Runcible Blog

Band Wanted

My erstwhile friend, Nathan from Winchester, is moving back to his hometown of Eerie, Pennsylvania. That means we won't have any eclectic jams in Harvard Square this spring/summer....unless I can find some people to play with.

Anybody? Anybody?

History Repeats

Below is a fascinating article about Hitler's rise to power and the parallels to the United States government today. It's long but worth the read. There's such a thing called Godwin's Law which states that as soon as someone tries to compare Nazis or Hitler to anything, they automatically lose the argument. Regardless, this article provides an interesting perspective. Bob Marley said, "If you know your history, then you would know where you're coming from." Yeah.

When democracy failed: The warnings of history

by Thom Hartmann

The 70th anniversary wasn't noticed in the United States, and was barely reported in the corporate media. But the Germans remembered well that fateful day seventy years ago - February 27, 1933.

They commemorated the anniversary by joining in demonstrations for peace that mobilized citizens all across the world.

It started when the government, in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, received reports of an imminent terrorist attack. A foreign ideologue had launched feeble attacks on a few famous buildings, but the media largely ignored his relatively small efforts. The intelligence services knew, however, that the odds were he would eventually succeed. (Historians are still arguing whether or not rogue elements in the intelligence service helped the terrorist; the most recent research implies they did not.)

But the warnings of investigators were ignored at the highest levels, in part because the government was distracted; the man who claimed to be the nation's leader had not been elected by a majority vote and the majority of citizens claimed he had no right to the powers he coveted.

He was a simpleton, some said, a cartoon character of a man who saw things in black-and-white terms and didn't have the intellect to understand the subtleties of running a nation in a complex and internationalist world.

His coarse use of language - reflecting his political roots in a southernmost state - and his simplistic and often-inflammatory nationalistic rhetoric offended the aristocrats, foreign leaders, and the well-educated elite in the government and media. And, as a young man, he'd joined a secret society with an occult-sounding name and bizarre initiation rituals that involved skulls and human bones.

Nonetheless, he knew the terrorist was going to strike (although he didn't know where or when), and he had already considered his response.

When an aide brought him word that the nation's most prestigious building was ablaze, he verified it was the terrorist who had struck and then rushed to the scene and called a press conference.

"You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in history," he proclaimed, standing in front of the burned-out building, surrounded by national media. "This fire," he said, his voice trembling with emotion, "is the beginning." He used the occasion - "a sign from God," he called it to declare an all-out war on terrorism and its ideological sponsors, a people, he said, who traced their origins to the Middle East and found motivation for their evil deeds in their religion.

Two weeks later, the first detention center for terrorists was built in Oranianberg to hold the first suspected allies of the infamous terrorist. In a national outburst of patriotism, the leader's flag was everywhere, even printed large in newspapers suitable for window display.

Within four weeks of the terrorist attack, the nation's now-popular leader had pushed through legislation - in the name of combating terrorism and fighting the philosophy he said spawned it - that suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy, and habeas corpus.

Police could now intercept mail and wiretap phones; suspected terrorists could be imprisoned without specific charges and without access to their lawyers; police could sneak into people's homes without warrants if the cases involved terrorism. To get his patriotic "Decree on the Protection of People and State", passed over the objections of concerned legislators and civil libertarians, he agreed to put a 4-year sunset provision on it: if the national emergency provoked by the terrorist attack was over by then, the freedoms and rights would be returned to the people, and the police agencies would be re-restrained.

Legislators would later say they hadn't had time to read the bill before voting on it.

Immediately after passage of the anti-terrorism act, his federal police agencies stepped up their program of arresting suspicious persons and holding them without access to lawyers or courts. In the first year only a few hundred were interred, and those who objected were largely ignored by the mainstream press, which was afraid to offend and thus lose access to a leader with such high popularity ratings.

Citizens who protested the leader in public - and there were many - quickly found themselves confronting the newly empowered police's batons, gas, and jail cells, or fenced off in protest zones safely out of earshot of the leader's public speeches. (In the meantime, he was taking almost daily lessons in public speaking, learning to control his tonality, gestures, and facial expressions. He became a very competent orator.)

Within the first months after that terrorist attack, at the suggestion of a political advisor, he brought a formerly obscure word into common usage. He wanted to stir a "racial pride" among his countrymen, so, instead of referring to the nation by its name, he began to refer to it as "The Homeland," a phrase publicly promoted in the introduction to a 1934 speech recorded in Leni Riefenstahl's famous propaganda movie "Triumph Of The Will."

As hoped, people's hearts swelled with pride, and the beginning of an us-versus-them mentality was sewn. Our land was "the" homeland, citizens thought: all others were simply foreign lands. We are the "true people," he suggested, the only ones worthy of our nation's concern; if bombs fall on others, or human rights are violated in other nations and it makes our lives better, it's of little concern to us.

Playing on this new nationalism, and exploiting a disagreement with the French over his increasing militarism, he argued that any international body that didn't act first and foremost in the best interest of his own nation was neither relevant nor useful. He thus withdrew his country from the League of Nations in October, 1933, and then negotiated a separate naval armaments agreement with Anthony Eden of The United Kingdom to create a worldwide military ruling elite.

His propaganda minister orchestrated a campaign to ensure the people that he was a deeply religious man and that his motivations were rooted in Christianity. He even proclaimed the need for a revival of the Christian faith across his nation, what he called a "New Christianity."

Every man in his rapidly growing army wore a belt buckle that declared "Gott Mit Uns" God Is With Us - and most of them fervently believed it was true.

Within a year of the terrorist attack, the nation's leader determined that the various local police and federal agencies around the nation were lacking the clear communication and overall coordinated administration necessary to deal with the terrorist threat facing the nation, particularly those citizens who were of Middle Eastern ancestry and thus probably terrorist and communist sympathizers, and various troublesome "intellectuals" and "liberals."

He proposed a single new national agency to protect the security of the homeland, consolidating the actions of dozens of previously independent police, border, and investigative agencies under a single leader.

He appointed one of his most trusted associates to be leader of this new agency, the Central Security Office for the homeland, and gave it a role in the government equal to the other major departments.

His assistant who dealt with the press noted that, since the terrorist attack, "Radio and press are at our disposal." Those voices questioning the legitimacy of their nation's leader, or raising questions about his checkered past, had by now faded from the public's recollection as his central security office began advertising a program encouraging people to phone in tips about suspicious neighbors.

This program was so successful that the names of some of the people "denounced" were soon being broadcast on radio stations. Those denounced often included opposition politicians and celebrities who dared speak out - a favorite target of his regime and the media he now controlled through intimidation and ownership by corporate allies.

To consolidate his power, he concluded that government alone wasn't enough. He reached out to industry and forged an alliance, bringing former executives of the nation's largest corporations into high government positions. A flood of government money poured into corporate coffers to fight the war against the Middle Eastern ancestry terrorists lurking within the homeland, and to prepare for wars overseas.

He encouraged large corporations friendly to him to acquire media outlets and other industrial concerns across the nation, particularly those previously owned by suspicious people of Middle Eastern ancestry. He built powerful alliances with industry; one corporate ally got the lucrative contract worth millions to build the first large-scale detention center for enemies of the state.

Soon more would follow. Industry flourished.

But after an interval of peace following the terrorist attack, voices of dissent again arose within and without the government. Students had started an active program opposing him (later known as the White Rose Society), and leaders of nearby nations were speaking out against his bellicose rhetoric.

He needed a diversion, something to direct people away from the corporate cronyism being exposed in his own government, questions of his possibly illegitimate rise to power, and the oft-voiced concerns of civil libertarians about the people being held in detention without due process or access to attorneys or family.

With his number two man - a master at manipulating the media - he began a campaign to convince the people of the nation that a small, limited war was necessary. Another nation was harboring many of the suspicious Middle Eastern people, and even though its connection with the terrorist who had set afire the nation's most important building was tenuous at best, it held resources their nation badly needed if they were to have room to live and maintain their prosperity.

He called a press conference and publicly delivered an ultimatum to the leader of the other nation, provoking an international uproar. He claimed the right to strike preemptively in self-defense, and nations across Europe - at first - denounced him for it, pointing out that it was a doctrine only claimed in the past by nations seeking worldwide empire, like Caesar's Rome or Alexander's Greece.

It took a few months, and intense international debate and lobbying with European nations, but, after he personally met with the leader of the United Kingdom, finally a deal was struck. After the military action began, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told the nervous British people that giving in to this leader's new first-strike doctrine would bring "peace for our time."

Thus Hitler annexed Austria in a lightning move, riding a wave of popular support as leaders so often do in times of war. The Austrian government was unseated and replaced by a new leadership friendly to Germany, and German corporations began to take over Austrian resources.

In a speech responding to critics of the invasion, Hitler said, "Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say; even in death they cannot stop lying. I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators."

To deal with those who dissented from his policies, at the advice of his politically savvy advisors, he and his handmaidens in the press began a campaign to equate him and his policies with patriotism and the nation itself. National unity was essential, they said, to ensure that the terrorists or their sponsors didn't think they'd succeeded in splitting the nation or weakening its will. In times of war, they said, there could be only "one people, one nation, and one commander-in-chief" ("Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer"), and so his advocates in the media began a nationwide campaign charging that critics of his policies were attacking the nation itself. Those questioning him were labeled "anti-German" or "not good Germans," and it was suggested they were aiding the enemies of the state by failing in the patriotic necessity of supporting the nation's valiant men in uniform. It was one of his most effective ways to stifle dissent and pit wage-earning people (from whom most of the army came) against the "intellectuals and liberals" who were critical of his policies.

Nonetheless, once the "small war" annexation of Austria was successfully and quickly completed, and peace returned, voices of opposition were again raised in the Homeland. The almost-daily release of news bulletins about the dangers of terrorist communist cells wasn't enough to rouse the populace and totally suppress dissent. A full-out war was necessary to divert public attention from the growing rumbles within the country about disappearing dissidents; violence against liberals, Jews, and union leaders; and the epidemic of crony capitalism that was producing empires of wealth in the corporate sector but threatening the middle class's way of life.

A year later, to the week, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia; the nation was now fully at war, and all internal dissent was suppressed in the name of national security. It was the end of Germany's first experiment with democracy.

As we conclude this review of history, there are a few milestones worth remembering. February 27, 2003, was the 70th anniversary of Dutch terrorist Marinus van der Lubbe's successful firebombing of the German Parliament (Reichstag) building, the terrorist act that catapulted Hitler to legitimacy and reshaped the German constitution. By the time of his successful and brief action to seize Austria, in which almost no German blood was shed, Hitler was the most beloved and popular leader in the history of his nation.

Hailed around the world, he was later Time magazine's "Man Of The Year."

Most Americans remember his office for the security of the homeland, known as the Reichssicherheitshaupta=mt and its SchutzStaffel, simply by its most famous agency's initials: the SS.

We also remember that the Germans developed a new form of highly violent warfare they named "lightning war" or blitzkrieg, which, while generating devastating civilian losses, also produced a highly desirable "shock and awe" among the nation's leadership, according to the authors of the 1996 book "Shock And Awe" published by the National Defense University Press.

Reflecting on that time, The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983) left us this definition of the form of government the German democracy had come to through Hitler's close alliance with the largest German corporations and his policy of using war as a tool to keep power: fas-cism (fbsh'iz'em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."

Today, as we face financial and political crises, it's useful to remember that the ravages of the Great Depression hit Germany and the United States alike. Through the 1930s, however, Hitler and Roosevelt chose very different courses to bring their nations back to power and prosperity.

Germany's response was to use government to empower corporations and reward the society's richest individuals, privatize much of the commons, stifle dissent, strip people of constitutional rights, and create an illusion of prosperity through continual and ever-expanding war. America passed minimum wage laws to raise the middle class, enforced anti-trust laws to diminish the power of corporations, increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, created Social Security, and became the employer of last resort through programs to build national infrastructure, promote the arts, and replant forests.

To the extent that our Constitution is still intact, the choice is again ours.

Thom Hartmann lived and worked in Germany during the 1980s, and is the author of over a dozen books, including "Unequal Protection" and "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight." This article is copyright by Thom Hartmann, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached. hartmann

Not Quite, Tim.

The mini-protest made today's paper:

In addition to people supporting the troops, some antiwar protesters turned out at a North Andover rally yesterday. Holding signs are Masood Sheikh (left) of North Andover and Dave St.Germain of Lawrence. (photo by Tim Wacker)

Sunday, April 6, 2003
Local rally backs troops

By Tim Wacker
Staff Writer


For about 30 people gathered outside Town Hall yesterday, braving the rain, snow and sleet was a small sacrifice to show support for American troops in Iraq who are braving much worse.

"It's snowing out, and so what?" said rally organizer Debbie Boda clutching an American flag in her right hand. "Look at what they are doing to sacrifice for us .... I am behind Bush, but I have people close to me who disagree."

If those who joined Boda yesterday are any indication, many more people agree with her these days. Few at the rally carried umbrellas, everyone carried a flag and many carried placards proclaiming in red white and blue their support for the American troops in Iraq.

North Andover 12-year-old, Katie Sullivan, kicked off the rally at 10:14 a.m. with the national anthem. Before she sang, the St. Michael's School seventh-grader said she loved both, singing and her country.

"I think, if there's definitely a reason to be there, then we should be there," she said. "I'm not exactly sure what I feel about it, but if the president said there is a reason, then I guess we should be there."

Similar sentiments were spoken by many adults in attendance. Cynthia Sibeleski, a North Andover resident whose son, Michael, is serving in the war effort overseas, said she wanted him home. She also said her son believed in what he was doing, so she did too.

"I never gave up my son to go to Iraq," she said. "But he wouldn't have it any other way so I wouldn't have it any other way."

Methuen resident Gayle Andrews said she supported the war effort early on, even though her son Eric, 28, has been serving with the Marines in Iraq since January 28.

"I didn't feel good about it but, yeah, I supported it," Andrews said. "It's started, so now, I've got to support it."

For most spoken with yesterday, the reason for the rally was as regrettable as the weather that set the somber tone, which followed it through three hours. The scraping of snowplows and the supportive horn blasts from passersby occasionally drowned out a short speech given by Edward Mitchell, North Andover's director of veterans services.

Mitchell presented Sibeleski with a Blue Star Banner, one of 18 that have been handed out to North Andover families with sons or daughters serving in the war effort. Mitchell then read off the names of those 18 service people and Sullivan then sang "America the Beautiful."

The formalities over, a bone-aching damp, cold and sometimes driving frozen rain did little to chill the spirits of supporters of all ages who lingered behind. World War II veteran, Jim Cassidy, the commander of the American Legion Post 219 in North Andover, said he supported the war before it got started and now it is time others joined in.

"We've got one young man right here in Dracut who got killed," he said, referring to Matthew Boule, 22, who died in a helicopter crash near the Iraqi city of Karbala Wednesday. "We're losing lives over there, so it's important that the citizens of the United States unite."

Across Main Street from Town Hall, two men with white cardboard signs disagreed. One sign said "Don't Believe the Lies." The other said "End War, Wage Peace."

North Andover resident and rally attendant Ralph Wilbur spent about 20 minutes trying to convert one of the two men.

"He doesn't support our troops," Wilbur said as he abandoned his conversation with war opponent Dave St. Germain of Lawrence. "I don't support our troops over there," St. Germain replied. "I'll support our troops when they are over here."

Joining St. Germain, Masood Sheikh, was blunt. " We are colonizing (Iraq); we are taking their oil," Sheikh said. "There is no reason for us to be over there. This is Bush and Cheney's war. ... We're here to support our troops. Bring them home."

Both men seemed indifferent to the glares leveled at them from those on the other side of the street. But there were no ill feelings spoken toward the two men who stood out in stark opposition to the cause that so many felt so passionately about just 30 feet away.

"That's why we are fighting over there. So they can do that," Wilbur said, pointing to St. Germain and Sheikh. "That's what it's all about."

A larger, similar rally scheduled to start at 11 a.m. the same day in Lawrence was called off because of the weather. Organizer James Stokes said it would be rescheduled for next weekend.


First of all, I don't remember saying that exact quote. Second, Mr.Wilbur didn't spend 20 minutes trying to "convert" me. And most importantly, there were plenty of ill feelings spoken toward us. See my previous entry. But I shouldn't expect fair reporting from The Eagle Tribune. They've been blatantly pro-war from the start. Since I work at the Tribune, maybe I'll find Tim Wacker and give him a piece of my mind.

(updated with better picture and text from Eagle Tribune Online)

Gee Willikers, Mr.Wilson!

I'm not a teenager anymore. How about that? Weird, huh?
It would've been cool to see Laser Floyd. Ah well.

I just finished watching Dr.Strangelove (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) which I just bought on DVD. It's a great movie. Sorry, movie reviews aren't my forte.

20 years seems like a long time, but the years pass so much quicker now. In the words of Roger Daltrey, "I hope I die before I get old!"......(not really)

Protest is American, Damnit!

I went to my first protest today -- a protest of one. I had seen flyers for a "support the troops" rally in North Andover and felt that I should make a stand for opposition to this war. So, I went down there with a few signs:

"Support the troops by bringing them HOME!!"
"End war. Wage Peace."
"Don't believe the lies."
(yes, nothing terribly original)

The roughly two dozen flag-wavers stood on one side of the street (in front of town hall) while I stood on the other side. When I held up the "support the troops by bringing them home" sign, the lead flag-waver came over and expressed her agreement. She gave me a flag to wave and asked if I had more signs. When I showed her the other signs and explained my position, she frowned, argued, and returned to the safety of her fellow flag-wavers. I'm surprised she didn't want me to return the flag. A few reporters asked me some questions, and a photog took my picture -- although it was odd that he told me to hold the sign so that it would fit in his shot. I thought setting up photographs was a journalistic no-no. Anyway, the vast majority of the people who drove or walked by reacted with scorn or insults. Many drivers shook their heads in disgust, and several told me to go home or gave me the finger. Several veterans muttered as the passed while one WWII veteran said I had "guts". But I don't think he agreed with me. That's ok though. What isn't ok is the large number of people who say "shut up" to anti-war protesters in an attempt to squelch dissent. What country do we live in, again?

After a while, a man named Masood approached me and agreed with me. He saw my sign as he was driving by and felt that he should stop and participate. So, Masood, originally from Pakistan, and I stood together in mostly quiet protest. One zealous person intentionally drove into a large puddle in front of us, splashing slush all over the place. Across the street, the flag-wavers and the police officers grinned and laughed at us.

So many people seemed angry at us -- too many people had the "you're either with us or with Saddam" attitude. This line of thinking is dangerous and scary. Little kids across the street chanted "USA! USA!" while holding signs that said "boycott French". I felt like I had been teleported to Alabama. I thought Massachusetts was "liberal", but North Andover is a very wealthy, and therefore conservative town. Masood remarked that he's noticed a relationship between flag size and intelligence -- those with the biggest flags are the most ignorant. His words, not mine. But the flag-wavers did seem awfully blind in their patriotism. I can hardly blame them, however, since the media coverage has been overwhelmingly propagandistic in favor of the war. That, combined with the false belief that our government would never do anything wrong leads to such demonstrations of flag-waving prowess.

Yes, I know that I can't stop this war myself. Even with the help of a soft-spoken 5'4" Pakistani-American, we probably won't change anyone's mind. But, it's very important for like-minded people to know that there are those who share their views. If someone thinks that they are alone in their dissent (which would be understandable for anyone living in North Andover), they might be too afraid to speak out. And I know I was feeling a little discouraged before Masood showed up. So, that relationship is the value of protesting -- getting the message out not only to those who disagree but to those who agree but feel alienated and marginalized.

When we left, the flag-wavers sang "Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!" I regret that I stooped to their level and offered the one finger American salute as I walked away. I shouldn't have done that since it only helps their cause. Emotions got the better of me (there you go, Judy).

The seeds of fascism are planted wherever dissent is stomped out. Fascism grows when patriotism replaces speculation and children hear nothing but propaganda. The flag-wavers accused me of ignorance of history and the threat of "inaction", but it seems that we could all use a history lesson. Goering said it best:

"Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.....
the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

I witnessed a small dose of the effects of Goering's statement today.