Hey, can we get some of that up in here?

[CONTENT NOTE: sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and rape culture.)

You know, I have not been able to write about Afghanistan, and this is mainly because I have not been able to think coherently about Afghanistan.* See, I get flooded with All the Feelz, and flashbacks to the war crimes of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice regime, CIA black sites, serious debates at the highest levels of government and across mainstream media platforms about the pros, cons, legality and morality of torture FFS, and every single evil spawned from U.S. conservative war lovers** since the events of 9/11, which were traumatic enough for me thankyouverymuch, and right up to and including the suicide bombing at a Kabul airport gate today.

Nevertheless, I was struck by a sentence in this morning’s New York Times email briefing:

[Read more…]

I write letters to the president.

You know, sometimes I get it in my head that it’s worth taking five minutes of my finite existence to do something utterly and pathetically futile, just because I will feel better having done so, and because I can (<–no small thing, that).

Dear Mr. President:

For what it costs in both tax dollars and lives, here and abroad, perhaps you might consider upending the entire U.S. military paradigm. Humanitarian aid, even to our “enemies” would be far cheaper, far less inhumane, and far more likely to settle conflicts with a WIN-WIN.

For just one example, why not provide Palestinians the same amount of aid we give to Israel without accountability, in the form of rebuilding and improving their destroyed infrastructure, including creating world-class healthcare facilities that all people in the region would have access to?

Think outside the box, because the box is making a darker world and suffocating all of us.

-Iris Vander Pluym

Hey, I never said they were good letters.

Have a go at it yourself: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

Happy Grave Dancing! DONALD RUMSFELD IS DEAD!

New York Daily News logo with "breaking news" bannerFormer Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dies at 88: family

Regarded by former colleagues as equally smart and combative, patriotic and politically cunning, Rumsfeld had a storied career under four presidents and nearly a quarter-century in corporate America.
Read the Latest

Or…don’t. I care about as much about the details surrounding Rumsfeld’s death as he cared about Iraqi civilians.  LET’S DANCE!

dancing snoopy

Questions for Secretary of State Nominee Antony Blinken.

Roots Action is an online activist groups that I happily allow to exist in my inbox: I find their messaging educational and their activism worthwhile. In case you are unfamiliar with them:

RootsAction is an online initiative dedicated to galvanizing people who are committed to economic fairness, equal rights for all, civil liberties, environmental protection — and defunding endless wars.

(More info at this link.)

Today they sent me an exemplary missive regarding Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Of course all such nominees are subject to Senate approval, so Roots Action has helpfully drafted questions for Senators to use when they query Mr. Blinken during the vetting process. These are questions that elected officials in any functioning democracy could, should and would demand be answered to the public’s satisfaction before handing over a set of keys to the kingdom. Which means these inquiries are highly unlikely to be asked, or even considered.

But that doesn’t mean that such email campaigns are not worth your click. For one thing, when a sizable enough number of constituents bombards your Senators’ offices with a single concern, some poor staffer is duty-bound to bring it to his or her attention. Unless the Senator in question is, say, Bernie Sanders, this particular collection of emails will have the effect of pissing them off. I mean really irritating the shit out of them.

Now doesn’t that mere thought alone warm your little black heart? Click here, and ruin a Goldman Sachs puppet’s day!

Second, I am a very big fan of taking actions that shift the Overton window. It is certainly in need of a hell of a lot of shifting, especially after conservatives have spent the last several decades on a singular mission to convince us all that people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are godless communists. There is no question this effort has worked out splendidly for conservatives.

Yet in more recent years we have finally witnessed “fringe” ideas enter the mainstream from both the right and the left. For instance, Medicare for All is not yet seriously on the table, but it no longer gets you laughed out of the room, either. Lowering the Medicare eligibility age, as Biden pretends he wants to do, would certainly be a shift in the same direction. Even more promising, a public option/Medicare buy-in has picked up traction, too. If enacted, I predict this would drag the Overton window toward the single payer point much farther and faster than many now envision. That’s because a Medicare buy-in would never be restricted to individuals: here in ‘Murikka where Corporations ‘R People®, big business buy-in to more affordable employee health coverage could topple the private insurance industry with lightning speed.

Meanwhile, poor Mr. Overton must be nearly dead now from all that punching from the right. Not very long ago the violent overthrow of Congress at the direction of the US president by a bunch of badly dressed mooks sure seemed like a pretty fringe idea. Yet here we are.

The Roots Action email campaign is set up so you can modify the text before it gets routed to your Senators, and I took full advantage of this opportunity. Roots Action’s message is serious and well-documented, though still outside of more mainstream discourse. So is mine, but in the current political environment I’m quite sure I sound like a deranged lefty berserker. Good. Because you know what? It takes an awful lot of little pushes to budge that fucking window.

Why not help kick it a little.

_________

(My added text is right up front; the Roots Action text is below the cut.)

Subject: Questions for Antony Blinken

Dear [Senators Schumer and Gillibrand]:

War profiteering used to be universally reviled as the evil that it patently is. And yet now, it’s in the job description of the Executive Branch to shill for US “defense” companies like a bunch of used car salesmen. Incentivising the spread of war, violence and weapons around the globe for obscene private profits should not be the business of anyone, much less the United States government. Quite the opposite, in fact. Why, one might think the Executive Branch works on commission, rather than remuneration from US taxpayers. And yet here we are, with a man perfectly emblematic of this problem, nominated to head the State Department.

I have some questions for you to ask Mr. Blinken, but perhaps you could start with asking this one of yourself: Wouldn’t it be more accurate to rename the US Department of State the US Department of Sales? And while you’re at it, please think about how you might use your considerable power to dismantle the system that enables war profiteering and all of the evils that flow from it. Here’s a thought, and I’m just spitballing here: if US weapons manufacturers cannot enrich their shareholders without using the US government to ensure they are the preeminent arms dealers for the entire world, perhaps they should all be run as nonprofits?

__________

[Read more…]

MLK Day 2021: A Time to Break Silence.

Black Lives Matter

While the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” are perhaps his most notable and oft-cited works, it has become my habit on this day to highlight another. Delivered on April 4, 1967 at Manhattan’s Riverside Church, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence reveals King as his fiery and ever-eloquent self, though as a wiser, wearier man than he was just four years earlier, sitting in that Birmingham jail cell.

With the Vietnam conflict raging at the time, King directly linked the profound injustices of that war to many other injustices in our own society – injustices which remain to this day. I wonder what King might say of the Black Lives Matter movement, and of the protests sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, if he were alive today. Of course, we’ll never know. But for me, one overarching message that the movement for Black lives delivered loud and clear to white America is that it is not enough to personally reject racism. If we are not doing the necessary anti-racist work, we whites are failing as human beings. Especially after reading Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, I get the feeling that King could not agree more.

Silence is complicity.

This work was urgent then. It is just as urgent now. That fact is as infuriating as it is heartbreaking. Let us use it, then, to rekindle our own sense of urgency, and to redouble our anti-racist work.

Speaking as a die-hard atheist, I would be remiss if I did not address King’s repeated references to religion. First, as I’ve noted before,

King tethers these to his eloquent defenses of secular ideas of justice, compassion and love to make the same case; in this way they function to bolster his arguments (for the religious-minded) instead of standing in for them.

Second, as a die-hard anti-theist, I’ll take any opportunity to point out that Christians don’t own every virtue- including forgiveness.

Speech below the cut.

[Read more…]

Veterans Day 2020: Fun, free and low-cost ways to honor U.S. vets.

Today is Veterans Day in the US.

Here are some things you can do for the veterans of our wars:

Veterans for Peace™.

Veterans for Peace™ is a coalition of military veterans and their allies whose mission is threefold: exposing the true costs of war (economic, environmental, human casualties, PTSD & suicide, social); building a culture of peace; and healing the wounds of war, at home and abroad. VFP is at the forefront of our most pressing issues – see e.g. this open letter from veterans to recently activated National Guard troops – and on the right side of many others with which it stands in solidarity. Current National Projects include:

It offers many ways to donate and participate meaningfully in making a better world, not just for veterans but for everyone.

__________

Wounded Warrior Project®

Because America’s Owners believe themselves entitled to the sacrifices made by these men and women and their families, VA programs are chronically underfunded and veterans benefits are perpetually on the chopping block. Until we can fix that problem, Wounded Warrior steps in with counseling, job resources and material support for veterans and their families. Even if you cannot donate funds, there are all kinds of opportunities to donate time. You can also stay on top of WWP’s news by signing up for their emails. If you’d like to keep on top of precisely how and where the U.S. government is failing veterans, just sign up for their weekly e-newsletter here.

__________

Contact Your Representatives and Senators.

Call them up and tell them exactly what you think of cutting veterans benefits so that the planet-polluting corporations who benefit from the sacrifices of our soldiers and their loved ones can pay low-to-no taxes! Email your congresscritters a little note telling them to cut the defense budget in half and fund universal single-payer health care with mental health parity! Demand legislation requiring that all companies benefiting financially in any way from our wars be run as non-profits! I am sure you can think of numerous hilarious and fun things to say!

Put those congresscritters’ numbers on speed dial and bookmark their sites. The least we can do to honor our veterans is get ourselves on a whole bunch of anti-lefty government watch lists – today.

__________

[excerpted, heavily edited and updated from a pre-FtB blog post.]

IMNSHO: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s finest speech.

Before I got sick, I would post every year on this occasion my favorite speech of King’s, that I know of or have ever heard, in its entirety. It was delivered by Dr. King in my much loved, adopted home town at Manhattan’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, and entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. When I last wrote about it here in 2017 I said this:

It has become my tradition on this day of remembrance to post the text of a speech delivered by Dr. King on April 4, 1967 at Manhattan’s Riverside Church entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (audio recording here), along with a short commentary about why I believe these words are so important. The speech is truly magnificent, yet it tends to be given short shrift relative to other works of the slain civil rights leader.

King’s “I Have A Dream” speech is of course his most well-known and celebrated. He gave it from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, at the closing of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and major television networks broadcast it live. The text is short (by King’s standards) and is notable for, among other things, painting a vivid picture of what racial justice looks like.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is also frequently cited. He wrote it in response to an April 12, 1963 open letter by eight white Alabama clergymen, who took issue with King and his tactics. Its central focus is a beautiful, powerful defense of non-violent activism. But what always strikes me most about it is King’s crushing disappointment upon learning that the greatest enemies to social progress are not, in fact, those who are openly and hatefully opposed to it, but those “allies” who rend their garments and advocate moderation, patience and gradualism in the face of immediate, deadly and enduring injustice. King held up a mirror, and in doing so, he showed us what ally-ship looks like.

Four years later, he spoke the words of Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. Here, he showed us exactly how inextricably linked are the battles against discrimination, oppression, poverty, injustice, and many other social ills to the evils of war. This is a broader, much more sweeping vision; in my opinion, these are his finest words. Yes, there are religious references. Yet King tethers these to his eloquent defenses of secular ideas of justice, compassion and love to make the same case; in this way they function to bolster his arguments (for the religious-minded) instead of standing in for them.

As King said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We have a lot of work to do.

PEACE.

__________

I have nothing to add to that today (nor, apparently, the energy and focus to do so even if I had wanted to. *sigh*). Speech below the cut. [Source.]

[Read more…]

Petition to Congress: Stop the militarization of local police.

Please sign and share this petition if you are willing and able (via CREDO* Action):

Donald Trump recently rewarded the country’s biggest police union for their endorsement of his dangerous, racist candidacy. He is going to give state and local police military-grade weapons of war.1

In 2014, police in combat gear driving mine-resistant tanks violently confronted people protesting the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The national outrage and organizing, including from more than 100,000 CREDO members, helped force President Obama to dramatically scale back the 1033 program.

Recently, police in St. Louis in full riot gear were chanting “whose streets, our streets” as they violently confronted people protesting yet another not guilty verdict for another police killing of a Black man.3 But Trump, whose racist, xenophobic agenda depends on demonizing communities of color and unleashing law enforcement, wants to bring 1033 back in full force.

Fortunately, there is a bill that would stop Trump’s dangerous escalation and help keep weapons of war out of our communities, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act. The more of us who speak out, the more pressure on Congress to act.

Tell Congress: Pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act and block Donald Trump’s attempt to militarize local police.

Police militarization contributes to the over-policing of communities of color and the erosion of trust between communities and police. When police departments are armed with military-grade weapons and trained to use military tactics, they are more likely to treat the people they are meant to serve as enemy combatants.4 In many communities, fully militarized SWAT teams routinely issue search warrants, terrorizing people in their homes and neighborhoods.5

Police militarization also undermines people’s right to peacefully and safely protest. The hyper-militarized and clearly disproportionate police response to largely peaceful protesters in Ferguson is far from the only example. In the summer of 2016, Baton Rouge, Louisiana police responded to peaceful protests of Alton Sterling’s murder as if they were going to war.6 Last fall in North Dakota, police in riot gear confronted peaceful Standing Rock protesters with armored vehicles, automatic rifles, sonic weapons, concussion grenades, pepper spray and beanbag bullets.7 Surveillance devices like the Stingray, which can secretly download cell data and disrupt cell service, are also part of the 1033 program.8

It is no surprise that Trump, who condoned white supremacist Nazi violence against peaceful protesters last month in Charlottesville, wants to further weaponize police, terrorize communities of color and stifle peaceful dissent to his hateful regime. That is why it is more important than ever to pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act now. The bill would shut down the direct pipeline between the Department of Defense and police, ban the transfer of a long list of military equipment, require extensive documentation and reporting, and prohibit the militarization of departments under investigation for civil rights violations.9

Donald Trump’s extreme agenda has already emboldened law enforcement agents across the country, at the local, state and federal level. Making sure that his administration cannot arm police with weapons of war is a powerful way to fight back.

Can you add your name today to tell Congress to pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act and block Donald Trump’s attempt to militarize local police?

Thank you for everything you do.

References:

  1. Tom Jackman, “Trump to restore program sending surplus military weapons, equipment to police,” The Washington Post, Aug. 27, 2017.

  2. Matt Apuzzo, “War Gear Flows to Police Departments,” The New York Times, June 8, 2014.

  3. Nicole D. Nelson, “When Will Black Lives Matter in St. Louis?” The New York Times, Sept. 20, 2017.

  4. ACLU Foundation, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” June 2014.

  5. ibid.

  6. Tess Owen, “Baton Rouge cops dressed for war to confront protesters,” Vice News, July 11, 2016.

  7. Standing Rock Special: Dallas Goldtooth on Police Violence & Repression of Movement Against DAPL,” Democracy Now, Nov. 24, 2016.

  8. Jeremy Scahill and Margot Williams, “Stingrays: A Secret Catalogue of Government Gear for Spying on Your Cellphone,” The Intercept, Dec. 17, 2015.

  9. H.R.1556 – Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act

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*CREDO is a lefty activist mobile telecom company: every month it allocates a portion of its revenue to various activist non-profits, as voted and allocated by its customers. CREDO is, for example, Planned Parenthood’s largest corporate donor. Please consider switching to CREDO as your mobile carrier, and stop supporting anti-democratic corporations that fund conservatives like AT&T. Yes it is true that CREDO runs on Verizon’s network and it’s also true that Verizon is a ginormous shitweasel, so some of CREDO’s revenue is indeed funding conservative shitweaselry. But compared to the telecom behemoths CREDO is a tiny company, and yet it still manages to donate $150-200k per month to well-vetted, worthwhile organizations.

Interesting budget priorities.

The ‘defense’ budget is three quarters of a trillion dollars. Profits went up last year well over 25%. I guarantee you: when war becomes that profitable, we’re going to see more of it.
Chalmers Johnson

In one of those “news” alerts I tend to ignore these days for the sake of my sanity, I learned that some doucheweasel presently occupying the office of President of the United States is proposing a 10 percent rise in defense spending, accompanied by massive cuts to other federal agencies.

Ahem. [Read more…]

Honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It has become my tradition on this day of remembrance to post the text of a speech delivered by Dr. King on April 4, 1967 at Manhattan’s Riverside Church entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (audio recording here), along with a short commentary about why I believe these words are so important. The speech is truly magnificent, yet it tends to be given short shrift relative to other works of the slain civil rights leader.

[Read more…]