Please note I avoid the phrase "Happy Holidays." Can we please deep-six this trite "non-denominational" greeting, designed to alert the world that those uttering the salutation are sensitive people aware that the recipients of the greeting might not be Christians but Jews or Muslims who have a low opinion of J. Christ and no desire to celebrate his birthday? The Muslims think Christ was not divine, and the Jewish sacred writings say likewise, and that for the sin of getting ideas above his station J.C. is being pickled in excrement for all eternity.  

            But my Jewish friends say "Happy Hannukah," with no nonsense about saying "Happy holidays" out of sensitivity to the fact that the festival of Hanukah is derived from the Maccabees' triumph over the bestial forces of Hellenism in 165 B.C., said Hellenism being in its neo-Platonic guise, one of the central components of the Christian religion. An irony is that there's no mention of Hanukah in the Torah but only in the Books of the Maccabees, an annex to the Bible.

            My friend and neighbor Joe Paff tells me he heard Oregon Public Radio harshly criticize Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for daring to utter the forbidden phrase "Merry Christmas," even though he immediately made haste to light a menorah to show that his "Merry Christmas" wasn't an eruption of ur-Schwarzenegger, overture to a volley of Sieg Heils and Aryan paeans to Wotan.

            When I lived in an apartment building on the Upper West side of New York, throughout December our elevator rang with jovial cries of Happy Hanukah and Merry Christmas, and Margot Adler, who lived in the apartment right next to me, wasn't put out, even though she was a boisterous Wiccan and reserved her enthusiasm for the festival of Beltane, which I vaguely remember involved dancing round some sort of a maypole. One time, Margot, a radio broadcaster of the first quality, was up for a big job at NPR but lost out because NPR was worried about being trashed in the New York Post for hiring a Witch (though a witch who was White in every sense of the term).

            So, hear it from an unbaptised, unconfirmed non-believer, born out of wedlock, albeit raised in a Christo-Commie environment, MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR. And now, a few deserving cases for those of you with money in your pockets. It's from the latest edition of the list Jeffrey St. Clair and I draw up for our newsletter and Web site CounterPunch each year. They're all worthy and needy groups that are putting up a good fight against long odds, never losing their optimism that change can be wrought from the ground up. These groups don't act like subsidiaries of the Democratic Party and aren't neutered by big foundations. So, of course, they mostly operate on a shoestring and greatly value each contribution. Give them what you can. We don't think you'll be disappointed in the results. All are non-profit charitable organizations:

             -- Bring Them Home Now! c/o Veterans for Peace, 438 N. Skinker Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63130

            Bring Them Home Now! is a campaign of military families, veterans, active duty personnel, reservists and others opposed to the ongoing war in Iraq.

            Their mission is to mobilize military families, veterans and GIs to demand an end to the occupation of Iraq and other misguided military adventures, and an immediate return of all U.S. troops to their home duty stations.

             -- Powder River Basin Resource Council, P.O. Box 1178, Douglas, WY 82633

            The biggest natural gas rush in history is now going on in Wyoming, the way greased by Bush's Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Steven Griles, a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry who still gets a paycheck from his former clients. If Bush and Griles have their way, more than 51,000 new wells will be drilled in the Powder River Basin alone. Along with the wells will come thousands of miles of roads and pipelines, toxic holding ponds, and the depletion and contamination of groundwater. Eighty percent of the people in northern Wyoming depend on wells as their sole source of water.

             -- Campaign To Stop Killer Coke, P.O. Box 1004, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276-1004

            The realization that (U.S.-based) multinational corporations like Coca-Cola can get away with murder prompted Corporate Campaign Inc. (CCI), working closely with the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), to organize the worldwide Campaign to Stop Killer Coke.

            In July 2001, the ILRF co-sponsored a lawsuit on behalf of the Colombian union SINALTRAINAL and its members, charging that Coca-Cola bottlers "contracted with or otherwise directed paramilitary security forces that utilized extreme violence and murdered, tortured, unlawfully detained or otherwise silenced trade union leaders."

             -- Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program, POB 3401, Park City, UT 84060 Phone: (435-649-0535)

            The Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program started through the efforts of Linda Myers of Park City, Utah. In the late 1980s, Meyers, an artist, was stunned by the intricacies of the patterns at a rug show displaying the weavings by the Elders from the Big Reservation. Touched by the stories of the Navajo people as told by Grace Smith Yellowhammer and Rose Hulligan during that rug show, Meyers soon became very involved in gathering donated food, clothing, firewood and simple medicines and driving to the reservation in Northern Arizona to deliver them to Elders living traditionally on the Land.

            The Program supports 350 traditional Elders who live in the northern portion of Arizona and Southern Utah. The activities of the Program focus on helping traditional Elders live on the Land in the ways of Dine', as they have for thousands of years. This Program is assisted by traditional Dine' people, who serve as coordinators in various parts of the reservation to help the organization determine the needs of the Elders in their own culture and lifestyle.

             -- Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, P.O. Box 2310, Washington, D.C. 20013-2310 202-789-2126

            In early December, an 80-page report by a group called Grassroots Leadership revealed that the nation's largest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCR), had used campaign contributions and intimate ties with conservative politicians to legislate harsher prison sentences for nonviolent crimes in order to boost demand for prisons. The same report detailed how the CCA, which pays its largely untrained workers and guards a pittance, bilks money off prisoners through outrageously high phone charges and other incarceration fees.

            National CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants) is a grassroots organization of prisoners, families of prisoners, former prisoners and concerned citizens working to reform the prison system.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.