Friday, October 31, 2014

Democrats In Maine Ashamed Of Supporting Obama's Wars




In the most Orwellian of protest venues, outside the Portland Expo center October 30, where President Obama was scheduled to make a campaign appearance for a fellow Democrat. Staffers constantly exhorted those in line to keep their cell phones turned on, and a large screen tv erected in sight of the queue played a series of ads attacking Gov. Paul LePage so loudly it drowned out normal conversation.

When I referenced the propaganda stream a 20-something Democratic staffer attempted to straighten me out about the (false) dichotomy of corporate party politics saying, "You're on their side. They are the good guys." This is what passes for political discussion in our age.

Twenty-five of us stood for a couple of hours engaging with the crowd. Friend Bruce Gagnon brought a message about the folly of making our state economy so dependent on military contracting and spending more than 50% of the federal discretionary budget each year on the Pentagon. He called out to those in line about these problems and asked, "What does it say about the soul of our nation?" One decorated veteran told Bruce, "I fought so you would be free to say that." Bruce noted that he, himself, is a veteran -- a Veteran for Peace, that is.

It was one of the most interesting protests I've attended because of the interaction with the party faithful and the simply curious. I had a spool of pink ribbon with the message "President Obama: keep your promises for peace! Codepink.org" and I walked the length of the line asking who would like a ribbon. About 100 people took one.

Many reached for a ribbon after hearing me say, "Do you think it is ok to drop a bomb because it says Democrat on it? Are Democratic bombs falling on children in Syria and Iraq better than Republican bombs?" People's body language said these questions made them uncomfortable. Sometimes I added, "I don't believe you think bombing civilians is ok." Their shamed faces told the tale.

Children especially wanted a ribbon. Not all parents allowed them to take one, but some families were in harmony.

One Portland family including mom in a wheelchair were happy that we had brought extra signs.

There was a lone Tea Party protester when I first got there. She probably has a different reason than I do for not wanting the Maine National Guard sent to Africa.

There were two tv news crews there who filmed our signs and interviewed protesters. But their editors must have killed the stories when they got back to the station because coverage of our presence and our messages is nowhere to be found.

Bringing some authentic news to the people is what motivates me to drive two hours and stand around getting cold after I've worked all day. One guy in line said about Obama and peace, "He was doing great until ISIS." I said Obama has drone bombed Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and I hoped he could find some sources of information for himself besides corporate news.

Most squirm inducing message? That the U.S. is preparing to use depleted uranium weapons in Syria and Iraq. This seemed to be new information for most of our listeners. I guess all the election reporting kind of drowns out news of nuclear warfare being waged in our name, with our tax dollars. As intended.

Thanks to our friends from Peace Action Maine who showed up with their banner. It was also neat to meet some newcomers to Portland who enthusiastically helped us hold signs and banners."I didn't know how to support peace because I just moved to Portland from Georgia," a young man named Matt told me. "A friend told me about this event and so I just came down." Matt spent quite a long time talking to Tim who had driven up from New Hampshire to join us. Both were interviewed by a t.v. news crew, but I guess you won't get a chance to hear their voices.

REVISED Nov. 1: Apparently I was wrong, and I am delighted to say so. Bruce Gagnon's interview did turn up on WGME's 6pm t.v. newscast.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

#Inequality Soars, Corporations Profit While Children Go Homeless #BAD14

graphic: US Uncut
Unequal access to natural resources, to a living wage, and to education have skyrocketed during my lifetime in the empire currently hogging the planet. The U.S. has seen income disparity growing by leaps and bounds, and child poverty ballooning as a result. A working class parent can no longer keep food on the table in many of our communities. A working class college student can no longer keep a roof over her head. Even if she works two jobs.

How did this happen?
graphic: Jan Kloub
Moneyed interests have bought influence in all the highest offices of the nation. No candidate for Congress or the White House gets there without endorsement from the corporate "persons" with the big bucks for campaign finances.

This situation has a lot of bad consequences. Let's examine one: billions of taxpayer money gone missing in Iraq. How many low income housing vouchers or school lunches would $14 billion have funded?

The number of homeless students in the U.S. has now reached a record breaking 1.26 million. This was reported to me by the National Education Association, the union I belong to as a teacher. The NEA has never managed to connect the dots between their slavish support of the Democratic Party and its policies of endless enrichment for military contractors on the backs of the poor.

My Codepink associate Janet Weil just shared news that CP joined 999 others (including the NEA) to sign a petition calling for more funding for children's nutrition programs. Her comment says it all:
Proud of us for signing on, sad this is even necessary. Meanwhile, nuclear weapons get $100 billion for "modernization" and Lockheed Martin et al. are seeing big profits.
graphic: Katie Falkenberg, CODEPINK Colorado

This blog post is part of Blog Action Day 2014. See more at blogactionday.org .

Sunday, October 5, 2014

How A Nice, Middle Class Girl Became A War Tax Resister


Remarks to the 29th Annual Gathering of New England War Tax Resisters & Supporters                     Oct 4, 2014    The New School      Kennebunk, Maine

The title of my talk today is: How a nice, middle class girl become a war tax resister, and my choice of words is deliberate.

As a privileged member of the ruling class in the empire of the United States, I was brought up to be nice. My New England grandmother told me a few things that stayed with me: Fools’ names and fools’ faces are often seen in public places. And, pretty is as pretty does. These things were meant to elaborate the concept of nice behavior: don’t call attention to yourself, be discreet in word and deed, and know that your actions speak louder than your hairstyle or grooming or attire. Although those things should also be nice.

My grandparents voted Republican and went to church on Sundays. At home they might drink and even curse, but in public they were pillars of the community: she on the public library board of directors, he in Augusta at the state house, representing. My father, their only child, was a little less nice, a little more rowdy. But he passed on the wise words of his father, a World War I vet who walked with a limp and died young of heart failure after being gassed while laying in killing field in France, wounded at 19. My grandfather told his son, No war is a good war. Don’t believe them when they tell you the next war is a good war. There is no such thing. But he paid his taxes. As did my grandmother after he died.

My other grandparents were very poor, migrant farm workers out of Oklahoma. They nurtured a deep distrust of all forms of government. But my grandmother was in thrall to the authority of evangelical preachers, and both she and her husband understood that to render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s was a necessity of living in this country. My California grandfather was drafted into WWII, leaving two children and a wife to fight in the Pacific theater. He was among the first troops sent into Nagasaki after it was destroyed by an atomic bomb. When he returned home he never spoke of it. He never spoke of much of anything in my experience. My California grandparents both worked hard, bought land and built a home, though my grandfather refused his GI bill benefits. But he paid his taxes. As did his widow after him.

My father and mother debated politics at the dinner table, and for years they were Republicans. Mostly because they thought of the Democratic Party as racist. They voted for Richard Nixon twice, and defended the Vietnam war – for a while. In the end, the civil rights movement changed their thinking. My father warned me that the US would become a police state in my lifetime. He ran for city council in our small town in California, and after he retired to Maine he ran for the state legislature. He probably cheated a little on his federal income taxes, but he paid them. After he died, my mother had a tax accountant help her pay her taxes. She had lost any scrap of faith she might have once held in the federal government, but she was afraid of authority. She didn’t actually care all that much about being nice. She had survived the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, gotten a college education as an adult, and lived the middle class life in a split level with a view of the Pacific Ocean and four rebellious children. She wasn’t going to rock the boat.

When my middle son was a college student we visited him together, my mother and I. He was reading Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky, and we both wanted to read it after he was finished. My mother took it home with her and for months I would ask if she had finished it yet so that I could have my turn. She was a voracious reader, and it was a slim volume. Eventually she sent it along with the confession: It was very difficult to read this book, because I was overwhelmed by feelings of shame on every page. While I was busy raising kids and paying the mortgage and getting supper on the table, this was being done in my name. And, I looked the other way.

I, too, looked the other way when Reagan used my tax dollars to terrorize our neighbors in Central America. I filed a 1040 form year after year as I worked to keep bread on the table and a roof over our heads, while the US toppled democratically elected governments around the globe, installing friendly dictators instead. I paid state and local taxes in Los Angeles as the LAPD, a notoriously racist policing organization, beat up Rodney King and countless others like him. I paid a lot of taxes the year 9/11 was allowed to happen and Bush Jr. announced that we would retaliate against a country whose harbors would no longer be safe. Didn’t he know that Afghanistan, which we invaded and bombed and have been occupying ever since, was a landlocked country? Ok, maybe Bush didn’t know. But surely his speechwriters did?

I was a history major at Bowdoin, a scholarship student. I studied the tax revolt that become the war for independence from the empire of Great Britain. I now see that we are the inheritors of their imperial mantle, an upstart colony with mad natural resources that, like Carthage, grew up to eclipse the mother country. The British Parliament and Crown made the mistake of overtaxing their colonial subjects to pay for wars that started on one continent and finished on another. In college I also studied the revolutions of Europe, people rising up against the French monarchy which had bankrupted the nation waging wars, against the Austro-Hungarian Empire with its boot on their necks. I studied how the Ottoman Empire bankrupted itself piling up debt to wage wars defending its far flung colonies, and how Europe and the US scrambling to grab those colonies led to the war my Maine grandfather suffered in. I studied how the people of India used creative nonviolent methods to kick out the British, and how much violence they endured as the price of freedom. I studied how the civil rights movement in this country organized to struggle together to achieve their ideals, making history when a teenaged girl and then a grown woman refused to give in to apartheid on the bus.
Rosa Parks, arrested for a second time and charged with violating a law against boycotts.
But I still went to work – as a journalist, an arbitration administrator, an advertising executive, and then as a small business owner – and I still paid my taxes.

In 1994, I left the business world and became a public school teacher. It was a great job for me because I’ve always been fascinated by learning and I enjoy working in a field that allows me to be creative. Surviving the bureaucracy became my challenge and, so far, I have. But there was a major bump in the road, a bump which educated me mightily. And I believe it led, indirectly, to my becoming a war tax resister.

In 2000 the state of Maine decided that in order to continue working as a public school employee I would need to give my fingerprints to the FBI database. It was not that I or other employees had been accused of a crime – in this case, child molestation – but we were to be deemed guilty until proven innocent.

This seemed to me and to many others a clear violation of the Constitution, and a struggle ensued. The Maine legislature twice rescinded the law, but the governor twice vetoed their legislation. I learned about organizing and resistance from my children’s teacher, Bernie Huebner, who resigned from teaching the gifted and talented students of our district, a job he loved. Eventually I, too, resigned from my job in protest of this gross violation of privacy and the rule of law. But after a year working in the private sector a family health crisis sent me back to public education. With inky fingers I again filled out a W-4 form claiming my allowances for dependents and rendering up a hefty portion of every paycheck to Uncle Sam, who was bombing any number of civilians and funding any number of warlords on any given day with my hard earned money.

I had protested the first Gulf War with an infant in my arms, astonished at how quickly sabre rattling and chauvinism swept through my community in central Maine. As the second round of fighting Saddam Hussein for control of Iraq’s oil fields approached, I found myself one evening clutching a candle on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge in Skowhegan, shivering in the chilly March twilight. I’d been joining a group standing each Sunday afternoon with signs against the impending shock and awe campaign being pushed through Congress and the United Nations. That particular Sunday the US was very close to concluding a decade of sanctions against Iraq that had killed thousands of innocent children. The bombs would begin falling on Baghdad quite soon.

A nice man stood beside me on the bridge and saw that my sign was about to blow away in the wind. He grabbed it and held it, a plastic lid with NO WAR rendered in duct tape, and we talked. A young man driving by parked his car and came back on foot to ask why we were standing there. He had a cousin in the Army, and a friend about to ship out for Kuwait. Why were we against this war against a vicious dictator who gassed his own people?

My husband to be, Mark Roman, whom I had just met told the young man: When I was your age the government was trying to draft me to fight in Vietnam. I watched the Bay of Tonkin coverage on tv and I became aware that the government was lying to me. That’s what it feels like now, too. The government is pushing to go to war based on lies. It sounds the same now as it did back then.

Mark and I have been together now for 11 years. We’re married and we file a joint tax return. For the first several years together we filed our 1040 and we protested Bush’s, then Obama’s, wars. We stood on bridges and marched down highways. Along with many others here in Maine we waged the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign. Responding to the economic downturn in 2008, we pointed out that domestic budgets were being slashed to pay for a few hours or days of US military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. We helped pass resolutions at the local and state level calling on Congress to stop spending 51%, then 54%, then 57% of its annual allowance on the Pentagon and its greedy contractors, so wealthy they are statistically the .001% income bracket. We visited our so-called representatives with our demand to fund butter, not guns. We wrote about it in the newspaper, talked about it on local access tv, and spoke about it in public squares. I began to get involved with Codepink when I saw women like me confronting war criminals like Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld in Congressional hearings broadcast on C-SPAN.

We stopped being nice. On one of the anniversaries of shock & awe Mark and I got arrested at the White House for failure to disperse. I hovered behind Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner with a pink sign that said GIVE US OUR $$$$$ BACK as he testified about where the taxpayers’ bailout of his Wall St. buddies had gone. I crashed Chellie Pingree’s posh fundraiser in a towering pink wig, and handed out BringOur War $$ Home leaflets to her supporters. I helped organize Draw-a-thons and printed posters and t-shirts and learned to make videos and speeches and how to manage email listservs.

But I still paid my taxes.

It was during Obama’s first administration that my husband and I decided to heed the call of war tax resisters like Larry Dansinger, and take the risk of putting – or not putting, as the case may be – our money where our mouth is. Showing no taxable income isn’t an option for us because I still want to work as a school teacher. Mark is self-employed and each April 15 we usually wrote a hefty check for the amount of federal incomes owed in addition to what has already been withheld from my paychecks all year. Writing that check is what we stopped doing. Larry’s advice was to keep it all above board, to let the IRS know what we were doing and why, and in his words “make them come after it.” That they have done, twice garnishing Mark’s social security benefits and sending innumerable threatening letters. We have piled up fines and interest, and I’m sure there will be more fun to come. I worry about leaving this as a giant problem for my heirs when I’m gone. As we “know” there are only two sure things in this life: death, and taxes.

Before Mark shares the letter we send the IRS along with our 1040 form each year, I’ll leave you with one last family story. Last summer I visited my uncle in Australia, they first time I had made that journey since he emigrated when I was a kid. He and his wife are folkies, musicians with a wide circle of friends who emigrated from various parts of the British Isles, mostly, and are lefty leaning. One of their friends asked me tentatively if I would be offended by the Australian perception that I live in something approaching a totalitarian state. I said that I would not take offense, and that I spent a good part of my spare time agitating against military spending. Also that my husband and I are war tax resisters. This news frightened them. They reacted with shock. How could I get away with that? Wasn’t it dangerous? Why didn’t we end up in federal prison?

I acknowledged that it’s not without risks but that it goes at least partway to settling the moral queasiness of being a tax paying citizen of the US empire. I like to think the taxes that I do pay go to education and health care, housing and job training, environmental protection and sustainable energy development – not to  revenue for General Dynamics, Halliburton, Blackwater and the rest of the war profiteers. I know the real portion of the federal budget spent on nuclear weapons research plus the Pentagon (including the NSA) plus caring poorly for veterans is way more than 50% -- probably more like 2/3. But I take comfort in knowing that I take a stand and insist that this could be, and should be, a republic and a democracy, as promised.

Because right now what we have is taxation without representation. And you know where that kind of thing leads.