Sunday, July 18, 2021

Beyond Corporate Corruption and Nation States

Still my favorite songs from this era with a message that continues to reverberate. We are living in a time of escalating climate catastrophe and international tension as the unraveling of civilization increases, driven by the economics of competitive greed and the resulting creation of refugees by impoverishment, war, class oppression and climate disaster made worse by purveyors of xenophobic nationalisms. It becomes increasingly obvious to those who pay attention that the competitive nation state is a moribund, outdated and ecocidal disease. Now, only internationalist cooperation can save our species. Half-way measures and incrementalism on climate action will not save us. Ecosocialism or extinction. It's not just a slogan.

Your humble truth-telling writer continues beyond the limitation of a one-time column in the local Veer magazine. I continue my onine commentary on articles in the New York Tims as well as continuing to write and publish the poetry, prose and cutural reviews of other progressive, enlightened thinkers in the .

Friday, May 21, 2021

Roadmap Redux

This is an article first publshed in Veer magazing back in 2012. It provdes some background on the present phase of the ongoing catastrophy of zionism. Real questions are, how many times must we go through this? Why is our Presdent still spouting ridculously uninformed nonsense? Why do we arm, support and financially underwite such blatant human rights violations in Israel?

I had an article on another subject prepared for this space but the situation in Gaza has been weighing heavily on me. This latest attack on the Gaza strip by Israel began with its assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed al-Jabari. The last time, it began with Israeli shelling of a beach crowded with people just as Hamas was making overtures for peace. The militants in Gaza responded with largely ineffective missiles and, like last time, our President and press pontificate about Israel's right to defend itself. Never mind the rights of Palestinians living in what is an open air prison surrounded by guard towers and shot at regularly, to defend themselves. I take it personally. I find it unbearable.

As a Jew I was raised with an awareness of the horror of fascism. Most of my mother's relatives, Hungarian Jews, died in Auschwitz. Only a few survived; a cousin I met with a faded number tattooed on his arm and two others; cousins who walked back to Hungary only to find there was nothing for them to return to. They married to keep the family going and emigrated to Palestine and the newly forming Israel. My own sensitivity to and awareness of how nationalism, prejudice and religion are used to support Fascism continues to inform and shape my political perspective.

I was very religious in my youth. Growing up in an intolerant Christian area in California, I remember being taunted by schoolmates as a “Christ killer” and could count on being beaten up on Christmas and Easter. I know all to well about antisemitism and the bitterness of being hated. The Judaism I was raised with was rich with values. Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord your God, as the prophet Micah said. We were proud to stand against racism and to have a cultural and racial rainbow of friends. We were a people of laws who knew first hand the horror of hatred and nationalism. That was before the real effect of nationalism took hold on us.

Though my own spiritual journey has taken me beyond any belief in deities, as a cultural Jew with many spiritual and philosophical influences, I still take it personally: What Zionism has done to us, distorting our culture and values; How the antisemitism that was once a European Christian phenomenon has grown globally because of it; The suffering of Palestinians chased from their homes and made permanent refugees tormented at checkpoints and endlessly harassed; The splitting up of families, the demolition of their homes, the uprooting of their orchards, the theft of their water; The teaching of hate and fear my grandchildren got in Sunday school. I learned it myself and it took a long time to get beyond it. It goes against thousands of years of our values and teachings. It echoes our own experience at the hands of others. Who should know better than us? Some of us do. I am not alone in my disillusionment and distaste for Zionism and the poison of nationalism – all nationalism. There are large organizations like the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jews Not Zionists and others. I was deeply moved by the number of Jews attempting to bring humanitarian relief to Gaza aboard the small ship Irene, under the banner “Not In Our Name” back in 2010. The one American on board was Lillian Rosengarten, 75, a practicing psychotherapist from Cold Spring, N.Y, who fled the Nazis as a child in Frankfurt. Also on board, were Israelıs Reuven Moskovıtz, an 82 year old concentration camp survivor, and Ramı Elhanen whose child was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 1997.

You should take it personally too. The continuing intransigence, human right abuses and regional aggression inflicted by Israel is our doing. We underwrite Israel's existence at over 3 billion dollars a year. That is enough to support every Israeli quite comfortably and it doesn't include military support. The rest of the world and the nations in the region are well aware of our support and responsibility for Israel's behavior and it earns us neither trust or friendship. We have the power and the responsibility to use it.

Friends don't let friends become monsters. If we really care about Israel's security, we should apply some tough love and help them out of a tight spot. Consider it an intervention. We should, as responsible benefactors, apply strings to our benevolent support by tying continued funding to a concrete schedule of real action toward a just peace that would bring them and ourselves security. Hamas may be militant but who can blame them? They are the product of injustice and confront the equal militancy of a much larger and better armed oppressor. No good will comes from brutal oppression. Hatred made powerful by injustice can be undermined with good will. Mistrust can be overcome, though it takes time.

I am pleased at the UN vote overwhelmingly supporting recognition of Palestine, reaffirming “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine on the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.” This historic vote recognizes Palestine as a state and gives it observer status and the right to join U.N. agencies, including the International Criminal Court. It also allows Palestine to bring cases against Israel. It is an important moment. Unfortunately, Israel has responded to the UN vote by announcing the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank and by seizing $120 million dollars of Palestinian funds. And they threaten to take more. The official UN recognition gives Palestine status that may afford them some protection and a long overdue degree of power in negotiating and defining their future but much depends on the response of the real power, which is our government.

Even in the unlikelihood that Israel removed its many settlements and its military forces from the West Bank, it has purposefully made a two state solution physically impossible over the last two decades. It seems to me, and to a growing number of Palestinians, that as even under the best situation with both states mutually dependent on limited resources, ultimately, a single combined state would be the best solution with equal citizenship and equality for all. Israel could do this by granting full citizenship to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza ending this festering crisis once and for all. The elected Palestinian leadership and parties could be granted representation in the Israeli Parliament, or Knesset. Israel has the advantage of a multi-party system where clear majorities are difficult and cooperation is a necessity. As citizens sharing the same country, common interests would override differences. Civic participation should be encouraged and the most militant segments on both sides, disarmed. This would be in Israel's best interest making them more secure, ending a costly occupation and undermining regional animosity. Treating others as we would want to be treated is more in line with Jewish cultural norms.

Though the wounds inflicted by the injustices of the past will take time to heal, they can't even begin until the situation changes. I recall watching a powerful documentary at the Naro Cinema, where Jews and Palestinians living in Los Angeles sat down and listened to each others experiences. In doing so they overcame mistrust and created a bond, becoming friends who still meet. This was inspiring in demonstrating how hate and fear can be overcome if we stop clinging to our own narratives and listen to each other. I believe it can happen in Palestine but those with the power bear the responsibility of initiating change. That means Israel and more so, the United States. It is in our shared interest to see this conflict end. Thanks to pressure by our own government and Egypt, there is a truce as I write this-- a fragile truce. It won't bring back the more than 160 Palestinians killed or the 5 Israelis. A permanent and just solution must be pursued and that will require ongoing pressure. It is incumbent on our government, as the patron state and on us as citizens to demand that our government take responsibility to make it so.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Surviving the Storms Together

This article was written, like most of the others here, for Veer Magazine but will not appear in it. Due to the crippling economic difficulties affecting that local paper, editorials like this are not welcome for now but may again be used in the indefinite future, should they or I survive.

These are certainly the darkest and most ominous of times I've lived through. Like many, I have been locked down, living on tinned fish, rice and beans and noodles and drinking more than usual. When I go out, I am masked, gloved and wary of others, It seems everything has changed. As a close friend pointed out, this is as much a plague of the spirit as it is of the body. At the same time, we are seeing an outpouring of generosity as people check on each other, sew masks and give away food. There are tables set up in places like Graydon Avenue, near Colley where neighbors put out cans of food for those that need it. Some even share rolls of that now rare and valuable commodity -- toilet paper!

We understand why we as a nation are less able to deal with this crisis than any other modern country on earth. We do not have a public healthcare system. Many of us lack health care coverage. Even if we have it, deductibles and copays aside, our corporatized medical approach treats symptoms rather than causes and relies on over-priced, often toxic medicines and expensive procedures. It is a commodified disease maintenance model designed to rake in profits. And now so many more of us are without basic coverage.

This viral pandemic is only one of the deadly plagues that has infected our country. We continue to suffer the plague of cultivated partisan division. We suffer from a much longer-term disease of racism and the violent suppression of minorities; especially Black people.

I have written many essays in Veer on racism, on racist police violence and on the dangerous rise of armed proto-terrorist hate groups. The attention brought has helped push reforms in local policing policy though much more needs to be done. We still lack a community-based civilian police review board. It is still more likely for Black people to be shot by police than it is for wild animals who would be subdued with drug darts.

The racism and divisions that are tearing our country apart were here long before Trump was appointed president but he has, through steady provocations and ineptitude made our situation far, far worse. From his stubborn resistance to science in handling the spread of COVID 19 to his rolling back of public safety protections and of the CDC defenses against pandemics, to his constant incitement, support and promotion of neo-faschist hate groups, he has been and continues to be a toxic danger and the number one threat to our national security. And I'm no loyal democrat! This is all a trial run for worse disasters to come, from the horrific destruction made inevitable by the expanding climate catastrophe and the storms we will experience locally to other waves of disease and of possible societal breakdown and civil war.

Given the reality of this moment, we are either witnessing the economic and social collapse of civilization and the rise of brutal fascism inherent in disaster capitalism or the beginning of a new era of progressive fightback as so many find ourselves with no other realistic choice.

So how do we get through this? The protests we are seeing are a beginning. The rising up and standing together of citizens, even amid the dangers of the pandemic and increasingly violent acts of suppression by militarized police at the direct instruction of the president and his attorney general, demonstrate our solidarity against racist violence and against Trump's destructive actions.

With the exceptions of Richmond and aggressive police in Virginia Beach, our local area has avoided violence and riots. We have, so far also avoided massive deaths by COVID seen elsewhere, though the numbers of sick continue to grow locally. We have responsible state leadership and that saves lives.

I expect the numbers to rise as we "open up" and due to the number of people in the streets protesting police violence and institutional racism.

As I wrote in the editorial of a recent Blue Collar Review, it is increasingly obvious that we are now in undeniable need of Medicare for All, a minimum income and the job-creation and climate sanity of a Green New Deal. The time for the Jonestown rule of corporations and billionaires has been unmasked by the multiple pandemics we face and must be swept away by united citizen action to restore the Republic.

Only the committed solidarity of love and community can save us as a nation from rising dictatorship and destruction. The protests around the country and in our area are examples of that. Hate and well earned mistrust can be overcome. Together, as history repeatedly demonstrates, even brutal dictatorships can be overcome when we as citizens stand together in opposition.

Though the situation is too dynamic to make any predictions, this promises to be a long, hot and bloody summer. Let's do everything we can to be safe, to avoid the worst, to take care of each other and, more importantly, to demand leadership with integrity that puts people first.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Instant Karma

As the corona virus tears across the globe leaving medical systems overwhelmed, in civilized countries that have them, and mass death in its wake, our country continues its economic terrorism against affected countries including Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, denying them food and medical equipment. In fact, there is hardly a country on earth we have not done filthy murderous things to from instigating civil wars and violent coups to orchestrating genocides.

In our own country there are calls from politicians and the corporate media for bailouts of the usual suspects; banks, big oil, finance, airlines, ect. along with emergency crumbs in the way of checks to “taxpaying' citizens. Even that appreciated but inadequate assistance – coming from the corrupt and inept G.O.P leadership – is being stymied by Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Cuomo with calls for stringent means testing. Layoffs and unemployment are skyrocketing by the day with evictions likely soon to follow.

Meanwhile, the only platform and leadership that could limit the damage and save the country, and I refer of course to Bernie Sanders's calls for universal medical coverage via Medicare for All, relief from student dept, a job-creating Green New Deal focused on adaptive infrastructure renewal, green agriculture and moving away from fossil fuels from the power grid to transportation has been soundly defeated by corporate media efforts and voters driven by fear and misinformation. A majority of said voters stated in exit polls that they support these things but were informed that Joe Biden, a senile conservative democrat was more electable in spite of polls showing the very opposite.

So here we are, sheltering in place with the most inept and crooked government in the history of our republic in charge even as we continue raining death and destruction in every part of the world. This includes the deadly embargo on Cuba which has been successful in assisting China with the development of Interferon Alpha 2b which has proven effective for viruses with characteristics similar to those of COVID-19. But hey, let's not let common sense or the curbing of unnecessary deaths get in the way of our renewed cold-war fervor!

Music, the tunes that rise out of the inky bitumen of our subconscious can sometimes be an oracle trying to tell us something or helping us see situations in perspective. The other day the voice of Doris Day rose from my inner swamp singing Que Sera Sera. As I consider the larger reality the tune that has been playing in my head is Instant Karma.

Monday, February 17, 2020

An Opportunity for 2020 Foresight

There are many issues that should motivate us to public action as responsible citizens. Issues like human rights abuses, access to needed healthcare, confronting ongoing efforts by the Trump administration to roll back regulations on environmental safety, deregulating the dumping of industrial toxins into our lakes and rivers, threats to cut back healthcare access, vital support for disabled recipients of Social Security, the spread of nuclear weapons, war, and support for oppressive regimes. Such actions can take many forms from visiting or writing letters to our elected representatives, writing editorial letters to the local paper or participating in public demonstrations.

In the last month we witnessed a day of protest by people who do not seem to object to or protest any of these things. Instead, in response to long overdue and very moderate legislation seeking mandatory background checks and monthly caps on gun purchases, militias and gun-right activists spouting unfounded fears and misinformation gathered in Richmond. None of the legislation proposed or thus passed in any way prevents anyone from purchasing a firearm.

Demonstrations around issues serve not only as a way of pressuring elected leaders but as education and outreach around things we feel are important. The Richmond gun rally succeeded in illustrating a real problem.

Photos of heavily armed zealots with over-sized military-grade weapons should concern us all. Do you really want your unstable neighbor to be that heavily armed? The other big issue made evident was the presence of highly armed extremist militia groups. As reported in the Virginia Mercury, six men were arrested in Georgia, Maryland and Delaware, all allegedly involved with a neo-fascist white supremacist group known as The Base. Authorities reported that the men were suspected of planning an attack against counter protesters at the rally. While thankfully there was no violence reported in Richmond, unlike the Charlottesville rally, there were only a few overt signs of racist nationalism or Nazi propaganda. Racist groups attending were more subtle, waving flags and wearing patches with the symbols of far-right groups like the Proud Boys and various white nationalist militias such as the III Percenters and Oath Keepers. Coincidentally, the Richmond Rally was being covered at the same time as another public shooting incident – the kind we have become too used to seeing on the news.

Recently some of the same fearful gun activists have attempted to pressure our city councils to endorse “Second Amendment cities” which Chesapeake City Council supported. As a long-time activist myself, I think many need to realize the empty symbolism of this and to read up on the “Dillon Law” which in Virginia states that “local governments are limited to the powers expressly granted to them by their state” meaning the State Legislature makes the rules and cities cannot choose to defy them or to do otherwise. The Dillon Law is problematic for local democracy on many issues. Virginia is one of 39 states in which it applies.

Four years ago at the close of the last electoral debacle I wrote of my deep concern about the ugly rise and empowerment of hate-groups and the neo-fascist right. It remains obvious that we as a nation still have a serious problem. It was on display in Richmond and has more to do with the danger, beyond partisan division, of proto-terrorist groups than it does with our continuing right to buy reasonable firearms for hunting or self defense. Public access to high-capacity military grade weaponry and armed hate-groups continue to pose a grave threat to public safety.

Another key issue, made evident by the growing Coronavirus epidemic, is the necessity of universal access to health care. Without everyone being covered, the poverty of some poses a health risk to all. The most important issue of the day remains the rapidly expanding climate catastrophe which threatens our future – especially in our low-lying, increasingly flood-prone, hurricane-vulnerable Tidewater area.

Voting is among the most important things we can do as citizens. Next, we need to keep pressure on those we manage to elect to act on the issues we care about. Our Virginia mid-terms demonstrated the effectiveness of this. We have seen action to expand Medicaid access and to enact sensible fire-arm regulations. Progress is also being made to protect our state environment. Though fracking and gas pipeline projects remain an issue, we have seen a ban on fracking in the eastern part of the state to protect the Potomac Aquifer, enacting of carbon cap-and-trade legislation, expanding offshore wind energy plans, and addressing flooding in areas of the Eastern Shore and in our own area including parts of Virginia Beach. A proposal to make the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice a permanent body, put forward by Democratic Sen. Mamie Locke of Hampton, is making its way through committee. This would create a standing advisory council which would offer recommendations to the governor to protect historically vulnerable poor and minority communities from disproportionate impacts of pollution. Given the rapid warming of our seas and the increasing rate of their rise, there is much more that needs to be done to mitigate carbon emissions and to strengthen and adapt infrastructure here and throughout our country.

A vitally important opportunity for citizen action is upon us. The Virginia Democratic Presidential Primary is on March 3 with voting scheduled from 6AM – 7PM. Primaries are very different from elections. Come the election, we will likely have to vote against, rather than for a candidate, playing the old “lesser evil” game. Settling for lesser evils in questionably legitimate elections has not served our country well. Given record levels of corruption, media manipulation, voter suppression and reliance on shady technology it remains questionable whether legitimate federal elections are even possible anymore. This may be our last opportunity to make a real difference. Unlike elections, primaries are where we can and should vote our hopes by choosing the candidate we think is best on the issues. Capitulating in advance based on what corporate media tells us is possible is to surrender any chance of making a difference.

Whichever party affiliation or candidate you choose, I think what most of us have in common is a revulsion to corruption and to the continuation of resulting bad economic policies which poison our communities and impoverish us for the benefit of the well-connected. That is why many voted as they did in the last presidential election for someone perceived as an outsider who promised to “drain the swamp” but sadly continues to do just the opposite. As I've said in the past, the best criteria for judging a candidate are their actual record and who is backing them because that is who they will serve.

Given that criteria, I think Bernie Sanders remains the best and strongest candidate. Maybe it is his integrity. Beyond that rare characteristic in politicians, the vast majority support his agenda of universal access to medical care, climate action and people-first economic policies reflective of FDR's New Deal. He, unlike others, can be counted on to protect programs like public education and Social Security. His record shows him to be incorruptible. Most important is that Sanders is the only candidate who can be trusted to stand up to the enormous power wielded by corporations and to do what we must to address public health and the climate catastrophe. Sanders represents the best of our country. He will protect the civil rights and hard won gains of working people and minorities.

Beyond cultivated partisan division, the Representative Republic is on its deathbed. Citizens like those of us who are not billionaires have little if any real representation. Corporate influence has come to define public policy. Sanders and the broad citizen movement behind him are the last chance we have to revive and protect the Republic and to insure that we address the climate issue in a way that really matters. He can be counted on to actually drain the swamp of corporate lobbyists and self-serving moneyed interests. I hope we will approach this opportunity with 2020 foresight and not rue a lost chance with 2020 hindsight. We will all have to live with the consequences.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Standing For Peace at Ground Zero

Your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore
They're already overcrowded from your dirty little war
Now Jesus don't like killin', no matter what the reason's for
And your flag decal won't get you into Heaven anymore
– John Prine

The new year finds our military area and families facing new dangers after the recent assassination of Iran's Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a leading political figure close to the Iranian leadership. Some will opine that Trump did us a favor in eliminating a dangerous enemy and “terrorist.” The record does not corroborate this. A brief look at the history of our relations with Iran tells a very different story.

It was our country that decided to forcefully remove Iran's elected president in 1956 and to install one of the world's most brutal dictatorships in its place. That was the “Shah” whose bloody, torturous grip on Iran lasted over 20 years. It wasn't Iran that applied a punishing economic stranglehold on our country because it was displeased with our leadership choices or energy policies – again, the other way around. It wasn't Iran that instigated and supplied an invasion against us including chemical weapons attacks. Yep, again that was our government supplying Iraq with the deadly weapons and pushing them to attack Iran. So next time you hear about Persians calling us the “great Satan” and being our enemy, consider the real history, as well as the source.

Our use of a previous Iraqi regime to attack Iran with chemical weapons is something Iranians have not forgotten, They have a Museum of Peace dedicated to remembering this and many Iranians still bear the scars and injuries of that war. They have good reason to be involved in Iraq to prevent a recurrence and to protect their own national security. They have also been active in fighting and defeating ISIL terrorism.

The reality is that General Suleimani's stop in Iraq on his way home from Lebanon to pressure the Iraqi congress to demand removal of US troops was known in advance. Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi stated that he was due to meet the General Suleimani for talks that had been agreed to at Trump’s request. Trump's arrogant, criminal blunder has achieved Suleimani's agenda and further isolated the U.S. in the region and world.

Though it would have been shocking to past presidents as it should shock us today, the power to assassinate people around the world is not new to the Presidency. The power of the Executive has expanded enormously since the 1980's often working in league with the CIA. There have been many US interventions over the past half century which have attempted and succeeded in removing leaders our country deemed unfavorable through highly dubious legal or ethical means, from electoral meddling and punishing economic sanctions to orchestrated coups and invasions.

Ronald Reagan launched bombing raids in 1986 targeting Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Obama finished the job leaving Libya a chaotic, war torn disaster. We have seen the removal and imprisonment of Panama's president Noriega for refusing to join our “contra” efforts to destabilize and reconquer Nicaragua. The military coup in Honduras, overseen by Obama, continues to include the killing of dissidents and the creation of refugees. The recent ascension of extreme-right leadership in Chile, Brazil and Peru (with our assistance) and the bloody coup in Bolivia are continuations of this pattern of meddling and regime change around the world – often with terrible consequences such as the burning of the Amazon Rainforest. Obama incorporated and ensconced the presidential power to kill with a regular weekly “kill list' and drone assassinations. He even targeted US citizens overseas. Many, if not most drone killings included innocent families and children.

Trump is continuing a policy of assassination set in place by previous administrations but he differs in carrying out an agenda devised, not by the CIA but by the Saudis, Israel and the UAE. Trump has been moving troops and weapons to the region in large number over the last few months and just sent another 3,000 military personnel to Kuwait. Though Trump has apparently been reeled in by his advisors and has backed off from an all out attack on Iran, the danger remains. Trump's march to war has been assisted by Congress (including a majority of Democrats) who recently handed an additional record $700 billion to the Pentagon. I remain disappointed that my representative, Bobby Scott, voted for this. The assassination of a high-level political operative is a way of pushing us into a disastrous new war in the mid-east in which there are no “good guys” and from which there can be no winners. The predictable media cheer-leading for war has already begun with the neocons of the last illegal and disastrous war based on lies being cited as “experts.” Most of them have deep ties to military industries that stand to profit by this even at the expense of thousands of lives including our loved ones in the military. This again makes our military-centric area a target.

I'm glad that Senators Kaine and Sanders have submitted bills demanding Congressional oversight and a stop to this disastrous and ill-thought aggression. We the People must also speak out against another devastating criminal war. The planet cannot afford another war and we who bear the costs have better priorities like addressing the expanding climate catastrophe, adapting our infrastructure to inevitable changes, funding access to healthcare and education. The push for war remains a welfare program to underwrite the weapons and military industry at an expense beyond rational comprehension or moral justification. The truth is that preventing climate change from inflicting cataclysmic damage to our ecosystem, threatening much of life on earth and civilization as we know it, cannot be accomplished unless we also demilitarize our foreign policy, end interventionist wars and break the grip that both the fossil fuel industry and the military-industrial complex have on our federal budget, foreign policy, economy and government.

I recently attended the founding meeting of a local “Coalition for Peace and Planet” which recognizes the inseparability of war and climate destruction. Their Principles of Unity state: The Hampton Roads Coalition for Peace and Planet is an alliance of peace and environmental groups in the Hampton Roads region whose mission is to educate, organize and mobilize our supporters in nonviolent opposition to war and environmental destruction.“ This is a non-partisan group whose alliance members so far include the Tidewater Democratic Socialists of America, the Norfolk Catholic Worker, the Green Party of Hampton Roads and non-affiliated citizens. We hope you join in this important effort. The Coalition for Peace and Planet can be found on facebook.

A lesson president Trump makes obvious is the need to roll back the power of the presidency, to return the power to declare war to Congress, and to re-establish a balance of power between the constitutional branches of our government. Before we begin massive bombings of cities, oilfields and nuclear reactors, can we get an ecological impact statement? We must support the cooler heads and consider actual impacts of our actions on the region and world. One has to ask -- especially of the media -- if anything at all been learned from the last 20 years, or for that matter, the last 60?

We all have a stake in this not only for the safety of our loved ones who may be sent to kill and be killed unjustifiably but as a city and region. As a major military center, we are ground zero. We bear the danger of presidential war-mongering. We need to be heard and to stop this tragedy before the already volatile middle-east explodes on all of us. Writing letters to the paper and to your congressional representatives can help, as can pubic protests and unified citizen demands for peace and ecological sanity.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Looking Back at 2019 and Hopes for Next Year

As I write this, the holiday season with all its emphasis on frenzied gift buying is again upon us, along with the first trickle of election season ads by billionaires seeking to buy the election, as if everything, including the presidency, were a Black Friday commodity. And maybe it has come to that. What I like about the Christmas season is the old value, not heard about as much in these times of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill.” It used to bother me that this ideal was so seasonal and short-lived. As I look around today it seems so retro – at least officially. This has been an eventful year in our area, our state, our country and around the world. This is a good time for us to look back at some of the highlights of the last year and to look forward to our hopes for the next.

The values of peace and goodwill have taken quite a battering over the last year. The vicious treatment of refugees seeking asylum in our country has included attacks on families, the separation, imprisonment and brutal treatment of children, and attempts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which would result in deporting many people who know no other home. At the same time, our government has continued devastating economic embargoes against Venezuela, Iran and Cuba and fostered and backed an increasingly bloody military coup in Bolivia. The present administration continues to support vicious and brutal human rights abuses in Brazil, Chile, Israel, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere – all of which exacerbate the creation of desperate refugees.

On a positive note, citizen resistance has seen some success. Here in Norfolk some of us actively welcome and assist arriving immigrants. In response to local pressure, Sheriff Joe Barron ended a contract he had made with ICE to hold undocumented immigrants in our city jail.

Last year also saw resistance to the placing of a dangerous high pressure natural gas transmission pipeline, capable of explosive rupture, through populous communities in our area and through our downtown. This pipeline, The Southside Connector, was installed against the will of local citizens. It can still be shut off if it does not blow up first. The water has continued to rise in our area over the last year with “sunny day flooding” becoming the norm. As the latest climate assessment, issued by the United Nations Environment Program warns, we are on track for much worse. Its authors tell us that deeper and faster cuts to fossil fuel burning and carbon output are now required. Meanwhile our carbon emissions continue to grow by the year and the Trump administration continues to deny the problem, rolling back limits on pollutants and carbon emissions.

This year has also seen massive and increasing citizen activism. People are in streets around the world protesting economic injustice, corruption, and demanding action on the climate issue. We witnessed the growth of climate strikes started by teenager Greta Thurnberg and the expansion of Extinction Rebellion civil disobedience as young people fight for a livable future.

In our own state, in response to citizen pressure, Dominion Energy agreed to let regulators remove a Southwest Virginia power plant that relies almost entirely on coal from a renewable energy portfolio being promoted as a “100 percent renewable energy.” A State Corporation Commission (SCC) report found Dominion collected $277 million more from its Virginia customers last year that it should have, overcharging us for the second year in a row. Recently the SCC rejected a request from Dominion Energy that would have raised the utility's profit margin even more through increases in user rates. This year also saw the electoral victory and consolidation of our state legislature by Democrats which included a record number of women elected. As reported in Virginia Mercury, “a record 30 women (six newly elected) will hold seats in the House of Delegates when the 2020 session convenes. For the first time in 400 years, a woman will preside as speaker over the oldest continuously-meeting legislative body in the Western Hemisphere.” In Portsmouth, Stephanie Morales, one of only a handful of prosecutors who has prosecuted and won a conviction in the case of a white police officer who killed a black person, won her re-election campaign. This is an indication of public support for a strong response to police violence.

The control of our state legislature by Democrats, and more importantly, the defeat of Republicans who aligned themselves with Trump, gives us some hope for the coming year. Without the blockage created by Republicans in the past, we may at long last see the expansion of Medicaid in our state. We have been paying for this expansion, begun under the Affordable Care Act, but Republicans have blocked increased access to about 400,000 low-income adults in our state. This expansion of access is long overdue.

Dr. Anna Jeng, a local member of the Virginia State Board of Health, tells me that she hopes to see not only the expansion of Medicaid but of mental health services, noting that at present Virginia is ranked 38th in the country and has been in the top 10 of states with the greatest rates of need for metal health services. She also hopes to see an expansion of funding for women's reproductive rights and health services as well. She states that “Over 92% of Virginia cities or counties have no abortion provider and the remaining facilities are clustered in five urban areas. Evidenced-based laws should be proposed to expand the number of women's health clinics to replace those closed since the “pro-life” movement gained the upper hand in 2011.”

We may, at long last, become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, outlawing gender-based discrimination and making it the law of the land nationally. We may also see limits finally placed on public access to military style semi-automatic high capacity weapons.

With Democrats in control we may see an end to gerrymandering, voter suppression, and attacks on voter rights in our state. Though it remains an uphill struggle against corporate Democrats, we cold see the “right to work” (for less) law finally overturned. In the General Assembly, Delegate Lee Carter says that he is again introducing repeal legislation as he did in the 2019 session, while Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and other progressive legislators are lining up to support the effort.. We are also more likely to see cannabis finally decriminalized or even made legal for public consumption as it is in other states.

Hopefully, we will also see an end to our state's cooperation with the immigration abuses by ICE, including the imprisoning and abuse of migrant children in our state in places like the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center and to the defense and expansion of civil rights in our commonwealth. We might also hope for an overdue crackdown on the hate groups which have metastasized in recent years, fertilized by the extreme-right hyper-nationalism pushed by the divisive disinformation media of talk-radio, FOX “news,” connected Evangelic leaders, and by Trump. We can also hope for and demand the removal of people connected to hate groups from positions of power in our government, military, and law enforcement.

As this year gives way to the maddening circus of the electoral season, we can hope for an end to the blatant criminality and short-sighted attacks on public safety and our environment by this corrupt administration and to its replacement by leadership willing to stand up to the undue influence of big money interests in addressing the growing existential threat of the climate catastrophe. We should know by their records and their campaign backing who that is and who it is not. It isn't corporate funded centrists or billionaires like Michael Bloomberg who recently kicked off his campaign here in Norfolk after dumping $30 billion into TV ads.

Returning to the Christmas theme of Peace on Earth and Goodwill, let us be proud of our efforts as Virginians in rolling back reaction and hate in our state. Let's keep the pressure on to make sure this momentum continues here and beyond our state borders. Let's keep those values in mind over the coming year even in the cultivated partisan division of election campaigns, realizing that our neighbors and co-workers are not our enemy even if we disagree with them. Let us continue to work for peace, an end to nuclear madness and to international meddling and aggressions. Let us welcome the strangers among us and work to end policies that impoverish and that punish the poor even as they enrich a few at the expense of a livable future. Here's to a happy holiday season, a better year and a future we can believe in.