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Bannon’s Coup

In this Jan. 26, 2017, photo White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, left, and senior adviser Steve Bannon, right, walk on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, after returning via Marine One from a trip to Philadelphia with President Donald Trump. Since taking office 10 days ago, President Donald Trump has moved to consolidate power within a small cadre of close aides at the White House. He’s added a senior political adviser to the National Security Council and appears to have cut out Cabinet secretaries from decision making on some of his top policies, including the immigration and refugee order that led to protests, legal challenges and temporary detention of some legal U.S. residents this weekend. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In this Jan. 26, 2017, photo White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, left, and senior adviser Steve Bannon, right, walk on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, after returning via Marine One from a trip to Philadelphia with President Donald Trump. Since taking office 10 days ago, President Donald Trump has moved to consolidate power within a small cadre of close aides at the White House. He’s added a senior political adviser to the National Security Council and appears to have cut out Cabinet secretaries from decision making on some of his top policies, including the immigration and refugee order that led to protests, legal challenges and temporary detention of some legal U.S. residents this weekend. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

*denotes footnote

Stephen K. Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, has been elevated to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, the top tier of national-security policymakers.* It is the first time a political affairs official has been made a regular participant in the NSC’s work. The appointment is the most important piece in an extraordinary and dangerous bureaucratic reorganization that Bannon himself may have engineered.

Anyone who thinks bureaucracy doesn’t count should think twice after witnessing what amounts to a coup. Bannon may attend any session of the NSC and the Principals Committee while the intelligence community, represented by the Director of National Intelligence (Mike Pompeo) and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, may not.** Officially, Bannon is now on par with Michael Flynn, the special assistant for national security; but in terms of real access to the president, Bannon’s only peer is Jared Kushner. “It is a startling elevation of a political adviser,” the New York Times says.

Thus, the most important foreign and national security decisions, meaning those made during a crisis, are going to be most influenced by a far-right rabble-rouser and Trump’s son-in-law, neither of whom has anything remotely resembling international experience. (I don’t count Bannon’s time in the Navy, any more than I count Kushner’s donations to Israel.) And in Bannon’s case, that influence is likely to bend the president toward aggressive, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later actions with little or no consultation with experts. What else should we expect from the man who guided Trump’s campaign and essentially wrote his inaugural address on the theme of “America First”?

In practical terms, what might Bannon’s coup mean?

First, it means that the policy-relevant government agencies can expect to be bypassed on important decisions. Thus, for example, Trump’s executive order banning Muslim immigration reportedly was issued without reference to the Office of Legal Counsel in the Exec. Off. of the President, the Dept. of State, or the Dept. of Homeland Security. Nor, evidently, were local-level officials at airports alerted. The Washington Post reported on Jan. 30 that a dissent letter on Trump’s immigration order was being circulated in the State Department. With mass resignations—or were they firings?—of the State Department’s entire management team, Rex Tillerson will be taking over a badly weakened agency largely devoid of experienced leaders and perhaps facing a morale crisis.

Second, despite administration denials, the professional military and intelligence viewpoints at NSC meetings will only be at the table “where issues pertaining to the responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.” Is that qualification intended to promote efficiency, as Trump’s people say, or to lay the basis for exclusion from the most important decisions?

Third, it means that Trump’s financial interests will remain secret and under his control, so that the inevitable conflicts with payments by foreign governments to Trump will go unpunished.

Fourth, it means that Bannon et al. will continue to work with and encourage right-wing leaders in Europe and elsewhere who are as determined as he to carry out a white nationalist agenda that is anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and anti-globalist.

Fifth, it means that Israel will get everything it wants, without a word of concern from Washington. What a sad joke that Trump expects his son-in-law to craft an Israeli-Palestinian settlement while Netanyahu authorizes more settlements in occupied territory, and applauds Trump’s intention to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

Sixth, it means that Trump’s version of a “reset” of policy toward Russia will avoid the key issues that led to the demise of Obama’s reset in the first place: NATO’s eastward movement, and Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and seizure of Crimea. Those matters call for careful diplomacy. Trump is likely to start dismantling sanctions and increasing U.S. investments in Russia without a resolution of geopolitical issues.

Seventh, U.S. policy toward China will be opposite of policy toward Russia. China will be the hard edge of policy: naval buildup, deeper involvement in the South China Sea dispute, support of a Japanese military buildup in contravention of long-established policy, and erosion of the One China policy.

Eighth, nuclear rearmament will again come into vogue—a reversal of the downward trend of recent decades in numbers of weapons and means of delivery.

Ninth, traditional friends of the U.S. will find that friendship doesn’t carry much weight anymore. Mexico’s president and Britain’s prime minister have now discovered that. Alliances therefore will not have the credibility they once had with an unpredictable partner such as the Trump administration.

Eliot Cohen, former counselor to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department and now at Johns Hopkins University, has this warning about the NSC reorganization for his conservative colleagues:

Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week [on immigration and the Mexico wall], in favor of his White House advisers [Bannon, et al.], tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.

Cohen concludes that Trump will fail because the people he attacks will not go away, will persevere, and will ultimately say “enough.” We must hold everyone, especially officeholders, to account, he writes. I have to hope his confidence is warranted.

———-

*The NSC Principals Committee (PC) is the “Cabinet-level senior interagency forum for considering policy issues that affect the national security interests of the United States.” The PC can be convened and chaired by either the National Security Advisor or the Homeland Security Advisor. Its regular attendees will now include the following: Secretary of State; Secretary of the Treasury; Secretary of Defense; Attorney General; Secretary of Homeland Security; Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff; Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist; National Security Advisor; Homeland Security Advisor. The Counsel to the President, Deputy Counsel for National Security Affairs, and the Director of the OMB are also permitted to attend all meetings.

**The Director of National Intelligence is not on either the NSC or the PC. The DNI and JCS Chairman are to attend “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,” making their presence optional The Secretary of Commerce, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy will be regular attendees “when international economic issues” are on the agenda. The Director of the Office of Science and Technology, who under the Obama administration was to be present when “science and technology related issues” were on the agenda, will no longer attend.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Free Weekly or its staff.

Tomorrow Is Today

The icon’s day has come and gone, and — oh, the irony — eight people were fatally shot in Chicago on his weekend. Another eight were shot during a Martin Luther King rally and celebration in Miami.

God knows how many more died this past weekend: around the country, around the world.

An enormous wrong called human violence continues to roll across Planet Earth, but we bring less understanding to it than we had 50 years ago, when King spoke at Riverside Church in New York City and stood courageously against the war in Vietnam.

“We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation,” King said in his electrifying and disturbing speech, which merged the movement for civil rights and social justice with the growing national outrage against war. “The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate… .

“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today.”

As I say, this was 50 years ago: April 4, 1967, a year to the day before he was assassinated. And tomorrow is still today.

“We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late… . We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Consider the dystopia on display in this Chicago Sun-Times story about the eight fatal (and 24 non-fatal) shootings across Chicagoland on the weekend of Jan. 14-16. Each fatality in this irony-permeated account is meticulously listed, along with the street and block on which it occurred, the precise time of day (1:13 a.m., 6:55 p.m., etc.) and, my God, the lethal bullet’s entry location on each victim’s body. Thus we learn that there were two chest wounds, a head wound, head and chest wounds, abdomen and face wounds, and three multiple gunshot wounds. That’s it. No larger understanding is conveyed, no outrage, no despair. What’s the point?

The story ends: “Nine people were shot in Chicago last weekend.”

This is no fantasy dystopia but the world we actually live in — the “tomorrow” of King’s passionate warning cry half a century ago: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy,” he wrote in his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? “Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”

We’re watching his prescience come to life, even as we honor him — and in the process, ignore him. As I wrote a decade ago: “The public accolades ladled upon this fallen leader embalm him in sentimentality, in some glass case in the pantheon of national heroes, next to Washington, Lincoln, Elvis, et al. Then once a year we cherry-pick a memorable phrase here or there (‘I have a dream’ comes to mind for some reason), as though the words are frozen in history, part of a time when there was struggle and disagreement and prejudice.

“The shocking thing about King is that his words are as alive and unsettling as they’ve ever been.”

So the best we can do is try to pull them loose from yesterday’s context and look at them, absorb them and embody them in today’s. If anything, however, the wall of cynicism that prevents his words from entering the American political consciousness is more formidable than ever.

“This I believe,” he said in his Riverside address, “to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.

“And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula… . (It) is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries.”

These words tear me open, not simply because of the truth they manifest but because, despite that truth — wrenchingly apparent as it is in the wake of 50 further years of U.S. militarism — they still fail to penetrate the wall that separates policy from sanity.

Hear the broken cries of those who join ISIS? Of course not. But Erik Prince, mercenary extraordinaire, founder of Blackwater (and brother of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos), apparently has the ear of President-elect Donald Trump, and, as Jeremy Scahill reports, has been pushing for the Trump administration to “recreate a version of the Phoenix Program, the CIA assassination ring that operated during the Vietnam War, to fight ISIS.”

And the global dystopia rolls on.

I repeat: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.”

Welcome to tomorrow.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

January 20, 2017, A Day That Will Live in Ignominy

Donald J. Trump has been inaugurated as the 45th President of the US. If you are a xenophobic isolationist nationalist, this is such great news. If you want climate chaos to worsen—more rising seas, more massive forest fires, more hideous hurricanes, more drought—this is the perfect storm for you.

On the other hand, if you hope for more progress toward getting along with the rest of humankind, if you want stricter laws and rules to protect our fresh water, if you strive in your life to slow the onslaught of climate chaos, well, sorry. Your nightmare has arrived.

It is hard to imagine a more seriously hypocritical “leader” than Donald Trump:

· While Trump rightly accused Hillary Clinton of having too much cozy contact with Wall Street financiers, he is not only a predatory capitalist himself, but has now handpicked several more to join his cabinet.

· Even though Trump claims he is upending the Washington elite in order to bring manufacturing and sawmill and mining and oil drilling and coal-burning jobs back to America’s heartland in order to make America great again, he says nary a word about job loss through automation (including many of the Carrier jobs he pretends to have saved), nothing about losing jobs to foreign manufacturers who produce far more efficient vehicles than Detroit ever did, nothing about ruining the last bit of ancient forests of America, and nothing about increased disease and pollution from the dirty jobs he promises to bring back.

· Trump claims he is going to create “great schools” and yet he proposed billionaire Betsy DeVos as his Secretary of Education, a woman with effectively zero experience in public education (her hearing was nothing short of embarrassing) except to oppose it and instead has been an activist for using taxpayer monies for private Christian schools.

· In his address, Trump claims that, “We’ve defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own.” Huh? Apparently, I’ve missed hearing about all those foreign invading troops, all the missiles that have struck American towns, and all the foreign terrorists that have attacked us since 9.11.01. I would suspect the Republicans—who have been in control of the Senate and House—not to mention the Pentagon, are happy to know that finally all those attacks will stop.

· While Trump claims to care about the American people, he will likely sign the law eliminating Obamacare long before signing a better health care law into existence, thus throwing approximately 30 million Americans to the ravages of no health care.

There is so much more, but we can soon cease speculating and rise up to respond to his initiatives. I am wearing a t shirt today I haven’t worn in eight years. It has one word on it: Impeach.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Free Weekly or its staff.

Healthcare Is A Basic Human Right Not A Political Football

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

On May 4, 2013, I delivered the eulogy for my 33-year-old brother. I’m not sure that our political representatives understand what this feels like when they make decisions to take healthcare away from people.

When innocent civilians are killed for political reasons we usually consider it an act of terrorism or a crime against humanity, but, inexplicably, when political leaders make decisions that only happen to cause those deaths why is it so easy to look away? This week the process of killing countless Americans is beginning, and it is happening because humanity and political gain are not always in concert. Nothing is literally life and death more than healthcare.

My brother went to the hospital so many times we lost count of the number of times we had lost count. Was it because idiopathic conditions are hard to treat? Was it because the insurance guarantor declined to do the tests that could have helped doctors establish an effective treatment? Was it just bad luck?

One of the worst nights I sat with him in a waiting room. I can’t tell you what was wrong with him—nobody could—but I can’t forget the symptoms. He would eat something, and sometimes “it didn’t agree with him” and he would vomit and it wouldn’t stop. Maybe like contractions while giving birth the cramping of the muscles would lead to severe abdominal pain, but the wrenching pain was just pain. Sometimes there was blood. Sometimes he had ulcers, other times he’d get tears in his esophagus. We waited because it wasn’t life threatening.

On this night we were told to wait, no idea how long it would be, and no idea where we were on the list. The hours passed and the pain got worse. Two or three times I went to the counter and asked questions like “is there anything that can be done for the pain? He is afraid he is going to pass out, what then?” After about six hours, I started calling other ERs and found one that did not have a wait. I called the ambulance and discovered they couldn’t deliver a patient from one hospital to another. With help I was able to get my brother into the car and to some treatment… Watching someone you love suffer is one of the worst things that can ever happen to you.

Years earlier my brother had a great job; he was working for a small family business. When he went to urgent care for his bad cough, they took an x-ray and discovered he had a collapsed lung, and he was hospitalized. He didn’t want to miss any work, or to let anyone down, because he was so happy to be working. He had toughed his way through something much more serious than a cold. His lung collapsed because he’d gotten Valley Fever, it isn’t an illness that sounds like its name. It is a spore that you inhale, which usually lies dormant, but sometimes (like in my brother’s case) it grows. The fungal infection in his lung caused a hole and the collapse. Anything that disturbs the soil (like the local agriculture or strong winds) can put the coccidioides spore in the air, and if you breathe it you could end up sick.

He was hospitalized more than a month. He was released but ended up readmitted because he got a staph infection in his chest cavity (likely from the chest tube). In total he was in the hospital about three months. He never returned to work.

When I’d take him to the emergency room or make hospital visits with him I couldn’t help but ask questions or speculate. He did it, the whole family did it, aided, in part, by the knowledge of our father, who was a medical doctor and our mother, who was a registered nurse. Any improvement was cause for celebration and each return to the ER was demoralizing.

A few weeks later, after hanging out with friends, he fell asleep. He didn’t wake up.

I’ve left details out of the story, but I hope at least two things are clear: 1. It wasn’t his fault he got sick—it could happen to anyone—it does happen to anyone. And 2. It was an extremely painful process. My challenge is this: I will never know what could have been. I teach political science, the day after my brother died I walked into my classroom and told them something like this:

Politics is real, and it is life and death. I took a trip to the emergency room with my brother, and I watched him suffer, but I’ll never get to know if things could have turned out differently. I’ll never get to know if the Republican foot dragging on the Affordable Care Act made my brother’s care worse. I can speculate that it could have worked better …

At the time he died there had been 57 votes to repeal Obamacare. The Congressman from my hometown has openly admitted that the Republican Congress went out of their way to make all of Obama’s policies fail. Better care might have made all the difference, but all we can do is speculate, because political vengeance was more important than saving lives.

One of my dreams would be recognizing the role of healthcare in peace and social justice. I can’t tell you what I would do, or give up, to have my healthy brother back. Don’t get me wrong, I know he had it better than most of the planet, he got medical treatment, and asking “could the treatment have been better?” is worlds better than “could a doctor have made a difference?” The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says this:

Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

It is a dream for peace and justice around the world, and I wonder if the U.S. couldn’t aim for goals like these for its own citizens if not the whole world?

Republicans have the football and are driving for the political victory; fully prepared to gut the legislation responsible for bringing healthcare and medical protections to millions of American families. This is what predatory politics does, and no alternative has been prepared. How many of those millions are getting a de facto death sentence?

Please believe me; it the most painful thing you can ever watch.

~~~~~~~~

Wim Laven, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a doctoral candidate in International Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University, he teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution, and is on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Free Weekly and its staff.

Coming To Our Senses Regarding Nukes

As part of President-elect Trump’s daily tweets this past week he stated: “The United States must greatly strengthen its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

In his 140-character tome he proposes maintaining a status quo of the mythology of nuclear deterrence and self-assured destruction (SAD) or a “coming to senses” of the nuclear states. As President of the United States, he will have a significant role to play in determining which path is followed. He can lead us further down the road toward nuclear annihilation or lead us at long last to nuclear abolition and a world free of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear deterrence is indeed a myth propagated for 71 years since the beginning of the nuclear age. Rather than deterring a nuclear arms buildup, it is instead the greatest driver of the arms race as each time one nation has a new weapon, technology or expenditure, then all adversaries must match and exceed that number. We are on the verge of a new nuclear arms race robbing a proposed trillion dollar expenditure from our basic human needs to rebuild our nuclear arsenals over the next 30 years. I am certain this is not the jobs program that President-elect Trump has in mind (especially as spending on this sector produces fewer jobs per billion dollars spent than any other sector of the economy).

This proposal ignores the latest scientific studies showing that nuclear weapons are far more dangerous than we previously appreciated. In a scenario evaluating one of the greatest nuclear hotspots on the planet a regional nuclear war using 100 Hiroshima size weapons, amounting to less than ½ percent of the global nuclear arsenals, could result in the killing of up to two billion people on the planet from the climate change and global famine that would follow – a suicide bombing the likes of which the world has never seen. Civilization as we know it would end as these climatic changes would last over the next two decades.

Any nuclear exchange by the nuclear superpowers would be far more devastating. The use of the nuclear weapons remaining after the New Start Treaty is fully implemented next year would most likely cause the extinction of the human race.

These facts were totally ignored throughout this year’s presidential campaign allowing candidates and even President-elect Trump to give lip service that nuclear weapons are very dangerous. The candidates were never asked if they even knew of the consequences of using nuclear weapons and under what circumstances they would actually propose using them in this game-ending scenario. As though playing a game, the candidates were given a free pass card. President-elect Trump continuously posed questions throughout the election season from “why we couldn’t use the weapons since we had them” and “why shouldn’t more nations be allowed to have them” in addition to avoiding answering whether he would use them in the Middle East and Europe.

This nuclear famine scenario is one that does not have to be. There is an alternative. Recognizing the non-survivability of nuclear war and refusing to be held hostage any longer by the nuclear powers, the non-nuclear nations of the world, the world medical associations and much of civil society including the International Red Cross have long “come to their senses.” Led by 123 nations representing a majority of the world’s population, a nuclear weapons ban treaty will be negotiated at the United Nations this next year. This treaty will ban nuclear weapons just as every other weapon of mass destruction, from chemical to biological weapons and landmines have been banned. Finally, the deadliest of these immoral weapons will be outlawed. From that point forth only pariah nations acting outside the realm of international law will continue to maintain nuclear arsenals. We invite President-elect Trump to join this effort in leading the charge.

Mr. Trump has an affection for greatness when it comes to his vision. He can either be the president who plunges us all into the greatest disaster since the Cretaceous Debacle or he can save us from the greatest humanitarian and public health threat of nuclear war; he can lead us to the greatest feat of any president – that of nuclear abolition. The world and ultimately the fate of mankind awaits with apprehension his decision.

• • •

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a practicing family physician, writes for PeaceVoice, and serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions.

A Party of Transcendence

As we think about the election — what went wrong, what’s been unleashed and what we should do about it — please, please, let us expand our vision beyond some technical fix or updated “message.”

Even if we’re talking about the Democratic Party.

James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute and a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, discussing the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and the future direction of the party, wrote recently: “Many rank and file Democrats had lost confidence in their establishment and were looking for an authentic message that spoke to their needs.”

He was making the case for a progressive takeover of the party and the naming of Keith Ellison as DNC chair. As I read his commentary, however, even though I essentially agreed with him, I couldn’t get past the word “authentic” — especially linked as it was to the word “message,” which made it sound like the Democrat leadership needs to search its soul and come up with a better ad slogan.

And this is American politics — American democracy — as presented for our entertainment and distraction by the corporate media and the custodians of power. “The people” are acknowledged to be participants in the process of governing, which is to say, the process of creating the future, only to the extent that they have a set of limited, specific interests the powerful have to look out for. Jobs, for instance. Or protection from the enemy of the moment.

What the Democrats need to do is become a party of transcendence. That may be too much to ask of a political party, but I’m asking it anyway — asking the Dem leadership to open themselves to something bigger than mere change, something that one might call, instead, a shift in consciousness: beyond racism, beyond war, beyond exploitative capitalism … beyond militarism and a punishment-based justice system, beyond alienation from nature and the circle of life.

What if?

What if, for instance, the Democratic leadership joined former congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in standing with Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, as they stood with the protesters at Standing Rock, acting as human shields and rewriting history?

“On December 5 — the birthday of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, who led the Battle of Little Bighorn against Lakota and Cheyenne warriors — (Wes Clark Jr.) and a dozen members of United States military branches got down on bended knee to beg forgiveness from the Lakota people,” according to a story posted at New American Media.

“In the presence of hundreds of veterans and Lakota medicine people, elders and leaders, Clark donned the uniform of the Seventh Cavalry and spoke of the history of his unit. With tears in his eyes, Clark said:

“‘Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain… . We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.’”

In an open letter to the vets, Kucinich wrote: “Your presence holds the promise of bringing about a great healing as you join a movement which is prayerful, peaceful and nonviolent, the enduring strength of great moral suasion.

“I urge you to stand as defenders and not aggressors.”

I realize I’m pushing the limits of cynicism, to suggest that the Democratic Party drop to its knee and seek atonement for American history: for genocide, slavery, endless war. But why ask less of our political system? Why ask less of democracy?

People looking for an “authentic message” may also resonate with a Democratic Party that stood for an end to global weapons sales and endless war. As Rebecca Gordon wrote recently at Common Dreams:

“Along with a deeply divided country, the worst income inequality since at least the 1920s, and a crumbling infrastructure, Trump will inherit a 15-year-old, apparently never-ending worldwide war. While the named enemy may be a mere emotion (‘terror’) or an incendiary strategy (‘terrorism’), the victims couldn’t be more real, and as in all modern wars, the majority of them are civilians.

“On how many countries is U.S. ordnance falling at the moment? Some put the total at six; others, seven. For the record, those seven would be Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and, oh yes, Yemen.”

We’re either waging or catering wars across the Middle East and Africa — wars against evil, according to that former president whose name is never mentioned these days. The Democrats were not the party in power at the time the current, post-Cold War phase of our endless wars started, but the Dems accepted these wars as their own in 2009 and proceeded to perpetuate them.

Politics as usual will not rescue Planet Earth. Angry idealists and visionaries will not rescue it either. The only hope is a merging of power and vision: transcendent politics, you might say. This is the “authentic message” people are looking for. Maybe it’s impossible — way too unacceptable to the financial interests that underwrite the American political system. But it could have beaten Donald Trump.

Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

One Black Woman’s View

Courtesy Photo Heather Mosley

Courtesy Photo
Heather Mosley

What is the root of racism, the cause of conflict, the answer to anger? As we transition from our nation’s first black president and the dream of a post-racial America to a man elected by supporters that include Confederate battle flag-wavers, I need to reflect on my own journey to help myself deal with it all.

I grew up in a family of six kids, I’m the youngest, and was born and raised in Portland, Ore. My mom is black and native from Mississippi, and my father was a strong black man from Alabama. Both were raised in the segregation era. We were not raised to be violent or racist and would get disciplined if we showed any signs of it. My mom said she never worried about people messing over me even as a child. I was outspoken and would defend myself if it became necessary. I was a fairly small child but came with a powerful pack of energy. I never started any fights or picked on anyone, and never played the bully role. You would have to pick on me first for me to go into action.

I was bused out to all-white schools through elementary and high school. I can remember my first day of school; my oldest sister was getting me dressed to walk me to catch the bus. The buses picked us up from the black schools that were in the neighborhood to take us to the white schools. When my sister was putting me on the bus she said, “You better not let anyone treat you differently or disrespect you just because of your color.” I did not understand. I was too young to understand about racism but I surely learned.

There were about 10 of us black kids who were bused out to this elementary school. To this day I can remember this incident that took place when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. I was the only black kid in the classroom and a white girl raised her hand and told the teacher her lunch bag was missing. She said she believed I was the one who took it. The teacher who was an older white woman asked the class who wanted to go search my stuff to see if I had stolen it. All of a sudden, I saw all the little white hands go up into the air. I remember thinking; as soon as one comes towards me I was going to sock them in their face. One of the kids then said to the girl who was missing her lunch, isn’t that your bag over there on the window ledge, and she said yes. The class went back to normal with no apology to me from the teacher or the girl. I remember feeling so degraded even at the young age I was. That evening, I cried and told my mom what had happened.

The next morning she, I, and my dad headed to the school and my parents were not happy. My mom went into the principal’s office and explained how they were not going to treat her child in any disrespectful matter. My dad and I sat outside the door and then I saw the teacher enter the principal’s office. I will not repeat the words I heard my mom saying to this teacher. What I remember about the incident is, the teacher no longer taught that class, my parents and I were given a written apology, and I’m not sure what other actions may have ensued legally. I continued, graduated from that school, and had no more problems that I could not handle on my own.

In this world I have seen and faced a lot of unfair racial treatment, and at times I have reacted in anger. Yes, I would get up in someone’s face and be ready to handle the situation whichever way it went. It never got physically violent but certainly got verbally violent. Over the years, I learned the only person who suffered and got hurt from handling racism this way was me. I have been a work in progress and have come a long way from being aggressive. I have learned how to approach the situation and voice my opinion without hostility. I pray for strength from God to show me, and I have nothing to prove to anyone in a violent way. Now, instead, I use constructive communication skills, take conflict resolution classes, and get my point across where it does not cause serious problems. I will continue to work on being less aggressive, for I am a woman who carries herself in a respectful manner and violence is not the answer.

In the coming period, I pray we all reflect and respect and learn to overcome our inner aggressions. We will need this, I suspect, together.

Heather Mosley is a returning college student. The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Free Weekly or its staff.

Human Rights Day, A Call To Care

Shutterstock A refugee girl stands amid a camp in Dunkerque, France, January 2016.

Shutterstock
A refugee girl stands amid a camp in Dunkerque, France, January 2016.

December 10 marks the U.N. Human Rights Day, celebrating and upholding the indispensable and crucial declaration of universal human rights. On the eve of this event, I visited a refugee camp housing 700 families in Kabul. Conditions in refugee camps can be deplorable, intolerable. Here, the situation is best described as surreal. As I approach the entrance to the camp with my friends Nematullah, Zarghuna and Henrietta, we are overcome by the stench emanating from an open sewer filled with filth. I ask myself, “Can this be real?”

Inside the camp, primitive mud huts are separated by narrow walkways. When the inevitable snow comes, the ground inside and outside the homes will be muddy until the mud freezes. Plastic has been placed over some of the doors and roofs, in hopes of providing insulation from the coming cold. Mothers in the camp tell us winter months are unbearably hard. Children become sick at the onset of winter and they don’t recover until spring arrives. People burn plastic, boots, clothing, and water bottles for fuel, but when those resources are depleted, they rely solely on heavy blankets to protect them from the cold.

A single water pump serves all 700 families, and the water isn’t even potable. It needs to be boiled for 20 minutes before use.

Latrines here are the “traditional type,” simple holes dug in the ground.

Our visit was arranged by Nematullah, an Afghan Peace Volunteer. A friend of his teaches informal language and math classes to children at the camp. Nematullah leaned over and asked me to jot down the rights listed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I quickly scribbled food, water, shelter, health care, employment and security in my notebook. As we listened to the mothers describe their daily lives, we checked off the rights they have been denied.

“Some days we get food from the market if our children work there,” said Nazar Bibi. “They bring back potatoes or turnips. Otherwise we eat bread and tea. Sometimes we have no tea, and sometimes we don’t even have bread.”

We were told,

“If someone becomes sick there is no clinic, no first aid. And we have no hospitals nearby that will help us. We can’t afford to travel to hospitals that might accept us. (Six hospitals serving “better off” people are within walking distance of the camp, but none of them accept the camp residents, who have no means to pay hospital bills, as patients.)

We don’t want to send our children to work on the streets. We’re afraid they’ll be hit by a car or blown up by a suicide bomber. But we are desperate for food and fuel and there is no work for men and women here in the camp. Sometimes the children return home and there is no bread for them. They wake up after midnight, begging for food because they are so hungry, and there is nothing for them.”

“If we had education, perhaps we wouldn’t be here,” said Nazar Bibi. “We want our children to learn, but even government schools cost money. We have no income.”

One woman managed to laugh. “We don’t even know what a dollar looks like! What color is it? Is it black, or white?” said Shukria. “If America sends dollars here, we never see them. No one cares about us.”

The women said they do feel secure within the camp. They can go to the latrine without being harassed.

Shojun and her family are relieved to have escaped the fighting in Kunduz. She described nightmare experiences with bullets flying back and forth over and through her house. After fleeing in haste they realized one of the seven children was still in the house. Fortunately, he was saved. She and her family arrived in Kabul with no belongings, only themselves.

Shukria, who fled fighting in the Laghman province, showed us the large raw scar tissue covering her inner, upper arm. The Taliban killed her husband 12 years ago. She then married his brother, but two years ago, during renewed fighting between the Taliban and government forces, their home was attacked. Her husband lost a foot. He then left the province, abandoning her and her two children. Shukria says that sometimes she considers suicide but then thinks of the two children. Today, she has no food to serve them lunch. Shukria herself is painfully thin. She shakes her head, and adds because she never has shampoo she washes her hair with detergent and she thinks it’s causing her hair to fall out.

Up to the end of 2014, the U.S. had spent more money for ‘reconstruction’ in Afghanistan than was allotted for the Marshall Plan (more than two-thirds of this had gone to build up Afghan military and police forces), yet Afghans remain one of the poorest people in the world.

At the same time, the U.S. Congress has authorized $618.7 billion for the National Defense Authorization Act, to fund the Department of Defense in 2017. Even a fraction of this budget, directed toward human needs, would solve the problem of starving children worldwide as well as meet the needs of the destitute people living in the camps throughout Afghanistan. It would be fitting on this Dec. 10, U.N. Human Rights Day, if the citizens of the U.S. were to extend a hand of true friendship to those in need throughout the world and make meeting the needs of the world’s least fortunate the first priority. True security for the U.S. will be achieved through caring for and respecting the world’s most needy, not through the rampages of war and destruction that has made the U.S. the most feared country in the world.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) writes for PeaceVoice and co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) When in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com).

Scapegoating By The Political Right: A Mask For Privilege

Richard Spencer, a leader in the "alt-right" that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism, poses between interviews Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in College Station, Texas. Spencer is scheduled to speak at Texas A&M University after being invited by a former student. Texas A&M is holding an event to highlight diversity and unity at the same time Spencer is set to speak. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Richard Spencer, a leader in the “alt-right” that mixes racism, white nationalism and populism, poses between interviews Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, in College Station, Texas. Spencer is scheduled to speak at Texas A&M University after being invited by a former student. Texas A&M is holding an event to highlight diversity and unity at the same time Spencer is set to speak. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Recently, many commentators have expressed surprise at the romance between the incoming Trump administration and the hate-filled ranks of racial, religious, and nativist bigots.

But, in fact, the phenomenon of scapegoating―blaming a hapless and helpless minority for problems caused by others―has been fundamental to advancing the fortunes of the political Right throughout modern history. In Europe, political reactionaries traditionally found the Jews a useful target, for Jews not only practiced a much-reviled religion, but were considered an inferior race and disloyal to the nations in which they lived. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Czarist Russia’s rulers launched bloody, devastating pogroms by Christians against the Jewish minority, plus anti-Semitic decrees and legislation that made life for Jews such a nightmare that large numbers fled the country. In subsequent decades, right-wing parties in Eastern and Western Europe also employed anti-Semitism as a staple of their campaigns, ultimately joining in Nazi Germany’s “final solution” to “the Jewish problem.”

In the wake of the disaster of World War II, Europe’s right-wing parties gradually changed their focus. Downplaying their traditional anti-Semitism, they began to whip up hatred against “guest workers” from southern Europe and Turkey and, more recently, Gypsies, North Africans, Muslims, and assorted refugees from the Middle East. Prating of their alleged national, racial, and religious purity, supposedly threatened by these “outsiders,” parties of the Right have attained popularity and won major election victories. They include the National Front (France), the Alternative for Germany, Progress Party (Norway), Law and Justice (Poland), the Freedom Party of Austria, the Swiss People’s Party, the Danish People’s Party, the Sweden Democrats, the United Kingdom Independence Party, the Golden Dawn (Greece), Lega Nord (Italy), and dozens of others.

Nor is this right-wing penchant for scapegoating minorities limited to Europe. In India, the ruling party is the BJP, a right-wing Hindu nationalist political party that has arisen in recent decades with the avowed goal of saving the country from the danger of Muslims, at home and abroad.

How should this marriage of right-wing politics with racial, religious, and nativist passions be explained? Psychologists and other social theorists have argued that human beings have an unfortunate tendency to blame others for problems that these others did not cause, especially if they constitute a small minority and, therefore, are unable to defend themselves.

But this phenomenon also acquired a political dimension. With the gradual democratization of politics in the nineteenth century, the wealthy grew increasingly fearful that the lower classes would use their right to vote—and thus to govern—to take away their wealth and power. And, in fact, the masses often did have that in mind as they promoted political parties and government policies to foster economic and social equality. Simply championing a program of maintaining upper class privilege or of funneling even greater riches to the wealthy wasn’t going to win elections for the outnumbered upper classes and their parties on the Right. But, if the masses could be persuaded that their real problems didn’t lie with the privileges of the wealthy but, rather, with dangerous religious, racial, or foreign-born minorities, these parties’ election chances would be vastly improved. Not surprisingly, then, right-wing parties resorted to a bigoted appeal again and again. As Carey McWilliams, the long-time editor of The Nation, wrote of anti-Semitism, scapegoating served as “a mask for privilege.”

Certainly that’s how scapegoating worked in the United States. Although racial, religious, and foreign minorities served as targets for political abuse throughout American history, African Americans were particularly useful along these lines. The Southern planter class drew on racism to maintain its political power during the slavery era. And, even in the aftermath of the Civil War, the planters and the new industrial magnates defeated interracial working class alliances in the South by appealing to racism among poor whites. By fanning the flames of racism and using the Democratic Party to cement their rule in Southern states, wealthy Southerners succeeded in turning back Reconstruction, Populism, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, and union organizing drives.

Outside the South, America’s economic elite operated for a time within a Protestant-dominated Republican Party, where it drew upon prejudice against Catholics and Jews (which often overlapped with prejudice against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe) that helped provide the GOP with a mass political base. Then, after the national Democratic Party passed civil rights legislation in the 1960s, Republicans saw an excellent opportunity to widen their support. Barry Goldwater, nominated as the Republican Presidential candidate in 1964, combined a vigorous defense of wealth with an assault on racial equality legislation. Subsequently, the GOP employed Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” Ronald Reagan’s dog-whistle appeals to prejudice, and George H.W. Bush’s racist Willie Horton campaign ads to appeal to racists in both South and North. From the standpoint of rallying a white majority, racist politics worked very well. Donald Trump’s combination of giveaways to America’s millionaires and billionaires with demagogic attacks on blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and immigrants constituted only an extension of the GOP strategy.

By contrast, parties of the Center-Left and the Left usually supported the rights of racial, religious, and foreign-born minorities. In the United States, this opposition to discrimination—plus the long-term scapegoating of minorities by the political Right—has resulted in the fact that the Democratic Party now attracts the votes of the overwhelming majority of African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, Jews, Muslims, and recent immigrants.

Even so, thanks to the efficacy of racial, religious, and nativist prejudice in election campaigns, we can probably expect that unscrupulous right-wing politicians will continue to draw upon bigoted political appeals. Given the power of scapegoating, there is no single way to resist this onslaught. But one way might be to expose the program of class privilege hidden behind the mask.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark? The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Free Weekly or its staff.

Focus on the Silver Lining

The election is over and Trump won. In a country with a sane election system, he would not have, but we have the Electoral College, so he did. In Joe Hill’s immortal words, “Don’t mourn; organize!”

Organizing Everywhere

Hidden in those words is one of the silver linings that surrounds Trump’s cloud. Look around. People are organizing as they have not done since 2003, when the Iraq invasion was imminent, and maybe even not since the 1960s anti-war efforts. People are coming together to protect each other from racist attacks, support the water protectors at Standing Rock, counter hate speech with love, sustain the environmental gains we have struggled for, continue efforts to halt climate change, reorganize the Democratic Party, protect a woman’s right to choose, and more.

In addition, protests have sprung up spontaneously all over the country, some of them involving people not old enough to vote. While complaining about the election results will not change anything, such protests offer a path to building a movement that can make serious change. Stress planning, humor, newsworthy positions, and connections to basic societal values so your campaign will resonate with mainstream Americans.

Seattle, San Francisco and other cities have affirmed themselves as Sanctuary Cities, where human rights are respected and protected.

Others are demonstrating outside the banks that fund the Dakota Access Pipeline. When I did that with a local group recently, one of the banks immediately locked its doors and its customers could not get in!

In my home town of Salem, Ore., a city councilor posted flagrantly racist materials on his Facebook page. The spontaneous uproar that ensued was immediate and intense, leading to his resignation.

There is encouraging news on the foreign relations front as well. Trump’s website reported shortly after the election that Trump and Vladimir Putin “discussed a range of issues including the threats and challenges facing the United States and Russia, strategic economic issues and the historical U.S.-Russia relationship that dates back over 200 years.” Rather than pursuing the tense relations that have steadily worsened in recent months giving rise to fears of nuclear war, “President-elect Trump noted to President Putin that he is very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” Putin’s militarism in Ukraine, his administration’s recent repression and his reported assassinations of dissidents, are no doubt reprehensible, but finding common ground where we can is an inoculant against nuclear aggression.

The Struggle of Our Lives

All that said, we all know that we are about to face the struggle of our lives if we are to avert disasters for the environment, human rights, good government, equity, healthcare, workers’ rights, human decency, politics and a host of other controversial issues. We need to acknowledge that Trump’s candidacy and victory did not cause any of these crises. All were there before. We fear that his administration will make them worse — because his candidacy already has; it is our job to see that he does not succeed.

We stand at a crossroads from which things can get a whole lot worse, but they can also get a lot better. Let us choose the latter course!

Each of us will be drawn to the issues and tactics that resonate for us. Please don’t try to convince others that your cause is “the most important.” They are all important. Instead, thank each person who is working on any of them – even those you never thought about or thought were important. Come to appreciate how intimately interconnected they all are. They are varying forms of resistance to domination, and efforts to replace it with cooperation. Replacing domination with cooperation has a short name – “nonviolence.”

No one is saying this is going to be easy. It’s not. It’s going to be one of the hardest things our country has ever attempted, if not the hardest. However, the stakes have never been higher either. The reward of success will be happier, more secure, more fulfilled, healthier people living together more peacefully and gracefully. The price of failure could well be the extinction of our species from this planet, taking many other life forms with us.

100 Days of Peace and Justice

So here’s a specific suggestion, recently offered by a friend: as Donald Trump follows his inauguration on January 20 with 100 days of revealing to us what his administration’s agenda is going to be, let us begin 100 Days of Peace and Justice during which we reveal what our agenda is going to be. Never in the history of the world has there been a leader who was able to govern without the cooperation – or at least the acquiescence – of the governed. Let us make it clear that we will only accept governance that meets our needs and aspirations. Under the umbrella of 100 Days of Peace and Justice we can speak with a unified voice on all the issues we care about by demonstrating what we want and resisting what we do not want. Initiate projects that fire your enthusiasm and refuse cooperation with those that do not represent you. No overall coordination is required. Just Do It.

A Few Examples

Initially protests will come to mind. Protest if you wish, but I believe we must go beyond protesting to demonstrating what we want and how to refuse what we do not want. For example:

• Wear the safety pin (meaning: commitment to everyone’s safety) and be ready to back it up. It says you are a person who will not accept mistreatment of others in your presence and will help resist it. That involves intervening if violence is threatened, of course, but also if racial slurs, misogyny, bullying or any kind of personal domination appears in your environment.

• Set an example of ecologically conscientious behavior. Don’t waste resources. Choose ecologically sound products, resist unsound ones, and cultivate behaviors and attitudes that protect the planet and its systems. Let others know what you are doing.

• Take an interest in, and become better informed about, foreign relations. Don’t trust everything you receive from the mainstream media. Seek out alternative sources to balance them.

• Support local businesses, boycott irresponsible marketing and marketers, reward good corporate citizens with your business. Tell others.

• Turn up at government hearings that concern you, let your representatives at all levels know what you want and what you do not want, support candidates you like, and demand action on important issues. Object when money is used to pervert the democratic process.

• Resist the violence that flows into our homes, schools, workplaces and lives on a daily basis via entertainment, video games, language and attitudes. Interrupt it and replace it with healthier alternatives.

Nonviolence

In closing, a word about nonviolence — it is crucial to ultimate success in this endeavor for a number of reasons:

• If we use violence, or threats of violence to coerce cooperation, we are selling out the fundamental paradigm shift we need to achieve.

• Recent research has shown that nonviolence is twice as likely to be successful as violence, and is much more likely to have lasting results.

• Any form of social change requires only about 3.5 percent of sustained actively involved people in order to be successful. Violence turns many people off and thus is counter-productive. It also makes it much more difficult for very young, elderly and alter-abled people to become involved.

• Violence is often initiated by oppressors hoping to tempt their opponents to violence in order to discredit them. Think of the difference in public reaction to the recent window-breaking demonstration in Portland, Ore., vs. the determined nonviolence of the Standing Rock water protectors, even in the face of massive provocation.

We won’t know how much power we can wield until we try. Now is not the time to err on the side of timidity.

Peter Bergel is a lifelong peace, justice, environmental, and indigenous rights activist and organizer.