Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Ten Year Olds Think "America Is In Other Countries Fighting For Their Freedom"

"Winged Genius Anointing the Keeper of the King's Bow" Assyrian relief removed from the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II by looters in the 19th century and now on display at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Empires throughout history have spent a ton of money on internal propaganda. And it works. School children will scurry across a room to stand with a classmate wearing a U.S. Marine Corp. t-shirt who states -- falsely, but with great conviction -- that "America is in other countries fighting for their freedom." How would a ten year old even get that idea when it's doubtful he could find Afghanistan, Iraq or Ukraine on a map?

You can count on the fact that he has not seen any news like this:

At least 54 Colombian girls sexually abused by immune US military: Report

U.S. soldiers and military contractors sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007, according to a recently released historic document on the country’s conflict. The suspects have allegedly not been prosecuted due to immunity clauses in bilateral agreements [emphasis mine].
Colombia -- that's where the White House is, right?

You can also count on kids today having seen plenty of movies and t.v. shows with the message: Nazis bad, "American" soldiers good. The fact that the U.S. scooped up the German rocket scientists after WW II, or that IBM and Ford made plenty of money doing business in Nazi Germany? They'll never hear about it. And it would be impossible to count how many movies and shows kids today have seen depicting Islamic extremists blowing things up and harming innocent bystanders.

I turned off corporate television so many decades ago that it's quite a shock when I travel and see the disinformation streaming out from big screens in airports and hotel bars. No shortage of enemies, ever. Russia, Iran, ISIS, fill in the blank -- someone is always menacing the mighty and exceptional U.S.

But, history would also suggest that empires who overspend on wars and propaganda while allowing their citizens to starve crumble into dust.

Congress is about to impose austerity cuts that will make those of the past look mild by comparison. Even with our high rate of children growing up in poverty, the U.S. appears to be about to throw millions more families off food stamps and Social Security. Here in Maine we have 70,000 low-income people who are unable to receive Medicaid because of our Tea Party governor.

Libertarian Rick Santorum made news this week by saying. "We will never have the elite, smart people on our side." Maybe he has read some history and even knows what to expect from the lumpen proletariat. Meanwhile, many so-called smart people are kept busy crowing over how one corporate party seems dumber than the other corporate party. As if that made a bit of difference in both parties working together to push through (in secret) the Trans Pacific Partnership, or starting another few wars with our best buddies Saudi Arabia and the neo-Nazis of Ukraine.

The great danger of propaganda is that empires start believing their own bullshit -- right up until vandals break into the palace and start slashing the wrists of the king's keeper of the bow, that is.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Get A Job" & "I Love War" Say Workers @BathIronWorks, While Others Desire Change From Building WMDs

When working class Mainers encounter peace demonstrations, hostility often gets expressed in the form of shouts to "Get a job!" Yesterday at General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works shipyard we heard a lot of that. Being unemployed is just about the worst fate some who are employed building destroyers for the U.S. Navy can think of. Besides, if we're standing around on the pavement at noon on Saturday speaking what's in our hearts we must be in need of something better to do -- right?

"I love war" was another thing we heard amid the jeers and catcalls that greeted one of our speakers in particular. Hee Eun "Silver" Park seemed to anger the BIW workers, or perhaps it was the banner in Korean that her husband, Paco Michelson, held behind her as she spoke. Translated it says NO NAVAL BASE but to many of the BIW men changing shifts at noon it was Chinese, and they didn't like it.

Silver spoke movingly in English saying that the people of Jeju whose coral reefs have been trashed to make a deep water port for U.S. destroyers in South Korea don't hate the workers who make the ships, and don't consider them enemies.

The Chorus of the Unemployed song from my play Canteen Annie at the Bomb Factory expressed what many BIW workers have told protesters there over the years: we need our jobs, but we would love to build windmills or trains instead of weapons of mass destruction. BIW workers are like Brecht's Mother Courage, the basis for the character, Annie, making a living off the war machine out of necessity. Do they, like Annie, try unsuccessfully to save their children from recruiters? Do they go on working for General Dynamics because it's the largest single employer in Maine? 

We live in a state where full-time, full benefits jobs are as scarce as daffodils on the first day of spring. Also, some workers shared with us that many have had their hours cut lately and are no longer full-time. So they must feel scared about the prospect of being unable to pay their mortgages and keep food on the table at home.

Annie's dreadful bargain doesn't save her children in the end. Neither will the BIW shipyard workers you can hear shouting at Paco in the video be able to save their children from the effects of a fully militarized economy. Younger generations will also experience coastal flooding and other effects of environmental degradation caused by the Pentagon's massive carbon footprint.

Children everywhere are teetering on the brink of inheriting a planet that won't support life. 

I'll be sending a letter to Maine's congressional delegation signed by many in Bath yesterday. It calls for a budget that serves people's needs over those of the Pentagon's many wealthy contractors. It reminds them that Congress is supposed to represent the people, not General Dynamics.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Canteen Annie At The Bomb Factory: Mother Courage At @BathIronWorks #mepolitics


At General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works on Saturday, March 21 at noon CODEPINK, as part of the nationwide Spring Mobilization for Peace, will present CANTEEN ANNIE AT THE BOMB FACTORY based on Bertolt Brecht’s legendary antiwar play, Mother Courage and Her Children.

Bruce Gagnon, an organizer of an ongoing series of Lenten vigils to protest militarism explains the significance of presenting the play at Bath Iron Works: “We need to stand together to express our opposition to the ongoing crime against peace which is the building of guided missile warships at BIW.”

Gagnon will speak on March 21, along with international organizers Hee Eun “Silver” Park and Paco Michelson, peace activists from the Jeju Island Anti-Naval Base struggle. Park and Michelson are travelling across the U.S. in March and April to share the story of the struggle through the screening of a new full-length documentary, Gureombi, and speaking about their personal experiences on Jeju Island, Korea where a coral reef is being destroyed to create a deep water port for the destroyers built in Bath. The film will be shown March 20 at 7pm at Grace Episcopal Church in Bath and on March 23 in New York City before touring the rest of the country.

Free transportation on March 21 will be provided from Portland, leaving Monument Square at 10:30 am, and Brunswick, leaving the train station there at 11:15 am. CODEPINK and other sponsors of the event are calling on Bath Iron Works to convert to producing light rail trains for public transportation rather than weapons of mass destruction.

This event is sponsored by Smilin’ Tree Disarmament Farm’s Lenten Vigil at Bath Iron Works,CODEPINK, Veterans for Peace, Peace Works of Greater Brunswick, Alliance for Democracy, and Global Network Against Nuclear Weapons & Power in Space. FMI: (207) 542-7119

CHARACTERS: There are 7 main characters, each with a mask that identifies them.
In order of appearance:




Canteen Annie
Son #1
Son #2
Payroll Master

SETTING: Annie’s Canteen is held at each end by a stagehand, in such a way that the BIW shipyard is visible in the background.

Canteen Annie, Son #1, Son #2, and Daughter are visible behind the cut out window of Annie’s canteen. Extras approach the window from stage left, mime a transaction, and exit stage right.

Annie steps out from behind the canteen holding her mask, approaches the microphone and addresses the audience.
Annie: Selling food to workers at the bomb factory is what I do. Hey, a mom has got to make a living somehow. It’s a family business. My kids don’t have to make bombs or enlist in the military. I can feed them right here! Besides, where else are they going to get a job these days? Have you seen those lines at unemployment? If it wasn’t for the bomb factory, nobody would be working.

SCENE #2  The Unemployed Chorus
Lead singer at the microphone, others lined up behind him across the stage in profile holding sheafs of papers representing job applications.
Everyone sings to the tune of 


Son #1 steps from behind the canteen, followed by Annie. They approach the microphone.

Son #1: I hate this canteen like a disease. My hair smells like grease all the time. I’m better than this.

Annie: Be thankful for what we’ve got, son!

Recruiter enters from stage left. He has his mask in one hand, paper and a pen in the other

Recruiter to Son #1: How would you like a brand new pickup truck kid? Just sign right here. I’ll make sure you get a good job in the army. With benefits. And money for college after.

Annie: Get away from my son! He doesn’t want to talk to you!

Son #1: Yes I do!

Annie: Listen to me! Don’t listen to the recruiter! War is hell. It destroys the innocent.

Recruiter to Son #1: Just sign here.
               to Annie: I won't let you spoil my war for me. Destroys the weak, does it? Well, what does peace do for'em, huh? War feeds its people better.


Annie returns, dejected, to the canteen.

Son #2 steps from behind the canteen wearing glasses and carrying a laptop case. He is followed by Annie. They approach the microphone.

Son #2: I won’t make the mistakes my brother made. I’m studying accounting.

Annie: That’s a good boy!

Payroll Master enters from stage left. He has his mask in one hand, paper and a pen in the other.

Payroll Master to Son #2: How would you like a job? I need smart young men like you to work in the payroll department at the bomb factory.

Annie: Get away from my son! He doesn’t want to talk to you!

Son #2: Yes I do!

Payroll Master to Son #2: Just sign here.


Annie returns, dejected, to the canteen.

Daughter (in red boots) steps out from behind the canteen carrying school books. Annie waves goodbye to her from the canteen window.

Daughter approaches the microphone.

Daughter: I can’t believe I’m finally at community college. A dream come true!

Soldier enters from stage left, carrying his mask in one hand and school books under his other arm. He sees Daughter, drops his books on the ground, and grabs her around the neck from behind.

Daughter: (Screams) Help! Rape!

Soldier lets go of her and she crumples to the stage. He runs off stage right.

Daughter applies duct taped X to the mouth of her mask and slowly stands up with mask covering her real face. She goes to back of stage and picks up a large sign protesting the war economy and blood for oil. Begins walking back and forth across the stage showing one side of her sign, then the other.

Soldier approaches from stage right and pantomimes shooting her. She crumples to the stage and remains there.

Annie runs out from behind the canteen and crouches over her fallen Daughter.

Annie: (Crying) Oh, daughter, what have they done to you? What have they done?


A new swarm of workers enters from stage left and stands at the canteen window.

Canteen Annie rises slowly from her fallen daughter. She goes dejectedly to the microphone.

Annie: Yes, I'll manage, although there's not much point in it now. But I must get back to business.

Annie goes back behind the canteen window and pantomimes selling food to workers.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Fiddling While Rome Drowns

I woke up in the belly of the beast this morning -- Washington DC, where oligarchs have our "democratic" government hurtling toward WWIII at an ever more rapid pace.

After attending a depressingly enlightening talk yesterday by Finnish education expert Pasi Sahlberg I slept restlessly, then awoke to news that Stratfor, known to some as the shadow CIA, has plans for partitioning Russia drawn up already. Ukraine and NATO's backing of neo-Nazi militias there has been on my mind lately, along with the sense that the U.S. now wages wars against the poor on so many fronts that it's hard to focus on any one spot. Ferguson, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Ukraine, pivot to Asia -- which is the most urgently dangerous?

Since Stratfor's forward planning is depressingly accurate at predicting where my tax dollars will be deployed on wars instead of educating our young, I am taking their plan seriously. All the nuclear weapons that will come loose if NATO succeeds in breaking up the Russian empire is one thing to worry about.

Here's another:

The hypocrisy of people like freshman Senator Angus King scolding Iran for even thinking about developing nuclear weapons can be astonishing. Though King doesn't mention Israel in his directives for Iran, the hand of AIPAC is clear enough behind his threatening rhetoric.Who is more bellicose:  Iran, or Israel with its repeated bombing of Gaza and its completely uninspected nuclear arsenal?

Even without counting nuclear pollution, the Pentagon is the biggest polluter on the planet; its carbon footprint is larger than any other organization on Earth. The wars it fights for access to fossil fuel deposits and their transport rage on and on, expanding every year since 9/11 was staged. Polar ice is melting rapidly, coastal areas and islands are flooding, and many environmental scientists feel we passed the tipping point for reversing this trend some time back.

Somewhere I'm sure Stratfor has made plans for how the empire will continue to operate when Washington DC, Wall St., Boston, Miami, San Diego and Houston are all under water.

You would think this crisis would call for urgent action by our elected government. Instead, lavish campaign contributions by Pentagon contractors and calls for more war by our "representatives" roll on.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Manufacturing Consent: How The Sausage Gets Made

Source: Hyperallergic
There is consent, and then there is manufactured consent. News blackouts are a good way of manufacturing consent. If people don't know about something, or know only a tiny sliver of managed truth, it's easier to get them to go along with official policies they would likely oppose if only they knew

A good example is the corporate news coverage of  last summer's attacks on Gaza by Israel. If you were a U.S. corporate news consumer, you would be left with the impression that Hamas started it (untrue, Israel broke the ceasefire). Also that their rockets were a comparable threat to the bombardment unleashed by Israel on hospitals, schools, water treatment plants and other infrastructure -- a ridiculous proposition.

What is an effective response to managed "news" in our day?

Conceptual artist Banksy traveled to Gaza and painted a kitten on one piece of the thousands of pieces of rubble that Gazans have huddled in this winter while trying not to freeze to death. From NBC News: 

Bansky says, "A local man came up and said 'Please - what does this mean?' I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website - but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens."
Here's his video: 

Students at the University of Toronto this week took a different, less aesthetic, yet elegantly simple approach. At a lecture by two prominent deniers of the Armenian Genocide, "WWI 100th Anniversary - Human Suffering in Eastern Anatolia,” students waited until the denial began and then stood and simply turned their backs.
Source: Armenian Weekly
According to the report in Armenian Weekly:
Several racial slurs and discriminatory comments were directed at the protesters as they stood in silence. 
Lecture organizers briefly stopped the event, but after campus police made it clear that the form of protest did not interfere with the event, they were asked to continue. 
Protesters continued standing with their backs to the podium as Fein spoke, then marched out in an organized walk-out, leaving the remaining twenty or so attendees to listen to the rest of the lecture.
The government of Turkey spends quite a bit of money each year to deny that the wealth of its oligarchs is, in many cases, based on the theft of resources the genocide of Armenians made possible. Author Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted by his government for saying in an interview, "Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do."

In the U.S. there is yet another way to manufacture consent, this one also at taxpayers' expense: Rep. Chellie Pingree sent out the following survey to her constituents. (She also sent it to me -- though I live in a different congressional district, I guess I have hounded her enough over the years to be considered an honorary constituent). 

You can see my comments following Pingree's carefully managed, Democratic Party flavored list of possible priorities.

My comments in full:

Stop ignoring the 50+% of budget going to the Pentagon and its contractors each year. None of your priorities will be addressed until that problem is fixed. Continuing to show up at General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works year after year pledging allegiance to the military contracting as a job creation program is disingenuous at best. Fix the bloated military budget, it will pay for everything else. 
And if BIW was building public transportation instead of nuclear-equipped warships that cost billions of my tax dollars, it would be creating far more jobs as well. As you claim you well know. It would also be far better for the environment to build something life sustaining rather than weapons of mass destruction. 
But, since this form is set up so that I have to check one of your pre-selected  issues, I will check "oppose unfair trade agreements" aka the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership. If passed, the TPP will gut Maine jobs on a scale not seen since Bill Clinton passed NAFTA. And make corporate profits more important than state or federal laws. What could go wrong?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"We Didn't Land On Plymouth Rock, The Rock Was Landed On Us" #MalcolmX50

Racism is still the very air we breathe in the USA, founded as it was on colonial settler violence against native people, and built as it was by the sweat and blood of enslaved Africans. As we remember the sad anniversary of the government-sponsored assassination of Black leader Malcolm X, I recall the best lesson on racism that my children ever received.

My older kids went to the Margaret Chase Smith School in Skowhegan, Maine, hometown of the plucky woman who stood up to Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch hunt during her first term in the U.S. Senate. It was a school with only 5th and 6th graders and they were fortunate to have some great teachers there, including Mrs. Richter for social studies and reading.

My children are from a racially diverse family. My parents were of northern European stock with a smidgen of Indian (hidden and denied, mostly, but not by my mom). My oldest son's other grandfather grew up on Staten Island in a Black community. He was of mixed race and so light skinned that the recruiters tried to wave him into the white group when he enlisted to fight in WWII. But he refused to pass, and instead went off to war with other Black men in the segregated U.S. Army. A Japanese woman met and married him, and their child was my son's father.

On annual book character day at the MCS School, my oldest son chose to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and then come to school as that character. Yes, his costume did involve a little dark pancake makeup plus an eyebrow pencil goatee, a pair of thrift store nerd glasses (not yet trendy), a white collared shirt with a skinny black tie, and black dress pants.

My son wrote a speech using Malcolm X's actual words (hooray for Mrs. Richter for teaching research skills to 5th and 6th graders!). He gave a fiery speech at the podium including a quote he was quite excited about: "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock -- the Rock was landed on us!"

Maybe if the Daughters of the American Revolution blue-haired ladies that were the judges had known he was descended from a passenger on the Mayflower, my son might have had a chance.

Instead, a girl with wire in her pigtails who did a decent job of channeling Pippi Longstocking (a perennial entry in the contest) won the prize. She was cute as a button, and entirely non-threatening.

Mrs. Richter was indignant. When she told me about it later she said that my son's presentation was far and away the best that day, and she was quite disappointed for his sake that he did not win.

But I thought the other way around.

What better way for my blue-eyed, fair-skinned son to get the corrosive effects of structural racism than to lose based on his authentic portrayal of a righteously angry, articulate Black man?

It's the kind of racism that is mostly invisible to those of us with White Privilege. Low income people here in Maine, the whitest state in the USA, make claims like, "We may have grown up white, but we certainly didn't grow up privileged."

But they did. And White Privilege is a thing, impoverishing our collective spirit and stunting our potential.

May my children live long enough to see it laid to rest.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wedded To War: Working For The Man, Every Night And Day

Codepink organizers held a news conference in Oakland, California this week responding to Obama's request for yet another Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), this time against "the terrorist organization that has referred to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and various other names (in this resolution referred to as "ISIL")." 

The myriad reasons why another AUMF is not a good idea have been ably detailed by Codepink's Janet Weil.

An excerpt:
Obama: “As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people.” 
CP: The most important causes of Americans’ untimely deaths are heart disease and cancer, followed by suicide and road accidents. Death by terrorist attacks doesn’t even make the top 50. Our security would be improved by better healthcare, including mental health care and suicide prevention; reduced income inequality; and safer roads -- all underfunded because about 60% of the discretionary federal budget goes to the military.
Of course, Obama is lying. As Commander-in-Chief his highest priority is serving the interests of the corporations who profit from the death dealing that comprises the bulk of U.S. manufacturing capability in the 21st century. The corporations that put him in office, that is, and will put his successor in office -- the successor who will have a handy AUMF in his or her back pocket immediately upon assuming the role of celebrity spokesperson for the military-industrial complex.

What about we ordinary mortals here on the ground -- why would we want a new AUMF to be issued by Congress?

Let me illustrate with an anecdote from one of the poorest rural school districts in the poor, rural state of Maine.

A teacher who formerly worked with functionally illiterate adults was approached by a former student in the grocery store. The student said that he remembered her because years before she had helped him be able to read just about anything, and this ability had changed his life. He was grateful to her and wanted her to know that he had gone from being barely employable to being a huge success -- a head welder at Bath Iron Works!

BIW is the pinnacle of employment opportunity for working class men in Maine. An historic shipyard with deep ties to the Navy, it is now owned by the General Dynamics corporation and turns out the battleships called destroyers with alarming frequency. (What or whom they will destroy never seems to concern my reps in Congress, who always show up to pledge allegiance at each new "christening" and launch.) Pentagon contracts need to keep rolling in to create jobs at Maine's largest single employer -- or so we are told.

BIW is about two hours by car from the community where the welder lives with his family. I would imagine that his kids put up with his long absences yet brag about his job at BIW, as I have heard many students do over the years. There are precious few jobs that pay a living wage in Maine: working in a paper mill or shoe factory or textile mill used to compete, but there aren't many of those left. Young people with ambition generally leave the state; many join the military.

This is what a war economy does to its people.

It's not a new problem. Imperial Japan starved its population to feed its war machine, as people in Tokyo explained to me when I lived there in the 1980's. Nazi Germany imprisoned and exterminated millions of Jews and used their resources to occupy Europe. Turkish oligarchs created their new nation from the ashes of the war-exhausted Ottoman Empire by stealing from Armenians destroyed in that genocide...and so on.
Meryl Streep as Mother Courage  Source:
The German playwright Bertholt Brecht created a great play about the problem. Writing in Europe during the rise of 20th century fascism, he set the action of Mother Courage and Her Children amid an historic war that seemed endless. 

Mother Courage feeds herself and her children by following the army with a canteen wagon, doing business with the war machine with one hand while using her other to keep her children safe. Ultimately, she fails. Son #1, vain and proud, is easy prey for the army recruiter. Son #2, a clever boy, is pressed into service as an army payroll clerk -- and then thrown under the bus when the corruption of his boss comes to light. The only daughter is traumatized by the sexual violence that ever accompanies war and rendered mute. But, she sacrifices her own life to sound a bell that warns civilians of an impending sneak attack. At the end of the play, the grieving mother continues alone, still selling meals to fuel the war that has consumed her family.

Because how else do you make a living when a war economy is all you've got? Ok, instead of welding or selling sausages at BIW you could work for the corporations that make the propaganda or help corporations evade taxes or force genetically modified food on subject nations or sell fracked "natural" gas or tar sands oil. You'll need to work for The Man one way or another in order to pay off the thousands of dollars of student loans that allowed you to get a college education.

Join the Spring Mobilization for Peace with a street theater performance of a version of Mother Courage aka Canteen Annie on Saturday, March 21 outside the gates of BIW in Bath, Maine. RSVP here or on facebook.