Jan 21

Talking Carnage

Pat Brown, the current California governor’s father, observed somewhere that in politics, the language always rides off in the opposite direction from the policy. So, if the policy promotes war, its advocates profess nothing but peaceful intentions, and if the policy gouges the poor, the language that wraps the package sparkles with phrases of equality and charity.  

President Trump’s inaugural address can stand as a blue-ribbon model of this rule.  The key phrases aim resentment against elites, express love for the common people, and lay out a vision — an unshakeable dedication — to enter “a new millennium” of greatness.  

“Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth … The establishment protected itself but not the citizens of our country … there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our country … The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer … Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation … the crime and the gangs and the drugs … This American carnage stops right here and stops right now… From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land … America first, America first … We stand at the birth of a new millennium … You will never be ignored again.  Your voice, our hopes and dreams will define our American destiny.”  

It doesn’t quite have the revolutionary thunder of the Communist Manifesto, but if you read it out of context you might think that it came from the lips of some modern-day Spartacus, seething with rage against the machine and incandescent with a fever to turn the world right side up again.  

Unfortunately, there is a context.  There is the man from whose mouth it came, there is his history, and there is the crowd he is bringing into power with him. He’s no Spartacus.  He’s the son of a rich man. In his own real estate holdings there has been “little to celebrate for struggling families,” especially not for those who are African-American.

He has made his reputation building palaces and clubs for the rich, forgetting entirely the “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities.” He has invested nothing in reviving “rusted-out factories” here, preferring to have his branded commodities manufactured in Turkey and in China. Even the official inauguration caps with his name on them were made in China.

There has indeed been carnage in American cities, with hundreds of unarmed black and Latino men, women, and children murdered by men in uniform, who in some cities form the most dangerous of gangs. Has he spoken out against this carnage? Never. Does he show sympathy for the victims?  On the contrary.  He blesses the perpetrators, and throughout his campaign he has given aid and comfort to elements who emulate the Klan in all but the bedsheets.

He says, “For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.” Who’s the “we” in this sentence? It’s not you and me but the owners and bankrollers of American industry who have moved millions of jobs abroad by outsourcing manufacturing to lower wage areas. The resulting super-profits have vastly enriched the American billionaires.  Never in history have so few individuals owned so much as they do today.  

The most effective way to stop outsourcing is to tax those profits, cutting them to the rate that would have come from American labor.  Another cure is to tax the trillions in profits that American corporations stash abroad as if they were generated in America. Does the speaker have the courage to propose this kind of action? Only look around at the folks he is bringing with him to Washington. Never in American history has there been a cabinet so stunk up with billionaires. Nothing in the president’s history nor in his campaign statements hints at any intention to touch the golden river of profits that flows into their pockets. On the contrary, his proposals aim to widen and deepen that stream, on the pretense that jobs depend on it, even though American banks are already choked with trillions in corporate profits that nobody knows what to do with.  

Patriotism, the English wit Samuel Johnson observed, is usually the last refuge of a scoundrel.  Case in point: “America First.” By the sound of it, as patriotic a policy as could be imagined.  But then consider not only the Trump merchandise manufactured abroad, but also the source of the man’s wealth.  Because he burned most American banks with his bankruptcies and broken deals, much of his business financing has come from Russian sources. The hundreds of millions he spent to turn the old D.C. Post Office into his branded hotel came as a loan from Deutsche Bank.  Deutsche Bank is a scandal-plagued foreign institution that has been accused, among other frauds, of acting as a pass-through for Russian capital. And Trump comes into office with the major US intelligence agencies having concluded that the Russian government actively intervened in the US election in his favor. Any scoundrel in his precarious position would need to thump the tin tub of patriotism very hard indeed.  

“The time for empty talk is over.  Now arrives the hour of action.”  So he said, and by his actions he will be judged.  The first thing he did was to repeal an Obama executive order that eased the path to ownership for first-time home buyers. Next, he is dismantling the Affordable Care Act, which is providing health care coverage to more than 20 million Americans.  On his early list is defunding Planned Parenthood, cutting services for victims of domestic violence, and a series of other attacks that will entail widespread suffering and loss of lives.  Much worse is to come.  

No shroud of inaugural rhetoric can mask the calculated evil of this new administration. In earlier administrations, a Marxist had to put in some effort to expose the hands of the billionaires who were directing the ship of state from behind the scenes. Now the manipulative moguls have stepped in front of the curtain and dispensed with the bother of using front men to do their bidding. They’ve little acquaintance and much contempt for government ethics. If they have to put their assets in trust, it’s with the assurance that they’ll take them back again, with tax-free gains, when their term is over.  Their administration will be a carnival of corruption and corporate welfare.  They’ll run a garage sales of public assets for favored private hands. No protection, no safety net for “the struggling families all across our land” will be safe.  You’re talking carnage?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  

(To be continued)


Jan 18

Berlin Bulletin

Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht

By Victor Grossman

Berlin Bulletin No. 125, January 17, 2017

Rosa and Karl: Like every mid-January Sunday in Berlin, their names are recalled by those with a social conscience. Once again thousands laid red carnations, brightening the snowy surroundings, at the monument honoring them and those named nearby who lived and died for a good cause. Karl Liebknecht was a fighter, the one Social Democratic delegate in 1914 to defy a party decision and vote against the World War, and to keep opposing it until he was jailed. Rosa Luxemburg, with him in opposition, and also jailed, wrote bitterly, “The dividends rise and the proletarians fall.” In the bloody days of the November Revolution at war’s end they fought for a socialist Germany, helped found a Communist Party and, two weeks later, 98 years ago, were both brutally murdered by forerunners of the Nazis. Rosa is still especially loved; she was not only a truly revolutionary fighter against injustice, war and oppression, but could also dream. Even in prison she described the sky, songbirds, even the ants and beetles she could observe, and wrote: “I feel at home in the entire world, wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.”

The “old faithful” and many young people, too, walk several blocks from the subway to the site. And, as every year, a militant mix of leftist parties, grouplets and national groups from all Germany and beyond, Czechs and Turks, Kurds and Basques, Austrians and Danes, prefers to first parade for several kilometers through East Berlin, with music, slogans, banners and flags (also a few of the forbidden Kurdish People’s Party, whose bearers were again nabbed by the police).

The day before,  as ever, the newspaper Junge Welt organized a leftist conference. 2800 people, a record, heard reports on events in Brazil, the Basque country, Mexico, Turkey, Cuba and the USA, also a taped greeting from Mumia Abu-Jamal, the framed Black journalist in prison since 1981.

In the crowded rooms two themes could often be heard: Donald Trump and the position of the LINKE party. Not surprisingly, there was little affection for Trump; some were planning to demonstrate in Berlin against him. But some expressed fears at the unprecedented movement of US tanks and weapons through Germany and Poland to the Russian border. Could war hawks be planning some provocation there and using it to oust Trump, not because of his racism or misogyny, but because he wants to negotiate peacefully with Putin? Was the hectic, more than dubious hacker campaign so planned that Trump could be labeled a pawn of Putin and potential traitor in the face of a new emergency? Heightening such fears were reports of a  US Marine unit just arriving in Norway to “learn skiing” and “get used to polar conditions” near the Russian border and then join the big units gathering near St. Petersburg. What would the next days bring?

As for the LINKE, debate centered on its willingness, or refusal, to join the Greens and Social Democrats in a coalition government after the September elections. Would the LINKE join up, if the results permit, dropping its strict opposition to deploying troops outside German borders? Thus far it had voted solidly, often alone, against involvement in  Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria and Mali. This was the basis of its claim to be the one party of peace. Social Democrats and Greens insist it cannot be so stubborn on this if it wants to join in and some LINKE say, “OK, let’s agree on some exceptions”. Others recall the proverbial camel’s nose in the tent, soon followed by legs, hump and all!

But those elections are nine months away, and one difficult baby has already been born in this connection. In Berlin just such a  three-party coalition is now in charge, its joint program supported per referendum by almost 90 percent of all  LINKE members in Berlin. The new LINKE cabinet minister in charge of city planning, herself an engineer, courageously chose as deputy Andrej Holm, an expert, and known as a militant fighter against gentrification and for the rights of low-income tenants, for keeping rent rates down and building more homes for those who need them most.

Then it was found that Holm, after high school, had followed the bidding of his father (the son of an anti-Nazi concentration camp prisoner) and his feelings for the GDR and,  in September 1989 signed up for a uniformed sector of the State Security Ministry or Stasi. Four months later came the end of the Stasi, and soon after the GDR.  But not the animosity of its foes, not in 27 years. The masters in digging dirt found that when Holm applied for a university position in 2005 he had admitted to joining the Stasi but not that he had received pay for three or four months. Had he forgotten after 15 years? Was he trying to save his livelihood and career against the lasting taboos? For his foes that was unimportant. The city, they insisted, could not have such an untrustworthy man in office!

All this landed in the middle of  the Liebknecht-Luxemburg Conference. Then came the news that Mayor Michael Müller, a Social Democrat, without waiting for a university report, as agreed, had decided to fire Holm. One speaker recalled bitterly how Hans Globke, one of those most responsible for preparing the Holocaust, remained a deputy minister and “second most important man in West Germany” until 1963. And so many others had cleansed or concealed a Nazi past! The conference ended with a unanimous call on the LINKE to answer this move by quitting the city government coalition. Yet it was clear to most that this would not happen. The real estate sharks won out, and a day later Holm decided to quit before he was fired. But he vowed to stay militant!

This was no pleasant start for the Berlin coalition, and may even have relevancy for the national election campaign. It was good, therefore, that Sunday ended with a wonderful meeting in a big theater, with all top leaders of the LINKE party in a friendly row of brief speeches, also the LINKE candidate for German president, speakers from other countries and good music, German and Turkish, all under the slogan “Labor Unions strengthen Humanism (Anti-Communism destroys it).”

In conclusion Sarah Wagenknecht, the party’s most prominent leader, made a powerful, fighting speech. She denounced the forces in  Germany and elsewhere who are responsible for wars, death, destruction and poverty, with resulting waves of refugees. She accused German rulers of bribing some groups of workers into acquiescence while pushing others into ever worsening part-time, temporary, unprotected jobs, divided in each plant to prevent unity, and thus lowering wages. The cheaper-built products helped force countries in southern Europe into “austerity” measures and those in  Africa or Asia into extreme poverty, with half their young people facing joblessness and hopeless futures. Only if the LINKE hits at these problems, offering German working people a true alternative to establishment politics, can right-wing extremists be beaten back. It was a wonderful speech, the crowd was galvanized into new determination to fight back and to fight forward. This meeting, like all the weekend’s events, was truly in the spirit of Rosa and Karl!

[Reposted by permission]

Jan 14

Open Letter from Vets About Haiti

Open Letter from Military Veterans about the 2016 Stolen Elections in Haiti
January 9, 2017

President of the United States Barack Obama       Secretary-General Antonio Guterres
The White House                                                    United Nations Secretariat
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW                             405 East 42nd Street
Washington, DC 20500                                           New York, NY 10017

Your Excellency, President of the United States Barack Obama

Your Excellency, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres

We in Veterans for Peace urge you to reverse your policies which have trampled on the democratic rights of the Haitian people. Today a stolen election, or “electoral coup d’etat” is taking place in full view, with your support. Today, almost daily marches of tens of thousands, demanding free and fair elections, are being brutally repressed by Haitian police and U.N. soldiers, with your support.

As the attached Veterans for Peace resolution makes clear, the origins of the current crisis can be traced back to the Feb. 2004 coup, when an invasion force of U.S., French and Canadian armies overthrew the elected government of Haiti, kidnapping President Aristide and flying him to exile in Africa on a U.S. military plane. The coup led to a wave of killings and persecution of Fanmi Lavalas, Aristide’s party and long the most popular political party in Haiti. Since then, Haiti has been placed under U.N. military occupation, which continues today. 

Since the 2004 coup, Haitians have been deprived of the right to a free and fair election – first by excluding Lavalas from participation in elections, and later in 2015 and 2016 by massive and well-documented electoral fraud. The fraud involved U.N. officials, the U.S. Embassy, and Haitians who had backed the 2004 coup – and who hold key posts in the Electoral Council and Vote Tabulation Center. Operations to suppress the vote were rampant and widespread.

On Nov. 29 at 1:00 in the morning, UN-trained-and-supervised police launched a tear-gas attack on the sleeping La Saline neighborhood, killing three babies by suffocation and hospitalizing others. On Dec. 24, police attacked a peaceful Christmas eve demonstration on Martin Luther King Avenue in Port-au-Prince – beating and shooting journalists and people protesting the electoral coup d’etat.  Police deliberately shot up and smashed windows of cars belonging to Lavalas parliamentarian Printemps Belizaire and Lavalas senatorial candidate Dr. Louis Gerald Gilles. Journalist Thomas Jean Dufait, from Radio-Tele Timoun, sustained bullet wounds.

Veterans for Peace has over 120 chapters across the U.S. and abroad. Recently we sent a
large group to support Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock, N.D. One of our
principles is “to restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the
internal affairs of other nations” – precisely what has happened in Haiti – historically, and including today’s blatant interference in Haiti’s election.

As a veterans’ organization, we appeal to U.N. soldiers assigned to duty in Haiti, to refuse to obey unjust orders to repress Haitian citizens who are exercising freedom of expression and assembly. It is their right to have their votes transparently and accurately counted, and to oppose the “electoral coup d’etat” being imposed by foreign powers.

Please act to stop this injustice and protect the democratic rights of the Haitian people.


Barry Ladendorf
President, Veterans for Peace



Jan 12

Bernie’s New Book

Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In
by Bernie Sanders
Published 11.15.2016,Thomas Dunne Books464 Pages
Review by Tom Gallagher
Reposted by permission
A SWISS JOURNALIST working in the United States tells a story of people from her home country asking about the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and wondering if he is some kind of dangerous radical.
She would simply reply, “He’s a social democrat,” an explanation that everyone understood because she was identifying him with a tradition that went back over a century in Europe.
But for many in the United States, what Sanders was saying was kind of crazy — or at least new. His campaign arguably introduced the country not to 21st-century politics, but to 20th-century politics. As Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, told the Sanders campaign kickoff crowd, “This guy’s been saying and doing the same stuff for the last thirty years. If it weren’t so inspiring, it’d be boring.”
Sanders has now written the book on social democratic campaigning in the United States — literally. It’s called Our Revolution, and it’s structured kind of like one of his campaign rallies (I was a Sanders delegate to the convention and therefore went to many of these events). Part one is preliminaries, and in part two Sanders talks issues, issues, issues — and it contains much more detail than any campaign rally. Either part stands on its own.
Ben Cohen was not entirely accurate in his above remarks — it’s actually well over 40 years since Sanders walked into his first meeting of the Vermont Liberty Union Party in 1971 and walked out as the group’s US Senate candidate. The party was prescient, if premature. Sanders would get but two percent of the vote in the following year’s election. He recalls that people who heard his first campaign radio interview
may or may not have agreed with what I said, but what they probably remember was a constant thumping sound on their radios. I was so nervous that my knee kept shaking and banging up against the table. The sound engineer kept waving his arms for me to stop, but there it was. My first radio interview — thump, thump, thump.
From there he made a few more single-digit statewide runs before being elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981 — by 10 votes. In 1990, Vermont sent him to Washington, DC, a place he tells us he had been before, but “was never inside the Capitol until after I ran for Congress.” He would become the longest serving Independent in congressional history by essentially supplanting the Democrats in the races he ran.
Our Revolution contains more biographical material than Sanders ever gave up on the stump. Why did the Brooklyn boy migrate to the bucolic state of Vermont? Because Boy Scout summer camp had given him a taste for things like “observing beautiful starry nights for the first time in my life.” But before that he was off to the University of Chicago, getting his first campaign experience in the successful reelection campaign of alderman Leon Despres, an independent member of the Chicago City Council opposed to Mayor Richard Daley’s Democratic organization, and getting arrested in a civil rights demonstration aimed at desegregating the Chicago public schools.
The first glimmers of a Sanders national candidacy probably came with his eight-and-a-half-hour 2010 filibuster speech against an extension of George W. Bush’s upper-income tax breaks. Yet, as late as 2013, he would tell an interviewer that he was “at least ninety-nine percent sure” that he wouldn’t make the run. But he tells us he had serious problems with “Hillary Clinton, the centrist candidate of the Democratic establishment” being “anointed as the Democratic nominee and […] allowed to run without opposition.”
He had no doubts about her skills, but felt that the “Clinton approach was to try to merge the interests of Wall Street and corporate America with the needs of the American middle class — an impossible task.” And then there was her fundraising, which conflicted with his principle “that you cannot take on the establishment when you take their money.” And her infamous vote for the Iraq War and support for “a number of initiatives, including policies in Libya and Syria, which were too hawkish from my point of view.”
When the decision was made to go, Sanders sought advice from the campaigns of Jesse Jackson, whom he had supported in 1988; Dennis Kucinich, whose 2004 and 2008 campaigns never took off, but, in Sanders’s view, “forced the debate in the Democratic primary process into a direction it never would have gone without him”; and Barack Obama, who although “more conservative than Jackson, Kucinich, or myself,” had run “one of the most brilliant campaigns in the modern history of our country.”
All the good advice notwithstanding, however, in the eyes of the national news media this venture was a non-starter. After all, he was a “socialist.” But soon the surprises started.
First there was the money. As Sanders writes, “The media may not pay much attention to the ideas that a candidate espouses, but they do pay attention to your fund-raising capabilities,” and the $1.5 million he raised from 35,000 donors in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy got their attention. Eventually this would grow to $228 million in eight million individual campaign contributions from 2.5 million contributors. Successful beyond any reasonable person’s wildest dreams, the campaign’s internet and social media fundraising success was almost too great, in that traditionally fundraisers have had a secondary value of bringing people together, which does not happen when you contribute online, leaving people to find each other out by other means.
And then there were the debates. Eager to get to the issues, he dismissed the idea of trying to sink the front-running Clinton with petty scandals with the memorable line, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”
And for anyone who, like this writer, had been waiting for the return of a national level electoral left since George McGovern’s 1972 run, there were multiple pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming moments, like when he said, “Let’s talk about democratic socialism.” Or mentioned the US Government–inspired 1953 coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, and the 1954 overthrow of President Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. Or when he called climate change the greatest threat to our national security.
Which brings us to the massive age gap in the Sanders vote, which turned out to be just about the exact opposite of what most expected. He had problems connecting with older voters, which he explained with five reasons: their fond memories of the Clinton years, the desire of older women to see the first woman president, their absence from social media, their belief that he must be old and tired, and negative impressions of the word “socialism” rooted in memories of the Cold War against the USSR. As contemporary polling shows, socialism is not a scary word if you’re young — if you’re 30 years old now, you were five when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, so for you socialism probably means Sweden. If millennials have not lived with the fear that the Reds were going to arrive on our shores, they have grappled more than their elders with the knowledge that the human race could wreck the home planet — and the fear that it is in the process of doing just that. He easily surpassed the combined Trump and Clinton under-30 primary vote.
The second part of the book provides a useful platform for anyone seeking public office, and its thoroughgoing review of economics, health care, trade policy, climate change, criminal justice, immigration, corporate media, and social welfare will likely provide any reader with greater depth in at least one area. In my case, it was higher education. I was surprised to learn that student debt has tripled since 2004 and that it is now larger than combined credit card and auto loan debt and is growing fastest among those nearing retirement. Nor did I know that tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled since 1970 and is up 60 percent in the last decade — this with more than three-quarters of college students now attending public colleges. A country that once led the world in percentage of college graduates is running about 15th now.
There is one serious omission in this book. The second part of Our Revolution contains no section on foreign policy. And in this it is consistent with the campaign. While Sanders was the only major candidate to even challenge our continual compulsion to intervention, this has never been the center of his interests.
On the home front, that Swiss journalist seems to have had it entirely right: the Sanders campaign has introduced the United States to social democratic politics. When he spoke at a Vatican conference on income inequality, The Washington Post noted, “Sanders slipped comfortably into the lexicon of European and South American socialist and leftist politics, including the socialist government models of Scandinavia.”
JANUARY 11, 2017, Los Angeles Review of Books

Dec 18

Report from Standing Rock

Temporary victory at Standing Rock
Defiant tribes and 4,500 vets block oil pipeline

By Dave Welsh

Cannon Ball, North Dakota, Dec. 12 – Since last spring, volunteers from 280 Native tribes and countless other folks have been pouring into the various camps of the Standing Rock Sioux – ultimately up to 25,000 people, some for short stays and others “for the duration.” Their mission: to help the Sioux tribes stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from drilling under the great Missouri River, befouling the water supply for 17 million, desecrating sacred sites and trampling on Native lands and sovereignty. Native fighters had already employed an array of militant tactics to stop the pipeline, including chaining themselves to construction equipment.

Then on Nov.25, the Army Corps of Engineers, backed by the state governor, issued an ultimatum, ordering all 7,000 people then living in the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires of the Great Sioux Nation) camp to pack up and leave. Basically saying, “Everybody out, or we’ll bulldoze the place.” Can you believe this? The evacuation deadline was December 5, and “any person who chooses to stay does so at their own risk.” Tribal leaders refused, demanding respect for their community and territorial treaty rights.

The evacuation order, in addition to ongoing vicious police repression against the water protectors, prompted a howl of outrage from all over, as military veterans, youth and the elderly, individually and in groups, dropped whatever personal plans they may have had and headed for Standing Rock. Social media definitely helped.

Some 4,000 Indigenous people from tribes from all over — Arizona, Wisconsin, Peru, Mexico, Samoa, Hawaii and Alaska, to name a few; students foregoing important exams; a vet in pain from surgery on both knees; another vet waiting for a kidney, who told his doctor to put it on ice, he’d have to wait; people with asthma violating doctor’s orders but bringing all their equipment with them; pensioners who took out payday loans so they could come. Some came on bicycles, or walked hundreds of miles to get there. They stayed in tents (with deadman tent-stake anchors, because of the high winter winds), tipis, campers, yurts, old school buses, Winnebagos, or hastily-built wood structures.

It seems that Standing Rock struck a powerful chord with many people, willing to make a sacrifice at a moment’s notice, because Standing Rock needed them and they desired to come – anything to stop that miserable pipeline … anything to prevent the eviction of the heroic Sioux water protectors from their own treaty land. Some came prepared with body armor, gas masks, and spray-bottles with diluted Mylanta to minimize the effects of tear gas.

Decision time
So by the time Dec. 4 rolled around, eve of the threatened police eviction, many thousands were arriving at the camps – determined to put themselves on the line to defeat the “eviction,” prevent the drilling and stop the “Big Black Snake,” as tribal leaders call the toxic oil pipeline.

The line of stopped cars waiting to get in to the Oceti Sakowin camp stretched for three miles along Highway 1806. Listening on your car radio, you could tune in to the Native radio station 89.5 and hear updates on the struggle, along with recordings of powerful, emotional singing and drums by Native artists, and country songs that told a story by Freddy Fender and Conway Twitty.

Then over the radio came the surprise news. The Army Corps had refused to “grant an easement” to allow DAPL to drill underneath Lake Oahe on the Missouri River to pursue their pipeline ambitions. The Army Corps statement mentioned exploring possible alternative routes for the pipeline, and the need for an Environmental Impact Statement, all promising months of delay.

Celebration time

That Sunday night everyone celebrated this important temporary victory, gathering around the Sacred Fire at the Oceti Sakowin camp while fireworks lit the clear sky. Nearby the flags of over a hundred tribes lining a dirt road flapped in the wind.

Tribal leaders welcomed their “relatives” – allies who had come, and introduced young Native runners who had run across many states to call attention to the dire situation at Standing Rock. These young warriors expressed defiance at the encroachments on Native land and water rights, but also sorrow about the recent suicide of a teenaged friend and member of the tribe.

The next morning, Monday at 6 a.m. tribal elders convened an assembly at the Sacred Fire, with chanting, drums and prayer. A Native woman from Washington state said she came with two gifts. The first was traditional medicine from her tribe. The second gift was music, performed live by a young singer and drummer from her tribe. She said that back home Indigenous people were fighting a similar struggle to stop a toxic oil terminal.

An elder who identified himself as Dull Knife, had this to say about the unexpected Army corps decision: “Of course we welcome any delay in this pipeline. But we know they lie. They always lie, the government and the police. That’s why we’re here, standing strong here at Standing Rock. We’re here and we’re going to stay here until we stop the Big Black Snake!”

Confrontations on the bridge

This was December 5th – the day the Army and the state had threatened to evict everyone from the Oceti Sakowin camp, by now numbering at least 10,000 people. Someone commented, “I don’t think they have enough jails in all North Dakota to accommodate that many.” A huge march of defiance, led by military veterans, left from the camp to the bridge near where DAPL had planned to drill under the Missouri River. By now it was snowing, soon to become a blinding blizzard, whipping people with 25 mile-an-hour winds as they approached the Backwater Bridge.

This was the same bridge, occupied by militarized police and the company’s private mercenaries – outfitted like they were ready for war — where on Nov. 20 water protectors were hosed and soaked for six hours by water cannons at close range, in subzero temperatures, beaten, arrested, pepper sprayed, maced, tear-gassed, strip-searched, hit with flash grenades, rubber bullets, and beanbags filled with lead pellets.

Some had numbers marked on their bodies, others were caged in dog kennels. A Native elder suffered cardiac arrest. A young woman, seriously wounded by a concussion grenade, a weapon of war, was airlifted for treatment in Minnesota. As journalist Jeremiah Jones wrote from Standing Rock, the law enforcement officers who committed these atrocities “are nothing more than a militarized security force for Billion dollar energy corporations.”

The Veterans who came, the Native people who came from other places

Nearly 4,000 Indigenous people came from tribes in most every state, and many have put in extended stays at Standing Rock. Together with folks from the Sioux and nearby Cheyenne River nations, this was described by one participant as the largest Indigenous gathering in living memory. Relationships were built between the different tribes, bonded in their common struggle. The slogan “Decolonize – Indigenize” was sewn onto jackets.

The extraordinary number of veterans who came may have played a decisive role. The largest contingent — Veterans Stand with Standing Rock — was organized by Wesley Clark, Jr. son of the famous general, together with Phyllis Young, a Standing Rock councilwoman. Brenda White Bull, who is a 20-year Marine veteran and also a direct descendant of Chief Sitting Bull, also played a role. Clark told me they’d expected 1,600, but 4,000 veterans showed up, in three campsites.

In addition, Veterans for Peace had a strong presence, organizing and putting to use the large amount of medical supplies that had been donated. Others came from Iraq Veterans against the War and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Some identified themselves as Jewish American veterans, African American veterans, Italian American veterans. It was about 60-40, men to women. Plus, hundreds of vets just showed up on their own, ready to work, ready to “fight for peace and justice,” as one vet put it.

One vet said Standing Rock was also a historic gathering for veterans, with many more vets coming to North Dakota than had come to the major Vietnam Veterans against the War action in Washington DC in 1971. “In the era of Trump,” he said, “it’s encouraging that 4,500 or more veterans dropped everything and came to North Dakota in the harsh Great Plains winter to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters here in Standing Rock.” By mid-week, forecasts were calling for winds up to 39 mph, wind-chill as low as 40 below.

Many of the vets who answered the call are Indigenous, including Navy veteran Remy, member of the Navajo Nation from Arizona and the Indigenous Veterans Council at Standing Rock. Remy told Democracy Now (12/5/16): “This pipeline must end, and we should be able to respect Indigenous sovereignty. This is our land originally. Land and the water are life-giving elements. So we’ve been out here in solidarity not only with the Standing Rock people, but with Mother Earth itself.”

The tribe was also happy to welcome the presence of Labor for Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, St. Louis Copwatch activists (who came with a months-long commitment), and solidarity visits from a collection of celebrities, including Jesse Jackson, Congresswoman and veteran Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Jackson Browne, Naomi Klein and Jane Fonda. Joan Baez and Willie Nelson offered key support.

This whole-hearted response contrasts sharply with the pathetic letter of “support” from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, belatedly issued on Dec. 4, the same day as the Army Corps permit denial — after months of silence from the senator. Sen. Warren – and her mealy-mouthed letter — are deftly dissected by YouTube personality Jimmy Dore

Is the pipeline in financial jeopardy? Will DAPL be a “stranded asset”?

Ominously, Energy Transfer Partners, co-owner of the pipeline project, issued a statement Dec.4, saying it would ignore the Army Corps permit decision and go ahead with drilling anyway under the Missouri river. They could decide to drill and just absorb any fines or penalties. Then the question comes: Is the Obama Administration ready to use force to stop the company from drilling without a permit?

Certainly, there’s no sign so far that DAPL is backing down. The main highway going north from the camp (1806) is still blockaded, with military-style checkpoints. The bridge is still guarded by police and DAPL mercenaries, who recently arrested three water protectors for “trespassing.”

However, there is some evidence that DAPL may be pressing ahead more out of desperation than anything else. ETP admitted in court that it has a “contractual obligation to complete the project by January 1.” If it misses the deadline – which now appears likely — companies with long-term commitments to ship oil through the pipeline may cancel, according to a Nov. 2016 report by Sightline Institute.

As a consequence of the global oil glut, oil prices have dropped sharply since ETP began the project in 2014. “Production in the Bakken Shale oil field has fallen…creating major financial hardships for drillers.” Moreover, if oil prices remain low, “Bakken oil production will continue to decline, and existing pipeline and refinery capacity in the Bakken will be more than adequate to handle the region’s oil production [and] DAPL could well become a stranded asset,” the  Sightline report said.

The struggle at Standing Rock and nationally, where 300 cities have mounted actions against the financial backers of this toxic pipeline – Citibank, Wells Fargo, TD Bank and 15 others – has clearly had an effect. Norway’s largest bank, DNB, under pressure from Greenpeace Norway, sold its stake in the pipeline project and is reconsidering its outstanding loans to the project. Wells Fargo has apparently experienced a drop in deposits, following the divestment campaign.

Standing Rock has caught the imagination of the world – a resurgent Indigenous movement, which has been leading many battles in the US and Canada …. a fighting Veterans movement, re-emerging as a powerful force …. a large contingent of young people of many colors from all over, selflessly devoting themselves to the struggle …. networks being activated around the country and the world — coming together in a coalition that, in the context of the global economic and financial crisis, just might be able to take on a powerful oil company that is threatening to poison the water, and defeat it.

The author, an Army veteran and retired letter carrier, stayed at the Oceti Sakowin camp in early December, working in the mess hall and kitchen, which provided three meals a day to hordes of water protectors. Many thanks for the information and insights of Maurice Martin of Veterans for Peace, who worked tirelessly at Eagle Butte to provide medical support for the tribes and the huge contingent of veterans.                   

Photo by UR_Ninga | CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US

Dec 09

Ghost Ship Fire: Victims of the Free Market

Some of the fire victims. — KALW photo

When I got the news of the Ghost Ship fire, I sent a panic text to my son who lives in Berkeley.  He’s the same age as most of the victims.  He’s in the arts scene.  He might have been there.  It was the same trembly, sinking feeling I had on 9/11, when my other son was at NYU and living in Lower Manhattan. Thankfully, they’re both safe.  For now.

The lives lost in 9/11 were victims of terrorism.  The lives lost in Ghost Ship were victims of the free market. Three layers of free markets, actually.  There’s the above-ground free market in housing. That’s where rents in Oakland have tripled over the past three years, and even moderate income people can’t buy a house.  Then there’s the underground free market in housing, where slumlords masquerading as long-haired cool-vibe benefactors enable live-work death traps for money. And then there’s the third free market, the one for labor, where starving artists have to take day jobs at crappy wages that price them out of the above-ground housing market and condemn them to the warehouse ghetto, or to the streets.

Cities like Oakland want an arts scene, desperately.  Too long defined by news about drive-by shootings and gang wars, Oakland in recent years has reveled in the new cachet of its muralists (until one was shot and killed) and its downtown First Friday scene and its vibrant, diverse, and envelope-pushing creative arts communities.  Until Ghost Ship.

Now the telephones of local eviction defense groups and tenant lawyers are ringing off the hook with tenants in warehouse spaces begging for legal help against a sudden tsunami of eviction notices.  Owners that had profited for decades from off-code live-work arrangements are afraid of the post-fire lawsuits. City inspectors that did nothing while obvious fire traps multiplied now race to red-tag anything that doesn’t look kosher. If this continues, Oakland will no longer have an arts scene.  The arts scene will have moved to Martinez and Pittsburg and Brentwood, or it will have been snuffed out as its protagonists give up in despair.

If a city wants an arts scene, it has to carve out a market-free space.  That’s right, not free-market but market-free. The free markets in legal housing, underground housing, and labor produce shameless exhibitions of luxury at one end, and shameful underworlds of poverty and death on the other. It isn’t only art that gets throttled here, it’s family life, children, health, dignity, hope.

There are solutions. Right in Oakland there are specialists like Thomas Dolan, an architect whose firm specializes in developing live-work spaces. Creating safe, legal live-work spaces isn’t rocket science.  But it requires public funds, and it requires creative flexibility in a governmental bureaucracy that’s geared to the conventional real estate market. How many cities today have funds, and the political will, to subsidize live-work spaces for young aspiring artists who haven’t yet sold their first creation and are working at minimum wage day jobs?

Another market-free angle is to support young artists in a decent manner. In Norway, a friend tells me, aspiring artists (including the whole range of creative endeavors) who demonstrate serious commitment to their craft can get stipends from the state, equal to the average wage of a factory worker.  Reviewed annually, the stipends go away if the artist either stops working at art or starts making money.  With those stipends, young people can afford to live in safe and legal housing while working full time at their art. What a concept!

By either approach, communities are saying that art is too valuable to be left to the mercies of the free market. If a community can do that, it can have a sustainable thriving arts scene.  If the community cannot create a market-free scene for the arts, it will have a thin overlay of market art, art for the affluent, while the lives of its most spirited young talents go up in smoke.




Nov 27

Stein’s votes probably gave Trump Michigan and Wisconsin

Ifjillnothill further evidence of Trump’s backstabbing of allies were needed, there’s his recent attack on Jill Stein’s recount initiative. He should be sending Stein flowers. Trump is deeply indebted to Stein’s Green Party and her siphoning votes away from Clinton.  In two of the three recount target states, Stein’s votes exceeded Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton.


Here’s the numbers:

State                                      Trump margin                                  Jill Stein votes 

Michigan                                10,704                                             51,463

Pennsylvania                         70,638                                            49,170

Wisconsin                               27,257                                            30,980

Totals                                     108,599                                          131,613

In other words, if all of Stein’s votes had gone instead to Clinton, Clinton would have carried both Michigan and Wisconsin, and shaved Trump’s margin in Pennsylvania to a razor’s edge. That’s not a mathematical certainty, because some of Stein’s voters might have gone to Trump, but it’s a high probability.  Stein’s total vote in all three states exceeded Trump’s combined margin of victory in those states by 23,014 votes.

The recount effort now casts Stein in the media eye as a challenger to Trump’s victory.  That’s great PR for Stein, but it’s doubly ironic.  First, because Stein’s campaign probably handed Trump the victory in two of those three states.  Second, because if the recount were to flip the results, Stein would still be a loser and her nemesis, Clinton, the winner.

How did we get here?  The Clinton campaign’s passive acceptance of the shadowy election results — mirroring Gore’s pathetic cave-in to Bush in 2000 — stirred up intense resistance from below and within Democratic Party ranks.  Stein made herself the voice of that feeling, and the stunning success of her crowdfunding effort (to which I contributed a modest amount), raising millions in a few days, moved the Clinton establishment to chime in with a lukewarm “me too” gesture, all while predicting that nothing would change.

If the Democratic Party had any grass-roots fight in it, it would have taken the lead in demanding the recount.  It would have challenged the voter ID laws and numerous other barriers put in place by several states to minimize the Democratic vote.  But if the Democratic Party were that kind of party, Jill Stein would not have had the political breathing room to get on the ballot in the first place. At bottom, the blame lies not on Stein, the mosquito, but on the big fat donkey that kicked aside a winning candidate, the outsider Bernie Sanders, and picked a lame insider who was out of touch with the base and destined to lose.

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