Sunday, February 28, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Doris (Granny D) Haddock (1910-2010)

Over the past few years, I've profiled at least half a dozen people (most Americans) who are truly unsung heroes. Not so much for what each has done, but in every case, for what he or she refused to do. Often, being a hero or heroine is a simple act of refusing to abandon one's principles and one's humanity when all around have forsaken their own.

Doris (Granny D) Haddock is one such person, and someone I greatly admire for her inspiring courage and for her strength of character. Doris Haddock was born (as Doris Rollins) on January 24, 1910, in Laconia, New Hampshire, USA. On January 24, 2010, Doris Haddock turned 100. She died 44 days later, on March 9.

Granny D is best know for walking across the continental United States, a distance of over 3,200 miles, when she was 88 years old to raise awareness of the need for campaign finance reform as a way of limiting corporate control of the US government. The January 2010 Supreme Court decision to essentially grant corporations the constitutional rights of citizens must have broken her heart, in effect giving corporations the right to influence US elections (and with their almost limitless wealth, their influence is enormous). That decision was a death blow to the notion that the American people are a completely self-governing people, and it was something Granny D fought against until the day she died.

She had this to say about those corporations and the notion that corporations should be given the same legal or moral status as individuals and expected to act morally or responsibly

Corporations of reasonable size are but groups of people. Beyond some point, however, the humanity falls away from an organization and all that is left is the will to power and profit. They care not that our seas and atmosphere are rapidly changing in ways that may lead to disaster and famine of unimaginable scale. They care not because they are not human and they have moved beyond human values. They do not need the fresh air or the water or the mountains or the birds. They are a kind of virus or a cancer, all prettied up with a nice logo and television commercials to tell us the most outrageous lies, one after the other. For in reality, they crush us under their boots and they pay off our political leaders with campaign contributions and other bribes. They trample on diversity of all kinds, including human personality, as fewer and fewer kinds of people can prosper in the world they are casting, and more and more of us are marginalized.
Rather than tell you more about this remarkable American patriot and hero, I'll simply share some things Granny D told us, and about which I believe she was absolutely right. And she was very brave in saying it at a time when most Americans were perfectly willing to remain silent while their nation was being plundered. If these words make her sound radical, so be it ... because she was not the instrument of radical change in 2003. She was one of the few voices that spoke out to condemn radical changes that were being brought about by those who claimed, "we can no longer afford the principles expressed in our Constitution." While our leaders tried to change our nation into one that no longer aspires to lead by example, but instead by threats of violence, retribution, and unimaginable destruction, there were those who stood in opposition. The truly radical social revolution that threatened us all was reversed, not because of Granny D alone; no one person was solely or even predominately responsible for that reversal. That disastrous trend was reversed because some Americans took an individual and personal responsibility for changing it. Granny D was such a person.

Granny D was an example to me; that I wasn't too old, at the age of 48, to take a stand on principle. She was an example that sometimes adherence to principle must trump security and comfort. She was an example of a person who wasn't too afraid to start big things late in life. She was an example of a person who lived her life morally and courageously.

Granny D told us the following, in 2003, at a time when America was marching, lock-step and recklessly, down a path toward fear, militarism and intolerance of any dissent. Has it really been thirteen years?

There are two kinds of politics in the world: the politics of love and the politics of fear. Love is about cooperation, sharing and inclusion. It is about the elevation of each individual to a life neither suppressed nor exploited, but instead nourished to rise to its full potential--a life for its own sake and so that we may all benefit by the gift of that life. Fear, and the politics of fear, is about narrow ideologies that separate us, militarize us, imprison us, exploit us, control us, overcharge us, demean us, bury us alive in debt and anxiety and then bury us dead in cancers and wars. The politics of love and the politics of fear are now pitted against each other in a naked struggle that will define not only the 21st Century but centuries to come. We are the Sons and Daughters of Liberty in that struggle, indeed we are. Let us not shirk from the mission that fate has bestowed upon us, for it has done so as a blessing

August 16, 2003 speech in Hood River, Oregon
When most Americans chose fear; Granny D chose to stand up and to speak out against yielding to fear. That set her apart from the masses. I did nothing so extraordinary; I simply followed her example. I'm a far better man for it. 

Doris "Granny D" Haddock
(January 24, 1910 – January 24, 2010)

Friday, February 26, 2016

But why, some ask, go to the moon?

With the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence on his side, Al Gore has no trouble making the case that climate changes poses a serious threat, globally ... but making the case for an optimistic approach to solving that problem ... that's a little harder to do.

But in his two-minute conclusion to his Presentation at the Ted2016 Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia (a couple of weeks ago), Al Gore knocked it out of the park.

Those two minutes (which begin at the 19min mark), are well worth watching ... even if you disagree with him, you'll understand why the man is persuasive.

He concluded his presentation by saying:

I'll finish with this story. When I was 13 years old, I heard that proposal by President Kennedy to land a person on the Moon and bring him back safely in 10 years. And I heard adults of that day and time say, "That's reckless, expensive, may well fail." But eight years and two months later, in the moment that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon, there was great cheer that went up in NASA's mission control in Houston. Here's a little-known fact about that: the average age of the systems engineers, the controllers in the room that day, was 26, which means, among other things, their age, when they heard that challenge, was 18.

We now have a moral challenge that is in the tradition of others that we have faced. One of the greatest poets of the last century in the US, Wallace Stevens, wrote a line that has stayed with me: "After the final 'no,' there comes a 'yes,' and on that 'yes', the future world depends." When the abolitionists started their movement, they met with no after no after no. And then came a yes. The Women's Suffrage and Women's Rights Movement met endless no's, until finally, there was a yes. The Civil Rights Movement, the movement against apartheid, and more recently, the movement for gay and lesbian rights here in the United States and elsewhere. After the final "no" comes a "yes."

When any great moral challenge is ultimately resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is fore-ordained because of who we are as human beings. Ninety-nine percent of us, that is where we are now and it is why we're going to win this. We have everything we need. Some still doubt that we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is, itself, a renewable resource.

In answering the rhetorical question he posed in 1962, President John Kennedy said:  "We choose to go to the moon in this decade, not because it will be easy, but because it will be hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

An expatriate American friend of mine in the news

I've often said that moral courage is always individual.  Moral courage is very often simply possessing the courage and the will, to make moral decisions on one's own, individually.  It's standing on one's own two feet; and that usually requires sacrifice.  Because whenever you make a decision that contradicts public opinion, or an organizational code or a religion or the attitudes of your family, friends and neighbors ... you will encounter one of the greatest fears that keeps people from acting courageously – as individuals – that fear of being outside the tribe.  Peer-pressure is a force most people cannot successfully resist, and to which they will always submit

A friend of mine, who immigrated to Canada on 30 August 2005, less than four weeks before we arrived on 24 September 2005, has been interviewed for two newspaper articles on Americans who have moved to Canada for "political reasons":

An alternative exists: the US citizens who vowed to flee to Canada – and did
The Guardian UK, February 1, 2016

and, Saturday:

Disenchanted US voters look with longing eyes to Canada, but few follow through
The Toronto Star, February 20, 2016

Laura said that the editors of the Star article left out most of what she said about the differences between Canada and the US:  "universal health care, didn't invade Iraq, no death penalty, no abortion law, one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage, a party to the left of liberal. A functioning democracy. A more secular society."

I love the reason she gave, in the Star article, for leaving the US for good, "We were tired of being so angry and frustrated and out of step for so long."  Simple.

Our own reasons for immigrating to Canada are very much the same, and just as simple ... we no longer felt part of the tribe.  Strangers, suddenly, in a community in which we'd lived for 15 years, in which we built two houses, and had a child. I often say that moving to Canada was, for me, an antidote to a feeling of helplessness that I could no longer endure.

I have not met refugees from America's recent wars, but I have met refugees, older than myself, who came here during Vietnam and stayed.  They are great Canadians and, I believe, exhibit the best of Americans.  And that's what I aspire to be, during what remains of my own life.

But the editors did include her statement that "We were tired of being so angry and frustrated and out of step for so long.  It got to the point where someone who is just an ordinary progressive is feeling like a radical revolutionary."

There has certainly been a change in attitudes toward Americans who left the country rather than be (if only silently) complicit in something they feel is morally indefensible.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Alyssa Peterson (1976-2003)

In September 2003, a 27-year-old female soldier, a Mormon, US Army Specialist Alyssa Peterson, an Arabic linguist with the 101st Airborne Division at Tal Afar base, refused to apply the interrogation techniques that had been authorized for use on Iraqi prisoners.

Alyssa Peterson refused to take part in interrogations in the "cage" where Iraqis were stripped naked in front of female soldiers who mocked them and were burned with cigarettes, among other things that don't need to be mentioned. Do you blame her for refusing to participate in actions like these?

Three days after her refusal to be involved in torture, on September 15, 2003, Peterson was found dead of a gunshot wound at Tal Afar base. Keep in mind, her suicide occurred 7 months before the Abu Ghraib tortures were exposed to the world. Seven months before millions of people saw what she saw. Seven months before we learned about the horrendous actions that she steadfastly refused to be part of.

The Army's official cause of her death, which is all that her family was told, was death from a "non-hostile weapons discharge." The suicide and the report of the Army's internal investigation was uncovered by KNAU (Flagstaff, AZ) public radio reporter Kevin Elston. The public didn't find out the truth until Elston's broadcast in November 2005, three years after Alyssa Peterson's suicide. Without Elston's tenacious pursuit of the truth; it is likely no one would ever have found out what really happened. You can read a transcript of Elston's broadcast here.

The Army, after having first tried to cover up the truth, has since classified her death as suicide.

From the investigation of her death:
"We told her that you have to be able to turn on and off the interrogation mode – that you act differently towards the people we meet with outside of the detainee facility," one fellow soldier stated. She said that she did not know how to be two people; Alyssa could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."
Sometimes being a hero or heroine is a simple act of refusing to abandon one's humanity when all around have forsaken their own. Most Americans silently hope they're never forced to make that choice because I believe, deep down, they know they won't make the right one.

I'm not saying that suicide was the right choice for Alyssa Peterson; but when she was faced with a choice between loyalty to a country and loyalty to her own principles, I do think she absolutely made the correct choice, and the courageous choice. She chose her own death rather than abandoning her humanity. I think she should've chosen, instead, to desert from the military or even to defect from her country, and to go public with her knowledge. And she may have done that, if more of us (in the summer of 2003) had been ready to listen, and to support her in that decision. Maybe she would have if her family and friends hadn't been urging her to risk her life in a senseless war that they weren't willing, able, or courageous enough to fight in themselves. Maybe she would have if most of the nation hadn't been such shameless cheerleaders for a war based on a framework of outrageous lies. Maybe she would have, if more of us had been stronger and more courageous.

It's up to us now to act bravely. It's up to us to demand that our government tell us the truth.

Army Specialist Alyssa R. Peterson, age 27

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The 2014 Tsilhqot'in FN decision by Canada's Supreme Court

Tsilhqot'in First Nation (British Columbia)

On June 26, 2014, in a unanimous 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada has granted declaration of aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, the first time the court has made such a ruling regarding aboriginal land.

That decision was huge because it set legal precedent for how aboriginal title can be interpreted, and whether provincial laws apply to lands covered by aboriginal title. It will apply wherever there are outstanding claims for land
that Aboriginal people did not sell or cede by treaty.  The original owners remain its rightful owners.

Canada's Constitution recognizes the inherent rights of Canada's First Nations; that decision, unanimous in Canada's highest court, affirms those rights.  If also affirms the Constitution as the highest law of the land.  Canada is a nation of laws; not of men.

Canada's Supreme Court just upheld the Constitutional rights ... not of a minority; but of ALL Canadians. My Constitutional Rights.  The rights of every Canadian.  That's how it works ... those rights are not subject to the tyranny of the majority, and certainly not to the vagaries or policies of the current government.  And you never defend your own rights by denying them to others.  You defend your own rights, first by using them and second, by defending those same rights for others.

Here in New Brunswick, t
he so-called "People's Suit" (filed by Lorraine Clair, Marcel White, Marc Français Bernard, Dallas McQuarrie, and Willi Nolan against the Province of NB and SWN) was launched the same day as the historic June 26, 2014 Supreme Court decision.  That decision looks like a "game changer" in New Brunswick because no Aboriginal territory here was ever ceded.

First Nations here in Atlantic Canada view treaties as sharing agreements, while the federal and provincial governments as land surrenders.  The two viewpoints are completely incompatible, and will need to be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada; as an interpretation of the laws that make up Canada's Constitution.

It could take a while.

Canada's Constitution recognizes the inherent rights of Canada's First Nations; this decision, unanimous in Canada's highest court, affirms those rights.  The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently affirmed the Constitution as the highest law of the land.  And the decision affirms Canada as a nation of laws; not of men.

That's why I still say that there won't be any new extraction of natural gas by means of hydro-fracking in New Brunswick anytime soon.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

An Example of Moral Courage: Mary Anne Grady-Flores

On July 10, 2014, a 58-year-old grandmother of three, Mary Anne Grady-Flores, was sentenced to one year in prison for being found guilty of violating an order of protection.  Her appeal was rejected, and she began serving a reduced six-month sentence on January 19th, 2016.  She is 60 years old now, and in jail.  For what?

Mary Anne Grady-Flores had been part of an ongoing protest at the Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, New York.  That base is used to control Reaper drones over Afghanistan, and to train drone pilots, and other technical support personnel.

The order of protection that Flores violated (by standing peacefully by the side of the road) was actually issued to "protect" one man, Colonel Earl Evans, Hancock NG base mission support commander, who claimed he wanted to keep protesters "out of his driveway." (There's a "real man" for ya!).

This 6-and-a-half minute video tells the whole story:

Mary Anne Grady-Flores's story isn't remarkable in itself.  The evidence of courage I find comes, not from what she did, but from the choices she made, individually, and at an advanced age, when most people have already given up making sacrifices for higher goals or values.  At 58, she could very easily have chosen to stay at home, comfortable, secure.  She chose not to.

And she could have, very realistically, reasoned that her actions, her visible protest, will accomplish nothing.  But that didn't matter to her.  Even if her protest proves futile (and I believe it will), she chose to make it anyway. Perhaps because none of us can ever know how effective we’re ever going to be, and people want to measure that all the time.  Sometimes, though, I think each one of us has to live with our consciences.  Our choices have to be individual, and based on what we know is right; not on what we can hope to achieve.

People confront me, often, with the question, "What have you ever changed, really?"  I can answer that in a word:  "me."  I changed me.  And that's all that matters.  You think you can change yourself?  Try it.  I challenge you to try.

And, finally, I'd like to point out the two absolutely opposing attitudes displayed in the video above. Grady-Flores is standing there, taking personal responsibility for the actions of her government; the military officer who confronts her with abusive profane language is the polar opposite.  Listen to what he tells her.  In effect, that man denied the same responsibility that she takes to heart.  He yells that he's not to blame for his own actions; the government is.  He's just a tool, an instrument, of the State and its power.  Not responsible for himself and his own actions.

She takes personal responsibility for the actions of her government; he refuses to take responsibility for his own actions.  Which of the two viewpoints best represents your own?  Which better reflects the traditional principles of Americans?  What are those principles; do you remember?  Here's a hint: blind loyalty to the State is not among them.

None of us has to spend our days picketing outside a military to base to stand up to the military/police/surveillance state.  If you have voiced your concerns to others who know and trust you, quietly, privately, but resolutely, expressing your opposition to the systematic reduction of liberty in America (the foundation on which the nation claims to stand), I believe you've done all that any of us can do.   And there's never going to be any way to measure the effectiveness of your dissent.  Never.  Do it anyway.  

Mary Anne Grady Flores's arrest (February 13, 2013)

Is it worth it? I don’t know.  We don’t know how effective we’re ever going to be, and people want to measure that all the time. But I think each one of us has to live with our consciences.

How do you live in America right now and sleep at night if you don’t say something?

– Mary Anne Grady Flores

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Why Canada?

On September 24, 2005, on a day that thousands of patriotic Americans traveled to their nation's capital to protest an immoral war that was being waged in their names (link), I also boarded a plane; but bound for another country. I left the United States of America that Saturday, and my family and I now reside in Canada. I obtained a Canadian work permit at the port of entry (Toronto) and I started a new job with a large health insurance provider in the province of New Brunswick. I only told a few people, and in the very strictest confidence, that we were leaving the US for good.

Why did I choose to do this? There were several reasons, but it basically boils down to security for my family and our future, financial security and for our safety. We were the victims of persistent threats of violence against our lives and property in Alabama. We are very conservative, white, Protestant Christians; we were members of the 1st Baptist Church of Arab Alabama, the very last people you'd expect to be on the receiving end of prejudice in the Deep South Bible Belt of America. Why were we attacked?

Because, in January 2003, two months before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote a letter to several local newspapers questioning the wisdom of invading a country that did nothing to our own, based on claims of a threat that were not bolstered by hard evidence. I opposed what later turned out to be a huge mistake.

Do you remember the venomous atmosphere of hatred that existed in the United States immediately prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003? No voice of reason, sanity or true Christian love stood a chance of being heard above the din. Never, as long as you live, forget it.

Did we leave out of fear? Partly, yes, though I never expected to see the face of any of those who threatened me, cowards all, I'm sure ... but at that time, if you'll recall, people like that were growing in numbers and it is in groups where cowards become dangerous. I decided to leave the United States because I felt like I no longer lived in America. The people I felt I knew (to include family, friends, co-workers, neighbors) were gone ... they were replaced by a hate-filled people, desiring (above all other things) vengeance. And I wanted no part of that. I wanted to be somewhere else.

I was a first-hand witness to how Americans spoke about Canadians when the government of Jean Chrétien announced that it would not participate in an invasion of Iraq in March 2003.  Because Canada put the truth and a respect for the sovereignty of another nation ... a tiny, impoverished, broken, defenseless nation ... above the will of the great and wonderful United States of America. It was ugly, and it was totally unnecessary. There are many who would argue with me, now, I'm sure ... that, in 2003, I didn't see Americans as they really are; I saw them at a time of crisis, an emotional time; that their true characters weren't on display; I was seeing only the emotions of the moment; fear, uncertainty, and reactionary hatred.

I would argue, rather, that the true character of people is always revealed in a time of crisis.  I learned that, growing up in the conservative Deep South, in America's Bible Belt.  I was taught that a man has no more character than he can command in a time of crisis.

I saw the true character of those around me, revealed when they faced a crisis; and what I saw came as a complete shock to me.  I saw them as they really are; and I can't simply "unsee" that.

It was not what I consider American.  And I know for certain it is not Canadian. 

I do not consider myself primarily a refugee from terrorism any more than I consider my move primarily one of protest. I consider myself a person who did what he felt was right, despite the enormous sacrifice and hardship that resulted from that choice ... in the very best tradition of Americans. In a sense, I packed all my belongings in a covered wagon, yoked a pair of oxen, and headed for a better place ... except my direction was North, not West. We are very happy in our new life; and we recovered a sense of freedom from persecution and hatred that I feel all people are entitled to.

Why Canada? Because it reminded me of the America I knew "before" (or thought I did). I know that I don't want to live the rest of my life in a place where my neighbors would support people who threaten my life before they'd stand up for me and my family. We stood up for our beliefs (in the best tradition of brave patriotic Americans), instead of remaining silent out of fear. And we were vilified for it.

At one time, I might have considered anger the primary motivator; but not now. Most of the anger I've felt in the past has turned to deep disappointment. I'm terribly disappointed in the people I once respected and often admired back in the States. In the past few years, I've grown to see them as small-minded, parochial, shallow, consummately selfish, and lacking both courage and conviction ... and not people I choose to be identified with.

Nothing the U.S. government has done in the past decade disappointed me as much as the response of the American people to those actions. Even the horrendous attacks on the WTC towers in NYC didn't shock me as much as the response of my neighbors, co-workers, friends and (in some cases) my family.

These circumstances aside, you know what really changed my attitude toward life in the USA?

My wife had surgery to remove a colon cancer in 2000, followed by chemo-therapy treatments. It was then that I realized how much I was dependent on my employer for medical insurance; without it, I would have been rendered financially insolvent ... then I got laid off and that devastated my ego. I blamed myself for a very long time. And it made me realize just how fragile our affluence really was. I had no trouble getting contract work and eventually a full time job (with medical insurance as a benefit), but I never went back to my old way of thinking; that "people have not, because they strive not."

In the sense that most Americans are only a paycheck or two away from a crisis; very few are so immune from circumstances that they should tolerate the systematic elimination of safety nets that protect them all.

And Canada is still a country where you can find what you thought America would never lose.
Charles Aulds
Sainte Marie de Kent,
New Brunswick, Canada

In a swearing-in ceremony held on February 15, 2012, along with
45 other immigrants to Canada,
my wife and daughter and I became
citizens of Canada.
It took us 6 years, 4 months, and 22 days to
achieve that goal.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dead-Eye Dick could not be trusted with firearms (or war)

This has certainly been one interesting decade.  Let's go back ten years ...

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot and wounded a campaign contributor during a weekend quail hunt on a friend's South Texas ranch, local authorities and the vice president's office said Sunday.

On Saturday, February 11, 2006, at approximately 5:30 pm, US Vice President Dick Cheney "accidentally" shot  78-year-old Harry Whittington during a quail hunting trip, at the 50,000 acre ranch in south Texas owned by a wealthy widow named Katharine Armstrong.

The wounded man was in intensive care at a Corpus Christi hospital after being hit by several pellets of birdshot Saturday afternoon, hospital spokesman Peter Banko told CNN.

Let's see ... Vice-President Dick Cheney made four mistakes that day, it appears to me:

  1.  He was hunting with another man and two women who were NOT their wives.
  2.  He failed to identify (as a responsible hunter always does) his target; he didn't know what he was shooting at.
  3.  The incident was kept secret for 24 hours, and the lame excuse was given that it was the "landowner's responsibility" to report the shooting incident.
  4.  He was hunting quail without a bird stamp (we all know better than that).

Is this the kind of man we chose to take our young countrymen and countrywomen into war?  Certainly not!

I love the way the mainstream news media downplayed the seriousness of the accident, saying that Whittington was "peppered" with "pellets," as though a shotgun blast in the face was nothing.  The old man was shot in the face.  That's serious, no matter what the gauge or caliber of the ammunition.

Even FOX news (normally an apologist for the Bush Administration) didn't give Cheney a completely free ride.  In one report, FOX said that White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, was "peppered" with questions about the event.  That was one cute play on words.  And I loved it.  :-)
February 11, 2016

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

13 years ago (the letter that changed my life forever)

Before October 2002, I had never written a Senator or Member of Congress at either the federal or state level.

Before February 2003, I had never written a "letter to the editor" of a newspaper.

It was the impending invasion of Iraq, based on highly suspect claims that later turned out to be complete fabrications and the deliberate lies of the US government that changed my completely apathetic and apolitical life.

The letter which follows, believe it or not, provoked death threats against myself, my wife, my daughter, and even against my farm animals (we were breeding registered Polled Hereford cattle):

February 9, 2003
Huntsville [Alabama] Times

I believe every Times reader with access to the Internet should perform a
search for "Shock and Awe CBSNEWS" and read the text of the January 24
Evening News article in which Pentagon officials are quoted in describing
the military plans for the invasion of Iraq.

In view of the disappointing failure of the government to apprehend the
known terrorist organization leaders that it identified as the top targets of
its war on terror, the attack described in the above broadcast is a terribly
disproportionate response to a far less serious threat from Iraq.

Worst of all, the plan will do nothing to eliminate the threat of terrorism
against Americans living abroad, or even in this country. It will only
intensify and, to a large extent, justify the growing hatred of Americans
in nearly every corner of the globe.

The Bush administration needs to keep its eye on the ball.
Charles Aulds
That's it.  That's all of it.

I've shown this letter to very few people.  Most express surprise that it generated the hateful response that it did.  While the letter was only mildly critical of the government, it was a time when any criticism at all of the government's plans to launch an all out invasion of Iraq were viewed by many good "patriots" as treasonous.


I fully expected a strong reaction.  The reaction wasn't a surprise.  What surprises me, now, is that I sent the letter at all.  I was absolutely terrified to write that letter.  I had been shouted down at work (by people much younger than myself which was, itself, a surprise) for saying, "Wait, we've seen no proof those WMD yet."  I knew how strong the war fever ran; I knew that the letter would infuriate more than a few people.

I sent the letter because I felt it was the right thing to do.  To have felt that way, and to have done nothing, would've been morally wrong.  I wasn't hoping to change any minds, certainty not the course of a country that was dead-set on making war, it did not matter against whom or on what justification.  It wasn't important to me what others did; it was only important to me that I do what I knew was right.

I sent the letter, and immediately started wishing I hadn't. A lot of people who knew me would read it ... I wasn't sure I wanted that. And I couldn't be sure that my neighbors (in rural Marshall County Alabama) wouldn't burn a cross on my yard. I was terrified.  I lay awake at night in a cold sweat, wondering why I did something that I knew, without a doubt, couldn't turn out well.

The bottom line, though, was that I did it.  I was afraid to do it, but I did it anyway; and (like the Robert Frost poem says), it has made all the difference.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Populism, electoral politics, and war always strengthen the oligarchy

I'm takin' my country back! 

That's the appeal of populism ... and I admit, I understand that appeal.  I spent a year of my own life campaigning for a populist candidate for the US Presidency.  I met that candidate, personally, on the campus of a university in Huntsville, Alabama.  I was introduced to him by the state campaign committee as "a man who has done a lot for this campaign in Alabama."  I shook his hand firmly, looked him straight in the eye – which is how I was taught to judge a man's character – and I looked for the lie in that man, and didn't find it.  To this day, I believe he is honest, sincere, and trustworthy.  And those traits, alone, are what made his election an impossibility.

His campaign was used, I believe, to mobilize young voters who would eventually support an establishment candidate; one selected (probably years before) by those who hold the real power.

That's what populist candidate are for ... and to convince the voting public that the choice is really theirs.  It isn't.  The winner of the current presidential election (in my opinion, and I offer this as just my opinion) was selected a very long time ago.  The populist candidates are playing their roles ... they are preparing the way for the true candidates, who (in most cases) will appear far more "electable" than the crazies that are making headlines now.

There are populist candidates in every US election.  It's part of the process.  And they are part of the electoral system, which I believe is tightly controlled and carefully manipulated toward a pre-determined outcome.

Unless I'm mistaken, no populist candidate has won the US Presidency in our lifetimes.  And none will this year, or ever again.

Populism is a placebo.  It gives the impression that societal change can be enacted through the election process.  It's a lie.

It's a lie that the greatest achievements of any social movement (the American labor movement, for example, or the movements for black civil rights or woman's rights) were won through elections.  They were not.  They were largely won through strikes and demonstrations.  Activism, not politics.  In fact, during the period in which American labor won the most concessions from the "robber barons" of 19th century capitalism no more than 10% were represented by labor unions, which were mostly "trade unions" that protected defined classes of workers. 

Concessions were won by the working class because people refused to be divided by politics – farmers, journalists, lawyers, merchants, shopkeepers, skilled tradesmen and unskilled factory workers – they were united in one goal.  And that goal wasn't winning elections.  
It was politics that ended the greatest populist movement Americans have ever seen.  The Populists were absorbed into the Democratic Party, their message "co-opted" by the Party, and electoral politics took the place of activism.

Howard Zinn wrote about the election of 1896:

Once the Populists became allied with the Democratic party in supporting William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896, the movement would drown in a sea of Democratic politics. The pressure for electoral victory led Populism to make deals with the major parties in city after city. If the Democrats won, it would be absorbed. If the Democrats lost, it would disintegrate. Electoral polities brought into the top leadership the political brokers instead of the agrarian radicals.

In the election of 1896, with the Populist movement enticed into the Democratic party, Bryan, the Democratic candidate, was defeated by William McKinley, for whom the corporations and the press mobilized, in the first massive use of money in an election campaign. Even the hint of Populism in the Democratic party, it seemed, could not be tolerated, and the big guns of the Establishment pulled out all their ammunition, to make sure.

And always, as a way of drowning class resentment in a flood of slogans for national unity, there was patriotism.

McKinley had said, in a rare rhetorical connection between money and flag:

This year is going to be a year of patriotism and devotion to country.
I am glad to know that the people in every part of the country mean
to be devoted to one flag, the glorious Stars and Stripes; that the
people of this country mean to maintain the financial honor of the
country as sacredly as they maintain the honor of the flag.

The supreme act of patriotism was war. Two years after McKinley became President, the United States declared war on Spain.
From: A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, 1980, revised 2010

Elections (and appeals to nationalism) are a remarkably effective way to keep Americans divided against one another, and to keep their focus off of their real and common enemy.   Elections never fail to achieve that objective.  The next 9 months will bear witness to that. 

I've been duped in the past; but I can tell you this:  Electoral politics won't waste any more of my time, energy, and resources. 

Vote in one hand, crap in the other.