All posts by Dave Lindorff

Unthinkable Operations

In the preface to his remarkable three-volume History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky, writing in 1930 about earth-shaking events in which he was a key actor, explains his view of writing history. He cites reactionary French historian Louis Madelin, who wrote that “…the historian ought to stand upon the wall of a threatened city, and behold at the same time the besiegers and the besieged” in order to achieve a “conciliatory justice.” Trotsky then scoffs that if Madelin himself  “climbs out on the wall dividing the two camps, it is only in the character of a reconnoiterer for the reaction.” In contrast Trotsky, vowing to draw on historic documents, “not fallible personal memory or anecdote,” promises to write with a “scientific conscientiousness, which for its sympathies and antipathies — open and undisguised — seeks support in an honest study of the facts, a determination of their real connections, an exposure of the causal laws of their movements.”

Ron Ridenour, a veteran journalist and author, former member of the US Communist Party, dedicated anti-war activist and a self-described revolutionary socialist, like Trotsky (though no Troskyite himself) writes from a perspective of outside the city wall. In his latest book, Pentagon on Alert: The Russian Peace Threat (Punto Press, New York, 2018).  He does an admirable of job of it too,  providing an abundance of readily accessible citations (hot-linked in the book’s online version), instead of some coldly “objective” history. The Russian Peace Threat offers the perspective of someone passionately involved in combating American imperialism and  this country’s century-long hostility towards Russia and its revolution against capitalism. He documents how from the outset of the Russian revolution of 1917, when 13,000 US troops joined other European forces in seeking to overthrow the new socialist state by force, down to the present, whichever party was dominant in Washington has sought to hem in and undermine first the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation. The ultimate aim, he demonstrates, has been to create a client regime in Russia through “regime change,” or to destroy the country with a nuclear first strike.

As someone who studied modern Russian history, I found myself nonetheless being continually surprised as I read The Russian Peace Threat, by shocking new facts about this enduring US hostility that I had clearly not been fully aware of. For example, at the end of Chapter 10, writing about the launching of the Cold War by then Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Harry Truman as World War II was ending, Ridenour describes how Churchill proposed a plan to the US called “Operation Unthinkable.” This criminal nightmare vision had the combined forces of the US, Britain and Canada, along with some 100,000 rearmed Nazi troops, attacking the presumably exhausted and over-extended Soviet Red Army then still battling remnants of the Wehrmacht in eastern Germany. Operation Unthinkable, which Ridenour tells us was kept secret until 1998, also envisioned, as early as mid-1945 before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using the new atomic bombs being developed by the US and Britain in the Manhattan Project, against Soviet troops and even on the Soviet capital of Moscow.

He goes on in the next chapter about the launching of the Cold War (which he notes was begun not by Stalin, but by Churchill and Truman), to describe how, over the period from 1946-1949, Truman had his Pentagon generals feverishly developing a series of nine equally monstrous plans, more detailed than the thankfully never launched Operation Unthinkable. All nine of these  various plans centered on the use of America’s growing nuclear arsenal to completely annihilate the USSR’s industrial base, and its population along with it.

With names like Operation Pincher and Operation Dropshot, these plans continued to be developed until 1949, when Russia, thanks in part to the assistance provided by sympathetic Manhattan Project scientists and workers who feared — rightly it turns out! — a hegemonic US with a monopoly on atomic weapons after the war. Even though fanatic Pentagon planners estimated that dropping some 300 nuclear weapons on Soviet military bases and industrial centers could kill half the that war-battered country’s remaining population, it was the only the recognition, in 1949, that the Soviets could finally strike back that halted that active planning (and it was only the lack of a sufficient number of bombs and delivery systems to finish the job that had kept them from launching a “pre-emptive” genocidal war earlier than that).

Over and over Ridenour exposes how it has been the US, not Russia or the USSR, that has created the wars and tensions with the Soviet Union. Take Vietnam, which Ridenour, an Air Force recruit himself for a few years before that war really escalated, claims was central to his political evolution as a revolutionary activist. He recounts how the US military in Vietnam was practically in open revolt after the 1968 Tet Offensive. He says following Tet, the smoking of marijuana by US soldiers became widespread as did LSD use, but adds that heroin became the drug of choice. Here he cites the Pentagon as saying that by the early 1970s 15% of Army troops were on smack. He also talks about fragging, again quoting Pentagon sources as documenting more than 900 cases of soldiers using their fragmentation grenades to kill commanding officers they felt were incompetent, aggressive or a threat to their survival . (Note: this number is actually on the low end of estimates of the frequency of this particularly dramatic and deadly act of resistance.)   He concludes that these developments, combined with an expanding and increasingly militant anti-war movement and a politically driven end to conscription back in the US, contributed to the US finally losing the war.

Not afraid (as are most mainstream academic historians) to wade into the politically contentious present, Ridenour gives a solid account of the current era in which both the Obama and Trump administrations have deliberately increased tensions with Russia, from the coup in Ukraine orchestrated and funded by the US under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which led to a fascist, anti-Russian government in Kiev, to the current illegal US military role in Syria backing jihadi terrorist groups against the Syrian government, which is being aided by Russia.

Ridenour provides a well documented history of the rise of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He explains in detail how the US first helped install the corrupt and alcoholic Boris Yeltsin — a man who allowed US business interests to rob his country blind — in a second term as president and how Putin, at the time a little-known Yeltsin subordinate, at first supported by the US, followed. That support ended when Putin surprised his critics and turned the country around, halted the privatization free-for-all and ending Russia’s  headlong plunge into economic and social decline. At that point, Ridenour explains, the US turned on him.

Putin’s “crime,” Ridenour argues, is that after the Ukraine coup, he finally took action to halt the US-led undermining of Russia. He explains in detail how Russia’s only warm-water naval base in the south in Crimea was threatened by the US-orchestrated change in government in Kiev. Then, quoting Harvard political scientist John Mearsheimer, he writes: “Putin saw that the time to act against Ukraine and the West had arrived.”

There was no “invasion” of Crimea, Ridenour explains. Russia already had 25,000 troops legally based in Crimea under a base-leasing agreement with Ukraine. They were there to defend the Russian naval base at Sebastopol, which was leased from Ukraine under an treaty signed when Ukraine became independent as part of the break-up of the USSR. Crimea, historically a part of Russia, and only annexed to Ukraine in 1954 as a “gift” ordered by Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev, himself a Ukrainian, was 68% ethnically Russian and only 16% Ukrainian. When the people of Ukraine expressed a desire to have their territory returned to Russia because of threats against ethnic Russians from the new Kiev government, a plebiscite was held. The result: 83% of eligible voters cast ballots, and 97% of them favored reintegration with Russia. Putin agreed.

That was the “invasion” that the US and other Western media continue to refer to ad nauseam.

Ridenour, quoting Western sources, says the “invasion” in truth only involved Russia sending over to Crimea six helicopters and two small boats with 500 so-called “little green men” — actually Russian Special Forces acting as “polite police.” The Ukrainian garrison in Crimea was given the option of leaving or fighting, and in the event many, including senior officers, defected to Russia, while the rest of the garrison left for Ukraine peacefully.

There were six killings during the transfer of Crimea to Russia, he reports:  two were Crimean ethnic Russian civilians, one a Crimean ethnic Ukrainian civilian, one Russian soldier, one Ukrainian soldier and one Crimean self-defense soldier. He adds that the Russian soldier was killed by a Ukrainian Right Sector militant who fled to Ukraine and that none of the other deaths was reportedly caused by a Russian soldier. While Hillary Clinton was comparing the Crimean re-annexation by Russia to Hitler’s march into Sudetenland, Ridenour quotes Forbes magazine as writing: “The US and European Union may want to save Crimeans from themselves. But the Crimeans are happy right where they are. One year after the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula in the Black Sea, poll after poll shows that the locals there — be they Ukrainians, ethnic Russians or Tatars, are mostly all in agreement: life with Russia is better than life with Ukraine.”

While Trotsky may have disparaged the use of anecdotes in his History, Ridenour, who spent eight years living in Cuba (he famously burned his passport and renounced his US citizenship after the US launched the Gulf War against Iraq, throwing the ashes at the US Interest Section compound in Havana, eventually moving to Denmark where he now lives), provides many anecdotes, some critical, about his life in Castro’s Cuba. He also recounts his experience as a US Airman stationed in Japan, and about his experience as an activist in the US. These accounts enrich the book and allow the reader to understand where the author is coming from.

Example: In his chapter the US War on Vietnam, he describes how on May 1, 1975, he took out a promotional recording he had been given years earlier that had been intended to be performed at early anti-war marches and rallies. Called “War is Over,” he says he felt it was too optimistic for the times so for years he’d never played it. “After 15 years of anti-war activism, Vietnam won so now I could play it,” he writes, “and I did repeatedly, crying on and off for hours.” He writes in his book that even just reading those sentences back out loud as he writes them, “I break out in tears and heartache.”

That’s the Ron I remember from the days back in 1976 when he and several other Los Angeles journalists, myself included, founded a feisty if short-lived worker-owned-and-run alternative left news weekly, the Los Angeles Vanguard. A committed socialist revolutionary, Ron has always been radical journalist, an excellent writer and a passionate believer in the pure evil of war and in the need for a re-ordering of global society on the basis of real socialism, not capitalism or welfare-statism.

His book The Russian Peace Threat is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what is driving the insane US effort to gin up a new cold war with both Russia and China at a time when the real threat facing humanity is of either nuclear annihilation or the destruction of the very planetary ecosystem that allowed the human species to evolve and thrive. As Ridenour meticulously documents, mostly drawing on western news sources, from the end of World War II the US has been the driving force for increasing enmity between itself and first the Soviet Union and today Russia (and increasingly towards China too). It is also the US, not Russia, he writes, that has been responsible for tens of millions of mostly Third World deaths since the end of that last horrific global conflict.

Corporate Media Join in Editorializing for Press Freedom

Some 300 newspapers, large and small, joined today in publishing, often on their front pages, editorials defending the First Amendment’s freedom of the press, often making note of their own efforts to combat current threats to that freedom posed by President Trump’s attacks on journalists and the entire Fourth Estate, which Trump routinely denounces in tweets and at rallies as “enemies of the people.”

However, missing from most of these full-throated editorials is any real defense of those who are in the trenches doing the hardest job of a free press, which is exposing the worst offenses of government: the war crimes, the craven systemic corruption of the political system, and the purveying of propaganda and disinformation in the furtherance of anti-democratic policies. (A good example would be the employment by most major news organizations of retired generals and colonels as war commentators without noting their roles on corporate boards of arms merchants that profit form war — a scandal that not one major news organization will expose.)

Nowhere does one read, in these coordinated impassioned editorial paens to press freedom, a condemnation of the five-year torture and pursuit of journalist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in the London embassy of Ecuador, hiding from a secret sealed indictment that since the days of the virulently anti-free-press Obama administration has been sitting in the Attorney General’s office waiting for his capture.

Assange is trapped in the cramped Ecuadoran embassy by a complicit British government that has threatened to arrest him if he exits the building, claiming he is wanted for jumping bail in a court case that was already long-ago mooted by the expiration of Swedish arrest warrant that itself was based upon trumped-up charges of “rape” made against Assange by women who say they had not wanted those charges made in the first place. His real crime, and the thing the US wants to extradite him from Britain for, is publishing leaked Pentagon documents and videotapes proving a policy in the Iraq war of massive and deliberate war crimes.

Although news organizations like the New York Times and Washington Post made the most of those Wikileaks documents, publishing their horrific evidence of war crimes, such as the helicopter gun-ship machine-gun slaughter of a group of innocent Iraqis, including two journalists, shown in graphic detail in a leaked gun-sight video, and profited handsomely from the circulation and attention they derived from those stories, both those papers have slammed Assange, shamelessly questioning his status as a “journalist,” impugning his integrity.

They have ignored the reality that any prosecution of him for the work done by Wikileaks in exposing war crimes opens the door to prosecutions in the future of other more “traditional” journalists.

These hundreds of supposedly outraged defenders of press freedom are also strangely silent about the federal prosecution of the very leakers who make it possible for them to publish stories about government crimes and abuse. Take for example the 26-year-old NSA contract worker Reality Winner, currently facing sentencing after being convicted of leaking a classified National Security Agency document, still unidentified publicly, with reports saying she may be handed a sentence longer than any prior government leaker. Even the news organization that she reportedly leaked the document to has not had the intestinal fortitude to go public with its own role in this event. It is not known whether that news organization even had the decency to pay for her defense, and there has been no hue and cry from the media against her prosecution, or even against her sentencing, for doing something — whistleblowing — that is fundamental to the working of a real free press.

It’s the same thing that happened to Bradley Manning, the courageous young soldier, now known as Chelsea Manning following a sex change operation, who provided Assange and Wikileaks with the evidence of systemic war crimes by US forces in Iraq. Manning spent 7 years in Leavenworth for her/his heroic act. Little outrage was expended in print by America’s supposed defenders of press freedom over Manning’s uniquely brutal persecution, which included pretrial torture in a Navy brig — only over the crimes that Bradley’s courage and determination brought to public attention.

There is also something else missing from the high dudgeon expressed in this spate of page-one editorials lionizing the role of the nation’s corporate news media, and that is any defense of the alternative media. The Washington Post is particularly hypocritical in this regard.

It was, after all, only two years ago that Amazon gezillionaire Jeff Bezos’ private newspaper playground published a page-one McCarthyite hit on over 200 alternative news sites, mostly online, which it said a completely anonymous and unresearched or vetted organization called PropOrNot was alleging were either agents of or “ignorant dupes” of Russia, publishing purportedly pro-Russian propaganda. The paper ultimately published a retraction and apology of sorts for this libelous and scurrilous piece of yellow journalism, but has not come to the defense of those organizations, which include Truthdig, CommonDreams, Counterpunch and numerous other journalistic organizations, including this one, that have long done the kind of real investigative journalism that the corporate media typically avoid: systemic corruption and criminality by the government. The NY Times also ran with this sordid Washington Post “scoop,” as did the Philadelphia Inquirer and others but none of them has ever stood up for the free press rights of the alternative media, preferring to compare their supposedly “higher-standard” articles to those of the unwashed alternative press.

The reality is that a nation either has a free press or it does not. And if journalists from the alternative media can be arrested and jailed with no editorial defense from the mainstream press, as happened repeatedly, for example, during the long Standing Rock native people’s resistance to the controversial XL Pipeline project running through Sioux traditional lands (a struggle that the corporate media studiously ignored until the number of non-indians involved in the protests grew so large, and the violence of police and military forces arrayed against them grew so violent that it could no longer be blacked out and left to the alternative media to cover), then there is no real press freedom of consequence in the US.

It was not the corporate media that broke the My Lai story, after all. It was the US alternative media. It was not the corporate media that exposed the US role in the Korean War, it was IF Stone in his little weekly by the same name. It was not the corporate media that exposed the fact that the FBI knew of a plot to assassinate the leaders of the Houston Occupy Movement, and did nothing to prevent it. It was…oh year, that was me in this publication — a story that was picked up by much of the alternative media, but never covered by the corporate media.

A black-out situation that is all too typical of the mainstream media, which is fond of deciding what news is, as the NY Times puts it, “fit to print.”

Just as it is critical to the guarantee of a fair trial that even the most heinous of criminals receive a vigorous qualified defense, it is also critical that all threats to press freedom, even against the smallest and seemingly most inconsequential of news organizations, be collectively challenged and defended against.

So yes, let’s defend what’s left of this country’s supposedly Constitutionally protected Free Press right, but let’s defend all of it, not just the tame corporate version of it.

Because a press freedom is under serious attack these days, certainly by President Trump, but also by a corporate media itself that supports a censored internet and a two-tiered access to high-speed internet — both of which measures threaten alternative news media — and that fail to firmly support and defend the whistleblowers who often are critically important in bringing urgent stories of government and corporate wrongdoing to light.

Spending a Night in the Concord Jail When Martin Luther King, Jr. was Assassinated

Photo by Jeanne Menjoulet | CC BY 2.0

I never met Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., or attended a march or rally where I could hear him speak, but on the evening night of April 4, 1968, an hour or so after he was assassinated, I was in a jail cell in Concord, Mass. writing a freshman paper about King, Gandhi and Thoreau, and their shared ideas about the power of non-violent political protest.

It had all started out when I found myself blocked, unable to get started on an end-of-the-term paper for my philosophy class at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. The topic I had chosen was tracing Martin Luther King’s political roots back through the thought and practice of Indian independence leader Mohandas Gandhi and philosopher and anti-war protester Henry David Thoreau.

Stuck for words, I decided on a whim or in desperation on the morning of my birthday to hitchhike, for inspiration, up to Concord and to Walden Pond, where Thoreau famously had built a small cabin in which he was living when he wrote Walden, and also his famous and hugely influential essay On Civil Disobedience — the latter work by way of explaining his decision to refuse to pay his taxes because of what he considered the United States’ illegal war against Mexico.

The US was, of course, at the time of my little journey, waging a similarly illegal and far more vicious and destructive war on the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia — a war that I had already decided a year earlier that I would not participate in.

I had, the prior October, gone down to Washington DC to participate in the historic Mobe March on the Pentagon, and had been arrested on the Mall of that huge building dedicated to war, spending several days locked up in the federal prison at Occoquan, Va. on a misdemeanor charge of “trespassing” on federal property (I got a five-day suspended sentence and was fined $50).

I had made a firm decision while still in high school that I would not allow myself to be drafted, and was waiting to be called up, when I would have to face the consequences of that refusal, having decided not to file for a student deferment while in college, which I decided was unfair to those young men who were not able to go to college to escape the war. (My being called up was a certainty given my lottery number of 81.)

One of the big influences in my decision, shortly after my 18th birthday in 1967, to go to the local draft board and register for the Selective Service, at the same time telling the woman staffing that office that I would not allow myself to be drafted, was reading about King’s momentous address at Riverside Church in New York, made on April 3 of that year, in which he clearly linked that criminal war and its violent repression of the Vietnamese people to the brutal racism and class struggle at home in the US. It was a lot to take in for an 18-year-old high school kid but King made it all crystal clear.

My short time spent in a dormitory cell at Occoquan six months later, while short, was probably the most important time in all my four years of undergraduate college study. Locked up with me in that cell were hardened veterans of political action, in particular the civil rights struggle against segregation and for the right of African Americans to vote in the South. These veterans of the struggle, along with other veteran leftists caught up along with me by the Federal Marshalls guarding the entrance to the Pentagon, became the impromptu adjunct faculty of a makeshift “people’s university” who opened my eyes to the wider issues of US imperialism, racism and the corrosive, destructive role of capitalism in America. They helped me to refine what King had said a year earlier.

It was with all that swirling in my mind, and with the knowledge that the war in Indochina had become even more serious and violent following the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Tet Offensive earlier that year and President Lyndon Johnson’s subsequent surprise announcement wees earlier that he would not seek re-election that year, that I headed out on the road for Concord on the morning of April 4, 1968. It at least appeared (wrongly it turns out), that the tide had turned and that perhaps the anti-war movement of which I was a tiny part was helping to end the war, and perhaps might also eventually lead to positive changes in the US, too.

At any rate, at the time King was slain, I was out in the early evening, under darkening skies that threatened rain, making my way by thumb along secondary roads in Massachusetts trying to get to Concord and to my destination, Walden Pond. I didn’t know that the main subject of my paper, yet to be written, had already been shot and was being rushed to the hospital to be pronounced dead as I walked the last mile or so to the little park that contains the pond.

Reaching the park at dusk, I wandered around until I found the marked spot, a slight depression in the ground, where Thoreau’s cabin, long since rotted away, had been. Figuring it was where I should bed down, I spread out my much too light sleeping bag and crawled in, just clouds began to release a cold drizzle a light rain. I pulled the bag over my head, took out my flashlight, opened my notebook, and pondered how to start the paper.

Before I could write a word though, a gruff voice rang out. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I heard. Sticking my head out of the bag, I found myself looking up at a large police officer who was shining his flashlight down at me.

I explained to him that I was a college student and that I had come to Walden Pond to write a paper on Thoreau’s and Gandhi’s influences on Martin Luther King. He replied, shockingly, “Yeah, well they just shot him. He’s dead!”

I was dumbstruck! How could this be? I asked for more information and the cop just said, “Someone shot him in Memphis.”

Then he said, “Come on. You have to leave the park. It’s closed after sunset.” Then, a little more kindly, he added, “Anyhow, you can’t sleep here. It’s raining.”

I said I didn’t have anywhere to go, and he said, “Well, you could sleep in the jail, but I’d have to arrest you to put you in a cell. You’d be charged with vagrancy, but in the morning we can rip up the ticket and let you go.”

It sounded like a good deal to me, so I followed him to his squad car and we rode to the jail. While it wasn’t the same Concord police station that would have been there in Thoreau’s time, I realized that the jail I was being brought to was the direct linear descendant of the jail in which Thoreau had spent a night for his tax refusal. That is where Thoreau was famously visited by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, who reportedly said, “Henry, I’m sorry to find you here,” to which Thoreau replied, “Mr. Emerson, why are you not here?”

My own night in the cell was largely uneventful, except for a disturbing snippet of conversation between two of the cops on the night shift, whom I overheard discussing the King assassination.

“That’s King’s widow on the radio, talking about her husband,” said one cop.

“Yeah, they finally killed that nigger,” said the other.

Clearly, I thought to myself, this country has a lo-o-o-ong way to go.

It still does.

That night, I sat in my cell on a hard bench that served as the bed, locked inside in accordance with jail rules, and hungrily ate the peanut-butter and white bread sandwiches offered to me by my racist jailers, while I wrote my paper which, at that point, came easily to me.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead, but the movement to create a peaceful society and a peaceful world where people are not oppressed or exploited, and where every child of every race and nationality can grow to her or his full potential continues as his legacy, half a century later.

No one, certainly including Dr. King, ever said it would be easy.

War Monger and War Criminal John Bolton to Head Trump’s National Security Council

Photo by Michael Vadon | CC BY 2.0

John Bolton, the man named this past week by President Trump to be his new national security advisor, is like that hand from a bloated, rotting corpse of the torturing rapist local yokel that erupts from the water at the very end of the movie “Deliverance,” returning to remind its former victims of the horrors they had endured earlier and thought they’d finally rid themselves of.

One of the most bloodthirsty members of a gang of war-mongering neo-conservatives (almost all, like him, having no military experience themselves), who ran foreign policy and launched wars of aggression during the Bush/Cheney administration, Bolton is a man who for years has been pushing for an imperial US policy to combat domestic economic decline. According this numbskull notion, Washington should attempt to maintain US primacy in the world affairs through force of arms, picking fights, starting wars, overthrowing governments a playing existentially risky games of chicken with nuclear powers like Russia and China. He and the wacko ideology known as neoconservatism, have returned with Bolton as a National Security Advisor, in this case to advise a president who thinks nuclear weapons are meant to be used.

Now I’m not one who thinks that military experience should be seen as some kind of prerequisite, much less a positive attribute, for appointment to a top federal post, even when that post has to do with military affairs or foreign affairs. Certainly a well-educated and thoughtful person, male or female, with no military experience, could do a better job running the Pentagon, the State Department — or the National Security Council — than a host of veterans of those posts who boasted rows of medals and colorful honors on the uniforms they either wore or kept as souvenirs in their closets.

That said, when someone like Bolton, who is a fanatic warmonger, has repeatedly advocated “pre-emptive” war as the go-to option for dealing with an international dispute, and is ready at the slightest assertion of independence on the part of any foreign power to call for bombing and for sending tens or hundreds of thousands of US troops into harm’s and harming’s way, I would insist that such a person, before being placed in a position of significant power and influence in the US government have had, as a bare minimum, at least some actual experience with combat. Instead we have an apparently perfectly healthy 69-year-old nut-job who turned 18 in 1967, right at the height of the US war against Vietnam, but who, despite being an ardent supporter of that war, used student deferments and who knows what other slippery excuses to avoid fighting in it, now being made Trump’s latest top advisor on issues of war and peace.

We’ve seen over the past two or three decades how disastrous it can be when administrations headed by or filled at the top with policy-makers who are so-called “chicken hawks” — people who advocate for war as a solution to diplomatic issues but who have never worn a uniform or who, even if they have spent a little time in a branch of the military, have never faced or even fired a bullet in anger or watched comrades die in battle. President Reagan, whose only war “experience” was as an actor, sicced the US military on two tiny nations — Grenada and Panama — with deadly consequences for local civilians, President Clinton, who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, happily waged a brutal and one-sided air-“war” against Serbia. George Bush , who hid out from the Vietnam War he supposedly supported politically by signing up for the Texas Air National Guard, carefully checking a box in his enlistment papers saying he did not want to be available for foreign assignment, as commander-in-chief launched two wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which conflicts are still raging almost 20 years later, with as many as 1 million mostly civilian deaths and multiples of that number displaced. Barack Obama, who never wore a uniform, launched a disastrous and bloody war against Libya which led to the overthrow and murder of that country’s leader and left the country in a state of murderous chaos from which it has yet to emerge, launched and ran a murder campaign by drone that killed mostly innocent civilians including kids, and ordered a $1-trillion “modernization” of America’s nuclear arsenal, including the development of small “usable” nuclear bombs.

Now we have President Trump, who famously ducked the draft during the Vietnam War.by claiming to have “bone spurs” (surely the shabbiest excuse for avoiding military service since “flat feet” became popular among cowards during World War II). But Trump isn’t alone in the current White House in seeing “war as the answer,” even asking his advisors, at one point, ‘Why do we have nuclear weapons if we can’t use them?” He has also appointed, as national security advisor, a string of pro-war centurion poseurs like himself. The first of this string of crazies (at least briefly until he was caught by and ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI) was Gen. Michael Flynn, whose only actual “combat” experience was the “invasion” of Grenada. Flynn was followed by the grossly resume-inflating Gen. H. R. McMaster [1], who publicly and apparently privately until his forced departure from the National Security Advisor post last week was pushing mad idea of having the US risk a “limited” military attack on North Korea intended to give that country’s leadership a “bloody nose” in the name of demonstrating US seriousness. (At least the draft-dodging Bush Jr. consigliere Dick Cheney, while never actually firing a gun in battle, had the experience of inadvertently shooting his friend and host in the face and chest during a “canned” quail hunt.)

Now that McMaster has been pushed out by Trump, with his appointment of the truly bloody-minded John Bolton, we’re back to 1991. While Trump may have, back during the campaign and during his early months as president, genuinely favored ending the US policy of permanent war that has seen the US military budget grow to where it annually consumes well over half the total federal discretionary budget, and though he may have intended to seek friendlier relations with Russia, with his Bolton appoint as head of the NSC, we’re back in the darkest days of the Cold War. But even worse, the Trump administration is contemplating hot wars with at least two significant powers, Iran and North Korea, the latter armed with a dozens of nuclear weapons and rockets capable of delivering them — even to the US.

While the first two of Trump’s National Security Advisors were three-star generals of dubious combat experience and even more dubious foreign policy judgement, now we’ll have a National Security Advisor with zero time even wearing a uniform — a true example of a “chicken hawk.”

Cue the dueling banjos music!

It’s North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Not Trump, Who Forced the US to the Negotiating Table

Photo by edwardhblake | CC BY 2.0

I’m no fan of police states or of dictators, whether in Russia, China, North Korea or under development here in the United States, but let’s at least be honest about what’s behind the news that President Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the man he has been calling “fat” and “Rocket Man.”

The corporate media in the US has been lavishing at times grudging praise on Trump, claiming that it was his “harsh sanctions” and threatening military moves around the Korean Peninsula, and leaked White House talk of “bloody nose” incursions into North Korea, or threats to destroy that country that forced Kim to agree to talks.

The reality is quite the opposite, though. While we may be loath to admit it, that truth is that it has been Kim’s dogged persistence, in the face of US sanctions, boycotts and threats, in testing and developing both a credible nuclear arsenal of atomic and thermonuclear weapons, and in demonstrating that he has missiles that can reach US targets, probably including the lower 48 states.

With as many as 60 such deliverable weapons, according to some estimates, Kim’s North Korea has reached a point where the only way the US could hope to undo his accomplishment would be an all-out war against the North and is one-million-man army, its dug-in artillery, and even then the chances of doing this without North Korea launching at least some of its nukes would be slim.

Credit should go also to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who has defied the US by reaching out to Kim, first by inviting North Korea to participate in the Winter Olympics just completed successfully in South Korea, including the fielding of a joint North and South Korean women’s hockey team, and then offering to meet directly in the North with Kim, after which Moon delivered Kim’s invitation to meet with President Trump.

The US had opposed the Olympics invitation, and has been pressuring Moon not to meet with Kim, trying to queer the deal by upping the sanctions against the North, but failed. All along, amid calls in South Korea and by both China and Russia, for the US to negotiate with Kim, the Trump administration, like those before it, has been demanding that North Korea first get rid of its nuclear weapons before any negotiations — a demand that it knew meant no negotiations.

Now, suddenly, faced with a real offer of head-of-state face-to-face negotiations, and a reported offer by Kim to get rid of the country’s nuclear weapons if the US gives a guarantee not to attempt to overthrow the North Korean government, the US has been forced to accept.

That’s the real story here.

Ever since the Korean War fighting ended in an armed truce in place on July 27, 1953, the US has refused negotiations for a real peace treaty, leaving that brutal war technically still on for an astonishing 65 years. During that time, the US has maintained what amounts to an occupation of South Korea, initially propping up a series of brutal dictators, and then simply exercising military authority over South Korea’s own military forces, courtesy of a 1950 UN Security Council Resolution making the US the supreme commander of UN forces dispatched to combat the North’s military.

It’s been a great deal for the US, which has been able to maintain a strong military presence of some 30-50,000 troops, naval bases and air bases, and now a THAAD anti-missile array in South Korea, under its own command, on the Korean Peninsula quite near both China and Russia, and to help justify continued massive military budgets even as China was joining the world economic community and Russia was abandoning the Cold War.

But with North Korea now demonstrably a nuclear power, at least on a par with Pakistan and India, and approaching perhaps even Israel, at least in the number of its nuclear weapons, the US is being forced to abandon war as an option for denuclearizing that country.

With the US invasions of Libya and Iraq, the reality has been impressed on nations of the world that are on America’s “sh*t list” that “if you don’t have nuclear weapons, you’re toast.” North Korea’s leaders, including Kim’s father, took that lesson to heart and worked assiduously to develop nuclear weapons while they could.

Now while some in the Trump administration are listening to pressure from Israel’s corrupt leader Benjamin Netanyahu calling for an attack on Iran, which reached an agreement with the prior Obama administration to halt its uranium enrichment program in return for a lifting of US sanctions (which never happened), talk of invading North Korea is fading away. What’s the difference: Iran, a nation of over 80 million people, is at risk of attack by the US, Israel, and perhaps Saudi Arabia, while North Korea, a nation less than a third that size and far more impoverished and underdeveloped, is not. The difference: North Korea has nukes and Iran does not.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration, by criticizing and appearing increasingly ready to renounce the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran, has poisoned the well of negotiation on nuclear weapons going forward with countries like Russia and North Korea. If Trump meets with Kim, our supposedly “art of the deal” reality-star president will have to make some pretty iron-clad commitments not to later renege and invade before Kim can be expected to agree to dismantle his now formidable nuclear arsenal insurance policy.

Perhaps the US will have to agree to remove its occupying forces and forward bases from South Korea and to cease its regular hostile “joint-training” exercises of North Korea with South Korean and Japanese militaries. Certainly it would have to agree to ending the state of war with the North, and to a revocation of the original UN Security Council Resolution 84 passed in 1950 that authorized a UN force, commanded by the US, to resist the North’s invasion of the South. Such an agreement would free South Korea from its position of a “protectorate” of the US, and perhaps open the way to a gradual re-unification of the two countries into one.

It’s hard to predict where all this will go, but with Kim’s invitation to Trump for negotiations to end the two countries’ multi-generational state of war, and Trump’s apparent acceptance of the offer, it’s important to be clear about what is happening and why, and not to simply assume that hard-line tactics by the White House and its current occupant are what is driving things.

The lesson that is being learned by countries around the world that have been resisting US dictates is clear: If you have nuclear weapons, you get treated differently than if you don’t.

Learning the Power of Protest, Confrontation and Collective Action, Where Will America’s Students Go from Here?

Photo by Coral Springs Talk | CC BY 2.0

A salute to the kids of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida!

After experiencing a terrifying attack on their school by a tragically unhinged former student armed with an assault-style rifle who killed 14 of their classmates and three teachers and seriously injured another 14, they didn’t retreat into fear and victimhood. Instead, they are taking to the streets, taking to buses to the state capital in Tallahassee, and are using social media to organize a national youth campaign to get assault weapons and large-capacity magazines banned.

In refusing to be silenced by the National Rifle Assn. and political charlatans like Florida Sen. Marc Rubio or President Trump, or co-opted by Democratic politicians eager to use the issue of gun control to win points in next November’s congressional elections, these students and the tens of thousands of high school kids who have joined them across the country in states blue, red and purple, they have in one stroke revived the idea of mass political action.

These kids are not being polite. When someone like Sen. Rubio or Florida Gov. Rick Scott or the Florida state legislature comes up with an excuse like blaming the shooting on mental illness rather than the easy availability of mass-killing military-style weapons, they shout “BS!” When they’re told the answer is to arm teachers, they shout “BS!” When they’re accused of being “paid crisis actors” or manipulated, they shout “BS!” And when the Florida legislature insults them by ignoring their mass trip to the state capital to demand a hearing on gun legislation, they mass in front of the statehouse, shout “BS!” and demand to be heard.

The whole political battleground over gun ownership in the US has just undergone a tectonic shift as great as if a 9-point tremor had struck. For the first time in memory, huge corporations like Delta Airlines are abandoning their backing for the NRA, dropping lucrative and once popular marketing discount programs for NRA members on pain of being boycotted — a threat that has even gigantic companies like Apple and Amazon worried. No wonder the NRA had their latest version of spokesman Charlton Heston, Dana Loesh, put out a short ad in which,looking like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, she poses in black with a giant hourglass, darkly warning the “lying media,” Hollywood “phonies,” unpatriotic athletes, politicians who “watch America burn” and late night hosts,” that “Your time is running out — the clock starts now.”

The gun lobby making this threat is suddenly running scared. Like that other top lobbying organization, the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which was stood up and ignored by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in 2016, their bluff has been called. Once cowed politicians are realizing they can stand up to such lobbies and still retain or maybe even gain support among voters, it’s their days that are numbered.

Will the student movement, on this once sacred issue of gun rights, succeed? I’m guessing it will. It already has on some level. Perhaps they’ll get AR-15 style weapons banned and also large magazines for semi-automatic weapons. Maybe they’ll only get the guns themselves banned for sale to people under 21. But they’ll get something.

And that raises the crucial question: is this the beginning of something bigger? Sure this issue of stopping the sale of instruments of slaughter has tremendous resonance following such a horrific shooting, and thanks to the spontaneous rising of a nation of angry students — teens in high schools and 20-somethings in college — but are these once polite and agreeable students going to take their newfound in-your-face, “up-against-the-wall” political activism and apply it to other issues?

Again, I am optimistic.

Right now, the focus is on guns, and it needs to stay there as these fired-up kids take their righteous anger next to Washington, hopefully , o be joined by masses of fellow students from across the country. That will be something to see. But what then?

Back in 1966 when I was a junior in high school, there was a senior named Jim Steinman who came to school wearing a beard he’d grown over the summer. This being only 1966, the school authorities were horrified at his breach of decorum and informed him that he had to shave in order to attend school. Steinman decided he wouldn’t bend and went out to the sidewalk in front of the school, which was in the center of the town of Storrs, home of the University of Connecticut. There he began marching back and forth with a sign on a pole saying “No beard, no school!” or something like that.

Before long, a number of us less hirsute students, myself included, began marching with him in solidarity, first at lunch periods, which at the time wasn’t allowed, and later actually skipping study hours or even classes. After a few days of this, there was a mass of students marching, often joined by supportive passing college students. The protest, still unusual at that time in middle-class suburbia, caught the attention of the NY Times (imagine that happening today for such a trivial issue!). The next day the paper had a story and photo.

The school administration soon caved, and since then beards have been permitted at the E.O. Smith High School.

It may seem like a petty thing, and I’m sure Jim had no idea his little private protest would have such an impact, but that protest and its success made, I believe, a huge impression on many of us at our school, and perhaps, thanks to the Times, even more far afield. We experienced the power of protest, resistance and especially collective action. It was a lesson I took to heart a year later as I approached 18 and had to register for the draft. Suddenly paying attention to the raging Vietnam War, I began researching about its horrors and realized that it was an atrocity my country was perpetrating, I resolved both to resist the draft, and to work actively in the movement to end that war. That’s another story, but suffice to say a year later I was on the mall of the Pentagon facing armed federal troops and ended up arrested and locked up with hundreds of other protesters in a federal prison for several days — the start of my radical education. And I trace it all back to Jim Steinman’s beard-ban protest.

In our day, as today, confrontational protests had already been underway for years by black activists demanding voting rights, an end to Jim Crow, and end to segregated schools. It took the Vietnam War to wake the mostly white middle-class young people of the country to the need to take a stand. When we did wake up, though, and when we linked up with the civil rights movement and militant organizations like the Black Panthers, as well with returning veterans of the war, we all became in our millions a force for the government to reckon with.

I mention my own experience in high school because I’m sure that the students in Parkland, and students all over the country who are challenging school authorities by going on strike to support them, and who may be skipping school for days to travel to Washington or state capitals to demand action on sale of semi-automatic weapons, are also learning from their much more serious experience important lessons about the power of organized protest and collective action.

My hope is that they will not just learn those lessons but, being the idealistic young people that I know many of them to be, that they will apply them not just to this first awful but urgent struggle to make not just their schools but our whole country into a saner, safer place free of the almost routing slaughter of groups of people by semi-automatic gunfire, but also to other issues. Issues like our government’s unwillingness to confront raging climate change, combatting the institutionalized racism of our society, ending the militarization of our police and the mass incarceration of millions of poor and non-white men, women and even children, and resisting the mounting assault on women’s right to control their own bodies and health.

If they do this, I will have hope for this country and for the world. Already there are good signs. The mostly white suburban Parkland kids have now linked up with urban students in Chicago who have already been in the streets protesting gun violence, including gun violence by that city’s police.

The kids of America, now of all races and classes, are rising, as students did once before in the ‘60s, two generations ago, and if they keep rising — suburban white students linking arms with the young black, Latino, and other young people of color who are already in the streets protesting against police brutality, DACA deportations and the harassment of immigrants — nothing will be able to stop them.

I hope our generation — parents and grandparents — will stand ready to back them too, as the Establishment inevitably tries to clamp down on them and to divide them.

If you are a veteran of the ’60s Antiwar Movement and want to announce your support for this growing student movement, go Here and sign on. And spread the word.

Washington has Engaged in Information Warfare, Including Fake News and Trolling, for Years

The howling in government and the corporate media and among many liberals about an alleged Russian information war, with bots, trolls and fake news being placed in social media to mislead and incite Americans against each other, might lead one think, like Sen John McCain, that we are practically at war with Russia. Yet it’s all actually pretty silly. After all, our own government has been playing this game for decades, both abroad, and also right here inside the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” and against us American citizens.

I know. I was a victim of such an attack, though initially, I didn’t realize what was happening.

Back on August 25, 2005, I published a piece in In These Times titled Radioactive Wounds of War about the devastating damage caused by the US military’s use of depleted uranium weapons in its brutal assault leveling Fallujah, the Iraqi city of 300,000 people that was destroyed by US marines in 2004 as retribution for the killing of four US contractors by the Iraqi insurgents who at the time controlled the city, and for their humiliating defeat of a smaller Marine assault on the city earlier in the year.

At the time I was and had been a contributing editor at ITT, a publication for which I had written regularly since it was founded back in 1978, and was listed on its masthead as such.

Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs

Something is clearly sick in America.

The latest shooting in Broward County Florida was no surprise. Like almost all the school shootings that are now weekly events in the United States, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where it took place was in not some violence-plagued, over-crowded, mostly non-white urban school, but rather was located in the town of Parkland, an upscale suburban community. The school had an “A” rating from the state, as a top-performing high school.

According to Census statistics, Parkland’s over 24,000 people are 84% white, 13% Latino, 7% black and 6 percent black. Median income all the way back in 2008 was reported as $278,000 and the median home value that same year was just under $1 million. This was a wealthy community, not some “shithole” one, as our president might say.

All this is so common to the school shooting profile of most of these deadly incidents that we have to ask, what the hell is going on?

In the case of the suspect, 19-year-old Nickolas Cruz was unusual in that he had been adopted, along with his younger brother, by a couple who were childless and wanted children. Nothing unusual there. As the father of an adopted son I can say that there is really no fundamental difference between a biologically born and an adopted child in terms of the love and care that parents put into their development. In fact, because of the intentional efforts that go into doing an adoption there may often be even more attention and affection poured on an adopted child.

We don’t know about Cruz’s early childhood, so it’s possible he suffered at a very young age or perhaps was damaged in the womb if his birth-mother had a drug or drinking problem. That’s always a risk, just as it can be a risk with a children who are the biological offspring of their parents.

What we do know is that Cruz, who was diagnosed as depressive and possibly on the autism spectrum, was expelled Marjory Stoneman Douglas right around the time that his adoptive mother, to whom he was very attached, died at the age of 68 (his adoptive father had died much earlier). So this young man was depressed, deprived of his parents, and dumped by his school.

I almost think that at this point we don’t need to think to hard to see what went wrong. Technically an adult, and reportedly living of late in the home of a kind friend of his parents, he slipped through the cracks of a larger society that doesn’t really care much about what happens to a kid once she or he hits 18 (if they care much about them even at a younger age).

Obviously, a lot of people dropped the ball with this kid. The school, which had warned teachers about him, washed its hands of him, the friend of his late mother, who took him in, allowed him to bring along his AR-15, although she at least required him to keep it locked up albeit with him having the key (why would any adult allow a visiting kid to do that?), and nobody, like a social worker, appears to have followed up when he stopped going to the mental health clinic where he was being treated.

Now let’s add in the gun thing. Despite the fact that he had been diagnosed as having mental health issues and had been treated for a time at a local mental health clinic, reportedly for depression, Cruz was able on his own as an 18-year-old, to legally purchase a deadly AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and multiple large-capacity clips for ammunition.

Now I have to say, given what we are learning from neurology studies of the young brain, which show that the brain does not really reach maturity until the age of 24-26, and that one of the last things to reach mature development is the part of the brain that provides impulse control, you have to wonder why we are allowing people that age and younger, for example the legal age of maturity which is just 18, to buy such weapons of mass destruction.

An AR-15 is not a hunting weapon. In fact there’s a reason it’s called an “assault rifle.” As a hunter, unless you’re an atrocious shot and are hunting random flocks of small birds, you certainly don’t need to be able to fire powerful ammunition at a rate of two bullets per second — the rate at which experts say an ordinary person could be able to pull the trigger. Listening to the sound of bullets being fired on a clip that was broadcast of some cell phone recording Cruz’s assault, it sounded to me like he had managed to fire even faster than that — perhaps three shots per second. In any even he was able, in a short time, to kill at least 17 people and injure another 10 or more before presumably running out of loaded clips and sneaking out of the school (he was caught and arrested by police later blocks from the school).

Any person, politician or lobbying organization (think National Rifle Association) that argues otherwise, and claims it’s every American’s god-given Constitutional right to buy and own an assault rifle, including young people with age-appropriate impulse control programs, and even documented mental health issues, is either an idiot, an ideologically driven nut-job, or has some kind of other insidious agenda.

It should have been clear when 20 first-graders were murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. If that uniquely awful atrocity, committed by a mentally ill young man who obtained the gun from his also mentally ill mother who owned it legally, wasn’t enough to get these weapons banned again (they were banned for 10 years nationally, from 1994 to 2004 until Congress allowed the law to expire), I doubt that this latest epic massacre will lead to any change in the law, either nationally or in the state of Florida.

Hell, why should we be surprised? Thanks to aggressive activity by the NRA, some states actually allow a totally blind person to buy and own a gun — any gun, including an assault rifle.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call out the insanity and the rank charlatanism of politicians in Washington (mostly, but not exclusively Republican) that allows this madness to continue.

Let’s be clear: The US is the only country where this kind of mass killing is commonplace. Certainly a mad man bent on mayhem, like the Nazi Anders Breivik, who slaughtered 77 people, most of them young teenagers on a camping outing on an island, can obtain the weapons he needs even in a country with strict gun laws like Breivik’s native Norway, and succeed in his horrific mission of death. But what we have in the US is something much different and more terrifying: a situation where even a person of limited funds, with minimal planning and effort, can simply walk into t gun shop and, no questions asked, purchase a weapon that can kill large numbers of people almost on a whim.

I knew a guy, a musician with serious mental problems, who one time a few years ago when he was going through a particularly bad patch, walked into a gun shop in Virginia and asked for and then bought a pistol and one bullet. Later that same day, he sat on a stump in his back yard, put the gun in his mouth and blew his brains out. You have to ask what kind of person, standing behind the counter of that gun shop, would sell anyone a gun and one bullet! I’m sure it was totally clear to that clerk or owner what the buyer was planning to do, and a real human being with an ounce of compassion should have refused to sell and calmly suggested to the customer that he seek help or go to another gun store.

The same should apply to anyone who comes in and asks to buy an AR-15, especially if that person also asks for multiple large-capacity clips and a large number of shells. Just say no, dammit!

NRA nuts will say, “But what about the poor collectors!”

That’s a stupid and irrational argument. What not collect claymore mines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) then, and why stop there? How about 500-lb gravity bombs, anti-aircraft rockets, or maybe miniature nuclear weapons? I mean the logic is the same: if weapons exist, we as Americans should be free to own and “collect” them. Why do we limit this freedom to own mass destruction assault rifles, but not bombs?

Look at the latest list of the innocent victims of Nikolas Cruz’s insanity and ask that question in reverse: If we don’t permit people to buy bombs and hand-held wire-guided anti-aircraft rockets, why do we permit them to buy semi-automatic assault rifles?

Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program

Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture | CC BY 2.0

What a horrific idea President Trump has come up with in calling for an end to the provision of food assistance money under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which he’d supposedly like to turn into a “surplus food” type operation where people are provided with canned goods and other packaged foods instead of cash.

First off, consider that we’re talking about 45 million people — about one-seventh of the entire population of the United States — who in any given month are receiving this assistance because they have been deemed at risk of being unable to buy enough food to survive on their own.

Just try and imagine the Trump administration, that was and still is unable to provide food to people starving in Puerto Rico in the wake of two back-to-back hurricanes that devastated that island half a year ago, and that’s just three million people.  There are over eight million SNAP recipients just in California and Texas alone and they and the rest of the other 38 million recipients are spread across the country, in cities, suburbs and rural regions alike.  Getting all these people cash cards that they can use in supermarkets and local shops to buy their own food is a cheap, fast and easy way to get these hard-up individuals and households the food they need, especially as the program is administered not by a federal workforce, but by state agencies close to where the needy people are. Distributing food to that many people, in contrast, would require a colossal effort, a huge bureaucracy, and would entail unimaginable costs.

Maybe Trump is thinking of hiring Amazon to do the job, in hopes of winning over the support of the owner of the Washington Post, currently one of his media antagonists.

As things now stand, SNAP costs about $70 billion a year. The cost of administering the program relatively low, with the bulk of the funds going to provide about $125 worth of food assistance per person per month in aid. Because the cards are electronic, when used at computerized stores using bar-code scanners, the system helps keeps spending limited to food items, and not liquor, toys or other unneeded items.

Switching over to actual delivery of food to recipients would reverse the equation, with most of the cost going to actual delivery of the goods, and to a vast bureaucracy to organize the purchase, shipment and delivery of those goods to where they’re needed.

Worse yet, instead of letting people buy what they and their families are accustomed to preparing and eating, as SNAP does, a system involving providing foodstuffs to recipients is an open invitation to scammers who will predictably start providing defective goods, products that have passed their sell-by dates, and items that recipients will reject. Just imagine the number of Muslim and Jewish families that will find themselves receiving canned ham, Buddhist families that will receive meat, Hindu families that will get unwanted beef products and families with members who have allergies who will be stuck with foods that cannot be consumed. It’s madness!

Then again, switching from SNAP cash cards — a program that, because the cards include a photograph of the owner, reportedly has virtually eliminated fraud in the program — to providing actual food products offers huge corporations, whether Amazon or Walmart or whatever enterprising enterprise wants to jump in, an extraordinary opportunity to feed at the federal trough. Just wait for it.

As an investigative journalist, I should be salivating at the opportunity for scandals to expose, but I cannot, because this particular program is so critically important for people who are already having a hard enough time getting by.

Interestingly, a lot of those people — perhaps even the majority of them — are the very ones who backed Trump in the presidential election:  workers whose employers had moved to Mexico or China, people who haven’t found work in years in their communities because of dying industries, as in Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, and even Trump’s favorite for photo-ops, the laid-off coal miners of West Virginia, Kentucky and Montana.

There is a fantasy among conservatives, probably including most of the lily-white male Trump cabinet, that SNAP is a program for black people, latinos and “illegal” immigrants — you know, the kind of folks who live in “shithole” slums in America’s big cities. Well, forget immigrants. If they don’t have green cards, they are not likely to be going into social service offices seeking SNAP assistance — especially these days. Meanwhile, if you look at Agriculture Department statistics, it’s more rural states in the South, Midwest and West, and rust-belt states in the North where SNAP use is greatest. Take Alabama: it had 825,000 people getting SNAP assistance last November in a state with a population of 4.8 million. That’s 17% of the state population. Or take West Virginia, a mostly white, working-class state, where 334,000 people out of a population of 1.8 million received SNAP assistance last November, representing 19% of the population.

How are all these 45 million Americans going to react if their cash cards are taken away and instead of going to the local supermarket to get their food supplies, they have to start making weekly trips to some hard-to-reach distribution center to get heavy loads of canned beans, Spaghetti-Os, Spam and bug-infested rice? How will the elderly or infirm even do it?

I’d call this a hare-brained idea (maybe hair-brained?), but that’s giving it too much credit, because it implies that at least some kind of thought went into it. This is really just a racist bit of meat tossed off by Trump to that portion of his base that has decent jobs and thinks that welfare is going primarily to “lazy, shiftless, non-white, drug-addicted neer-do-wells.” When people start to realize it’s some of their own kith and kin who are going to be losing their SNAP cash cards and being forced instead to accept a pile of canned goods, the proverbial shit’s going to hit the fan.

It’s one thing to take Medicaid and subsidized ACA insurance away from people. When people are sick, they’re in no shape to protest. Many who lose access to medical care, sadly, will just die quietly in their homes. But taking food aid away from families, from kids and babies and old folks? As activist/sociologists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven documented back in the 1960s, that’s the kind of thing that leads to rebellions and revolutions. And we’re talking about 45 million people at any given time who depend on SNAP. Especially since it will bring angry, frustrated people together at the inevitable distribution points.

If the Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress go along with this wacky idea to become law, I predict that they will reap the resulting whirlwind.

Trumpian White Supremacy Has it All Wrong

Photo by davitydave | CC BY 2.0

I’m a white American, but like a majority of us, that’s only small part of the story.

In a country where the federal government is currently in the hands of so-called “nativists” like Trump and his white mostly male Republican Party backers only celebrate white roots, I like many of us have various genetic strands that include a little of what might best be called “diversity.” There is a touch of Native American on my mother’s side — hardly enough to qualify for inclusion in the Algonquin Nation, but enough to remind me and my siblings that our ancestors include both conquerers and the conquered.

Then too, while there is a direct line on both my mother’s side and my father’s side tracing back to the same Warren family that arrived on the Mayflower in 1620, there are also immigrants who came from Scotland (the Stewart Clan) and Ireland on my mother’s side, and from Germany (Kerpol) and England (the Plymptons and Lincolns) on my father’s.

For me, one of the most interesting roots is my great great grandfather, a Lindorff who left Sweden for Germany, marrying a German woman. According to family lore, I’d always heard while growing up, this Scandinavian immigrant had been chased out or fled from Sweden because he was a thief or something, though I later learned it was more likely that he was hounded out as a “red” or socialist undesirable.

That seems to be correct because his daughter — my great grandmother — who with her German husband immigrated to the US in the early 1900s with her young children so they wouldn’t get caught up in Europe’s wars, according to my father proudly voted Socialist in US elections all her life — first for Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs for president and then, after he died, for Socialist leader Norman Thomas. (Her sister, though, was a Nazi sympathizer during the 1930s, hosting gatherings at her home in New York City, to the consternation and embarrassment of my great grandmother.)

As an aside, there’s an irony in the family’s having moved to escape Europe’s wars: Both my grandfather and his older brother ended up fighting in WWI — my great uncle as a bi-plane pilot, and my grandfather as an ambulance on the front lines in France, where he won a Silver Star for heroism under fire saving countless lives of wounded soldiers.

I mention all this because it’s important to think about all of this rich complexity — racial, social and political — when we talk about the historical and cultural roots of the United States.

In this Trumpian era of glorification of an imaginary purely white past — the one Trump’s speechwriters conjured up when he read from his teleprompted State of the Union address, claiming we Americans are uniquely fearless: “…If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it…” — it’s important to recognize that when “we” crossed those frontiers it was go enter lands that were already occupied by the original Americans. We stole those lands from native peoples, killing most of them by weapons, disease, forced relocation and starvation. Meanwhile, for many of our ancestors, including many of mine, the challenge they faced was being accepted by the ones who came before.

My Mayflower ancestors, contrary to the official mythology taught in grade school, came to America not to escape from religious persecution (the Netherlands, from which many of the pilgrims and Puritans came to settle in the New World, was one of the freest countries in Europe when it came to religion). Rather, they came here to America to establish a theocratic society — one that rejected, on pain of whipping, stocks and even death, any heretical beliefs. So extreme was their religious intolerance that Roger Williams by 1636, just 16 years after the Mayflower’s arrival, felt the need to flee religious persecution and lead a group of those heretics to Narragansett Bay and to establish the colony of Rhode Island — on land purchased, not conquered by force, from the resident Narragansett Indians.

A century and more later and on into the 19th century, the descendants of those white European settlers from England or from England via Holland, and their fellow settlers up and down the coast of North America, including Virginia, made life miserable for the waves of those who followed, including another strand of my ancestors, coming from Ireland and Scotland, and later Germany.

My two kids can write someday about an additional strand of our family, since the ancestors of my Jewish wife all arrived in the US in the early 20th century from Russia (Odessa, now part of Ukraine), and from what is now northeastern Poland, both sets of ancestors fleeing brutal pograms launched by local slavic majorities. Once in the US they endured a new round of repression, rejection, discrimination and hatred from those who were already here, including I’m sure my people from Scotland, Ireland and Germany.

It’s not the pretty picture painted by Trump’s speechwriters, or in the florid history books foisted on our children in our public schools.

Yes Americans crossed frontiers — The Native Americans who crossed frontiers in our own land in order to escape being slaughtered by waves of grasping, greedy and bloodthirsty Europeans, and waves of Europeans who crossed our own nation’s borders, some legally, and many illegally, in order to escape wars, oppression and poverty in Europe )including Norway!), and later people from Asia, Africa and South America, coming here for the same reasons. It’s a story that continues today, as Trump struggles to win the money in Congress to erect a “giant beautiful wall” along the US border with Mexico, in hopes of keeping out immigrants from Latin Americans and elsewhere who are trying to flee the same scourges that led white Americans’ ancestors to flee here from Europe.

Not enduring the same thing — the discrimination, fear and hatred of the latest immigrants — will be the challenge that a new generation of US immigrants will of course have to struggle with.

I haven’t mentioned one other critically important group of Americans: those whose ancestors arrived her from Africa. That is simply because so far I have not found in family histories any evidence that I am descended from an African ancestor, though there is one possibility — a reference to an ancestor who was lynched in Mississippi. Of course back in the late 18th and early 19th century in America it wasn’t unusual for white people to be lynched for crimes like horse theft, so the mere fact that an ancestor was lynched in the deep South doesn’t mean the victim was black, but it bears further investigation.

We do know, however, that enslaved Africans, whose forced labor basically built the United States, were brought in chains to parts of what are now the United States even before the pilgrims landed in Cape Cod Bay. Spanish settlers brought slaves with them when they settled St. Augustine in Florida in 1581, and the Jamestown Colony founded in Virginia in 1619 included from its start 20 African slaves. They and those who were dragged here involuntarily in chains later, and their descendants, surely had the biggest “challenges to overcome,” though they were not the ones President Trump’s speechwriters were hailing for their courage in the speech he read to Congress.

This is to be sure a complicated country, populated by a rich tapestry of many peoples from many cultures. My own little family added to this richness when, as residents of Hong Kong back in the 1990s, we adopted a 17-month-old boy from a government orphanage there. Now 24, he’s as American as any 20-something American, an aspiring filmmaker with a family of his own encompassing Chinese, Estonian, Puerto Rican and Italian roots.

I remember once when he had just graduated from high school — a beautifully integrated arts high school in Philadelphia called the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts — my son told me that he and his best friend, a black kid he’d known since they were in kindergarten, had decided they wanted to do a road trip to California over the summer. Now I had hitchhiked across the country at that age several times back in the 1960s, and once, at 17, hitched all the way from Connecticut to Alaska and back with a high school friend. Later, my wife and I, just in our early 20s, also hitched out west and from New York to Florida. Mostly these adventures were without incident, but not always, and the problems we ran into, occasionally scary, generally had to do with our looking “hippyish” in places that such appearance in the 1960s was not appreciated by locals. I explained to my son and his friend that as an Asian and a Black kid driving alone through parts of the south, central and western US, they could actually find themselves running into serious, even dangerous, trouble, including with police. I deterred them from making that trip, much as it pained me to do so.

In my years of living in places like China, Hong Kong and Germany, and of traveling and spending time in countries like Finland, Austria, Italy, France, Laos, Taiwan, Japan and other places, it has often struck me how unusual the US is, with its polyglot population. All in all, we do pretty well at accepting each other, at least compared to many much more racially uniform countries, or to countries where different ethnicities, religions or linguistic groups live in their own discrete regions, with little mixing, as in Russia, Spain, China or Ukraine. Looked at from abroad, we are a relatively accepting and tolerant society. Especially these days we form friendships and intermarry across racial and religious lines pretty easily and among younger people increasingly often, which is encouraging. But even as this is going on, or because it is happening, there is an ugly reaction, particularly among those who are white, who see their dominant position in the US under threat. It is a big part of the appeal and success of President Trump, ironically the child of immigrants himself.

We all need to resist that reaction, and openly celebrate our different roots, including the different roots that many of us carry within our own selves and families. That richness and the acceptance of that diversity is what is best about the United State, and it is much more powerful than the ugliness, racism and intolerance of those who continue to resist its inevitable progress.nd back with a high school friend. Later, my wife and I, just in our early 20s, also hitched out west and from New York to Florida. Mostly these adventures were without incident, but not always, and the problems we ran into, occasionally scary, generally had to do with our looking “hippyish” in places that such appearance in the 1960s was not appreciated by locals. I explained to my son and his friend that as an Asian and a Black kid driving alone through parts of the south, central and western US, they could actually find themselves running into serious, even dangerous, trouble, including with police. I deterred them from making that trip, much as it pained me to do so.

In my years of living in places like China, Hong Kong and Germany, and of traveling and spending time in countries like Finland, Austria, Italy, France, Laos, Taiwan, Japan and other places, it has often struck me how unusual the US is, with its polyglot population. All in all, we do pretty well at accepting each other, at least compared to many much more racially uniform countries, or to countries where different ethnicities, religions or linguistic groups live in their own discrete regions, with little mixing, as in Russia, Spain, China or Ukraine.  Looked at from abroad, we are a relatively accepting and tolerant society. Especially these days we form friendships and intermarry across racial and religious lines pretty easily and among younger people increasingly often, which is encouraging. But even as this is going on, or because it is happening, there is an ugly reaction, particularly among those who are white, who see their dominant position in the US under threat.  It is a big part of the appeal and success of President Trump, ironically the child of immigrants himself.

We all need to resist that reaction, and openly celebrate our different roots, including the different roots that many of us carry within our own selves and families.  That richness and the acceptance of that diversity is what is best about the United State, and it is much more powerful than the ugliness, racism and intolerance of those who continue to resist its inevitable progress.