Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Thanksgiving and the Dispossessed

By Reginald Johnson
Dec. 11, 2012

Like most Americans, I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. It’s a day to share good times with family and friends, have a terrific meal and yes, be thankful for what we have.

I must say that now, however, I have different perspective, after having attended an event on put on by American Indians in Plymouth, Mass. called “The National Day of Mourning” on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22. I had heard about this event for years, but never got around to going. It was an eye-opener.

Plymouth, of course, is where English Pilgrims arrived aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and began a settlement that many Americans associate with the start of the United States. The first Thanksgiving, at least according to legend, took place a year later and saw the Pilgrims partaking in a meal with Indians, “giving thanks” for a bountiful harvest and for having successfully lived their first year in the “New World.”

Most Americans, I think, see this history in a pretty positive way. The Pilgrims, fleeing religious persecution in England, made a settlement that laid the groundwork for what later would become America, a democratic society where people could practice their religion freely and speak and write as they wished. Many Americans are aware that at the same time, the evolution of our country was not all smooth, that Native people were not treated well, there was a lot of killing and the English and other Europeans broke agreements and stole Indian land.

But the mythology surrounding the Mayflower, the Pilgrim settlement, the march westward and “the birth of a nation” is so strong that the Indian side of the story, and just how bad the Indians got treated, tends to get lost. Also, in the view of many present-day Indians, there hasn’t been enough teaching in the schools about the Native American history so people will better know what indigenous people have gone through.

“The National Day of Mourning” is an effort to educate people about the Indian narrative of what actually took place in those early years of the country as well as to “honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native people to survive today,” in the words of a statement by the United American Indians of New England, which holds the event.

A plaque put up on Cole’s Hill ---- overlooking the bay where a replica of the Mayflower is docked and above the fabled “Plymouth Rock,” where the Pilgrims allegedly first stepped on shore ---- captures the harsh view that many Indians have about the beginnings of this country. It reads in part: “Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture.”

Moonanum James, a Wampanoag Indian whose ancestors greeted the Pilgrims when they arrived, talked of the many distortions in history about what occurred in the early days and the Pilgrims themselves.

“When they arrived, they didn’t find an empty land. Every inch of this land was Indian land,” he said in a speech before about 400 people on Cole’s Hill.

James said that by the written account of one of the Pilgrims themselves, in the first year settlers went out and robbed Indian graves, stole crops, kidnapped Natives and sold them into slavery for 220 shillings apiece.

James, co-leader of the UAINE organization, also said that the legend of Thanksgiving beginning with a peaceful dinner in 1621 with the Indians was erroneous. He maintained that the first official Thanksgiving Day took place in 1637, when the head of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Gov. John Winthrop, proclaimed a “Day of Thanksgiving,” celebrating the safe return of 200 volunteers who had gone to Mystic, Connecticut and slaughtered 700 women, children and men of the Pequot tribe.

Some historical accounts hold that in the area of eastern Massachusetts there was relative peace for a number of decades between the colonists and Indians. But by the 1670s, trouble was brewing, with the Indians fed up with mistreatment by the colonists and constant land encroachments. Metacomet, the son of the Wampanoag leader Massasoit, who had greeted the Pilgrims, decided to unite all the Indian tribes and drive the English back.

For two years, Metacomet, also known as King Philip, led Native warriors in battles over much of southern New England. Thousands were killed in the conflict. Eventually, the English forces proved too strong, and King Philip was captured and killed, and the war all but ended.

The victors weren’t satisfied with killing the Indian leader and subduing Native forces. They mutilated Metacomet’s body, decapitated him and put his head on a pole for public observation in a Plymouth square. The skull remained there for 20 years.

Moonanum called Plymouth Rock “a monument to racism and oppression” which he and Indian activists had covered with sand on two occasions.

In their suffering, Moonanum said, Natives had a lot in common with African-Americans, who were kidnapped and brought here from Africa to be slaves.

He recalled black leader Malcolm X’s quote about Plymouth Rock. “We didn’t fall on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock fell on us.”

James and others said conditions for Native people today --- who represent about 1.5 percent of the country’s population --- are very difficult. A large proportion of Indians live on reservations, and the poverty rampant. Alcoholism and suicide rates are high.

This was the 43rd National Day of Mourning, with the first one being in 1970. James said not much has changed for Indians since then. Just as they did at the first event in 1970, Indians are demanding an end to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of the U.S. Dept. of Interior, which manages the reservations.

James called the BIA “corrupt.” He said Indians should be allowed to manage their reservations on their own.

Others spoke at the rally, including Tiokasin Ghosthorse, a Lakota Sioux who has a radio show called “Indigenous Voices” aired on a number of stations including WBAI in New York and WPKN in Bridgeport, Ct.. Tiokasin spoke of environmental issues and how there had to be more respect for “mother earth.” He said present day American society is “abusing mother earth,” and this will backfire.

Other speakers expressed empathy for the Palestinian people, who in early November had to endure yet another attack by the Israeli military in Gaza. Some 200 people were killed, many of them children.

Speakers said the Palestinians were a “dispossessed people,” much like the Native people here. One UAINE speaker said the Israeli leaders were showing the same callous and racist disregard for human life in Gaza as the U.S. military showed in its wars against the Indians. She said comments by officials to the effect that Gaza should be “flattened” and “bombed back to the Middle Ages” were similar to remarks made by an Indian fighter, Colonel John Chivington.

Chivington led forces which carried out the Sand Creek, Colorado massacre, in which over 200 largely unarmed Indians were killed in 1864.

Two weeks prior to the expedition, Chivington promised a Denver audience that he would kill all Indians he encountered, including children. “Nits make lice,” he said.

A letter of support from imprisoned Indian activist Leonard Peltier was read as well. In a highly-controversial case, Peltier has been locked up in federal prison for over 35 years following a conviction for killing two FBI agents in a gunbattle on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

However, considerable information has emerged that casts doubt on the validity of the conviction, and there’s been a decades-long campaign to have Peltier released.

The rally was followed by a march through the quiet streets of Plymouth. (Just days before, leaders of the town, which bills itself as “America’s Hometown,” had a Thanksgiving celebration, featuring a “Pilgrim’s Parade”). The marchers chanted as they walked past picturesque colonial-era homes, churches, the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock. There were a few curious onlookers, although most residents were inside having Thanksgiving dinner or watching a football game.

At the front of the march was a banner which read: “We are not vanishing. We are not conquered. We are as strong as ever.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Crushing Palestine, Again

     By Reginald Johnson
     November 21, 2012

All I can say is, as a progressive, I am so glad I cast my vote in the recent election for third party candidate Rocky Anderson, and not for Barack Obama.

It is downright offensive to me that as missiles rain down on the impoverished and enslaved people of Gaza --- courtesy of the Israeli military, using American-made weapons ---- Obama flies off to Myanamar and to meet with human rights dissident Aung San Suu Kyi.

What right does he have to talk about human rights? Scores of civilians are being killed in the Gaza assault, hundreds being wounded. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Infrastructure is being leveled. Israel is launching this attack on the usual pretext, some mumbo jumbo about how the Hamas faction of Palestine poses a mortal threat to Israel and has to be removed. Really? Did Hamas ever send an army and air force into Israel killing more than 1400 civilians in the process? That’s what the Israeli military did to Gaza in December of 2008 and January of 2009.

Obama had just been elected president at that time, and he said nothing about the Israeli aggression. His excuse that time was, he wasn’t president yet, and he didn’t want to interfere with the administration of then president George W. Bush.

What’s his excuse now? Does he care? I think not. This is the same man who has calmly ordered dozens of drone strikes on targets around the world, supposedly to kill terrorists, but in the process killing hundreds of innocent civilians in countries like Pakistan and Yemen. The drone strikes appear to violate international law, since these are sovereign nations and permission for these strikes hasn’t been given.

When Obama returns from his Asia trip, I suppose he will take some steps to restrain Israel a little bit. He or his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will make some entreaty amounting to, ‘Please Israel, don’t go too far. We really do support you, but it looks bad to kill too many.’ Then the carnage will stop, and some shaky truce will be reached. But by that time, who knows how many innocents, including children, will have been killed.

It is just shameful what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians, and equally shameful that U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used to support this bloodletting.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Joining the GOP on Social Security

By Reginald Johnson    

   President Obama’s comments on Social Security in the presidential debate last week underscore how far right the Democratic Party has drifted, and belie the claim that there is a sharp difference between Obama and his opponent,  Mitt Romney.

    After debate moderator Jim Lehrer asked each candidate to give their views on Social Security, Obama proceeded to say that there wasn’t much difference between his position on the retirement program and Gov. Romney’s. He added that while the program was “structurally sound” there was some need for “tweaking.”

  Oh boy. In the world of Washington, “tweaking” is a euphemism for “cutting.”

 In saying this, Obama has restated his support for the call by the bi-partisan Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission, which advocated cost of living adjustment reductions and raising the retirement age in Social Security.

  Romney has also asked that the retirement be raised to 69. Since a lot of folks don’t make it to 69, this is a heartless and effective way of reducing payouts. He’s also called for “means testing,” a system by which so-called higher-income people  (this hasn’t been defined; will higher income mean $100,000, or $60,000?) will have their benefits reduced..

  The point here is, both the Democratic and Republican candidates want to cut Social Security payments,  although workers paid into this system all their adult life.  The candidates’  proposals may differ on how the cuts take place, but the result is the same.

  Obama and Romney also speak the same nonsense about some phantom problem with the financial viability of the program, when there is ample proof that Social Security is in solid shape for years to come.

   So there you have it. Once proposed by a Democratic president (Franklin Roosevelt) as a central part of the New Deal, and fervently backed by a string of Democratic presidents for decades after, a Democratic president today wants to cut Social Security, even there’s no need for doing so.

   The president’s view on Social Security is just one example how the two main parties agree on a number of key issues today. This is not the 1930s of Franklin Roosevelt or the 1960s of Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, or even the 1970s of Jimmy Carter.

    This is 2012 and we have a corporate Democrat in the White House, who takes his cues, like the Republicans do, from Wall Street. The corporate elite want to eliminate all safety net programs, because it guarantees business taxes will be kept low.  It also makes for a more desperate workforce: take the job we offer sucker, because you got nothin’ else.

  On that happy note, I end this blog, urging everyone to consider two third party candidates, Jill Stein of the Green Party or Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. Both of them are progressive and excellent on a raft of issues. Don’t say a vote for them is pointless, because they have no chance at victory. At least you believe in what you’re voting for.

   A vote for Obama is pointless, because on too many vital issues, he’s no different than Romney. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Let's have a real debate!

By Reginald Johnson                        

                   Three huge issues have received almost no attention so far in this year's presidential election campaign: global warming, the corporate takeover of election financing and the future of Social Security.

                   I’m hoping the silence around these issues will change in this month’s debates, which begin Wednesday night in Denver.

             The format for the first debate is that Jim Lehrer, of PBS, will ask questions of his choosing about domestic policy. It would be better if there were a team of journalists asking questions, but this is the format. All the other debates will have a similar format, except one which will see citizens ask questions in a town hall setting.

    At tomorrow’s debate it will be up to Lehrer to ask questions of the greatest relevance. Let’s hope he does his job.

           Despite what is being called a “planetary emergency” relating to global warming, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney haven’t touched the issue of climate change during the campaign. And apparently the elite Washington press corps hasn’t bothered to ask them what their approaches are to dealing with his massive problem, since we haven’t heard anything about it.

       Lehrer needs to ask President Obama why he hasn’t shown more leadership in dealing with climate change during his first term.  While Obama has done a few positive things, such as issuing improved fuel economy standards for cars and setting CO2 standards for cars and new power plants, he has not advocated the kind of sweeping program that’s really needed to slow global warming. He needs to go before the American people and lay out how serious this problem is, and propose a comprehensive plan to turn the nation to a green economy and turn away from fossil fuels. It’s also imperative that he show real leadership on the global level, something he hasn’t done so far.

   Romney needs to be asked how he can be taken seriously as a presidential candidate when he has the audacity to question the reality of global warming. The GOP candidate claims that climate science is “unsettled,” despite the mountain of studies indicating otherwise. He’s come out against a carbon tax and would continue the Republican attack on the EPA for trying to regulate carbon emissions. Lehrer needs to question him on these wholly irresponsible positions.

  Then there’s Social Security.  The two main presidential candidates need to come clean about how they view this long-standing old-age benefit program, which sustains hundreds of millions of people. Up to this point, Obama has played his usual evasive game of ‘I support it, but….’ He set up the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission a couple of years ago that recommended a cut in Social Security cost of living adjustments. Obama said he agreed with the plan. But lately, during the election campaign, Vice President Joe Biden has gone around and stated emphatically that no cuts are planned for Social Security.

   So what are we to think here? If re-elected,  will Obama seek cuts in Social Security or not?  The economist Dean Baker recently wrote a good piece on the conflicting signals coming from the administration on Social Security at www.commondreams.org/view/2012/09/18-2.

  Romney, while he hasn’t said so explicitly, would likely back cuts to Social Security. He and his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, support the elimination of Medicare as we know it, turning it into a weakling “voucher” program, in order to reduce costs. If they think this way about Medicare, then you better believe Social Security is in their gunsights as well. Lehrer needs to probe Romney on this issue, especially in the wake of his notorious remark that he didn’t care about the 47 per cent of all Americans who collect some kind of government benefits.

   Finally, there’s the issue of corporate influence in elections and the astronomical cost of running for office. Since the passage of the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, which opened the door to virtually unlimited corporate spending in election campaigns, there’s been an avalanche of business sector money being dumped into Super PACs and independent outside groups to attack or support different candidates. The ruling is giving corporations an inordinate amount of power in determining who will win elections.

  There’s a drive on to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and reverse the legal position that corporations have the same free speech rights as people, or simply put, that corporations are people.

   Romney already is on record as supporting Citizens United, saying “corporations are people.”  Lehrer or someone at a later debate should ask him how a democracy can last when corporations take over the election process.

   Obama, who has criticized the Citizens United ruling, should be asked whether he backs the proposed constitutional amendment, and if not, what he thinks should be done about the astronomical cost of elections and in particular the massive spending by corporations in elections.

   I don’t know whether any of these questions will be asked, or to what extent. If no questions are asked about these three vital subjects, the whole debate process is a sham.

  If you want to be sure you’ll hear debate on the issues discussed above and more, tune in Wednesday from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. to the show Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org)  which is hosting a special debate for two third party candidates, Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The two candidates have been shut out of the main debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

  Stein’s campaign also said an “Occupy the CPD” has sprung up and Stein, her running mate Cheri Honkala, supporters and activists will march on the CPD event at the University of Denver, prior to the DN broadcast.

   The media have largely ignored Stein and Anderson’s campaigns. One exception has been the interview of Stein by Scott Harris of the Between the Lines radio show on Aug. 17.  To hear the broadcast go to www.btlonline.org.



Friday, September 14, 2012

Dumbing Down, Chapter 962

By Reginald Johnson

Just when you think the news media can’t get more irresponsible with its focus on the silly and the superficial, it proves you wrong.

On Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11th terror attacks, the NBC Today show decided to present an interview with Kris Jenner, mother of Kim Kardashian --- from the reality show “Keeping up with the Kardashians --- instead of going live to the “moment of silence” at Ground Zero and Washington, D.C. for the nearly 3,000 victims of the tragedy.

The 911 attacks were not only hugely important because of the death and suffering they caused here, but also because 911 set the stage for the war-mongering foreign policy that followed, with the American invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan and all the massive death and destruction that those wars have caused.

But the people at NBC News don’t get it.  Pop and celebrity news is the order of the day. If they had been doing their job last Tuesday, they would have covered the memorials live, and also did a report on the overall significance of 911.

NBC is not alone, of course, in favoring superficial entertainment news over real news. Other large media operations and newspapers around the country are doing the same thing.

The show “Nightline” from ABC News used to be pretty good, with daily reports on major issues of substance. Occasionally, conservative bias showed up in the reports on foreign policy or domestic issues. But overall, it wasn't a bad show.

The night after the end of the Republican National Convention where presidential candidate Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan spoke of their desire for major changes in policies governing such things as health care and taxes, "Nightline" apparently decided it wasn’t worth doing a follow-up. No need to do, say, an analysis of what impact there might be on the American people, should the Republicans win in November.

Instead, this was the lead story on "Nightline": a report on Evelyn Lozada, star of the VHI reality show “Basketball Wives” and her break-up with football star Chad Johnson. The second story on the show was called “Diving with great white sharks.” Need I say more?

So this is what’s become of a once well-regarded news show. Fluff and nonsense. Dumbing down anyone?

The emphasis on entertainment, as opposed to news, is also becoming more pronounced in local newspapers.

In the Sept. 1 issue of the Connecticut Post, just after the GOP convention, the Post’s lead story, splashed on the top of Page 1 was: “Eastwooding’ goes viral.” The lighthearted story reported that there was terrific interest on the Internet in actor Clint Eastwood’s talk with a chair at the just-finished convention. Eastwood had a humorous, though rambling make-believe discussion with President Obama sitting in the chair. Most pundits panned the performance.

The Post reported that “Eastwooding” --- or posing (as if to harangue with a chair) --- “had joined the vernacular and become a social media craze.” Some 80,000 tweets were reported during Eastwood’s performance, the story said.

Also on Page 1, just below the Eastwood story, was a feature on the Hood Blimp. The Hood (as in milk company) Blimp normally flies over Fenway Park in Boston during Red Sox games. Readers were told they might see it flying overhead while they were out and about over the weekend.

OK. Blimps aren’t exactly a common site, so there’s nothing wrong with having a story on the arrival of a blimp. Kind of a cool thing to see.

I really don’t have a problem with either of these stories per se. My beef is with their placement. They lead the paper.

The paper came out just after the convention. You would think it would be useful and important to do a follow on the convention, some kind of political spin-off that would be prominently placed on Page 1. What do people in the area think of Romney after his speech? What do they think of the GOP platform?  What are Romney’s prospects? Anything. After all, this guy could wind up being president, setting in motion policies that will affect all of us.

Or heaven forfend, the Post might do an important local story that would get top billing. The Post is based in a city (Bridgeport) with a high poverty rate, huge educational problems, widespread foreclosures, sky-high tax rates and surging crime. Delving into those issues might yield a story or two. Here's another idea. Find out what the mayor is doing about these problems.  Does anybody know? Does anybody care?

Ah heck, it’s so much easier to run fun stories about blimps and “Eastwooding.” It’s all the craze you know.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Targeting Syria

By Reginald Johnson

 It’s a like bad movie that keeps coming back.

 The first time you saw it, you said, ‘I never want to see this again.’

 But it keeps getting shown because, unfortunately, it’s on the news. You don’t want to watch it, but you’re forced to. And every time, you get the same sick feeling.

 The movie is actually part of a long-running series that might be called “America Makes War on a Bad Country.”

The latest installment is now playing. It’s called “America Makes War on Bad Syria.”

 It is probably number 20 in the movie series involving different nations. Or is it 30, or 40? I’ve lost count.

 In a script similar to the other shows, America says it doesn’t like Syria because its leader, Bashar al-Assad, is bad to his people. His regime has committed human rights violations. Locking up dissenters and allowing torture in his prisons. Indeed, there is independent verification to support this claim.

 Now America --- because its own human rights record is so good (talk to Pakistani or Afghan villagers following bombing attacks, or men waterboarded in U.S. prisons, they’ll tell you) --- feels so strongly about bringing freedom to the Syrian people, that it’s begun an urgent campaign to get rid of the Assad government.

 Through other countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the U.S. is supplying weapons to the rebels in Syria. CIA personnel have been sent to Turkey to train the insurgents, according to the New York Times.

 This indirect, war-by-proxy against a sovereign nation is illegal under international law, because it’s not sanctioned by the UN, and the U.S. has not been attacked by Syria. But who cares about international law? The U.S.A has done this so many time before, hardly anyone blinks an eye.

 Led by their constitutional lawyer and now President, Barack Obama, America is still trying to get some sort of resolution through the UN to authorize a wider military action against Bad Syria, but things are a bit slow because Russia and China, allies of Syria, keep balking.

 While the UN stalls, the U.S. has turned to Old Faithful --- NATO--- to get more pledges of support. Yes, just as Britain and France helped out with the humanitarian bombing campaign against Libya last year, these loyal allies from the days of the Cold War, plus Turkey, have come to the rescue again. Like the U.S., they care deeply about human rights and have the records to prove it --- just ask the Irish and Indians about Britain, or the Algerians about France, or the Kurds or Armenians about Turkey, and they will all sing praises.

 As noted, the freedom-loving monarchy of Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, have also joined in this noble effort.

 Just call this the “Coalition of the Benevolent to Help Syria!”

 In another echo from previous movies in the series, friendly media outlets in the U.S. have joined in the campaign to justify action against this year’s bad country. CNN has helped by running screaming reports every night, showing footage from opposition cell phone videos showing alleged Syrian government massacres. No real effort has been made to obtain a government response to the claims of indiscriminate violence.

 The movie on Syria is still in progress, and we don’t know for sure how it will end. But there’s a good chance that Assad will suffer the same fate as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi did last year --- lying in a roadside ditch with an American bullet in his head.


 OK, let’s turn on the lights, turn off the propaganda that passes for news and take a critical look at the situation in Syria.

 The conflict there has nothing to do with human rights or alleged atrocities by the Assad regime. It has everything to do with a geopolitical power struggle over who controls the oil-rich region of the Middle East.

 Syria is allied with Iran, which sits on the world’s third-largest supply of oil. Through the insurgency it is supporting, the U.S. aims to topple the Assad regime in Syria, get a more friendly group in power, and isolate Iran, which the U.S. has been at odds with for sometime. From the springboard in Syria, the U.S. can more easily bring down the government in Iran, either through constant pressure tactics or direct military action.

 Then the U.S. will have primacy in the Middle East and control over the flow of oil --- the most critical resource in the world, a resource which is getting more scarce by the year.

 This is the game plan.

 But it is game plan fraught with risk.

 Russia and China, which covet oil just as much as we do, are not going to sit idly by while the Americans take control over so much of the planet’s most vital resource.

 That’s why the two countries are resisting strong action on Syria at the UN, and why Russia has been arming Syria.

 It would be potentially catastrophic if the U.S. and its NATO partners unilaterally take military action against Syria.

 Undoubtedly, the U.S. will continue to try to get some sort of UN resolution condemning Syria for human rights abuses together with a provision for limited intervention. That will provide cover for an open, Libya-style attack.

 The Security Council is due to meet Wednesday to discuss Syria, and new allegations of civilian killings by Syrian government forces.

 People need to stand up and speak out about American duplicity in Syria.

 The American press has to do a better job of investigating the truth about allegations of mass killings and brutality by the Syrian government and be more questioning about America’s motives in connection with Syria.

 It is well known and absolutely true that the Syrian regime for a number of years has been committing human rights abuses against its citizens. Assad, like Gaddafi, is a despotic leader. The UN Human Rights Council last fall condemned Syria for a number of abuses. Many Syrian citizens have legitimate grievances against the government.

 It’s also true that the Syrian government military has sometimes been brutal in its effort to quell the rebellion.

 But opposition forces have been guilty of brutality against innocent people as well in a civil conflict which is pitting different sectarian groups against one another.

 Reports of “massacres” by government forces have been exaggerated. In May there were accusations of a slaughter of 100 people by the government in the village of Houla. The opposition group, the U.S. backed Free Syrian Army, repudiated a UN truce plan on the grounds that the government had used the ceasefire to carry out the attack.

 But according to an analysis on Syria in the World Socialist Web Site, the leading German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, reported that “multiple eyewitness accounts of the killings in Houla reported that the massacre was actually carried out by FSA fighters who had targeted minority Shiites, Alawites and Christians who had refused to join the Sunni-based opposition.”

 The German story got no attention in the U.S. press.

 In conclusion, Americans do need to speak about human rights abuses wherever they occur, whether at the hands of our government or at the hands of another. But we cannot allow our government to manipulate democratic uprisings in various countries and pretend we are siding with a certain group to achieve a more humane condition for people, when in fact the goal is far different.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's Victory is Not a Mandate for Anti-Labor and Austerity Agenda

By Reginald Johnson and Anna Manzo

(Originally published June 6, 2012)

“Live to fight another day” – is an old saying, often used in sports.

 Despite conservative and centrist pundits pronouncing Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the unprecedented recall election a smashing victory over labor and the Democrats, it’s really not. Nearly half of all voters in Wisconsin casting ballots in the special election voted against Walker. That’s not a ringing endorsement for the incumbent, and gives him only a weak mandate, if you can call it a mandate, to proceed with his anti-labor and cost-cutting policies.

 Consider that the Republican’s effort to beat back the recall was aided by a record-breaking infusion of money. Over $63.5 million was spent by all candidates and independent groups; $45.6 million had been spent on Walker's behalf, compared with about $17.9 million for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracked spending.

  Walker was able to reap the benefits of 2010's Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, which allows corporations to donate unlimited campaign funds via super- PACs without public disclosure. Walker had enough money to buy almost every vote in Wisconsin!

 And, he managed to evade recall, despite a two-year "John Doe" corruption investigation into his days as a county executive. Just days before his recall election, he had transferred $100,000 of campaign money to his legal defense fund, seemingly acknowledging that he is the center of the probe, according to the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel and Salon.com.

 But he got 53 percent of the vote; 46 percent of Wisconsin voters said emphatically they’ve had enough of his retrograde ideas, and want him and his philosophy to go away.

 They’ll keep fighting and this battle is far from over.

 It was heartening to see the enthusiasm and determination with which the recall backers worked this past year. Though the goal was not reached this time, the collective effort on the part of so many provides momentum for future struggles.

 What was disheartening was the anemic support national Democrats, like Barack Obama, gave to the recall effort. (Obama's only public endorsement was an "11th-hour" tweet in support of Walker's opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.) They should be ashamed. A little more high-profile support from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden – and more money from the Democratic National Committee – and this thing could have been won.

 Progressives keep hoping that Obama will suddenly turn into a fighter and work hard for their causes, but it’s never going to happen. He’s too much of a centrist, business Democrat. He probably silently agrees with Walker and some of his anti-union, austerity-oriented policies.

 Obama doesn't seem to understand how to rekindle his grassroots, populist base of 2008, and it's clear he will have a big fight ahead. Economist Robert Reich notes that financial, retail and oil giants such as JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, WalMart, BP and Chevron, have joined billionaires David and Charles Koch in launching a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign falsely blaming him for the national debt.

 Charles P. Pierce of Esquire magazine warned of a worst-case scenario if Walker prevails:

 "...assuming he doesn't go down in the ongoing John Doe investigation in Milwaukee, I predict that he will have an 'exploratory committee' set up in Iowa within the month, and he will suddenly discover a deeply held desire to spend a lot of time in places like Nashua and Manchester. Make no mistake: If he hangs on, he will be the biggest star in the Republican party."

 Grassroots movements can eventually push the likes of Scott Walker out of the way, but it’s clear they can’t look to most national Democrats for help.

 And it's obvious from the huge influx of campaign funds into this battleground state, the only mandate in this recall election came not from Main Street, but the likes of Wall Street.

Related links:

• "Analysis: Walker's win in Wisconsin boosts conservatives," Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2012

• "The Walker Vote Earthquake," American Spectator, June 7, 2012

• "Walker Survives Wisconsin Recall Vote," New York Times, June 6, 2012

• "10 Numbers You Need to Know on Scott Walker Recall Day," Mother Jones, June 5, 2012

• "A Wisconsin Recall FAQ," The Nation, June 5, 2012

• "What Happens If Scott Walker Wins Is No Good at All," The Politics Blog, Esquire, May 16, 2012

• "Scott Walker’s “John Doe” scandal, explained," Salon.com, June 1, 2012

• "Walker campaign sends $100,000 to John Doe legal fund," Milwaukee-Wisconsin Sentinel, May 29, 2012

• "Republican Super PAC’s Spending Big In 2012," ABC News blog, May 30, 2012

• "Scott Walker Promised $500K Donor He Would 'Divide and Conquer' Unions," The Nation, May11, 2012

• "John Nichols: Walker aligns with nation's top 'union buster'," The CapTimes.com, May 30, 2012

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Angry and Fighting Back

The people of Europe are sending a message loud and clear: they’ve had enough of austerity programs that have created widespread misery around the continent.

In elections last week in France, Greece and even Germany, people came out in large numbers and voted overwhelmingly against the political leaders who have been backing the austerity policies.

Nicholas Sarkozy, the conservative president of France, was dumped in favor of Socialist Francois Hollande, marking the first time a socialist had won in France in 30 years. In Greece, the PASOK and New Democratic parties, which had led Greece and backed the austerity programs, were spurned in favor of several fringe leftist parties that opposed austerity. In Germany, voters in the nation’s largest state came out in force to reject Chancellor Angela Merkel’s austerity policies.

Europeans are increasingly fed up with philosophy held by the continent’s pro-business political leaders like Sarkozy and Merkel, as well as top bankers, that in order to save the floundering economies in the European Union, ordinary people must accept sharp cutbacks in pay, pensions and government services.

The austerity policies have led to high rates of joblessness, homelessness and despair in Greece and Spain. Suicides are on the rise.

Amid all this, working people look around, and they don’t see any undue hardship imposed on well-heeled corporations or the rich. Banks and creditors which lent money to national governments, are being asked only to take modest “haircuts” on the money owed them.

Wealthy elites, with their millions, don’t have to worry about layoffs or cuts in government services. It doesn’t matter to them. And they don’t have to worry about kicking in more money to help shore up their national treasuries. Political leaders in their tow aren’t about to ask them to sacrifice.

So regular folk are revolting against this state of affairs, turning out their leaders and demonstrating on a nearly daily basis.

In Greece, which seems to be ground zero for the crisis in Europe, there’s near chaos. Since the May 6 elections, no one has been able to form a coalition government among the various parties that split the vote. The party that got the most votes, SYRIZA, has said they will not go along with any plan to continue austerity. New elections have been set for June.

Meanwhile, leaders of the European Central Bank are threatening that if the Greece doesn’t continue with the austerity plan, further loans to keep the country afloat will be halted.

There is a strong possibility that Greece will go into default, and be forced out of the Euro Zone.

That could in turn lead to other nations, like Spain and Portugal, going into bankruptcy.

World financial leaders predict dire consequences if this chain of events occurs.

But I’m not sure. Don’t we have to reexamine the value of a system that, in difficult times, imposes such mass suffering on people in order to somehow rebuild itself?

The rebellion against the banks and their political allies --- which is really a revolt against capitalism --- is also gathering steam in the United States. The Occupy Wall Street movement is alive and well and continues to grow, as recent May Day protests show.

More news comes out daily about the misconduct and disastrous management decisions made by major financial institutions like JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

Recently, it was revealed that JP Morgan had lost anywhere from $2 billion to $4 billion on speculative bets gone bad in its London office. There are rumblings that Bank of America is in serous trouble.

Are big banks going to come pleading to Uncle Sam for more bailouts in the near future? Are we going to hear the mantra “too big to fail” again?

After more bailouts, will Americans be asked, once again, to “tighten our belts?” because “the money just isn’t there” for social services?

More and more people here, as in Europe, are saying the game is up.


Sunday, February 19, 2012


Ignoring the cities

By Reginald Johnson
February 19, 2012

Newspapers like the Connecticut Post and New Haven Register for years have been backing away from covering issues in the cities where they’re based, focusing instead on topics of interest to residents in wealthier suburban enclaves.

The trend has been driven in large part by a business mindset at papers, where newspaper owners have tried to please advertisers, who are trying to attract an “upscale audience” and who really don’t care too much about the less affluent folk residing in urban areas.

The result has been that publications like the Post (based in Bridgeport), the Register and even The Hartford Courant --- once a very strong daily --- have fewer and fewer stories of interest to the urban reader. And even those pieces dealing with a subject of interest that’s important to city residents are often written so that suburban voices are featured, not city people.

This journalistic disrespect for city residents was on display again last week when a major legal settlement between large banks and state and federal officials concerning fraudulent foreclosure practices was announced. The settlement will see $25 billion provided nationwide to many states, including Connecticut, to settle the claims that the banks had illegally handled thousands of foreclosures, through the practice of robo-signing documents.

Connecticut will get $190 million out of the pot, with the money earmarked for helping homeowners win loan modifications and get refinancing to avoid foreclosure.

There’s been some criticism that the agreement will not do that much good for homeowners and the government did too little to punish banks for their wrongful behavior.

Nonetheless the story is of keen interest to hundreds if not thousands of people in Connecticut’s cities, who are struggling to pay their mortgage and in some cases are actually going through foreclosure. In Bridgeport alone, there’s more than 500 people in the foreclosure process. In New Haven and Harftford, there’s hundreds more such cases.

But here’s how the state’s three biggest dailies treated the story. The Post ran stories over two days, prominently featured, with good information. Only one problem, they didn’t interview anyone in Bridgeport. The reporters talked with a nice gentleman from Stratford on his problems trying to negotiate a better loan deal with a bank. His story sounded legitimate. But that was it for homeowner quotes.

Ironically, the Post did quote the city’s senior manager of Office of Grants and Community Development, who said money from the settlement might help homeowners in Bridgeport, which she described as “one of the ‘crisis cities’ in the state with regard to foreclosure.”

So why didn’t the Post get a comment from a foreclosure victim in the ‘crisis city?’

The Hartford Courant ran a decent front-page piece on the settlement and it’s implications, but, like the Post, couldn’t bring itself to get comments from a city resident struggling with bank payments. It really wouldn’t have been hard. Just pick up the phone and call a neighborhood group or even a housing advocate and you could get plenty of names.

Instead the reporter/paper chose to quote a man from Bloomfield, a suburb of Hartford, who’s been fighting with Bank of America to make the terms of his loan more favorable.

If the Post and Courant added voices from their cities to their coverage, they would have made the stories more meaningful for city residents. But these papers don’t seem to care what urban residents feel.

The New Haven Register blew off the bank settlement story altogether, not even bothering to run a wire piece. This is really a disgrace given the potential ramifications of the settlement on residents in New Haven.

It should be noted that two of three papers mentioned ---- the Register and Courant ---- have cut their staff in recent years, citing financial problems.

Despite the cuts, papers like the Register are still able to send people out to cover shootings, court cases or accidents. If you can do that, you can certainly do a local story about a major foreclosure prevention program that could impact hundreds of local residents.

It’s really a question of priorties. It seems that the three papers mentioned so far --- as well as, I’m afraid, many other papers around the country --- prefer to devote their resources to covering crime and disaster, suburban subjects, and superficial celebrity and sports stories, instead of the deeper social, economic and governmental issues affecting people living in cities.

By the way, I should mention I worked for a number of years at the Post and for a short time at the Register as well.

I can say that there are many fine people at both these papers, and left alone, they can do a good job both editing and reporting.

But the priorities set by owners and publishers in recent years --- the direction they’ve set for these publications --- is the real problem.

Ignoring the needs of the center cities is not only a disservice to the people who live there but antithetical to good journalism.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Obama's Assault on the Constitution

By Reginald Johnson
Jan. 8, 2012

Like a lot of writers, I often feel torn about how to approach sensitive issues. I’ll get worked up about a certain subject and I just want to ‘let it rip’ and write with passion about how I feel. But more often than not, I take a step back and say, ‘I better be discreet here, and write a little more cautiously. It might come out wrong.’

This time, I haven’t lapsed into a discreet mood yet. I’m going to write what I feel.

Barack Obama is a fraud and should be impeached.

On Dec. 31, 2011 --- as most people were distracted and celebrating the onset of the new year --- Obama signed into law one of the most disgraceful and damaging pieces of legislation to ever cross a president’s desk.

The bill was the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was the outline of the military spending plan for the coming year. What was shocking about this bill was not the size of the defense spending plan (everybody knows it’s excessive). It was the inclusion in the measure wording that will allow the military to scoop up American citizens, throw them in jail and hold them there indefinitely without charge or trial, just on the suspicion of terrorism.

Allegedly this provision was put in to help prosecute the supposed still-vital ‘War on Terror,’ and is aimed at getting after al-Qaeda sympathizers, who just might happen to be American citizens. The new statute will give the military the flexibility to get after foreign terrorists or their supporters at home as well as abroad.

I don’t believe this was the reason for the bill, but more about that in a minute.

This provision, developed in secret in the U.S. Senate with the backing of the White House, makes a mockery of the most fundamental provisions of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The arbitrary detention law violates the Fifth Amendment’s provision that people can’t be locked up without due process; the Sixth Amendment’s right of all people facing incarceration to know the charges they face and have a speedy and public trial; and the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee that people be free from unreasonable seizure.

There’s serious question also as to whether the right of habeas corpus will apply to those citizens picked up and jailed. Habeas corpus, a fundamental right in American law that traces its origins back 800 years in England, allows a person detained to ask a judge or magistrate to review their case and determine if there are legal grounds for their detention.

Habeas corpus is enshrined in Section 9, Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion, the public Safety may require it.”

It is incredible that a person who is both a lawyer and a former professor of constitutional law, would sign onto this bill, but Obama did. The President maintained that he was concerned about the law’s wording on detention, and added a signing statement.

“I want to clarify, my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens…My administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war and all other applicable law.

This statement (which actually sounds rather contradictory) was done purely for public relations. Obama knows that signing statements don’t have the force of law ---- statutes do. The new law clearly says the military can now lock up American citizens indefinitely, and Obama signed on.

If he was truly concerned about the legality of this provision, he could have easily vetoed the bill, or sent it back to Congress saying that ‘I’m ready to approve a defense authorization bill, but not with language allowing the military to arbitrarily arrest people. Drop this wording.’

If he had done that, he would have gotten solid support from the American people.

The truth is, the White House wanted this bill and was dishonest in its public statements. After it came out publicly that the detention provision was being discussed in the Senate as part of the defense bill, many liberals and even a few conservatives protested.

Obama came out and said he too, was concerned, and might veto the bill. Subsequently, there was debate over wording and a possible softening of the language on detention of citizens was considered. But it was a charade. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who worked on the bill with Arizona Republican John McCain, disclosed on the floor of the Senate that the White House specifically said that language exempting American citizens from possible indefinite detention should not be removed.

The new law gives official legitimacy to military arrests and detention of citizens, something which the Bush administration had previously carried out after 911 and was roundly criticized for.

The statute allowing the military to take action domestically in the U.S is a sharp departure from standing U.S. law. The Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878, prohibits the use of the military domestically.

I don’t agree with some who’ve said that politics was the chief reason for the detention bill --- you know, the idea that Republicans and Democrats and the President are trying to look ‘tough on terror.’ This is more than ten years after 911, al-Qaeda is decimated and the Taliban is talking peace in Afghanistan. Where are the terrorists? Yes, there are some isolated acts of terrorism --- usually perpetrated by someone psychologically disturbed --- but this is really a law enforcement and intelligence issue. The idea that we have to give the military sweeping new powers to pick up U.S. citizens to stop terrorism is wholly unwarranted.

Unless, of course, you’re worried about something else --- problems at home. There is ferment at home --- economic ferment --- and I believe the elites are worried about this.

When you look at how fast the Occupy Wall Street movement swept the country as well as the Tea Party protests before that, it’s clear there’s a tremendous amount of discontent in our country. People see their standard of living slipping away, foreclosures are everywhere, layoffs abound and quality jobs are increasingly hard to find.

Meanwhile people look around, and they see a small group of the population living very well with huge incomes. Many of these people are at the top of big banks and investment firms that caused the economic problems that we are now in. And they see a morally corrupt Congress and Executive branch doing the bidding of the financial elites, providing massive taxpayer-funded bailouts, tax giveaways for the rich while at the same time slashing social benefit programs in the name of cutting the national debt.

So yes, there is anger in the land, and I believe people at the top in the business world, Congress, the White House and the Pentagon see this unrest as a threat. The detention law is aimed at scaring people and blunting a genuine populist movement.

Kevin Zeese, an attorney and activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement, said that the wording of the detention amendment may provide a legal basis for rounding up protesters. While the law says people, including American citizens linked to al-Qaeda or the Taliban can be picked up, it also says targets could be “associated forces” or people “engaged in hostilities” “in aid of a …organization or person.”

“There is a lot of flexibility in those words and when they apply --- no need for probable cause, a trial, jury verdict or sentencing --- just on suspicion, you get indefinite military detention,” Zeese wrote in a piece for Global Research (http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28188)

Already, Homeland Security had established that certain activists could be classed as terrorists. In 2004 Homeland Security had “defined several categories of potential ‘conspirators’ or ‘suspected terrorists’ including ‘foreign (Islamic) terrorists,’ ‘domestic radical groups,’ (anti-war and civil rights groups) and disgruntled employees’ (labor and union activists)….,” wrote Professor Michel Chossodovsky, also in a piece in Global Research about the detention law entitled, “The Inauguration of Police State USA, 2012,” (http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28441)

The signing of the detention bill is the latest assault on the Consitution and international law by the Obama administration. Previous to this, you had the administration fighting legal challenges to the government’s use of warrantless wiretapping, which began under Bush and clearly violates the Fourth Amendment.

The President has allowed for extra-judicial killings of Americans suspected of terrorism abroad, in violation of due process guarantees and the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Obama has authorized bombing attacks on sovereign countries that have not attacked the U.S., including Libya and Pakistan. These attacks constitute war crimes under international law.

When you look at the last three years, Obama’s record on the Constitution and international law has been --- astoundingly --- no better than George W. Bush’s record. A number of liberals and progressive groups, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, called for Bush’s impeachment citing, in part, his backing for illegal wiretapping and use of indefinite detentions.

Where’s the accounting for Obama?

Although there has been harsh criticism of the detention law by progressives in blogs and on radio shows, most liberal pundits in the mainstream media, both in print and on television, have been silent on this issue. They seem to be more interested in covering the Republican Party nomination circus than covering the loss of fundamental rights for all Americans --- rights established more than 200 years ago by the nation’s founders.

Military detentions of citizens without charge or trial is the hallmark of dictatorships, not democracies.

Are we sleepwalking our way to fascism? It seems so.

As David Gespass, president of the National Lawyers Guild put it, “For a very long time the U.S. has been moving towards what I personally think of as fascist --- the integration of monopoly capital with state power, that’s combined with an increased repression at home and greater aggression around the world. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I do see that we’re going in that direction.” He added, “I think the (detention) act is a significant step in that direction.” (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/12/30-8)