Saturday, January 6, 2018

Derailing the Neocon Train to Armageddon

An Interview with Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

The media war drums are again beating with demonization aimed at Iran, the DPRK and especially Russia. We can't blame this on Trump alone. Our government, under the heavy hand of corporate corruption, has embraced neoliberal economics, debt colonialism and military aggression since Reagan replaced the New Deal with the Raw Deal. Presidents of both parties, including both Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and now Trump have continued on this track which inevitable led to Bush's invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama's Libya disaster and a foreign policy based on regime change, drone terror, arms sales and permanent war – the final product of a marriage of neocon foreign policy and neoliberal economics. The Republic has been replaced by a corporate oligarchy heavily dependent on arms sales and war. It has been a driver of war, refugee creation, mass migration and climate destruction. This can be no other way because these policies are driven by and tied to profits to those empowered by, and dependent upon them.

The ramping up of aggression aimed at Russia over the last two decades and the rekindling of a cold war sans Soviet Union, has lead us to an impending disaster. The U.S. is on an accelerating, out of control train to nuclear war hijacked by myopic neocons trapped in delusional group-think and fundamentalist delusions. Even the fracking and gas pipeline projects which threaten and destabilize our environment and water are not for our benefit but, designed to export fracked gas in order to undercut and destabilize the Russian economy.

A book on our Russia policy by Gilbert Doctorow, historian, political analyst and expert in Russian affairs going back to 1965 recently caught my attention. The book is titled, Does the United States Have a Future?. In it, Doctorow, a conservative, business oriented analyst argues that our policies and sanctions have actually strengthened Russia domestically and hurt the U.S. He points out with good evidence that, due to sanctions, Russia has become economically self sufficient and that it has linked up with China in a strong alliance which threatens to undercut the U.S. dollar as a global currency. Our eastward expansion of NATO, in contradiction to previous agreements, along with our backing of a fascist coup in Ukraine, the increasing presence of weapons -- including nuclear weapons, and war games along their border combined with poor communication, has caused Russia to modernize its military. It should be noted that their military armaments have reached parity with our own on about 5% of their national budget. Though it has not been covered in our embedded corporate media, we came exceedingly close to nuclear conflagration several times in 2016 due to our aggressive maneuvers along their border and miscalculated moves in Syria.

Much of the increased aggression toward Russia, in spite of their efforts to work with us as an ally on issues of mutual concern, come from the neocon sector of our State Department and military, the same folks that brought us the Iraq invasion and who now want to attack Iran. Though accusations that Russia somehow stole our election are exaggerated, it is understandable that they would seek to influence them given Hillary Clinton's hawkish role in expanding NATO and weapons in the region, as well as her penchant for “regime change.” The US has done far more to interfere in elections in Russia and other countries.

Given my concerns, I thought I'd consult an expert on military affairs and foreign policy, someone truly informed on such issues. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005 and helped prepare Powell’s infamous speech to the United Nations claiming Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which he has since renounced. He is now a professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary. I asked him the following questions:

Gilbert Doctorow has written on the US misreading of Russia & the drive for a new cold war. Given your experience, what do you see as the reasons for demonizing Russia rather than cooperation on issues of mutual interest over the last decade. Are there divisions on this narrative in official circles?

“It does not take anything but a little empathy (a commodity in extremely short supply if not entirely absent in the arrogance of Washington) and some knowledge of the days surrounding the end of the Cold War to understand why Russia’s policies since Putin became it's leader—and today—are often antagonistic to Washington’s interests. A browse through one of the latest acquisitions of the George Washington University’s National Security Archives (“Who Promised What to Whom on NATO Expansion?”) will afford the knowledge. In brief, US financiers, bankers, and corporate gurus raped, pillaged and plundered Russia after George Bush left office in 1992, and Bill Clinton decided to expand NATO directly into Moscow’s natural space. George W. Bush and Barak Obama continued the process. This US triumphalism and chest-beating flew directly in the face of prior promises to Russia, but led to more sales to more countries for the US military-industrial complex—particularly with respect to ballistic missile defense—and became intolerable to Moscow, as well they should have been expected to. We need only imagine Russia moving into Chihuahua, Mexico or British Columbia, Canada to get a rough idea of the provocation. In fact, when it looked to Putin as if Georgia would become a NATO member and that country’s president, feeling his new NATO 'oats', tried to consolidate Tibilisi’s control over a couple of provinces with lots of Russian speakers, he was pulled up short rather abruptly by Russian military forces, again as any strategist worth his or her salt one would have expected him to have been. With all this nasty, Washington’s-fault background, how else do these grievous US errors get rectified except by doubling down on strategic failure due to ineptitude by creating deeper strategic failure by blaming every misstep on Russia and commencing a new cold war? Hypocrisy, in other words, has become one of the central pillars of US foreign and security policy. Outright lying already was, so today we combine the two faults and are mendaciously hypocritical.

Even with such a pronounced predilection for bad foreign and security policy, there are holdouts, i.e., those who see a new cold war with Russia as stupid and counterproductive. For a time it seemed President Trump, for whatever reason, was one such holdout. There are a few others and with better credentials and more surety of purpose and motivation --- very few. The bandwagon of support for demonizing Russia begun and continued by supporters of Hillary Clinton—and Clinton herself—has not helped in that regard. I suspect that a substantial majority of the American people, just as they believed Saddam Hussein had WMD, believes Putin is the devil.”

What have been the actual effects of our electoral accusations (Russia-gate), economic sanctions, military posturing and aggression on Russia and on our own domestic politics, global relations and standing?

“First, in Putin we are up against a chess master. For proof, we need only look at the results of his moves in Georgia, the Crimea, Ukraine in general—and probably soon and specifically Odessa, which is more important to the Russian na--vy than Sebastopol, if the line of communication (LOC) along the Dnieper is threatened—brilliantly in Syria, and probably very soon in Mitrovica, the northernmost province in Kosovo, and perhaps the Baltic states. Putin looks for gaps and bad moves, flows into them so long as he can maintain interior lines to our exterior ones, widens and deepens until he’s got the pawn, or knight, or even bishop (Syria, for example), and simply backs up if he meets with significant resistance (as in part in Ukraine). Second, US electoral accusations—particularly by intelligence professionals-turned-politicians-and-TV commentators, such as James Clapper and John Brennan—and US economic sanctions are an attempt to convince the American people that Putin is a devil and that we are taking our own pieces on the chess board. Of course we are not, other than one or two pawns. Military posturing on such extensive exterior lines or, as in Syria, illegally, doesn’t take any important pieces either. As with most such ill-conceived and poorly played moves, the US suffers globally as its allies and friends tend to see through the mendacious hypocrisy and blame the US. That said, those allies who still cling to some idea of a US-provided security umbrella—like the UK at one end of the world and Japan at the other—are concerned that, if the US is right in the least about Putin, then it is dangerous for them if the US is losing so many pieces and so frequently. Meanwhile, the challenges both Moscow and Washington confront mutually go largely unaddressed, challenges such as climate change, global terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, and the urgent need to develop protocols, standards, and laws for new phenomena like cyber war. Without cooperation, such challenges will only grow in complexity and difficulty.

How is this connected to our economic dependence on defense spending, our drive for fossil fuel hegemony, and has it been as Doctorow and others suggest, a driving force in the new Russia-China BRICS alliance? What are the risks for our economy and to the standing of the international dollar?

“Last first. The Chinese are making a slow but inexorable run on the dollar. One of the primary methods they are using is trade in oil and gas. Offering alternatives to the dollar in this manner got Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi an early grave. But Washington and its allies can’t take on China directly; so eventually the Chinese efforts, increasingly successful, will draw real blood. Standing behind the more than twenty trillion dollars of US debt, billions of dollars in quantitative easing, and every single piece of currency is only the US military and oil traded in dollars (I am not even certain any longer how to evaluate the so-called US asset base because the infrastructure that is its foundation is largely an anachronism, falling apart, and at least twenty years behind countries such as Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, and much of China.) Take away the military and oil—and both are fading faster than many in the national security elite realize—and one must at least become concerned. Military supremacy only exists as it is buttressed by a sound economy. Fossil fuel supremacy only makes sense if fossil fuels can continue to be burned, (they can’t if we want to survive) and, if such fuels are being replaced swiftly by renewables. Undergirding these realities is the market reality that fracking for oil and gas only makes economic sense if the price for these commodities remains fairly high; and OPEC and Russia will likely continue their efforts to keep the price below the point where fracking is profitable. This concentrated economic effort, combined with a shift into oil and gas marketed without the dollar, present a daunting picture for the US in future, if not right now.

As for the debilitating effect of what Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, that has surpassed I feel even his worst expectations. For example, we have members of Congress who are nothing more than wholly-owned subsidiaries of that complex, voting for every weapon system that comes down the pike. US support for the Saudi/UAE coalition waging the brutal war in Yemen is a current case in point. There is no congressional—and thus constitutional—approval for that military support and, in fact, it violates the provisions of Title 50, US Code, Chapter 33, Sections 1541-48, or the War Powers Act. So it is an illegal war. But the guided bombs and other munitions being expended in more than 15,000 airstrikes makes Raytheon and other military contractors a lot of money. Someone once said that when war is so profitable, we shall have more of it. That someone was right.”

How do our Pacific Pivot and aggression toward Russia relate to policies in the middle-east, ie Saudi-Arabia, Iran and Israel, and what are the implications for our real security regarding war -- including nuclear war?

“If we assess lining up the Indian Navy for maritime exercises and changing the USN’s focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, combined with putting a few troops in Australia, and an aircraft carrier added occasionally, a 'shift to the Pacific,' I have yet to see any substantial reciprocal moves by any Pacific power concerned about this shift. We can’t count Chinese moves in the South China Sea because they were ongoing before the pivot and proceed apace today. And PM Abe in Tokyo seems to be contemplating his own military moves, to include possible nuclear weapons for Japan, because he sees inadequate US attention to his region. The one positive aspect of President Trump’s otherwise inexplicable and unwise bellicosity toward the DPRK, is that it seems to have given PM Abe a shot in the arm. He is the one leader, regional or global, who seems to support fully President Trump’s posture toward the Korean Peninsula. As for the region which seems to have Washington fixated at the moment—Israel and southwest Asia/the Middle East—there is nothing there that threatens US national security, other than some elements of al-Qa’ida that, despite their danger, can be managed with a minimum of military power and a maximum of diplomatic and economic power. Yet Washington is transfixed. Russia’s entry into the Syrian conflict no doubt added a degree or two to that fixation, though it shouldn’t have, Russia has been there for decades. Mohammad bin Salman’s meteoric rise to power in Saudi Arabia and Trump’s almost sycophantic 'sword dance' diplomacy, seems to have sealed the principal regional deal—that deal being the plan featuring Israel and Saudi Arabia defeating Iran, even if it takes 100,000 dead American soldiers and Marines to do so. As I’ve said, this war is not in the US interest and its implications for US security are potentially severe. We confront a country whose nuclear weapons program has been stopped by diplomacy, about to be the target for war nonetheless. We’ll just have to wait to see if we really are so utterly inept. We would be traveling the same road we traveled in 2003 to Iraq and Saddam Hussein, led basically by the same neocons—from John Hanna to John Bolton—with a few relatively new faces, on the national scene, such as the arch-neocon at the United Nations, Nikki Haley. Can a country be that blind? From the looks of things today, apparently it can.”

If one doubts the insanity of group-think among Pentagon and National security insiders, I would advise reading the revealing new book The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame. In it, he describes in detail official plans to destroy nearly every major city in Europe and Asia and the hair-trigger reality and close calls that almost wiped us out. Ellsberg states that he is happy that Trump had shown a deferential stance toward Russia saying “Why is he that way? I don’t know. Probably, I think, because they’ve got blackmail on him.” This was before, as reported recently by AP, the Trump administration approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, a move that deepens America's involvement in the military conflict, further straining relations with Russia. The continuing focus and mounting antagonism on Russia is harming us internationally and may well result not only in our isolation and economic ruin but in our obliteration. As those in the know confirm, it is more than unwise.

For lack of deeper analysis of how and why we got here, Democrats continue to push the shaky, blame everything on Russia meme further pushing our foreign policy in dangerous and self-defeating directions with a President willing to use Nuclear Weapons. It is likely, at this rate, given the insanity at the top of our government, the lack of an independent press or trust, much less communication with Russia – and their very real and justifiable fear and mistrust of us -- that we may not survive the coming year as a country or as a species. It is time for to seize our future from the maw of idiotic disaster and to demand sane economic priorities and a foreign policy based on peaceful cooperation and international law. The train to Armageddon is picking up speed. It is up to us to see beyond the warmongering propaganda, to challenge and derail it in the press and in the streets.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Defending Our City and Ourselves

I've been glad to see recent local media coverage of the controversy surrounding the Atlantic Coast Gas Pipeline. This pipeline would move natural gas, attained through hydraulic fracturing, from West Virginia though our state, south to power plants in North Carolina. “Natural gas,” or methane, is 84 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. This pipeline, along with the Mountain Valley Pipeline, cuts through private property, national parks and runs under waterways and reservoirs. Most pertinent to us is that a branch of the Atlantic Coast pipeline is planned to run under the Lake Prince and Western Branch reservoirs in Suffolk, from which our water comes.

Pipelines leak. Aside from the additional atmospheric methane from fracking which leaks at about 9% and has added greatly to the 60% increase in global atmospheric methane over past decade, the record for actual pipeline leaks is bad. Really bad. After promises to the contrary, the XL Keystone pipeline has already leaked about 210,000 gallons of oil. Last year witnessed one of the greatest releases of methane in modern history coming from the Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage facility blowout in California. Since 1986, there have been over 7,940 incidents, 512 fatalities, 2,359 injuries and over $6.8 billion in property damages due to pipeline explosions, including recent explosions in Appomattox and Fauquier Counties, Virginia. But, we should trust Dominion Power and its subservient politicians with our drinking water, right?

Our climate-vulnerable sinking city will get no benefit from this pipeline but we will absorb the costs from clean-up to toxic flammable tap water.. By the time you are reading this, as Zack Jarjoura of the local Sierra Club informs me, the State Water Control Board may have already approved water permits for the pipelines which could potentially start construction in January.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has been an enthusiastic supporter of both the Atlantic Coast and shorter Mountain Valley Pipeline. The Water Control Board members, all of whom were appointed by Governor McAuliffe, have independent authority to accept or not to accept an as yet unreleased recommendation from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Its Director, David K. Paylor, was, not coincidentally, also was appointed by McAuliffe.

Whatever decision is made behind closed doors, we will have to continue to oppose and resist this toxic project. Our city council has, due to mounting citizen objections, postponed its decision until Tuesday December 19 th. The weight of corporate money has always had more influence in our town than that of citizen demands but we should all turn out to this City Council meeting and sign up to speak. -- Since this article was published in Veer Magazine, our City Council as passed "An Ordinance to cancel the regular meeting of the Council of the City of Norfolk to be held on December 19, 2017 and to continue the matters scheduled on the council agenda to the next regularly scheduled council meeting to be held on January 9, 2018".

A related issue in our state and others is the power of the Dillon Rule. What is this? The Dillon Rule is a doctrine adopted by many states over the last century that limits local democracy and autonomy. The Dillon Rule narrowly defines the power of city and country governments, giving state governments ultimate authority over local issues. This can include things like raising minimum wages, being a sanctuary city, decriminalizing cannabis or ruling on a state project including offshore drilling, fracking, waste dumping or pipelines. Even if our City Council does the right thing in refusing to grant easements for this pipeline, it could be over-ruled in Richmond by politicians connected to Dominion Power. And most of them, including our Mayor, have been backed by Dominion.

Ultimately, if we want to effectively challenge polluting industries and their paid political representatives, we have to fight for real representative democracy and for more local autonomy. This again means supporting crowd-funded candidates and it means challenging the Dillon Rule. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is and organization that has done much to challenge the Dillon Rule in close to 200 municipalities in many states, working to pass laws that assert a right to local self-governance. We can learn from their efforts.

As the travesty of Bannon's “deconstruction of the administrative state” unfolds at the national level with Federal Departments, Agencies and public protections being cynically undermined, from Health and Human Services and Education to Consumer and Environmental Protection, we must work to increase our real representation and strengthen citizen power as much as possible. That begins locally. In a previous article, I emphasized that the long history of people's struggles and revolutions were really struggles for cooperative democracy. As the rise and consolidation of a cynical corporate mob undermining our rights and public safety makes all too evident, the struggle for real democracy cannot be separated from the defense of our own safety. As citizens, it is our water, our health, our lives and our future that are being placed at risk to enrich a few at our expense. We must come together to defend ourselves and our city from this looming danger.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Manson America

At long last
Manson is dead
that sly old creep
with the swastika on his head

Orchestrated murder
six or seven dead
got others to do it
His hands not clean of
the blood they shed

Just like our leaders
but on a much smaller scale
Just like our country
from where bullets hail

"I am you" he said and
preferred to stay in jail
We are him, it's true
Manson Amerika -- All hail

Like the vast majority of humanity, I didn't lose any sleep over the recent death of Charles Manson. He was a broken, hate-filled controlling creep. Though I don't know that he ever personally killed anyone, he got others in his cult to murder six or seven people in the twisted hope of instigating a “race war.” Fortunately it did not take long to end his reign of terror, though sadly he was mystified in the media.

For years I have used him as a model for my voting choices in what I referred to as the Manson test. The way this goes is that Manson, as a consummately evil phenomenon, is the last person any sane citizen would ever want to elect to a position of power. What made him so dangerous is that he could get others to murder people. OK, so he got his followers to kill half a dozen or so victims. How does George W. Bush compare? How about Bill Clinton? Barack Obama was the first president with his own weekly kill list. I'm sure he isn't the last. How many did they get other people to kill?

Maybe this seems like a test from a more innocent era, though I don't think it was in my lifetime. With the passing of the old fiend I have come to realize how much he was a symptom of our American culture and devolution. Manson chose his victims based on an insane, misguided agenda. He managed to convince others of the necessity of those targeted murders. The same is true for our country. We identify others around the world as guilty of or associated with crimes ranging from demanding national independence, land reform, or daring to pursue cooperative democracy to being associated with or likely (based on rumor or algorithms) to be “terrorists.” Then we get others to kill them. We do this through paying off foreign governments or private assassins or we do it at a distance through killer drones. We even do it on a more general level killing entire families, turning cities to rubble or feeding proxy wars and aggressions like the mass murder being committed in Yemen by Saudi Arabia with US weapons and a nod.

Here in the US, we pay police and private prisons to kill. States do it for us via the death penalty with some governors failing the Manson test by the numbers. In complicity, many cheer both the domestic and foreign murders committed in our names by others, in a real sense, making us all a bit like ol' Charlie.

Our entertainment has become, like the Manson cult, an exercise in justifying murder and vengeance. Generations have been weened on this mentality and our culture and language militarized and inundated with warrior worship. Our protests ranging from neo-nazis who, like Manson, want to initiate a “race war” to anti-fascist anarchists so immersed in our culture of violence that they respond in kind – though as of yet not to the point of murder.

The point of my pondering is that separate from a crazed individual who rightly spent his life locked away in prison, our nation has become Mansonized. We elect leaders who are even worse than Manson by the standard to which he was rightly condemned or we elect leaders who promise to be more vicious than the last. We inflict terror around the world and we suffer the cost not only of international resentment, blowback and isolation but of increasing violence at home, mass shooting after mass shooting. Even so, a recent poll showed that 18-29 year-olds, raised on video games and violence are the least likely to support banning assault weapons.

I'm glad Manson is no longer around to be a center of media attention but it saddens me how much the rest of the country has been remade in his image. By the time Manson's cult shocked America he was already beyond any hope of rehabilitation. I can only wonder about the rest of us.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Bolshevik Centennial -- Lessons for Today

The Struggle for Emancipation

In our country poverty is less visible than in many places around the world due, in large part, to easy credit and cheaply mass-produced goods. The reality is that most of us are living barely above serfdom. Half of working Americans are at the official poverty level. We live in fear of bosses, landlords, banks and the debt that we accrue to get by on insufficient wages.

Some of us are actual slaves in an expanding prison-labor system used by industry to save money by omitting the cost of labor. Federal Prison Industries under the brand UNICORE operates approximately fifty two prison factories across the United States. Prisoners manufacture or assemble products for the US military and federal agencies. They produce furniture, eyeglass frames, clothing and circuit boards in addition to providing computer-aided design services and call center support for private companies. Increasingly, prison labor is being used by private industries. A recent exposé on the Reveal news site told the story of people remanded by courts to a chicken processing plant passing itself off as an addiction recovery program. “Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery” or CAAIR is a major supplier of chicken to Kentucky Fried Chicken, Popeyes, supermarket chains and institutions. They rely on unpaid, slave labor. Required religious services aside, they offer no drug counseling or recovery services

The poor countries that productive jobs are exported to are not much better. Sweatshops and slave labor are enforced and countries are aggressively occupied to supply corporations with cheap resources and labor. The money made buys our politicians, who in turn serve those corporate interests.

We are living in a corrupt corporate oligarchy which perpetuates poverty and which is destroying the ecosystem on which all life depends. The modern nation-state exists to maintain the power and wealth of a few at the expense of the rest of us. The market system is an out of control juggernaut driven by competitive greed. Most of us feel trapped within it – trapped by bills, living expenses and the lack of practical alternatives. The present is a product of the progression of the past which includes efforts at human liberation and emancipation from oppressive tyrannies.

How we perceive the progression of history shapes our views and perceptions of the present. Rather than focusing on leaders and wars, it would be better to focus on the evolution and flow of people's movements toward freedom and equality. It is also vital to understand the historical and cultural contexts in which events occur in order to understand history, much less the present. Nothing happens in a vacuum, nor can anything be understood out of context.

This month marks the centennial of the Bolshevik Revolution. Whatever you think of that event, colored by time, history and a century of defamation, it was an important, world shaking moment in history. It is not my intent to write about or defend the entire experience of the USSR but to look at the precedents, causes, ideas, and historical, continuing significance of the revolution itself.

To understand this event, it is important to know the context of the time and the ideas which influenced it. 1917 was the height of the First World War, a horrific and bloody period unlike any before. Russia was a poor, backward country pulled into the fray. In the late 19th and early 20th century, industrial concentration had developed in St. Petersburg, Moscow and the Donbass region of Ukraine. Most of Russia remained rural and barely out of serfdom. The rule of the Tzars was an oppressive and murderous autocracy with a heavy bureaucracy. It was a miserable country imprisoned by poverty and fear, as anyone reading Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or Gogol would understand.

In Russia, there had been many peasant and later socialist rebellions. By 1897 the short-lived Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class was formed. It was soon broken up with its members, including V.I. Lenin, arrested and sent to Siberia. Lenin continued to write and be read, even from exile, by many in Russia. The first massive popular revolution occurred in 1905 but led only to narrow reforms. By February 1917, rising anger and the economic effects of the continuing war led to another revolution. This time the Tzarist autocracy was overthrown and replaced by a provisional government composed of leaders much like todays' centrist democrats and euro-socialists. The war continued and little changed. Lenin and the Bolsheviks envisioned a system of worker-citizen councils based on the experience of the Paris Commune. Worker committees, known as “soviets” were formed, as they had been in Paris.

Retracing the movement of working people attempting to overcome the corporate state, we have to start with Paris. In 1871, following the defeat of France by the Prussians, Parisians found themselves without a government. Paris had long been a hotbed of intellectuals and radicals as well as having a strong organized worker's movement. Parisians decided that they could rule themselves democratically without the oppressive rule of royalty and moneyed elites. They formed citizen committees and began to govern the city. At that point, the French government under Napoleon III sitting in Versailles allied with the Prussians who had recently defeated them and laid siege to Paris. After weeks of defensive fighting by the Parisian Communards, this first attempt at direct cooperative democracy was crushed. What united former enemies was the notion that they were not necessary. That people could govern ourselves without them. This has remained true of the corporate ruling class. We have seen continuing anti-socialist demonization and the crushing of populist regimes ever since. Much has been written on the Paris Commune as the first serious modern revolution. In particular, Marx's The Civil War in France and the later commentary by Lenin, The State and Revolution are key to understanding the ideas and intent of the Bolshevik Revolution of October/November 1917. Other books on this worth reading include 10 Days that Shook the World by American journalist John Reed and The History of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky. Unlike present writers, they were there.

As with the assault and bloody defeat of the Paris Commune, no sooner did the popular Bolsheviks, under Lenin's leadership, topple the provisional government than there was a new-found unity of capitalist countries in attempting to crush the new regime. The very idea of a state not run by and for the rich was seen as an existential threat. In 1918 Britain, France, Japan and the US invaded the newly formed USSR partly because the Bolshevik regime had pulled out of WWI, but primarily, to crush the worker rebellion and re-establish a government to their liking. They also armed and funded counter-revolutionary and pro-Tzarist forces leading to a long, bloody civil war. Unlike the Paris Commune experience, the Russian Revolution prevailed.

The devolution of the Russian Revolution over time is worthy of criticism but it cannot be separated from Russian culture and the reality of being under constant siege which, even after the failure of the “Expeditionary Force” invasion, never ceased. The rise of fascism was a ruling-class response to the threat of socialism. Even today, it remains a response to growing demands for social justice. What should be remembered and celebrated like Bastille Day, the French Revolution, the Paris Commune and the Cuban Revolution is the defeat of a brutal dictatorship and the popular victory of working people over the tyranny of money. If we are to survive the coming decades and ever be free, we must learn from these experiences

This is especially vital today in a world increasingly run by and for the rule of money, plagued by continual war, refugee migration, growing poverty and climate destruction. Today eight men own the same wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people amid desperate hunger and poverty. Capital has become a global power and the state its tool. Certainly, it is not 1917. The idea of armed rebellion and revolution is no longer practical given the brute power and global organization of multi-nationals for their own interests. That is what capitalism or “the market economy” really is. The rule of, by, and for marketeers; a system of self-serving corruption in practice.

Key in liberating ourselves from any tyranny and building a better world is our recognition that we are enslaved to a system that is not in our interest. As German poet and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

In the ensuing struggles for human dignity and freedom since 1917 new ways have been found to organize and empower common people. The principled non-violence enunciated and practiced by Mohandas Gandhi and later by our own civil rights movement is a powerful tool that turns violence on itself and builds the massive public support needed for successful change in the process. A friend recently made an offhand comment about “communism not working” while defending corporate centrism and condemning crowd-funded alternatives – and this is someone I met at our local Occupy encampment. I have often wondered why they were there, but more to the point, it depends on what one means by “communism.” If we mean a police-state dictatorship, they are right. But, if we mean the collective, democratic ownership of our workplaces and communities, it seems to be working well in the Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain.

The Mondragon cooperatives, widely considered the most successful worker-owned cooperative enterprise in the world, started in the 1950s as a Catholic Action project. The Mondragon group includes 257 financial, industrial, retail, and research and development concerns, employing approximately 74,000 people. The worker owned and run co-ops manufacture everything from commercial kitchen equipment to industrial robots. Cooperative members elect their managers and can replace them. The managers elect the town councils resulting in cooperative popular democracy. In hard economic times, people have voted to lower their wages and to move workers to other cooperative businesses. No one is layed off.

It is notable that this was started successfully under the oppressive fascist Franco regime. Sometimes, it is better to, as in the Nike ad slogan, just do it. Had they made a big deal out of achieving the communist ideal, waving banners and having marches, they would have been decimated like the Parisian Communards. Instead, they just proceeded to build democratic cooperatives and citizen governing bodies underneath the larger corporate state. This is true of the Zapatistas in Mexico as well. It is an important lesson for us in organizing cooperative democracy even under the unsustainable juggernaut of global capitalism. It's what Lenin saw as building dual power and what Grace Lee Boggs saw as building the beloved community.

There are cooperative businesses in the U.S. including bakeries, taxi companies, industrial engineering firms and laundry services. In fact, we have a long cooperative tradition. Most Americans prior to the 20th century considered wage slavery one step above indentured servitude. By the 1870's slightly over half the workforce worked for wages. Most Americans were farmers and crafts workers. Cooperatives were the dominant model of work in prior to the 1870's, from mutual aid associations to cooperatives formed by early strikers. Cooperative efforts included the Troy Foundries, the Baltimore Society, Associationist cooperatives, The Grange and many others. There were cooperative factories, warehouses farms and stores. Credit Unions are a vestige of this era. There are also housing and apartment co-ops.

The cooperative partnership is a less stressful and more empowering model in that everyone involved has true ownership and a voice in how things are done. This increases personal initiative and rewards the work ethic directly, far more than a dead end job in which one is a powerless disposable cog. In eliminating bosses and having a democratic workplace, it reduces stress and increases our freedom, including our freedom of speech, beyond the workplace.

Cooperative community is an important way to overcome our terror of bosses, banks, and landlords but unless we extend cooperative democracy to government, it doesn't address the larger issues of global corporate rule, threats of war, and the environmental destruction which threaten all of us. That requires a much larger national and global effort rooted in our awareness of the diseased system that threatens us. It demands that we face the inability of a market system based on fossil fuels and endless competitive growth in a finite world to effectively address the existential threat of climate change. It means realizing our common interests as a species beyond the artificial barriers of states and tribalisms. It means understanding class dynamics and the continuing progress of our struggle towards emancipation from the oppression of self-serving elites. It means coming together, standing against injustice and building alternative sustainable cooperative democracies in an interdependent world.

We can and should celebrate our historic victories as working people, including the Bolshevik revolution, learning from them so as to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls of the past while pressing forward to a free and viable future.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

“Taking the Knee” and Beyond

The recent fervor over athletes “taking the knee” has brought important issues to the surface. One of the things that gets my goat is the reaction by many that these high-paid players are “employees” who, some think, have no right to protest or express political opinions “on the job.” This gets to the heart of a deep contradiction in our society. There is a widely held notion that employers are free to express opinions and that corporate heads can, should, and do run for and hold political office while those they employ – the vast majority of us – have no right to speak; that expressing opinions publicly, on or off the job, can reflect on the company you work for. This may result not just in your being fired but, in the computer age, with your inability to find other work, being in effect, blacklisted. This runs counter to the ideals of an open society and to our basic guaranteed constitutional rights.

This is why many who voice opinions online use aliases if they are not retired or business owners. I've experienced the very real results of this myself, having been fired for “speaking out against the war,” even using an alias. The poet Adrienne Rich once wrote, “Everything you write will be used against you.” She was right, if we allow and support that.

The truth is that we cannot be both slave and free. That you cannot live in a dictatorship and a democracy simultaneously. Yet, that is what we have come to with devastating results as a country. If this had been true historically we would still be living in the conditions prevalent in the late 19th century working twelve hour days, six and a half days a week with no workplace protections, no minimum wages and no benefits. Women would still be less than citizens, Blacks locked in severe oppression and Gays still living fearfully in the closet.

The recent “taking of the knee” is a protest against rampant police violence against Blacks, too often acting with impunity. This is something we all should be protesting rather than focusing on the symbolic protest itself, especially with the rise of empowered racism, the further militarization of police and their encouragement to violent abuses by no less than the head businessman and Sociopath-in-Chief.

Aside from the misguided condemnation of athletes willing to put their careers on the line to make a statement against institutional racist violence, there have been numerous and growing efforts to reduce our freedom to speak out – and not starting with the Trump administration.

We need to remember the reason for the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. It isn't about cursing out loud or threatening people with bigotry. It is a guarantee that citizens can object to public policy, that we can criticize elected officials and the government without fear of persecution. Along with, and inseparable from the freedom of the press, it protects the dissemination of information, because a democratic representative republic requires informed citizens who are free to speak. Yet since around 1980, the embedded corporate press has increasingly become a propaganda tool for a CIA run “deep state,” complicit in pushing official narratives, agendas and lies even leading to war. We have seen laws written to limit press freedom and citizen protest. We have “ag-gag” laws against investigating and exposing corporate abuse. We have seen repression of “whistle blowers” and truth-telling journalists along with the growing citizen surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden.

There have also been recent attempts to falsely link alternative journalism critical of the corporate state and of official narratives to Russia. As Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and public intellectual Chris Hedges writes, “The ruling elites, who grasp that the reigning ideology of global corporate capitalism and imperial expansion no longer has moral or intellectual credibility, have mounted a campaign to shut down the platforms given to their critics. The attacks within this campaign include blacklisting, censorship and slandering dissidents as foreign agents for Russia and purveyors of 'fake news.' No dominant class can long retain control when the credibility of the ideas that justify its existence evaporate. It is forced, at that point, to resort to crude forms of coercion, intimidation and censorship. This ideological collapse in the United States has transformed those of us who attack the corporate state into a potent threat, not because we reach large numbers of people, and certainly not because we spread Russian propaganda, but because the elites no longer have a plausible counterargument. The accusation that left-wing sites collude with Russia has made them theoretically subject, along with those who write for them, to the Espionage Act and the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires Americans who work on behalf of a foreign party to register as foreign agents.”

“The latest salvo came last week. It is the most ominous. The Department of Justice called on RT America and its “associates”—which may mean people like me—to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. No doubt, the corporate state knows that most of us will not register as foreign agents, meaning we will be banished from the airwaves. This, I expect, is the intent. The government will not stop with RT. The FBI has been handed the authority to determine who is a “legitimate” journalist and who is not. It will use this authority to decimate the left. This is a war of ideas. The corporate state cannot compete honestly in this contest. It will do what all despotic regimes do—govern through wholesale surveillance, lies, blacklists, false accusations of treason, heavy-handed censorship and, eventually, violence.”

Voter suppression is also a limitation on freedom of speech -- maybe where it can count the most. Much voter suppression, from purging voter lists and limiting machines and poll access to the dumping of ballots happened in the last election. As the civil rights and economic justice activist Rev. William Barber points out, “We had 868 fewer voting sites in the black and brown community in 2016. Twenty-two states passed voter suppression laws since 2010. That’s where 44 senators were represented, over nearly 50 percent of the United States House of Representatives. And at least 16 or 17 seats in the Senate, probably would not be where they are if it was not for voter suppression. Today is 1,562 days—1,562 days since the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now, Strom Thurmond only filibustered the Civil Rights Act of ’57 for one day. This Congress, under McConnell and Ryan, has filibustered fixing the Voting Rights Act for 1,562 days. We talk about Trump winning in Wisconsin by 20,000 or 30,000 votes. There were 250,000 votes suppressed in Wisconsin. In North Carolina, we had over 150 fewer sites doing early voting.

Denying the right to vote to ex-felons has long been a way to limit Blacks from voting and the driver of racist system of injustice resulting not just in disenfranchisement but massive incarceration, human rights abuses and entrapment in poverty – not limited to Blacks. The partisan gerrymandering of voting districts and the added requirements for the privilege of being able to vote violate our constitutional rights.

In my own past, I was active in the anti-Apartheid movement. One of the most powerful tactics in ending the system of racist Apartheid in South Africa and the freeing of Nelson Mandela was the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aimed at that country. Nobody threatened us with prison at the time for supporting that boycott. There have been recent attempts to criminalize that same tactic in the case of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) effort aimed at ending Israeli apartheid and the brutal oppression of Palestinians.

As Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters stated in an interview on DemocracyNow!, “There is a bill before Congress, S 720, which seeks to criminalize support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, which is a nonviolent international protest movement to protest the occupation of Palestinian land that’s been going on for 50 years. And they want to make it a felony to support BDS, as far as I understand it, with criminal penalties that are, in my view, absurd. Somebody like me, for instance, if the bill was passed in its current drafting, would be subject to a fine of between $250,000 and $1 million and a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years—for peaceful, nonviolent political protest on behalf of basic human rights for a beleaguered people, which is absurd. . . . I mean, I’m somewhat critical of the current administration in a satirical and playful way, I like to think. But my show is all about the idea that if this—if this race, the human race, is to survive even the next 50 or 100 years, we need to start looking at the possibility of the transcendental nature of love, and we have to start looking after one another and recognizing our responsibility to others, which is what BDS is about, really.”

Waters gets to the heart of the matter when he states that we, as humans, have a duty to look out for each other and that the BDS movement is essentially free speech protected by the First Amendment. I also agree with him about the need for a transcendental love which I've referred to as “the big L,” if we are to move beyond barbarism and survive the coming decades.

What we buy and how we spend our money is a vote of support for the seller. There are legitimate reasons to support BDS as an effective pressure tactic to address brutal oppression – and not just in Israel. There is an ongoing genocide happening in Myanmar. Saudi Arabia brutally oppresses dissent, women, and anyone seen as a heretic. The Philippines is experiencing a bloody repression against suspected drug users with rampant death squads and mass murder. China is hardly a utopia of human rights. And then there is our own country. We have the largest number of citizens in prison, a system of “justice” heavily tainted by racism and classism. We also remain, as Dr. Martin Luther King observed, the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet, with bloody interventions, orchestrated coups and perpetual war. Given the threats voiced recently by Trump at the UN and our own poor human rights record, it is time for the civilized countries of the world to consider a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement aimed at pressuring us, the U.S. to honor international laws and civilized norms.

As for our power as citizens and our freedom of speech in this dangerous moment, activist and film maker Michael Moore, in a recent interview on Democracynow! put it this way, “ . . .you know, we’re told from the time we’re kids that we really – you can’t fight City Hall. You know, why knock your head against the wall? It’s not going to do anything. That’s the big lie, that we’re nobodies from nowhere and we can’t effect change. The truth is, that we’re all somebody. We’re all from somewhere. And the thing that the wealthy elite establishment is afraid of is that if we ever figure out that there’s more of us than there are of them, they’re in big trouble. They know that, because the thing they must hate about this country --the rich – is it’s still – at least on paper, in spite of the voter suppression, in spite of the gerrymandering, it’s still one person, one vote. That hasn’t been changed. And there’s only so many of them. There’s a hell of a lot more of us. And if we take that power in our hands, they’re in a boatload of trouble.”

He continues, “We all have to do everything. We are in the French resistance. Everybody has to have that attitude, that, you know, you’ve got to get the kids to soccer practice, but the kids can walk, for the next year, 'til we get rid of Trump. You know, you've got couples therapy at 4:00. You know, get along with your spouse for just one more year. We have to got to get rid of Trump. I mean it seriously. I hate to put it this way, but we – I just – you know, I have a fire lit under me, I guess. And I’m doing whatever I can do. And I think some people are doing what they can do. We just have to reach out and continue to get more and more people involved in this, 'til he's gone. We have to at least discombobulate him to the point where he’s so obsessed about all the things that are going to keep him from focusing on the really bad things that he’s going to do. He will take us to war. We will be in a war with this man. I need everybody to commit that we have to stand up immediately. Don’t even stop to think. If Trump is taking us to war, you have to automatically assume this is an insane idea from an insane man, it’s a lie we’re being told.”

Freedom of speech – and any kind of citizenship that matters – is our to lose or to keep. Like anything else, if you don't use it you'll lose it. I have at times wanted enforcement of laws against the dangerous incitement of public hate speech. Given the reality of the corporate state – that those with the power to limit abuse of free speech use that power to limit truth-telling and valid political speech, I have changed my mind. It is up to all of us to oppose hate speech en masse, whether it is by nazis or by the state department and their media machine, in demonizing others and supporting wars of false premise. In defending the right of professional athletes to express their opinions, we support our own freedom to speak and to act together in our own and each other's behalf.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cultural Activism & the Shaping of our Culture

inscribed thoughts
inspiring more thoughts
but limited by
letters arranged within
the cultural boundaries
of a particular language
formed by a particular culture
a particular history of
particular concepts
evolving within
set perspectives
and what can we create out of old concepts
but repetition?

We need a new language
a language that understands
only we
not I
and not limited
by species

A new language
able, like math
to describe the undescribable

A new language
of recognized interdependent inseparability --
of love

Culture is a powerful force we exist within but often underestimate. It shapes our perceptual reality. We are living in a time when our society is culturally riven by partisan politics and disparate subcultural tribalism. Corporate media has, with great success, promoted a commodity obsessed commercial culture of vengeance, violence and self absorption driven largely by fear. Facts are turned into opinion and conflated with partisan identification. Much of what we are seeing today, not only with the ascendance of cynical, sociopathic corporate politicians, but of armed, fascist militia groups and some of the violent reaction to them, is a product of manipulated culture symptomatic of a diseased, toxic and thoroughly corrupt system. Much of how we got here began in 1980 with the ascendance of Ronald Reagan and what we now refer to as the “deep state.” The intention was to undo what was called the “Vietnam syndrome,” a public aversion to war and militarism which conflicted with an agenda of proxy wars and global aggression. War coverage and the embedding of the mainstream media are major parts of this effort largely guided by the efforts of George H.W. Bush. Hollywood complied promoting militarism and nationalist machismo with movies like Rambo, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, and Robocop; propaganda-heavy films that made bloodthirsty mercenaries into heroic icons to justify the terror we were inflicting on Central America at the time. Anger and the catharsis of vengeance became popular themes with films like Dirty Harry. It remains so today. Entertainment, from Hollywood to video games continue to be war and vengeance focused, feeding a militarized mindset and a culture of warrior worship.

The rise of jingo-laden talk radio and of FOX media led by master propagandist Roger Ailes was a related effort at cultural manipulation. People like Ailes and George H.W. Bush understood the power of culture in shaping our mindset. These efforts, combined with the silencing of dissent in the corporate media largely define how most of us understand the world around us and our place in it, how we react to things and what our expectations are. Culture defines our language and therefore our thought processes. It defines how we see and interact with each other. Most importantly, it defines our attitudes and our values.

The rise of right-wing media was not the first attempt to affect change within our culture. In response to the Civil rights movement, President Johnson initiated the Great Society programs to confront and undo the racism that has defined our country. The most important of these efforts were the integration of our public schools and laws pushing equal opportunity in hiring. In commercial media people like Norman Lear played an important role by integrating mass entertainment and showing positive images of Blacks and of assertive women. Black entertainers like Richard Pryor and Dick Gregory helped open our eyes to the reality of racism. These successful efforts to awaken and integrate our society allowed more of us to get to know people of different races and life experiences.

For every action there is a reaction. The changes sparked by the Civil Rights struggles and Johnson's efforts set for the stage for the recidivist racist reaction that has taken over the GOP.

Our much older culture, the culture of rural, pre-industrial times, the culture that carried us through the great depression and WWII, though plagued by racism and sexism, was more community centered. This was the culture that settled the continent, the culture of community harvests and roof-raisings, the culture of solidarity that stood up to the robber-barons and created labor unions which improved our lives. The socially productive and healthy cultural attitudes of those times and the values emerging from the experiences of the 1960's and the Civil Rights era remain with us today. We can see this in the majority that reject racist extremism. We can see it in times of disaster such as Houston where people have reached out to help one another.

Culture, the good and the bad, continues to define us. Those with agendas continue to do their best to influence it. Authentic culture, as opposed to the stuff foisted on us by ruling elites and cynical profiteers, comes from people like ourselves. It develops over time based on our way of life and our traditions, religious or otherwise. Colonialism and improved mobility have brought different traditions into direct contact, influencing and enriching our culture as well. We can choose to be passive consumers of culture, vulnerable to its currents and to its manipulation, drifting where it takes us without really thinking about it or we can be consciously active participants in shaping it.

A good example of taking personal responsibility to actively participate in and affect our culture can be seen here in Norfolk, VA in work of Tench Phillips through the NARO Cinema. Many of the films and documentaries he shows are not seen in corporate venues. These are often the subjects and perspectives those in power do not want us to be exposed to. They are shown at the NARO and followed by speakers with audience discussion, thus enlarging our cultural conversation.

I too do my best to influence our larger culture. In publishing the quarterly literary journal, The Blue Collar Review, Journal of Progressive Working Class Literature for over 20 years, I, along with my co-editor Mary Franke, have worked to nourish and revive our working class culture of community and solidarity. The antithesis of alienated corporate culture is working class culture. This is a culture that arises from our real conditions. It is rooted in our working class values of community, social cooperation for the common good, peace, economic security, sustainability and internationalism. Rather than self-absorbed, competitive individualism, working class culture sees us within the context of our common class experience. While acknowledging the richness of our differences, it stresses commonality and solidarity in the struggle for a better world. For anyone interested in exploring this further, I'll be teaching a class on working class literature at The Muse in November.

Located at 2200 Colonial Avenue next to the Plaza del Sol Mexican restaurant, The Muse is another vital venue for those who choose to be active participants in our culture. As Michael Khandelwal, Executive Director of The Muse Writer's Center describes, “The Muse is Hampton Roads’ only literary center. In the past 11 years, we have grown from a small organization that borrowed meeting space from other arts groups to one of the top-10 writers centers nationally. The Muse hosts introductory-to-advanced low-cost creative writing classes and seminars in fiction, poetry, nonfiction and memoir writing, scriptwriting, and songwriting. Independent from a college or university, we embrace people of every age, background, and level of experience. Our main educational aim is to embrace people who want to write but haven’t had the opportunity to be guided by great teachers. We are also offer tuition assistance to anyone who wants to take a class but cannot afford one. About 15 percent of our students are on tuition assistance (last year, we gave more than $12,000), and we also give three $500 college scholarships each year.”

Khandelwal adds, “This year, we also plan on hosting more than 200 literary events, which will attract nearly 6,000 people. Ongoing events include public readings for adults, teens, and kids, our open mic nights, our writers' happy hour and writers' coffee breaks, our jams and open houses, our Slover Library write-ins, public writing days, writers' support groups, book launch parties and readings, and many more.”

Too often, “culture” is placed on a pedestal that may intimidate some but The Muse is anything but stuffy. If you enjoy listening to live music or poetry readings or just want a quite place to read or write, it is there and open to the public on Tuesdays from 10 a.m to 7 p.m. and Wednesdays, 12:30 to5 p.m.. There is also a library which includes many local authors. More on what the Muse offers can be found on their website including the fall class schedule. Other events can be viewed on their site as well.

I am scheduled to read and have a launching of my new poetry collection entitled “BALK!” at The Muse on Sunday October 8th from 4 to 5:30. If you have enjoyed my articles you're likely to enjoy my poetry. The book will be for sale at the reading. I hope to see some of you there. “BALK!” is also available online through Partisan Press.

Together, it is up to us to actively participate in shaping, reclaiming and healing our culture. We can't all be writers, musicians, artists, publishers or media moguls but we can take responsibility in how we interact with people, what we communicate and what we pass along. We can be aware of how culture shapes our language and attitudes. We can question our own reactions, feelings and initial responses and not buy into the warrior culture that sees dehumanization and violence as the solutions. Anger and tribal animosity only weaken the community on which we all depend. If we are to confront and overcome the tribal division, bigotry and anger that has poisoned our national culture, we must recognize its sources, hear and reach out to others focusing on our common experiences and interests, and work actively to shape a culture based on our better shared values of community and mutual responsibility.

Friday, August 11, 2017


Though I write opinions and articles for Veer, I am first and foremost a poet. As with my articles, I tend to balk. I balk at corruption and injustice. I balk at hypocrisy and the destruction of mindless greed. Sometimes I try to work some humor into the process.

My poetry is not typical of the introverted abstraction pushed by academe. I am a working class writer, writing from the experience of a clock-punching hourly worker. Working class literature, as a genre has a long and suppressed history in our country. A recent article about this mentions the Blue Collar Review. I have been editing and publishing this journal of progressive working class literature for over 20 years. I have also taught on this genre at The Muse. The emphasis of the Blue Collar Review is poetry but it isn't the boring stuff you hated in high school or the fluff you avoid in other magazines. This is poetry you can relate to from your own experience -- stuff that will speak to you, strong poetry that may change your life.

If you like my articles in Veer, you will probably like the poems in my new book. Excerpts from the intro by poet Robert Edwards can be viewed here. This book can be purchased online from Partisan Press.