Saturday, May 23, 2015

Why I Won't Be Voting For Bernie Sanders & Why W.E.B. DuBois Wouldn't Have, Either

A friend lent me the 150th anniversary edition of The Nation, a publication I can rarely bring myself to read because the self-congratulatory liberal tone sets my teeth on edge. My friend thought that as a student of history I'd be interested in the extensive collection of critical essays on substantive issues of days gone by, and she was right.

Here's a blockbuster, published when I was ten days old, by W.E.B. DuBois. The central thesis of "Why I Won't Vote" could have been written yesterday.
In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no "two evils" exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party. 
On the Presidential ballot in a few states (seventeen in 1952), a "Socialist" Party will appear. Few will hear its appeal because it will have almost no opportunity to take part in the campaign and explain its platform. If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by "force and violence." Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called "Communist" and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state.
It's not the first time I've read DuBois' essay but it's 2015 now and alleged socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders has thrown his hat into the ring for president. As a Democrat! 

This seems to be the 21st century playbook for the party represented by the ass. Nominate someone who talked like a populist long enough to appear as a plausible candidate of the people. Once the candidate has gotten the Democratic nomination, remind him or her that everyone knows you can't win without $$$$$$$$$$$$$$ behind you. Make sure the candidate begins voting for the Pentagon's base budget and for its war slush fund (think Barack Obama and Mike Michaud here). 

Also, the candidate should vote to send weapons to Israel at the U.S. taxpayers' expense. In that area, Bernie Sanders will really excel. As has, historically, The Nation

The friend who lent me the anniversary issue also read "The Nation magazine's shameful history of aiding ethnic cleansing in Palestine" by Rania Khalek in Electronic Intifada. Here's one of many examples of historical pro-Zionist propaganda in The Nation:
the leavening effect of Jewish enlightenment and social ferment in the vast lump of Arab misery and ignorance ("The Palestine inquiry" 12 January 1946)
After reading this sad compilation my friend commented that The Nation has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, but that she can no longer support him. Perhaps this video I had shared earlier influenced her thinking about Bernie, too.

The truly cynical among you may suspect that Bernie has thrown his hat into the ring as a populist challenge to the incredibly well-funded Hillary Clinton campaign in order to split the liberal vote. Because in the Punch and Judy show of presidential politics, isn't it time for a Republican?

Maybe that strategy is top of mind because I live in Maine where we have a second term Tea Party governor who was elected both times due to an Independent and independently wealthy candidate who split the liberal vote. How many of those candidates were working the ALEC agenda? Which candidates for president will represent AIPAC and its deep-pocketed campaign donors? Time will tell but here's my prediction: no matter which party is in the White House or in control of Congress, massive "defense" budgets and "aid" to Israel will continue to roll on.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Send Skowhegan Written Testimony About Why It's Time To Retire The Indian Mascot #mepolitics

Tamarleigh Grenfell is a Skohegan alumna who is ready to embrace the change.
If you haven't weighed in on the Skowhegan Area High School mascot controversy, there is still time. Though the school board there barred taxpayers like me from speaking at the public hearing on the mascot on May 4, they did invite written testimony. They meet on May 7 to further consider the request for change.

Even the young man who started the petition to keep the mascot has had a change of heart: Organizer of efforts to keep Skowhegan Indians mascot changes mind.

Here is a handy copy and paste list of the email addresses of the school board and administration of the district:

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Time To Retire The Racist Mascot Of Skowhegan High School "Indians" #mepolitics

Monday, May 4 School Board meeting
Skowhegan Middle School

Only residents will be allowed to speak. Please reach out to your friends and family who can speak, even if you cannot.

When Skowhegan, Maine began using the Indian mascot, no harm was intended.

People who defend the mascot claim its intent is to "honor" the people of Maine's tribes. But representatives from all four tribes -- Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac -- have told the school board they do not feel honored.

In 2015, it is clear that the institutionalized racism inherent in using native people as team mascots harms us all. Maine's tribal leaders have repeatedly told the school board they are offended by the Indian mascot. Penboscot elder Barry Dana has stated, "Why should I need to explain why I am offended? Shouldn't the fact that I am offended be enough?"

Passamaquoddy elder Madonna Scotomah asked the Skowhegan school board last month why a team or its fans would want to imitate someone else's culture, or consider that imitation an honor?

The American Psychological Association has published research indicating that the use of American Indian mascots harms all children exposed to it, including those seeing their culture misrepresented. In 2005 the APA called on schools to retire the use of such mascots.

A Canadian First Nations man who was successful in getting a youth league football team to change its name from the the Nepean Redskins to the Nepean Eagles. put it this way:
"[racist team names] are the most in-your-face socially acceptable systemic oppression within our society and yet it's used by children's football teams. 
It's not even a gateway drug for racism, it is racism."
You can read more about Ian Campeau's successful effort here.

The Bangor Daily News published this editorial on April 30: 
Junior Scott LaFlamme hides from fellow Old Town High School students as they file into the gym before the introduction of the school’s new coyote mascot in April 2006. The school’s former mascot, an Indian, was replaced because it was deemed disrespectful to the Penobscot Indian Nation.
A high school age opponent of the change told reporters in Skowhegan last month that changing the team name would "erase history." As a history major and teacher, I beg to differ. History, in fact, is all about change. Some changes are bad for us while others are beneficial. Let's hope the Skowhegan School Board finds the courage to do the right thing.

When they do  retire the Indian mascot, Maine will become the first state in the U.S. with no racist high school team mascots. Dirigo!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Which Women Could Possibly Save The World?

I was called out, and rightly so, on my use of a quote at the end of my blog post of yesterday. The Dalai Lama's purported claim that Western women will save the world has been made into numerous memes that get shared around the interwebs. 

I've always understood the quote to indicate that the economic privilege and social freedom of women in the Americas and Europe might be used for leverage to effect positive change. I certainly didn't think it meant that Western women were more powerful or more committed  than women elsewhere.

Since I was blogging about the hyper-masculinized woman of the military culture of the U.S. in the 21st century, the quote sprang to mind. I had just mentioned Hillary Clinton who is, in my opinion, the quintessential militarized woman. And I don't mean that in a good way.

My kind critic pointed out that she thought non-western women would find the quote "horribly offensive."

She is right, of course.

For the record, here are the kind of women who I think are most likely to save the world.

Siabatou Sanneh of Gambia (see photo above)

Dr. Vandana Shiva of India

Dalia Ziada of Egypt

Dr. Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala (seen here with the Dalai Lama -- maybe this is the kind of Western hemisphere women he had in mind?).

Sikwani Dana a Penobscot of Maine, USA

橋本あき Aki Hashimoto黒田節子 Setsuko Kuroda大河原多津子 Tatsuko Okawara, 高橋幸子 Yukiko Takahashi木田節子 Setsuko Kida and 森園和重  Kazue Morizono

of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan
“The government is 80-90% men and they are making all the decisions. It’s time for them to become enlightened to the fact that they are wrong. I want them to listen to us women; the women need to speak up, I feel that very strongly.“                                  --Kazue Morizono

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Militarized Woman: 'Grounded' with Anne Hathaway @PublicTheaterNY

Photo source:
It's an old story: a naïve young soldier runs with open arms toward his generations's war shouting "America, fuck yeah!" There, he encounters the death and destruction of innocents. His own role in inflicting suffering becomes too heavy a burden to bear. He begins to question his former patriotic fervor. He breaks down, and a traumatized veteran struggling to survive replaces the fresh-faced boy.

After her son returned from Vietnam a farm woman in my neck of the woods told a neighbor, "I sent the Army a good boy, and they sent me a home a killer."

But what if instead she had sent the Army a good girl?

In 'Grounded' by George Brant, currently in previews at the New York Public Theater, Anne Hathaway plays an Air Force fighter pilot with all the macho posturing, beer drinking and swearing of a stereotypical warrior. She's the 21st century militarized woman, cannon fodder who no longer needs superior physical force to kill with the best of them. In the mechanized wars, a pretty face will do to push the buttons that rain down Hellfire missiles on "the guilty," over there.

Hathaway's unnamed character rejects traditional feminine wisdom as she makes it in a man's world. Men she meets on leave don't know what to do with her alpha maleness; since she's in the guy role, they don't know where that leaves them. Until Eric, who's turned on by her prowess in the sky and wants to rip her flight suit off to have robust sex with her. By this means the pilot is grounded by a fundamental truth about females: we get pregnant. In the militarized world, the power to create a receptacle for new life is a weakness, not a strength.

Ultimately the pilot's "punishment" for becoming someone's mother is consignment to the contemptible ranks of "the chair force." Now she will operate a drone, a flying killer robot called Reaper, over the sands of an unspecified foreign land. With a team of surveillance operators and interpreters she will locate and destroy military-age males, sending their body parts flying on the grey screen she stares at for 12 hours at a stretch. Driving through her own desert each day from Creech Air Base outside Las Vegas, she will return to a home life that is more alienating than grounding. Eric, in a neat role reversal, couldn't be more nurturing, supportive or understanding -- at least for a while, until his wife begins terrorizing their toddler, Samantha. Mom doesn't want Sam to become "a hair tosser, a cheerleader" but the little girl just wants mommy to play with her.

What's new about warriors unable to reintegrate into the home space? As Hathaway's character observes, she used to transition home once a year. Now she has to attempt it once a day. Once she could let off steam by drinking with the boys. Now she has to pretend she wants to play with pink toy ponies.

What's also new is the role of surveillance, the so-called Gorgon Stare, a high resolution camera mounted on drones that can almost but not quite see its victims' faces. As the drone pilot comes unraveled her perception of being constantly watched by invisible forces becomes unbearable. And when she is the watcher she begins to imagine that it's her car she's following on a road through the desert. That it's her child who runs from the house toward her father, "the Prophet," captive in his own car, peeing into a bottle so that he never has to emerge into the drone pilot's gaze.

Eric, who cries easily, makes his wife go to counseling with him. She's jealous, imagining he's attracted to the  blonde therapist. She's angry at being pressured to talk about her feelings. She can't take off her flight suit anymore, even in bed. It's her armor, and the soft person she is inside it doesn't emerge until her mental deterioration is complete. Then she wanders out into the desert and buries her flight suit in the sand. She's last seen creating crazy memorials to the legions of the dead, clad only in her underwear.

It's the perfect play for a month when the so-called feminist Hillary Clinton, an accomplished warmonger during her time as Senator and Secretary of State, announced her candidacy for president. Expert direction by Julie Taymor can't overcome the fact that Anne Hathaway doesn't quite have the inner cauldron of seething rage that this tragedy needs. Hillary would have been a better casting choice, the poster girl for selling off your feminine soul for a mess of pottage. The Dalai Lama has been widely quoted as saying that it will be Western women who will save the world. Maybe so, but only if they don't forget how to be women.

Photos source: The Children Killed by America's Drones. "Crimes Against Humanity" committed by Barack H. Obama by Prof. Michel Chossudovsky in GlobalResearch, Jan. 26, 2013.

Addendum: A young woman I respect questioned my use of the Dalai Lama's questionable quote. Here is the blog post I wrote about that:  Which Women Could Possibly Save The World?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

1,300 Mainers Tell @SenAngusKing Don't Bomb Iran, Let Diplomacy Work!

photo credit: Martha Spiess
Mainers concerned about Sen. Angus King's belligerent stance toward Iran visited his Augusta office yesterday to deliver a petition with 1,300 signatures of constituents calling for diplomacy, not war. In this photo Doug Rawlings, co-founder of Veterans for Peace, hands the petition to King's staff while Codepink associates Ridgley Fuller and Mark Roman join others in holding DON'T BOMB IRAN signs produced by social action organization CREDO, the petition's sponsor.

This is one of many actions concerned citizens are taking to let King know that we expect him to represent the people of Maine, not the campaign donors of AIPAC. Israel does not and should not dictate U.S. foreign policy, but King has been eager to jump on their bandwagon.

A call to action circulated by Just Foreign Policy has also been making the rounds in our state. It draws attention to the fact that King, an independent, has co-sponsored legislation designed to sink any negotiated agreement with Iran to monitor nuclear production.
Dear Bruce,
Exciting news from Switzerland: the US, our international partners, and Iran have agreed on a framework for the Iran nuclear deal! [1]  
This latest development proves that diplomacy is working. But even with this landmark success, Republicans in Congress will continue to try to derail a final deal.  
Sen. Angus King is currently helping Republicans kill an Iran deal. Sen. Angus King is currently a co-sponsor of a piece of legislation Republicans are trying to push through the Senate: the Corker-Menendez bill (S. 615) that would impose procedural hurdles in the way of a deal. This bill will likely be considered shortly after Congress returns to DC on April 14. [2] [3] [4] 
Call Sen. Angus King NOW at (202) 224-5344 and say
The US, our international partners, and Iran have reached an agreement on a framework for an Iran nuclear deal. Diplomacy is working. I urge Sen. Angus King to STOP SUPPORTING the Corker-Menendez bill (S. 615), to OPPOSE the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill (S. 269), and to OPPOSE consideration of any other legislation that would compromise the talks until after the June 30 deadline. 
When you're done, report your call here: 

Thanks for all you do to promote diplomacy,
Megan Iorio and Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy 

Those in Maine who prefer to make a local call can contact the Augusta office at 207-622-8292. Or use this link to send King an email. Let's work together to remind Congress that we want them to support the Iran deal, and that we don't support the war that hawks are promoting.

Use these CODEPINK links to send a letter to your reps and senators saying Congress: Let diplomacy work! or to sign an open letter to Sen. Tom Cotton. Here Medea Benjamin and other patriots visit Cotton's DC office last week calling for peace with Iran and reminding Cotton of the role of the Senate under the U.S. Constitution.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Hate Speech On The Rise And What To Do About It

Bowdoin students stage sit-in outside president's office by Beth Brogan, Bangor Daily News 4/1/15

It's a bit sad that I'm blogging about hate speech rising at dawn on Easter morning. It's the spring holiday when every faith celebrates the return of light and life, and the re-greening of the planet.  So happy Passover, happy Nowruz and happy Ostara everyone. I fear that what's rising in my neighborhood is not the eternal spirit of love and forgiveness, though, at least not for many.

My first discouraging discovery this week came right on the heels of a happy one: students at my alma mater had staged a sit-in at the college administration offices to call attention to their demand that Bowdoin divest from fossil fuel investments. After being stonewalled by the trustees of the college for 150 days, and in response to the non-responsiveness of the college's lame duck president, twenty young adults occupied the halls outside Barry Mills' office. 

Why this was encouraging: Bowdoin students generally go along with the status quo and are too polite to make waves. Many an activist student who finds him or herself at Bowdin expresses frustration about this; many transfer. Though the college states its mission to educate youth to serve the common good, there's a general perception that what they mostly serve is their own agenda to enjoy life and make a lot of good connections while getting a degree that will get them into a good grad school. Many of the people I went to Bowdoin with a long time ago went on to become Wall St. types who helped crash the economy in '08 and accelerate the crushing poverty of the masses. Bowdoin's endowment, by the way, is epic; it passed the $1 billion mark in 2013.

Why this was discouraging: check out the pages and pages of hate filled comments on the Bangor Daily News article about the sit-in. (The thread is now closed for comments. Maybe because I tried to get some friends to send the students some love? We'll never know.)

Here's a mild example for starters:

This sets a theme that others developed with sneering contempt. There were recurring insults that made me feel many of the commenters were paid climate change deniers who were operating from a common playbook. Free wifi, for example. Other criticisms that willfully ignored the issue the students were concerned about ridiculed them for their creature comforts including being warm (it's been a long and very cold winter in Maine this year due to changes in the ocean currents due, ironically, to climate-change induced melting of the polar ice cap). 

Access to electronics and free wifi, and politically correct food choices were also recurring themes.

Free wifi came up so often it was kind of amazing. Doesn't McDonald's and your local library offer free wifi for the masses? Don't Bowdoin students either pay or borrow thousands of dollars a year for their "free" wifi? Of course I should stop trying to find any logic in the hate speech spewed by talk radio and Fox news which the commenters are parroting.

And about those cars. Apparently students at expensive private colleges are all driving fancy SUVs that get poor gas mileage, the hypocrites.

This recurring accusation seemed a little behind the curve, actually. Because wouldn't a lot of these particular students drive (expensive) hybrids? Plus, isn't the Mainer most likely to leave comments like this driving around in a full size (like 6 or even 8 cylinder) pickup truck that gets lousy gas mileage, too?

But it was the underlying current of threat that I found so discouraging.

Do people who don't know how to use the apostrophe correctly naturally hate people who do, or is this something that must be learned?

Next on my discouraging news of the week came from blogger Shay Stewart-Bouley who heads, as she puts it, "one of the few organizations in the United States dedicated to anti-racism work," Community Change, Inc. in Boston. 

While walking down the street in Portland's Old Port fancy pants shopping and dining district, her mixed race family encountered a car full of cowardly youths who yelled the N-word at them and drove off.  She wrote about in her blog,  BlackGirlinMaine: When gelato gets racial or a little girl hears the N-word for the first time. 

I recognize how sad it is that being targeted by hateful, threatening speech is a constant for people of color in Maine. As Stewart-Bouley put it:
as a mixed-raced family in a white space, the reality is that anytime we leave our house as a family, we risk incurring the wrath of the ignorant and hateful
I don't want this to be, but so it is. Reading the facebook discussion about how a white news anchor in Maine witnessed the event and wrote about it made me think about what I would have done if I'd been there. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have chased after the car, though I understand why Shay's 23 year old son did. I like to think I would have yelled something at the car, but what?  SHUT UP! maybe. I refuse to shout IDIOTS, because name calling is part of the problem, not the solution. I also like to wish I would have the courage to go over to the family as Shay reported one man did to say, Are you ok?

Well that's really the question, isn't it -- is a family or a 9 year old girl or any of us ok in a place where hate speech is the norm?

Personal racism results in hate speech, and all within earshot are aware of it. Many argue that institutional racism -- the kind built into the structures of society -- is more apparently polite, often invisible, and probably much more harmful. Some would argue that getting the ugliness up into the light of day where we can all hear it and acknowledge it is a good thing. 

Sure, like it was better when the Nazis shouted ugly slogans at Jewish people on the street than when they turned them out of their jobs as college professors.

Stewart-Bouley observed:
In my professional work, I work with white people on race and the white American culture is an all-too-polite space where too many times white people don’t speak up and unfortunately silence can be harmful. Racism is a system, and that silence upholds that system even when we don’t believe we are actively creating harm.
That's their white privilege in operation. And if you really want to see people get angry, call them out on their white privilege.

The third discouraging thing this week was the glee with which liberals greeted the news that a former mayor of Biddeford and former state legislator, Joanne Twomey, had thrown a jar of Vaseline at Maine's governor during a public appearance. Her missile was apparently a response to a crude remark of a sexual nature that the governor had made. 

Having cartoonish villains is part of the personalization of politics that normalizes hate speech and hostile gestures, making them seem desirable as long as they are directed at the proper targets. Maine's governor is the buffoon liberals love to hate and they are fond of calling him various forms of stupid when he is, in fact, a creature of ALEC and an extremely astute politician. His criticism of a different Democratic state legislator as "a bad person" with "no brains" and a "black heart" is reportedly what spurred Twomey to action. 

The rise of accepting hateful speech and gestures aimed against anyone is not and cannot be a good sign. I don't like the governor's proposed budget either; it's designed to make the un- and under employed working poor of Maine even poorer and angrier than they are now. And the media is sure to tell them who to blame: affluent college kids, and families that vaguely resemble (in the sense of lazy thinking to the effect that "they all look alike") that much reviled, well-educated African American family in the White House.

All who care must teach and practice tolerance -- or we will repent at leisure. Get busy.