Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Silence of Our Friends

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

It’s impossible for me not to think of Martin Luther King, Jr., at this time of year. I can’t help thinking that, were he alive today, he’d be as distressed about the enslavement of people now as he was in 1968, 105 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. King knew the reason de facto slavery still existed via civil and human rights abuses wasn’t so much because there weren’t laws prohibiting them; he knew full well that a law is only as good as a person’s ability to enforce it, and poor people – whatever the color of their skin, but especially those who, at that time, were systematically oppressed and had no means to pursue the “American dream” that would give them the ability to enforce their rights, e.g., with disposable income – would never be free unless someone with the ability to make the laws stick did. Hence, then president John F. Kennedy, who had appointed his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, attorney general, asked his brother to call out the National Guard not to shoot protesters, as the Guard would do a mere seven years after King's assassination at Kent State, but to protect them. And to make sure that the 13th amendment, which ended slavery only tacitly, was made more functional, he caved in to pressure to create additional anti-discrimination laws – in the form of the Civil Rights Act, passed after Kennedy's assassination – which is what the writers of the 13th amendment intended (that is to say, they knew full well if slavery were to be prevented in the future further laws would need to be passed). That's why the brief, last paragraph of the very concise amendment states: "Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

We have a nation of working-class citizens getting poorer and sicker by the generation, thanks to the work of representatives in name only who fashion public health and monetary policy only to benefit an elite few, as Barack Obama’s transfer of public wealth to allegedly failing banks proves, just as does his failed attempt to fix “health care.” It’s hard to believe that King would have seen Obama’s presidential campaign as anything other than an attempt to pander to groups of people who need to believe in the fairy tale they’ve bought into – you know the one; that all is right with America and it’s “democracy” -- because he would have found it impossible to ignore the evolution of the business party that has put into office a puppet in the guise of every president since Carter. And that’s why he was murdered – because he was perceptive, influential and uncompromising. The government knew he’d never stop condemning what is most certainly its complete metamorphosis to fascism. You know who loves slavery more than anything? No one more than a fascist.

What really galled King, though, was how little those who claimed righteous beliefs in God, Christianity and American freedom cared to change the unjust status quo. He must have thought he was truly in the presence of evil incarnate whenever he looked around at the vast majority of his fellow white clergy members, who had stood idly by as ordinary people were routinely lynched for more than 80 years after the civil war, while voting irregularities were anything but irregular, and while churches were being bombed – whenever he saw them doing nothing. It’s harder, though, to know what he would think about the complete closing of American society that we have today – about the secret prisons right here, on American soil, that surround certain political activists whose work threatens the very foundation of the fascist regime that runs our nation, or about that fascist regime – and even more difficult to know what he would have done if he had to work under the circumstances political activists must work under today. Forty-two years ago King’s biggest problem was an FBI whose technologies and strategies for socially exterminating political activists were in their infancy. Today, a Martin Luther King, Jr., would simply not be possible. There can be no doubt that that is precisely what our nation’s government intended because the same human and civil rights abuses that were used on African-Americans to keep them “in their places” are now used on all political activists, regardless of their skin color, and have been enhanced in ways by which Hitler would be awed. I don’t think King would be pleased with that type of equality, not even in a country with an African-American president. I think he would be deeply aggrieved and ashamed.

We may no longer see postcards being sold of “strange fruit,” to use the heart-breaking yet poetic metaphor immortalized by Billie Holiday to refer to the victims of lynching, but when we have political activists who’ve been subjected to political repression by the FBI and the CIA and who are then gunned down in churches on Sunday mornings by local law enforcement, and when members of alleged human rights groups remain silent about such atrocities, though they’ve been apprised of them (and have laughed in the face of this particular political activist when she observed the fact that this act, in particular, represents fascism pure and simple), we know we’re facing the same type of opposition that King faced, multiplied exponentially -- opposition that forced him to the conclusion quoted above. The worst thing about this refusal to acknowledge the beast in our midst is that it spawns a dangerous capitulation by which no one is served.

In her 1963 articles for the New York Times, which were later turned into the book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, philosopher and investigative journalist Hannah Arendt gives us the history of the extent to which Hungarian Jews, in particular, colluded with the Nazis. In, “Chapter XII: Deportations from Central Europe – Hungary and Slovakia” Arendt writes: “On the very evening of their arrival, Eichmann and his men invited the Jewish leaders to a conference, to persuade them to form a Jewish Council, through which they could issue their orders and to which they would give, in return, absolute jurisdiction over all Jews in Hungary. . . . The president of the Jewish community, Hofrat Samuel Stern, a member of [Hungary’s de facto regent, Admiral] Horthy’s Privy Council, was treated with exquisite courtesy and agreed to be head of the Jewish Council. . . . And corruption, first simulated as a trick, soon turned out to be real enough, though it did not take the form the Jews had hoped. Nowhere else did Jews spend so much money without any results whatsoever. . . . and Wislicency [of Budapest local government] brought up again the so-called Europe Plan, which he had proposed in vain in 1942 and according to which Himmler supposedly would be prepared to spare all Jews except those in Poland for a ransom of two or three million dollars. On the strength of this proposal . . . the Jews now started paying installments to Wislicency. . . . The prosecution [Eichmann’s, in Israel, after he was kidnapped from Argentina by Israel’s secret police] could not prove that Eichmann had profited financially while on the job, stressed rightly his high standard of living in Budapest . . . “ And the result of this capitulation? Not the sparing of Hungarian Jews for which the Privy Council had hoped “. . . the number of death commandos manning the gas chambers was increased from 224 to 860, so that everything was ready for killing between six thousand and twelve thousand people a day. . . . The whole operation in Hungary lasted less than two months and came to a sudden stop at the beginning of July. Thanks chiefly to the Zionists, it had been better publicized than any other phase of the Jewish catastrophe, and Horthy had been deluged with protests from neutral countries and from the Vatican. . . . Of an original population of eight hundred thousand, some hundred and sixty thousand must still have remained in the Budapest ghetto – the countryside was judenrein [expunged of Jews] – and of these, tens of thousands became victims of spontaneous pogroms.” When the so-called opposition is controlled by the fascists in power, as it is here, in America, no one is safe – because fascists are liars, as well as murderers, and your turn to be marched off to the gas chamber (well, today’s gas chamber is AIDS) will come eventually.

So today, as I think about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, and as I wish that it were the legacy he would want it to be, one that inspires others to do the work for justice and equality that he did, I hope for the impossible: I hope, since Martin can’t be raised from the dead, that his true message of justice, equality and freedom for all, finds voice in all those of you who genuinely wish to honor him, and that those of you who collude with the fascists in power here – if there be any among you who do – will stop to think about what it is you are creating with your collusion.

David Gilmore wrote this song about his wife, but if you read the words, they have an eerie poignancy today, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. You can hear the song at the link on the left. It’s really beautiful.

"Coming Back To Life"

Where were you when I was burned and I was broken

While the days slipped by from my window, watching

Where were you when I was hurt and I was helpless

Because the things you say and the things you do surround me

While you were hanging yourself on someone else's words

Dying to believe in what you heard

I was staring straight into the shining sun

Lost in thought and lost in time

While the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted

Outside the rain fell dark and slow

While I pondered on this dangerous but irresistible pastime

I took a heavenly ride through our silence

I knew the moment had arrived

For killing the past and coming back to life

[beautiful bridge]

I took a heavenly ride through our silence

I knew the waiting had begun

And I headed straight

into the shining sun

Which way are you heading?

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy New Year. It's Time to Clean Out the Closets.

New Year’s eve we found ourselves trying to make room for the new clothes Santa had brought us. It snowed all day long, which always cheers us up, living in the city as we do; the blanket of bright, white powder we can see from the seven windows in our 360 s.f., fourth-floor, walk-up on the rooftops of adjacent buildings, the stone fa├žade of St. James’s Episcopal church and the brick fire station across Mass Ave. never fails to make everything look crisp, clean and tidy. Though I’m behind in my writing, it felt right to be inside, pruning our humble belongings and enjoying the occasional game of Whist, or Casino, watching the winter storm gather and fade. I even had some time to think about my New Year’s resolutions, and about the custom of resolution-making at the beginning of a new year. Aside from birthdays, this one day seems the perfect time to resolve to give up the things that no longer serve our spiritual, emotional and physical growth, and just as we’ve made room in our closets for the new clothes that will keep us warm and presentable in the coming year, we happily sacrifice those less tangible things we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe we can’t live without, too, trusting that doing so will enable us to live richer, more fulfilling lives, and enable us to continue to build lives of dignity, if not rectitude.
When I was a child and I began reading the Bible I was astounded by the way in which people in Biblical times treated their animals. I’m still astounded by the way people treat animals, but back then, before I had ever heard about factory farming and Confined Animal Feeding Operations, the occasional references in scripture to animal sacrifice seemed to me to be hugely at odds with the stories of G_d’s entreaty to Adam that Adam care for all the animals in his domain and Noah’s subsequent Herculean attempts to preserve the lives of even (what some would consider) repugnant creatures, such as cockroaches, through the flood in the anthropocentric tale that attempts to explain the ice age meltdown. Eating meat began to bother me a lot when I was about four, and though vegetarianism had been around for as long as there had been people, when I was a child, my parents simply didn’t understand the principles of it, or how important a non-flesh diet was to their daughter’s well-being. I thought about not eating animals, though – perhaps not a lot, but I thought about it enough, and even began a mostly life-long habit of thanking any animal I’m about to eat for its sacrifice, promising to use the nutrition their bodies give mine to make the world a better place. One of my resolutions this year is to finally give up eating animal flesh. It’s long overdue. I don’t want any more life needlessly sacrificed for my thoughtless consumption. I recognize that I live in a land of abundant nutritional options, unlike the ancient Israelites in the Sinai desert. It will be a big sacrifice but one I’ve thought about carefully. With life-long hypothyroidism and an intolerance for synthetic thyroid hormones I will have to work diligently to supplement my diet to support my thyroid without the animal-derivative thyroid hormone replacement that makes it at all possible for me to get out of bed in the morning. But isn’t that the meaning of sacrifice – to give up something, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, to improve your life? My integrity is more important than the convenience of hormone replacement. Now that I’ve made the commitment, I realize I’ve been thinking about the nature of sacrifice for almost as long as I’ve been thinking about not eating animal flesh.
One day, while my brother and I and some of our friends were playing chicken in the street on our bikes, I realized that the animal sacrifices I had read about in scripture were really just the ultimate game of chicken. Once upon a time, somebody in Biblical times who ate meat probably less than two times a year because animals were expensive to keep and raise, especially in a desert, said, “If I give up this luxury – my one festival meal of lamb during the holiday – and pay for the slaughter of one animal not to preserve my viability but simply to kill to prove to ‘God’ and the people around me that I am willing to sacrifice the very thing that may well ensure my health and the health of my family, then surely ‘God’ will appreciate my sacrifice and show it by making sure nothing bad, at the very least, happens to me in the coming year. I just have to have the guts to stick out the unpleasant, violent waste of life.” Then, as in any game of chicken, the bluff began, and everybody started sacrificing animals – and more and more animals – to gain the favor of ‘God.’ You know -- ‘My sacrifice is bigger than your sacrifice.’ That type of thing.
Today, we’d call such one-upmanship, ‘keeping up with the Joneses,’ but the sacrifices these people were making weren’t made with the reasonable belief that their lives would be improved because of them; they couldn’t possibly have been since there’s no other direct connection between themselves and their helpless victims of terror, torture and murder except victimization – through literal ‘scape-goating’ of the innocent whose lives are taken in obeisance to the perverted notion of a deity which can be appeased by such violence. These people weren’t giving up cigarettes to prevent lung cancer, or takeout dinners three times a week to save money for their rainy day funds. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Though many people – even entire societies, such as Buddhists – choose to be vegetarians, it’s not an easy diet to maintain simply because Homo sapiens are omnivores that benefit, under certain circumstances, from the consumption of animal flesh. While we are not obligate carnivores, like cats, eating the flesh of other animals will never go out of style for us the way a Members Only jacket does. Where diet is naturally or artificially restricted – such as in desert-dwelling cultures, or among itinerant peoples, such as Jesus's patriarchal clan – giving up animal flesh consumption truly is an act of insanity since eating animal flesh is necessary for adequate nutrition under those circumstances. Think about that for a minute. The sacrifice of animals in Biblical times was nonsensical to the point of being dangerous because animals didn't, well, grow on trees, and not everyone could afford to keep, buy and/or eat them. For most people, animal sacrifice served no other purpose except to make the person paying for the sacrifice look like the BMOC. It was all just a vain waste of life. Doesn’t it make your stomach turn – all that violence simply for vanity’s sake -- simply to look better, more favored by ‘God,’ and, therefore, more powerful than everyone else?
Things haven’t changed much since the time of Moses regarding our capacity for vanity. We sacrifice innocent lives for our national vanity all the time. A tiny sidebar paragraph on page B3 in the January 3rd, 2010, Sunday Boston Globe, which was submitted by the Associated Press, reported, “the Massachusetts National Guard is preparing a send-off ceremony [that very morning] for about 650 troops being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.” Gov. Deval Patrick was expected to appear at the event, which was held at the TD BankNorth Garden. In the interest of full disclosure – and as yet more evidence that proves the way in which war is actually waged is over huge distances, like a video game, just as Ronald Reagan openly hoped one day it would be – I share with you the contents of the remaining two sentences. They detail the constituency of the year-long deployment: (1) members of the 101st field artillery, (2) as well as the Regional Corps Assistance Group, who will assist and mentor Afghan police, and (3) the 164th Transportation Battalion, who will provide heavy equipment transport for military operations in Iraq, which, as anyone who was alive and conscious on May 1st, 2003, when George W. Bush declared the two month-old ‘war’ in Iraq won, can see means heavy equipment transport for the American and allied corporations rebuilding and colonizing Iraq. When you do the gazinta, it works out to less than 152 soldiers per squad. In a stadium that ordinarily holds 19,580 rich bourgeoisie and their families, who regularly enjoy expensive distractions such as hockey and basketball games (and the vast majority of which wouldn’t in a million years join the military), our lambs must have been a pitiful spectacle. Cowards proclaiming bravado over their meager sacrifices in similar ways in my childhood games of chicken would have been knocked to the ground because of their timid commitments, their efforts wasted in bluff and their reputations fixed as cocksure -- just bullies, full of only arrogance. I mean, when you’re the lone superpower, how much effort does it take to kill people you already oppress with well-considered public polices that ensure poverty and disease? I think our military service personnel deserve better treatment.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not arguing for a bigger troop surge, or a larger send-off party. I’m not campaigning for more military in places around the globe where we’ve got no business going in the first place, places we go only to create more business by creating chaos our multinationals profit from by cleaning up. So much has been written by others about the lack of a sound exit strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so many have declared the ludicrous “mission accomplished” statement made by Bush to have been ill-considered, even if I were a war monger or one of their toadies in the allegedly popular press I wouldn’t feel the need to add to the dreck. That’s not the reason I choose not to waste my energy writing about issues such as the fact that National Guardsmen are, by policy, reservists whose primary function is to protect our homeland and by rights shouldn’t be deployed anywhere but here. Those issues are moot. The more time passes, and the more political graft, insider trading, kick-back, pay-off and misappropriated appropriations scandals involving corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel are exposed, and the more we see a distinct pattern of government funding of what are essentially fascist excursions, the more we can see that America’s invasion of Iraq was all just to make a few elites more wealthy. That’s the point. That’s the reason every other condemnation of our government’s intervention in the world is superfluous. Our government is run by fascists, and we should be sending no one into combat anywhere today on their behalf. The Christmas day almost-plane-bombing that had our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president enacting with curious alacrity even more oppressive travel restrictions, as fast as he sent more troops to Afghanistan before he even cashed his million-dollar prize? Well, if our government was capable of blowing up the Twin Towers on 9/11, as scientific evidence and first-hand accounts tell us they did, a near-miss is nothing for them to pull off. No terrorists = no reason for continuing the war on terror, which means less reason for our military to destroy other countries so our corporations can fix them. If we don’t own the truth that our government has been as active in creating the terrorists it claims it is fighting, and if we don’t stop the insanity now, endless war is precisely what we will get.
Ah – the truth! Another thing I wish to [continue to] leave behind in 2009 are my delusions. I encourage you all to do the same, and to get you started, here are some things upon which you may wish to reflect – because reflection is what truth requires. You have to think about a situation to uncover truth; taking without question the limited information and carefully crafted prejudices given you by news anchors and celebrities will never get you closer to it.
I’m so suspicious of my president now, I’m even doubtful of the reason this particular one signed the new discrimination law subsequent to Lilly Ledbetter’s successful pay discrimination suit against Goodyear in January of 2009, his first official act as president. Apparently, the success of Ms. Ledbetter’s suit hinged on her convincing multiple judges and juries at state and federal courts that the statute of limitations for pay discrimination should not apply since she didn’t find out about the discrepancy in her pay until the end of her 19-year career with Goodyear. The new law says explicitly that the statute starts tolling (and continues tolling anew, over and over again), with each subsequent paycheck that is discriminatory, and efforts by Congress to enact it in the previous Republican-controlled Congress and White House Administration were considered ill-advised because of the improbability of success. It’s good that Obama signed the law, and I’m happy for Ms. Ledbetter, but whether or not Obama’s position on true gender equality will change when the stakes become more dear as has, say, his stance on the Palestinian genocide, which he campaigned against in the beginning of his run for the White House and then backed away from condemning once he became the Democratic Party candidate, is unclear. No one’s talking about ERA, even after Obama followed George W. Bush in propping up industries merely threatened by the recession by giving them our tax dollars, even though their corporate peerage received massive paychecks and bonuses while the companies they headed, like AIG, went bankrupt, despite the bailout. If the White House can engineer the no-longer-free market this way, why can’t it make pay equity a top priority? Bush stipulated that car manufacturers had to pledge to limit union involvement in their reorganizations in order to qualify for TARP money, which is union busting plain and simple, and no one in Obama’s administration has batted an eyelid at this reprehensible undermining of the civil right to organize. If ever women needed pay equity and the ERA, it’s now. But no one seems to willing to even acknowledge this patent fact.
I’m unwilling to sacrifice the lives of any more children (brainwashed and deluded though they and their parents may be) just to make the elites on whose behalf Barack Obama (and all the presidents before him since Roosevelt, except, perhaps, Jimmy Carter) acts rich. I don’t need for the lives of these children to be taken in roadside bombing incidents, or sniper attacks, or even accidents (whether “friendly fire,” or other), to prove that my government is capable of the most awesomely wicked evil imaginable – just to appease the god all we Americans now worship, the god of mindless, violent destruction perpetrated for the wealth of a very small minority. I was unwilling to do it in March, 2003, and I’m still unwilling to do it. I was never the kid on the bike who swerved, or faltered, or fell. So, along with meat, TV and sloth, goes my mute complicity. Those are sacrifices I’m willing to make to help create a better life for myself and a better world for everyone. I think we all, especially our military, deserve no less.
After all, if our government was really the proponent of freedom, justice and peace it assiduously assails the world it is, we wouldn’t even have a standing army. The founding fathers deplored the notion of such a thing, and it takes a lot more guts to wage peace than it does to kill others and take what belonged to them, starting with their sovereignty. Americans today act as though they believe that the superpower came into being magically in 1993 when George H.W. Bush declared the new world order here and America’s supreme role in it when, in fact, it has been carefully crafted for more than a century. We’ve got the biggest and the most deadly armament in the world, and we don’t hesitate to use any of it, whenever and wherever we please, including right here. That’s why the majority of the world goes along with whatever idiotic notion the U.S. government proffers to it. If we Americans truly valued freedom we wouldn’t have been doing all of the things all over the world we’ve done to pacify countries opposed to our government’s mission to create oppressive, enslaving laissez faire economic systems throughout them. And we’d have a Department of Peace with a budget as big as – or bigger than – the Pentagon’s. We’d have true peace soldiers, working for the same pay and benefits as conventional soldiers, and they’d be required to know how to work their brains and mouths before they were taught how to use a gun. There’s a market I could get behind.
One final word about our president. It’s about race-baiting. There can be no doubt that if you voted for Barack Obama because of the color of his skin, you’re a racist. When Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children,” he wasn’t speaking merely about a brown- or a black-skinned child. He knew the truth about what Marian Anderson so brilliantly articulated when she said, “As long as you keep a person [emph. add.] down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might.” Injustice for one, or some, means short-changing us all. King was speaking in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech about all children – regardless of the color of their skin. “Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring – when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children – black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics – will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: 'Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'" Skin pigmentation – no matter the tone, shade or color – is not what makes a person of integrity, a person whose character is noble. White, or black, we’re all capable of being sinners, or saints. If you voted for Barack Obama because of the color of his skin, you are no different than the millions of bigots who wouldn't consider viable the presidential campaign of the brilliant, self-sacrificing visionary, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, in 1972. Moreover, if you allow yourself to be used by people who would manipulate you to do their evil work persecuting others because of the racial hatred you nurture for those others – to be manipulated by race-baiters – I beg you to put your prejudices aside and look truly carefully at all of your leaders and judge them by the only criteria that matters when we judge our leaders: their service to our country. If you don’t, then you have no sense of self-respect, and you are part of the problem, not the solution. One day, you may find yourself needlessly sacrificing your own lives and ideals to the whims of these monsters, believing that to do so confers upon you status as a “player,” a “hero,” when, in actuality, you’re just played. Barack Obama may be every bit fascism-light as was Bill Clinton.
I hope, as this new year begins and you find yourself cleaning out your own closet, that your ignorance, prejudices, hypocrisies and willingness to be played go the way of your outdated myspace accounts, iPod nanos and other out-of-fashion accoutrement. Now that would be a sacrifice worth celebrating.'

“Power can be enjoyed only when it is recognized and feared. Fearlessness in those without power is maddening to those who have it.”
This Boy’s Life
Tobias Wolff, Grove Press, 1989

Happy New Year.
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