Hungry for Peace featured on Democracy Now!

April 27, 2007

That’s Sergio one of the organizers for next week’s actions at University of Maryland Baltimore County speaking.
Over 20 schools will be taking action against the war next week, if you are or know someone planning actions next week on a campus, please tell them to post the details here!



Student Peace Action Network Coordinator

Memo to the Candidates: If not You, then Who? If not Now, then When?

April 25, 2007

Published on Wednesday, April 25, 2007 by, see the original here

by Anne Miller and Kevin Martin

U.S. Senators and Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Christopher Dodd and Joseph Biden have all been making the trek to New Hampshire to appeal to the state’s voters to choose them in the first-in-the-nation primary to be held in January.
They’re all talking about Iraq as a military failure in their efforts to play to decidedly antiwar crowds:

Biden: “The war in Iraq has been a failure,” with U.S. troops now acting as “apartheid cops.” There is no military solution to the “sectarian cycle of vengeance and revenge” (December, 2006 at Southern New Hampshire University).

Dodd: “I’m the one that believes that…there’s no military solution at all to Iraq. We need to move away from this idea that there’s a military solution… And so, I believe that we oughta start re- deploying this evening” (April 2007, virtual town meeting).

Obama: “…I make a solemn pledge to you, as president we will be out of Iraq” (April 2007, addressing a New Hampshire voter in Nashua).

Clinton: “That’s what we’re trying to do in the Congress, working together to put the pressure on [President Bush] to set some deadlines on him. But if he doesn’t end [the war in Iraq], as president I will” (April 2007, interview with the New York Times’ Des Moines Bureau).

Sorry, Senators, but our troops and the Iraqi people can’t wait for the possibility of one of you to become President. By then thousands more Iraqis and Americans will be dead, and for what? Everyone with any senses knows the policy is a failure, so why should more people have to die?

End the war now – use your power as senators. It’s never too soon to take real leadership.

United State Senators, unlike members of the House of Representatives, can wield enormous power over the agenda and business of the Senate. A single determined Senator can bring business to a halt until his or her issue is addressed. The good news is there are four of you, not just one.

You can filibuster war funding bills. You can declare your refusal to vote for another dime of the taxpayers’ money for the war. You can respond to President Bush’s promised veto of the pending supplemental war appropriations bill with not a weaker bill, but a stronger one to fully fund the safe and orderly withdrawal of all US troops, bases and contractors within six months, as the Out of Iraq Caucus leadership in the House of Representatives advocates.

You can do this together so nobody grabs the credit and nobody feels slighted. It can be the first act of the “I Want To Be President”
caucus in the Senate. You’ll all be history’s heroes for ending an unjust war. Isn’t the promise of saving thousands of lives more important than calculating how to position yourselves on the war to best increase your odds of winning the Democratic nomination?

Skeptics will doubtless dub this leadership plan unrealistic, noting the Democrats do not now have the votes to end the war and bring the troops home this year, let alone fund an interim UN or regional peacekeeping mission in Iraq, reparations and reconstruction for the Iraqi people, and to do right by our homecoming troops, all of which must be addressed and paid for.

However, Democratic leaders have not tried to make a case for such a dramatic change in policy. We submit that if you laid out such a comprehensive plan, it would have massive support from the American and Iraqi people.

And the alternative – giving Bush nearly $100 billion in “supplemental” war funding to continue his disastrous policies in Iraq, with another $140 billion requested for the fiscal year that begins October 1 (all of this on top of well over $400 billion to
date) and crossing our fingers and somehow hoping it will make things better in Iraq – is that more realistic?

The only thing missing is actual leadership, which voters are hungry for, and which all of you fine candidates claim to possess. So why wait until one of you (maybe, and it’s more likely for some than
others) is president? Show some bold leadership now. End the war now.
Bring our troops home – now.

Anne Miller is the Director of New Hampshire Peace Action. Kevin Martin is the Executive Director of (national) Peace Action.

Support the Troops by Bringing Them Home

April 23, 2007

Truthout Editorial 

    By Garett Reppenhagen, Michael T. McPhearson and Kevin Martin
t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributors

    Monday 23 April 2007

    President Bush is playing a game of political chicken with Democratic Congressional leaders over nearly $100 billion to fund his war policies in a supplemental appropriations bill. The president threatens to veto the bill after a House-Senate conference committee reconciles the differences in their separate bills, passes the reconciled version in both Houses and then sends it to the White House. Bush predictably opposes any and all challenges by Congress to his warmaking authority, and the conference report will likely retain some mix of benchmarks, timelines for partial troop withdrawal in 2008 and other conditions from the House and Senate versions of the supplemental.

    The administration’s main tactic is to berate congressional leaders for “holding up funding for the troops.” Bush had originally said money for the troops in Iraq would run out by April 15, which was obviously just the latest bit of disinformation emanating from the White House. The Congressional Research Service says there is $52 billion in previously approved war funding in the pipeline for the military to spend, which could last at least through the end of May.

    Democrats (and the few Republicans who support their position) should hold firm after a Bush veto, and indeed use it as an opportunity to end the war and bring our troops home now, not in 2008. They should not bother attempting to override Bush’s veto (which requires a 2/3 majority in both Houses and has next to no chance of occurring), nor should they come back with a weaker bill – it is already too weak and full of loopholes that could leave tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq indefinitely – nor a bill for short-term funding of the war.

    Instead, Democrats should inform the president he will get no more money for his quagmire in Iraq, and that the $52 billion already approved will be used to fund the following:

  • Immediate, safe and orderly withdrawal of all US troops, contractors and military bases from Iraq.
  • A UN or regional peacekeeping force as part of peace plan for Iraq, if the people of Iraq desire it.
  • A down payment on the huge debt we owe to the people of Iraq in the form of reparations and reconstruction aid, to be carried out by Iraqis and Iraqi companies, not American or foreign firms.
  • Improved veterans’ benefits to take better care of our troops once they get home.

    US Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s April 11 announcement that the military will extend troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan from a year to fifteen months is only the most recent manifestation of the failure of Bush’s war policies.

    Troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan have many needs not being sufficiently addressed by the current administration that claims so often and so loudly to be “supporting the troops.” These include increased funding for health care and better access to providers (currently there are 600 patients to one doctor in the Veterans Administration system), more mental health services (only about half the VA hospitals have such programs), and a huge increase in substance abuse programs (less than half of VA health facilities treat substance abuse).

    Veterans need more accessible housing programs. Homeless veterans often rely on nonprofit organizations to develop programs using grant money. This is a disgrace. The government should provide the bulk of services with augmentation from nonprofits seeking to help veterans.

    Employment assistance and veteran job fairs are seriously needed, as unemployment for veterans is three times the national average. A more comprehensive college GI Bill should be implemented, and Veterans Administration loans for houses should also be adapted for small business loans. This list is by no means comprehensive, and the commitment to supporting our returning veterans needs to be long-term.

    The cost of this new direction in US policy would very likely exceed $52 billion; if Congress needs to appropriate more money to accomplish these aims, it should do so rapidly.

    Skeptics will doubtless say this is unrealistic, that the Democrats do not have the votes to end the war and bring the troops home now, let alone fund peacekeeping, reparations and reconstruction for the Iraqi people, and to do right by our homecoming troops. However, the Democratic leaders have not tried to make a case for such a dramatic change in policy. We submit that if they laid out such a comprehensive plan, it would have massive support from the American and Iraqi people.

    And the alternative – giving Bush nearly $100 billion to continue his disastrous policies in Iraq, with another $140 billion requested for the fiscal year that begins October 1, crossing our fingers and somehow hoping it will make things better in Iraq – is that more realistic?

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and company need to fulfill the mandate for peace delivered by the voters last November. It is good to see some Democrats are finally beginning to stand up to Bush’s cynical, pernicious use of the “support the troops” mantra as a human shield for his miserably failed policies.

    There is only one real way to support the troops, and that is to bring them home to the warm embrace of their families as soon as possible.


    Garett Reppenhagen is chairman of the board of directors of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Michael T. McPhearson is executive director of Veterans For Peace. Kevin Martin is executive director of Peace Action. Websites:,,


Counter-Recruiting at UC Santa Cruz

April 18, 2007

With Major Protests Imminent, Military Recruiters Withdraw from UCSC Job Fair

This is the result of a sustained 2 year campaign by Students Against War on the UCSC campus.

Shock but No Awe – Congress, Bush, the peace movement and Iraq

April 17, 2007
Good analysis by Erik Leaver of the Institute for Policy Studies…

Shock but No Awe

Erik Leaver | April 13, 2007

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco, IPS


As the Iraq War and U.S. occupation began their fifth year on March 19, few Americans were paying attention to what was going on in Iraq. Instead the nation’s eyes were riveted on the halls of Congress as the Democrats waged a battle to pass a bill setting a timetable for the withdrawal of combat troops.

The bill was a political victory for the country and indeed the globe. For the first time in more than four years of war, the debate moved from the question of if the U.S. should leave to when the U.S . should leave.

But the devil is in the details. Upon closer inspection, the politics might be right but the actual policy within the bill is a far cry from what both Iraqis and the U.S. public wants.

And while the debate lingers as the President has vowed to veto the bill and Congress ponders the next steps, Bush’s “surge” continues, bringing 30,000 more U.S. soldiers to Baghdad while the violence continues and soldiers and innocent civilians perish.

A Democratic Congress: An Opportunity for Change?

The 2006 Elections

The mandate from the 2006 mid-term elections has widely been interpreted as a mandate for changing U.S. policy toward Iraq. But the shift in campaign rhetoric around Iraq wasn’t a central Democratic strategy. Indeed, it was Ned Lamont’s successful primary challenge to Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) that moved the debate. Until Lamont succeeded in his primary bid based around the central message of bringing the troops home, Democrats were taking the trajectory of simply criticizing the President’s conduct of the war. Lamont changed that dynamic, forcing candidates across the country to define their position on troop withdrawals.

Putting the Iraq issue front and center in the campaigns, Democrats took narrow majorities in the House and much to the surprise of pundits (and the party itself) the Senate.

January 2007: Democrats Take Charge

While Democrats came to power their narrow majorities injected caution into the Party who (like the Republican Party) is more concerned about holding office than implementing sound policy. The election also resulted in a wider divide of values across the party. “Anybody but Bush” voters elected many Democrats in traditional Republican strongholds while progressives were able to gain ground with their “Bring home the troops message” in solid blue states. Both poles of the Party (left and right) became stronger making it more difficult to forge consensus. Hence, it was not surprising that the first seven legislative issues for the Democratic congress did not include Iraq.

However, Iraq quickly moved on to the agenda with Bush’s announcement on January 10, 2007 that he would send an additional 20,000 troops to Baghdad in a “surge” aimed at quelling the violence. Bush also sent Congress two spending requests for the war: $93 billion for the rest of the 2007 fiscal year and $140 billion for the 2008 fiscal year. Democrats jumped on Bush’s announcement and shortly began debating resolutions opposing the escalation and started a flurry of hearings on Iraq in virtually every congressional committee.

But momentum for change stalled as the Senate failed to pass a resolution opposing the escalation. And fearful of being labeled “weak on defense”, Democratic leadership penned talking points underscoring that they would not cut off funds to troops in the field. It became unclear how or even if the Democrats would challenge the President’s funding request.

The Rubber Hits the Road: The War Supplemental

Bush officially asked Congress for $93 billion on February 5, 2007 for the remainder of fiscal year 2007. These funds were on top of the $70 billion Congress approved last year for fiscal year 2007, bringing the year’s total to $163 billion. With the nation largely opposed to Bush’s escalation and in favor of a timeline for withdrawal, the debate around the spending bill should not have become about the money, it should have focused on the policy.

Instead of directly challenging Bush on his funding request, some Democrats sought to dodge responsibility altogether. Presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, questioned whether Congress had the legitimate constitutional authority to defund a military action against the President’s wishes. Ironically it was Bush’s latest Supreme Court nominee, Justice Alito, who stated to Senator Biden during his confirmation hearing ” (t)he constitution… gives Congress the power of the purse, and obviously military operations can’t be carried out for any length of time without Congressional appropriations.

Seeing weakness from the Democrats, Conservatives such as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) openly challenged Democrats to pass a bill opposing the president, “If you think supporting the troops is bringing them home, then why not pass a bill that does that?” In asking this question, Graham aptly pointed out the Democrats main weakness—the lack of consensus within the Democratic Party on what an alternative Iraq policy should look like.

Fumbling for a Strategy: Murtha

All eyes focused on the office of Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA), the architect of the spending bill that would reach the House floor. A long time critic of the war, and author of a bill calling for an immediate redeployment of the troops, many expected Murtha to write a bill that would effectively end the war and present a clear strategy for the Democrats.

But instead of taking Graham’s challenge head on, Murtha sought to stop the war through slight-of-hand maneuvers such as holding back troops that were not combat ready, ending stop-loss policies, and cutting funds for military contractors. While cleverly putting Democrats on the side of the troops, Murtha’s strategy didn’t adequately engage other members of congress, resulting in severe backlash from more conservative Democrats. His strategy, though not the policy, was also openly attacked by Republicans. And Murtha lacked popular support as his back door maneuvering removed public opinion and the grassroots from the debate. The Democratic leadership, slow to devise an initial strategy, quickly moved in to take control over the process in an attempt to resuscitate the bill.

A Weak Foundation: Pelosi’s Compromise

Congressional analysts were quick to point out that the funding bill became House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s first major challenge. Many argued that if she failed to pass a bill, it would show great weakness in the Democratic leadership. Democrats rose to answer this conservative framing instead of putting the pressure back on the President who was driving the country in the exact opposite direction than the voters expressed. Instead of asking the question if the country should pony up an additional $93 billion for war, the question became, can Pelosi (D-CA) pass a bill?

With a diversity of opinion within the Democratic Caucus, the focus became on what compromise could be hashed out between the conservative Blue Dogs and Progressives. There was never a fight about the overarching Iraq policy. Instead, the biggest brawl the public saw was between House Appropriations committee Chairman David Obey (D-WI) and the mother of a Marine and an anti-war activist, Tina Richards. Responding from Richard’s plea to stop the war Obey screamed, “We don’t have the votes.”  But it was never clear that Obey and others were in fact seeking the votes to end the war. Instead they were seeking the votes for what ended up being a weak compromise.

The Result: A Political Victory but Bad Policy

With narrow majorities the House and Senate both passed the emergency spending bills. Headlines across the nation portrayed the bills as major challenges to the White House, setting deadlines for the withdrawal of combat troops. However, little attention was paid to the actual content of the bills.

A Bad Policy

Much attention has been paid to the waivers granted to the President in the bills to allow non-combat troops to be sent into battle. But the larger policy question, that of withdrawals, has largely been overlooked. The withdrawal of “combat troops” is not well-defined in the legislation, potentially leaving 40-60,000 troops in Iraq when the March or August 2008 deadlines arrive (March is the Senate deadline and August is the House deadline). Both versions authorize three main categories of troops that can remain:

  • Trainers: Current levels are approximately 6,000. But the Iraq Study Group recommended 10,000-20,000. Potentially the President could use the ISG numbers.
  • Counter-terrorist forces: Marine Colonel Peter Devlin, stationed in Ramadi, Iraq, wrote a detailed and recently updated classified memo in August 2006 on the situation in al-Anbar province, “State of the Insurgency in Al-Anbar.” He concluded that an additional division (15,000–20,000 troops) would be required to defeat the terrorists. The bill only provides for forces to attack al-Qaida but the definition of terrorists could easily be expanded by the President.
  • Protection for Embassy/Diplomats: The intent in the language is unclear but at a minimum this would mean leaving protection for the Embassy in the Green Zone. It would likely include leaving protection for the Baghdad airport and the road between the airport and Green Zone. A larger troop presence could be larger if they are protecting outlying areas where the provincial reconstruction teams are located. Force protection for these scenarios could range between 5,000-20,000. None of these projections include estimates for the number of military contractors that would be in support of the operations. The bill language does not have any restrictions on contractors who currently number between 75,000-150,000

The bills are also weak on providing measures that are needed in tandem with a drawdown. The bills make economic aid dependent on the performance of the Iraqi government. Tying the aid in this manner presents a similar dynamic to the sanctions era, where the population was punished for the actions of the Iraqi leadership. More importantly, cutting aid deprives the population that the U.S. needs support from to reduce their tendency to engage in terrorist/insurgency activities.

To be sure, there is some good language on regional diplomacy, veterans health care, and active duty health care but overall these measures are a weak band-aid for a bill that will continue the U.S. military presence & occupation and generate the same problems for years to come.

The policies outlined in the bill largely follow the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s (ISG) recommendations from their November 2006 report. But the ISG recommendations were aimed at bridging a political impasse between the President and the public, i.e. they were aimed at providing the political cover needed for the President to change his policy—not for putting forward the best possible policy. And with Bush standing steadfast against even the modest ISG reforms, lawmakers should be pressing for the best policy.

The Impact on the Anti-War Movement

While the change in tenor on Iraq was a great success for the anti-war movement, the supplemental debate caused a serious dilemma within the movement. The vote forced organizations to pick supporting politics vs. opposing a bad policy.

David Sirota, co-chairman of the Progressive States Network, argued in favor of the bill, anticipating that if the bill failed, that “House Democratic leaders would have come back to write a “clean” supplemental bill–one that funds the war but does not include the binding legislation to end it.” He concluded, “As long as binding language ending the war was in these bills, voting ‘yes’ was clearly the way to bring the country closer to achieving the anti-war movement’s goal.”

Criticizing those in the movement who supported the bill, historian Howard Zinn wrote, “When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.”

But Zinn likely overlooked the lobbying efforts many groups have undertaken for the last four years. Grassroots have continuously challenged those in Congress and in doing so, gave progressives in Congress a much stronger hand in the negotiations around the spending bill. Public opinion, while widely against the conduct of the war is not for the immediate withdrawal that the anti-war movement wants. And Sirota missed the huge loopholes that exist in the bill, allowing the war to continue even after the “deadlines” are met.

Oddly enough, neither side in this debate seems to understand the value in the other, nor how the outcome actually increased the strength of the anti-war movement. Passage of a bill that calls for bringing many of the troops home in an 18-month timeframe is a victory given the narrow Democratic majorities in Congress and with a President who has vowed to stay in Iraq even if his only supporters are his wife and his dog.

Given these challenges, a victory was achieved but it has to be seen as part of a larger strategy over the course of this year where there are votes on the Defense Authorization bill, and Defense Appropriations bill, along with another supplemental. By pointing out the large deficiencies in the bill, it provides leverage for future concessions and a way to end the war sooner.

The Aftermath: What Next

Shortly after the bill passed, the President held a news conference announcing that he would veto the bill. This news conference was followed by two weeks of veto threats from the White House along with an invitation for Democrats to visit Bush for a lecture on why they should support his escalation and never ending war in Iraq. With this showdown looming many are asking what the next steps will be.


Overriding a veto is impossible given the close passage in both chambers of Congress. And failing to pass any bill, effectively cutting the funds off isn’t politically feasible given that the Democrats fell prey to the White House’s framing of funding as the only way to “support the troops.” Assuming that the House and Senate will pass the compromise report reconciling the two different versions of the bill the following options exist for the next steps:

1) A Worse Bill: A new bill that would keep the same conditions and waivers but would make the dates for withdrawal goals instead of deadlines;

2) Pass the same bill again but without the congressional “pork” barrel projects;

3) A Short-term Funding Bill;

4) A Stronger Bill: A new bill to provide funding to bring all the troops home.

Passage of a weaker bill is unlikely given that lawmakers have taken a strong stand and are strongly supported by the public. A similar bill without the pork would be welcome but could easily be cast as a political stunt given the veto of virtually the same bill.

Many Democratic lawmakers are eyeing the possibility of a short-term funding bill. Given that the president’s war request was $93 billion and Congress passed a $121 billion bill, but the Congressional Research Service just released a report that the Pentagon has funding for the war until July, a short-term bill would only need to provide $30 billion (current spending is $10 billion per month and the 2007 fiscal year ends on Sept 30). Beyond the faulty math problem, the short-term solution simply continues the larger policy problem and Congress and the President would have the same confrontations in the Defense Authorization bill, Defense Appropriations bill, and the FY2008 supplemental.

The best option is to take up Sen. Graham’s challenge and present a stronger bill that would provide funds to bring all of the troops home. It is clear that Bush is out of step with the American public and has no desire to resolve the conflict nor negotiate a compromise so any of the first three options will likely fail. A clean bill to bring the troops home would empower the grassroots and allow citizens across the country to get involved in the debate. It would also allow for the voices of Iraqis to enter into this one-sided discussion as tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated on April 10th against the occupation. This type of bill would also put the most pressure on Republicans and conservative Democrats who would be needed to override a veto.

Role of the Anti-War Movement

Over the next short period there are three primary tasks for the anti-war movement. Pressure Republicans and conservative Democrats, shore up Progressives, and conduct massive public education on why funding withdrawal is the right policy. The anti-war movement must realize that Congress is not comprised of peaceniks, but also that political compromises will be made along the way. Constant pressure from both sides will be needed. In the long process to end the Vietnam War, over 30 votes were taken on various pieces of legislation. Public pressure was the key to moving legislation and changing lawmakers positions. That same pressure is needed now.

Erik Leaver is the Carol and Ed Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the policy outreach coordinator for Foreign Policy In Focus.

The Novelist Who Hated War

April 17, 2007

The Novelist Who Hated War 
Peace Be With You, Mr. Vonnegut By HARVEY WASSERMAN

As the media fills with whimsical good-byes to one of America’s  greatest writers, lets not forget one of the great engines driving  this wonderful man—he HATED war. Including this one in Iraq. And he had utter contempt for the men who brought it about.Kurt Vonnegut was a divine spark of liberating genius for an entire  generation. His brilliant, beautiful, loving and utterly unfettered  novels helped us redefine ourselves in leaving the corporate America  in the 1950s and the Vietnam war that followed.

Having seen the worst of World War II from a meatlocker in  fire-bombed Dresden, Kurt’s Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle:,  Slaughterhouse Five and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, cut us the  intellectual and spiritual slack to seek out a new reality. It took a breathtaking psychic freedom to merge the interstellar worlds he  created from whole cloth with the social imperatives of a changing  age. It was that combination of talent, heart and liberation that  gave Vonnegut a cutting edge he never lost.

Leaving us in his eighties, Kurt also leaves us decades of anecdotes  and volumes of writings—and doodlings—about which to write. But  lost in the mainstream obituaries—including the one in the New York Times—is the ferocity with which he opposed this latest claque of  vicious war-mongers.

Vonnegut gave his last campus speech in Columbus. He and I met here  many years ago, after another speech. Not knowing me from Adam, he  was gracious enough to give me his home address.

Out of the blue, I sent him a book-length poem about the passing of  my parents. I was shocked when he called me on the phone about it. I  asked for his help in finding a publisher. He said to publish it on  my own, and gave me advice on how to do it, along with a blurb for the cover.

From then on we talked by phone. His conversation was always  friendly, funny, insightful. When last I asked him how he was, he  replied: “Too fucking old!”

Last year, apparently on the spur of the moment, he agreed to speak  again at Ohio State. It would be his last campus lecture.

When word spread, a line four thousand students long instantly formed at a university otherwise known only for its addiction to football.

Anyone expecting a safe, whimsical opener from this grand old man of  sixties rebellion was in for a shock. “Can I speak frankly?” he asked Professor Manuel Luis Martinez, the poet and writing teacher who  would “interview” him. “The only difference between George W. Bush  and Adolph Hitler is that Hitler was actually elected.”

Holding up a book about Ohio 2004, he said: “You all know, of course, that the election was stolen. Right here.”

Explaining that this would he his “last speech for money,” Vonnegut  said he couldn’t remember his first one. But it was “long long ago.

“I’m lucky enough to have known a great president, one who really  cared about ALL the people, rich and poor. That was Franklin D.  Roosevelt. He was rich himself, and his class considered him a traitor.

“We have people in this country who are richer than whole countries,” he says. “They run everything.

“We have no Democratic Party. It’s financed by the same millionaires  and billionaires as the Republicans.

“So we have no representatives in Washington. Working people have no  leverage whatsoever.

“I’m trying to write a novel about the end of the world. But the  world is really ending! It’s becoming more and more uninhabitable  because of our addiction to oil.

“Bush used that line recently,” Vonnegut added. “I should sue him for plagiarism.”

Things have gotten so bad, he said, “people are in revolt against life itself.”

Our economy has been making money, but “all the money that should  have gone into research and development has gone into executive  compensation. If people insist on living as if there’s no tomorrow,  there really won’t be one.

“As the world is ending, I’m always glad to be entertained for a few  moments. The best way to do that is with music. You should practice  once a night.

“If you want really want to hurt your parents, go into the arts.” He  then broke into song, with a passable, tender rendition of “Stardust  Memories.”

By this time, the packed hall was reverential. The sound system,  appropriately tenuous, forced us all to strain to hear every word.

“To hell with the advances in computers,” he said after he finished  singing. “YOU are supposed to advance and become, not the computers.  Find out what’s inside you. And don’t kill anybody.

“There are no factories any more. Where are the jobs supposed to come from? There’s nothing for people to do anymore. We need to ask the  Seminoles: ‘what the hell did you do?” after the tribe’s traditional livelihood was taken away.

Answering questions written in by students, he explained the meaning  of life. “We should be kind to each other. Be civil. And appreciate  the good moments by saying ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’

“You’re awful cute” he said to someone in the front row. He grinned  and looked around. “If this isn’t nice, what is?

“You’re all perfectly safe, by the way. I took off my shoes at the  airport. The terrorists hate the smell of feet.

“We are here on Earth to fart around,” he explained, and then  embarked on a soliloquy about the joys of going to the store to buy  an envelope. One talks to the people there, comments on the  “silly-looking dog,” finds all sorts of adventures along the way.

As for being a Midwesterner, he recalled his roots in nearby  Indianapolis, a heartland town, the next one west of here. “I’m a  fresh water person. When I swim in the ocean, I feel like I’m  swimming in chicken soup. Who wants to swim in flavored water?”

A key to great writing, he added, is to “never use semi-colons. What  are they good for? What are you supposed to do with them? You’re  reading along, and then suddenly, there it is. What does it mean? All semi-colons do is suggest you’ve been to college.”

Make sure, he added, “that your reader is having a good time. Get to  the who, when, where, what right away, so the reader knows what is  going on.”

As for making money, “war is a very profitable thing for a few  people. Jesus used to be so merciful and loving of the poor. But now  he’s a Republican.

“Our economy today is not capitalism. It’s casino-ism. That’s all the stock market is about. Gambling.

“Live one day at a time. Say ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what  is!’

“You meet saints everywhere. They can be anywhere. They are people  behaving decently in an indecent society.”

The greatest peace, Vonnegut wraps up, “comes from the knowledge that I have enough. Joe Heller told me that.

“I began writing because I found myself possessed. I looked at what I wrote and I said ‘How the hell did I do that?’

“We may all be possessed. I hope so.”

We were joined for after-speech drinks by the professor and several  awe-struck graduate students. Kurt expressed an interest in renewable energy, so I sent him another book, and he called back with another  blurb, and more advice on how to publish it.

We planned to have dinner. I wanted more than anything to introduce  my daughters to him. But when I finally made it to New York, he was  too ill. Now he’s gone. When a national treasure and a being of  beauty like Kurt Vonnegut invites you to dinner, don’t make plans,  hop on the next plane.

The mainstream obituaries are emphasizing Kurt’s “off-beat” career  and the “mixed reviews” for his books. Don’t believe a word of them.

Kurt Vonnegut was a force of nature, with a heart the size of Titan,  an unfettered genius who changed us all for the better. He was  possessed of a sense of fairness and morality capable of inventing  religions that could actually work.

Now he’s having dinner with our beloved siren of social justice,  Molly Ivins, sharing a Manhattan, scorching this goddam war and this  latest batch of fucking idiots.

It hurts to think about it. But we should be grateful for what we  got, and all they gave us.

So it goes. 

Status of the Antiwar Movement

April 13, 2007

That’s our Executive Director Kevin Martin, United for Peace and Justice Legislative Coordinator Sue Udry and Kevin Zeese of Democracy Rising and Voters for Peace


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