is building to a critical mass (as happened in Europe and the Arab world, and now in China and Russia), and it will explode across the economic and political landscape in 2012.

In the final analysis, however, you sense that in spite of their accelerating rage against the establishment, America’s youth, our next great generation, also had a sudden epiphany and learned a crucial lesson. Oh yes. Because their enemies didn’t just give them a great gift, but also inadvertently trained them in using a more aggressive special-ops, guerilla, quick-strike strategy. Listen and you’ll see what they learned in one night raid against them:

“Why can’t the American power elite engage with the nation’s young? Instead, they stayed aloof, ignored us and wished us away,” then “attacked us in Zuccotti Park in the dead of the night. Bloomberg’s raid was carried out with military precision. The surprise attack began at 1 a.m. with a media blackout. The encampment was surrounded by riot police, credentialed mainstream journalists who tried to enter were pushed back or arrested, and the airspace was closed to news helicopters. What happened next was a blur of tear gas; a bulldozer; confiscation or destruction of everything in the park, including 5,000 books; upward of 150 arrests; and the deployment of a Long Range Acoustic Device, the infamous ‘sound cannon’ best known for its military use in Iraq. … This kind of military mind-set and violent response to nonviolent protesters makes no sense. It did not work in the Middle East, and it’s not going to work in America either. This is the bottom line: You cannot attack your young and get away with it.”

Repeat that “bottom line: You cannot attack your young and get away with it” And yet, that’s exactly what Wall Street, America’s Super Rich, their lobbyists, and all their bought politicians are doing: “Attacking our young.” Attacking our next generation. Attacking America’s future.

Our leaders are ideologically blind to the need to invest and invest big in jobs before this accelerating rage reaches a critical mass and ignites, triggering another American Revolution and the Second Great Depression.

READ @ http://www.marketwatch.com/Story/story/print?guid=901AE114-2A5C-11E1-B371-002128040CF6

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* UNPRECEDENTED FRAUD, TOOTHLESS WATCHDOGS

By Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture 

“Why there hasn’t been more robust prosecution is a mystery.

-Raymond Brescia, visiting professor, Yale Law School

Reuters has an outrageous article detailing the absurdity of the lack of prosecution of financial crimes in modern America. It is a shocking to watch the United States, a nation that once followed the Rule of Law, slip into a banana republic.

“Four years after the banking system nearly collapsed from reckless mortgage lending, federal prosecutors have stayed on the sidelines, even as judges around the country are pointing fingers at possible wrongdoing.

The federal government, as has been widely noted, has pressed few criminal cases against major lenders or senior executives for the events that led to the meltdown of 2007. Finding hard evidence has proved difficult, the Justice Department has said.

The government also hasn’t brought any prosecutions for dubious foreclosure practices deployed since 2007 by big banks and other mortgage-servicing companies.

But this part of the financial system, a Reuters examination shows, is filled with potential leads.

Foreclosure-related case files in just one New York federal bankruptcy court, for example, hold at least a dozen mortgage documents known as promissory notes bearing evidence of recently forged signatures and illegal alterations, according to a judge’s rulings and records reviewed by Reuters. Similarly altered notes have appeared in courts around the country.

And it gets much worse.

• Despite laws against it, banks have foreclosed on active-duty U.S. soldiers who are legally eligible to have foreclosures halted. Attorneys representing service members estimate banks have foreclosed on up to 30,000 ACTIVE military personnel, mostly while they were in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• There has been — literally — “tens of thousands of fraudulent documents filed in tens of thousands of cases.” Sworn affidavits have been filed containing false information. This is easily prosecuted perjury.

• The size and scope of the fraud on the U.S. court system is unprecedented in U.S. history

• NY State court judge Arthur Schack, ruled in 2010 that pleadings by the Baum Law — who handle 40% of NY foreclosures — were “so incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous that they should have been authorized by the late Rod Serling, creator of the famous science-fiction television series, The Twilight Zone.“  There has been no fraud prosecution to date.

• Banks have routinely filed falsified mortgage promissory notes — in some cases, six different documents have been filed, all claimed to be the original. At the least 5 must be forgeries — an easy felony to prosecute.

Read the entire article if you want to be outraged and send your blood pressure skyrocketing. […]

READ @ http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/12/unprecedented-fraud-toothless-watchdogs/

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* REP. JOHN YARMUTH: “MONEY IS SPEECH” WAS TRAGIC FOR THIS COUNTRY

By msnbc

[…] Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) has proposed a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United along with Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC).  His proposed amendment declares that spending on elections does not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment.  It would also give Congress the authority to create a public financing system as the sole source of funding for federal elections and designates a national holiday for the purpose of voting.

“Corporate money equals influence, not free speech,” Rep. Yarmuth said on The Dylan Ratigan Show. “The last thing Congress needs is more corporate candidates who don’t answer to the American people. Until we get big money out of politics, we will never be able to responsibly address the major issues facing American families – and that starts by ensuring our elections and elected officials cannot be bought by the well-off and well-connected.”

[…]

Yarmuth said that this is at the heart of the Citizens United decision:

It doesn’t really matter whether corporations are considered people or not if you consider campaign expenditures as free speech. Because then it doesn’t matter who has access to that right. When you deal with just the corporate side of it, you’re still allowing people like the Koch brothers on the right, or even George Soros on the left, to spend millions and millions of dollars in an anonymous way to influence the system. So you need to get at the core of it and “say money spent on elections is not speech.” Therefore the Congress can regulate how much you can spend, if you can spend anything, and who can spend it. If you don’t get at that fundamental question, Congress really can’t regulate.

The second part of his amendment states that “Congress shall have the power to enact a mandatory public financing system to provide funds to qualified candidates in elections for Federal office, which shall be the sole source of funds raised or spent with respect to Federal elections.”

But why not just mandating that Congress must do this?  As Rep. Yarmuth explained, “we would have liked to have done it that way. most of the advice that we got that it would be — that you really can’t tell the Congress to enact a certain policy.”

Section three states “Congress shall set forth a legal public holiday for the purposes of voting in regularly scheduled general elections for Federal office.”  Rep. Yarmuth explained, “we need to have a national commitment to voting and to get out the vote, to make it easier for people to do it. The idea that people have to negotiate work and child care and all of these other logistical things to cast a vote for the most important thing they’ll do as a citizen is nonsense. ”

Rep. Yarmuth said that the Founding Fathers never could have anticipated the millions that would be spent in elections.  ”They wanted the right of the individual to go to the town square and say whatever he or she wanted to say. Everybody still has that right. This whole idea of money is speech is something that be fabricated by those who want to buy influence on the system. And people like my senator, Mitch McConnell, have been pounding this home for 25 years now, and he finally got it institutionalized in a Supreme Court decision. It was very, very tragic for the country,” said Rep. Yarmuth. […]

READ AND VIDEO @ http://www.dylanratigan.com/2011/12/21/rep-john-yarmuth-money-is-speech-was-tragic-for-this-country/

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* PRIVATIZING MONEY

By Alan Grayson, Daily Kos

Yesterday, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it will hand out $645,000,000,000 in three-year loans to European banks. Which the ECB printed out of thin air, like Monopoly money! The interest rate will be one percent per year.

The ECB will not be lending this money to the Government of Greece, even though that government is running a budget deficit of just under 10% of GDP – and the Greek GDP dropped by 5% this year.  The Government of Greece is now paying 37% per year on its ten-year bonds, when it can borrow anything at all.

The ECB will not be lending this money to the people of Spain, even though official unemployment in Spain is now at 23%.  Spain’s Economy Minister said recently that “Spain faces its deepest recession in half a century.”  Tough luck; their Christmas tree has nothing under it.

And when the European banks get this $645 billion, to whom will the banks be lending?  Anybody, or nobody.  No strings attached.  They can borrow from the ECB at 1%, lend it back to the German Government at 2%, lock in that profit, and take the next three years off.

I just have one question.

Why?

The world continues to face the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Unemployment throughout Europe is over ten percent.  Entire national governments are on the verge of going broke.  Why would anyone think that THE THING THAT WE HAVE TO DO RIGHT NOW is to hand out $645 billion in more funny money to the banks?  In Europe or anywhere else?

The ECB is a public institution.  How can it possibly justify yet another bailout for selfish private interests, while the public is sent straight to hell?

If a Martian were to land in Paris today, and just read the headlines of the newspapers today, he could reach only one conclusion.  That there has been a coup in Europe, the banks are now in charge, and they’re grabbing everything that they can get their hands on.

Mark my words:  at some point, people are just not going to take it anymore.

Courage,

Alan Grayson

READ @ http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/12/22/1048077/-Privatizing-Money?via=siderec

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* IN PORTUGAL, ALL-OUT PRIVATIZATION GETS UNDERWAY

 By Mario Querioz, Common Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

A demonstrator holds a banner reading “Do not steal the future” in front of the Finance Ministry during a protest against the government’s austerity measures in Lisbon December 15, 2011. Besides selling off the state’s remaining shares in EDP, a company that brings in major profits, the government must privatise the highly lucrative national airport authority – Aeroportos de Portugal (ANA) – and is to complete the sale of Transportes Aéreos Portugueses (TAP) – the national airline – by the end of 2012. (REUTERS/Rafael Marchante)

The most far-reaching programme of privatisation of state enterprises in the history of Portugal kicked off Thursday with the sale of almost all of the state’s shares in the Energias de Portugal (EDP) utility to China’s Three Gorges Corp.

The Chinese company paid 3.5 billion dollars for a 21 percent stake, beating out Germany’s E.ON and Brazil’s Eletrobras and Cemeg, and making it the largest shareholder. The state was left with less than four percent of the shares in the power company.

Three Gorges’ victory in the bidding for EDP will open Portugal’s doors to Chinese financial institutions, making more credit available in Portugal, as the giant Chinese corporation promised Lisbon.

The privatisation of public enterprises is one of the conditions Portugal agreed to under the 110 billion dollar bailout agreed in May.

The government of conservative Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has thus begun to sell off state assets under the austerity programme agreed with the “troika” of international creditors: the EU, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Besides the massive privatisation plan, the bailout package signed by the government of then socialist prime minister José Socrates and the right, which took power a month later, was conditional on austerity measures like a more flexible labour market making it cheaper and easier to fire workers, major spending cuts, a freeze on wages and pensions, tax hikes, cuts in unemployment benefits and income tax benefits and deductions, and an increase in the value-added tax.

Besides selling off the state’s remaining shares in EDP, a company that brings in major profits, the government must privatise the highly lucrative national airport authority – Aeroportos de Portugal (ANA) – and is to complete the sale of Transportes Aéreos Portugueses (TAP) – the national airline – by the end of 2012. […]

READ @ http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/12/23-0

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* “NUCLEAR CAN BE SAFE OR IT CAN BE CHEAP … BUT IT CAN’T BE BOTH”

By Washington’s Blog

Nuclear Power Is Unsafe Because the Operators are Pinching Pennies and Cutting Corners

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen was said in a recent interview that nuclear power can be made safe, but not at a competitive price:

[Interviewer] With air transport, it’s incredibly safe. Could nuclear power ever reach that level of safety?

[Gundersen] I have a friend who says that nuclear can be safe or it can be cheap, but it can’t be both.

***

It boils down to money. If you want to make nuclear safe, it gets to the point where it’s so costly you don’t want to build the power plant anyway … especially now with plummeting renewable costs.

So can you make a nuclear reactor safe? Yes. Can it also at the same time compete with renewables, which are, of course, higher [priced] than natural gas? And the answer is no.

Wall Street is demanding federal loan guarantees for this and of course we already subsidized Price-Anderson insurance. So Wall Street won’t spend the money to build it, and won’t insure it.

Gundersen is right.

As I noted in April:

Apologists for the nuclear power industry pretend there are no better alternatives, so we just have to suck it up and suffer through the Japanese nuclear crisis.

But this is wholly illogical. The truth is that we can store spent fuel rods in dry cask storage, which is much safer than the spent fuel rod pools used in Fukushima and many American reactors.

As the Nation pointed out:

Short of closing plants, there is a fairly reliable solution to the problem of spent fuel rods. It is called “dry cask storage.”

***

But there is a problem with dry cask storage: it costs money….

We could build a new, safer generation of nuclear power plants which have inherently safer designs, such as low-temperature reactors and thorium reactors.

But the owners of the nuclear plants can make more money with the ridiculous designs and cost-cutting measures used at Fukushima and elsewhere.

As the Christian Science Monitor notes:

*** Russian nuclear accident specialist Iouli Andreev, who as director of the Soviet Spetsatom clean-up agency helped in the efforts 25 years ago to clean up Chernobyl … said the sequence of events at Japan’s Fukushima I suggested that the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), may have put profit before safety. The fire that broke out Tuesday in reactor No. 4s fuel storage pond may have been caused by a desire to conserve space and money, he suggested.

“The Japanese were very greedy and they used every square inch of the space. But when you have a dense placing of spent fuel in the basin you have a high possibility of fire if the water is removed from the basin,” Andreev told Reuters….

And this is not limited to Tepco. 

***

The nuclear accident was largely caused because of Tepco’s penny-pinching, just as the Gulf oil spill was caused by the fact that BP cut every corner in the book ( see this, this, this, this, and this). […]

READ @ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/12/nuclear-can-be-safe-or-it-can-be-cheap-but-it-cant-be-both.html

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* IRAN AND SYRIA IN IMPERIAL CROSSHAIRS

By Iftekhar A. Khan, Information Clearing House

[…] While the western powers are proceeding against Syria overtly, they’re moving against Iran covertly. Unfortunately, the 22-member Arab League is playing a leading role in the hostilities orchestrated by the West against the two Muslim states. When the Saudi King said Assad’s removal was in Saudi Arabia’s interest, the Arab League quickly revoked Syria’s membership and asked Assad to step down. How can the Arab League, consisting of repressive monarchies and dynastic emirates, pronounce one of its member countries in the region tyrannical? SNC and Free Syrian Army are set up under Turkey tutelage. Henceforth Turkey will likely play a dominant role of a proxy in the imperial plan of regime-change in Syria. Turkey has a bit of identity problem. It has always aspired to be recognised as a modern westernised state part of Europe but the Europeans have been reluctant to accept it.

Saudi Arabia not only wants an end to Assad’s rule in Syria, it equally detests President Ahmadinjad’s government in Iran. The imperial powers are successfully using the sectarian card by playing upon religious prejudices of one sect against the other. If Saudi Arabia didn’t consider Iran its archrival, why would it buy 60 billion dollars worth of US military hardware? To add to the suspicion between the two, a treacherous plot to kill Saudi Ambassador in the US was hatched in which an Iranian citizen, a used car dealer, was to hire Mexican hit men to assassinate the Saudi envoy in Washington. The plot was so incredulous that not even the American public, which is generally considered gullible, bought it.

However, it’s confounding why the Muslim rulers allow the West to use them against their own kin. Is there any precedent of Christian nations aggressing against each other at present? None. Why does Saudi Arabia want to isolate Iran and bring down President Ahmedinejad’s government, while undercurrents of public discontent run deep in the kingdom itself? If the CIA has so far failed to instigate an uprising in Iran, despite having poured in millions, why should Saudi Arabia abet in the same against a brother Muslim country is for the House of Saud to answer.

READ @ http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30053.htm

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* ONE NATION UNDER THE DRONE: THE RISING NUMBER OF UAVs IN AMERICAN SKIES

By Jillian Rayfield, TPMMuckraker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A secret air show in Houston. An unmanned blimp in Utah. A sovereign citizen arrested in North Dakota.

Each of these is just one small part of the bigger story of the proliferation of unmanned aircraft use within the U.S., and each is likely to become smaller still if the FAA goes through with plans to loosen regulations governing domestic use of drones.

News reports about Predator attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are common if not always complete, but what’s gotten much less attention is the increase in unarmed drones that are buzzing around within the U.S. itself. Primarily, unarmed Predator B drones are only used by government agents to patrol the borders for illegal immigrants, but there are a (very large) handful of other agencies and companies that use smaller, unarmed drones for a slew of other purposes. And that number is only expected to grow.

The FAA says that as of September 13, 2011, there were 285 active Certificates of Authorization (COA) for 85 different users, covering 82 different unmanned unarmed aircraft types.

Though the exact breakdown of the organizations who have authorization is unclear — and the FAA would not elaborate for “privacy” and “security” reasons — in January the Washington Post reported that as of December 1, 2010, 35% of the permissions were held by the Department of Defense, 11% by NASA, and 5% by the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI and law enforcement agencies also hold some, as do manufacturers and even academic institutions.

Between pressure from trade groups (like the drone manufacturers group the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), proposed legislation from Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to expand the number of drone testing sites in the U.S., and petitioning from states like Oklahoma for an approved 80-mile air corridor reserved exclusively for drone development and testing, there is great potential for drone use to expand within the U.S. in the next few years.

Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA, says that there are currently two types of authorizations — one for public operations, as in state and local governments, and one for private entities. In each case, the application process involves telling the FAA what type and where and when aircraft will be flown, so the agency can determine if it can ensure the safety of other aircraft. Dorr said that next month the FAA hopes to propose new, looser rules for use of small unarmed Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) because “that’s where the demand is.”

He told TPM that they’re hoping to publish the new regulations in January, which will be followed by a comment period for industry and other interested parties. That usually lasts 60 days, at which point the FAA will take the comments into consideration when drafting the final language of the rule.

So who would use these small drones?

Kevin Lauscher, a Grant Assistance Specialist for the Canada-based manufacturers of the Draganfly drones, couldn’t say how many they’ve sold in the U.S. so far. But he said that aside from law enforcement agencies, they’ve sold drones to companies in real estate, manufacturing, academic institutions and even resorts. He described how some construction companies use drones for safety reasons, in place of a person on top of a crane or scaffolding.

But, the FAA said in a press release in October, though “interest is growing in civil (non-government) uses” for drones, “one of the most promising potential uses for sUAS is in law enforcement.”

“The FAA is working with urban police departments in major metropolitan areas and national public safety organizations on test programs involving unmanned aircraft,” the release says, also noting that members of law enforcement agencies participated in the committee that is drafting the new sUAS rule.

So far, there is a handful of law enforcement agencies that already have authorization to use drones, like sheriff’s departments in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland and Lane County, Oregon and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Police in Arlington, Texas have a drone they acquired to help with security during the February, 2011 Superbowl. The Mayor of Ogden, Utah is working to get an “unmanned blimp” that would fly over the city and serve as “a deterrent to crime.”

But there are some cases that are particularly concerning for civil liberties advocates. In North Dakota, a family of “sovereign citizens” was arrested with the help of a Predator B drone, borrowed from border patrol agents by the local sheriff in an effort to avoid a standoff over missing cows. In the first reported case of a drone being used to aid in the arrest of a U.S. citizen, the drone was able to detect when the family was carrying weapons so officials could move in without fear of a firefight.

There’s also the Houston Police Department, which scrapped a plan to bring on a drone shortly after KPRC-TV filmed local officials participating in a secret air show for drones, about 70 miles outside of the city. The police chief mentioned in a press conference that the drones could be used for issuing traffic tickets, and the backlash was such that the Mayor put the kibosh on the program. But, according to KPRC-TV, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office near Houston still used $300,000 in federal grant money from the DHS to buy a ShadowHawk unmanned helicopter. […]

READ @ http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/12/one_nation_under_the_drone.php?ref=fpa

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* CZECHS BID FAREWELL TO VACLAV HAVEL

By Karel Janicek, Independent UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Czechs and world leaders paid emotional tribute to Vaclav Havel today at a pomp-filled funeral ceremony, ending a week of public grief and nostalgia over the death of the dissident playwright who led the 1989 revolution that toppled four decades of communist rule.

Bells tolled from churches while a wailing siren brought the country to a standstill in a minute of silence for the nation’s first democratically-elected president after the nonviolent “Velvet Revolution.”

Havel’s wife Dagmar, family members, friends and leaders from dozens of countries gathered Friday at the towering, gothic St. Vitus Cathedral which overlooks Prague. Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and  were among some 1,000 mourners who bowed their heads in front of the coffin draped in the Czech colours.

In a message read at the funeral by the Vatican’s former diplomatic representative in Prague, Pope Benedict XVI praised Havel. “Remembering how courageously Mr Havel defended human rights at a time when these were systematically denied to the people of your country, and paying tribute to his visionary leadership in forging a new democratic polity after the fall of the previous regime, I give thanks to God for the freedom that the people of the Czech Republic now enjoy,” he said.

At the end of the ceremony, Havel’s coffin was to be carried through the cathedral’s Golden Gate to Prague’s Strasnice crematorium for a private family funeral. The urn with Havel’s ashes will be buried at his family’s plot at the city’s Vinohrady cemetery alongside his first wife, Olga, who died in 1996.

Havel, whose final term in office ended in 2003, died Sunday morning in his sleep at his weekend home in the country’s north. The 75-year-old former chain-smoker had a history of chronic respiratory problems dating back to his time in prison.

Since his death, Czechs have gathered spontaneously to lay flowers and light candles at key historic sites such as the monument to the 1989 Velvet Revolution in downtown Prague, and at Wenceslas Square, where Havel once spoke before hundreds of thousands of people to express outrage at the repressive communist regime.

Similar scenes of remembrance played out across the country — in a show of emotion not seen since the 1937 funeral of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s first president after the nation was founded in 1918.

“Europe owes Vaclav Havel a profound debt,” Cameron said before departing from London. “Havel led the Czech people out of tyranny … and he helped bring freedom and democracy to our entire continent.”

Czechs packed a nearby courtyard at Prague Castle and an adjacent square to watch the funeral ceremony on giant screens.

“He was our star, he gave us democracy,” said Iva Buckova, 51, who had travelled from the western city of Plzen. “He led us through revolution. We came to see him for the last time.”  […]

READ @ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/a/europe/czechs-bid-farewell-to-vaclav-havel-6280952.html

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* HAVEL’S MORAL AUTHORITY “IS A THING OF THE PAST”

By Renat Kuenzi, swissinfo.ch

Former Czech dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel, whose funeral takes place on Friday, was held in high regard around the world for his courage and moral strength.

Author Helena Kanyar-Becker, who came to Switzerland in 1969 after the repression of the Prague Spring, is among those who admired Havel. But she says his moral authority had begun to diminish during his years as president.

Havel, who played a key role in the democracy movement in communist Czechoslovakia, was elected president at the end of 1989, following the Velvet Revolution. After the breakup of Czechoslovakia, he served as president of the Czech Republic until 2003.

Havel died on December 18 at the age of 75.

swissinfo.ch: You met Vaclav Havel when you were a young student in Prague. What impression did he make on you?

Helena Kanyar-Becker: In the 1960s I regularly visited the Theatre on the Balustrade [in Prague], which was a mecca for us young students. I saw all Vaclav Havel’s plays there. Including “The Garden Party”, an absurd play about functionaries that had a huge impact. I don’t remember how many times I saw it.

swissinfo.ch: Describe the atmosphere at these productions.

H.K-B.: It was a very intimate atmosphere. Just getting hold of a ticket required creativity. The foyer was always full of young people smoking, and Havel stood on the stairs, also smoking, and waved to us. His wife Olga, a beautiful, slim woman, was in charge of the cloakroom. She also smoked constantly.

The theatre, which had about 250 seats was always packed, and there was a real understanding between the actors and the public. We laughed a lot.

“The Garden Party” wasn’t just absurd and full of humour, it was also philosophical. Hugo, the conforming ‘hero’, delivers the line: ‘Conformity is the healthy philosophy of the middle classes, without which there is no future.’ Havel was taking a swipe at people who conform. It was exactly what we wanted to hear and see.

swissinfo.ch: After the performances, did you go to a restaurant to discuss the pieces with Havel?

H.K-B.: No, there was a kind of divide between Havel and us. We only ever saw him smiling and smoking. We didn’t dare address him; we were too young. He was a kind of saint to us, who we really admired… [...]

READ @ http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/culture/Havel_s_moral_authority_is_a_thing_of_the_past.html?cid=31817664