Thursday, November 30, 2006

Darfur activism conference at Swarthmore (December 1-3, 2006)

For people who are within traveling distance of the Philadelphia area, or who know people in that area who might be interested:

This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (December 1-3) there is a conference at Swarthmore dealing with the atrocity in Darfur and with student activism aimed at doing something to stop it. This is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition.

The website with the announcement is HERE and the program is below. I wanted to alert anyone who might be interested. And if you know anyone else who might be interested in attending, please pass along this notice to them.

Speakers and other participants will include some people who are exceptionally knowledgeable about the subject and who have played important roles in trying to mobilize public opinion and government action on this issue. (I've also been invited to participate in a panel on Saturday, so I'm honored to find myself in such company.)

--Jeff Weintraub

STAND Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference at Swarthmore College

Schedule of Events

Friday, December 1

4:00 pm8:00 pm


Parish Parlors

6:00 – 8:00 pm

Gallery Reception, Kitao Gallery

“Hand of a Displaced Sudan: The Cost of Silence”

A documentary photography exhibit by Ryan Spencer Reed

View the exhibition and enjoy refreshments.

8:00 – 9:00 pm

Lecture: Mohammad Yahya

Science Center 199

9:00 – 10:15 pm

Movie Screening: Darfur Diaries

Science Center 199

Saturday, December 2

Ryan Spencer Reed’s “Hand of a Displaced Sudan: The Cost of Silence” exhibition will be available for viewing at the Kitao Gallery during all breaks and meals.

8:00 – 8:45


LPAC Lobby

8:45 – 10:30

Opening Plenary

LPAC Cinema

Dr. Eric Reeves – Overview of the history and current conflict in Darfur.

Welcome - Erin Mazursky, Executive Director of STAND

Accomplishments from the Region – Micaela Hellman-Tincher, Mid-Atlantic ROC

10:30 – 12:45

Activist Bootcamp: Media, Advocacy and Divestment Workshops

Workshop #1, 10:30 – 11:15

Workshop #2, 11:15 – 12:00

Workshop #3, 12:00- 12:45

Divestment – Science Center 181

Advocacy – Science Center 183

Media – Science Center 128

12:45 – 1:30


Upper Tarble


Lecture: Ryan Spencer Reed

Ryan will share his experiences and observations as a documentary photographer in Darfur.

2:10 – 2:30

STAND’s Winter Campaign

Science Center 101

2:30 – 3:45

Panel: Khartoum's Genocide, the United States' Response, and Changing the Political Calculus

Science Center 101

Eric Reeves – Sudan expert, Smith College.

Jeff Weintraub – Visiting Professor of Political Science at University of Pennsylvania

Sam Bell – Director of Advocacy, Genocide Intervention Network

4:00 – 5:30

Breakout Sessions

Create plans of action for the upcoming semester with other STAND Chapters in your region. The best plan, as decided by conference attendees and the STAND MC, will receive a $500 grant.

Group A Science Center 102

Group B Science Center 128

Group C Science Center 158

Group D Science Center 181

Group E Science Center 183

Group F Science Center 264

Group G Science Center L32

5:30 – 6:00


Choose one of the following events.

International Outreach

Science Center 181

Join the International Outreach Committee of STAND for a discussion on how to further engage students in other parts of the world in the anti-genocide movement. Learn about the existing international STAND chapters and about how to get involved with international outreach.

Banaa Program Presentation

Science Center 183

Banaa, founded by members of GW STAND, aims to bring Sudanese students from marginalized populations of Sudan to universities in the United States, where they will obtain a leadership based education. Students will utilize the skills they acquire, along with the connections they make, to affect sustainable political and social change within Sudan. With President of George Washington University signed on to provide tuition free education to one student, Banaa hopes to spread to other schools across the country. Come learn about the program and how you can bring it to your campus!

Making the Most of Your Administration

Science Center 158

Gain an in depth understanding of the best ways to work with your administration and faculty to be the most effective STAND Chapter you can be.

6:00 – 6:30


6:30 – 10:00

Dinner, Keynote speaker and entertainment

Upper Tarble

Lecture and Slide Show: Mia Farrow

Post Dinner

Coffee House and Jazz

Upper Tarble

Sunday, December 2

8:00 am- 9:00 am

Get Involved with STAND! Breakfast

Science Center Commons

Students interested in getting involved at the national level with STAND and/or the Sudan Divestment Task Force are invited to eat breakfast with members of the STAND Managing Committee, SDTF, and representatives from Genocide Intervention Network. Erin Mazursky, Executive Director of STAND, will give a brief talk about how the Managing Committee operates and outline the available positions students can apply for in the spring.

9:00 – 10:00

Panel - Engaging Community Groups
A panel of representatives from religious communities, community organizations and human rights groups will speak about effective methods for engaging and involving their communities

Lou Ann Merkle – Executive Director, Darfur Alert Coalition

Daniel Hunter – Training Associate, Training for Change

Reverand Joyce Tompkins, Protestant Chaplain at Swarthmore College

Geoff Semenuk – Vice President of Alumni Relations at Swarthmore College.

10:00 – 12:00

Special Focus Workshops
Choose two workshops to attend.

The United Nations and Genocide

Science Center 128

Facilitator: Adam LeBor, author of Complicity with Evil: The United Nations and the Age of Modern Genocide

Listen and discuss how the United Nations has repeatedly failed to confront genocide, looking specifically at the role of the secretariat’s relationship with the security council and the failures of UN officials to confront genocide.

The Responsibility to Protect Doctrine

Science Center 102

Facilitator: Mark Hanis, Executive Director, Genocide Intervention Network.

Learn about the foundations of the R2P doctrine, how it applies to Darfur and the future of R2P.

Congressional Lobbying

Science Center 158

Facilitator: Sam Bell, Director of Advocacy, Genocide Intervention Network

Gain an in-depth understanding of congressional lobbying: who to target, specific techniques and effective approaches.

Women’s Issues in Darfur

Science Center 183

Facilitator: Fatima Haroun, Darfur Women’s Empowerment Project

Learn about the issues women and children face in Darfur and what the future holds in store for them.

Limitations and opportunities in prosecuting and advocating against human rights abuses in Darfur

Niklas Hultin

Science center 181

The workshop will address the various international legal and quasi-legal options for stopping the genocide, bringing the perpetrators to justice and, hopefully, prevent future outbursts of violence in Darfur/Sudan, focusing on the International Criminal Court and the African Human Rights system.

Genocide Education

Science Center 183

Facilitator: Patrice Hutton, STAND Education Coordinator

Learn how to get involved in your state's campaign for genocide education and how to set up a pilot program for genocide education in area high schools.

12:00 – 12:30

Mini Grant Award and Closing Remarks

Science Center 101

Based on votes by student conference attendees and the STAND MC, one $500 mini-grant will be awarded to a regional plan of action, followed by closing remarks.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ellen Willis, democratic socialist and anti-anti-Zionist, 1941-2006

A tribute by Chad Goldberg at the Engage Forum.
--Jeff Weintraub
Ellen Willis 1941-2006
November 10, 2006 11:31:33 PM.

Ellen Willis, the radical American journalist, feminist, and cultural critic, died on November 9, 2006, in New York City at the age of 64. Engage readers will recognize her as a kindred spirit: As a self-described "anti-authoritarian democratic socialist," her obituary notes, she was "leery of extremism" and "took some members of the American left to task for what she saw as anti-Semitism thinly veiled as political animus toward Israel". Read the New York Times obituary HERE.

Her 2003 essay, "Is There Still a Jewish Question? Why I'm an Anti-Anti-Zionist," is a brilliant piece of work that brings insights from psychoanalysis to bear on the phenomenon of contemporary anti-Semitism. The essay can be found HERE. Yesterday, attending a University of Wisconsin Trust Fund meeting to urge the Board of Regents to reject a proposal to divest from Israel, I was reminded how timely Willis's essay still is. This week we have lost a comrade in the struggle to expose and combat anti-Semitism, but as Joe Hill said, don't mourn, organize.

Chad Alan Goldberg
Assistant Professor of Sociology
University of Wisconsin

Salah Choudhury's death penalty trial begins Monday (Richard Benkin)

Richard Benkin, a long-time campaigner on behalf of justice for the Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, reminds us that Choudhury's trial on charges of "sedition, treason, and blasphemy" begins next Monday, November 13. Those seeking further information or the opportunity to interview Choudhury directly can contact Richard Benkin as indicated below.

--Jeff Weintraub
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 10, 2006

CONTACT: Richard L. Benkin, Ph.D.; 847-922-6426;

Journalist’s Death Penalty Trial Begins Monday

Available for Interviews

DHAKA: Bangladesh—Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the editor of the “Weekly Blitz” and practicing Muslim, goes on trial for his life on Monday, November 13, on counts of sedition, treason and blasphemy. Since 2003, he has been beaten, tortured and imprisoned for his work in fostering peace and opposing radical Islamists in his country.

In an election night phone call Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) promised Choudhury that he would continue fighting for the journalist in the new Congress. Of late, Kirk has been joined by a bi-partisan group of Senators and House Members, and he intimated to Choudhury that he will propose specific action when Congress re-convenes. Kirk was instrumental in forcing the Bangladesh government to free Choudhury from prison in 2005.

Since 2003, the Bangladesh government and Islamist radicals have targeted Choudhury and his family. After seventeen months of imprisonment and “interrogation,” Choudhury was freed in April 2005 due to the efforts of Chicago-area resident, Richard Benkin and Rep. Mark Kirk. Since then, he has continued publishing his paper despite government blocks on advertisement and other forms of harassment.

Radicals have issued several death threats against him and in July, they bombed his newspaper. On October 6, 2006, a large group of Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Bahai, and Muslims spent all night with Choudhury to protect him from radicals who threatened “dire consequences” for his actions. Shortly after that, Choudhury went into hiding after a tip alerted him to impending police and radical moves against him.

For further information or an interview with Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury contact Richard Benkin above.

Interview with Salah Choudhury (New York Sun)

The New York Sun has just published a telephone interview with the Bangladeshi journalist Salah Choudhury.

[For some further background information, see
·Freedom of the press under attack - Bangladeshi journalist Salah Choudhury faces the death penalty
·Muslim moderate journalist Salah Choudhury faces death (Ami Isseroff)
·Good news & bad news from Bangladesh - Mohammad Yunus & Salah Choudhury
· Eric Alterman - "And how about a little noise about Salah Choudhury?"
· "Two faces of persecution" - Salah Choudhury & Maher Arar (Terry Glavin).]

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN and others have urged everyone concerned with protecting freedom of expression to take action on his behalf. For some information on how to do so, see here & here & here.

--Jeff Weintraub
New York Sun
November 10, 2006
An Interview with With Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury: Will America Act to Save One Courageous Man's Life?

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is remarkably calm for someone facing death. I sat for a few minutes in a state of near shock after our conversation earlier today ended with him politely thanking me for my time and telling me that "I hope that people in the world will stand with us against radical Islamists. We can be free together and secure the world for future generations." He spoke from Dhaka, Bangladesh, where on Monday he goes on trial for his life on counts of sedition, treason, and blasphemy.

Mr. Choudhury, a Bangladeshi journalist, is accused, he told us, of "praising Jews and Christians," "spying for Israel," and being "an agent of the Mossad" -- because he advocated relations between Israel and Bangladesh. He's also accused of being critical of Islamic radicals, which is considered blasphemy. He committed these crimes by writing articles favorable toward Jews and Christians.

He did so, he says, because while he was born and raised in a Muslim country (Bangladesh) where he was taught a "religion of hatred" and a "religion of Jihad," his father "told from an early age not to listen and to learn for himself." He did and became friends with Jews, realized the lies he had been taught, and wanted to end "the culture of hatred." He says that if "Muslim countries want peace they need relations with Israel."

Mr. Choudhury says he holds no hope of getting a fair trial. The judge, he says, is a radical Islamist who has already made clear his view that Mr. Choudhury is guilty. "In open court ... he made comments that by praising Christians and Jews I have hurt the sentiment of Muslims ... which is a crime," the journalist says. Other comments made by the Judge have made it clear, Mr. Choudhury tells me, that the judge's goal is a conviction and a death sentence. Mr. Choudhury describes his judge as a "one man judge and jury," and Mr. Choudhury cannot even present witnesses in his own defense.

Why hasn't Mr. Choudhury fled Bangladesh despite having had the opportunity? Because, he says, "if I leave I will be proved to be a coward ... I want to fight the matter to the last." Many of Mr. Choudhury's colleagues have fled the country, but Mr. Choudhury, a practicing Muslim, wants to live free in his own country and beat the case set against him. "There is no pride, no honor, and no dignity in retreating," he says.

Mr. Choudhury's pre-trial run hasn't been easy. He spent 17 months between 2003 and 2005 in prison without trial. Just this year he's been attacked twice. In July, his office was bombed and in October he was assailed in person. Both times the police did nothing. But he has received support from some quarters of Bangladeshi society. The "Bangladeshi lawyers minority association" has been especially supportive. He said there are "many good Muslims who are silently expressing solidarity" but they fear repercussions from the radicals.

Richard L. Benkin is a Chicago-based analyst who introduced us to Mr. Choudhury. Mr. Benkin's friendship with Mr. Choudhury began in 2003, before Mr. Choudhury's ordeal started. Mr. Benkin says Mr. Choudhury wrote him an e-mail in response to some online articles he'd written about Israel "which essentially said 'my country gets biased and incomplete information about Jews and Israel' I know there is more, can you help?'" Mr. Benkin recalls.

Mr. Benkin decided that to "such a cry for help there is only one response." After Mr. Choudhury was arrested in 2003, Mr. Choudhury's younger brother called Mr. Benkin to ask if he could help. Mr. Benkin says that moment changed his life, as Mr. Choudhury's case became what Mr. Benkin describes as his "obsession." "We're talking abut a man's life and a courageous individual standing up for what is right."

Mr. Choudhury's case may be relatively unfamiliar to most Americans, aside from a recent column by Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal. But Mr. Choudhury does have some American allies. Mr. Benkin reports that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) has been "fantastic." Mr. Kirk demanded a meeting with the Bangladeshi ambassador to America in 2005 and three weeks later Mr. Choudhury was freed-- after his 17 months in jail without trial. The ambassador admitted to them, Mr. Benkin says, that the charges were false. The Bangladeshi government promised the charges would be dropped, but they never were. The government feared, Mr. Benkin says, the reaction of radical Islamists who were coalition partners.

There is hope, Mr. Benkin says, if America takes action. While the trial is prejudged and Mr. Choudhury will be given a death sentence, the president of the country can drop the charges if the national interest is at stake. And here's where America comes in. America gives Bangladesh $63 million a year. The American people and government might begin to question what we're getting for our investment.

If the threat of reconsideration of that aid allotment isn't enough, 70% of Bangladeshi garment exports are to America. The economy is totally dependent on the garment industry. If America threatens to block Bangladeshi imports and switch, say, to Indian products unless Mr. Choudhury is freed, that could have quite an effect, Mr. Benkin suggests.

At several points during the conversation with Mr. Choudhury the phone got cut off and we had to switch numbers. Mr. Benkin warned that the Bangladeshi government was probably listening. When I asked Mr. Choudhury if he was worried, he replied, "maybe someone is listening but it doesn't matter."

And that, in a sense, sums up Mr. Choudhury. Why he printed articles knowing the likely anger it would provoke, why he hasn't fled Bangladesh, why he can stare death in the eye and not be concerned that he may be killed, and why he didn't care what the government heard him say. It's because when you're fighting for the truth and justice, nothing else matters.

When asked what the free world can do to help him, Mr. Choudhury replies, "The more international voices" protesting the case, the better. "We can fight together and we will win." Mr. Choudhury is a man in the mold of such heroes of freedom as Vaclac Havel and Lech Walesa.

The question for the American government and people is, will we stand up for him?
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Journalist, Columnist, Author & Peace Activist
PENUSA Freedom to Write Award 2005, AJC Moral Courage Award 2006
Editor & Publisher, Weekly Blitz
Chief Editor, Weekly Jamjamat
Web: Web:

What Democrats should do now on foreign policy (Suzanne Nossel)

Brad DeLong usefully re-posts a piece that Suzanne Nossel wrote on the eve of the elections and adds an enthusiastic comment: "Suzanne Nossel is a goddess!"

I wouldn't go quite that far, but I agree that her recommendations in this piece are very sound and intelligent, and the Democrats would be well advised to pay attention to them. I agree pretty strongly with all of them (though some people might interpret point #2 a little differently from the way I would--for example, French & Russian collusion with the Iraqi Ba'ath regime from 1991-2003 immediately springs to my mind--but that's secondary).

Details aside, I would particularly applaud points #3 (Don't Expect an Easy Out From Iraq), #4 (Be Honest with the American Public), and #5 with all its sub-points. Taken together, Nossel's recommendations still don't lay out a set of concrete policies, but the kind of orientation she outlines here is an essential starting-point.

I would only add one more comment. The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld gang bear a very heavy responsibility for getting us and the Iraqis into a mess through the spectacularly incompetent and almost criminally irresponsible way that they conducted the war and, especially, the post-Saddam occupation & reconstruction of Iraq. They deserved to be held accountable for this, and American voters did finally hold them accountable (a bit late, but better late than never). But punishing them is one thing, and punishing the Iraqis is another. It's important to keep the difference in mind.

--Jeff Weintraub
Democracy Arsenal
November 6, 2006
We Win: Then What?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Whether progressives triumph in one or two houses of Congress tomorrow, they will immediately face tough questions about what to do next on the thorny foreign policy questions that have dominated the campaign. Here are ten quick pieces of advice:

1. Don't Overstate the Influence of Congress Over Foreign Policy Making - Foreign policy is the responsibility of the executive branch. Even in the majority, progressives will not be at the helm and shouldn't pretend to be. Particularly given the hard-headedness of this administration (Dick Cheney's "full steam ahead" comment on Iraq yesterday epitomizes it) progressives should not pretend to enjoy more sway than they do. For example, there's been lots of talk of a regional conference to activate Iraq's neighbors on behalf of stability. That will be tough to make work, but especially so for an Administration that still won't admit what's gone wrong.

2. Don't Let Anyone Forget How We Got Here - The reason the American public is contemplating switching horses absent what many pundits thought was essential to progressive victory: namely, a consensus plan for Iraq, is that they have come to blame the Administration for creating an insoluble crisis. Iraq will get likely get worse before it gets better, and a changeover on Capital Hill cannot undo most of the mistakes already made. We need a bipartisan approach to digging out from the crisis, but should not lose sight of who got us into it.

3. Don't Expect an Easy Out From Iraq - Lots of progressives have been speaking as though some tough talk to the al-Maliki government in Iraq will get it to step up to the plate, get security under control, and allow us to exit without a complete meltdown into sectarian violence. While I don't pretend to know to what degree the Iraqi government's failings are attributable to lack of will versus lack of competence, it seems certain that regardless, the problem will not be solved. While it may make good campaign rhetoric, its not plausible that the government is willfully allowing their country to devolve into chaos but, with the right stern words, will suddenly reverse course and get things under control. Short of that all scenarios are pretty bleak.

4. Be Honest with the American Public - Half-truths got us into Iraq, but they won't get us out. With greater control in the Congress, progressives will have the authority to unpack the Administration's statements and claims and let the public in on the truth about how the war effort is going, what the likely consequences of withdrawal will be, and what needs to be done to mitigate them.

5. Look for a Handful of Tangible Ways to Push Policy in the Right Direction - Rather than trying to pull off a miracle in Iraq, progressives should focus on preventing the White House from digging us deeper into the whole, and on some tangible steps to address the worst of the policy lapses. A few specifics:

5.a Lead on Afghanistan - Rapid deterioration in political and security conditions in Afghanistan is a disaster in the making, yet out-and-out crisis is still preventable. The NATO Commander in Chief is begging for more help training troops and police and building up civil society. The Administration has not had the bandwidth for Afghanistan to be more than an afterthought, but progressives in Congress could change this.

5.b Take a Hard-Line on Corruption and Waste in Iraq and Elsewhere - Friday's headline that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction was being shunted from office is the latest evidence of the Administration's utter disregard for the rights of taxpayers who are funding the Iraq War, and its compulsion to protect defense contractors and lax Pentagon overseers.

5.c Support the Troops - Overblown though it was, Senator Kerry's accidental insult to the troops serving in Iraq had an undercurrent of truth to it: our military is manned disproportionately by Americans who enjoy less means and fewer educational opportunities. There have been numerous proposals to limit the burdens of extended deployment, reinvigorate the GI bill and improve benefits for veterans.

5.d Talk Directly to the Military - Our men and women in uniform are taking brave steps to make themselves heard in the Iraq debate. They are the best source of information about what's gone wrong and whether and how it can be fixed. Their support will be essential to the success of any progressive attempts at course correction. Building up these ties will also pay political dividends in the long-term.

5.e Iraq Damage Control - Regardless of when America's pull-out from Iraq begins, the central challenge going forward will be to minimize the inevitable chaos that reins now and will prevail in our wake. By expediting priority reconstruction projects, pushing for a political settlement to govern Iraqi oil revenues, and advocating greater engagement by Iraq's neighbors in the stabilization process, progressives can pave the way for a smoother withdrawal, regardless of whose watch it happens on.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

87% of Jews vote Democratic (YNet)

The fact that a majority of American Jews voted Democratic in the 2006 elections is not surprising news, but it appears that the proportions were even more lopsided than usual.
American Jews expressed flagrant support for Democratic candidates for Congress, contributing to a turnaround in the House of Representatives. According to a CNN sampling of voters, 87 percent of Jewish voters voted Democrat.
This was the highest percentage of support for Democrats since the Republicans took over Congress in 1994.
So maybe there's something to this rumor about our being smart?

Two points in the report below especially struck me.
Additionally, the number of Jews in Congress is expected to increase: Bernie Sanders (Independent [& self-described democratic socialist --JW]) from Vermont and Ben Cardin (Democrat) from Maryland will raise the number of Jewish Senators from 11 to 13 out of 100 - in a nation where Jews comprise only 5 million of the 300 million person population [i.e., 1.7%].
There are some 25 Jewish representatives in the House of Representatives [5.7%], several of whom are expected to chair important House committees in the future.
No, contrary to widespread belief in some parts of the world, this doesn't mean that we run the US. But it's one more indication that we're living through one of the real Golden Ages of Jewish history here.

An "elections expert" is quoted explaining that Jewish voters were influenced by a variety of concerns and concerns, and were not single-mindedly focused, for example, on Israel. However, the key part of the relevant sentence is really the opening clause:
Jews didn't vote for anti-Israeli candidates [....]
I know this infuriates a lot of people, too. Well, as Nasser used to say about the US in his speeches, may they choke on their fury.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

[P.S. 11/10/2006: All estimates of the number of American Jews are approximations, since the Census has never asked about this kind of information. I wondered whether the figure of 5 million cited in the article below was too low, and I gather from Charles Kadushin, whose expertise in such matters is greater than mine, that the correct figure is indeed more like 6 million, or about 2% of the population. I am reassured to know we're not shrinking as quickly as some might think.]
YNet News
November 8, 2006
87 percent of Jews vote Democrat

Democratic Party wins largest percentage of Jewish support since 1994. Elections expert: Jews voted for candidates good for Israel, but also focused on other issues

Yitzhak Benhorin

American Jews expressed flagrant support for Democratic candidates for Congress, contributing to a turnaround in the House of Representatives. According to a CNN sampling of voters, 87 percent of Jewish voters voted Democrat.

This was the highest percentage of support for Democrats since the Republicans took over Congress in 1994.

The Republican Party tried to frighten Jewish voters during the election campaign, primarily with their ads in Jewish newspapers, but no one was buying.

In this election, Jews voted for candidates they thought would be good for Israel, but not necessarily the ones who would be the best for Israel, said Steve Rabinowitz, an elections expert who served in the White House during the Clinton era.

Jews didn't vote for anti-Israeli candidates, but also didn't ignore other issues important to them: the war in Iraq, the economy, immigration, the environment and abortion, he explained.

One of the Democrats' biggest assets was Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago-born son of former Israelis, who chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign.

Emanuel, who served as a Clinton political advisor in Washington, endorsed conservative candidates for conservative states such as Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky and, thus, succeeded in achieving a political upset in traditionally Republican areas.Additionally, the number of Jews in Congress is expected to increase: Bernie Sanders (Independent) from Vermont and Ben Cardin (Democrat) from Maryland will raise the number of Jewish Senators from 11 to 13 out of 100 - in a nation where Jews comprise only 5 million of the 300 million person population.

There are some 25 Jewish representatives in the House of Representatives, several of whom are expected to chair important House committees in the future.

Election 2006 - That's the ball game!

George Allen conceded defeat in the Virginia Senate race. That makes it official--the Republicans have lost control of both Houses of of Congress. (For the overall picture, Talking Points Memo has a roundup here.)

For good measure, the Democrats now control a majority of governorships and made major gains in state legislatures across the country (see here)--which, among other things, has implications for the next round of national elections, future legislative redistricting, and so on.

=> What slogan best captures this moment? On Tuesday night, as it began to look possible that the Republicans would lose the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, Mark Kleiman (of The Reality-Based Community) wondered whether "Happy days are here again?" On Wednesday, when Webb's victory in the Virginia Senate race was unofficially confirmed, Mark decided that "Happy days ARE here again".

Well, I'm happy--very, very happy, considering the possible alternatives. But, alas, a reality-based view has to temper euphoria with sobriety. As I'm sure Mark realizes quite well, looking forward to "happy days" any time soon is pushing it a bit. It would also be too optimistic to declare, in the words of the old Reagan campaign slogan, that "It's morning again in America" Not by a long shot.

Still, I can't help being reminded of a remark by another Republican President, Gerald Ford, when he took the oath of office in 1974 after Nixon's resignation: "My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over." Well, not quite, but at least we're beginning to wake up, and that's a start. There's gong to be a hell of a hangover, though.

=> One piece of information I would like to see is the overall balance of popular-vote totals for the two parties (and affiliated independent candidates in the Congressional elections. Obviously, these never translate directly into specific numbers of House and Senate seats, and the Republicans could hypthetically have held onto both Houses even in the face of Democratic popular-vote majorities. But to the extent that these elections added up to an overall national referendum on the Bush-Republican ascendancy--and to a great extent, that's what it was--these overall totals can help to illuminate the popular mood.

Today's New York Times published a set of preliminary estimates based on exit polls. Polls always have to be taken with a grain of salt, these figures are worth considering. They show an overall 54-46% Democratic majority--which, in most US elections, would be considered a very decisive margin. The Democrats carried majorities of both men and women, though with a gender gap of 4 percentage points; majorities at every age level, with an especially high proportion of young voters; and majorities at every income level except for families making more than $100,000.

Racial, religious, and regional breakdowns are more complex. (I notice, for example, that the Democrats seem to have carried every region except the South.) But overall these figures confirm the impression that these elections added up to a genuine Democratic sweep--or, if you prefer to emphasize the other side of the coin, a sweeping rejection of the Republicans.

Survey of Voters: Who They Were

This is a great outcome, and an essential first step toward repairing the accumulated damage of the past 6 years and starting to address our deeper national problems (which are considerable). So a bit of celebration is in order. But then we have to see what happens next.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The socialist Senator from Vermont

To the best of my knowledge, only two members of the US Socialist Party were ever elected to Congress, Victor Berger from Wisconsin and Meyer London from New York City's Lower East Side. I wouldn't be surprised if they also turned out to be the last. That era seems to have passed.

On the other hand, since 1990 Vermont's single Congressman has been a self-described democratic socialist who has repeatedly won election running as in independent (though he caucuses with the Democrats), Bernie Sanders. This year Sanders decided to leave the House of Representatives and run for the Senate
The 65-year-old known to voters simply as "Bernie" is Vermont's lone congressman, a six-term independent with a photo of Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party presidential candidate in 1912, on his congressional wall. He's perhaps the most popular pol in the state and there's nothing northern New England about him. Sanders was born in Brooklyn, raised by Jewish parents from Poland. His father's family perished in the Holocaust. He chews on each syllable in an accent as Flatbush-inflected as the day he wandered north four decades ago.

"Look," Sanders says, "you can't be afraid of the people [pronounced: pee-PULL]. A lot of progressives sit around their homes and worry about being labeled or how to talk to people. I go out, I knock on doors, and I talk about economic justice and the oligarchy and what's fair, and more people than you might guess listen to me.

"I find that absolutely encouraging."

Vermont's Democrats offered Sanders a ballot slot. No way. He runs as an independent. (The Democrats didn't put up a candidate against him.)
As Gene from Harry's Place pointed out in an a report he posted on Monday (see below):
Regardless of which party ends up controlling which houses of Congress in Tuesday's voting here in the US, one milestone almost certainly will be the election of the first self-described socialist Senator in American history.
And on Tuesday Sanders won (with about 65% of the vote).

Like Gene, I don't agree with Sanders on every issue, but usually he's right, and there's no question that he's an exceptionally admirable public figure. If his overall political perspective had greater weight in American politics, we would all be better off. And as Gene also points out, Sanders has accumulated a lot of the right enemies.
Most satisfying, Sanders has incurred the wrath not just of the usual gang on the Right, but also of hard-leftists at Counterpunch and members of his former party, who who accuse him of betrayal.
So I will second Gene in saying "Well done, Bernie."

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Incidentally, as I'm sure some readers noticed already, all three of these socialist members of Congress have been Jewish. I take this as a cause for ethnic pride.
Gene (at Harry's Place)
November 6, 2006
The socialist Senator from Vermont

Regardless of which party ends up controlling which houses of Congress in Tuesday's voting here in the US, one milestone almost certainly will be the election of the first self-described socialist Senator in American history.

That would be Bernie Sanders of Vermont. It helps that Sanders's Republican opponent is a billionaire who drives a $158,000 Bentley, that he has no Democratic opponent and that Vermont is not, say, South Carolina or Oklahoma. (Although Vermonters are sometimes ridiculed as elitist liberals, it's worth noting that the state has had the second-highest National Guard mobilization rate of any state in the country, and has lost more soldiers in Iraq as a percentage of its population than any other state. Stereotype that.)

But most of all, Sanders will win because he has established a solid record on behalf of ordinary, non-socialist Vermonters.

bernie sanders.jpg

The 65-year-old known to voters simply as "Bernie" is Vermont's lone congressman, a six-term independent with a photo of Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party presidential candidate in 1912, on his congressional wall. He's perhaps the most popular pol in the state and there's nothing northern New England about him. Sanders was born in Brooklyn, raised by Jewish parents from Poland. His father's family perished in the Holocaust. He chews on each syllable in an accent as Flatbush-inflected as the day he wandered north four decades ago.

"Look," Sanders says, "you can't be afraid of the people [pronounced: pee-PULL]. A lot of progressives sit around their homes and worry about being labeled or how to talk to people. I go out, I knock on doors, and I talk about economic justice and the oligarchy and what's fair, and more people than you might guess listen to me.

I'm sure I could find several things on which to disagree with Sanders, particularly in the area of foreign policy. He opposed the invasion of Iraq and wants to set a deadline for withdrawing US troops. And I hope a deal he cut with Hugo Chavez to provide discounted heating oil to low-income Vermonters doesn't mean the Venezuelan leader is off-limits to criticism from him. (It's hard to criticize the deal itself, especially since our own government has done so little to provide affordable heating oil.)

On the other hand, Sanders is no Galloway clone. He voted to authorize military action against the Milosevic regime in 1999 and against the Taliban in 2001. And he supported Israel's right to self-defense in last summer's war against Hezbollah.

Most satisfying, Sanders has incurred the wrath not just of the usual gang on the Right, but also of hard-leftists at Counterpunch and members of his former party, who accuse him of betrayal. Well done, Bernie.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Freedom of the press under attack - The murder of Anna Politkovskaya

I've recently posted some items dealing with attacks on freedom of expression in Bangladesh (Freedom of the press under attack - Bangladeshi journalist Salah Choudhury faces the death penalty) and elsewhere (Freedom of expression under attack - Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Jeff Jarvis, & Piet Dorsman). Campaigns of repression and intimidation by governments, terrorists, and/or criminals--including high-profile murders of journalists and political activists--in places ranging from Zimbabwe to Colombia to the Middle East are well known. This is a dismayingly widespread problem, not a localized one.

Another part of the world where freedom of expression is under assault is in much of the former Soviet Union. The pattern is uneven. My impression is that the situation for freedom of the press and freedom of expression more generally is not bad in the Baltic countries and has improved in Ukraine since the 2005 Orange Revolution. But varying degrees of authoritarian repression have long been pervasive in countries like Belarus and most of the Central Asian republics. And in Russia, where a vigorous culture of independent journalism emerged with the withering-away of the Soviet regime, it is now under increasingly harsh and effective pressure. In general, this campaign to smother and suppress independent journalism seems to rely mostly on co-optation, marginalization, and economic strangulation. But a certain amount of violence is involved, too.

One of the most startling examples of this creeping repression was the murder of the prominent investigative journalist Anna Polikovskaya on October 7, 2006. Politskaya seems to have been one of those classically 'difficult' and unbendingly principled types that the Russian intelligentsia has regularly produced over the past two centuries. Her assassination generated international attention, alarm, and condemnation precisely because it has to be seen, not simply as an isolated incident, but as an especially striking symptom of a larger danger. A great deal has now been written about it (including this statement from US PEN), but among the pieces I have encountered, I think her obituary from the Economist and the BBC story that follows it stand out..

--Jeff Weintraub

The Economist
October 12, 2006
Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist, was shot dead on October 7th, aged 48

She was brave beyond belief, reporting a gruesome war and a creeping dictatorship with a sharp pen and steel nerves. It may be a chilling coincidence that Anna Politkovskaya was murdered on Vladimir Putin's birthday, but her friends and supporters are in little doubt that her dogged, gloomy reporting of the sinister turn Russia has taken under what she called his “bloody” leadership was what led to her body being dumped in the lift of her Moscow apartment block.

Miss Politkovskaya's journalism was distinctive. Not for her the waffly, fawning and self-satisfied essays of the Moscow commentariat, nor the pervasive well-paid advertorials. Austere and a touch obsessive, she reported from the wrecked villages and shattered towns of Chechnya, talking to those on all sides and none, with endless patience and gritty determination.

She neither sentimentalised the Chechen rebels nor demonised the Russian conscripts—ill-armed, ill-fed and ill-led—who have crushed the Chechens' half-baked independence. She talked to soldiers' mothers trying to find their sons' corpses in military morgues where mangled bodies lay unnamed and unclaimed—the result of the Russian army's unique mixture of callousness and incompetence. And she talked to Chechens whose friends and relatives had disappeared into the notorious “filtration camps” to suffer torture, mutilation, rape and death.

Few journalists, from any country, did that. The second Chechen war, which started in 1999 and still fizzles on now, made that mountainous sliver of territory in the northern Caucasus the most dangerous place on the planet for a journalist. Most Moscow-based reporters went seldom, if at all, and then only in daylight and well-guarded. Ms Politkovskaya was unfazed, making around 50 trips there, often for days at a time.

Ordinary Chechens, and many Russians, adored her. Piles of post and incessant phone calls came, some offering information, more often wanting her help. Could she intercede with a kidnapper? Trace a loved one? She always tried, she said, to do what she could.

She loathed the warlords who had misruled Chechnya during its brief spells of semi-independence; the Islamic extremists who exploited the conflict; the Russian goons and generals, and their local collaborators. She despised the Chechen leaders installed by Russia: they looted reconstruction money, she said, using torture and kidnapping as a weapon. She was due to file a story on this the day she died.

The worst effect of the Chechen wars, she reckoned, was on Russia itself. Her reporting from all over her native country made her see it in what many regarded as an unfairly bleak light. Mr Putin's regime was utterly brutal and corrupt, she would say in her soft, matter-of-fact voice. He represented the worst demons of the Soviet past, revived in modern form. Hundreds had died to bring him to power, and that was just a foretaste of the fascism and war that was to come. Now her pessimism seems less extreme.

A duty to tell

Mr Putin, condemning her murder four days late, said she had “minimal influence”. Yet Miss Politkovskaya was often threatened with death. Once Russian special forces held her captive and threatened to leave her dead body in a ditch. She talked them out of it. In 2001, she fled briefly to Austria after a particularly vivid death threat scared not her, but her editors at Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia's few remaining independent papers. In 2004, on her way to the siege of a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan, where she hoped to mediate between the Chechen hostage-takers and the Russian army, she was poisoned and nearly died.

This time there was no mistake. She was shot in the body and the head. A pistol was left by her side—the blatant hallmark of a contract killing. She was well aware that the authorities might have her murdered, but in conversation she would brush this aside, saying that her sources were in much more danger than she was. Journalists had a duty to report on the subject that mattered, she said, just as singers had to sing and doctors had to heal.

Much of her life mirrored the changes in her country. She was born in New York, the child of Soviet diplomats. That gilded upbringing gave her access to a world of ideas and knowledge denied to most Soviet citizens. Her university dissertation was on Marina Tsvetaeva, a poet then in deep official disfavour. She had good jobs too, first on Izvestia, the government paper, then on Aeroflot's in-flight magazine.

Having discovered democracy and the free press as Soviet power collapsed, her faith was uncompromising and sometimes uncomfortable. Nor was she always easy company. A fondness for both sweeping statements and intricate details sometimes made conversation heavy-going. She was both disorganised and single-minded; that could be unnerving, too. But she enjoyed life. She often said that with a KGB officer as president, the least you could do was to smile sometimes, to show the difference between him and you.

It would be nice to think that Russians will find her example inspiring. Sadly, they may conclude that brave work on hot topics is a bad idea.

BBC News
Saturday, 7 October 2006
Chechen war reporter found dead
Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent Russian journalist known as a fierce critic of the Kremlin's actions in Chechnya, has been found dead in Moscow.

The 48-year-old mother of two was found shot dead in a lift at her apartment block in the capital.

A pistol and four bullets were found near her body and a murder investigation has been launched.

Ms Politkovskaya's murder has all the hallmarks of a contract killing, says the BBC's Emma Simpson in Moscow.

The award-winning journalist became ill with food poisoning on her way to report on the Beslan school siege in 2004, which some believed to be an attempt on her life.

'Brave defender'

Ms Politkovskaya, who worked for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was known for exposing rights abuses by Russian troops in Chechnya.

She also acted as a negotiator with the Chechen rebels who held a siege in a Moscow theatre in 2002.

The head of Russia's journalism union described her as the conscience of the country's journalism.

She was one of the few remaining high-profile, independent journalists in Russia - and her death will cause widespread anger and shock, says our Moscow correspondent.

"Russia has lost a brave and dedicated human rights defender," said Nicola Duckworth from the rights group Amnesty International.

Ms Politkovskaya "spoke out fearlessly against violence and injustice, and campaigned tirelessly to see justice done".

Amnesty International has called for a thorough investigation into the killing but Russian political analyst Anna Zelkina is doubtful there will be results.

"There is this series of politically motivated murders like hers," she told the BBC.

"I'm afraid that there will be less and less people who would be taking the risk to report... [she's] a very difficult person to replace."

'Honest journalism'

Ms Politkovskaya was killed at around 1630 local time (1330 GMT), Dmitry Muratov, editor in chief of the Novaya Gazeta said.
Sept 2006 - first deputy chairman of Russia's central bank Andrei Kozlov shot dead in Moscow
Oct 2005 - former bank head Alexander Slesarev gunned down near Moscow
July 2004 - US editor of Forbes' Russian edition Paul Klebnikov shot dead in Moscow
Oct 2002 - Magadan governor Valentin Tsvetkov killed in Moscow
Nov 1998 - liberal MP Galina Starovoitova killed in St Petersburg
March 1995 - leading journalist Vladislav Listyev shot dead in Moscow
Vitaly Yaroshevsky, deputy editor of the newspaper, believes she was killed because of her work.

"The first thing that comes to mind is that Anna was killed for her professional activities. We don't see any other motive for this terrible crime," he told the Reuters news agency.

Moscow deputy prosecutor Vyacheslav Rosinsky has said investigators are considering the link between the journalist's death and her work.

"We think that one of the leads of Politkovskaya's intentional homicide is her public duty," he told Russian agency Itar-Tass.

Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based Centre for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said Ms Politkovskaya had frequently received threats.

"There are journalists who have this fate hanging over them. I always thought something would happen to Anya, first of all because of Chechnya," he told the Associated Press news agency.

"Whenever the question arose whether there is honest journalism in Russia, almost every time the first name that came to mind was Politkovskaya," he added.

In 2001, she fled to Vienna, Austria, after receiving e-mail threats claiming a Russian police officer she had accused of committing atrocities against civilians wanted to take his revenge.

In an interview two years ago with the BBC, Ms Politkovskaya said she believed it was her duty to continue reporting, despite receiving such death threats.

"I am absolutely sure that risk is [a] usual part of my job; job of [a] Russian journalist, and I cannot stop because it's my duty," she said.

"I think the duty of doctors is to give health to their patients, the duty of the singer to sing. The duty of [the] journalist [is] to write what this journalist sees in the reality. It's only one duty."

Election Day 2006

The day of the mid-term elections has finally arrived. The outcome appears genuinely unpredictable.

Speaking as a thorough non-expert in such matters, I still find the prognosis offered by Paul Krugman back in mid-October convincing and anxiety-provoking. Political polls have consistently been showing significant Democratic majorities in the nation-wide popular vote, but given the Republicans' built-in advantages, they might still be able to hold on to the House by the skin of their teeth, even in the face of this Democratic tide. The Democratic tidal wave would have to clear a formidable flood wall to have a real effect, and it might not quite manage do it. However, if the Democrats do manage to clear that flood wall even slightly, then there is a good chance that they could win a big House majority, not a small one.

=> Some polls and analysts now point to an electoral rout for the Republicans, with the Democrats taking solid control of the House and perhaps even retaking the Senate. A good example is the assessment by the generally judicious Stuart Rothenberg: "Expect a big night for Democrats" (See also 2006 House Ratings & 2006 Senate Ratings) Some highlights:
With only a few hours remaining until the votes start being counted, there is little uncertainty about the fight for the House, except for questions about exactly which Republican incumbents will be lucky enough to survive. [....]

Republican chances for retaining the House have moved from small to smaller, and public and private polling now suggests a solid Democratic win. The majority’s losses this year will be lower than during the wave elections of 1958, 1974 and 1994, but only because of structural factors: The way districts have been drawn and the relatively small number of Republicans holding Democratic districts effectively minimize potential Democratic gains.

Having said that, this fight still is taking place almost entirely on Republican turf. [....] Most GOP insiders would be ecstatic if the party held its losses to two dozen or less.

Democratic gains of anywhere from 25 to as many as 40 seats are possible. Last week, I went on record saying I expected a Democratic gain of 34 to 40 seats as the most likely range. That now strikes me as a bit high, but only at the low end. So, I am adjusting my House estimate/projection slightly, to a Democratic gain of 30 to 36 seats.

Of course, even more GOP seats could fall if all of the endangered Republicans lose and we see more than a couple of surprises.

The House results are likely to wipe out many moderate Republicans, who are taking the brunt of the wave because they represent Democratic-leaning or competitive districts.

Over in the Senate, things remain far less clear. While I have been widely credited with predicting a six-seat Democrat gain (and therefore control of the Senate), what I’ve written is that Democrats will net five to seven seats. I’d now like to widen that range to four to seven seats. [....] The outcome in the Senate remains cloudy, no matter how much I would like to be able to predict party control. I expect Democrats to gain at least four seats, and I’m more than a bit skeptical about the Republican “surge.”
Similarly, the noted pollster & election handicapper Charlie Cook saw indications of a "tidal wave election" coming up, and more recent analyses from the The Cook Political Report claim that "There is No Ebb in the Wave".

=> On the other hand, some other recent polls have shown some tightening-up in important races and and a significant erosion of the Democrats' overall advantage among likely voters. As Walter Shapiro summed it up on Monday in Salon ("Can the Democrats Stay Afloat?"):
Just when partisan Democrats were finally allowing themselves to revel in the expectation that they would sweep the House and maybe win the six seats needed for control of the Senate, two national polls released Sunday seemed to sound the first ominous notes from the theme music from "Jaws."

Both polls showed the gap between Democrats and Republicans dramatically narrowing when likely voters were asked which party they intended to support for Congress. The Washington Post-ABC News poll had the Democrats leading by a 51-to-45-percent margin on the generic ballot question. A new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press had the Democrats ahead among likely voters by 47 to 43 percent. Two weeks ago the margin was 50 to 39 percent. And both surveys put George W. Bush's approval rating above 40 percent, a rare high-water mark for the beleaguered president.

"The narrowing of the Democratic lead raises questions about whether the party will win a large enough share of the popular vote to recapture control of the House of Representatives," the Pew Research Center stated in releasing the poll. Because the Democratic vote is clustered in many one-sided inner-city congressional districts, analysts believe that the Democrats need a 5- or 6-point spread on the generic ballot to translate that margin into the 15-seat pickup that would make Nancy Pelosi speaker.

What is going on here?

A lot of the difference in these polling analyses seems to turn on the question of how many of those people who tell the pollsters they are "likely voters" will actually get out and vote today. Some of them will predictably fail to do so, but the question is how many--and whether the Republicans, in the end, will be able to turn out their voters more effectively than the Democrats.

=> So if any American citizens reading this haven't voted yet, GO OUT AND VOTE RIGHT NOW!! What I said two weeks ago is worth saying again: Don't stop worrying yet! ... or, as Gerald McEntee aptly put it, "Let's Take the House Before We Measure the Drapes".

All elections are important, but this one is potentially crucial and historic. Whatever else any of us may want to see accomplished politically, a vital first step toward any kind of constructive change is to break the monolithic one-party monopoly of the national government that the Republican right has held during the Bush II administration. (I think this holds true, dear reader, even if you normally vote Republican.) Whether or not that happens depends on whether people who want to see it happen actually cast their votes.

(And then, whether or not the votes are accurately counted--but that's a topic for another discussion.)

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub

Friday, November 03, 2006

Freedom of expression under attack - Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Jeff Jarvis, & Piet Dorsman

Below is a roundup of some current threats ranging from censorship to violence, as well as some protests against them, usefully assembled by the journalist & blogger Jeff Jarvis (Colleagues in Peril). This is obviously a very partial survey, but it conveys a sense of the situation. Governments, terrorists, and criminals (not always easily distinguishable categories) all play roles in this story.

I was alerted to Jarvis's roundup by Piet Dorsman (at PeakTalk). As Dorsman reminds us, it has now been two years since the murder of the Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh, who was assassinated by an Islamist fanatic for making the film "Submission" in collaboration with the Somali-born Dutch feminist, secularist ex-Muslim, and then-Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali. For some of Dorsman's reflections on this affair, its significance, and its subsequent repercussions, see here & here & here.

--Jeff Weintraub
Jeff Jarvis (BuzzMachine)
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Colleagues in peril

* Amnesty International asks bloggers to show their support for freedom of speech and fellow bloggers who are denied it.
* Reporters Without Borders asks us to join a demonstration: “Everyone is invited to support this struggle by connecting to the Reporters Without Borders website ( between 11 a.m. (Paris time) on Tuesday, 7 November, and 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 November. Each click will help to change the “Internet Black Holes” map and help to combat censorship.”
* Chris Anderson of Columbia emails that his friend Will Bradley Roland was killed by paramilitaries in Mexico. Chris writes: “Brad was a friend and colleague of mine. He was a true citizen journalist. He did more than sit behind a laptop all day and pontificate about what he thought the news meant. He wasn’t an “official” member of any news organization, but he took his video camera and his notebook and traveled all over Latin America, providing passionate reporting about events and places few Americans knew (or cared) much about. In the past five years, he has committed more acts of journalism than many paid, “professional” journalists. He was killed today, as a journalist.”

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Clifford Geertz (1926-2006)

The anthropologist & polymath Clifford Geertz has died. This is the passing of a great scholar, theorist, and intellectual, whose direct and indirect influence on the ways that we think about culture, society, history, politics, and many other things has been enormous and valuable.

An obituary from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Geertz's home base, is below. I am sure that other appreciations will follow soon.

I suspect that I read some pieces by Geertz as far back as my undergraduate days, but without really getting the point. I had my first genuine intellectual encounter with Geertz as a graduate student in the 1970s when I read his landmark collection The Interpretation of Cultures (which included essays ranging from 1957 through 1973). It was a revelation to me, as it was to many other people. After I read it my understanding of the human world could never be quite the same, and over time its influence on me increased and deepened--the characteristic effect of a major work. During the next three decades I must have re-read every essay in that book many times, some of them more than a dozen times, and none of them has lost its intellectual excitement. But even then these essays captured only a part of Geertz's manifold interests (for example, a lot of people don't seem to know his brilliant 1963 study in socio-historical political economy, Agricultural Involution), and he continued to do important and insightful work up to the end. He was an inspiration, and he'll be missed.

--Jeff Weintraub

Update (November 3, 2006): Here is an early roundup of reactions by Ralph Luker at the History News Network:
With deep gratitude for his life and work, and in many languages, the history and anthropology blogosphere notes the passing of Clifford Geertz. See, for example: BobfromBrockley, Chiqueiro Chique, Concurring Opinions, Crooked Timber, Early Modern Notes, Historianess, Open University, RELatividad, Savage Minds, Tapera, They Shoot Poets -- Don't They, Jeff Weintraub and so many more.
And also this by Geoff Nunberg.
Institute for Advanced Study

PRINCETON, N.J., October 31, 2006 -- Clifford Geertz, an eminent scholar in the field of cultural anthropology known for his extensive research in Indonesia and Morocco, died at the age of 80 early yesterday morning of complications following heart surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Geertz was Professor Emeritus in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, where he has served on the Faculty since 1970. Dr. Geertz's appointment thirty-six years ago was significant not only for the distinguished leadership it would bring to the Institute, but also because it marked the initiation of the School of Social Science, which in 1973 formally became the fourth School at the Institute.

Dr. Geertz's landmark contributions to social and cultural theory have been influential not only among anthropologists, but also among geographers, ecologists, political scientists, humanists, and historians. He worked on religion, especially Islam; on bazaar trade; on economic development; on traditional political structures; and on village and family life. A prolific author since the 1950s, Dr. Geertz's many books include The Religion of Java (1960); Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (1968); The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (1973, 2000); Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali (1980); and The Politics of Culture, Asian Identities in a Splintered World (2002). At the time of his death, Dr. Geertz was working on the general question of ethnic diversity and its implications in the modern world.

Peter Goddard, Director of the Institute, said, "Clifford Geertz was one of the major intellectual figures of the twentieth century whose presence at the Institute played a crucial role in its development and in determining its present shape. He remained a vital force, contributing to the life of the Institute right up to his death. We have all lost a much loved friend."

"Cliff was the founder of the School of Social Science and its continuing inspiration," stated Joan Wallach Scott, Harold F. Linder Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute. "His influence on generations of scholars was powerful and lasting. He changed the direction of thinking in many fields by pointing to the importance and complexity of culture and the need for its interpretation. We will miss his critical intelligence, his great sense of irony, and his friendship."

Dr. Geertz's deeply reflective and eloquent writings often provided profound and cogent insights on the scope of culture, the nature of anthropology and on the understanding of the social sciences in general. Noting that human beings are "symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking animals," Geertz acknowledged and explored the innate desire of humanity to "make sense out of experience, to give it form and order." In Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988), Geertz stated, "The next necessary neither the construction of a universal Esperanto-like culture...nor the invention of some vast technology of human management. It is to enlarge the possibility of intelligible discourse between people quite different from one another in interest, outlook, wealth, and power, and yet contained in a world where tumbled as they are into endless connection, it is increasingly difficult to get out of each other's way."

Dr. Geertz was born in San Francisco, California, on August 23, 1926. After serving in the Navy from 1943 through 1945, he studied under the G.I. Bill at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he majored in English. His internship as a copyboy for The New York Post dissuaded him from becoming a newspaper man. "It was fun but it wasn't practical," he said in an interview with Gary A. Olson ("Clifford Geertz on Ethnography and Social Construction," 1991), so he switched to philosophy, partly because of the influence of philosophy professor George Geiger, "the greatest teacher I have known."

"I never had any undergraduate training in anthropology [Antioch didn't offer it at the time] and, indeed, very little social science outside of economics," Geertz told Olson. "Finally, one of my professors said, 'Why don't you think about anthropology?'"

After receiving his A.B. in philosophy in 1950, Geertz went on to study anthropology at Harvard University and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Social Relations in 1956. It was a heady time, according to Geertz. "Multi- (or 'inter-' or 'cross-') disciplinary work, team projects, and concern with the immediate problems of the contemporary world, were combined with boldness, inventiveness, and a sense that things were, finally and certainly, on the move."

Geertz recounted that he was exposed to a form of anthropology "then called, rather awkwardly, 'pattern theory' or configurationalism.' In this dispensation, stemming from work before and during the war by the comparative linguist Edward Sapir at Yale and the cultural holist Ruth Benedict at Columbia, it was the interrelation of elements, the gestalt they formed, not their particular atomistic character that was taken to be the heart of the matter."

At this point, Geertz became involved in a project spearheaded by cultural anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, who headed Harvard's Russian Research Center. Geertz was one of five anthropologists assigned to the Modjokuto Project in Indonesia, sponsored by the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and it was one of the earliest efforts to send a team of anthropologists to study large-scale societies with written histories, established governments, and composite cultures.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, anthropology was torn apart by questions about its colonial past and the possibility of objective knowledge in the human sciences. "For the next fifteen years or so," Geertz wrote, "proposals for new directions in anthropological theory and method appeared almost by the month, the one more clamorous than the next. I contributed to the merriment with 'interpretive anthropology,' an extension of my concern with the systems of meaning, beliefs, values, world views, forms of feeling, styles of thought, in terms of which particular peoples construct their existence."

Dr. Geertz began his academic career as a Research Assistant (1952-56) and a Research Associate (1957-58) in the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also served as an Instructor in Social Relations and as a Research Associate in Harvard University's Laboratory of Social Relations (1956-57). In 1958-59, he was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California.

From 1958 to 1960, he was Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, after which time he was Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago (1960-61), and was subsequently promoted to Associate Professor (1962), and then Professor (1964). He was later named Divisional Professor in the Social Sciences (1968-70). At Chicago, Dr. Geertz was a member of the Committee for the Comparative Study of New Nations (1962-70), its Executive Secretary (1964-66), and its Chairman (1968-70). Geertz was also a Senior Research Career Fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health from 1964 to 1970.

Consultant to the Ford Foundation on Social Sciences in Indonesia in 1971, he was Eastman Professor at Oxford University from 1978 to 1979, and held an appointment as Visiting Lecturer with Rank of Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University from 1975 to 2000.

In 1970, Geertz joined the permanent faculty of the School of Social Science at the Institute, and was named Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science in 1982. He transferred to emeritus status in 2000.

Dr. Geertz is the author and co-author of important volumes that have been translated into over twenty languages and is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and scholarly awards. He received the National Book Critics Circle Prize in Criticism in 1988 for Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author, and was also the recipient of the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize (1992) and the Bintang Jasa Utama (First Class Merit Star) of the Republic of Indonesia (2002). Over the years, he received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton universities, from Antioch, Swarthmore, and Williams colleges, and from the University of Cambridge, among other institutions.

He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy; and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Dr. Geertz was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books.

Dr. Geertz's fieldwork was concentrated in Java, Bali, Celebes, and Sumatra in Indonesia, as well as in Morocco. In May 2000, he was honored at "Cultures, Sociétiés, et Territoires: Hommage à Clifford Geertz," a conference held in Sefrou, Morocco, where he had conducted work for a decade. It was particularly gratifying, commented Geertz, because "Anthropologists are not always welcomed back to the site of their field studies."

Dr. Geertz is survived by his wife, Dr. Karen Blu, an anthropologist retired from the Department of Anthropology at New York University; his children, Erika Reading of Princeton, NJ, and Benjamin Geertz of Kirkland, WA; and his grandchildren, Andrea and Elena Martinez of Princeton, NJ. He is also survived by his former wife, Dr. Hildred Geertz, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University.

A Memorial will be held at the Institute for Advanced Study. Details will be announced at a future date.