Friday, January 6, 2017

Free Leonard Peltier

By Reginald Johnson

  In his remaining days in office, President Obama has the opportunity to bring some measure of justice to wrongfully-imprisoned Native-American activist Leonard Peltier.

  Peltier has been languishing in prison for over 40 years, following his conviction for murdering two FBI agents during a shootout between law enforcement officers and Lakota Indians on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in 1975.

   Peltier is a political prisoner --- one whose arrest, conviction and lengthy incarceration was determined not so much by the facts of the case but by Peltier’s activism in the American Indian Movement and the government’s desire to suppress a rebellion by Native Americans in the 1970s.

 The entire process by which Peltier was arrested and tried was fraught with problems.  Witness affidavits supporting Peltier’s extradition from Canada (where he fled after the shootout) prior to his arrest were gained through coercion; during the trial the government withheld key documents, such as ballistics information, that could have aided the defense; witnesses who testified for the prosecution later recanted and said the FBI had pressured them to implicate Peltier.

Leonard Peltier, pictured at Leavenworth federal prison in 1992, is serving two consecutive life sentences for the murders of two FBI agents in 1975.
Leonard Peltier, the Native American activist who is asking for clemency from President Obama after 40 years in prison. (Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

   While Peltier was unsuccessful in an appeal of his conviction, the presiding judge in the appeals hearing, Gerald Heaney, harshly criticized the prosecution for the FBI’s “improper conduct” and “clear abuse of the investigative process,” according to a report by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

   It’s also noteworthy, that during the appeals hearing, the government admitted that they couldn’t prove who actually shot the agents. But the government still maintained that Peltier was linked to the murders and therefore was guilty.  

  The idea that someone could be convicted and sent to prison for so many years --- based on such a shaky prosecution case, rife with so many legal problems, is an outrage.

  It is not the kind of thing that is supposed to happen in a democratic republic, with a system that on paper at least provides “liberty and justice for all.”  The Peltier case is more befitting of what happens in a dictatorship.
    Obama has a chance to end this outrage by granting Peltier’s request for clemency.  The Native activist has gotten wide support for his plea --- from human rights groups like Amnesty International to Bishop Desmond Tutu to thousands of people signing petitions.  And just this week, Peltier got unexpected support from one of the prosecutors in the original case. Former U.S. Attorney James Reynolds told The Guardian newspaper that it was time for the government to “call it quits” and grant leniency to Peltier.
   In addition to the facts of the case and the wide support Peltier has received, Obama should also consider Peltier’s age and his declining health. Now 72, Peltier has suffered a stroke and battled diabetes and a heart condition.
  This is not the first time Peltier has sought clemency. In 2000, former President Bill Clinton weighed his request for leniency (just as Clinton was leaving office) but ultimately denied it after members of the FBI Agents Association mounted a furious opposition campaign and picketed the White House.

  The FBI group --- composed of former agents of the federal agency --- are again opposing Peltier’s petition.

  Hopefully President Obama --- who is ending his tenure in the White House on Jan. 20 --- will see the light in this case and not back down. A good sign is that Obama has recently been granting leniency for hundreds of other long-time prisoners --- offenders who were serving excessively long terms for drug convictions.

 President Obama needs to grant freedom to Leonard Peltier --- now.

(For more information on the Leonard Peltier case and to sign a petition calling for his release, go to Additional information on Peltier and other political prisoners such as Puerto Rican activist Oscar Lopez Rivera and Army whistle-blower Chelsea Manning as well as NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, who is being unfairly accused of espionage, can be found at, Dec. 19, 2016 show)

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Bitter Harvest

By Reginald Johnson  


  It was last April 24, the day Donald Trump came to Connecticut during the Republican presidential primaries, that I realized something unusual was going on in this country.

 That was the day Trump visited Bridgeport and Waterbury, two once powerful industrial centers that have been struggling for years to recover after a succession of companies closed down their factories and left town.

  The lines of people waiting to get in and see Trump at two rallies --- many of them waiting for hours in a light rain --- was amazing.  In Waterbury, the line to get into Crosby High School stretched along one building, down a hill and up along another building. In Bridgeport, people queued up through the length of the parking lot outside the Klein auditorium where Trump was set to speak.

   Something about Trump’s message and persona attracted these people, in both cases, a mostly white, middle-aged crowd. “He does something to me, I don’t know what it is,” said one woman waiting in Waterbury.

 As I watched these people line up both in person then on the news, and then heard Trump speak at the Bridgeport event recorded on You Tube --- an absolutely raucous rally (what else in Bridgeport?) with Trump blasting away at a “60 percent loss of manufacturing”  in the region and denouncing NAFTA --- it occurred to me that Trump had really hit on something.

People lining up to see Donald Trump in Bridgeport last April. Trump decried the loss of manufacturing and blamed trade deals like NAFTA.

 For the past 40 years, the middle class in this country --- mostly white --- has been sinking.  You can tie that decline very much to the disappearance of manufacturing.  People with only high school educations back in the day could walk into the GE plant in Bridgeport, or the Uniroyal plant in Naugatuck, or Scovill in Waterbury, and get a decent paying job, with medical benefits and a pension. But those plants are long gone.

  Try and find a quality job today with just a high school diploma. Forget it.

  The process of plants closing and corporations fleeing overseas to make more money didn’t just happen back in 1970s and 1980s. It has continued into the 1990s and 2000s’ courtesy of the pro-corporate North American Free Trade Agreement --- promoted by leading Democrats like Bill Clinton and Al Gore --- which laid out the red carpet for companies to leave the country.  And leave they did in droves, from the Northeast to the northern Midwest.
  People’s lives have been ruined in the process and communities devastated.

  I got the feeling that day back in April that many of the people going to hear Trump either had worked in now closed factories or maybe their parents had, and their lives were better then, and their communities were stronger. They were also likely upset over the hollow  “economic recovery” since the 2008 Wall Street bank crash. They came believing that Trump could turn this sorry trend around, and Trump --- though a billionaire capitalist --- knew what they were thinking and catered to it.

  Except for Bernie Sanders, no one else among the presidential contenders saw this major undercurrent in the electorate --- the rage of the middle class. I don’t think too many people in the media saw it either.


 While I felt blue collar anger would be a powerful force in Trump’s favor, I never thought it would be enough to overcome Hillary Clinton’s advantage in key battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. So I was shocked, as many were, by the result last week, with Donald Trump capturing the presidency by winning the most votes in the Electoral College, copping 290 votes to Clinton’s 228. (Clinton won the popular vote.)

 When Tuesday’s election results first came in, I thought for sure the Democratic ground game and union power would be enough to give Clinton the edge in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. But it wasn’t. It turns out there was a “Brexit Effect” going on --- a lot people angry at their economic status declining , angry at the Establishment, angry at being ignored --- turning out in surprisingly large numbers to say “enough.”

   When I related what was happening in the Rust Belt states with what I saw earlier in Connecticut, it all made sense. The white working class was pissed off and making their feelings heard.

  Was race a factor in the election? It might have been for some voters. There’s no question that Trump demagogically played on voters’ fears about job loss and terrorism/security by engaging in constant immigrant bashing and slamming Muslims.  Some Trump backers, particularly the rabid followers at his rallies, responded to this.

  But I do not think that all the 60 million voters or so that voted for Trump in the end were racists and xenophobes --- an argument some liberal commentators seem to be making. Most people voted for him due to anger over their declining economic fortunes and the perception that Trump, and not the Democrats, had some kind of answer for the malaise: rewriting trade treaties, stopping the corporate exodus, lowering taxes, as well as restricting immigration.

  As the old saying goes, people vote with their wallets.

A Trump banner hangs on a tractor trailer in Skowhegan, Maine. The area of central and northern Maine, which voted for Trump, has been hit by plant shutdowns and a general economic slowdown.

 This is not to imply that Trump’s prescription for an economic recovery is the right one. While rewriting the trade deals is a good idea, other ideas of his are the same old Republican bromides --- like cutting corporate taxes and lessening regulations --- that have been tried before and don’t work.

  Trump is basically a populist demagogue. While he has correctly identified some real economic problems, he’s mixed his message with hateful and divisive rhetoric. This is to be condemned.

  Since the election, numerous acts of bigotry directed against minorities have been popping up around the country. Trump needs to come out and make a firm, public statement renouncing this behavior.

  It needs to be recognized that it is the U.S. economic system --- corporate capitalism --- that is the real reason why an irresponsible candidate like a Trump can succeed. The system --- with corporations dumping millions of workers as they relocate to other countries to gain higher profits and with big banks engaging in risky investment schemes that crash the economy --- has created masses of people frustrated with their lives and resentful towards government.

Desperate for answers, they fall prey to someone like Trump.  


Monday, November 7, 2016

Jill Stein for President

By Reginald Johnson                                      

   When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will certainly recognize the top two names on the ballot --- Hillary Clinton, Democrat, and Donald Trump, Republican.

   Dropping down a couple of lines will be the name of Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate.  Some people might have heard of him. But the next name will likely be a mystery to many --- Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.

   This Harvard-educated pediatrician has been largely ignored by the mainstream media, which sees independent left candidates as a nuisance.  Stein also doesn’t have the kind of the large sums of money needed to buy expensive TV ads, so the Green Party candidate has struggled to be heard.

    That’s a shame, because Stein is clearly the most progressive choice in the presidential line-up. America deserves to know who she is.

   She and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, have advanced an agenda which says no to the pro-war, pro-military, and pro-corporate agenda of Hillary Clinton and also rejects the pro-corporate, pro-military, socially regressive and divisive positions of Donald Trump.

  Stein and Baraka favor a sweeping “Green New Deal” which will transform our fossil-fuel based economy to an entirely renewable energy-based economy, and in the process create 20 million of new jobs. It will be funded by cutting our astronomical defense budget by 50 per cent and close our 700 military bases around the world.

 Stein rejects further wars of intervention and says we must make peace in Syria. She says the U.S. has to stop funding repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt and end any funding for Israel’s illegal settlements and occupation of Palestine.

  She wants to break up the big banks, replace NAFTA and other corporate trade agreements with fair trade, provide aid to a new local economy of small businesses and co-ops, abolish student debt and establish a Medicare-for-all health care system.

 Stein and Baraka recognize that unless we give up, once and for all, trying to work within the two major corporate parties and build an independent and revolutionary movement that rejects the power of big corporations and rejects militarism and war, there can never be meaningful change in this country.

 “We are in a state of emergency and it requires a new way of thinking and political independence to stand up not just for what we can get but what we must have if we are to survive as a human species,” Stein said in an interview in CounterPunch.

Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President (photo from TruthDig)

  Correctly, Stein rejects the pick the “lesser evil” approach of many progressives who always say during presidential contests that you can’t “waste” your vote on a desirable third party candidate, but you must vote for a Democrat --- however flawed --- in order to stop the latest Republican monster from being elected. The GOP monster this year, and one whose rhetoric is particularly obnoxious, is Donald Trump.

  Stein points out that progressives in general lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008,  believing his promises that he would carry out a liberal, anti-war administration. People saw Obama as far preferable to Republican John McCain.

  But what we got was the following: Wall Street bail-outs costing trillions of dollars; a succession of wars in the Middle East; regression on stopping the climate meltdown; heightened attacks on civil liberties; and persistent racism in the criminal justice system.

 With her deep ties to Wall Street, a track record of promoting wars and regime change and her failure to criticize the erosion of civil liberties, Hillary Clinton threatens to carry on the same kind of program.

 “The Lesser Evil argument has failed,” Stein told CounterPunch. “It has a track record. And what have we gotten from it? The politics of fear.”

  If we are ever to break the stranglehold of corporate capitalism over our society and end the pattern of militarism and war, we need to make a clean break from the two corporate parties, and embrace a new movement.

  Please vote for the Stein-Baraka ticket on Tuesday.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Peace Coalition Forms to Stop War in Syria

  By Reginald Johnson


   As violence continues in Syria and tensions rise between the United States and Russia, a large number of anti-war groups have banded together to lobby for peace and head off a catastrophic war between the two superpowers.

   Some 30 organizations and about 20 prominent leaders of the peace movement have joined to form the “Hands Off Syria Coalition.”
   A statement put out by the coalition said,  “Our objective is to create the broadest possible united front for peace and justice by peace activists and organizations in the U.S. and around the world to fight for an end to all violence, intervention and sanctions against Syria, which is now threatening world peace.

  Among the organizations which have pledged to work in the coalition and signed a “Points of Unity" statement are the U.S. Peace Council, the International Action Center, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Syria Solidarity Movement, the United National Antiwar Coalition, and Women Against Military Madness (WAMM).

   Some of the prominent signers of the statement include Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney and human rights attorney, Gerry Condon, national board vice president, Veterans for Peace, Margaret Kimberly, editor and senior columnist, Black Agenda Report, Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and Presidential briefer, Colleen Rowley, retired FBI agent, and Cindy Sheehan, anti-war Gold Star Mother.

  In the Points of Unity statement, members of the coalition say that the continuation of the war in Syria is the “result of a U.S.-orchestrated intervention by the United States, NATO, their regional allies and reactionary forces, the goal of which is regime change in Syria.”
   The policy of regime change --- clearly illegal under international law --- has threatened the security of the region and the world and “has increased the danger of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia, with the potential of a nuclear catastrophe for the whole world,” the statement said.

  The coalition has called for an “immediate end to the U.S. policy of forced regime change in Syria” and an “immediate end to all foreign aggression against Syria and serious efforts toward a political resolution to the war.”

   The group also demands that the U.S., NATO and regional allies stop providing military, financial or other support to “foreign mercenaries and extremists” in the Middle East region.

   Henry Lowendorf of New Haven, a member of the U.S. Peace Council and the Greater New Haven Peace Council, said that the groups came together due to the urgency of the moment. He said that the risk of a  world war breaking out in Syria is growing, with two nuclear-armed nations --- the United States and Russia --- edging closer and closer towards a military confrontation.

  “There’s been a paralysis in the peace movement around Syria. That means the peace movement has been doing nothing about war,” said Lowendorf.

  “The statement was meant to get people off the dime” and start taking action, he said.

Henry Lowendorf and Deborah Taylor demonstrate for peace in New Haven

  One of the actions being discussed is an anti-war demonstration at the time of the presidential inauguration in January. “We know whoever gets elected on Nov. 8, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and is inaugurated in January, is a hawk, one way or another,” Lowendorf said.

   Also being planned are congressional lobbying efforts and a statewide peace conference at Middlesex Community College in Middletown on Saturday, Nov. 12. (For information, contact

  Lowendorf expressed disappointment that some large peace organizations, like United for Peace and Justice, have so far chosen not to join the new coalition. But he said renewed efforts will be made to persuade them to come on board.

  Nearly 1200 people have now signed on endorsing the coalition's Points of Unity and demands for a change in U.S. Syria policy. 

(For more information on the coalition, go to