November 17, 2011

Tents


The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor, to sleep in the parks  –Paraphrased from Anatole France


Police attacks on Occupy movements from Wall Street to Oakland, Portland, Denver … have often been justified by the “need” to prevent the use of tents or shelters in public places.  Of course, we know that the real reason is that the powers that be don’t like the political and social views that are being expressed by the Occupations. 

We’ll get back to tents in a minute, because I find this part of the story fascinating, but lets look at the other pretexts that have been used recently.  From Portland’s Mayor Sam Adams, to Oakland’s Jean Quan, to New York’s Michael Bloomberg, suddenly there is a great concern for the “health and welfare” of the protesters.  Massive police violence, pepper spray, beatings and “less lethal” projectiles leveled at non-violent people does not arouse the same level of concern, although it is without a doubt a far greater threat to “health and welfare” than anything that goes on in the camps.

So, what does go on in those camps that is so terrible?  Some of the allegations are so far off base that they are just silly.  For one thing, after two months of occupations all these cities suddenly have terrible problems of crime, drug use and homelessness going on in the camps. Obviously caused by the Occupy movement(?)  And did I mention this is a few days before large demonstrations planned for November 17 to mark two months of Occupy Wall Street?  Jean Quan justified the attack on Occupy Oakland by citing a murder. Actually that murder had nothing to do with the occupation and was not in the camp. The most that could be said is that somebody got killed near the camp. Unfortunately, people are killed pretty frequently in Oakland. How does beating up a bunch of people that had nothing to do with it, arresting them – not the  criminal -  and throwing away their possessions solve that problem? 

Several cities justified their actions because homeless people were moving into the camps. “That’s not protest” they say, “It’s just dirty drug using homeless people taking the opportunity to move back into public spaces. We can’t allow that”  Well, first of all having homeless people in the camps is a political act.  The whole point of the movement is that a tiny minority has seized control over our economic and political systems. They are enriching themselves and using the political system to prevent any attempt to regulate or control their anti-social behavior.  One of the results that we have been seeing is that people are losing their jobs and their homes. They have nowhere to go. Homelessness is one of the symptoms of our problem.  As is drug use (and make no mistake, alcohol is a drug). People are there to enrich themselves at the expense of the hopeless.  But the government ends up criminalizing the victims because solving the problem would challenge the entrenched system that relies on being able to keep people poor, keep wages down and keep profits up for the 1%.  If people overdose, it would have happened wherever they were. It is not because of the Occupy camps.

If those of us who have homes and some kind of jobs had to really confront homelessness, we would want to change that system. And that brings us back to why homeless people can’t be allowed in the camps.  They become visible when they come out of the hiding places they have been forced into by those who just don’t want us to think about it.  And that is why there are laws against tents and against sleeping in public parks. This does nothing to solve the problem. It just forces people to sleep under bridges or deep in the bushes. It makes them invisible, which is, of course, the point. 

The authorities are using these same anti-tent or anti-camping ordinances against the Occupy Movement. And for the same reason. To make them invisible.  To make them go away. To keep them from challenging the system that makes some people homeless, makes us all poorer (99% of us) and prevents the majority from forming the more equitable society that most of us want to live in. 

The movement can respond to the relatively rare crimes that may be committed in their neighborhood.  When women were harassed at Occupy Wall Street they created a safe space for themselves and set up women only tents. In general this movement has been good about policing themselves. We wouldn’t raze a suburban street because there was a crime committed there, and certainly not a gated community with the stately homes of the wealthy. Why then use that excuse to tear down Occupy camps? It has nothing to do with “health and welfare” and of course we all know that.

July 20, 2011

WTF Obama!

Obama endorsed the Gang of Six budget plan that would cut Social Security, raise taxes on the Middle Class and CUT taxes on the rich. Yes, I said CUT. Read about it anywhere but here is a nice summary from Democracy Now

I kind of lost my cool and sent this letter..

Dear President Obama, What the #$%^& is wrong with you? Do you think you were elected to cut taxes on the rich and cut programs for the rest of us? Think again. You promised change but the only change you are giving us is change for the worse.

Let me be clear. Social Security and Medicare are in fine shape. We do NOT need to cut there and the people will not accept cuts. We need more government spending to create jobs and get us out of the recession. We need to roll back tax cuts to the rich and make sure that profitable corporations do not use off shore tax havens and loopholes to wiggle out of their fair share of taxes. Taxes on the rich are already the lowest in the world. Make them pay their fair share.

The budget crisis is only a crisis because nobody is standing up to Republican blackmail.

THEY DO NOT GIVE A DAMN ABOUT JOBS OR THE ECONOMY. THEY WANT TO WRECK THE ECONOMY SO THEY CAN BLAME IT ON YOU AND WIN THE NEXT ELECTION. THEY ARE ANTI-AMERICAN AND IT IS YOUR JOB TO EXPOSE THEIR LIES AND RALLY THE AMERICAN PEOPLE TO A SANE POLICY. WE ARE WAITING.

GET OFF YOUR %$#$%%$ ASS AND GIVE THEM HELL. You would be popular again and you would be doing the right thing.

July 01, 2011

Debt as a moral issue

... we’re actually at a very strange historical moment because they’ve managed to convince people around the world that debt is somehow something sacred. I mean, a debt is just a promise, right? It has no greater moral standard than any other promise that you would make. Yet, here we have people accepting that it’s perfectly reasonable to say well, we can’t possibly keep our promise to the public, politicians say, to give you health care because it’s absolutely unthinkable we could break our sacred promises to bankers to give them a certain percentage of interest every year. How did that become a convincing argument? It’s utterly odd if you think about in terms of any kind of principle of democracy. As I say, if you look at the history of world religions, of social movements what you find is for much of world history what is sacred is not debt, but the ability to make debt disappear to forgive it and that’s where concepts of redemption originally come from.

-David Graeber teaches anthropology at Goldsmiths College at the University of London. He is the author of several books, his newest book–"Debt: The First 5,000 Years" (Melville House) comes out later this month.

The quote was from Democracy Now 7/1/11

June 28, 2011

Israel Attacks Non-violent activists

Dear Secretary of State Clinton,

On January 28, 2011 you issued a strong statement to the Egyptian government urging it not to attack peaceful demonstrators, "We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protesters and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces." (full text) I wrote you then thanking you for that statement. Today I am asking you to apply that same standard to Israel.

As you know, the Israeli government has threatened to violently attack the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, including the US Boat to Gaza, The Audacity of Hope. As you also are very well aware, these are people committed to non-violent activism to aid Palestinians, especially in Gaza, to achieve basic human rights in the face of a punitive blockade. Israel's threats are credible because they have attacked previous boats, resulting in many unnecessary injuries and the deaths of nine people last year. Israel routinely violently attacks Palestinians engaged in non-violent protests with high velocity tear gas canisters, rubber coated bullets, clubs and live ammunition. Don't Palestinian democracy demonstrations deserve the same support as Egyptians or Libyans? Don't Americas traveling abroad deserve to be safe from unwarranted attack?

Just as the Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian governments spread lies about democracy demonstrators in order to justify attacking them, Israel is spreading lies
about the flotilla. The flotilla carries no weapons and will not attack the Israeli soldiers who may well attack them. They are, I'll say it again, committed to non-violence. They are by no stretch of the imagination supporting terrorism. On the contrary, they and the many thousands of non-violent activists in Palestine are providing an alternative to violent resistance to the continued denial of basic human rights. They hope that non-violent means are more effective in convincing the world of the need for a just and equitable peace agreement. I hope that they are right. If Israel will respond there is now some hope for peace and justice.

Israel only undercuts it's own position and casts doubt on its desire for peace with the lies and unnecessary violence they have resorted to. The US should support peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. We should call upon Israel to respect human rights
, just as we call on Egypt, Libya, Syria and other governments to do the same.

cc: President Obama
Rep Norm Dicks
Senator Patty Murray
Senator Maria Cantwell

May 23, 2011

Tough Love for Israel

This is my letter to the President and Congress about the need for a viable Palestinian state.

I hope that you support President Obama's statement that for the peace and security of Israel and Palestine, Palestinians must have a sovereign state with contiguous territory based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps.

Israel truly will never have peace until they are willing to end their occupation and support a viable Palestinian state. Unfortunately Netanyahu made it clear that Israel is not yet ready to accept the existence of such a state.

I hope that you will use the considerable influence the US has with Israel because of the billions of dollars in aid that we give to them every year. Israel needs help to find the way to peace, call it tough love if you will. Because of our close ties to Israel and because of the substantial aid we give them, the United States is in the best position to give them that help. We can do that by making it very clear that while we do support Israel, we will not continue our aid while they are on their present self-destructive course.

Please let me know what actions you will be taking to bring about a just settlement for both Israel and Palestine.

May 04, 2011

May 4 - Student mobilizations

As it happens May 4 has been a significant date for several social justice movements led by students.

On May 4, 1919 a large demonstration in Beijing protested against the treatment of China in the Versailles treaty. The movement that this was a part of became known as the May 4 Movement. It was largely led by students who supported a broad liberalization of their society. They wanted to adopt western values of democracy and an end to the strict class divisions of traditional Chinese society. They supported literature in the vernacular language of the the people, rather than just being for the intellectual class. Politically they opposed foreign domination of China and thought that by adopting western values, China could become a self-reliant nation that could control its own destiny. This movement was very influential among intellectuals and students who later went on to reshape Chinese society.

On May 4, 1989 the democracy movement centered around Tienanmen Square in Beijing was building strength and marked the 70th anniversary of the May 4th Movement with a rally that brought out 100,000 people into Tienanmen Square. The Democracy Movement advocated an end to the domination of the Communist Party and the institution on democratic institutions and free speech. The movement paralleled similar movements in other Communist countries that led to the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In China, however, the movement was crushed when the military marched on Tienanmen Square on June 4, killing anywhere from several hundred to several thousand people.

On May 4, 1961 in the United States, the first of the Freedom Rides began. Students from around the country came to the South to challenge segregation of interstate transportation. They rode Greyhound and Trailways buses in groups of black and white people riding together and using the facilities at bus stations together in defiance of segregation laws. They were met with mob violence and eventually the governor of Alabama had to call out the National Guard to protect them and to forestall the use of federal troops. These rides were an important milestone for the Civil Rights movement and eventually forced the end of segregation in public transportation.

On May 4, 1970 four students at Kent State University were shot by the Ohio National Guard while protesting the Vietnam War following President Nixon's announcement that he was expanding the war into Cambodia. Their deaths and the death of two more students at Jackson State in Mississippi the night of May 14 sparked a nationwide student strike by as many as 4 millions students and mobilization against the war. Hundreds of universities closed down in the face of the protests. Many students were galvanized into action by the thought that "it could have been me". They were in danger if they were drafted to fight in Vietnam and now they were in danger if they stayed in school. They felt personally threatened and responded with renewed action against the war.

May 02, 2011

Obama’s Mission Accomplished Moment


Now is President Obama’s moment when he could declare that our mission to capture Osama Bin Laden has been accomplished and it is now time to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan and let the people there negotiate a peace agreement. That is the message of an ex-Marine who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and came out to the White House Sunday night to urge us to Rethink Afghanistan.

It took 10 years but they finally killed Osama Bin Laden. Its being presented as a victory for our side but really, 10 years for the largest and most sophisticated military machine in the world backed by the largest and most sophisticated intelligence service in the world to track down and assassinate one man is more of an embarrassment than a great victory.

What should be more embarrassing is the fact in the past 10 years we have killed far more innocent people than al Qaeda did on September 11 and in the decade since then. And the wars we started on the pretext of seeking revenge have escalated the violence, escalated the suffering and lent credence to al Qaeda’s strategy of violence. When Bin Laden conceived of the attacks on September 11, he hoped to lure the United States into a war in Afghanistan that would destroy its empire. This was, after all, a strategy that played a major part in bringing down the Soviet Union. Bin Laden hit the jackpot. He got the US into not one but two wars, in Afghanistan AND Iraq. Of course, he didn’t care about the devastation these wars would cause. He thought that that devastation would further his cause. And he found an enemy in George W Bush who also thought that war would further his cause without concern for the innocent people caught on the battlefield who died by the hundreds of thousands and were driven from their homes by the millions.

When President Obama stood before the cameras May 1 and announced his victory, I thought of the day in 2003, 8 years to the day earlier, when President Bush flew out to an aircraft carrier to speak under the now famous “Mission Accomplished” banner. Bush’s mistake was that he wasn’t satisfied to declare victory with the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s regime. If he had been able to declare victory and leave Iraq at that moment, he might now be remembered as the man who liberated Iraq, rather than the one who brought devastation to it. It is impossible to say for sure how that historical moment would have played out but it doesn’t matter because what Bush, and when I say Bush I mean the whole neo-con ensemble he fronted for, really wanted was occupation and economic domination by his corporate buddies of that country. The rest of the Middle East and the rest of the world was to follow. President Obama promised change but by and large he has followed the same policies in regard to the wars.

I was shocked and embarrassed for my country by the behavior of the crowds I saw on TV Sunday night. It looked like their team had won the Super Bowl, down to the guy with no shirt and a can of beer and the chants of “USA USA USA!” When some people celebrated after September 11, it was shocking and outrageous to us. Now more people have been killed and I can only think about how people in other parts of the world are going to react to our reaction. It is bound to boost the standing of terrorists just as their power was being undercut by the nonviolent power of the Arab Awakening in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere.

Our President tells us that our act of revenge will now likely lead to acts of revenge against us. And we will no doubt exact revenge for them. This leads nowhere. War is not the answer.

April 30, 2011

If Obama had only followed through on that Change thing

The Democrats are gearing up for the next election and so, I just got an email asking me what I think they should do to get ready. So, I thought I would tell them. Will they listen? I'm not too hopeful at this point. This is what I sent them.

The Democrats should pay attention to what the people, not just the donors, want. Polls show that we want an end to the wars and cuts to the bloated military budget. We want the rich to pay their share and corporations are included in that. They are paying the lowest income tax rate in many decades. We want to be able to count on Social Security, Medicare and other social programs. These are cost effective and benefit all Americans, contributing to a prosperous America.

President Obama was elected by a landslide of enthusiasm for "change". That was his slogan and people went for it big time. The trouble is that the Democrats didn't stand up and fight for change. Instead on issue after issue, they tried to compromise with Republicans who had no interest in compromise or solutions. All they want is to protect the rich, at the expense of the rest of us, and to make the Democrats look bad. Well, their strategy is working like a charm. We have lost faith that the Democrats even want to change anything, after watching them refuse to stand up for what the people of this country believe in.

I don't know if it is too late to turn things around for the party. You can't just count on the Republicans imploding. There is a movement for democracy in this country. A movement against scofflaw corporations and tax dodging rich people. A movement against cutting the most effective government programs. Do you really think it makes sense in the long run to cut education? What about Medical care for the poor and middle class. For gosh sakes, Medicare is the most cost effective healthcare system around. Don't cut it. Expand it. Healthcare costs will go down, budget deficits will go down, if we let Medicare expand to cover everybody. Why won't the Democrats go there? People would flock to your banner if they thought that's what you stood for, as they did in 2008. Instead you look more and more like another party of the rich, only not as committed to, well, anything.