“The Conversation”

May 30, 2018
It’s easy to tease Starbucks for its response to the despicable behavior of a store manager in Philadelphia weeks ago who called the cops on two men sitting and talking. Two Black men who were promptly cuffed and arrested for the crime of sitting and talking together while Black. Closing thousands of stores for a few hours so employees could got through an “anti-bias training” can be written off as PR. OK, it was that in part, but compare that response to the autocratic owners of the National Football League teams—“Shut up and play ball”—and note the difference. I think Starbucks’ move did something more, and a lot of folks did in fact engage.
Two notes:
1) This is not “the beginning” of the conversation—the conversation about race in this land began in 1492, and took a sharp turn in 1619, another in 1865, and on and on: 1954, 1956, 1968, 2008, 2016, 2017, 2018. So while not the start, the conversation continues, as it should. Join in.
2) Bias, bigotry, stupid and prejudiced thinking and behavior should be discussed, understood, and opposed. But that’s no substitute for working to disrupt and destroy the well-spring of bigotry: the SYSTEM of white supremacy itself.
If you want to be an anti-racist person for real, join the movement against mass incarceration and for prison abolition, against militarized and occupying police forces and for community control of the cops, against school segregation and school closings and for liberatory education as a human right…and on and on.

On Death and Dying

May 30, 2018

“You can think of death bitterly or with resignation … and take every possible measure to postpone it. Or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and seize it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us.” Barbara Ehrenreich

Memorial Day (continued)

May 28, 2018
A pervasive and frantically promoted proposition that runs loose in the land is that being a military powerhouse makes the United States (and people everywhere) safe, protects freedoms, and is a force for peace and democracy in a threatening, dangerous, and hostile world. It’s not true—not even close—but it has a huge and sticky hold on our imaginations.
When a random US politician tells antiwar protestors picketing a town hall meeting, “It’s because of the sacrifices our troops are making in [fill in the blank: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya, the “Middle East,” Korea, Panama, or wherever turns out to be next] that you have the freedom to stand here and speak out,” they’re tapping into that stuttering cliché. When a retired general speaks confidently at a televised congressional hearing, explaining to the credulous audience that the “enemy can be defeated” if only the Pentagon would be granted more funds to purchase more weapons, and then given greater leeway in their deployment and use, he’s issuing the same unexamined and banal truism. When a talking head tells us it’s unfortunate that US economic strength rides on oil, a resource that “happens to come from a nasty neighborhood,” but it’s “a blessing” we have the power to police that part of the world, they’re doing the same thing. And when folks across the political spectrum express public gratitude and support for “our fighting men and women overseas,” while refusing to send their own children into those same wars or harboring serious private doubts about the wisdom, purpose, and execution of whatever US adventure is currently in play, they too are situated in that wide open field of received wisdom and diminishing options.
What if we challenged these instances of hypocrisy and defensive dogma, and insisted that there are more honest and straightforward ways to support US military men and women? What if we demanded their immediate decommission and return home, and insisted that they be provided excellent medical and psychological care, good jobs, affordable housing, and the best available educational opportunities—the things every human be- ing deserves? What if we spoke up in the face of that woolly politician and asked him to draw a straight line between free speech and the specific invasion he’s now supporting and explicitly (or at least implicitly) defending? What if we locked arms as we built a growing wave of peace advocates, anticipating and opposing the next aggression, and the next?
The history of US military actions is a history of conquest and genocide from the start and chaos and catastrophe ever since: invading and occupying Vietnam and then intentionally expanding that war into neighboring Laos and Cambodia as retribution for the US defeat, a disaster that cost the lives of six thousand people every week for ten years; unleashing a massive shock-and-awe attack on Iraq in 2003 that led to the breakup of that nation and the rise of several reactionary fundamentalist and terrorist formations including ISIS; orchestrating a fifty-year campaign to destabilize and topple the Cuban government; propping up nasty regimes from medieval Saudi Arabia to apartheid South Africa; overthrowing elected presidents in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973; instigating constant civil unrest in Venezuela including a successful if short-lived coup in 2002; supporting the communist purge and the genocide that followed in Indonesia in the mid-1960s; participating in the murders of the African freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba in Congo in 1961, the Moroccan anti-imperialist Mehdi Ben Barka in Paris in 1965, the internationalist Che Guevara in Bolivia 1967, and the anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral in Guinea-Bissau in 1973; exporting billions of dollars in arms to Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, and reactionary regimes and right-wing subversives the world around. As busy and ambitious as this looks, it’s only the tip of a menacing mega-iceberg, an emblematic list as opposed to an exhaustive survey.
In any case, the swirling vortex of ruin obscures for many North Americans a central source and seed of this overwhelming maelstrom of hostility and bloodshed: the indefensible relationship between the United States and its chief client, Israel. Israel, as everyone knows, was established in 1948 by a people who had experienced the lash of anti-Semitism for centuries, and the immediate colossal horrors of the Holocaust in Europe. What’s often conveniently understated or downplayed in the US, however, is that while understandably wanting to create a refuge for themselves, the founders of the state of Israel dislodged the indigenous inhabitants and destroyed their society, forcing them to become displaced persons and refugees or second-class citizens in their own land ever since.
With generous and unwavering support from the United States, its protector, enabler, and big brother, Israel has flouted UN resolutions and international law—including nuclear agreements, the Geneva conventions, and the “laws of war”—seized Palestinian land and zealously supported the settler movement in the occupied territories with infrastructure and violent force. Israel would stand completely alone in the world if not for the dysfunctional relationship it clings to with the United States— from which it gains billions of dollars in military aid alone.
The Palestinians have the ongoing misfortune of being the victims of the twentieth century’s most notable victims—whose exceptional suffering at the hands of the Nazis is consistently trotted out to justify Israel’s own crimes against humanity. Reactionaries who dream of a Greater Israel, a Promised Land stretching from the Nile to the Euphrates, plot and organize the elimination of all Palestinians one way or another. Under the banner of agony and pain, Israel unleashes murderous military attacks and conducts massive ethnic cleansing campaigns. And yet the reality on the ground is that the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews are so intertwined that there is no separation between them except for the separation of apartheid—two populations living in one land, unequal today, but not necessarily forever.
Justice and democracy do not belong to war; on the contrary, each is easily injured and quickly exterminated in its furnaces. John Dewey observed that “All nations, even those professedly the most democratic” are compelled in war “to turn authoritarian and totalitarian.”1 We can see the wreckage all around us: omnivorous national security and surveillance; the abrogation of privacy and civil liberties; the wide use of mass incarceration; the banality of torture, domestically and internationally; and the undermining of tolerance everywhere. Historically, law and rights yield in the face of war: Abraham Lincoln’s famous suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War; the Palmer Raids following World War I; the mass arrests and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II; illegal imprisonment as policy today. These moves are all defended by the war-makers as necessary during wartime.

On Memorial Day: replace national patriotism with human solidarity

May 27, 2018
Notice this year how the concept of patriotism has been lashed with unbreakable cords to the business of war-making. To be a true patriot, you must genuflect at the alter of war— just ask the good-hearted folks at NPR (National Pentagon Radio).
But in reality, however you start and wherever you look, patriotism is elusive, and always entangled in context—historical flow, cultural surround, political perspective. It’s a wobbly concept at best, debatable and necessarily occupying a contested space—the young students of Parkland, Florida stare over a barricade at the irascible NRA leadership, each claiming the shiny mantle of patriotism; National Football League team owners lock out Colin Kaepernick, and decree (in the name of patriotism) that players must stand respectfully during the playing of the National Anthem, mistaking a forced display of patriotism for the thing itself rather than what it actually is: a long-standing hallmark of authoritarianism and autocracy.
The instinct and desire to belong to something larger than oneself—a people, say, or a singular nation—is common; the longing for membership in a distinctive group with clear boundaries and stable expectations is clear. I don’t underestimate the sense of pleasure and solace that accompanies an embrace of patriotism, and I find the enthusiasm for a tribal identity, while troubling, understandable. But the pitfalls of patriotism are everywhere, and at some point those hazards must be honestly faced.
To begin, patriotism is not, and cannot aspire to be, a universal moral code like “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” say, or “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Patriotism is always local, and it can never, therefore, express a general principle or a common human aspiration. After all, if everyone on earth claimed tomorrow to be a patriot of their current country of residence, 20% of the world’s people would be Chinese patriots, and 4.4% would be patriotic Americans.
When Mayor Rudy Giuliani was asked if waterboarding human beings constitutes torture, he offered a patriotic/nationalist response: “It depends on who does it.” In his own mind, he was surely acting as a textbook patriot, supporting the country and offering a rigorous defense against enemies or detractors. But note: actions are held to be good in some hands, and bad in others depending solely on who commits the outrage. Torture, assassinations, bombing civilians, forced confessions, invasion and occupation, involuntary servitude, hostage-taking, imprisonment without trial—all of this and more is judged according to the patriot/nationalist by a single criteria: who did it? Patriotism, then, dulls the imagination, obscures reality, anesthetizes some people, and causes moral blindness or ethical amnesia in others.
James Baldwin pointed out that the “American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians…[Our] tendency has really been…to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.” White identity politics has always called itself simply “American.”
“If we have to use force,” former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright famously said, “it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation.” A benign interpretation of that extravagant claim might visualize the country as a shining city on the hill, paragon of democracy and freedom; a more execrable interpretation might see the US astride the world like Colossus, holding itself exempt from international agreements like the international criminal court and the Paris climate accords, above the laws that govern others, particularly concerning the use of lethal force.
Because we are the very model of virtue and righteousness, our actions are always good; because our actions are always good, we are not subject to the ordinary rules that apply to all others—we are the indispensable nation. So while Russian meddling in US elections is widely seen as outrageous (and it is), US meddling in elections from Honduras to Ukraine to Cyprus to Venezuela is, if we bother even to notice, not so bad. The naked narcissism is breath-taking.
Patriotism promises a steady anchor and a convenient road map, but in reality it’s entirely unstable. Anyone wrapped in the flag or donning the crown of patriotism would be well-advised to pause before being lulled into a sense of settled comfort, or a fuzzy feeling of self-righteousness. The wheel turns and people stumble into the vortex of a dynamic, living history, the crown suddenly tarnished or askew, and they are, then, required to make choices without guarantees or easy agreement.
All human beings are indigenous to planet Earth. There is, therefore, no such thing as a foreigner, no naturally bounded nation. We might work, then, to replace national patriotism with human solidarity—sin fronteras.

Lenin on Self-Determination

May 26, 2018

The proletariat cannot be victorious except through democracy, i.e., by giving full effect to democracy and by linking with each step of its struggle democratic demands formulated in the most resolute terms…While capitalism exists, these demands—all of them—can only be accomplished as an exception, and even then in an incomplete and distorted form. Basing ourselves on the democracy already achieved, and exposing its incompleteness under capitalism, we demand the overthrow of capitalism, the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as a necessary basis both for the abolition of the poverty of the masses and for the complete and all-round institution of all democratic reforms.

~~Lenin on Self-Determination (1915)

Democracy and capitalism are in fatal conflict, and the contradictions are clearer and clearer in the contemporary US: the militarization of domestic police forces accompanied by unsustainable military expansion around the world; mass incarceration and the criminalizing of whole communities; permanent war; political power in the hands of a tiny super-rich cabal; rampant corruption and political paralysis; an economy (casino/disaster/zombie/crony capitalism) built on gambling, collecting rents, and debt; crumbling infrastructure; chronic underemployment and unemployment; galloping income disparity; the eclipse of the public and the selling off of the public space to the highest bidder (or the closest and most genial family member); massive poverty, hunger, and homelessness as a choice by power in the richest country in the world.

Our fight is for full democracy—political, economic, international—not the mangled, disfigured “democracy” we see all around us.

Let the people decide!

“Americans Who Tell the Truth”

May 26, 2018

Contact: Robert Shetterly, 207-326-8459 (robert@americanswhotellthetruth.org)

“Americans Who Tell the Truth” is excited to announce a public event to honor Bob Koehler with an unveiling of Robert Shetterly’s new portrait of him at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, Chicago, on June 16, from 2 pm to 4 pm.

Long-time, award-winning Chicago writer Bob Koehler describes himself as a peace journalist: a journalist who believes in tearing back the status quo and reporting the complex—the human—story behind the news. To a peace journalist, love is complex and violence is simplistic, and it is the journalist’s duty to report a story in its complexity, to look for the path toward healing in every conflict. He calls his columns prayers described as op-eds.

On his website, commonwonders.com, he writes: “Nonviolent response to conflict is, simply put, the foundation of civilization, is it not? Conflict — between and among people, between species, with our planet and universe — is inevitable. Violent response belittles the conflict, shatters the complexity, perpetuates the problem, endangers the innocent and often blows up in our faces. But violence is an industry, shrouded in mythology and consensus. Working to undo the mythology of violence is the most responsible act a writer can commit. We can’t dehumanize others without doing the same to ourselves.”

He has devoted his career—forty-plus years as a reporter, editor, syndicated columnist and teacher—to empowering readers and students alike, to find their voices, to participate in the creative process of social evolution, which begins with speaking and writing the truth.

The “Americans Who Tell the Truth+ portraits, now numbering over 235, travel to schools, colleges, museums, churches and libraries all over the United States to promote engaged and courageous citizenship. “Bob Koehler’s portrait will be a great addition to this project,” Shetterly says. “I know of no greater contemporary writer and no greater source of wisdom for how we must think of ourselves in relation to one another and to the future if we want to survive in a healthy and humane way on this planet. Bob Koehler is surely guilty of that most responsible act a writer can commit—compassionate, courageous, peace-loving sanity.”

At the unveiling Robert Shetterly will introduce Bob and together they will unveil the portrait ,and then Bob will speak.

Please visit http://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org to get an idea of the scope of this project, and to see the company of portraits Bob Koehler will be joining.

Healthcare Under the Knife

May 25, 2018