Author Archive

NH early Spring – posted 4/15/2021

April 16, 2021 1 comment
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Holocaust ignorance and denial open the gateway to authoritarianism – posted 4/13/2021

April 13, 2021 2 comments

April 8 was Holocaust Remembrance Day but we, as a society, seem to be doing a poor job remembering. Possibly readers saw the results of that survey that showed two-thirds of young Americans are unaware that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. More than one in ten believed Jews caused the Holocaust.

The survey from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany had other shocking findings. 12% of survey respondents did not recognize the term “holocaust”. Only 44% were familiar with Auschwitz. 36% believed two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

And I think this ignorance is not limited to young Americans. According to Pew Research Center data from 2020, older adults display only slightly higher levels of Holocaust knowledge.

Internationally, the news is also bad. Surveys in France, Austria and Canada also showed major gaps in awareness of historical facts and knowledge of the Holocaust.

This ignorance is not just some abstract evil. Fascism and authoritarianism thrive on destruction of historical memory. After 1945, the news of Hitler’s gas chambers and his extermination camps created a massive obstacle in the path of fascist resurrection. The horrors were so awful that no one in their right mind would go down that road and want such hideous results again.

The fascist project requires burying the past, obscuring and dimming memory. Academic holocaust deniers had very limited success as few paid attention. The passage of time and alt-right propaganda on the internet are what currently assist Holocaust denial. The decline of historical awareness about the Holocaust has meant less neo-fascist compulsion to explain away the unparalleled 1940’s atrocities. The Holocaust is more likely to be dismissed as ancient history rather than something that must be refuted.

Now 76 years later, with forgetting gaining ground on remembering, the question arises: how many people would recognize fascism in their own society if they lack knowledge of its historical legacy? Considering the spread of authoritarian regimes around the world, the question has international relevance.

Fascists and authoritarians may call themselves something else inoffensive and euphemistic. They may weaken and decimate human rights without waving swastika flags.

For countries transforming from democracy to authoritarianism, there is a process of change that occurs. Nazi Germany did not begin with the industrialization of mass death. That only came after years of dehumanization and demonization of the Jews.

In 1920, in its program, the German Nazi Party proposed revoking citizenship rights of Jews. They also proposed removal of Jews from positions in public employment and deportation of those Jews who had entered Germany after the outbreak of World War One.

Hitler unsuccessfully tried to overthrow the German government in 1923. His putsch, carried out in Munich, failed. After a trial for treason, he spent a year in jail where he began work on Mein Kampf.

The fortunes of Hitler and the Nazis dramatically changed with the coming of the Great Depression. The Weimar government failed to respond to the massive unemployment, homelessness, and starvation in Germany. Speaking to the misery, Hitler became known all over the country because of his mass rallies. Radio, then a new medium, greatly contributed to his rise. Hitler’s speeches were broadcast live to dozens of countries.

For Hitler, the Jews were Germany’s principal adversary. He falsely claimed Germany was defeated in World War One because of a secret coalition between Jews and leftists. The stab-in-the-back legend was promoted by the German military high command that wanted to shift blame away from themselves. Hitler and the Nazis carried it farther with the wilder lie that there was an international Jewish conspiracy that intended to exterminate the Aryan race.

After he became chancellor in 1933, the Nazi Party organized a boycott of Jewish stores and Jewish judges were dragged out of court. Hitler demanded the removal of all Jewish civil servants and disbarment of all Jewish lawyers. Two years later, he followed with the drafting of a law depriving Jews of citizenship and another law barring intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.

All these steps happened a few years before Kristallnacht and years more before the implementation of the Final Solution. Each fascist step prepared the way for the next.

America now has its own authoritarianism problem. In the balance between democracy and authoritarianism, former President Trump tipped the scales toward authoritarianism. He had been shattering democratic norms for four years as he abused public power for private gain. The January 6 insurrection was the culmination of his anti-democratic efforts to overturn a fair election and install himself as dictator.

The authoritarian narrative is wrapped in delusion. Republicans were allegedly the victim of voter fraud. Trump had the election stolen from him by that fraud. Because of the Big Lie of voter fraud, we need new laws to restrict voting to protect the integrity of elections. So we need new laws to protect against something that never happened.

In this narrative, undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter and Antifa play the adversary role the Jews played in Germany. Hate is also stirred up against Asian-Americans and easy-to-pick-on minorities like transgender youth.

Just as happened in Germany, our authoritarians see the past as a burden that must be shed. Instead of historical honesty, we must have patriotic education with no 1619 project. Genocide against Native Americans and slavery and its legacy must be minimized and airbrushed away. Republicans prohibit the study of critical race theory without understanding what it is. They want to protect students from learning about the ways racism persists in America.

Fortunately, we do not have to presently deal with any genocidal regime like the Nazis. In saying this, I do not belittle Trump’s crimes like family separation and putting children in cages. It is not however in the league of the Nazis. Still, we have learned the fragility of our democracy.

I believe Holocaust education should be mandated in all states as a part of civics education. A number of states including New Hampshire have done that. These states require all school districts to teach their students about the Holocaust and genocide. That can only help the cause of democracy.

It remains to be seen whether Trump’s loss last year will be like the Hitler putsch, a temporary reversal on the road to authoritarianism.


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Chevron’s kill shot against Attorney Steven Donziger – posted 4/6/2021

April 6, 2021 Leave a comment

In our era, there is no bigger global villain than fossil fuel companies. In pursuit of private profit, they poison delicate ecosystems and supercharge climate change. They have done more than any other entity to ruin the planet. Our dependence on fossil fuel is the ultimate Faustian bargain.

For whatever reason, though, and it is easy to speculate why, our mass media has turned away from looking at the destruction fossil fuel companies have wrought.

One under-reported example is Chevron Corporation’s massive pollution of the Ecuadoran rain forest. The oil company, previously Texaco, dumped at least 16 billion gallons of toxic waste in an area inhabited by indigenous people and rural farmers. Between 1972 and 1992, Texaco left almost a thousand pits of toxic oil waste all over the rain forest in what had previously been a pristine environment.

The oil contamination polluted the soil and poisoned the water. Indigenous people have faced and continue to face an epidemic of cancer, birth defects, miscarriages and other oil-related illnesses. The pump-and-dump operations polluted 1,700 square miles of land. It began in the 1960’s when Texaco began drilling there. Chevron bought Texaco in 2000.

The company chose to dispose of its wastes by dumping a combination of drilling muds, “formation water” and actual crude oil into unlined pits. This was a method Texas had outlawed as far back as 1969. They also released billions of gallons of oil-laced “produced” waters straight into streams and lakes. This method was contrary to standard American procedures which requires potentially toxic compounds to be reinjected deep underground.

Texaco agreed to remediate at least part of the pollution but Ecuadorans were outraged by what they saw as a sellout by their own government.

In 1993, environmental lawyers filed suit in New York on behalf of 30,000 indigenous people in Ecuador. The oil company challenged jurisdiction for years and in 2003, proceedings got moved back to Ecuador. Then the oil company challenged jurisdiction there. They favored no place for jurisdiction. They hired hundreds of lawyers to fight the litigation, filing endless motions to delay and defeat the case.

In 2011, the environmental lawyers won the case in Ecuador and Chevron was originally ordered to pay $19 billion in damages. The decision has been affirmed by multiple appellate courts in Ecuador and Canada including the Ecuador Supreme Court, Ecuador Constitutional Court and Canada’s Supreme Court. An appellate court in Ecuador did reduce the verdict to $9.5 billion in damages. However, rather than pay the judgment, Chevron responded by suing the lawyers who had pursued the case.

One particular target of Chevron was Steven Donziger, a human rights lawyer from New York. Chevron sued Donziger for $60 billion, the largest potential personal liability in American history. Donziger was part of the team of lawyers, including Ecuadoran lawyers, who won the judgment against Chevron.

Because of Donziger’s effectiveness, Chevron decided to make Donziger’s life a living hell. They pursued a strategy of demonizing Donziger to avoid their liability. Chevron filed a series of post-judgment motions to try to hold Donziger in civil contempt based on the theory that he was not allowed to raise third-party litigation financing on behalf of his Ecuadoran clients so they could enforce their judgment outside the United States.

Since 2011, Chevron also indulged in a series of hyper-aggressive, retaliatory SLAPP suits against Donziger. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation. Such lawsuits are designed to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with extraordinary costs.

Among the lawsuits, Chevron sued Donziger under a civil provision of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act. Federal Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, a pro-corporate jurist, who refused to look at the scientific evidence in the original case, ruled the initial verdict was the result of fraud, a holding contrary to three appellate courts. He ordered Donziger to pay millions in attorney fees to Chevron and ordered him to turn over decades of client communications.

It should be noted that Chevron’’s star witness was a disgraced former Ecuadoran judge who lost his position because of corruption. Chevron spent $2 million on moving him and his family to the United States. Chevron’s lawyers rehearsed his testimony 53 times. Subsequently the witness has admitted to lying about his interactions with Donziger.

Chevron went totally over the top when it demanded unfettered access to Donziger’s computers, cellphones and reams of privileged and confidential information. No ethical lawyer would ever comply with something like that and Donziger did not. As a result though, Judge Kaplan charged Donziger with criminal contempt of court for disputing a discovery order.

Judge Kaplan asked the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York to prosecute the criminal contempt. That office declined. Judge Kaplan then took the highly unusual step of appointing a team of attorneys from Seward and Kissel, a private firm that had an ongoing attorney-client relationship with Chevron, to prosecute the criminal contempt in the name of the government.

As if this was not bad enough, things spiraled downward. Kaplan bypassed the usual random-case assignment procedure of the federal judiciary and handpicked a judge to hear the contempt case. The judge, a member of the Federalist Society, a powerful far right legal organization, refused Donziger’s request to have his trial heard by a jury of his peers.

Donziger’s contempt charge is a misdemeanor, a petty charge with a maximum sentence of six months in prison. His trial is slated to begin on May 10. Under the contempt, he has now been held under house arrest for over 600 days, while being forced to wear an ankle bracelet. The judge has deemed Donziger a flight risk.

Under the terms of his sentence, Donziger can only leave his home for specific reasons like legal meetings, medical appointments or school events for his son. He must get 48 hours advance permission from a pretrial services officer for such events and he must go to a specific address and return back by a specific time.

No lawyer convicted of contempt in New York has ever been held for more than 90 days in home confinement. Yet, on March 29, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Donziger’s motion to be released on bail while awaiting trial for contempt. They did, however, throw out Judge Kaplan’s main contempt finding.

Donziger also faces being disbarred. His law license was suspended in 2018 without a hearing based on Kaplan’s findings in the contempt case. He is now fighting to get his law license reinstated. In February a referee for the New York Bar Association, John Horan, ruled in Donziger’s favor, recommending that his law license be restored. That decision must now be reviewed by a New York state court. Horan said,

“The extent of (Donziger’s) pursuit by Chevron is so extravagant, and at this point so unnecessary and punitive, (that) while not a factor in my recommendation (it) is nonetheless background to it.”

Chevron’s strategy against Donziger has been called the kill shot. The case has not received attention. However, 55 Nobel Prize laureates recently announced their demand for freedom for Donziger as well as demanding that Chevron face justice for its Amazon pollution.

What we have here is an out-of-control corporation using its vast resources to persecute a human rights lawyer. The corporate message is both clear and chilling: cross us and you will pay, hugely.

Two retired federal judges, Nancy Gertner and Mark Bennett, took the step of publishing a critique of the still-pending criminal case against Donziger. They have called it “excessive” and “deeply troubling”. Human rights and environmental justice organizations, including Amazon Watch and Amnesty International, have written the new Attorney General Merrick Garland and have asked him to review and investigate Chevron’s mis-use of the legal system.

This story is the ultimate in vindictiveness: Chevron was whipped by human rights lawyers and they have counter-attacked to avoid paying the judgment they lost. They want to destroy the idea that indigenous people can hold an oil company accountable. When a corporation is as wealthy as Chevron, the question remains: can there ever be any corporate accountability? That question remains unanswered.

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The racist history of the filibuster – posted 3/30/2021

March 30, 2021 1 comment

There is no doubt that Senator Mitch McConnell is a shrewd political operator. Winning at all costs is his signature approach to politics. But I have to say I was surprised by his response to a reporter’s question on March 23 about the filibuster. McConnell responded:

“It has no racial history. None. There’s no dispute about that.”

Possibly McConnell was talking about the origins of the filibuster but what he said was absolutely misleading. Historically, the filibuster has been the primary device used by Southern senators to block civil rights legislation dating back 100 years.

The filibuster, a Senate rule that now creates a 60 vote threshold for major legislation, is a procedural maneuver which allows a minority to stop almost all legislation. It is highly ironic that Republicans now tout the filibuster as protecting minority rights because its history is as a racist tool of white supremacy.

The most famous filibuster ever was the filibuster over the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It went on for 60 days. The Civil Rights Act protected voting rights, banned discrimination in public facilities and enforced equal opportunity in employment.

In the debate, Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia spoke for over 14 hours. At the time, the Senate needed a two-thirds vote to cut off a filibuster on a civil rights bill. That was one of the very rare occasions where the Senate obtained a vote for cloture to end a filibuster so there could be a vote on the bill itself.

In 1957, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina staged the longest continuous filibuster in U.S. history. He spoke for over 24 hours to prevent the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, a bill designed to protect the rights of African Americans to vote. In this instance, Thurmond failed, as the bill passed two hours after his speaking marathon.

Probably the most insidious racist use of the filibuster was its use against anti-lynching bills that came before Congress. Over several decades, starting just before 1920, Congress would consider nearly 200 anti-lynching bills. Not one bill ever passed nor did they get votes on the merits. The filibuster was the main tool preventing a vote on all civil rights bills. Writing in the Atlantic, David Litt described the Senate obstruction:

“First, to slow the proceedings, they demanded that the Senate journal be read out loud each day in full, something technically required by the chamber’s rules but rarely enforced. Then the filibusterers began offering amendments to the journal during the reading. These could be as meaningless as inserting a senator’s middle name or changing a single word in a speech. Yet the vote on each of these amendments could be filibustered.”

The problem for the anti-lynching side was that the filibuster sidetracked all other legislative priorities. Consistently, senators ended up caving in and giving up on anti-lynching bills. They did not want to sacrifice all other priorities.

There was awareness in Congress about lynching. Thousands of African-Americans were lynched in the 1890’s. Between 1901 and 1929, more than 1200 African-Americans were lynched in the South. The NAACP led the anti-lynching legislative campaign. Their report, “Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1919”, educated the public.

The anti-lynching campaign was led by NAACP Executive Secretary James Weldon Johnson and Atlanta civil rights activist Walter White. Rep. Leonidas Dyer, a Congressman from St. Louis, first brought an anti-lynching bill forward in 1918. Dyer argued that lynching and state’s refusal to prosecute the perpetrators violated victims’ Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Advocates were never able to overcome Southern parliamentary maneuvers, including threats that the filibuster would shut down all Senate business.

In 2005, the Senate formally apologized for its failure to enact anti-lynching legislation. The resolution noted that 99% of all perpetrators of lynching escaped from punishment by state or local officials. The resolution did not mention the role of the filibuster which was the procedural mechanism utilized to avoid even a vote on anti-lynching bills.

The filibuster was also used to obstruct bills outlawing use of the poll tax in Southern states. Millions of African-Americans and poor whites in the South were disenfranchised. In the 1940 election, in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina 264,419 votes were cast out of a population of 9,300,000. Huge numbers could not afford to vote.

In 1946, the Senate came close to passing anti-poll tax legislation but a cloture vote on the filibuster which then required a two-thirds supermajority failed. The bill never got a vote.

The poll tax lasted until 1964 when it was ended by a constitutional amendment.

The filibuster idea goes back to 1790 when Senators from Virginia and South Carolina filibustered to prevent the location of the first Congress in Philadelphia. Possibly this is what Sen. McConnell was referring to because the filibuster had use beyond race. It is also possible that McConnell was referring to Sen. John Calhoun’s actions in 1841 when Calhoun organized opposition to the chartering of the U.S. Bank. Still, Calhoun, a staunch defender of slavery, used the filibuster to protect Southern interests.

The fact that the filibuster had other utilities beyond race does not erase its extensive use for over 100 years to reinforce racism in the American way of life. It has been used in the service of our most dishonorable tradition.

The Democrats should ignore McConnell’s threats about how filibuster reform would produce “nuclear winter”. The filibuster has an ignoble history, thwarting civil rights legislation. It has zero constitutional foundation. It is simply a clever device blocking majority rule. The idea Democrats could get 60 votes for any of their legislative goals is an impossible dream. If the Democrats want to realize any part of their agenda beyond the Rescue Plan, they must end the filibuster.

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Spring thaw – posted 3/26/2021

March 26, 2021 Leave a comment

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History shows another way to look at the events of January 6 – posted 3/23/2021

March 23, 2021 Leave a comment

After the events of January 6, most media commentary highlighted the uniqueness of an attack on the U.S. Capitol. The War of 1812, when the British attacked Washington DC, was often cited as the best parallel.

I would like to suggest a different way of looking at January 6. In American history, white mob violence has recurred when white supremacists have believed they were losing political control of the government. These mobs have been unwilling to accept multiracial democracy and, in the past, their violence worked successfully to restore white power. This pattern has gone on for over 150 years.

Republicans have tried to downplay January 6 and simply want the public to get over it. Some Republicans argue they did nothing wrong. Many Democrats have seen the January 6 insurrectionists as victims of Trumpian misinformation. Neither of these perspectives offer a clear lens on January 6.

Before January 6, Trump had argued the presidential election was stolen. His claim was that he was a victim of voter fraud. Trump and his lawyers particularly mentioned voter fraud in large metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Detroit. These were all big cities in swing states with high concentrations of African-American voters.

The narrative of the former president was that he got legitimate votes and that Biden got votes that were not legitimate. Trump’s inference was that African-American votes should not have been counted or were counted wrongly.

The insurrection was about stopping or delaying certification of Biden’s election as President which was slated to happen on January 6. It is hard to forget the Confederate flags paraded inside the Capitol or the gallows and noose constructed outside.

Trump’s arguments are the exact same arguments white supremacists repeatedly have made since the later part of the 19th century during and after Reconstruction. Preventing African-American votes has been a long-time central goal. While Trump did not win this time, the actions of his supporters were absolutely consistent with the white supremacist use of mob violence to overturn election results.

After the Civil War, Black Americans in the South served both in Congress and in state legislatures. Black Republicans and their white allies formed a fusionist politics that was defeating white supremacists at the polls. Unwilling to accept electoral defeat, white supremacist forces resorted to mob violence.

The Ku Klux Klan first emerged in the late 1860’s to oppose politically active Blacks and their white allies. The Klan was followed by other paramilitary groups like the Red Shirts and the White League. Voter intimidation and making it impossible for Black people to vote was their main project.

White mob violence forced African-Americans and their white allies out of power. The South returned to control by white supremacists and the South came under effective one party totalitarian rule. Black people lost almost all their rights for another 100 years. Poor whites also suffered under the rule of the Southern white power aristocracy.

As noted, the subjugation of African-Americans in the South during and after Reconstruction was extremely violent. In 1876, white supremacists in South Carolina faced a daunting challenge. To quote Benjamin Tillman, a white leader:

“In my state there were 135,000 negro voters or negroes of voting age, and some 90,000 or 95,000 white voters. With a free vote and a fair count, how are you going to beat 135,000 by 95,000? How are you going to do it?”

The solution for the South Carolina white supremacists was seizure of the government through mob violence. A straight-up democratic election was unthinkable as the numbers dictated certain loss.

Near Hamburg, South Carolina, a place of Black political power, whites staged a confrontation with Black soldiers. They went to court to seek a court order to take away the Black soldiers’ guns. When these Black soldiers refused to disarm, a much larger white mob attacked, killing seven Black men. The event became known as the Hamburg massacre. The attack was organized by the Red Shirts, a white supremacist group.

As the 1876 presidential election approached, white terror attacks increased. The white minority in South Carolina stuffed ballot boxes and terrorized Black voters to prevent voting. Democrats took over the state government. The federal government had earlier sent troops into the South to crush the Klan but that willingness declined later in Reconstruction.

Events similar to what happened in Hamburg, South Carolina played out in other parts of the South after the Civil War. In Memphis, Tennessee, Colfax Louisiana, and New Orleans, white mobs rampaged. There was an epidemic of organized raids, lynchings, beatings and burnings.

At the same time, white supremacists organized propaganda campaigns to denigrate Black-led governments in the South. The Black-led governments were labelled corrupt and Blacks were stereotyped as lazy and inept.

The Equal Justice Initiative documented 4075 racial terror lynchings in the Southern states between 1877-1950. Lynching was a widely supported practice used to enforce racial subordination. These events were tolerated by both state and federal authorities. In the period of the late 19th and early 20th century, white mob violence took the form of lynching. Lynchings were often public events where Black people were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking crowds.

All the former Confederate states also instituted poll taxes in the period after the Civil War. Poll taxes were a powerful barrier blocking voting by both African-Americans and poor whites. Poll taxes remained legal until 1964 when the 24th amendment was ratified. In addition, many states instituted literacy tests. Such tests remained legal until 1965 when they were prohibited under the Voting Rights Act.

Until the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, Jim Crow ruled and Blacks were utterly disenfranchised. Since the 1960’s, voter suppression has continued through felon disenfranchisement, voter ID laws, reducing polling places and early voting and making it harder to vote by mail.

The insurrection of January 6 was just one battle in a very long war between the forces of white supremacy and people of all races and nationalities who seek a multiracial democracy. White supremacy largely represented by the Republican Party now remains determined to suppress voting as a means to maintain their minority rule.

According to the Brennan Center, since Trump’s defeat, Republican lawmakers have proposed 250 voter-restriction bills in 43 states. This is modern-day Jim Crow. In addition to voter suppression, they rely on gerrymandering, dark money and control of the courts. In Orwellian fashion, Republicans are calling their efforts to make it harder to vote “voter integrity”.

In his book, Black Reconstruction in America, W.E.B. Dubois wrote, “the slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, then moved back again toward slavery”. The insurrectionists of January 6 and the Republican Party are the modern-day forces trying to take away our moment in the sun.

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Racism against Asian-Americans is a sickness – posted 3/16/2021

March 16, 2021 Leave a comment

When President Joe Biden delivered his first prime-time speech about the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, he condemned attacks on Asian-Americans. The attacks have occurred with frequency over the last year and have included physical assaults, vandalism, verbal harassment and murder.

Elderly Asian-Americans and women have particularly been targeted. In the Bay Area, in February, Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84 year old immigrant from Thailand was brutally assaulted and shoved to the ground while on a morning walk. He sustained brain hemorrhaging and died.

In April last year, a 39 year old Asian-American woman was doused with a caustic chemical as she took out trash in front of her home in Brooklyn New York. She sustained severe burns to her face, neck, hands and back.

The advocacy organization, Stop Asian American Pacific Islander Hate, logged 2808 first hand accounts of hostile and violent incidents directed against Asian-Americans between March 19, 2020 -December 31, 2020. These occurred in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Examples of the violence abound:

A 67 year old Asian-American man from San Francisco was standing in an aisle in a hardware store when suddenly he was struck from behind. Video surveillance at the store verified the incident in which a white male used his bent elbow to strike the man’s upper back. The white guy launched a verbal tirade saying “Shut up, you Monkey!”, “F— you, Chinaman”, “Go back to China” and “Stop bringing the Chinese virus here”.

On March 9, a stranger approached an 83 year old Asian-American woman who was walking on a sidewalk near her home in Westchester, New York. The stranger cocked his head and then spit in her face. He then punched her in the nose, knocking her unconscious and causing extensive bleeding.

On February 3, another stranger approached a 61 year old Filipino-American, Noel Quintana, on the New York City subway and slashed his face from cheek to cheek with a box cutter. “Nobody came, nobody helped, nobody made a video”, he said.

While it is hard to know what is going on in the mind of those carrying out the assaults, there is now a well-established pattern directed against Asian-Americans. Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of the Asian-American Federation, a collection of New York City non-profits, has said “The attacks are random and they are fast and furious.”

For many urban Asian-Americans, the effects of the attacks are tangible. People are afraid to leave their homes. They are afraid to go to the grocery store or to travel alone on public transportation. They change their travel route out of fear. Peoples’ sense of personal safety has been eroded.

Another dimension is the racist bullying of Asian-American youth during the pandemic. More Asian-American children have stayed home as they have also been targets of harassment, shunning and cyberbullying.

While America has a long xenophobic tradition with extensive scapegoating of Asians in the past, I think former President Donald Trump bears a high degree of personal responsibility for the anti-Asian violence. He repeatedly called the coronavirus the “China flu” and the “Kung flu”.

Blaming China for the spread of the virus was a form of scapegoating. It was a convenient form of blame-shifting. The “China virus” rhetoric obscured the Trump Administration’s disastrous mis-handling of the pandemic which has led to countless needless deaths.

Identifying the coronavirus with a nationality is a dangerous and irresponsible characterization. The origins of the virus are still murky but the conspiracy theory accusing China of manufacturing the coronavirus as a deliberate act of bioterrorism is widely discredited. Can there be any doubt that many unhinged Trump followers would transfer the association of the virus as “Chinese” to Chinese people?

I do believe Trump’s words had consequences. They led to more Americans perceiving Asian-Americans as foreign and un-American. This is similar to the hate unleashed against Muslims after 9/11. History shows that all it takes is a loose association.

The Anti-Defamation League issued a study last October that showed a dramatic spike in anti-Asian sentiment after President Trump tested positive for coronavirus. For days after Trump’s diagnosis, the percentage of anti-Asian language on Twitter remained higher than usual. At that time, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said:

“The level of hatred and vitriol that was aimed at Asian-Americans and Chinese people on social media is simply staggering. The hate speech and stereotyping are irresponsible and can spill over into real world violence.”

The tendency to vilify minorities during times of crisis is long-standing. Professor Sherry Wang of Santa Clara University has written that the U.S. has often promoted racist myths to portray different groups of people as inferior, dirty and dangerous to white people. She cites the “Yellow Peril” stereotype. In the 1880’s Chinese laborers were scapegoated for a bad economy as they competed for jobs.

There is a history of tying Chinese people to the spread of diseases. Public health authorities misrepresented Asians as diseased carriers of incurable diseases, like small pox and bubonic plague. The association between disease and immigrants was used as a catalyst for immigration restrictions in the early 20th century.

Asian workers played a critical role in building the American infrastructure in the West, particularly railroads, but they were seen as “other” by whites. A white supremacist movement promoted the belief Chinese workers were stealing jobs.

These attitudes, encouraged by power elites, led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which prevented Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States. It was the first law that excluded an entire ethnic group.

Many cities and towns throughout the West also expelled Chinese residents from their jurisdictions. In the fall of 1885, a white mob in Tacoma Washington kicked down doors, dragged Chinese from their homes, and violently expelled the Chinese population from the city. The mob then burned down Chinatown.

In the late 19th century, Chinese people in the United States were lynched with impunity. The largest mass lynching in American history occurred in 1871 when an anti-Chinese mob attacked Chinatown in Los Angeles. There were 18 lynching victims.

Asian-Americans had little legal recourse then. In California, an 1854 California Supreme Court case ruled that Asians were not allowed to testify in court as they were explicitly considered inferior. In 1863, the California legislature passed a statute prohibiting Asian Americans from testifying in court as either witnesses or victims.

Blaming Asian-Americans for public health crises is nothing new. But it needs to be said that the idea that Asian-Americans are spreading the coronavirus in America is malicious nonsense. It is time to pierce the invisibility of the racist hate being directed against Asian-Americans.

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Mud season – posted 3/12/2021

March 12, 2021 1 comment

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Jakarta is coming – posted 3/10/2021

March 11, 2021 2 comments

It has now been over five years since the 50th anniversary of the Indonesian genocide. That 1965 genocide remains largely unknown. No genocide has received less mass media attention.

In that genocide carried out by the Indonesian military and death squads, an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people perished. The Indonesian military herded another million into concentration camps. The murders were directed against the Indonesian Communist Party, the broader left wing community, trade unionists, teachers and loyalists to President Sukarno who was then the leader of the country.

Estimates have varied about how many died. Some estimates go as high as a million dead. The killing got completely out of hand sweeping up many thousands who were deemed to have insufficient loyalty and fervor for the new military regime of General Suharto.

A big part of the reason that genocide has received less attention is because of whom the victims were. Defeating the Indonesian left was seen as a huge win for the United States. At the time, the Indonesian Communist Party, called the PKI, was the third largest communist party in the world besides China and the Soviet Union.

The PKI’s strategy of non-violent, direct engagement with the masses of people had made it very popular. Almost a third of the country’s registered voters were PKI-affiliates.The PKI had a close alliance with President Sukarno. They had no arms and they were pursuing a peaceful transition to socialism. They relied on their relationship with President Sukarno for influencing policy.

We are now learning more about the Indonesian genocide. Although it received little publicity in the United States, there was an International People’s Tribunal held in The Hague in 2015 about the Indonesian mass murders. An independent tribunal of judges issued a final report with a concluding statement:

“The judges consider that allegations by the prosecution of cruel and unspeakable murders and mass murders of over tens of thousands of people, of unjustifiable imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people without trial and for unduly long periods in crowded conditions, and the subjection of many of the people in prison to inhumane and ruthless torture and to forced labor that might well have amounted to enslavement, are well founded.”

The Tribunal found that the Indonesian mass killings of 1965 were crimes against humanity and they also found the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia were complicit in the mass murder. The judges found the United States supported the Indonesian military “knowing well that they were embarked upon a program of mass killing”.

The United States had a long history training the Indonesian military. When General Suharto seized power, the United States, through Voice of America, spread propaganda to demonize the left. Also, Washington provided vital mobile communications equipment to the military.

Most tragically, the U.S. embassy, with help from CIA analysts, prepared lists with the names of thousands of leftists and leftist sympathizers and handed them over to the Indonesian Army. These people were then murdered and checked off the list.

The Washington Post reporter, Vincent Bevins, in his book, The Jakarta Method, has looked more deeply into these events. Bevins says the United States won the Cold War but, in the process, it created a loose network of U.S. backed anticommunist extermination programs that carried out mass murder in multiple countries. 

The Jakarta method refers to the model of mass extermination employed by the Indonesian military. Bevins says that Jakarta became an explicit model for military dictatorships in the 1970’s including Brazil, Chile and Argentina. He argues 22 countries with U.S.-backed anticommunist extermination programs carried out mass murders between 1945 to 2000. Bevins distinguishes these mass murders from regular war and collateral damage from military engagements.

In Chile, before the coup against President Salvador Allende, the word “Jakarta” started appearing, plastered on walls in Santiago. Left wing activists started receiving postcards saying “Jakarta is coming”. To quote Bevins on Jakarta:

“It meant anticommunist mass murder. It meant the state organized extermination of civilians who opposed the construction of capitalist authoritarian regimes loyal to the United States. It meant forced disappearances and unrepentant state terror. And it would be employed far and wide in Latin America over the next two decades.”

Operation Condor was one subsequent expression of Jakarta. In 1975, representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile decided to work together to torture and kill those they considered subversive. The U.S. government provided planning, coordinating, training on torture, technical aid and military support to the various authoritarian governments. This was largely a CIA project. The alliance set up a program to collaborate to exterminate their enemies worldwide.

Most famously, a Condor operative, Michael Townley, an American with CIA and Chilean secret police connections, organized the murder of the former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffett, by car bomb in Washington DC in 1976. The Chilean dictator, General Pinochet, ordered the murder.

General Antonio Domingo of Argentina explained the outlook of those behind Operation Condor:

“First we will kill all subversives, then we will kill all of their collaborators, then those who sympathize with subversives, then we will kill those who remain indifferent and finally we kill the timid.”

Jakarta was about the mass murder of unarmed civilians. Bevins shows how events in Indonesia in the 1960’s-1970’s were actually far more consequential for American foreign policy than events in Vietnam. Indonesia was far larger and of more geopolitical importance than Vietnam.

Before 1965, Indonesia had been a leader of the non-aligned movement and the struggle against colonialism. After centuries of exploitation, Indonesia and other Third World countries wanted economic sovereignty and better terms within the global economic system. The genocide kept Indonesia in the American sphere of influence but, in effect, the country evolved into a grossly under-developed neo-colony. If anything, over time, the economic gap between U.S. wealth and Indonesian poverty has widened.

Bevins shows the demonization, isolation, and trauma experienced by the victims of the Indonesian military that continues to this day. He also shows the dilemma the extreme violence has posed for those who advocated a peaceful transition to democratic socialism. In Indonesia, the peaceful path resulted in annihilation. Bevins does not deny the brutal crimes carried out by communists such as in Cambodia but he says those events are much better known.

The government of Indonesia has failed to take responsibility or even acknowledge the horrible atrocities of the genocide. Similarly, the U.S. has hidden its role in this massively shameful crime. Our media has abetted the crime by failing to cover and educate the public about the genocide. Maybe someday though justice will demand an accounting. 

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Celebrating Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021) – posted 2/28/2021

February 28, 2021 Leave a comment

In America, poets remain largely unknown. Most write in obscurity. It is a rare poet who breaks through and develops a mass audience. Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who died on February 22 was one of those rare poets who had a mass, non-academic audience. He was a major force in 20th century American culture.

A poet, a painter, a publisher and a progressive activist, Ferlinghetti lived in San Francisco in the North Beach neighborhood. Probably, most famously, he was a co-founder of City Lights Bookstore which both sold books and had a publishing wing. If Ferlinghetti had a mission it was to democratize literature and make it accessible to all. He wrote:

“From the beginning the aim was to publish across the board, avoiding the provincial and the academic, and not publishing (that pitfall of the little press) just ‘our gang’. I had in mind rather an international, dissident, insurgent ferment.”

Ferlinghetti regarded poetry as a powerful social force and not one reserved for an intellectual elite. He always supported writers and poets who were outsiders, not part of any mainstream.

Like many, I discovered Ferlinghetti in the late 1960’s. Somehow, I got my hands on a copy of his book Coney Island of the Mind. I remember the lines:

The world is a beautiful place
to be born into
If you don’t mind happiness
not always being
so very much fun

If you don’t mind a touch of hell

now and then

just when everything is fine…

Coney Island sold over a million copies. Next to Allen Ginsberg’s book, Howl and Other Poems, it has been the most popular book of modern American poetry.

I have been fortunate to get to the Bay Area a few times and I always made a bee-line to City Lights. Opened in 1953, it was the first paperback bookstore. Back in the 1950’s, paperbacks weren’t considered real books. The poet, Tess Taylor described City Lights:

“To enter that bookstore was and is a joy, the kind of thing that will set your mind on fire and your heart thumping.”

I remember the large banner outside the store “Dissent is not un-American”. No one got pestered or kicked out of that store for looking at books. There were chairs and sofas and you could browse for as long as you wanted.

City Lights was a hangout and a mecca for the literary community. Among others, Ferlinghetti played a role in promoting the careers of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder. He later inspired a Ferlinghetti Poetry Fellowship at the University of San Francisco which supports emerging poets whose work embodies a concern for social justice and freedom of expression. Ferlinghetti touched and inspired countless young aspiring poets and writers.

Ferlinghetti’s background is not what you might expect. He had an unhappy childhood and he grew up essentially an orphan. His father died before he was born. When he was very young, his mother was committed to a mental hospital. He was raised by an aunt who worked as a governess for a wealthy family in Bronxville, New York. His aunt then disappeared, leaving Lawrence with an unrelated family.

The family took him in as foster parents and raised him. They sent him to a private boy’s school. Lawrence escaped into reading.

After attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he joined the Navy. As a naval officer he commanded a sub chaser in the North Atlantic. He witnessed the Normandy invasion from offshore in the English Channel. He was part of the anti-submarine screen around the beaches. He was later transferred to the Pacific theater. He saw the ruins of Nagasaki seven weeks after the atomic bombing. It turned him into a pacifist and a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons.

After the war, he got doctorates at Columbia and the Sorbonne on the GI bill. He started to write poetry. He had a journalism degree but he decided journalism in the New York area was impossible. He moved to San Fransisco. He liked the Mediterranean feel of the city.

Once there, he started to listen to the poet Kenneth Rexroth who had a show on KPFA radio. Rexroth had soirees on Friday nights and Ferlinghetti started going. Rexroth was a great poet in his own right and he was also a philosophical anarchist. Rexroth played a big role in Ferlinghetti’s political education.

In 1955 Ferlinghetti met Allen Ginsberg at a reading of Howl. Very enthused, he pushed Ginsberg for permission to publish it. Howl was printed in Britain and shipped to San Francisco where Ferlinghetti displayed it prominently at City Lights. Two undercover cops from the San Francisco police juvenile bureau walked into the store, bought a copy of Howl and then busted Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg for “willfully and lewdly publishing obscene writing”.

Ferlinghetti said:

“I wasn’t worried. I was young and foolish. I figured I’d get a lot of reading done in jail and they wouldn’t keep me in there forever. And anyway it really put the book on the map.”

The ACLU defended Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg. They challenged both the arrests and the legal basis for the case against obscenity. After a lengthy trial in municipal court, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg won. The verdict set a precedent, weakening obscenity laws and heralding a new freedom for book publishers.

Ferlinghetti remained an uncompromising voice of integrity. He embodied the (now declining) bohemian spirit of San Fransisco. He never sold out. He always cared that the average person not get screwed over. In 1977, he said:

“You’re supposed to get more conservative the older you get, I seem to be getting just the opposite.”

He was somewhat pessimistic though. Toward the end of his life he told the Guardian that he still hoped for a political revolution but said:

“…the U.S. isn’t ready for a revolution… It would take a whole new generation not devoted to the glorification of the capitalist system…a generation not trapped in the me, me, me.”

San Francisco named March 24, 2019, Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day. It was his 100th birthday. In 1998, San Francisco had named Ferlinghetti the first poet laureate of the city. The city also designated City Lights a historic landmark. During his life, Ferlinghetti wrote 50 volumes of poetry, novels and travel journals.

I like this advice he offered:

“If you would be a poet, write living newspapers. Be a reporter from outer space, filing dispatches to some supreme managing editor who believes in full disclosure and has a low tolerance for bullshit.”

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