The Commonwealth Blog
BY CHRISTOPHER WENDT
An address given 50 years ago today at the Club shows how Russia’s contentious relationship with the United States and Western Europe then was remarkably similar to what it is today
Stefan Possony, the director of the International Studies Program at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, asserted that with Lenoid Brezhnev’s appointment to general secretary, “the Cold War … is not over. The Communists have not changed their intent — which is to overtake the United States in military technology, to outmaneuver the United States and its allies strategically, and to carry the international revolution to its victorious conclusion.”
When asked by an audience member about whether the Soviet Union would consider relinquishing control of its satellite states, Possony responded, “It’s foolish to assume status quo in East Germany and the satellites. It’s one of the most unstable situations that ever existed.”
Possony’s statements of 50 years ago mirror the current anxiety over the political ambitions of the Russian Federation and its polarizing president, Vladimir Putin. Many commentators, including recent Club guests Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former president of Latvia, and Adam Michnik, the editor-in-chief of Poland’s largest newspaper, have criticized Putin for interfering in the affairs of one-time satellites — most notably in Ukraine —and creating a political atmosphere in Eastern Europe reminiscent of the confrontational Soviet era.
Today in Commonwealth Club history: "U.S. Labor and the War" was the topic of an October 8, 1941, speech by Sidney Hillman, head of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.
This day in Commonwealth Club history: Former Ford and Nissan executive and then-U.S. postmaster general Marvin Runyon spoke about "America's Uncommon Wealth: The U.S. Postal Service" in his October 7, 1994, speech to The Commonwealth Club of California.
Twenty-seven years ago today at The Commonwealth Club of California: Mervyn F. Silverman, director of public health in San Francisco at the rise of AIDS in the late 1970s to the early 1980s, gave a speech at the Commonwealth Club on October 2, 1987, titled "AIDS: Causes, Cures Prevention."
A 1984 article in The New York Times reports that Silverman was under pressure to close down 14 San Francisco “gay sex clubs” due to concerns that they harbored potential risk of AIDS exposure and risky sexual conduct. At the time, The New York Times estimated that “15 percent of the city’s population of 700,000 is homosexual.”
Today, Silverman believes there is an air of relaxation about the disease because of access to medicine; however, he says its history as a "horrible death" shouldn't be disregarded.
“When I arrived in San Francisco, the Castro district … was a vibrant, dynamic place all hours of the day and night. By the early to mid-80s, it was funereal,” said Silverman.
Today in Commonwealth Club history: Dr. Ameen Ullah Fareed discussed "Persia and the United States As Factors in the World's Movement for Good Government" in his September 30, 1911, speech to The Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco.
This day in Commonwealth Club history: Comedian Tom Smothers discussed "Censorship and New Freedoms" in his August 22, 1969, program at The Commonwealth Club of California. His speech came just four months after the Emmy Award-winning "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" was abruptly cancelled by CBS, a cancellation that is usually attributed to the show's outspoken political content.
This day in Commonwealth Club history: 99 years ago, future University of California president David P. Barrows discussed "The Mexican Crisis and General Villa" in his August 19, 1915, address to the Club. José Doroteo Arango Arámbula — aka Francisco Villa or Pancho Villa — was one of the most famous generals in the Mexican civil war.
By Hillary Straba
Almost exactly 40 years ago, on Aug. 16, 1974, when Ibrahim Shebat delivered his speech “The Middle East — Peace or War?” to The Commonwealth Club, peace between Israel and Palestine seemed unlikely.
Shebat, editor of Al Mersad, an Arabic version of Hebrew newspaper Al HaMishmar, stressed the need for compromise and emphasized that both sides had members who were in favor of a peaceful settlement and were willing to negotiate. Shebat believed that the problem could be solved using a two-state solution.
It has been 40 years since Shebat’s speech and the conversation has not changed. With the recent military action in Gaza, the conflict is in the headlines yet again and the proposed solutions remain the same – the one-state solution, the two-state solution, or the destruction of one side.
We add our voices to the many folks expressing sadness over the tragic loss yesterday of comedian/actor Robin Williams. He was a Bay Area giant, whose comic gifts went hand in hand with a devotion to philanthropy and service. In addition to working with the USO and sick children, he took the time in 2003 to record a radio PSA — a public service announcement — for The Commonwealth Club's 100th anniversary.
In addition to the "straight" version that would eventually air on the radio, he also recorded this version, in which he has some fun with the script; now, for the first time, we make available this recording. LISTEN TO ROBIN WILLIAMS SPEAK FOR THE CLUB.
This day in Commonwealth Club history: Outspoken labor leader Samuel Gompers discussed "The Way Out" in his July 2, 1920, speech to The Commonwealth Club of California.
Gompers was the founder of the AFL, which he led until his death in 1924.
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