Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Takeaway -- Sherrod vs Breitbart, Julian Assange vs the Man

The contrast between the way the Government/Mediaplex behaved toward the Sherrod story as injected into the public square by Andrew Breitbart and the WikiLeaks "War Log" story as carefully handled by the Consortium of Media Partners Which Included WikiLeaks (aka Julian), the New York Times, Der Spiegel, and the Guardian UK, could not be more striking.

Yet there are many similarities.

In both cases, "incendiary" individuals were given a platform -- indeed, multiple platforms -- from which to "incite." Exactly what is being incited is never really clear. I guess it depends on what emotions are stirred up. Breitbart was given a platform to stir up racial animosities, and -- even on FOX -- he was pretty quickly shot down. Certainly CNN squashed him and his little false story line like a bug. The issue became one of the inappropriate influence "bloggers" have on the mainstream "news," and the outrageousness of Government reacting to this sort of incitement.

"Bloggers" are circling the wagons, though the lefties want to leave Breitbart outside the protective circle. It seems clear though that there is a deep underlying admiration for Breitbart throughout the blogosphere: he can git 'er done. He absolutely ruled the media and the government for a whole week. That is Blog Power!

Julian is not considered a "blogger" but instead is seen more as a muckraker or investigative journalist. To me, that's an extraordinary stretch, but whatever. The point is that Julian causes a ruckus among the Powers That Be -- much like Breitbart -- by "exposing their secrets," except that what Julian exposes is not really all that secret, and the ruckus is typically between factions within the Government (for example between the Pro-War and the Slow-War factions) rather than engaging the public.

There's the difference right there: Breitbart does engage the public in his phony little crusades; to a surprising extent, Julian does not.

Breitbart is a useful tool to some very powerful interests, but they don't seem to be interests within the Government. They appear to be essentially Southern racist elements outside the Government that insist on trying anything in their power to get the Government/Mediaplex to react embarrassingly. And they are very successful. It's not just about provoking a reaction though. It is -- at least from all appearances -- about provoking a reaction that 1) harms the Government as an institution; 2) harms specific black people who have run afoul of the provocateurs.

Julian, on the other hand, seems to serve the interests of factions within the Government, factions that are almost entirely out of public view, and the reaction more strongly resembles a contest between two equally bloodthirsty elements in the Government, with the Mediaplex serving almost as referee/mediator.

The "Collateral Murder" video last April went into very heavy rotation and Julian was on all the shows declaring his dedication to the Truth, yadda yadda, and then it went away. Another investigation was done and the soldiers involved were cleared. But some of the soldiers involved in the incident have gone public with their own reservations about what took place in that incident, but even more importantly they have reminded Americans that what happened in the video is policy that goes on every day. It's not an aberration.



Many Americans, unfortunately, think that's just grand.

The WarLog Document Dump was initially seen as relatively benign because it was vetted by three well-regarded members of the Global Mediaplex and assurances were made that nothing that would jeopardize "security" -- whatever that means -- or put individuals at risk would be revealed. Instead, there would be a coordinated, high profile, media release timed with the WikiLeaks release to clarify and amplify what the documents show.

At least that was the plan.

Now it seems to have gone off the rails because (according to some reports) individuals are named and the documents weren't scrubbed thoroughly or even very well, and this is causing no end of heartburn in all the Powerful circle where it was at first believed that this would not be a problem. Indeed, until the last couple of days, Julian had all but been adopted by his "media partners" (and one would assume the Government) as a "responsible" member. Well, that may not come to pass in the end.

The irony is that they seem to want Julian as part of the Team whereas they seem to be saddled with the likes of Breitbart instead.

Meanwhile, Shirley and Charles Sherrod have emerged as quintessential Americans and the military and the Government have once again been put on the spot. How it will shake out after Labor Day is anybody's guess. But if the Sherrods (Shirley says now she will sue) can maintain the profile they've cultivated through this mess, I have real hope for the future.

There will always be a question in my mind about Julian's real role in all this though. More and more people are growing suspicious of him and his motives and just what he's setting out to accomplish and on whose behalf. It seems clear that he is working for somebody. The fact that we don't know who may be the tip off.

At the same time that more and more people are growing suspicious of him, more and more are hailing him The Hero and putting their Faith and Hope and Trust in him and his ability to provide leaks of Secrets. I know people need that hope and want to have faith, so it's hard for me to criticize it too much. On the other hand, after the immense disappointment so many self-described progressives have with the Obama team, it might be better in the short and the long run not to put faith and hope and trust into any media-driven Heroic Figure.

It's a thought...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Sherrods vs Hysteria

Last Monday, the media and the White House exploded with hysteria over the edited video clip of Shirley Sherrod of Georgia giving a speech in March to the NAACP at an awards ceremony in DC(?). The video was marketed and promoted by Andrew Breitbart, a notorious scammer, and was purported to show a black Federal worker exposed as a racist before the racist NAACP. According to Breitbart, this was "get back" for the NAACP's call on the TeaBaggers to denounce the racists in their midst.

The White House and Agriculture Department behaved very badly indeed in this instance, for they summarily dismissed Shirley Sherrod -- actually, they required and got her immediate resignation -- within hours, if not minutes, of the posting of the video on one of Breitbart's websites, even before the thing had entered common knowledge and heavy rotation on the cable channels.

But then, the cable channels didn't actually behave any better. FOX of course was leading the charge to pillory and ostracize Ms Sherrod, and most of the other "news" channels just mindlessly followed suit. Were it not for the fact that Shirley Sherrod was in Georgia, near enough to CNN's headquarters in Atlanta, the record might not have been corrected.

But she was in Georgia and she made many appearances on CNN to counter the lies of Andrew Breitbart -- who also made many appearances on all the shows, though they never appeared together -- and to denounce FOX and challenge the White House and Agriculture Department for yielding to hysteria stirred up by FOX and Breitbart.

Ultimately, CNN made a special biographical program to explain to viewers who Shirley and Charles Sherrod are in the context of the Civil Rights Movement and what they have done in the context of rural Georgia and the preservation of farmlands and farm life for blacks and whites.

Breitbart seemed like a goon and the Government seemed out of touch and hysterical to say the least.

Ultimately, the Sherrods came out of last week's media-storm -- and White House and USDA stumble-bumming -- smelling like roses, whereas Breitbart was pummeled from every direction imaginable. Yet, according to Palace wags, he'll survive, stronger than before. He did not back down. Nor, unlike the Government, did he apologize.

I've made a number of points about this incident:

  • 1) One man, Andrew Breitbart, was able to paralyze and control both media and the Government for nearly a week, by simply posting what turned out to be a misleadingly edited video clip on his website. Though the Sherrods came out of this looking very good, Breitbart was the master of what went on. Simply by posting his deceptive video clip, nearly every other story was jettisoned, a dedicated public servant was forced out of her position with the Federal Government, an action that then required "walking back" and numerous apologies for not "hearing the whole story." The media -- all of it -- was completely consumed with the saga for day after day. The media was being driven by Breitbart, and to a much lesser extent by Shirley Sherrod.

  • 2) What happened demonstrated the weakness of the Government and the mindlessness of the media. Combined, the two appear to hold nearly tyrannical power over Americans, but the facts shown here demonstrated just the opposite. In fact, it was Andrew Breitbart who controlled both. That is extraordinary, and it is very dangerous. It's not so much "who" was the controlling entity, it is that the apparatus of both media and the Government could be controlled by a single individual at all. This not only indicates weakness, it implies irrelevance. When you think about what that means in the context of the WaPo's "Secret Government" series, it should put the Dread into nearly everyone.



But the fact was that pointing out the implications of what happened was met with a chorus of denial and boos. It's very hard to recognize how weak our Government really is when we are being told over and over again that it is a tyranny. Well, yes, it is, but it is a surprisingly weak tyranny. If one man, Andrew Breitbart, can control it so easily, think what a more public minded individual might be able to do.

Breitbart used a time-honored tactic, that of the "whistle-blower" to put his evil plan in motion. He had video "proof" of racists within the Government and at the NAACP, and he was blowing the whistle on them.

For its part, the Government -- apparently in the person of Cheryl Cook, Deputy Director of the USDA and one assumes a career civil servant -- demanded the immediate resignation of Shirley Sherrod even before the "proof" was in wide circulation or in fact had circulated beyond Breitbart's site much at all. This is stunning, and there are many implications. Was Ms Cook monitoring Breitbart and FOX on the internet? Did she report what Breitbart had "discovered?" Was it her recommendation and decision to terminate Ms Sherrod with prejudice? And was that decision then made the policy of the Government? What a mess. And who, exactly, is Cheryl Cook to be making these decisions -- if that's what happened?

We don't know. Ms Cook has been in seclusion from day one, unaccountable and inaccessible. Is she a factional player? We don't know. All I can say is that I have seen this sort of thing happen in Federal service. Without a fair hearing -- or any hearing at all in some cases -- employees will be forced out, either through resignation or firing, on the accusation of some impropriety or other without evidence or proof, or as I have seen happen, when the actual evidence contradicts the accusations. It happens suddenly, without warning, and sometimes with such determination that the victim has no chance to respond until after the events have transpired. I was one of the ones who intervened when this situation developed in my agency. So far as I knew, it was not a partisan issue, but it was an issue of hysteria ginned up by someone with a grudge who then was able to convince a supervisor to act in ignorance and haste.

The first time I saw it happen, I thought it was an aberration; then I saw it happen again. And then I realized this behavior was part of the institutional culture and that, when there was no intervention, the perpetrators could be handsomely rewarded, even if the victim eventually sued and won.

Ultimately I realized it is a self-protective action by the institution itself. Although there are real people involved, and there may be personal issues at the bottom of it, the process is often so mindless -- literally -- that it is not a personal matter. It is the Institution reacting to some perception of threat.

Based on what I've seen in the past, my suspicion is that Shirley Sherrod had been targeted and was being monitored prior to this incident, probably due to her history and her apparent newness to the Agency as an employee, as a "potential threat." Knowing something of who she was (she had pressed and won an enormous discrimination suit against the very Agency that now employed her) I'm sure close tabs were being kept on her and her activities. Although I have no idea who Cheryl Cook is or if she is a factional player in the USDA (wouldn't surprise me if she were), my instinct says she acted on her own to "protect the agency" from potential harm once she saw that Sherrod was being targeted by Breitbart. How she learned of that becomes a matter of some interest. I would guess that she was contacted directly by... someone. But I'm noodling here. What really happened will probably never be investigated let alone known, and Cheryl Cook will probably get an award. That's how these things work.

-- To be continued

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Leaks -- Part Ia (Now with 2xUPDATE!!! )

Of course today, three publications -- Der Spiegel, the New York Times, and the Guardian UK -- put out stories on the 90,000 field reports from Afghanistan that detail what a cockup that little endeavor has been from the outset. These reports were delivered to these publications more than a month ago with the proviso that they not be reported on until WikiLeaks "officially" released them today.

What? How is it that these three prestigious publications would agree to such terms? Especially if, as was reported in the NYT, the entire document dump was delivered weeks ago, and the Times has spent the interim following up, doing additional investigation and reporting and getting confirmations? If the news was so important, wouldn't they have reported it -- even in truncated form -- many days or weeks ago? Instead, they were mediating conversations between the White House and Julian Assange.

Andrew Breitbart was able to paralyze and direct the media and the Government last week; this week it is Julian Assange's turn.

Something's not right.

Something is definitely not right.

Factions within Government is my suspicion, still. The amount of material in this "leak" is daunting, so daunting I doubt anyone will read it all. But no matter. The point is that things have never been what we were being told they were in Afghanistan. Things are worse. Much worse.

My impression is that this "leak" is intended to set the stage for withdrawal. But there are wheels within wheels. More than meets the eye.

Guardian UK

New York Times

Der Spiegel

===========================================
UPDATE -- Interesting.

Julian says:

We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source. After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually, in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.


The New York Times says:

The Times and the other news organizations agreed at the outset that we would not disclose — either in our articles or any of our online supplementary material — anything that was likely to put lives at risk or jeopardize military or antiterrorist operations. We have, for example, withheld any names of operatives in the field and informants cited in the reports. We have avoided anything that might compromise American or allied intelligence-gathering methods such as communications intercepts. We have not linked to the archives of raw material. At the request of the White House, The Times also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.


Now I'm sure there is a perfectly acceptable rationalization for the remarkable similarity between what Julian says his source asked and what the White House asked of WikiLeaks through the New York Times.

Could someone in the White House be the source?

Fascinating.

===================================

UPDATE -- And another thing.

It will be more than interesting to see if Julian is on all the shows again, and if this story is the lead story for the rest of the week, just as Andrew Breitbart was on all the shows and his smear of Shirley Sherrod was the lead story for most of last week.

In addition to which, I wonder if the same faction is behind both "whistle-blower" events.

On Whistle Blowers, Charles and Shirley Sherrod, and the Predominant National Security State -- Part I

From the title of this post, you can get an idea of why I've been away from blogging here for a while. I tried to put together something quickly in the midst of the Shirley Sherrod ginned up "controversy," but there was so much more going on and so much more that needed to be said. Even where to begin was problematical. But then I realized there was a common theme among issues swirling in the blogosphere and the mass media.

It starts with the concept of "Whistle Blowing."

What is it? Those who are either old enough or scholarly enough know who Daniel Ellsberg is, and they know he is a classic whistle-blower who released the Pentagon Papers to an eager (well...) New York Times back in the day, was hounded by Government (of which he had been a part) and the Shadow Government, and he was tried, though not convicted, of espionage and other crimes.

The Pentagon Papers that were at the center of all this revealed something that many people understood to be true in any case: the Government was strategically lying to the American people about (especially) the War in Vietnam, how it came to be, and how it was being pursued. The lies were non-stop, and they were deliberate.

The embarrassment to the Powers That Be cannot be underestimated. And this incident was intimately tied to Watergate. Among other things, the Watergate burglars had broken into the offices of Ellsberg's psychiatrist to gain whatever incriminating evidence the could of his purported madness. (This was a field of CYA pioneered by the Nazis and Stalinists when time was: opposition to the State was defined as "madness" and so opponents were dismissible on the grounds that they were Crazy; it's still in practice. It often works.)

Watergate was another big whistle-blower event, though what was actually going on is not necessarily what the Mythology of the Era would have us believe. Nixon was driven out of office to be sure, but not because of the intrepid reporting of Woodward and Bernstein and the dogged determination of Katherine Graham to get him -- for whatever personal and class reasons she felt obligated to follow.

Nevertheless, those two whistle-blower incidents -- one involving the release of classified documents to the New York Times, one involving intrepid reporting of leads and information coming from an anonymous (as it turned out, FBI) source -- have become iconic. Both of them severely damaged the Government's cover, and in the case of Nixon, the Government itself, in pursuit of "Truth, Justice, and the American Way."

Well. That's as may be.

After Watergate, the Government learned how to be much better at preserving, protecting and defending itself from the sticky fingers and prying eyes of the Unwashed Masses. Simultaneously with this inward protection, the Government put forth all sorts of "reforms" to protect whistle-blowers and to open its operations to public scrutiny. Reforms that have had some effect, to be sure, but to what object may be questioned.

For example, I've pointed out in other fora that whistle-blower protections have led to thousands of whistle-blower complaints and reports every year, every one of which has to be investigated, and many of which are the result of personal animosities and issues, charges of unfair employment practices, charges of sexual harassment, or self-righteous indignation at... something, just what isn't always clear.

I know this because I had to deal directly or indirectly with some of these cases while I was a Federal employee.

Very, very rarely is there an internal whistle-blower case that is actually one that merits the kinds of protections that are assumed to be provided to whistle-blowers who are revealing the illegal acts and misdeeds of Government officials -- in the manner of Watergate, et al.

No, that's not what goes on. Not for the most part. And when there are legitimate reports or complaints of high-level misconduct -- which does happen from time to time -- there is (or was) generally some kind of action, including dismissal, indictment, trial, or what have you. But the misconduct that gets the whistle blown internally is usually minor or non-existent.

The argument that Government operates too much in secret is true and false simultaneously. Government is widely open to scrutiny, though conducting that scrutiny can be difficult because the operations of Government are typically so complex, layered and documented to a fare-thee-well.

On the other hand, there are layered secrets, and to an increasing extent, there is a Secret Government that operates almost entirely outside the public view. In addition, there is a growing private contractor sector that operates in concert with the Secret Security State Government. All of this is nearly impenetrable -- except to the extent this Secret State chooses to be open with the public.

The private sector, especially the large scale transnational corporate sector, is so intimately integrated with the higher levels of the Government of the United States that they are nearly indistinguishable (viz: the Gulf Oil Disaster). At those levels, it is often difficult or impossible to obtain accurate and/or truthful information.

Just so with the Government's warmaking operations. Lies are their stock in trade, and because rational people are rightly scared to death of that warmaking being turned on them, it is typical for the lies of our warmakers to be accepted (at least superficially) without question. At least the first time around.

And the Government has learned the value of Strategic Leaks and Pseudo-Whistle Blowing. It has become so adept at strategic leaks that I tend to discount almost everything that is promoted in the mainstream (and parts of the non-mainstream as well) as a "whistle blowing leak". There's just too much false information in the system. Too many incentives to shape perceptions. Too many opportunities to control the message by any means necessary.

In other words, Government whistle-blowing is not what it is made out to be; and just as a side note, Government employees are encouraged to report waste, fraud, abuse, and illegal activities; they are protected while investigations are under way, and if wrongdoing in revealed, it is generally, though not always, corrected and if there is illegality involved, prosecutions are likely. The Federal Government is 1) full of snitches; 2) highly Puritanical by nature. And the first objective of Government is self-preservation. It has the Institutional wherewithal to secure its survival.

Of course there are those who assert that Government is by nature criminal, and as such, a close eye must be kept on its operations at all levels and at all times. I've often wondered who is supposed to be keeping this "eye" on the criminal Government. The answer, when there is one, is the "Media" -- in the broadest sense. The idea being that if the Media is "doing its job" there will be plenty of Ellsbergs and Deep Throats and what not, and the secrets of Government will be exposed to the disinfecting light of day.

Nonsense. That isn't how it works. The major mass media are effectively Public Relations arms of the Government -- or rather, of factions within the Government -- and it is very rare that they will reveal secrets that will in any way jeopardize the cozy relationships between Government and the Media, or that they would do anything that would seriously jeopardize the security and survival of the Government itself.

What seems unclear to those who advocate the kind of whistle-blowing that was done in the '70's it was a very rare set of circumstances, and what happened was highly unusual. Because it was a threat to the security and survival of the Government itself, procedures and practices were instituted that were designed to ensure that kind of whistle-blowing threat never happened again.

That's part of why I am so skeptical of the WikiLeaks parade. There is not much "there" there in the WikiLeaks leaks, for one thing. Certainly nothing comparable to the Pentagon Papers and what they revealed. The fact that the Pentagon immediately verified the authenticity of the "Collateral Murder" video and that it went on immediate heavy rotation on all the news channels was a tip off to me that this thing was not what it appeared to be. It was, I thought, and still think, more likely a Honey Trap to lure would-be leakers so that they could be more easily hunted down, much as I tend to think Adrian Lamo was being used in his eventual bagging of Bradley Manning.

Those who are so certain that WikiLeaks is not what I suspect it is seem to have a very heavy investment in the notion that WikiLeaks is on the up and up. They seem to have a desperate need for something like WikiLeaks to feed them the Truth. They don't seem to know -- or to want to know -- that Government is not going to permit leaks and whistle blowing that jeopardize the internal ability of the Government to survive, and they don't seem to understand how pervasive is Government's use of strategic leaks to further its own agenda, even though they chatter about it all the time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jury Duty -- Now with UPDATE!!!

I get called for jury duty fairly often, but so far have not been able to serve on any of the juries to which I have been assigned. Consequently, while I've seen the operations of the courts, I haven't actually participated in the resplendent majesty of a trial as a juror.

Maybe that will change today, as I am called again and will be headed to the courthouse shortly to sit in numb silence with the hundreds called every day to do their civic duty.

We'll see.
=====================================
UPDATE -- Nope. And this is a jury I could have served on, at least theoretically. It's a civil matter. Claim against one of the big ticket employers in town. Of course I probably would have been thanked and excused anyway because I think one of the orgs I was a part of got funding from the defendant's foundation. Maybe more than one of them, actually.

Just for shits and giggles, I was planning an action at the entrance of the Courthouse if Security had made me do anything but pass through the metal detector. They have long made a big show of humiliating those entering the Courthouse, and I wasn't going to put up with any of it. But today was not the day for action. I put my keys in the dish and passed right through, didn't have to take off anything.

Harrumph.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Brilliant -- David Harvey, The Crises of Capitalism Animation



It's really, really hard for many supposed "progressives" to understand this Endless Recession and to contemplate the kind of economic restructuring that is necessary to... end it instead of perpetuating it.

The United States has pretty much turned into Japan economically, only with far more wealth flowing far faster away from wages, production and services and to the financial sector, where, for now anyway, it just sits.

No one who has any influence wants to stand in the way.

Certainly not Our Rulers. Heaven forfend.

Harvey can explain it, but he doesn't know what to do about it. Well, I think he does. He just doesn't want to say so.

Guillotines, anyone?

(Saw the clip over at dKos; there are lots of others at the YouTube site. Click on the video to go there and explore more...)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Small But Powerful Political Group"



I just did a quick search of NPR programming for references to "Tea Party" and found there were stories and references every day, sometimes several times a day, and so it has been for weeks.

What's the matter, aren't enough sharks in the water? And the missing white girl has already been rescued, right? So, like last summer, when the TeaBagger Rage was all over the media, especially in connection with their disrupting of congressional town halls, parading around with their guns and their "Obama=Hitler" signs, and their constant threats of insurrection if not outright revolution, we have daily TeaBagger updates on NPR (and one assumes the other media, which has nothing to report about the sharks and missing white girls, either) to keep the pot stirred.

But the story embedded above starts out by describing the TEA Party (to use their own term for themselves for once) as a "Small but Powerful Political Group," and I got to thinking about that. Why?

Why is such a small group so... powerful?

Of course NPR won't address that fundamental question, nor will the other media that constantly highlights the TeaBaggers and their Power. How is it that large political groups on the "left" are ignored by the media and are granted no power whatsoever?

How is it that a tiny group of malcontented white folk -- mostly well-off white folk -- are granted free rein to do what they will and given constant coverage for every little thing they say and do?

Of course it's summer, and during the summertime, the media is on vacation. Vacation time means fluff rules, and last summer, like this summer, the fluffing has been focused on the TeaBaggers, who, for reasons no one can quite understand, are able to dominate political coverage like no other fringe faction since the days of Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies.

Except for the fact that the TeaBaggers don't have the theatrical skill and the sense of humor the Yippies and the others who protested in the '60ss and '70s did, the TeaBaggers are like a dark reflection of previous protests, and their supposed focus -- to the point of obsession -- on the Constitution is something of a mirror image of the "Constitutional Redemption" urge of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement and the subsequent anti-war and anti-draft movements and their offspring social and economic justice movements.

It all grew out of a sense of promise that was implicit in the Constitution. The Free Speech Movement 1964-65, which was the trigger for the student rebellion that swamped campuses nationwide, was based on the Constitution. The Free Speech Movement was the offspring of protests against the House Un-American Activities Committee Red baiting in San Francisco two years before, again based on the Constitution and its promise of free speech and association, for example.

The TeaBaggers aren't focused on the promise of the Constitution, they're focused on how the Constitution can be interpreted to restrict freedom for the many while offering free rein to the few. Their vision of the Constitution is that of the Confederate Constitution with its focus on property and its protection and defense -- especially property in slaves, but not exclusively so.

TeaBagging is Opposite World from the liberationist movements of the past.

But it is just as captivating to the media.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jemez Hot Springs -- Excerpt from The Realist, Nov/Dec 1969



"We arrive at Jimez Springs about 4 o'clock in the morning vroom vroom one bus after another slipping into berth in its roadside parking lot... Now dig this, who should we come upon but these short haired sweet vanilla type Albuquerque College kids up on their first acid trip and here in the middle of nowhere comes the Ventura Freeway at 5 o'clock. "Are you God? Are you God?" they gurgled running around in this perpetual circle like candidates for pancake paint."


Clickage to embiggen and go to Realist site




And don't forget the Incomparable Wavy Gravy. An original then, and very much an original now.

An Army of Clowns


This has been bothering me for some time.

Lots of media coverage of the six month "anniversary" of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January. Lots of notice that essentially nothing has been done, that the rubble still festers in Port-au-Prince, that the people have had little aid, that they struggle on bravely regardless, that the government continues to be ineffective and corrupt, that the donors haven't delivered, that "Makeshift" is the word, that there is still no shelter for most of the dispossessed survivors apart from that which they stitch and cobble together themselves from sticks and blankets and baling wire that they have pulled out of the rubble.

And there's this: the money, such as it is, that is given for Haiti Relief mostly goes to fund the NGOs that squabble endlessly among themselves to provide the aid; only there's just enough money to fund inadequate NGO staffs, and nothing is available for the People.

So it is in many other lands as well, it's not just Haiti. Far from it. Every now and then, we'll see a news report to the effect that $XX billions of dollars have been allocated and spent for "aid" in Afghanistan since the American overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001. And there is nothing to show for it. Nothing, because most of the money has gone to pay for "training and upkeep" of Afghan "security forces." And all the rest has gone to pay for the inadequate staffs of the proliferation of NGOs that rushed into Afghanistan to provide "aid." But there is no money left to aid the People. Everything goes for "security" and NGO staff salaries.

And every now and then some food or medical supplies is delivered for the suffering People, but not too often or too much, you know, we wouldn't want them to become dependent.

Oh no, wouldn't want that.

But what there isn't is rebuilding of cities or infrastructure for the benefit of the People. That just isn't done. There isn't enough money, you see, for anything like that on the one hand, and it's so very difficult to do that on the other. So, the NGOs say, "We do the best we can."

Sure.

Amy Goodman spent an hour interviewing Sean Penn the other day at the "IDP" Camp he runs (apparently single-handedly, in true White God fashion -- h/t Matt Taibbi) in Port-au-Prince. And it drove me nuts.

Amy didn't want to attack him, so she didn't, but at the same time, she asked some pretty hard questions, "Why hasn't anything changed? What happens to all the money? What is the point of all these NGOs when the people are still in such misery?" And he had no answer. Well, he did, but it was basically a defense of the System -- which doesn't provide aid -- and the great work all the NGOs are doing, and even if the new camps are crappy, everybody knew that they would be, so what's the problem?

It was aggravating as hell.

And it is the standard bullshit you hear from the proliferating NGO and NPO community globally. They can't get anything done to actually improve the lives of more than a handful of clients or participants. They don't have enough resources. They never do. No matter how much they have or how critical the need, they simply have too many other interests, needs, and concerns -- and there's too much squabbling between them -- to actually take care of the problems they are ostensibly organized to handle.

Watch the Democracy Now! interview with Sean Penn if you can. I actually couldn't sit through it all. He was driving me absolutely nuts with his excuses and dodginess.


http://www.democracynow.org/2010/7/13/sean_penn_on_haiti_six_months

Amy does get into why reconstruction is stalled and aid is so screwed up in Haiti in other segments, though what to do about it is not, ever, made clear.

http://www.democracynow.org/2010/7/14/land_ownership_at_the_crux_of

http://www.democracynow.org/2010/7/14/when_everybody_comes_and_has_a

The long suffering People of Haiti are the only real heroes in all of this.

And there are those who will defend the lack of progress and counter that the suffering People are getting clean water and food aid, so what's the problem? Medical teams did heroic work and many are still on scene, so what's the problem? The Haitians are resourceful and eventually they will have to fend for themselves anyway, so what's the problem?

The problem is that most of the aid funding goes to pay for staffs and equipment for organizations that really have no intention to do much more than perpetuate themselves.

It's infuriating.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jerry Rubin Explains it All to Phil Donahue (Now With UPDATE!)

This is great.



There are several other segments from the program posted on YouTube. Check them all out.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPRO5Lyjbz4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGnkJ7OCrSQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlLihajJhIM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSjX_yQ30WU

And what I'd like to know is whether watchers today can see any parallels with current events. I can see them. Does anyone else...?

==========================
UPDATE
And of course, the question arises: "Who Killed Jerry Rubin?"

The following article from The Realist, Summer 1995, explores the question.



Click to embiggen, etc, and go to the full article.

Things that make you go, hmmmmm...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stockholm Syndrome -- Excerpt from The Realist, March 1968

Click image to embiggen and go to The Realist Archives...

"In the first week of May, 1967, the International War Crimes Tribunal met in Stockholm, Sweden to hear evidence and render judgment on the US role in the war in Vietnam. The Tribunal was conceived in the fall of 1966 by Lord Bertrand Russell and was to have one primary function: to condemn the US for the war in Vietnam.

In Lord Russell's opening statement to the Tribunal he stated, "In Vietnam, we have done what Hitler did in Europe. We shall suffer the degradation of Nazi Germany unless we act... It is overdue that those without power sit in judgment over those who have it. This is the test we must meet, alone if need be. We are responsible before history.

To accomplish its task the Tribunal brought together some of the great intellectual minds of the West: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Issac Deutcher, as well as such European radicals as Lelio Basso, Italian Socialist; Vladimir Dedijer, former Yugoslav partisan; and Mehemet Ali Aybar, Turkish socialist.

From America came Dave Dellinger, Carl Oglesby, and Courtland Cox who sat in for Stokely Carmichael.

From the Far East came Ali Kasuri, chief prosecutor of Pakistan; Amado Henandez, former Huk and poet laureate of the Philippines; and a distinguished delegation of Japanese activists and lawyers. And from Cuba came Melba Hernandez, a national heroine and comrade of Fidel from the early beginnings of the Cuban Revolution in the Sierra Maestra.

[snip]

...yet few people in America or Europe are aware that there even was a Tribunal, not to mention the nature of the evidence collected by the Tribunal. The press simply blacked out most news about the Tribunal, as it was supposed to do by its very nature. Many Third World political activists viewed the Tribunal as did a diplomat from Mali who said: "What is the Tribunal going to do, give Johnson four years in jail?"

[snip]

The Tribunal's judgment was, of course, that the US was guilty of aggression in Vietnam... Having said that, what was said? The judgment had not changed the political reality, which was the war in Vietnam. The steel-pellet bombs and the napalm were being dropped as the Tribunal met as they are being dropped now. "


And so forth. The frustration and the sense of futility expressed by Julius Lester in this piece is palpable. And yet I think he was wrong. Out of this Tribunal came even more concerted action at home and abroad to shut the war down.

Johnson gave up the presidency in the hope that some way could be found to end the war -- if he was out of the way. Of course, what happened through the rest of 1968 ensured that the Indochina bloodbath would continue for five more years -- partly due to assassins' bullets, partly due to reactionary forces in the United States -- but the Tribunal itself brought forth so much information about the horrors that were being inflicted on the people of Vietnam in the name of "democracy," and so much of that information spread so widely, there was no way that war and domination of Vietnam could be sustained.

The Japanese made a documentary about their findings in North Vietnam that is still a powerful statement of what had to be done to end this vile war.

It's something we anti-war folks can learn from today:

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Last Letters of Ché Guevara

Click the image to embiggen it and go to the Realist site.


While researching Abbie Hoffman, I came across Ethan Persoff's site, which includes The Realist Archive Project, the purpose of which is to scan every issue of The Realist magazine/pamphlet (each issue was four pages, one fold) and post it online.

What fun.

Some of the ephemera of the 1960s is still around, particularly the psychedelic posters from the various concert venues, but most of it is just gone.

I haven't seen a copy of The Realist in decades, and I haven't thought about it either, having passed on to more substantial fare: Harpers, Salon and dKos, for example. It's fascinating to look at issues of The Realist online, and to recognize what Paul Krassner, et al, were doing back in the day, and see the striking parallels between this olde tyme underground publication that was relatively widely available if you knew where to look and how to get it -- and were interested in that kind of thing -- and today's Lefty Blogosphere. They're not the same, to be sure, because The Realist and other efforts like it came out of an atmosphere of rebellion and activism. There may be the abstract thought of rebellion in today's Lefty Blogosphere, but there is essentially no activism outside a very narrow range of approved political "action" -- phoning, faxing, writing the White House and your representatives in Congress assembled, sending money to approved candidates for office, writing for the blogs -- most of which is very private and individualized "action" that appears oddly coordinated and homogenized when it is seen by the public.

And there is all that jockeying for seats at the Big Table. To be taken seriously in other words by people who matter.

It's hard to imagine that was ever a goal or objective to those who came up with and persisted in publishing the underground samizdat in days gone by. In those days, the Underground was... well, Underground. There was a public face to it, sure, and there were characters like Abbie Hoffman and Krassner himself who were literally Underground stars, but they were agitators and monkeywrenchers par excellence, and that was risky. Very risky.

Arrests and political trials were relatively common. These days, you'd be hard pressed to find members of the Lefty Blogosphere putting themselves at that kind of risk under any circumstances, nor are they likely to defend people who do. They are far more likely to denounce and disparage any sort of Leftist "activism" that includes anything outside the approved norm.

That's partly due to a fairly standard petite bourgeois individualized shopkeeper mentality that pervades the blogosphere in general. This is how some blog proprietors make their living or want to make their living, and that is as serious as a heart attack to them. They are not going to put their livelihood or potential livelihood at risk in any way, certainly not in this economy. So they will adopt standard formulae that have proved themselves over the years, they will stick to the norms of the field, and they will discourage anything off that relatively known and narrow road. It is the nature of shopkeeping.

I've got my own little place here on blogtopia, but I'm not doing it to make a living. Blogging is not how I expect to make any income at all, it is -- for me -- a way to record and if anyone is interested, share some of my commentary on history and what's in the news, the various interests I have, travel notes, and what have you. In other words, Ché(What You Call Your)Pasa is a personal... weblog. What a concept.

I'm convinced my days as an activist are mostly over. Been there, done that. Which certainly doesn't mean that anything that needs doing is finished or completed. But there comes a time when you realize there is only so much you can do, and you only have so much time left on this Earth. Priorities. And there comes a time when you realize that your own small contribution to the Whole can probably be done better by someone else. That's a key realization that many Old Farts never make in any field.

There's a tendency in today's activist community to want to endlessly proliferate organizations, to endlessly reorganize existing ones, and to "professionalize" activism. In other words, turn movements into lobbying. As a way to make a living.

You have to constantly recruit. Induce new members to participate, donate, what have you. And divide and subdivide over and over again, to restart the process endlessly. Those who have never done it before, of course, are gratified to finally find something that will "make a difference"; those who have been down this road before are... tired. Well, many are, not all.

I was ruminating on the US Social Forum the other day, for example, and while I genuinely cheer it on, I realized that nearly everything they were set up for -- ie: information sharing and seminars on how to "do" activism itself -- were things I've already done, on a wide range of projects, and while I might be able to contribute some experiential anecdotes and provide some insight into how a Power Structure actually functions, where its weaknesses are, and what the risks are for activists going against it, I realized that I wasn't really keen to do it anymore.

If somebody wants to ask questions or hear me out on some aspect of "making a difference", fine. But otherwise, have at it, kids! Go forth and change the world! You can do it!

Yes, you can.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Jobs? What Jobs?


This is a topic I've harped on repeatedly for years, and it's time for another post on the deliberate engineering of unemployment for the benefit, comfort and convenience of the Ruling Class.

Throughout the current economic catastrophe, there has been no let up on the pressure being applied to the working class to force lowered living standards, impoverishment and destitution. This is not a popular topic in most of the blogosphere, and often when it does come up, it is couched in many of the same circumlocutions and euphemisms that are typical of the propaganda media.

Unemployment rates, for example, are almost always given as the Bureau of Labor Statistics' undercount in the U3 monthly release, not the more encompassing, but still not necessarily revealing U6 statistics. Thus, the "Unemployment Rate" constantly hovers around 9.5%, sometimes up, sometimes down, but never really improving or getting all that worse. But this is not the rate of unemployed workers; this is the rate at which unemployment is reported as such according to official guidelines. The actual rate of unemployment -- which is to say, the difference between the number of workers and the number of jobs filled (not "jobs available" -- which is a whole other matter) is probably double the official rate of unemployment, but it's hard to find out any accurate statistics. The U6 figure which comes closest includes people who report they have dropped out of the labor pool due to discouragement and those who report they are underemployed and would like more hours, but they cannot find full-time work.

But U6 is almost never reported, even in the blogosphere -- which reports it far more often than the Big Media does.

Whatever the case, whether using the official unemployment rate or the much higher U6 rate or working up your own numbers, the unemployment situation is calamitous for workers and the working class, and it is so by design.

And that's something else that's not reported extensively if at all.

Tens of millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed by design. The point is to forced down wages and benefits for workers who can manage to get and keep jobs, and to ensure there is always a willing pool of workers who will do the job for less than the current workforce will. This has been obvious for years, as not only have millions upon millions of workers been let go, but the pressure to reduce the income and benefits of the remaining workers -- while getting more work out of them -- has increased constantly. In the current economic calamity, for example, many workers have taken pay cuts, up to 50% in some cases, just to ensure they can continue to work at all.

The unemployed who qualify for benefits -- and remember half or more of the workers let go in this economic catastrophe don't qualify for UI benefits and never did -- also get a cut income of at least 50% and often much more. While their UI benefits are subject to income tax, they are not subject to payroll tax, so there is the added burden for them of paying no FICA taxes while they are unemployed and that will have a serious repercussion on the amount they can claim from Social Security when they retire.

Those workers who still have jobs, albeit at reduced wages, hours, and benefits, pay into Social Security, but at a reduced rate commensurate with their reduced income, so their benefits will also get a haircut when the time comes to retire.

Many older workers find it completely impossible to find any work at all. Age discrimination is rampant (as are other forms of employment discrimination I'll get to eventually) and employers get away with it scot free. Older workers are opting to collect Social Security early if they are close enough to age 62, and that means that their benefits are lower for the remainder of their lives than they would have been if they remained working.

So all this frenzy to cut Social Security retirement payments is sort of silly: Social Security is being cut by the simple expedient of making sure that lots of people can't contribute and so can't collect full benefits in any case. Beauty.

During the height of the layoffs, there were 6 unemployed workers available for each position. Now it's closer to 5 workers per position. But that doesn't really state the case. Many of the positions "available" are not really available at all for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is that the position has already been filled in house, and it is being advertised pro-forma to present the illusion of a fair competition or being open to outsiders. This is typical of many government and corporate positions. So the job isn't really available; it's the illusion of an opening that counts.

Many advertised positions are "phantom openings" in that the position may technically be available, but the employer has no intention of filling it. In other cases, the advertisement is for a job that doesn't exist and never did, but the ad is used as a recruitment tool for other kinds of work, for which there may or may not be current openings.

There are many other recruitment subterfuges and scams perpetrated by HR departments in all kinds of fields, and it has been going on essentially forever. The fact of the matter is that at any given time, there are far fewer actual jobs available than appearances would suggest given the number of positions advertised or statistically "available".

We are constantly propagandized to believe it is "small business" that drives employment in this country. And when that propaganda fails, we are propagandized to believe it is corporations that drive employment in this country. As it happens, both are still shrinking employment, though not at the breathtaking pace we saw in 2008 and 2009.

Small business is shrinking employment for two main reasons: 1) they have no customers; 2) they cannot get operating financing. The absence of customers is due to the fact that so many people are unemployed, impoverished or destitute. They have no money, so they can't buy anything. The absence of operating financing is due to the fact that the banks are hoarding their cash, much of which has been given to them by the government to "encourage lending." Well, that didn't work out so well. Business loans are still very hard to get. Predatory capitalists have found the pickings among desperate small businesses very good indeed, and they are happily scooping up failed and failing small businesses for pennies on the dollar, while their former proprietors wind up among the unemployed, impoverished, and destitute.

May the circle be unbroken.

Corporate hiring -- in this country -- continues to slide downward. Corporations are not hiring in this country and are reducing operations at home while they shift their economic and financial interest abroad, particularly to China, where an enormous potential for the development of a consumer economy grows by the day. Jobs have been moving to China, India, Vietnam and elsewhere for many years; now much corporate focus is on these Asian markets, for that is where they see the Future, not here in the United States.

What happens here doesn't matter when there is money to be made abroad.

We might want to reflect on the condition of the British working class during the heyday of The Empire. Read your Dickens for a glimpse. Tired of that? Ponder how the British behaved toward their next door colony of Ireland during the Famine. Mm. Yes. Pity.

Need more? Check out American history during the Gilded Age. How the Other Half Lives may seem shocking to modern eyes and sensibilities, but let me tell you: in parts of California that I became very familiar with during the heights of the recent booms, many people lived no better, and arguably in some areas were living in worse conditions that Jacob Riis documented more than a century ago in the tenements of New York. People were living in the open or in their cars because there was no housing available at all in some areas to people at their income level; people were crammed 8, 10, 12, 16 to a small apartment for which they were charged indecent rent by exploitative landlords, because there was no other housing available to people at their income level. All these people were working, and working hard I might add, to make other people's lives as comfortable as they wished, to ensure there was abundant food and cheap wine on other people's tables, and to clean up the messes that other people made.

This was the underclass of America during the height of the recent booms, and it is becoming the normalized condition for many, many Americans year in and year out as this Endless Recession continues and the languid indifference of Our Rulers remains undisturbed.

Just review your Steinbeck. He was loathed and despised in Salinas and the Central Valley of California because he told the truth. Watch this series of videos from the Guardian UK on conditions along Route 66 in today's Endless Recession. And it only tells a portion of the story.

All this misery and more is coming around again, and most Americans remain oblivious -- or worse, they know what is going on and self-righteously blame the victims.

There are some gobsmackingly simple solutions that have been known and advocated since the beginning of this economic nightmare, but Our Rulers adamantly refuse to consider them let alone implement them. bobswern, over at dKos (where he and Meteor Blades are among the very few posters who will consistently grapple with the issue of unemployment and the continuing efforts to force down wages and benefits) put together a very simple statement about what to do the other day:

So, let's talk about five simple things that could be done, immediately, to fix our economy that would make a major difference for Democrats in November, and for our entire country, right now and going forward...

1.) Give money to the poor.
"Just Give Money To Poor People, A Surpisingly Effective Solution to Poverty," Melinda Burns at Miller-McCune.com, 7/4/10

2.) Bypass the Wall Street bailout recipients, entirely, and have the Federal Reserve lend money directly to Main Street, without the Wall Street status quo middlemen taking their tithes.
"The Scope of Monetary Policy Actions Authorized Under The Federal Reserve Act," Federal Reserve white paper by David H. Small and James A. Clouse, 7/19/04

3.) Drastically expand highly effective jobs programs, immediately, that have proven themselves to be worthy of massive expansion.
"A Jobs Program That Works," Bob Herbert at the NY Times, 7/3/10

4.) Have the Treasury Department and/or Federal Reserve lend money to the states to enable them to provide a backdoor bailout to Main Street, immediately.
"Let Treasury Rescue the States," Chris Edley, NY Times, 7/8/10

5.) Either before or after we do "number 4," immediately above--and to pay for items 1 through 4, above--we then provide all of the resources necessary for the states' attorneys general to sue the crap out of Wall Street.

From Kossack and Democratic Party candidate for Texas Attorney General Barbara Ann Radnofsky, an elegantly simple way to not get mad, but to get even: "Suing Wall Street: 'Brilliant, Simple and Clear'," Barbara Ann Radnofsky, Daily Kos, 6/28/10

More on this from Zero Hedge: "Texas AG Candidate Sues Goldman et al For Causing "Recession, Unemployment" And Everything Else That's Bad, Zero Hedge, 7/4/10"

# # #

See, wasn't that easy? And completely self-funded, too! Our economic problems resolved!


Indeed, any solution at all -- not just the glaringly simple ones -- are ignored by Our Rulers, who continue, with utter indifference, to insist that 1)"nothing can be done," and 2) it's the lazy unemployed worker's fault anyway.

And yet still, there are no pitchforks, no torches, and the guillotines remain rusting in storage along with the Democrats' supply of dry powder.

I'm not a Doomblogger, and I don't believe the People are innately stupid. The insight from Orwell was that the Proles had the power to change things

They needed only to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies.


... if they only knew they could, but they were kept in darkness and ignorance, by design, exploited by design.

It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus in on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice. He [Winston Smith] wrote:

Until they become conscious they will never rebel,
and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.



And that, quite simply, is where we -- Proles -- are stuck today. I hate to say it, but it is a prime condition for the rise of a rightist/fascist demagogue to fashion that unformed and unfocused discontent into a furious, murderous, and further calamitous "movement."

The unfortunate thing is the Democratic Socialism that Orwell advocated and that I and many other Americans favor, has nearly always required a stable and relatively prosperous society in which to voluntarily be adopted, or contrariwise (cf: Post WWII Germany) utter defeat and near annihilation in order to be imposed from without.

Fascist demagogues? They're a dime a dozen, almost always internal developments of peoples' unfocused rage at deteriorating conditions they believe they can do nothing about. Weimar anyone?

Monday, July 5, 2010

On Effective Resistance -- and Abbie Hoffman



I'm in a strange and contentious mood today. Maybe it's the extended heatwave. Maybe it's just my "time".

Today would be my father's 109th birthday if he were still alive. Of course he died many years ago in a hospital where he was finally taken at the last to perish of a cancer that is usually controllable or curable if treated early enough.

He refused treatment when it might have saved his life. By that time, he was refusing most every overture from the outside world. He lived his last few years as a virtual hermit, doing his best to withdraw into a shell. I had no contact with him by then since I was more than a thousand miles away on the one hand, and I was unable to get a response to letters or phone calls, on the other hand.

In fact, I found the letters I had sent to him stacked in a neat pile on a side table when I explored his house after he died. None had been opened. I had tried calling him numerous times, but he never answered the phone. Eventually, I called his sister who lived down the street from him to find out whether he was OK, and she said he was, but she hadn't seen or talked to him for over 6 months, maybe a year. She thought he was fine, he just didn't want to be bothered. He wouldn't even listen to her the last time she saw him. He just looked right past her. What could you do?

Yes. What can you do? I missed his funeral and burial due to a flight delay from California, but I did attend his wake at the home of his sister, and I left with my head reeling, revolted and disgusted at these shallow and self-centered Iowans, claiming as they did: "Well, you know, Ray committed suicide. He wouldn't take any help when it could have made a difference. When they finally got him to the hospital it was too late. It was his own fault. Did anybody send for a priest?" The best thing they could say about him was that he should have stayed in the military. He had a very promising career in the Air Force, and he would have been out of the mess that things became in his small town in Iowa. It would have been for the best for all concerned.

OK.

At the time, I was actively resisting military service -- which the rest of the assembly to "honor" my father knew -- and so I saw it as backhanded slap not just at my father (for being himself) but at me, too, for being a doGdamned Hippie. He had left the military to go home and defend his older brother who on trial for murder. A political trial, I might add, for the real killer was known to the prosecutor before he took the case to trial, and it ended with a directed verdict of acquittal. That was the "mess" that things became in small town Iowa.

I still rage about those people. Not that it ever did me the least bit of good.

But then, I didn't have to deal with them more than occasionally. What a relief.

This is a picture of my father's house as it looks today:


I think it was actually taken last year, and the house looked a good deal different when my father lived there. The sort of mismatched window on the first floor left front was a door, the main door to the house. The larger window on the left front was even larger, and it was put in by my father to please my mother who came out to Iowa from California and who found the house dark and dreary when she got there. The house was built in stages, starting in the 1840's or '50s with the two rooms in back (which became the kitchen and dining room when my father lived there.) The small wing on the left side was added as a lean to originally, in the late 1850's; it had two bedrooms and a bathroom when my father lived there. Not too long afterward, a second story was added over the four early rooms, and one of the rooms above still had a Gothic arched window that Grant Wood made famous:




The front was added in the 1870's, and included a parlor, a stair hall, and a large bedroom upstairs.

A wraparound porch was added at the same time.

My father had lived in the house for years, since the early 30's. It had belonged to his father from whom my father inherited it. This was one of several houses on the street my grandfather had owned. Once it was in my father's name, he "cleaned it up," as he said, removing all traces of its Victorian Era origins from the exterior, including the porch, and masking the Gothic window from the outside with siding and a new window. He had it painted white. He partially modernized the interior -- Late Moderne Era light fixtures, tropical figured wallpapers, plumbing updates and the like -- and overwrought Victorian furniture was replaced with simple '40's modern pieces. Linoleum and new appliances were installed in the kitchen and the coal fired furnace in the basement was updated.

By the time my father died, the house was pretty much of a wreck. He hadn't maintained it for years while he'd shut himself up in it like a hermit. He'd rented out the upstairs to some very strange people who pretty much trashed that part of the place, but they're the ones who finally got him to a hospital. Some attorney friends of his said they'd take care of his estate on contingency, and so they did. Of course, it was nothing but trouble getting the few things I wanted boxed up and sent to California, getting the house sold, the proceeds (such as they were) distributed, and ultimately gaining closure on the whole sorry affair.

But you can see by the way I write about it more than 40 years later, I'm still puzzled at all the unknown elements of my father's final years, and annoyed at the complete insensitivity to him and to others shown by his surviving friends and relations.

I mentioned that I was actively resisting military service at the time my father died. I was called up for the draft in October, 1967, during a time of intense protests at draft centers all over the country, including Oakland where I was ordered to appear. In fact, the Oakland Induction Center was shut down by the protests during the time I was in transit. There had been protests and shut downs and arrests all week. I thought that going for my physical as ordered could be quite an interesting experience, though I had no intention of becoming a troop.

And it was interesting to say the least. We were scheduled to arrive at the Induction Center at 10am, but because of the protests, we were held at Santa Rita until about 4pm, and needless to say, we tended to act up some while we waited. Anti-war chants were our favorite.

When we were finally delivered to the Center, the smell of teargas was very strong in the air and the protest was still going on. Protesters had been removed from the front entrance, but they were right behind the double line of Oakland police who formed a kind of gauntlet for us to literally run through from the bus to the front entrance of the Induction center. The crowd was chanting slogans, and some of us were chanting too and raising fists as we stumbled into the Induction Center.

I remember being surprised at how respectful and even gentle the staff was once we were inside. I expected something much rougher, and it wasn't that at all.

We could hear -- and if we were near a window, see -- the protests outside all through our not too excruciating ordeal inside, and I saw people being arrested and hauled away. Some of us inside made for the windows in our underwear and shouted our solidarity with those outside, but truthfully, most did not. Most were silent, enduring the various pokage and proddage that's part and parcel of the process and getting ourselves "evaluated" by the psych team. Some of it was very funny, like when we had to give a urine sample and the military fellow supervising this process had to keep very close (and eager) watch on us to make sure... well, not sure what, but he obviously loved his job!

Now and then, we could hear the pop of tear-gas outside amid all the chants, and soon enough the air would fill with that acrid aroma and we'd all start coughing and gagging. They gave us something for it, but I honestly don't remember what. It may have been just a wet cloth to hold over our noses and mouths. I can still feel the burn of teargas in the back of my throat from that day, and every time my eyes are irritated due to allergies, I'm reminded of it.

Eventually, they were done with us, and I was surprised it was over so fast. I had a handful of papers to take with me, and when we got back outside the crowds were gone and it was getting dark. There were a few police milling around and a lot of debris in the streets. Faint odor of teargas lingered. Got back on the bus and went back home.

Got a notice that I passed my physical, and the real struggle began. I was NOT going to be drafted. Period. There were maybe half a dozen of us from that induction cohort who had vowed we were not going to go, no matter what. And we said as much at the Induction Center, something that the staff said they were very used to hearing, and it was no skin off their nose one way or another. Some people, they knew, really didn't want to be drafted. Oh well.

I sent letters to my draft board saying, "No, I will not go, don't call me," and I remember they sent me one back saying they received my letter and would I please provide documentation that I was a conscientious objector. Hm. No, I would not, thank you very much, and I would not be drafted, either. This went on for several months as I recall, with the draft board periodically replying to my refusals with very polite requests for more information. I was actually expecting to be arrested at any minute.

I burned my draft card at a public ceremony at my college (I wasn't a student at the time, I had dropped out for a variety of reasons, and that was why I'd been called up for a physical). I protested at the Federal Building, marching and chanting and carrying signs against the war and the draft. While the police were always a threatening presence, they didn't bash my skull and they didn't arrest me, either. Much to my surprise.

Finally, the draft board sent me notice that I was classified 1-A and would be subject to induction into the military within a short time (30 or 60 days, I'm not sure). Of course they conveniently included a new draft card. Bless their hearts. The one I had burned was a 1-S student deferment, which was no longer valid anyway, since I was not a student any more.

So I expected to get a notice any day that I was drafted. And you know what? It never came. The same thing seems to have happened to all six of us who "Hell no, we won't go." After what seemed like a long time -- and many letters back and forth to the draft board, and for some of us but not all, medical opinions from sympathetic doctors that said we weren't "fit" for service -- we were all re-classified 1-Y, subject to induction only in a national emergency.

It was... over. We weren't going to be drafted. We wouldn't have to go to jail, and we wouldn't have to go to Canada. Deferments didn't matter any more. It was... over.

Of course, if the Viet Cong started crawling up the beaches of Santa Monica, all bets were off.

Some time later, toward the end of the draft, some of the draft board members were interviewed, and they said that from time to time, they would get letters from draft and war protesters, and they said they would not arbitrarily reject them. They considered each one carefully. They knew there were many, many Americans opposed to the war and the draft, and they didn't see it as their job to induct men who were simply going to resist. So, if the facts warranted, they would try to find a way for men who were genuinely opposed to the draft and the war to stay out of the military, because what use would they be inside?

This was the first time I'd really thought of the draft board members as human. Their reputation was something entirely different. And yet, apparently they found a way to keep us out of the military.

Who'd a thunk it?

So, in a very small way, and essentially without our understanding of what was happening, our resistance was effective. And I cannot go to the Vietnam Memorial downtown and read all the names of the men who died there, some of whom I knew, some of whom were drafted, and not burst into weeping rage. Why? Why? Why?

By 1968, my rage at what was going on was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that it wasn't just damned dirty hippies or dumb kids who were outraged. Far from it. The McCarthy campaign and then the Kennedy campaign demonstrated the depth and breadth of opposition to the horrors being inflicted on the suffering peoples overseas and at home. This was no fringe uprising. It was global. It was deeply felt at home. I was attracted to the Kennedy campaign, but I thought he was an opportunist just the same. I watched the primary results come in from California, and I went to bed before Kennedy gave his victory speech.

I felt a hand shaking me awake. "Kennedy's been shot."

Oh my god. Not again. Please. Not again. Martin Luther King had been shot in April, and the national upheaval was intense. Many, many people had been killed or wounded in the aftermath. Please, not again.

This time, there was only sorrow and resignation. The last, best hope extinguished... And yet, there was still Chicago.

If I could have, I would have gone. "Won't you please come to Chicago..." Yes, well.

But I was penniless, had no way to get there, and no chance of going. I watched the events of the Democratic convention unfold on television, more bloodshed and rioting and teargas. More anger, more misery, more outrage.

And the star of the show was Abbie Hoffman. There was no doubt that it was a show and he was an absolute star. Simply amazing.




And my doG he and those with him got a lot done. To say that protest and resistance and monkeywrenching, and yes, clowning when the situation calls for it, is "ineffective" -- after what Hoffman and others were able to do -- is so full of shit and ignorance the mind boggles with the breathtaking arrogance of it.

Hoffman was a character, no doubt about that, and he relished the spotlight. He was a liberationist, not a communitarian, and yet every cause he supported and everything he did seemed geared to "be of service" to far more than himself and his image and reputation.

Somehow too many Americans have lost that spirit, or maybe never knew it.

He was an organizer with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee; he was a committed anti-war activist; one of his stunts was organizing the "Levitation of the Pentagon;" he always encouraged others to get involved and he was very successful in motivating otherwise passive or apathetic individuals to get off their butts; he went to the New York Stock Exchange and threw fists full of dollars down on the trading floor making some of the traders scramble to get the money.

Of course his arrest and trial in Chicago for his participation in the Democratic Convention protests in 1968 is the stuff of legend, and while his trial with that of the other "Chicago 7" was going on, his antics in court were magnificent, appropriate for the political trial context, and utterly contemptuous. Where are those today who will so creatively and gleefully expose the corruption of justice that passes for our court system today?

His books -- like Steal this Book and Letters from the Underground -- are still inspirational.

He went underground when he was set up by police as a big cocaine dealer and ultimately skipped bail. But while underground, he remained active as an organizer and writer. When he eventually surrendered to authorities, he was given a light sentence and was released after four months, something that is almost impossible to conceive of given draconian sentencing these days.

Abbie Hoffman was one of those involved with the revelations about the CIA's illegal involvement in the "Contra" war against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua when, at trial after his arrest (along with many others) for protesting the CIA's recruitment at the University of Massachusetts, Daniel Ellsberg, Ramsey Clark, and Edgar Chamorro, among others testified to decades of illegal and violent activities by the CIA.

Hoffman is alleged to have committed suicide by ingesting over 150 Phenobarbital tablets on April 12, 1989, but many of those who knew him don't believe it was suicide. Instead, they suspect he was "suicided," though just how is a mystery. The "why" is obvious. He remained a very effective organizer of trouble and afflictions for the powerful and comfortable to his dying day, and if there was anyone in America at that time who "needed suiciding" by the Powers That Be more than Abbie, let's hear who.

Effective resistance is sometimes an accident, often an art. But effective resistance and protest to right the wrongs of our nation is a constant necessity.

'When our country is right, keep it right; but when it is wrong, right those wrongs.' -- Abbie Hoffman, 1987


Our call never ends.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Patrice Lumumba's Speech on the Occasion of Congo's Independence from Belgium






June 30, 1960 -- Palais de la Nation, Leopoldville

Congolese men and women:

As combatants for independence who today are victorious, I salute you in the name of the Congolese government.

I ask all my friends, all of you who have fought unceasingly at our side, to make this thirtieth of June, 1960, an illustrious date that will be indelibly engraved upon your hearts, a date whose meaning you will teach your children with pride, so that they in turn will tell their children and their children’s children the glorious story of our struggle for freedom.

For though this independence of the Congo is today being proclaimed in a spirit of accord with Belgium, a friendly country with which we are dealing as one equal with another, no Congolese worthy of the name can ever forget that we fought to win it a fight waged each and every day, a passionate and idealistic fight, a fight in which there was not one effort, not one privation, not one suffering, not one drop of blood that we ever spared ourselves. We are proud of this struggle amid tears, fire, and blood, down to our very heart of hearts, for it was a noble and just struggle, an indispensable struggle if we were to put an end to the humiliating slavery that had been forced upon us.

The wounds that are the evidence of the fate we endured for eighty years under a colonialist regime are still too fresh and painful for us to be able to erase them from our memory. Back-breaking work has been exacted from us, in return for wages that did not allow us to satisfy our hunger, or to decently clothe or house ourselves, or to raise our children as creatures very dear to us.

We have been the victims of ironic taunts, of insults, of blows that we were forced to endure morning, noon, and night because we were blacks. Who can forget that a black was addressed in the familiar form, not because he was a friend, certainly, but because the polite form of address was to be used only for whites?

We have had our lands despoiled under the terms of what was supposedly the law of the land but was only a recognition of the right of the strongest.

We have known that the law was quite different for whites and blacks; it was most accommodating for the former, and cruel and inhuman for the latter.

We have known the atrocious sufferings of those banished to remote regions because of their political opinions or religious beliefs; exiles in their own country, their fate was truly worse than death.

We have known that there were magnificent mansions for whites in the cities and ramshackle straw hovels for blacks, that a black was never allowed into the so-called European movie theaters or restaurants or stores; that a black traveled in the hold of boats below the feet of the white in his deluxe cabin.

Who can forget, finally, the burst of rifle fire in which so many of our brothers perished, the cells into which the authorities threw those who no longer were willing to submit to a rule where justice meant oppression and exploitation?

We have grievously suffered all this, my brothers.

But we who have been chosen to govern our beloved country by the vote of your elected representatives, we whose bodies and souls have suffered from colonialist oppression, loudly proclaim: all this is over and done with now.

The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed and our country is now in the hands of its own children.

We are going to begin another struggle together, my brothers, my sisters, a sublime struggle that will bring our country peace, prosperity, and grandeur.

We are going to institute social justice together and ensure everyone just remuneration for his labor.

We are going to show the world what the black man can do when, he works in freedom, and we are going to make the Congo the focal point for the development of all of Africa.

We are going to see to it that the soil of our country really benefits its children. We are going to review all the old laws and make new ones that will be just and noble.

We are going to put an end to the suppression of free thought and see to it that all citizens enjoy to the fullest all the fundamental freedoms laid down in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

We are going to do away with any and every sort of discrimination and give each one the rightful place that his human dignity, his labor, and his devotion to the country will have earned him.

We are going to bring peace to the country, not the peace of rifles and bayonets, but the peace that comes from men’s hearts and their good will.

And in order to achieve all this, dear compatriots, rest assured that we will be able to count not only on our tremendous strength and our immense riches, but also on the assistance of many foreign countries, whose collaboration we will always accept if it is sincere and does not seek to force any policy of any sort whatsoever on us.

In this regard, Belgium has finally realized what direction history was moving in and has not attempted to oppose our independence. She is ready to grant us her aid and her friendship, and a treaty to this effect has just been signed between our two equal and independent countries. I am certain that this cooperation will be beneficial to both countries. We for our part, though we shall continue to be vigilant, will respect all commitments freely made.

Thus the new Congo, our beloved republic that my government is going to create, will be a rich, free, and prosperous country, with regard to both its domestic relations and its foreign relations. But in order for us to reach this goal without delay, I ask all of you, Congolese legislators and citizens alike, to aid me with all the strength at your command.

I ask all of you to forget the trivial quarrels that are draining our strength and threaten to earn us the contempt of those in other countries.

I ask the parliamentary minority to aid my government by constructive opposition and to stay strictly within legal and democratic paths.

I ask all of you not to shrink from making any sacrifice necessary to ensure the success of our great undertaking.

I ask you, finally, to respect unconditionally the life and property of your fellow citizens and foreigners who have settled in our country. If the behavior of these foreigners leaves something to be desired, our justice will be swift and they will be expelled from the territory of the republic; if, on the other hand, they conduct themselves properly, they must be left in peace, for they too will be working for the prosperity of our country.

The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent.

Your Majesty, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, my dear compatriots, my black brothers, my brothers in the struggle, that is what I wanted to say to you in the name of the government on this magnificent day of our complete and sovereign independence.

Our strong, national, popular government will be the salvation of this country.

I invite all Congolese citizens, men, women, and children, to set to work to create a prosperous national economy that will be the crowning proof of our economic independence.

Honor to those who fought for national freedom!

Long live independence and African unity!

Long live the independent and sovereign Congo!

======================================


Lumumba was overthrown as Prime Minister two months later, and a week after that, Colonel Mobutu, with the advice and assistance of the Belgians, declared a military coup. On January 17, 1961, Patrice Lumumba was (officially) executed by firing squad in Elisabethville, Katanga, Congo; however, the unofficial story is that he was beaten by his guards and was stabbed with a bayonet by one of his rival's cabinet members. He was finished off by a bullet to the head fired by a Belgian mercenary. His body was chopped into pieces and dissolved in acid so as to leave no remains to be memorialized.

Mobutu was the brutal and thieving dictator of Congo/Zaire/the Democratic Republic of Congo, under Belgian, American, and IMF control, from 1961 until his ultimate exile and death in 1997.

Lumumba, you see, was uppity. He believed in social justice. He spoke out on behalf of the lowly in front of his betters. Eisenhower wanted him... out, and so it would be, with the assistance of his Congolese rivals, Belgian agents and mercenaries, and, of course, the CIA, whose murder plot for Lumumba was almost as idiotic as the ones they devised for Castro in Cuba.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Was Markos Made the Fool?



It's hard to say what happened with Markos and the Research 2000 polls he commissioned for over 18 months.

He's filed suit and I understand the pollster is counter-suing. Some statistics geeks have had at the R2K formulae and declared them suspect, but anyone who was watching the results being headlined daily at Daily KOS had to be thinking at the very least that Markos was getting what he paid for, poll results that pleased his fancy.

I go back a long way with dKos. My user ID is 501; it would be lower but for the fact that my computer at the time was acting up and it wouldn't let me sign up to the Scoop site when the changeover happened, and I had to wait till the next day -- as I recall. It was a long time ago. At any rate, I was using a different screen name at the time, one that I still maintain for certain very limited purposes. I was active at dKos almost from the beginning of its emergence, made what I thought of as a number of online friends there, but most of them, like me, have since departed the place. In my case, I cut back commenting to nearly nothing after Markos pretty much turned the site over to the notoriously abusive Armando Llorens (aka "Big Tent Democrat") who was simply allowed to run wild for a couple of years -- until I guess he had to go into rehab. He eventually managed to get his ass banned by Markos, but only after an enormous number of complaints about his atrocious behavior had been sent to Markos. So far as anybody knew, he ignored them all. Armando was his man. And nobody could say anything against him.

Very early on, Markos declared himself a "poll junkie," and he showed an almost child-like belief in the "magic" of polls. I was puzzled. Markos clearly didn't know anything about polls or polling, and he would often misuse the results of this or that poll to reinforce whatever political belief or candidate he was promoting at the moment, even if the polls actually showed something quite different than what he believed. He would routinely tout polls that reinforced his belief, denounce polls that showed something else, and he seemed to be completely ignorant of how polling was done, how the raw data was massaged or manipulated, let alone how questions could control outcome, and how really slimy some pollsters were.

It was all "magic" to him. And he seemed to love the notion that polls could accurately predict the future. Of course, they often didn't, but that was a mere detail.

When he hooked up with Research 2000, I thought maybe he had learned something what with all his heady talk of "internals" and "crosstabs" and such. But then, the results he touted from R2K seemed to be intended to promote Obama and Democrats when there was no other indication that the public was quite so enamored.

He was getting what he was paying for, much like the clients of other polling outfits got what they were paying for. A tool with which to market political product.

But that's not to say the R2K polls were "fraudulent" as Markos is now claiming they were. My suspicion was they that they were designed to produce the results they did, much like other polls are, and that they were valid enough within their strict boundaries.

When Markos dropped R2K, the rationale was that the polling wasn't sufficiently close to voting results, particularly in the Halter/Lincoln Primary Thing in Arkansas. R2K's polling was off, but that's not unusual in the polling business. What seemed to make Markos wake up to the idea that something was out of whack with R2K was the fact that Nate Silver declared R2K's results to be essentially an outlier, not just on the Halter Thing but through and through, and thus unreliable.

The bias and unreliability of polls in general has long been a feature of the trade, however, not a bug. What was so special about R2K's bias and failings? That is still not clear, although statistics geeks have come up with plenty of charts and graphs that suggest that R2K may not have been doing any actual polling at all but might have been simply pulling numbers out of the air.

If that is so, wouldn't it be amazing? Actually, no. Not necessarily. Since they were consistently producing results Markos wanted to see -- much as other polling outfits do for their clients -- how they got those results really doesn't matter.

Polling in general really isn't reputable any more, if it ever was. "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics," isn't just a catch-phrase. Markos' child-like faith in polls and polling, in contrast to his general distrust and skepticism of nearly everything else, seemed odd years ago, and this episode has a distinctly odd aroma to it.

There are apparently those who are developing an elaborate conspiracy theory about Markos and R2K. That it was all a scam from the outset, and Markos was in on it, and he would still be using R2K to scam the public if it weren't for the "statistical anomalies" that were being pointed out far and wide. Under the circumstances, he has to make a big show of denouncing R2K and suing their ass; otherwise Markos's reputation is in the toilet, too.

Well, I think that goes too far. Way too far. Manipulated polls are a fact of life, have been for a very long time. So has using manipulated polls to market political products. Anyone who puts their faith in polls and polling because it supports their political ideology is, in my opinion, a fool. Rather than scamming, it is more likely that Markos was merely fooled by polls that showed what he wanted to see.

On the other hand, R2K may be a complete fraud.