Sunday, December 14, 2008

CIA Drug Trafficking and remembering Gary Webb

On August 18, 1996, the San Jose Mercury initiated an extended series of articles about the CIA connection to the crack epidemic in Los Angeles. Though the CIA and influential media like The Washington Post , The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times went out of their way to belittle the significance of the articles, the basic ingredients of the story were not really new -- the CIA's Contra army, fighting the leftist government of Nicaragua, turning to smuggling cocaine into the U.S., under CIA protection, to raise money for their military and personal use.

What was unique about the articles was (A) they appeared in a "respectable" daily newspaper and not an "alternative" publication, which could have and would have been completely ignored by the powers that be; and (B) they followed the cocaine into Los Angeles' inner city, into the hands of the Crips and the Bloods, at the time that street-level drug users were figuring out how to make cocaine affordable: by changing the costly white powder into powerful little nuggets of crack that could be smoked cheaply.

The Contra dealers, principally Oscar Danilo Blandon and his boss Juan Norwin Meneses, both from the Nicaraguan privileged class, operated out of the San Francisco Bay Area and sold tons of cocaine -- a drug that was virtually unobtainable in black neighborhoods before -- to Los Angeles street gangs. They then funneled millions in drug profits to the Contra cause, while helping to fuel a disastrous crack explosion in L.A. and other cities, and enabling the gangs to buy automatic weapons, sometimes from Blandon himself.

The principal objection raised by the establishment critics to this scenario was that, even if correct, it didn't prove that the CIA was complicit, or even had any knowledge of it. However, to arrive at this conclusion, they had to ignore things like the following from the SJM series:

a) Cocaine flights from Central America landed with impunity in various spots in the United States, including a U.S. Air Force base in Texas. In 1985, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent assigned to El Salvador reported to headquarters the details on cocaine flights from El Salvador to the U.S. The DEA did nothing but force him out of the agency{2}.

b) When Blandon was finally arrested in October 1986, after congress resumed funding for the Contras, and he admitted to crimes that have sent others away for life, the Justice Department turned him loose on unsupervised probation after only 28 months behind bars and has paid him more than $166,000 since.

c) According to a legal motion filed in a 1990 police corruption trial: In the 1986 raid on Blandon's money-launderer, the police carted away numerous documents purportedly linking the U.S. government to cocaine trafficking and money-laundering on behalf of the Contras. CIA personnel appeared at the sheriff's department within 48 hours of the raid and removed the seized files from the evidence room. This motion drew media coverage in 1990 but, at the request of the Justice Department, a federal judge issued a gag order barring any discussion of the matter.

d) Blandon subsequently became a full-time informant for the DEA. When he testified in 1996 as a prosecution witness, the federal prosecutors obtained a court order preventing defense lawyers from delving into Blandon's ties to the CIA.

e) Though Meneses is listed in the DEA's computers as a major international drug smuggler and was implicated in 45 separate federal investigations since 1974, he lived openly and conspicuously in California until 1989 and never spent a day in a U.S. prison. The DEA, U.S. Customs, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement have complained that a number of the probes of Meneses were stymied by the CIA or unnamed "national security" interests.

f) The U.S. Attorney in San Francisco gave back to an arrested Nicaraguan drug dealer the $36,000 found in his possession. The money was returned after two Contra leaders sent letters to the court swearing that the drug dealer had been given the cash to buy supplies "for the reinstatement of democracy in Nicaragua". The letters were hurriedly sealed after prosecutors invoked the Classified Information Procedures Act, a law designed to keep national security secrets from leaking out during trials. When a U.S. Senate subcommittee later inquired of the Justice Department the reason for this unusual turn of events, they ran into a wall of secrecy. "The Justice Department flipped out to prevent us from getting access to people, records -- finding anything out about it," recalled Jack Blum, former chief counsel to the Senate subcommittee that investigated allegations of Contra cocaine trafficking. "It was one of the most frustrating exercises that I can ever recall."

~ more... ~

Eduardo Galeano: the open veins of McWorld

Interview by Niels Boel

The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano likes nothing better than to unmask hidden truths. In a wide-ranging interview with Danish journalist Niels Boel, he takes his scalpel to globalization, memory, cultural identity, indigenous rights—and football

Globalization
This is not a new phenomenon, but a trend that dates back a long while. Globalization has considerably accelerated in recent years following the dizzying expansion of communications and transport and the equally stupefying transnational mergers of capital. We must not confuse globalization with “internationalism” though. We know that the human condition is universal, that we share similar passions, fears, needs and dreams, but this has nothing to do with the “rubbing out” of national borders as a result of unrestricted capital movements. One thing is the free movement of peoples, the other of money. This can be seen very clearly in such places as the border between Mexico and the United States which hardly exists as far as the flow of money and goods is concerned. Yet it stands as a kind of Berlin Wall or Great Wall of China when it comes to stopping people from getting across.

The right to choose one's own food
The perfect symbol of globalization is the success of firms like McDonald's, which opens five new restaurants around the world each day. For me there is something more significant than the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was the queue of Russians outside McDonald's on Moscow's Red Square as the so-called “iron curtain”—which turned out be more like a “mashed potato curtain”— was coming down.
The “McDonaldization” of the world is planting plastic food in the four corners of the planet. But the success of McDonald's has at the same time inflicted a kind of open wound on one of the most basic human rights, the right to choose our own food. The stomach is part of the human soul. The mouth is its gateway. Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are. It's not about how much you eat but what and how you choose to do so. How people prepare food is an important part of their cultural identity. It matters greatly to poor or even very poor people, who have little or no food but who respect traditions that turn the trivial act of barely eating into a small ritual.

Against standardization
The best side of the world is that it contains many worlds within itself. Such cultural diversity, which is the heritage of all humanity, appears in the different ways people eat, but also in how they think, feel, dream, talk and dance.
There's a very marked trend towards the standardization of cultural behaviour. But there is also a backlash by people who endorse differences that are worth preserving. Emphasizing cultural differences, not social ones, is what gives humankind its many concurrent faces instead of just a single one. In the face of this avalanche of forced standardization, there have been very healthy reactions alongside the odd crazy ones springing from religious fanaticism and other desperate attempts to affirm identity. I don't think we're at all doomed to live in a world where the only choice is between dying of hunger or dying of boredom.

Identity on the move
Cultural identity isn't like a precious vase standing silently in a museum showcase. It's always moving, changing and being challenged by reality that is itself in perpetual movement. I am what I am, but I'm also what I do to change what I am. There's no such thing as cultural purity, any more than there is racial purity.
Luckily, every culture is made up of some elements that come from afar. What defines a cultural product—whether it be a book, a song, a popular saying or a way of playing football—is never where it comes from but what it is. A typical Cuban drink like a daiquiri has nothing Cuban in it: the ice comes from somewhere else, just like the lemon, the sugar and the rum. Christopher Columbus first brought sugar to the Americas from the Canary Islands. Yet the daiquiri is considered quintessentially Cuban. The churro fritters of Andalusia originated in the Middle East. Italian pasta first came from China. Nothing can be defined or derided on the basis of its origin. The important thing is what is done with it and how far a community identifies with something that symbolizes its favourite way of dreaming, living, dancing, playing or loving.
This is the positive side of the world: a constant intermingling that produces new responses to new challenges. But because of forced globalization, there's a clear trend these days towards uniformity. This trend comes largely from the ever-greater concentration of power in the hands of large media groups.

Hope for the future: the Internet and community radio
Is the right to freedom of expression, which is written into every country's constitution, being reduced to nothing more than the right to listen? Is it not also the right to speak? And how many people have the right to speak? These questions are very closely connected with the battering that cultural diversity is currently suffering.
Opportunities for independent activity in the world of communications have been greatly reduced. The dominant media groups are imposing doctored and distorted news along with a vision of the world that tends to become accepted as the only one possible. It's like reducing a face that has millions of eyes to the standard two.
What does seem promising is the dawn of the Internet, one of those paradoxes that keeps hope alive. It sprang from the need to coordinate global military strategy—in other words, to serve the cause of war and death. But it is now the forum for a myriad of voices that were barely noticed before. Today they are heard and networks can be created using this new tool.
It's true that the Internet can also be used towards commercial ends or to manipulate people. But the network has definitely opened up very important areas of freedom for expressing independent views, which tend to be ignored by television and the print media.
Good things are happening in radio too. The growth of community radio stations in Latin America is encouraging a much wider spectrum of people to express themselves. Talking to people about what is happening is not the same thing as listening to their own voices recounting their lives, when this is possible and when freedom of expression is respected.

End and means
In Ancient Greece, knives were convicted along with the murderer. When a knife was used in a crime, the judges threw it into a river. We must not confuse the means with the end. Latin America's misfortune is that the U.S. model of commercial television has taken root. We've learned nothing from the European television model, which is geared towards different ends. In countries such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, television still plays a very enriching and important cultural role thanks to a degree of public ownership—even though it's not as strong these days. Here in Latin America, by virtue of the North American television model, anything that sells is good and what doesn't is bad.

The indigenous struggle
One of the great hidden strengths and energy sources in Latin America is the people, who have expressed themselves through the revival of indigenous movements and the tremendous force of the values they stand for. These values are about harmony with nature and sharing lives in communities not focused on greed. They are values drawn from the past but which speak for the future and are relevant for all of us today. They are widely shared because they are values everyone needs to grasp in a world where compassion and solidarity have been seriously wounded in recent years and in some cases destroyed. Ours is a world focused on selfishness, on a belief in “everyone looking out for their own self.”

People and land
Five centuries ago, people in Latin America were taught to separate nature from Man—or so-called Man—which in fact meant men and women. Nature was placed on one side, human beings on the other. The same divorce took place the world over.
Many of the indigenous people burned alive for worshipping idols were simply the environmentalists of their time who were practising the only kind of ecology that seems worthwhile to me—an ecology of communion with nature. Harmony with nature and a communal approach to life ensured the survival of ancient indigenous values despite five centuries of persecution and contempt.
For centuries, nature was seen as a beast that had to be tamed—as a foreign enemy and a traitor. Now that we're all “greens,” thanks to deceitful advertising based on words rather than deeds, nature has become something to be protected. But whether nature is to be protected or mastered and exploited for profit, it's still seen as separate from us.
We have to recover this sense of communion with nature. Nature is not a landscape, it's something inside us, something we live with. I'm not just talking about forests, but about everything to do with the reverence for the natural that the indigenous people of the Americas have and always have had. They see nature as sacred in the sense that every harm we cause turns against us one day or another. So every crime becomes a suicide. This can be seen in the large cities of Latin America, which are bad copies of those in the developed world where it's just about impossible to walk or breathe clean air. We're living in a world whose air, water and soil are poisoned. But most of all, our minds are poisoned. I truly wish that we could manage to summon up enough energy to heal ourselves.

Memory as a catapult
In my book Days and Nights of Love and War, I've asked myself whether our memories will allow us to be happy. I still have no answer. There's a North American novel in which a great-grandfather meets his great-grandson. The old man remembers nothing because he's lost his memory. He's senile. His thoughts are as colourless as water. The grandson doesn't have any memories because he's too young. As I read the novel, I thought: “This is bliss.”
But this is not the happiness I'm after. I want happiness that comes from both remembering and from fighting against remembering. A happiness that includes the sadness, pain and injury of experience but also goes forward. Not memory that works like an anchor, but like a catapult. Not a memory that you just arrive at, but one that's a launch pad.
There's an American indigenous tradition found in the islands of the Pacific, in Canada and also places like Chiapas, in Mexico. It goes like this: when a master potter gives up his trade because his hands are no longer steady and his eyesight is failing, there's a ceremony at which he presents his best pot, his masterpiece, to a young potter just starting out. The apprentice takes the flawless pot and smashes it into a thousand pieces on the ground. He then picks them up and mixes them into his own stock of clay. That's the kind of memory I believe in.

Self-portrait
I find it hard to categorize any of the books I've written. It's difficult to draw the line between fiction and fact. What I like best is telling stories. I feel I'm a storyteller. I give and take, back and forth. I listen to voices and transform them through the creative act into a story, an essay, a poem, a novel. I try to combine genres to go beyond the standard divisions and convey a complete message because I believe you can create such a synthesis with human language.
There's no divide between journalism and literature. Literature is the totality of written messages that a society produces in whichever form it chooses. You can always say what you feel like saying, whether as a journalist or a writer. Good journalism can also be fine literature as José Marti, Carlos Quijano, Rodolfo Walsh and many others have shown.
I've always been a journalist and want to continue because once you enter the magic world of newspaper offices, who can pull you out again? You are taught how to be brief, to summarize—an interesting exercise for someone who wants to write about so many things. You're also forced to come out of your little world to face reality and dance to the tune of others. You have to get out and listen to people. But there's a downside, mainly the urgency. Sometimes when I'm writing I get stuck on a word and spend three hours looking for another. That's one luxury journalism couldn't afford to give me.

Dreams and vigilance
My only task is to try to reveal a masked reality, to write about what we see and what remains hidden. It is a reality that comes from being on watch, a false reality, sometimes a deceptive one, but also one capable of telling unknown or rarely heard truths.
There's no magic formula for changing reality unless we start by looking at it as it is. To transform it, you have to begin by accepting it. This is the problem in Latin America. We still cannot see that. We are blind towards our own selves because we have been trained to see through the eyes of others. The mirror only reflects an opaque glint, and nothing more.

And football...
All Uruguayans are born shouting “goal” and that's why there's always such a tremendous racket in our maternity wards. I wanted to be a football player like all Uruguayan boys. I started playing when I was eight years old but I was no good at it because I was so clumsy. The ball and I never got along. It was a case of unrequited love. I was also a disaster in another way. When an opposing team played a good game, I'd go and congratulate them—an unforgivable sin in the rules of modern football.

~ UNESCO ~



Writer Without Borders

By Scott Witmer

Eduardo Galeano disdains borders, both in life and in literature. Exiled from his native Uruguay after the 1973 military coup, he returned to Montevideo in 1985, where he continues to live and write. Galeano's books subvert the distinctions between history, poetry, memoir, political analysis and cultural anthropology. With a graceful sense of craft, he uses “only words that really deserve to be there” to convey a humanely moral perspective on matters both personal and political. His writing honors the experiences of everyday life as a contrast to the mass media that “manipulates consciousness, conceals reality and stifles the creative imagination … in order to impose ways of life and patterns of consumption.” By multiplying seldom heard voices, Galeano refutes the official lies that pass for history—his work represents an eloquent, literary incarnation of social justice.

His most recent book, Voices of Time: A Life in Stories (Metropolitan Books), combines 333 prose poems into a fluid mosaic of humor, despair, beauty and hope. During a recent visit to Chicago, Galeano talked with In These Times about his life and work.

Your book Open Veins of Latin America (1971) analyzes the brutal exploitation of Latin American resources by the U.S. and European powers. That book, now a classic, was published at the beginning of an especially turbulent period of Latin American history. What was your life like at that time?

I was working as a journalist, always in independent jobs, working for weeklies—the mad adventures of independent journalism. So I earned my living quite difficultly, writing other things or editing books on the sexual life of bees, or something like this. I was also working in the publishing department of the University of Montevideo. And at night I went home to work on the book. It took four years of researching and collecting the information I needed, and some 90 nights to write the book.

Did you ever sleep?

I suppose I did not. I remember now, I was drinking rivers of coffee. Later I developed an allergy to coffee, but fortunately I overcame it, and now I'm a very good coffee drinker. I love it.

You were then forced into exile in Argentina, where you edited Crisis.


In the beginning of 1973, I was in jail for a short period in Uruguay and I decided prison life was not healthy, so I went to Buenos Aires. The magazine was a beautiful experience. We invented it with a small group of friends, trying to open a new way of speaking about culture.

Did you continue to publish when the military regime initiated censorship?

For two or three months, and after that it was impossible to go on. We were obliged to choose between silence and humiliation. We could stay alive if we accepted the obligation to lie, or we could shut up. We decided to shut up entirely and not pretend to be free, because that would give an alibi to the military regime to say, “See, there is freedom of expression here.” Many members of our staff were killed or disappeared or jailed or went into exile, and so it was a good decision to go away and abandon it. We left behind a very good memory of an exceptional cultural magazine. We showed that it was possible to have a different conception of culture. Not culture made by professional people to be consumed by non-professional people, like workers or anonymous people. Instead, we were trying to hear their voices. Not only to speak about reality, but asking reality, “What would you tell me?” This conversation with reality was the key to our success. That's why one of the first decrees of the military regime was to forbid the diffusion of “non-specialized opinions.” We were trying to show that the best voices come from non-specialized mouths.

In the middle of 1976, I was obliged to fly away from Argentina because I was supposed to be on the death squad list to be killed. Many of my friends had been killed, and being dead is so boring, so I chose exile in Spain.

In Spain you began writing the Memory of Fire trilogy, an epic tapestry covering more than five centuries of American history and culture. What motivated you to undertake such a monumental project?

It scared me at the beginning. It was first conceived as a way to tell Latin American history. Then a close friend of mine, the Argentinian poet Juan Gelman, told me, “Why not go with all Americas, not just South America or Central America? We share a common origin and a lot of common stories interlinked, and we may perhaps have a common destiny. Not the official destiny built by the professional liars inside the sanctuaries of power, but a counter-history could help to find a counter-destiny.” He tempted me with his words and so I covered all the Americas as a way of promoting the fact that “America” is all America, from Alaska to Chile.

Immigration, which remains a crucial issue in the United States, recurs as an important motif in your new book, Voices of Time. Could you talk about how immigration is perceived in Latin America as opposed to how it is perceived here?

It always depends on your point of view. Immigration may be perceived as a menace, as intrusion, or as a legitimate right. We are all immigrants. Except for a few black people in South Africa, we all come from some other part of the world. We all come from Africa, which is not good news for the ignorant racists. I'm sorry, but we have all been blacks once upon a time. So we are all immigrants. This is our way of life since forever. It's the same with butterflies, with animals, with birds. We humans are the only ones that create borders for immigration, saying, “You cannot go inside this line. This is the end of a country, and here begins another one.” I'm afraid our time will be remembered as a sad period of human life in which money was free, but people were not.

Why are we seeing a resurgence of the left in Latin America?

This is the popular will, the will to change reality. They have been cheated by all those years of so-called liberal experience, which is not liberal at all. It's just liberal for money. And it won't be easy to get out of it, because we have become prisoners of what I call “the culture of impotence.” It's very difficult in Latin America to build a democracy after so many years of military terror and in a non-democratic world that will veto your attempt to change something. The experts will come. Not soldiers, now—experts. Sometimes experts are even more dangerous than soldiers. They say, “You cannot. The market is irritated. The market may be angry.” It is as if the market is an unknown but very active and cruel god punishing us because we are trying to commit the cardinal sin of changing reality.

Just look at Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. Bolivia was the richest country in all of the Americas at the beginning of the conquest period. They were the owners of the silver, which made possible the enrichment of Europe. Bolivia is now the poorest country in South America. Her richness was her main damnation. Morales is now trying to break with this shameful and humiliating tradition of always working for another's prosperity. When he nationalized the gas and the oil, it was a scandal all over the world. “How could he? It's terrible!” Why is it terrible? Because recovering dignity is a cardinal sin. But he's also committing another cardinal sin: He's doing what he promised he would do. We in Latin America are suffering with special intensity the divorce between words and facts. When you say yes, you do no. When you say more or less, you do less or more. So facts and words are never encountering each other. When they pass each other by random accident, they don't say, “Hello, how are you?” because they have never met before. We are trained to lie. We are trained to accept lies as a way of life.

You have said, “Reality is not destiny; it's a challenge. … We are not doomed to accept it as it is.” How do we avoid becoming cynical when change seems impossible?

By keeping alive the memory of dignity. It's the only way. By telling and repeating that we are not born last year; we are born from a long tradition of betrayals, but also a long tradition of dignity. Here in Chicago, for instance, it is important to recover the memory of May First. The first time I came here, years ago, I was amazed that most people I encountered didn't know that this universal worker's fiesta—at once a tragedy and a fiesta, an homage paid to the Haymarket martyrs at the end of the 19th century—came from Chicago. And Chicago has deleted this memory, which is so important for the entire world. In present times, it's more important than ever, because each May First, crowds and crowds of people, different languages, different cultures, different continents, all celebrate the right to organize. Nowadays, the most important enterprises in the world, like Wal-Mart, forbid unions. They are deleting a tradition of two centuries of working-class fights. It's important for Chicago and for the entire world to recover memory. Not to visit it, like when you visit a museum, but to get from it fresh water for your thirst for justice, for beauty. It's a way of knowing that tomorrow is not just another name for today, because yesterday tells you that time is going on.

Scott Witmer lives in Chicago. He is currently working on a comic book about the life of socialist agitator Eugene Debs.

~ In These Times ~

Ferlinghetti on Poetry As Insurgent Art

3 Sep, 2007

Legendary Beat Generation Bookseller and Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Books on the 50th Anniversary of Jack Kerouac's “On The Road”, Allen Ginsberg's “Howl” and Poetry As Insurgent Art


Ferlinghetti

Fifty years ago this week Viking Press published Jack Kerouac's novel On The Road. Today we will talk with City Lights Books' publisher and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In 1953, Ferlinghetti co-founded City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. Two years later he launched the City Lights publishing house. Both institutions are still running half of a century later.

Fifty years ago this week Viking Press published Jack Kerouac's novel “On The Road”. The book was an immediate hit and remains one of the key works of the Beat Generation.

“On The Road” was a fictionalized account of Kerouac's travels across the country in the late 1940s. He originally wrote the book over a three week stretch in the early 1950s. Kerouac typed it on a scroll singlespaced with no margins or paragraph breaks.

  • Jack Kerouac, reading “On The Road”

As the literary world marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of “On The Road” we spend the hour today with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, a leading literary figure of the Beat Generation. He is part poet, book seller, book publisher and activist.

In 1953, with Peter Martin, he founded City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. Two years later he launched the City Lights publishing house. Both institutions are still running half of a century later.

City Lights might be best known as the publisher of Allen Ginsberg's landmark poem Howl. It revolutionized American poetry and American consciousness. But it also led to Ferlinghetti and his publishing partner being arrested and put on trial for obscenity.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a poet himself. His 1958 collection “A Coney Island of the Mind” has sold over a million copies and he is a former poet laureate of San Francisco.

At the age of 88, Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still going strong. He continues to write poetry and run City Lights. I met up with him recently in San Francisco. He gave me a brief tour of the City Lights bookstore.

  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I also sat down with Lawrence Ferlinghetti for an extended interview. I began by asking him to read an excerpt from his book “Poetry as Insurgent Art.”

  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and co-founder of the San Francisco bookstore and publishing house City Lights Books. In 1956 City Lights published Allen Ginsberg's Howl. Ferlinghetti's own poetry collection “A Coney Island of the Mind” continues to be the most popular poetry book in the U.S. It has been translated into nine languages, and there are nearly 1,000,000 copies in print. He is also the author of plays, fiction, art criticism, and essays.

AMY GOODMAN: Fifty years ago this week, Viking Press published Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road. The book was an immediate hit and remains one of the key works of the Beat Generation. On the Road was a fictionalized account of Kerouac's travels across the country in the late 1940s. He originally wrote the book over a three-week stretch in the early 1950s. Kerouac typed it on a scroll, single-spaced with no margins or paragraph breaks.

JACK KEROUAC: So Dean and I raced on to the East Coast. At one point we drove a 1947 Cadillac limousine across the state of Nebraska 110 miles an hour, beating hot-shot passenger trains and steel-wheel freights in one nervous, shuddering snap up of the gas. We told stories and zoomed East. There were hobos by the tracks, wino bottles, the moon shining on wood fires. There were white-faced cows out in the plains, dim as nuns. There was dawn, Iowa, Mississippi River at Davenport, Chicago by nightfall. “Ho, man,” said Dean to me as we stood in front of a bar on North Clark Street on a hot summer night, “Dig these old Chinamen that cut by Chicago. What a weird town! And what women in that window up there, just looking down, you know, and they're standing there in the window, those big wide eyes waiting. Sal, we've gotta go and never stop going 'til we get there.” I said, “Where we going, Dean?”

AMY GOODMAN: Jack Kerouac. As the literary world marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of On the Road, we will spend the hour with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, leading literary figure of the Beat Generation. He's part-poet, bookseller, book publisher, artist and activist. In 1953, with Peter Martin he founded City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. Two years later, Lawrence Ferlinghetti launched the City Lights publishing house. Both institutions are still running half a century later.

City Lights might be best known as the publisher of Allen Ginsberg's landmark poem “Howl.” It revolutionized American poetry and American consciousness, but it also led to Ferlinghetti and his publishing partner being arrested and put on trial for obscenity.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is a poet himself, and his 1958 collection, A Coney Island of the Mind, has sold over a million copies. And he's a former Poet Laureate of San Francisco. At the age of eighty-eight, Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still going strong. He continues to write poetry and run City Lights.

I met up with him recently in San Francisco. He gave me a brief tour of his bookstore, City Lights.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: This is a section called “Stolen Continents.” In other words, books like Eduardo Galeano, The Open Veins of Latin America—that's a great book—and generally the results of colonialism and imperialism.

You can see this is a huge section of muckraking, anarchism, class war, political science, sociology: people's history.

AMY GOODMAN: Just before he took me on that tour, I sat down with Lawrence Ferlinghetti for an extended conversation. I began by asking him to read an excerpt from his new book, Poetry as Insurgent Art.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: And the book begins—this is a prose book, Poetry as Insurgent Art:

I am signaling you through the flames. The North Pole is not where it used to be. Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest. Civilization self-destructs. The goddess Nemesis is knocking at the door…

What are poets for in such an age? What is the use of poetry? If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of Apocalyptic times, even if this means sounding apocalyptic. You have to decide if bird cries are cries of ecstasy or cries of despair, by which you will know if you are a tragic or a lyric poet. Conceive of love beyond sex. Be subversive, constantly questioning reality and the status quo. Strive to change the world in such a way that there's no further need to be a dissident. Read between the lives, and write between the lines. Be committed to something outside yourself. Be passionate about it. But don't destroy the world, unless you have something better to replace it.

If you would snatch fame from the flames, where is your burning bow, where are your arrows of desire, where your wit on fire?

The master class starts wars. The lower classes fight it. Governments lie. The voice of the government is often not the voice of the people.

Speak up, act out! Silence is complicity. Be the gadfly of the state and also its firefly. And if you have two loaves of bread, do as the Greeks did: sell one with the coin of the realm, and with the coin of the realm buy sunflowers.

Wake up! The world's on fire!

Have a nice day!

This is coming out in a little smaller format than this. This is a proof copy. It's actually going to be close to the size of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

AMY GOODMAN: Poetry as Insurgent Art.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, eighty-eight years old, still continuing to publish, still going to work every day at the City Lights Bookstore that you co-founded in 1953.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: It was this very small bookstore for many years, a one-room bookstore with our publishing in a room in the cellar. It was really an underground press.

AMY GOODMAN: This book and the poetry, Poetry as Insurgent Art, where did you write it?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, this is an ongoing project. A book came out a few years—about ten years ago called What is Poetry?, and I keep adding to it. As far as definitions of poetry goes, that's an inexhaustible subject. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Where do you write?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, anywhere. Anywhere a thought strikes me. I'm not very systematized that way.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go back in time to when you were born. Give us a story about where you were born, who your parents were.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, I was born in South Yonkers, and—

AMY GOODMAN: In New York.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: In New York City, just north of Van Cortlandt Park. But my mother had—my father had died just before I was born, and my mother already had four sons. And I was just to much for her to take care of, and she flipped out and had to be hospitalized. And a French relative—actually, the wife of my mother's uncle took me to France in swaddling clothes, and I lived in Strasbourg for about—I'm not sure—three to four years and spoke French before English, before we came back to the States. And then I grew up an all-American boy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, a not-quite-typical childhood, because then that mother, too, your aunt, who you thought at the time was your mother?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Yes. And she got a job as a French governess in a huge mansion that belonged to the daughter of the founder of Sarah Lawrence College, whose name was William Van Duzer Lawrence in Bronxville. And the house that my mother got a job as a governess in was just a half a mile from there. It was a big mansion. It's still there. And she disappeared after—on one of her days off, she never came, evidently from pretty bad amnesia. And then, I never heard from her again until I was in the Navy and got a call from a Navy social worker saying that she had died in a Central Islip mental institution and listed me as her only survivor.

AMY GOODMAN: So you were raised by the family that established Sarah Lawrence College.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Yeah, it was the Bisland family, Anna Lawrence Bisland.

AMY GOODMAN: Like Howard Zinn, you fought in World War II.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: I did. I was—

AMY GOODMAN: Like many others, too.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: I was a skipper of a United States subchaser in the Normandy invasion, the first morning, 6:00 a.m., anti-submarine screen around the beaches of Normandy. And so then I went to the Pacific the last year. I was a navigator on a troop transport, and we were steaming toward Japan. And in the military, you don't learn anything except what you need to carry out your part of the master plan. So we hardly knew what we were going to Japan for, except with all the other ships heading in the same direction loaded with troops, it was obvious that we were an occupation force. No, it was supposed to be an attack force first, and then when the atomic bombs were dropped, the occupation force was changed into a—I mean, the invasion force was changed to an occupation operation. And we went into Sasebo in southern Japan. And that was about—we went in on captured aerial photographs of the harbor. We didn't have any charts for the harbor.

And one day ashore, we took a train over to Nagasaki. It was just a few hours away. And I think it must have been about seven weeks after the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. And there had been time to “clean things up,” quote/unquote, for some time, but still it was a devastating scene. It made me an instant pacifist. There was just three square miles of mulch with human hair and bones sticking out, and on the horizon a sort of—a landscape you'd find in the painting of Anselm Kiefer these days: blackened unrecognizable shapes sticking up on the horizon and teacups full of flesh, teacups—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you understand what had happened?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI:—with flesh melted onto the teacup. Oh, we had no idea what—no one knew what radiation was. We walked around. I never had any ill effects, but maybe some of the others I was with did. It was just—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you see any live Japanese?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: No. In the port of Sasebo, we thought there would be a lot of Japanese there, but they were all gone. The whole town was like a ghost town. It was all boarded up, and the Japanese had all fled to the hills. Not a Japanese anywhere.

AMY GOODMAN: So when you came back to the United States, how did you begin to process this and also become aware of politics?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: I think Nagasaki did it. I mean, I had grown up as an all-American boy. I had been a Boy Scout in the suburbs, an Eagle Scout, except I got busted for stealing pencils from the five- and ten-cent store the same week I made Eagle Scout. But besides little incidents like that, I was a true blue American boy, and I—

AMY GOODMAN: So they sent you away to—

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: I had no idea—I don't remember ever even hearing of a conscientious objector on the East Coast during the Second World War. It was only when I came to San Francisco and I started listening to KPFA, which had been founded by conscientious objectors, and—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you know Lou Hill?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Yes, I met Lou Hill. I think I was on the air while he was still around. And I knew Kenneth Rexroth through—you could say I was totally illiterate politically until I ran into these guys. I mean, that's where I got my political education from, KPFA and from listening to Kenneth Rexroth and his Friday night soirees. And he considered himself a philosophical anarchist. I mean—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Kenneth Rexroth is, especially for young people.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, Rexroth was the leading elder poet in San Francisco in the 1950s when I arrived, and he had a program on KPFA. And he didn't review just literature. He reviewed every subject—geology, anthropology, astronomy, philosophy—and it seemed as he had this encyclopedic knowledge. And I used to go to his house on his Friday night soirees. I would just sit in the—the first six months I didn't even dare open my mouth. I was totally out of my depth. I didn't know what he was talking about most of the time.

And then, when we started the City Lights Bookstore in 1953, from the—my original partner was Peter Dean Martin, whose idea it was to have an all-paperback bookstore, because at that time paperback books weren't even considered real books by the book trade, but New York publishers were starting to publish quality paperbacks, and there was nowhere to buy them, because the old paperbacks were mysteries and cheap pocketbooks that were pasted together. And so, it was a brilliant idea to open up a store where you could get these new quality paperbacks, 1953.And Peter Martin was a son of Carlo Tresca, the Italian anarchist who was murdered on the streets of New York, probably by fascists. And so we had this anarchist-pacifist orientation right from the beginning at City Lights. I was getting mine from Kenneth Rexroth and KPFA.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you name the bookstore City Lights?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: After the Chaplin film.

AMY GOODMAN: Charlie Chaplin.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: And we actually got a telegram from the Chaplin Estates giving us permission to use the title. And that's how the bookstore got started.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. We'll come back to our conversation after this break.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return now to book publisher and poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In the time we spent together in San Francisco, I asked about the Beat Generation and why it's a term he has not always embraced.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, we didn't use the word “beat” out on the back of any City Lights publication, including Allen Ginsberg's books. I wasn't a member of the original Beat Generation. I was—when they were in Columbia College, I was in graduate school at Columbia. I didn't know any of them. And it was only after I came to San Francisco that I started meeting the poets, because a bookstore is a natural place for poets to congregate. And right from the beginning we tried to make City Lights a community center, which it soon became. And so, Ginsberg came in. I got associated with the Beats by publishing them. And that's—

AMY GOODMAN: What does “the Beats” mean? What does it mean to you?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, I never liked the term, and especially the word “beatnik” was never used by any of the poets, because that was a term evidently invented by Herb Caen, the San Francisco gossip columnist. It was the time of Sputnik, so this was a handy way for straight people to put down these dirty unwashed bohemians, call them “beatniks.”

AMY GOODMAN: Kerouac coined the term?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: He didn't coin—he turned the—

AMY GOODMAN: Not “beatnik,” but the Beat Generation.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Yeah. He had more in mind—being a Catholic, he had more in mind a beatitude. But then, he talked about it as jazz also. But there's this whole romanticization of the black culture and the music that came out of black culture. And in our generation, there was also just a part of the general glorification of the natural man, because we had all been reading D.H. Lawrence, and the native unspoiled man and the gatekeeper in Lady Chatterley and the people in D.H. Lawrence's Mexican book, The Plumed Serpent. And this was kind of what was in the consciousness of my generation, including Kerouac's.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, you start the bookstore in'53. In '57, you and Allen Ginsberg, you're already involved in an obscenity trial. Talk about that.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, the first printing was done in England, because the presses—it was much better printing and much better binding and cheaper to print in England. And we were just a little one-room press. And so, it was letterpress. The first copies of Howl were stopped by customs—Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems. And then, customs in San Francisco were holding the books, and they finally released them after the US attorney refused to prosecute. And then—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the significance of Howl and why you published Allen Ginsberg's poem.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, it was that reaction when I first read it and when I first heard it: I've never seen the world before like this. It's just a new reality I'm seeing and hearing. And I think that's the way it is with great works. When you first read it, you say, “I've never known this was the way things are. I never realized that's the way the world really is.”

AMY GOODMAN: How did you first meet Allen Ginsberg?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, he came in the bookstore and gave me the manuscript. And then he gave a reading just a few days later—it became quite famous—in a garage storefront in the Mission District. It was called the Six Gallery. And I went home. I didn't know any of the Beats well enough to go out carousing with them afterward, and I was leading a respectable married life living on Potrero Hill. So I went home after the reading, and I sent Allen a telegram—this was before there was any other means to communicate quickly, there was no email or fax or anything like that—so a Western Union telegram to Allen Ginsberg, copying what I had heard: Emerson had written to Whitman upon receiving a first copy of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which was “I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” to which I added, “When do we get the manuscript?” So I was a born publisher.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you describe Allen Ginsberg?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, I think Allen—the primary quality that people remember about Allen was his compassion, extraordinary compassion for everyone. And I think a lot of that came from his conversion to Buddhism. And he was a very gentle person. He was also a genius poet and a genius publicist. I feel that without Allen Ginsberg there would not have been any Beat Generation recognized as such. It would just have been great separate writers in the landscape. But Allen is—he created the whole thing himself.

AMY GOODMAN: So explain what happened, what the obscenity trial was.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, we had a trial in municipal court in San Francisco, and it went on all one summer. And we had Al Bendich of the American Civil Liberties Union trying his first case defending us. Without—I mean, thank God for the American Civil Liberties Union. We would have been out of business in no time. We're just a little one-room bookstore. We didn't have any money for legal defenses. And then Jake Ehrlich, a famous criminal lawyer, associated himself with the case and used up most of the program, quoting from old classics like Moll Flanders and leaving just about the last five minutes of the last day for the ACLU attorney Al Bendich to make the constitutional case upon which—the constitutional parts upon which the case was won.

And the judge ruled that if there's the slightest redeeming social importance, the book could not be censored. And that precedent, even though it was only in municipal court, has held up all these years, so that you have—well, the floodgates were opened. It allowed the Grove Press, for instance, just a few years later to publish Lady Chatterley's Lover and Jean Genet and Henry Miller's Tropics, and etc. And that challenge still holds up today—I mean, that precedent.

AMY GOODMAN: I was reading a biography of you, a wonderful biography with photos of the trial, Ferlinghetti: A Biography by Neeli Cherkovski, and it describes two years after the trial, May 27, 1959, your letter to the San Francisco Chronicle—you're a fierce media critic—lambasting them for not reporting on Allen Ginsberg reading his next major work after “Howl” called “Kaddish.” Do you remember the letter?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: I think it's probably pretty—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you want to read it?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Sure. Where does it start? Right here.

AMY GOODMAN: Right there.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, yeah. I was pretty brash back then.

“Dear Editor: It's a crying shame when a major American poet has to write to you to point out the importance of his own poetry, as Allen Ginsberg did yesterday in a letter to the Chronicle. He said, 'The Chronicle perhaps had completely missed the major news item in its report of last Saturday's benefit poetry reading in North Beach, San Francisco.'” This item, concerning himself, he said, “I gave a very extraordinary reading of the first major poem I have written since 'Howl.' This is an event of considerable importance to San Francisco,” unquote. Well, Allen wasn't short on ego.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you went on to go after them, saying, “The Chronicle's sneering report only underlined the ignorance of many literate San Franciscans as to the most important development in modern poetry, both here and across the country today.” You write, “If the words of a small publisher, such as myself, have no effect, perhaps various New York publishers, New Directions, Grove Press, would be able to enlighten you. Any of their editors would be glad to let San Franciscans know what is going on in their city.”

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: That's very good. I couldn't have said that any better today. I mean, San Francisco was a very provincial place, you know? When I arrived over land by train and then by ferry to the ferry building and talked to the first people here, first people I ran into, I had the idea that they thought of themselves as a—San Francisco as this offshore republic that really didn't belong to the United States and that they were San Franciscans first and then Americans, sort of like the Neopolitans considering themselves Neopolitans first and then Italian. And it's sort of an island mentality. I'm talking about 1951. And I think that island mentality was sort of a frontier mentality, and it's kind of gone now, what with the internet and all the other electronic communications media.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did you choose San Francisco?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, I tried to make it in New York. I had a degree in journalism. Right after the Second World War, I tried to get on New York newspapers, but there were two people for every New York newspaper job: the one that had it before the war and the one that filled in. And so, when I went to France on the GI Bill and got a doctorate at the Sorbonne, by then it was 1951, and I figured, well, I'd just try some other city. New York was impossible. Everything seemed to be sewed up. And the West was still the last frontier.

AMY GOODMAN: It's the fiftieth anniversary of On the Road. Talk about Jack Kerouac.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, Kerouac was—he couldn't handle fame at all. As soon as On the Road made him famous, he cut out very soon and didn't go—he didn't go on the road anymore with other Beat poets. He stayed—he went home to take care of his mother, and he lived with his mother the rest of his life in various places up and down the East Coast mostly, also a couple attempts to come to settle in San Francisco. And he had nothing more to do with the, quote, “the Beat Generation,” end-quote. He still wrote—

AMY GOODMAN: You met him before—

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI:—he still wrote voluminous letters to Ginsberg.

AMY GOODMAN: You met him before publication of On the Road?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, I don't know quite when I did meet him. It was much later that he borrowed my cabin in Big Sur to get over being an alcoholic—thought he'd go down there and dry out. That was in the late '60s.

AMY GOODMAN: And he wrote a book, Big Sur.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Yeah, a very depressing book, compared to his early writing. I mean, his early writing and On the Road had this gusto for life, this joie de vivre, which is what appealed to Henry Miller in Kerouac's writing. And Miller wanted to meet him. But that's the descriptive passages—On the Road is marvelous, like they're hungry for life. And in a book twenty years later, like On the Road—it's an old tired prose compared to the early writing.

AMY GOODMAN: But you chose not to publish On the Road.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, we didn't have a chance. He was already hooked up with New York publishers. I mean, the manuscript of On the Road had been kicking around—what was it? Scribner's? In New York, he—we eventually published several books of his poetry, but we never really had a chance to publish any of his novels.

AMY GOODMAN: What effect would you say On the Road had on you, on your writing? Did it?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: No, it didn't have much effect on mine. Mine was more—my writing was more in the European tradition, like I would say some of the same authors that affected Kerouac greatly affected me, like Marcel Proust and James Joyce, and we had the same backgrounds, and we both spoke French. That was one of the bonds we had between us. And we would talk French, because both of us had talked French with our mothers. But he—where were we?

AMY GOODMAN: Just talking about meeting Jack Kerouac and the influence—if he had an influence on you.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Not really. Allen Ginsberg claimed that Kerouac's writing had a huge influence on his writing, but I really don't see it. I think Allen admired Kerouac for his muscular prose and his descriptive powers.

AMY GOODMAN: There's a film of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady in the City Lights—the basement of City Lights, 1965. First of all, talk about Neal Cassady also, and then talk about that gathering place and those moments in City Lights.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, Neal was sort of a prototypical American hero or anti-hero. You could put him in the tradition of the heroes of great cowboy movies, where in so many of the classic cowboy movies the hero is an outsider also, and he's a—for instance, Sam Shepard circling the airbase where he had been a test pilot, circling the airbase on his horse, he's not quite of—he's still an outsider, even though he succeeded in the establishment. And in the earlier cowboy movies, the hero will ride into town an independent free spirit, and he'll be confronted with some terrible scene in this little town where some evil has to be gotten rid of, some villain has to be silenced, and so they temporarily deputize the cowboy, and he disposes of the evil, and then at the end they offer him a permanent job as sheriff, and he says, “No, thank you,” and he throws the police badge on the ground and then rides off into the sunset, leaving both the badge and the girlfriend behind. And so, it's—in the case of Kerouac, he's doing the same thing, always on the outside. In his case, his horse was his hotrod. And it was the same type of character.

AMY GOODMAN: You published—City Lights published The First Third, Neal Cassady's book.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: We did.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what The First Third means.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, it started out—practically all of The First Third was raps that Neal Cassady did and that were recorded on old tape recorders. And we started out with just a couple of the manuscripts, transcriptions of talks he had done, and just spontaneous talking. He was a wild and fantastic talker. He could talk all night on people like Edgar Cayce, the mystic. He was an associative talker, so that he would go from an Egyptian pyramid to a car in East Denver in the same sentence.

And he was such a fascinating talker that people were always recording him. So we started out—the first edition of The First Third was quite thin, but as the years went by, more and more old friends of his would send in transcriptions or send in tapes that they had of him, usually from some old girlfriend, of which he had many, and luckily they all were literate. And so, gradually the book grew, so now it's a half an inch or more thick. We're probably going to get more sent in.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. We're spending the hour with him. If you'd like a copy of today's broadcast, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. We'll be back with Lawrence Ferlinghetti in a minute.

JACK KEROUAC: So in the last page of On the Road, I describe how the hero Dean Moriarty has come to see me all the way from the West Coast just for a day or two. We'd just been back and forth across the country several times in cars, and now our adventures are over. We're still great friends, but we have to go into later phases of our lives. So there he goes, Dean Moriarty, ragged in a motheaten overcoat he brought specially for the freezing temperatures of the East, walking off alone, and last I saw of him he rounded the corner of Seventh Avenue, eyes on the street ahead and bent to it again. Gone. So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry—

AMY GOODMAN: Jack Kerouac, accompanied on piano by Steve Allen. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

As the world marks the fiftieth anniversary of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, I asked Lawrence Ferlinghetti to talk about Kerouac, as well as Richard Brautigan and Lou Hill and Neal Cassady, who died at such early ages.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, Neal, he never stopped running, and he didn't live long enough to have to stop running. I mean, he died running along the railroad track in San Miguel de Allende, probably on uppers and downers at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: In Mexico, when he was forty-one.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: In Mexico, yeah. But “burn, burn, burn” was one of the—almost a motto or a battle cry for the whole generation. It's like 'burn, burn, burn, like a Roman candle'—I think that's a paraphrase of a passage in Kerouac. And that's what they all did, where I was staying at home, minding the store, leading a conventional life.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you telling them? I mean, here you are now at eighty-eight, but you're living through all of that time, you see what they're doing, you're reading them, you're knowing them.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, quite often writers—at least with the poet, the poet's greatest poetry is done quite young. That's the way it was with Dylan Thomas and with—

AMY GOODMAN: Drank himself to death in New York outside the White Horse Tavern.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, yes. And many other—like Rimbaud died at a very young age, but he didn't write—his great poetry he wrote was when he was under twenty years old. And I don't think Allen Ginsberg ever wrote a poem as moving or as great as “Howl,” which he wrote when he was in his thirties.

AMY GOODMAN: What about women? What about women then, women in the Beat Generation, women poets, writers?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, I mean, the Beat Generation was at least half-gay. And Allen was really afraid of women, I felt, and he tended to look through them. I have a friend who went on a trip through the Southwest with him, and she ran into him a year later. They had been traveling in this car together with others for several months, and the year later he looked right through her at some other occasion. It's as if they weren't there for him.

But there were a few writers that did manage to get published with the Beats, and that was Diane di Prima, for instance, and then a little later Anne Waldman, who's going strong now as head of the Naropa Institute, the part of the Naropa Institute that's the poetics institute. But generally you could say that perhaps—

AMY GOODMAN: I remember interviewing her right after Allen Ginsberg died in New York.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh yeah. You could say that generally, even though the women were ignored, the women they went around with were ignored by the Beats mostly, but, as in Greek tragedy, it was often the women that determined the men's fate.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, just the way their lives worked out.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm sitting here, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, with many of your books, not nearly—not nearly all of them, but, for example, Coney Island of the Mind, what is it? The biggest-selling poetry book of all time?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: I think so.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about when you wrote that.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, it all came out at once. And another case that if I had died shortly thereafter—I wrote it when I was in my mid-thirties. That would probably be considered my best book, and it's as I was saying before, the best poetry is written when one is fairly young. To me now, it seems that the mid-thirties as being—is very young. But—

AMY GOODMAN: Why is it, then? I mean, you've got the wisdom of a lifetime now.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, you haven't have time to be acclimated or acclimated in the worst ways by modern industrial corporate monoculture, for instance, or American consumer society, which the way American consumer society is worked out, it seems to me the suburbs of America are the great American death.

You know, I'd like to read one poem that I just wrote. I really want to get this out.

AMY GOODMAN: Read.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Especially since Khalil Gibran has been in the news lately, including yesterday or the day before on your program. “Pity the Nation,” after Khalil Gibran.

Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation—oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Ferlinghetti. So what about the state of the world today and our role in it?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: It's rushing over the cliff. I think practically all of Congress is totally ignoring the ecological crisis fast ascending on us. I mean, and so many people have even refused to see Al Gore's movie—and I'm looking forward to seeing the new one, The Eleventh Hour—because people think that, “Oh, the calamities aren't going to happen in my little corner right now. It might happen fifty years or a hundred years from now. I mean, my house isn't going to be swept away. Or my house isn't—or my life isn't going to change. I'm always going to be able to drive to work.”

But it could change overnight. The ecosystem is so finely balanced that it could go out of balance overnight and crash like a computer by tomorrow morning. And not a single presidential candidate for the next election seems to have any really potent ecological program to save the world from this ecological disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think poetry is a tool to save the world?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, that's about—I think it's quite possible. But, as I said, poetry has to strive to change the world in such a way that we don't have to be dissident anymore. Now, can you imagine Democracy Now! not having to be dissident anymore?

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of dissidence, I have to ask you about your visit with Pablo Neruda in Cuba.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Oh, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: When was that?

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Well, I was there—I went to the Virgin Islands to trace down my mother's Sephardic Jewish Portuguese family. The name was Mendes Monsanto, and I found many of her ancestors' Mendes Monsanto tombstones in St. Thomas.

But on the way back, I stopped in Cuba. It was perfectly legal. I'm talking about 1959, late '59. And it was the first or second anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, and they had invited Pablo Neruda to come to address a convocation of the Fidelistas in the great assembly hall, legislature, where the dictators, senators, had sat in velvet armchairs. And so, we went into the hall, and there's 10,000 Fidelistas sitting there. And there was this atmosphere, this fantastic throbbing atmosphere in this hall. It's what—it was obviously—it's a revolutionary euphoria, the early days of any revolution. And in this one, it was fantastic. The whole place was throbbing with this vitality and, of course—I mean, the Fidelistas were in there still in their combat boots, sitting in these velvet armchairs with their feet up, smoking cigars. And then when Neruda came on stage, of course, he got an enormous ovation.

And so, I had met him at his hotel before. He was staying on the top floor of the Habana Libre, which had been the Havana Hilton, and he had huge notebooks spread in front of him—I think his eyesight must have been bad by then—I mean, big quarto-sized books like that that he was writing in with very big handwriting. And his wife [Matilde], who was French-speaking, she was there. And so, I was there about twenty minutes with him before he had to go to the reading.

But he was well acquainted with the Beat poets evidently. That's how I happened to be able to meet him, because some of the young Cuban poets were working on the Monday literary supplement of the daily newspaper, Revolucion. Lunes de Revolucion had a lot of young poets working on it, and I met a couple of them in a waterfront dump where I was staying, and they took us—took me to a restaurant, where—a cafeteria, where they said Fidel Castro often came to eat. And sure enough, halfway through the meal, this big guy in combat fatigues and a hat came out of the kitchen. And I said, “Isn't that Fidel?” And they said, “Yes, that's”—“Well, how about introducing me?” And they said, “Oh, we couldn't do that. We don't know him.” So like unknown poets in front of any celebrity. So I just walked up, and I could have been—he was completely unarmed and nobody with him. I could have been a hired assassin. It would have been all over. And at that time my Spanish was very limited, and all I could think of to say was “Soy un amigo de Allen Ginsberg,” because he had met Ginsberg—

AMY GOODMAN: “I am a friend of Allen Ginsberg.”

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Yeah. He had met Ginsberg at the Hotel Lenox. So Castro gets a very silly smile on his face and shakes my hand. He had a very limp handshake, which I was surprised. I thought he would have this enormous militaristic shake or something. And that made me realize that he and his original group were students when they started the revolution. They weren't necessarily communists. They had gone to New York and Washington to get money, financial aid, and they were turned down, and then he was desperate for money, and he turned to the Soviet Union for money.

Bob Scheer wrote his first book, Cuba: An American Tragedy, when Bob Scheer was working as a clerk at City Lights in the 1960s. It was the first pro-Fidel book published, and “an American tragedy” was the tragedy of our stupid foreign policy. And, for instance, when I was in Nicaragua years later, I read in a Spanish newspaper in Nicaragua an interview with Fidel Castro, in which he said, “I am not a follower of Moscow. I am its victim.” This was like 1979, he said this. So that's where we are today with him, continuing our murderous policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as we wrap up this hour, your advice to young people, young poets, to citizens of the world.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Do you have to be a poet? If you don't have to be a poet, be a prose writer. You'll get further faster. Poetry—there's probably more poetry published today than any time in the history of the world. Nevertheless, there is this—people think they have this blindness when they see a line in the typography of poetry, and it just blocks them. So if you can say the same thing in prose, you'll probably be better off. For instance, this, my little book, Poetry as Insurgent Art, that's written in prose, trying to break down the barrier.

AMY GOODMAN: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, founder of City Lights Bookstore and City Lights Publishing in San Francisco. His latest book is Poetry as Insurgent Art. If you'd like to see photos and videos of Lawrence Ferlinghetti through the years, you can go to our website. There, you can also get the DVD of today's broadcast, at democracynow.org.

~ Democracy Now! ~

Swiss bank secrecy in toughest test since Nazi gold

More than a decade after holocaust survivors won compensation from Swiss banks for emptying Jewish accounts that had lain dormant since the war, the pressure is on again to dismantle Swiss banking secrecy.

This time, the tax collector is leading the charge.

With Washington joining Germany to press for an end to a code they believe helps tax dodgers, many see it as only a matter of time before the Swiss lift the cloak guarding the secrets of the world's wealthy.

"The challenge to bank secrecy is a thunderstorm which has been brewing since the holocaust money," said Sebastian Dovey of consultancy Scorpio Partnership. "It is a hot potato and I don't think the heat is going to be turned down."

Nearly one-third of wealth kept abroad globally is in Swiss banks: the Swiss Bankers Association and consultants estimate this at $2.2 trillion, making the Alpine state the globe's biggest offshore centre ahead of Britain and Luxembourg.

But its code of secrecy – which local myth inaccurately claims was introduced to protect fleeing Jews – is as controversial as it is protective.

Laid down in a 1934 law, it has spawned plots for bestselling thrillers, but also real-life intrigues such as that of Gizella Weisshaus.

Shortly before her father was murdered by the Nazis during the war, he told his children about gold coins and jewellery he had stowed away as Germany's army marched towards their home in Romania.

"I found the money and his gold watch hidden in the roof of my house," she told Reuters by telephone from New York. "And there were some pieces of paper. It didn't mean anything to me."

Decades later, the Auschwitz survivor was still trying to unravel the riddle of those long-discarded papers which likely contained the numbers of Swiss bank accounts.

But like many others who travelled to Zurich to trace her father's money, she was turned away repeatedly.

She later became central to a series of legal actions taken against the banks and in the mid-1990s under pressure from Washington and Jewish community group the World Jewish Congress, they finally paid $1.2 billion for accounts they had sucked dry.

Now Switzerland faces its toughest assault since. In an escalation of a U.S. investigation into its biggest bank, Raoul Weil, head of UBS's wealth management business, was recently charged with helping Americans hide billions.

~ more... ~

War is over - Yoko Ono


WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It) from Yoko Ono on Vimeo.


8 Dec 2007

I miss you, John.

27 years later, I still wish I could turn back the clock to the Summer of 1980. I remember everything - sharing our morning coffee, walking in the park together on a beautiful day, and seeing your hand stretched to mine - holding it, reassuring me that I shouldn't worry about anything because our life was good.

I had no idea that life was about to teach me the toughest lesson of all. I learned the intense pain of losing a loved one suddenly, without warning, and without having the time for a final hug and the chance to say, "I love you," for the last time. The pain and shock of that sudden loss is with me every moment of every day. When I touched John's side of our bed on the night of December 8th, 1980, I realized that it was still warm. That moment has haunted me for the past 27 years - and will stay with me forever.

Even harder for me is watching what was taken away from our beautiful boy, Sean. He lives in silent anger over not having his Dad, whom he loved so much, around to share his life with. I know we are not alone. Our pain is one shared by many other families who are suffering as the victims of senseless violence. This pain has to stop.

Let's not waste the lives of those we have lost. Let's, together, make the world a place of love and joy and not a place of fear and anger. This day of John's passing has become more and more important for so many people around the world as the day to remember his message of Peace and Love and to do what each of us can to work on healing this planet we cherish.

Let's Think PEACE, Act PEACE and Spread PEACE.

John worked for it all his life.
He said, "There's no problem, only solutions."
Remember, we are all together.
We can do it, we must.

I love you!
yoko

Yoko Ono Lennon
8 December 2007

~ Imagine Peace ~

The Grateful Dead and the Beats



Excerpt - randtfilms - Jerry and Rand 30 Dec 1989, Oakland

Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Pity the Nation



Identified with the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco as well as the poets of the Beat Generation, 88 year old Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still active as a poet. This poem is a recent effort.

Mark Twain's War Prayer



Chris Wallace performing Mark Twain's The War Prayer from his one-man show, THE MARK TWAIN YOU DON'T KNOW.

Exposing the cholesterol myth



Dr. Ron Rosedale talks about common cholesterol myths.

[ Via Natural News ]

Pop culture and Freemasonry: Sen. Obama infomercial

Freemasonry seems to show up in the strangest places. I was watching the Senator Obama Presidential Primetime Special today and I noticed the most interesting Masonic reference. During the final moments of the taped portion, there was a Shrine Go-Kart Club hanging out in their cars. That's right, Shriners. Those guys seem to show up in the strangest places.

~ more... ~

ICG recommendations for Iraq: Chaos and wars to serve evil Freemasonic messianic plans

As the Apostate Freemasonic Lodge is fully aware that not much time is left for them and their evildoings, the pressure exercised by its local and international agents is expected only to increase over the next two years.

The perverse and abnormal system of thought that prevails among their entire hierarch, and more particularly its highest levels, prevents them from any possibility of positive and creative thinking, let alone acting.

The approach according to which, for a deteriorated issue, situation or condition, there cannot be direct improvement but there has to be first completion of the deterioration process with unprecedented aggravation and then replacement or substitution with another issue, situation or condition is utterly evil – and plainly Freemasonic.

From this system of thought originates the political radicalism of the Right and the Left. And to this system of thinking hinges the Anglo-French approach to the Ottoman Empire, Islam and the Middle East. Of course, there have been material interests involved, but the first approach to and stance toward a subject is critical. In the case of the paranoid, mentally incapacitated, and utterly evil Freemasonry and their devious eschatology and pseudo-messianism, there has to be a more devastating war in the Middle East before all draw the conclusion that peace is preferable, and somebody appears to implement it!

It would be erratic to try to understand the Freemasonic approach to the Middle East, Jerusalem, and the Moriah Mount where the Temple of Solomon was located, without duly understanding that it all hinges on their readings of Biblical passages, their understanding of them, and their identification with therein mentioned symbols.

Projecting their preconceived interpretation onto the Biblical text, imposing their decayed system of term identification and de-codification, and torturing the text dynamics in order to justify their pre-defined schemes, the Apostate Freemasonic Lodge has become the main reason of strife, unrest and disaster for the entire Middle East.

This is the paranoia of their acts; they try to force an erratic reading of the Prophets and the New Testament and to consequently materialize what the misinterpreted (by them) excerpts had been supposed to herald, while plunging in the process hundreds of millions of people into extreme suffering and/or deliberate extermination. In so doing, they fail to notice that the moral prescriptions and orders embedded in the very texts that they try to "implement" prevent anyone from acting in their way.

In fact, their anti-Ottoman hysteria was the mere exteriorization of their attitude toward Biblical passages speaking of the king of ´the east´, the´ king of the north´, and the ´king of the south´. Failing to grasp the real meaning of the verses, they created several projects that they have kept feeding in order to make them last until the correct moment.

Their attitude consists in direct abnegation of the spirit of the Religion. In fact, it was only normal that they ended up as evolutionists and atheists. With this in mind, we will find no difficulty in identifying them as supporters of a global religion (this in itself is not necessarily wrong); the problem is that this global religion would involve the accommodation of the most inhuman elements of theory and ideology, ending up with a materialistic hedonism and sexomania, which may properly reflect the abominable Freemasonic rituals. In forthcoming articles, I will focus on and identify the Apostate Freemasonic Lodge, but here I will explain why the ICG ´recommendations´ are not properly speaking recommendations.

~ more... ~

Move may help shut Guantanamo camp

Diplomats said the announcement by Portugal was partly a product of personal diplomacy by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a trip in September. But they said it also appeared that the logjam was breaking because other countries were eager to show the incoming Obama administration that they were willing to assist in the complex challenges of closing the camp.

If the 60 "hard cases" were resettled, the challenge of closing Guantánamo would be considerably diminished. About 100 of the remaining detainees are Yemenis, and American officials have long been working separately to get Yemen to promise to provide security assurances, monitoring and retraining so that many of the Yemeni detainees could be repatriated.

Resettlement programs in Europe and Yemen would leave about 100 detainees. With that smaller number, some officials say, it would be easier to close Guantánamo and transfer the remaining detainees to prisons in the United States.

President-elect Barack Obama has said he will close Guantánamo but has provided few details. He has suggested that some prisoners could be prosecuted in federal courts. Those men could be held in federal or military prisons. But the Obama transition office has not offered details of where the remainder might be held.

Mr. Bellinger said Portugal had received no promises of any assistance from American officials in exchange for its announcement.

But he described the announcement as a sign of a shift in attitudes in other capitals. "We kept telling them," he said, "it's fundamentally unfair to keep criticizing Guantánamo while doing nothing to help."

~ more... ~

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