Sunday, November 11, 2018

Reclaiming Armistice Day


    


By Reginald Johnson
                                         


 On Nov. 11, 1918 ---- 100 years ago ---- one of the most savage conflicts in history came to an end.
 Some 30 million people were killed in World War I, called at the time the “War to End All Wars.”  The conflict saw bitter trench warfare, hand-to-hand combat and the use of chemical weapons. Tens of thousands of young men were killed in a single day by machine gun fire or poison gas. Combatants who weren’t killed were often maimed for life, or, like my grandfather, left blind by gas.
  But an Armistice signed at 11 am on Nov. 11, finally brought an end to the horror.
People in the United States and Europe --- where the war was fought --- rejoiced that the four-year nightmare was over.  Peace was finally at hand.
    To observe the end to World War I, an “Armistice Day” was set up in 1920. Parades and public gatherings took place “celebrating the peace that came two years earlier while solemnly remembering those millions who perished during war,” writes Tarik Kauff, a member of Veterans for Peace and an editor for the organization’s newsletter.
   Six years later, Kauff said, Congress passed a resolution which said that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918 should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations.”
  In 1938, Armistice Day was made into a legal federal holiday, “dedicated to the cause of world peace.”
  Armistice Day was observed without interruption until 1954.  But in that year --- one year after the Korean War had ended and eight years after the end of World War II --- political leaders decided that the name of the observance should be changed to Veterans Day.  Under pressure from veterans service organizations, who said veterans from all wars should be honored,  a militaristic Congress and President Dwight Eisenhower approved the name change.
   In making the change, the spirit of the observance was altered from one of both honoring the sacrifice of veterans and building world peace to one of honoring veterans, emphasizing patriotism and implicitly endorsing the need for the wars that the US has fought in the past and ones that will be fought in the future.
  As Kauff wrote in his article “Reclaim Armistice Day” in a recent publication by the same name published by Veterans for Peace, the “powers that be thought it more fitting to honor the living veterans and glorify their sacrifice for country,” rather than stress the need for building world peace.
    And so it has gone over the years on every Veterans Day, which is being observed again today. Veterans who fought in America’s wars are hailed as heroes in thunderous speeches. There is no mention of the fact that some of these wars, such as Vietnam or Iraq, were clearly wrong and that huge numbers of innocent civilians, not to mention many Americans, needlessly perished. It is implied that whatever wars took place --- no matter how much bloodshed there was --- the conflicts were justified in the name of protecting American security. There is no talk about the need to avoid future wars and to build a better structure for peace.
   While it is not the intention of many of the participants, Veterans Day observances serve as a propaganda tool for the government to justify future wars.
  A number of veterans, particularly those associated with Veterans for Peace, are now speaking out about the need to emphasize peace and not just glorify the military and war.  Veterans for Peace in recent years has been actively pushing the idea of reclaiming Armistice Day and bringing back the original concepts behind the day when we honor the sacrifice of veterans.
   “Veterans, many of whom have seen the futility and inhumanity of war and militarism, do not want wars for empire and profit, nor do we need to be glorified, honored, or put on pedestals for killing or be prepared to kill,” writes Kauff, a former Army paratrooper.
  “What we veterans really need is for society to reclaim the spirit of Armistice Day and unite in the common desire of the human spirit for peace,” he said.
  The organization is trying to spread the word for bringing back Armistice Day on social media and contacting elected representatives. They have also urged churches, schools and community centers to ring bells eleven times on November 11 at 11 AM to remember the soldiers and civilians killed or injured by warfare.

 

Monday, August 13, 2018

Lamont for Governor



Opinion

  
    By Reginald Johnson


  
 I can’t really point to anything specific about policy or issues in Connecticut that makes me think Ned Lamont is the best person to be the Democratic nominee for governor.
  But sometimes in these elections you have to go with a gut feeling and my gut feeling tells me that Lamont is a better choice than Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim in the Tuesday primary.  I liked the way Lamont took on powerful incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman 12 years ago in his unsuccessful bid for the US Senate. He spoke forthrightly about the need for a better foreign-policy and ending the Iraq War and respecting the sovereignty of other countries. Though foreign-policy doesn’t have anything directly to do with being governor, Lamont showed a feistiness and an honesty that I really liked. They are qualities that will help him govern the state very well.
   And on the issue of integrity, I am still bothered by what Joe Ganim did back in the 1990s in Bridgeport. His corruption hurt the city badly, and it’s a hurt that’s not easily forgotten. I didn’t vote for him in his comeback bid in 2015, but once he won re-election, I figured it was time to give him a chance to redeem himself and make up for what he had done.
   To his credit, Ganim has run a clean administration in the 2 ½ years he’s been back. He also brought taxes down for some residents, and I include myself as one of them. So that’s nice. However, I don’t think Joe Ganim has really paid his dues for what he did. I get the distinct impression that within a year or so after he returned to the mayor’s seat, he was plotting his next move, which was to run for governor.  Instead of working hard for the people of Bridgeport, putting his nose to the grindstone and really trying to turn the city around --- and that is clearly a difficult, long-term project --- Ganim was focusing on personal gain: ‘How do I move up?’
    If this was 2022, and Ganim had been back as Bridgeport’s mayor for six years or so, and built up a good record, I would look at a Ganim candidacy for governor a lot more positively. But not now.
  Ganim should stay on as mayor and work to continue to redevelop the city, upgrade the educational system and bring in more affordable housing.
   So here’s hoping Ned Lamont wins the Democratic primary and goes on to be the state’s next chief elected official. I think he has good progressive instincts and he will work for the betterment of Bridgeport and the state’s other struggling urban centers, including Hartford and New Haven.  And helping the urban areas should be a top priority for any new governor.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Losing Focus




                                                    
 By Reginald Johnson      



  It’s a shame that the important news coming out of the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump about the US and Russia beginning to patch up their relationship and avoid nuclear catastrophe has been buried amid the furor over Trump’s comment doubting whether Russia was responsible for meddling in the 2016 election.
  After years of a declining relationship between Russia and the United States the leaders of the two countries met in Helsinki and had what they both said were constructive talks dealing with nuclear nonproliferation and other key geopolitical issues.
   Speaking at a press conference following the summit, Putin said that the talks had been “very successful and very useful.”
   He added, “The difficulties and tensions between the two countries do not have any objective grounds. The Cold War is over. The times of ideological confrontation are in the past and the situation in the world is drastically changed.”
   Putin continued that only by the US and Russia “standing together” can the world overcome issues of nuclear proliferation and regional conflicts.
   Trump said that the leaders had a “deeply open and productive dialogue and it went very well.”
  The president added, “The disagreements between our two countries are well known and President Putin and I discussed them at length today,” Trump said. “If we’re going to solve many of the problems we face in the world then we’re going to have to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests.”
  Together the US and Russia hold 90% of all the nuclear weapons in the world. According to the American Federation of Scientists, the United States has 4000 nuclear warheads and the Russian Federation has 4300.
  A nuclear conflict between Russia and the United States, should it ever break out, would be the ultimate catastrophe. There would be no winner. For those who might escape the immediate effects of a nuclear attack, they wouldn’t live long due to massive radiation fallout and nuclear winter. All life on the planet would be effectively ended.
  Negotiations between the US and Russia are imperative to avoid a potential Armageddon.



Hiroshima, Japan in August, 1945 after US dropped an atomic bomb. Today's nuclear warheads are far more powerful. (Photo- metro.co.UK)


  
Donald Trump did the right thing by going to Helsinki and meeting Putin. He followed in the footsteps of many presidents before him who have met with Russian leaders to work out agreements on arms control and conflict resolution.
   By the accounts of the two leaders, the summit went well and was a step towards improving US Russian relations and avoiding catastrophic conflict.
   But that important  news was all lost amid the furor --- really hysteria --- over an inept comment Trump made during the press conference when he was responding to a question about who was responsible for the alleged hacking  of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 election campaign.
   Trump said he wasn’t sure whether the US intelligence agencies were correct in their assessment that the Russians were responsible for the hacking, and not someone else. He seemed to indicate that he believed Putin’s firm denial that the Russian government had any role.
   Immediately, there was an avalanche of criticism. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle and many in the media blasted Trump for appearing to take sides with the Russians over the word of US intelligence.
   A number of Democratic politicians as well as some media pundits went so far as to call Trump’s performance “treasonous.”
   Former CIA Director John  Brennan said Trump’s performance “rises to and exceeds the threshold for high crimes and misdemeanors,” which under the Constitution justifies impeachment. “It was nothing short of treasonous,” he said.
  US Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, said that the United States was now facing “a 9/11 type emergency” due to Trump’s performance at the summit.
   In truth, much of the criticism and comments about “treason” were way over the top and in the case of members of the media, totally unprofessional.
  There is no question President Trump said a really dumb thing. But it was more a political blunder than a factual misstatement.
   In point of fact, Trump has every reason to doubt the accuracy of the claims about Russian hacking and election meddling. To this date, nothing --- nothing --- has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Russians were behind the much-talked about hacking of Democratic National Committee emails in 2016.
   The main foundation for claims of Russian hacking came out of an Intelligence Community Assessment in early 2017 which blamed the Kremlin for directing the theft of the emails and then turning over the information to WikiLeaks for publication. The revelations about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, such as the effort by the DNC to undermine the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, was damaging to the Clinton campaign and helped Trump in the polls.
   The ICA, as it is known, authorized by then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, used a “handpicked group” of analysts from the big three intelligence agencies, namely the CIA, FBI and NSA, to investigate the hacking claim. The ICA did not represent , as was erroneously reported at the time, a community-wide assessment by all 17 intelligence agencies.
   The assessment drew on the findings of an investigation by a private firm, CrowdStrike. The FBI itself did not do its own investigation of the hacking, after DNC officials first reported there had been an intrusion, as the agency was denied access to the email server by the DNC. Even though the agency clearly had the power to subpoena the email server, as this was a national security case, the FBI decided not to do so. Instead it agreed with the Democrats to let CrowdStrike do the inquiry.
 CrowdStrike’s founder is both friendly with the Democrats and also a member of the anti-Russian, neocon Atlantic Council.
  The CrowdStrike findings, which maintain that the email metadata showed evidence of hacking by Russian operatives, has been strongly disputed by cyber experts such as John McAfee and former intelligence officials from the NSA, FBI and CIA.   
  Critics of the report contend that instead of the emails being hacked,  there was actually a download of email information by a disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporter on the DNC staff who then turned over the information to WikiLeaks.
   It is disturbing that the email download scenario never got any attention from the FBI.
   Even the ICA report does not claim to be definitive in showing that the Russians committed hacking.
  “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information which is often incomplete or fragmentary as well as logic argumentation and precedents,” the report said.
 The recent indictment of 12 Russian military officials for their role in the hacking case also does not constitute firm evidence of Russian intrusion in the US election since these are allegations and have not been aired before a jury. There’s been no conviction. It also should be noted that the indictment document relies again in part on the disputed CrowdStrike findings.
   It is very dismaying that so many politicians and media types alike are waving the indictment around as if it’s final proof of Russian guilt. I saw Shepard Smith on Fox News the other day doing that, saying that Trump was wrong to express misgivings about who was responsible for the hacking because we now have "proof" of Russian involvement due to the indictment.
   Come on Mr. Smith, go back to the dictionary and find out what an indictment is.
  President Trump has every right to be skeptical about the intelligence community findings, due to the flawed ICA, together with the mounting evidence coming from a recent inspector general’s report and congressional testimony showing that FBI officials carried a heavy political bias against Donald Trump as they conducted their investigation of both the possible Russian hacking and collusion between the Trump campaign in Russia.
  It’s well known that both Clapper and Brennan disliked Trump and played a key role in drumming up support for an investigation of collusion which led to the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This has all been part of an effort to drive Trump from the presidency, either through impeachment or resignation. Pro-war neo cons and major press outlets have backed this campaign.
   So far, Mueller has not been able to charge anyone connected with Trump for conspiring with the Russians to influence the election.
   Politically, Trump made a very stupid mistake in openly questioning the intelligence agencies.  And he paid a dear price.
   Needless to say, the hyper controversy about Trump’s comment has totally overshadowed the much more significant development coming out of the summit, which is that nuclear-armed United States and nuclear-armed Russia have begun to start working cooperatively again on the issue of proliferation and resolving regional conflicts.
   This effort should be supported widely and not undermined by the continued blather about Trump-Russia collusion and Russian hacking.
  Endless repetition of unproven claims about collusion and mindless vilification of Russia just serves to impede the peace process and make the possibility of a catastrophic war more likely.
   It’s too bad many progressives and members of the Democratic Party have endorsed the Russia-gate narrative. But it’s time to change focus. Russia-gate is a waste of time and a distraction from dealing with the more central issues important to this country.
 There are plenty of very potent political issues upon which to wage a campaign to elect somebody better than Trump. Russia-gate is not one of them. A determined campaign centered around Medicare-for-all, establishing an equitable tax system, and slashing the bloated defense budget to provide money for education, new infrastructure and job training might well elect someone good.
   However flawed Donald Trump is as a president on a wide range of issues, he’s doing the right thing to try to broker better relations with the Russian Federation. The stakes are too high not to make the effort.
   Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at NYU and one of the leading scholars on Russia, told Tucker Carlson of Fox News this past week that he was stunned by what he called the “mob violence” atmosphere in the reaction to Trump’s comments at the summit press conference.
   Warning that relations between the US and Russia had hit a dangerous new low, Cohen said it’s imperative to get a better relationship going.
   He offered this question and comment: “Do you prefer to try to impeach Trump to trying to avoid war with nuclear Russia? That’s the bottom line. That’s where we’re at today.”
  
  

  

  

  

















  

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Desecrating the Landscape


 By Reginald Johnson


 BRIDGEPORT REPORT

  What is with this tree-cutting mania?
   It seems like every week there’s some new example of beautiful old trees being cut down, needlessly.
   In Bridgeport,  a tree cutting company has been busy in recent years going around taking down trees that might in any way pose a danger to nearby utility wires. Maybe in some cases this is necessary, but it seems like all too often, it’s not.
 The latest example of the carnage is up on Madison Avenue near the Trumbull line. A nice row of large pine trees was recently hacked down and now there’s an ugly pile of logs sitting by the side of the road. It is a complete desecration. I don’t know who allowed this to happen, whether it was the city, if the trees were on city property, or if it was the local condo. Whatever the case was, it looks awful. It takes years, sometimes decades, to grow a large tree. It only takes a few minutes with a chainsaw to take one down.  More thought should go into this.

Carnage on Madison Avenue
  


Oak trees on the Merritt due to be taken down

The Merritt Parkway used to be a very scenic road. Then the state began a massive tree-cutting program

The state Department of Transportation has also been busy felling lovely oaks and maples that line the Merritt Parkway and Wilbur Cross. I guess this is being done to enhance safety and prevent large trees from falling into the roadway during storms. But the program is also going too far and now there are parts of the Merritt and Wilbur Cross that look desolate because so many trees are gone.
These are supposed to be “scenic highways.” Many areas do not look scenic anymore. What a shame.
  

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Defending Julian Assange


By Reginald Johnson        
   



   An international campaign is underway to defend the rights of the great whistleblower Julian Assange and stop authorities in the UK and the United States from putting him in prison.
    Assange, the founder and editor of WikiLeaks --- which over the past 15 years has published secret files exposing US war crimes in the Middle East, US political corruption, frightening new cyber warfare systems used by US intelligence and the inner workings of the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison ---- has been holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for six years after being granted political asylum by Ecuador.
   Though isolated and cut off from the outside world,  Assange was protected from arrest by UK and US authorities who want him for various alleged crimes, most importantly the illegal release of classified information.  But Assange’s safety is now in doubt. The left-leaning government in Ecuador of Rafael Correa , which granted Assange asylum, has been replaced by a more conservative government led by Lenin Moreno,  which seeks closer relations with the United States. Officials of Moreno’s administration have indicated that Assange may be forced to leave the embassy in London.
    If Assange has to leave the embassy, he will be immediately picked up by UK officials who said that they will turn him over to the United States.  Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions said he considers arresting Assange “a priority,”  and his office has reportedly drawn up espionage charges.
   If he is tried and convicted, Assange could face life in prison or even the death penalty.

 
Julian Assange speaking from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2014
 (AP Photo)
   
     Activists from around the world are holding rallies and protests to spotlight the danger that the WikiLeaks publisher now faces and are demanding that UK and US officials drop any plans for prosecuting Assange.  Demonstrations have taken place in Britain, Australia and Washington, D.C.  Smaller protests also took place in New York and L.A.
   Supporters of Assange, who is Australian, say that if governments in Britain and the US can put the WikiLeaks founder behind bars it will be a severe blow to freedom of speech --- undermining the right to publish information critical of those in power.
    At a rally last weekend in Sydney, Australia, organizer Linda Tenenbaum said the event was set up to start building “a defense campaign in Australia, New Zealand and internationally that will bring together all those committed to democratic rights --- the right of journalists to inform the population, their right to freedom of speech, and the right of everyone to be informed of the truth.”
   Tenenbaum, a leader of the Socialist Equality Party, added, “These are issues of the most fundamental character, the suppression of truth, of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange and they go hand-in-hand with the destruction of democratic rights.”
   Advocates for Assange are demanding that the government of Australia step in and exercise its diplomatic power to protect the whistleblower from threats made by the British and American governments. They are asking that the WikiLeaks leader be allowed to return to Australia and that the Australian government reject any demands from the US for his extradition.
   The famed journalist John Pilger also addressed the Sydney rally, which was attended by several hundred people, according to a story in the World Socialist Website.
    “No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account,”  said Pilger.  “It is as if a one-way moral screen has been pushed back to expose the imperialism of liberal democracies: the commitment to endless warfare and the division and degradation of ‘unworthy’ lives: from Grenfell Tower to Gaza.”
   Pilger said that the American government hatched a secret plan in 2008 to “destroy”  both WikiLeaks and Assange.  Pilger said a top-secret document from the Cyber Counterintelligence Assessments branch of the US Defense Department “described in detail how important it was to destroy the ‘feeling of trust’ that is WikiLeaks’ ‘center of gravity.’”
  “This would be achieved, they wrote, with threats of exposure and criminal prosecution and an unrelenting assault on reputation. The aim was to silence and criminalize WikiLeaks and its editor and publisher. It was as if they plan the war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech,” Pilger said.
  He continued,  “Their main weapon would be personal smear. Their shock troops would be enlisted in the media --- those who are meant to keep the record straight and tell us the truth. The irony is that no one told these journalists what to do. I call them Vichy journalists --- after the Vichy government that served and enabled the German occupation of wartime France.”
   Pilger had previously criticized the left in both Britain and the United States by not standing in support of the Assange.  In a statement delivered by Dennis Bernstein to the Left Forum in New York in early June at a panel entitled “Russia-gate and WikiLeaks,” Pilger decried the silence of many on the left.
    “There is a silence among many who call themselves left.  The silence is Julian Assange.  As every false accusation has fallen away, every bogus smear shown to be the work of political enemies, Julian stands vindicated as one who has exposed a system that threatens humanity,” said Pilger, who was born in Australia and lives in Britain.
    After noting the many dramatic revelations that WikiLeaks has made, including the famous “Collateral Damage” video, which showed a US helicopter gunship gunning down 12 to 18 civilians in a Baghdad square in 2007, Pilger said, “The fakery of Russia-gate, the collusion of a corrupt media and the shame of the legal system that pursues truth-tellers have not been able to hold back the raw truth of WikiLeaks revelations. They have not won, not yet, and they have not destroyed the man, only the silence of good people will allow them to win. Julian Assange has never been more isolated. He needs your support and your voice. Now more than ever is the time to demand justice and free speech for Julian.”
   In addition to many in the government who have criticized Assange for endangering US military personnel by releasing classified military documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, some on the left have taken issue with Assange in the last two years due to WikiLeaks’ perceived role in influencing the 2016 election and helping Donald Trump win.  WikiLeaks was able to secure and then publish emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 which showed how the DNC was favoring Hillary Clinton and trying to undermine the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders. 
   Trump was able to use the WikiLeaks revelations to successfully attack Clinton when he campaigned for the presidency against the former Secretary of State.  US intelligence officials and others have maintained, without solid proof, that the DNC emails were hacked by Russian operatives and then given to WikiLeaks, since Russia stood to gain by a Trump victory.  Assange has insisted that a “state actor” was not responsible for providing the emails. He said that another party, not named, provided the material.
    It is believed by many that the email material was actually made available by a disgruntled DNC staffer who backed Sanders and wanted to expose how the nomination process was stacked in favor of Clinton.
    In recent months, Assange has picked up support from a diverse group of writers, lawyers, former intelligence officials and people in arts and entertainment. Among those backing him are Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author, John Kiriakou, a former CIA official who went to prison for exposing illegal torture practices, former FBI agent Colleen Rowley, Ken Loach, a film director, singer Lady Gaga and actress Pamela Anderson.