Archive for October, 2011

Demand: Confiscation

Monday, October 31st, 2011

All this what-do-they-want gas issuing from the embedded mass media is meant to distract from the Occupy movement’s clear mandate: take from the rich. The stewardship of the owners has been a demonstrable failure for everyone but them, so let’s put an end to it. So compelling is the logic behind this demand that the media can’t bring themselves to articulate it.

 There may be some disagreement among protesters over how much to take and what to do with the proceeds, but all agree that the time has come to separate rich people from their assets.  Most seem to follow Robin Hood: take from the rich to give to the poor. Some would rather put the money into public works. Others would like to distribute the proceeds to stressed homeowners. Many would settle for universal Medicare, and a few want to take from the rich simply to decrease their influence over public policy.  Any way you parse it, the message is confiscation.

Rich people and their minions seem to be the only force in opposition to the huge majority on this issue, and it’s a rich irony that as they consolidate their holdings and their political power in fewer and fewer hands, they make themselves that much more vulnerable and confront an ever less resistable tide. They seem oblivious to the hazard they’ve created for themselves. You may have noticed, if you watch interviews with movie stars, sports figures, and other multimillionaire celebrities, that they’re never asked what they do with all the money they make or whether they really think they deserve it. That sort of discussion might veer toward the problem rich people would rather not face, much less talk about: the huge number of ordinary people with no prospect of material comfort and little assurance of economic security. If these masses ever turned their dissatisfaction on those who control all the capital, it would be a sad day for the rich.

It’s common knowledge that most of us have food to eat and a roof over our heads only so long as we agree to the demands of our “creditors.” Creditors. we understand, are people who have more money than they need, so much that they can transfer their surpluses to those of us who don’t have enough, with the expectation of getting their money back, plus some extra as payment for sharing their excess The greater the need for money, workers know, the more the creditors charge you for it. The needy end up paying extra for what they need, and the creditors end up with all that extra, along with the surplus they started with. It’s not difficult to imagine the feelings this sort of arrangement elicits in the participants. Combine a high level of discontent with the inevitable demographic consequences of this scheme–the larger and more desperate the population of debtors, the smaller and less secure must be the class of creditors–and critical mass could come any day.

Nobody is surprised that the media are allied with the rich in this clash of classes. Like all our social institutions–including government at every level–the mass media are controlled and largely owned by the rich, and the “values” they promote are altogether commercial. The inexpressible worry of rich people is that the rest of us will grasp that our numbers–growing by the hour, as security gives way to servitude in household after household–give us strength. The mass media have been delegated to keep that knowledge from us. It’s not working.

In spite of the stream of disinformation, Workers are beginning to understand that only a tiny fraction of rich people’s surplus money is put out to improve the lot of humanity, and nearly all is distributed for the purpose of increasing the creditors’ holdings. Ordinary people are not persuaded that this sort of commerce is good for them, and they’re beginning to recognize the deficiencies in the system. So far, their obligations to creditors have kept them from doing anything to change it, but the appeal of the Occupy movement tells us that there is consensus on one point: for the good of humanity, rich people must be divested of their wealth.

Conviction and Conviction

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

“The trial for the Veterans-for-Peace-led civil resistance in front of the White House on March 19, the 8th anniversary of our illegal invasion of Iraq, concluded this past Friday,” writes Richard Duffee of Stamford, Connecticut, one of the defendants in the case.

“One hundred thirteen were arrested,” he continues. “Nineteen of us declined to pay $100 (or later $35) to close the matter without record. One pled guilty; 13 of us represented ourselves pro se while 5 were represented by attorneys Ann Wilcox, Deborah Anderson, and Mark Goldstone for paltry fees–and in Deborah’s case, gratis. Ann Wilcox and Elliott Adams, President of Veterans for Peace, did the primary organizing of the group, which was a huge task over 7 months involving hundreds of emails, scores of phone calls, and research and writing on detailed and obscure legal issues.

“William Blum, David Swanson, and Ray McGovern agreed to testify as expert witnesses on how the US government plans for, creates, rationalizes, and enters wars, but the judge ruled their testimony ‘would not have probative value.’ Two pro se defendants gave opening arguments, four gave testimony, two cross-examined witnesses, one argued a motion, two gave closing arguments, and each of the 18 gave statements before sentencing.

“It is hard for me to express how valuable this experience was for me. The testimony was riveting. Several times the majority of people in the court room were in tears. Judge Canan ruled against us repeatedly, but we understood that the repressive legislation he had to enforce was at fault. We knew he was honest and respectful, that he listened and understood what we said and meant. Every one of the defendants was earnest, considerate, and compassionate.  VFP’s press release follows:

‘The D.C. Superior Court ruled today that potential pedestrian convenience was more important than the US Constitution or than stopping wars. The 18 defendants (including 8 members of Veterans For Peace) were found guilty by Judge Canan of “failure to obey” and “blocking/incommoding” after being arrested at the White House on March 19, 2011.

‘The defendants argued for their 1st Amendment right to petition their government for redress of grievances. They called on the US Government to obey the law, to obey international law, and to stop the crimes against peace, the war crimes, and the crimes against humanity. The government argued that protecting Constitutional rights and ending war crimes were less important than assuring that a potential pedestrian would not be delayed by a few seconds passing in front of the White House.

‘During the 4day trial Richard Duffee, who had worked under Benjamin Ferencz (the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor), submitted a motion for international law experts to be allowed in the court. The US Constitution makes the Geneva conventions and other elements of international law the supreme law of the land and enforceable in every court. But the Judge denied the motion. Duffee later said, “For the last thirty years, the United States has been reneging on the basic commitment it made after WWII to develop international legal institutions, because we want to be the judge in our own case.”

‘The defendants maintained a focus on the US Constitution, that international law is enforceable in every court, and that the costs of war far exceed any benefit. The court heard personal stories from several vets. Chuck Heyn, a Vietnam veteran, said “When I left Vietnam I pledged to the guys I served with who did not come back that I would speak out against my country when ever my country decided to commit our troops to war based on lies”

‘It was a pro se defense (the defendants acted as their own lawyers) ably assisted by attorney-advisors Ann Wilcox, Deborah Anderson, and Mark Goldstone.

‘Judge Russell F. Canan, Jr., Associate Judge of the DC Superior Court, found the defendants guilty on both charges, fining them $50 plus $100 court fees. Defendant Bev Rice chose to go to jail rather than pay a fine for an unjust law. The case will be appealed.’”

Duffee continues: “I’ve done this sort of thing 3 times before, but was found not guilty or given an adjournment contemplating dismissal each of those times, and the hearings were relatively short and lacked written motions. This is the first time I’ve done civil resistance since going to law school, the first time I’ve acquired a criminal record for it, and the first time I’ve jeopardized my ability to practice law.

“What I’m trying to convey is how utterly worthwhile the whole thing feels to me. I’m so glad I did this I don’t care even if the ultimate result is that I lose the privilege of practicing law. Only a few times in my life have I ever felt that I was exactly where I belonged, that I trusted an entire group completely, and that I’d do it all over again gladly any number of times.

“Elliott Adams led the group. He testified to having shot a woman in a free-fire zone in Vietnam because instead of asking whether the US military had the right to order people to leave their homes on pain of death, he asked whether she might have been raising crops for the Vietcong. The whole courtroom was crying. So infrequently do I have any impulse to follow that I cannot remember ever feeling before, “That is a person I’d follow anywhere.” Art Laffin is a full-time volunteer for the Catholic Worker. He testified that he decided to go with the group because he’d read of the death of a seven-year-old Iraqi boy, whom he named, and who reminded him of his own eight-year-old son. Again we were in tears. Through four days of trial I had the honor of sitting between these two men. I felt, “This is the meaning of my life, to be here with these people, sharing some of their fate.”

“To have that opportunity I had to be willing to risk getting a criminal record. I’ve concluded that US elite has now made US law so repressive that it is impossible to lead a moral life while conforming to every whim of the law–that is, of the elite. I am so glad I took the risk and stuck with it. I recommend civil resistance with Veterans for Peace to anyone. You can trust those vets with your life.

“For the first time in my life I have some appreciation of the virtues of authentic military leadership. Some military leaders really do care for their troops. It’s a palpable feeling. You KNOW it. When an honest soldier decides to oppose an immoral government and defend peace, the result is something that before now I could not understand. For instance, in 1948 Jose Figueres led a military coup that overthrew the government of Costa Rica. He took power and abolished the military. He must have been a man like Elliott Adams.

“Veterans for Peace are the true leaders of this country. I hope the country will realize this in time to prevent the death of civilization and the planet.”

Predator at Three O’Clock

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

I’m a little worried. This American our president ordered incinerated in Yemen seems to have been guilty of harsh invective. I’m also guilty of harsh invective, and so I’m wondering whether I should be expecting to get “taken out” some time soon. 

I’m not sure what exactly Anwar Al-Awlaki has been saying–I wouldn’t believe anybody who claimed to know–but if he’s been accusing the leaders of our country of mass murder, I’ve done that. If he’s been saying that we–being participants in a democratic republic–are all complicit in the killing, I’ve said that. If he’s argued that there are no innocent grown-up Americans, I’ve made that argument. If he’s claimed that the crimes of 9/11 were trivial by comparison with the subsequent misconduct of the United States government, I’ve made that claim. I’ve even gone so far as to contend that our nation’s actions over the past ten years prove that the USA deserved what happened to it on 9/11.

As a veteran of the armed forces and a comrade of the GI’s that serve today, I can’t bring myself to say that they should be attacked wherever in the world they wage war, but I can’t say I don’t believe that. If that’s what the dead man was saying, I can certainly understand his reasoning.

I don’t think I should die for opposing the USA. On the contrary, I’m altogether certain that justice will eventually be visited on us, and that the sooner we clean up our act, the better. Writing invective is my part of that mission. I’m out to save the nation. I’d rather have the retribution now, against us who deserve it, than to have the consequences of our murderous conduct spoil the lives of my grandchildren. Awlaki should have been heeded, not killed. If he was demonstrating the utter amorality of the USA and hollering that a nation run at the pleasure of fat, pill-popping violence buffs should be put out of business by any means possible, he was a truth-teller, and his death puts our rehabilitation further out of reach. You might want to ask Obama not to kill me for saying so.