Hear the whole interview at WPKN’s syndicated program Between the Lines
Hello darkness my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again,
– Paul Simon, 1964
The same year the Tet Offensive in Vietnam made it clear that war was a quagmire, there was a spate of domestic political assassinations in America. It was a highly polarized and volatile time when people struggled with issues of race and class. Civility suffered.
Forty-three years later, the similarities are stark. The economy is distressed to the point poor and working class Americans are fearful and uncertain about the future. Meanwhile, the world of high finance has rebounded and is again thriving; and the military budget consumes more than half of US tax resources.
The National Security State keeps Americans in the dark about exactly what it is doing around the world. Citizens are told US troops will be removed from Iraq next year — maybe — if everything is stable and leaving is in our interest. Meanwhile, our leaders are escalating the war in Afghanistan and expanding it into Pakistan.
The fact is US military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is not really a “war,” as much as it is an expensive, and virtually permanent, imperial occupation that began under Bush and is continuing with little change under Obama.
Most Americans have no personal stake in either occupation, and a majority of them consistently tell pollsters they’re opposed to the occupations. Yet, our military presence continues.
Americans have become cynically acclimatized to this state of affairs, which amounts to a passive moral accommodation to their government’s use of lethal violence in the far reaches of the globe.
The top-down message of these wars that seeps into the pores of all Americans is that violence is an acceptable, even honorable, means to solve problems. We are Americans, and no one pushes us around, and if they do, they will face “shock and awe.” Violence makes things happen. That message inevitably filters down and nestles in the minds of even the most crackpot citizen. Violence clarifies like nothing else.
Maybe it’s not a violation of criminal statutes.
But the misappropriation of the U.S. Constitution by conservatives for their partisan posturing – as illustrated in last week’s reading of the nation’s founding document in the House – does fit the definition of theft: taking property without consent…in this instance the ‘consent’ of the governed.
However, this is a heist conservatives’ have successfully pulled off before as evidenced by their politicized appropriation of the American Flag, the Pledge of Alliance, national security, God, mom, apple pie, etc. etc…
This brazen theft by deception of the Constitution – the foundational document of the U.S. government – happens on three levels: dismissive; disturbing and downright dangerous.
The dismissive level involves crack-pot political candidates like Christine ‘I’m Not A Witch’ O’Donnell. During her unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid last year O’Donnell’s inane pontifications about various provisions in the Constitution were the butt of jokes from coffee cup conversations to TV comedy.
There is, it cannot be denied, a tendency on the part of many Americans to grab for their guns, if not actually, then figuratively.
And let’s face it, we also have an awful lot of guns to reach for. The FBI estimates that it’s 200 million, not counting the guns owned by the military, and the National Rifle Assn. says that’s a number that rises by close to five million a year.
And we sure do use ‘em. NY Times columnist Bob Herbert reports that 150,000 people have been killed by guns in the US just in the first decade of this new century. Clearly it’s not just Tucson, a city in the state that’s also famous for the old gunslinger town of Tombstone, that is the Wild West. This whole country is gun-crazy.
Back in the 1970s, when I was a journalist in Los Angeles, I witnessed police officers there drawing their guns on people being arrested for jaywalking. One poor guy was shot dead by accident because a cop who had made a traffic stop had his gun out and tripped as he approached the driver’s window. Honest. I reported on a case where a young man, Ron Burkholder, apparently burned badly while making some PCP in his basement so that he had torn off his clothes and run out onto the street naked, was shot dead by a cop. The thing was, Burkholder was a small skinny guy, and he was naked and clearly in pain. The cop, an experienced sergeant, well over six feet tall and powerfully built, blew Burkholder away with, if I remember right, five shots from his service revolver. Not one. Five.
His excuse: He “felt threatened” by the naked, and clearly unarmed, Burkholder.
At the local YMCA today, I ran into a boy who was a childhood friend of my son’s. As my kid goes to a public arts high school in Philadelphia outside of our local school district, I don’t see much of his old grade-school friends any more. This boy, who used to be over at our house years ago at least once a week, recognized me right away though, and said, “Hey Mr. Lindorff, I haven’t seen you in years. How’s Jed!”
I was impressed by how he’d grown up, tall and strong looking. He was headed for the basketball court. I asked him, since both he and my son are seniors this year, where he was applying for college, and he stunned me by saying he had signed up for the Marines. “I’m going to be going in after graduation,” he said proudly. “The recruiter came to school, and he convinced me it’s a good move.”
I asked him what he planned to do, and he said, “Helicopter gunner! I’m really excited and proud!”
This was really shocking. This kid doesn’t own a gun. I doubt if he’s ever shot at anything except maybe a target with a .22 rifle at Boy Scout Camp, and now he’s all excited about manning a machine gun in a helicopter, where he’ll be shooting down at Afghan fighters–and inevitably at civilians, too–in a matter of months.
I really didn’t know what to say. I awkwardly told him “congratulations,” because I could see he was proud of his “accomplishment” and because I didn’t want to have him cut me off as a possible confidante. Then I added, “You know of course that I’m not really in favor of what the Marines are doing?”
He smiled and said, “Yeah, I know.”
The War On Drugs, fought mostly in poor and person-of-color communities (despite the fact that whites are more than 70 percent of all drug users) has contributed dramatically to the growth of a prison-industrial-complex that is quickly sapping resources from education, job training and other vital programs.
I’ve taught creative writing in Philadelphia’s maximum-security prison for ten years. I joke with the inmates that most of them are POWs in the Drug War. Of course, for reasons Tim Wise points out, most of the men in the class are African American.
Last week only two men showed up for the class, which gave me and my co-teacher the opportunity to talk with them about their lives.
Both men are in their thirties, one white, one black. Not surprisingly, the white guy was in for drug use and the black guy was in for dealing. Both are intelligent, thoughtful men. They are not saints – but who is anymore in a society where the stone cold killer is a pop culture hero and the so-called “free market” rules?
The white guy, who I will call Bill, was raised in a hard-working, blue-collar family. His father busted his tail and sent his son to St Joseph’s Prep School in North Philadelphia. Bill played football at the school but could not relate to many of his peers, who were often headed for places like Harvard or Yale.
Bill fell into a disastrous cycle of drug use and got hooked on heroin, the tragic horrors of which he didn’t grasp until it was too late. Shame at being a failure further fueled the cycle, and he was a junkie before he was 30. There was the inevitable collision with police, courts and prison. He is now on an in-prison methadone program.
Democracy: de-moc-ra-cy, government by the people; the common people of a community, as distinguished from any privileged class
According to the latest poll conducted by CBS “60 Minutes” and the magazine Vanity Fair, 61 percent of Americans want to raise taxes on the wealthy as the primary way to cut the budget. The same poll finds that the second most popular first choice for cutting the nation’s budget deficit, at 20 percent, is cutting the military budget. That is, 81 percent of us–four out of five–would cut the deficit by taxing the rich and/or slashing military spending.
Only four percent of those polled favored cutting Medicare, the government-run program that provides health care for the elderly and disabled, and only three percent favored cutting Social Security.
President Obama meanwhile, appointed a so-called National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (quickly dubbed the “Catfood Commission” by critics) to come up with proposals to cut the budget deficit. He named as co-chairs former Republican Senator from Wyoming Alan Simpson, a troglodyte sworn enemy of Social Security who publicly declared it to be “a milk cow with 310 million tits,” and Erskine Bowles, a retired investment banker and former chief of staff to President Clinton who says he wants to cut spending, not raise taxes, which, when it comes to Social Security, means lower benefits for retirees.
Performed at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, New York
One of the biggest challenges for modern people trying to understand history is to conceive of the past beyond stereotypes. When we use Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of Civil Rights resistance, we must also consider the troops of housecleaners, preachers, construction workers, teachers and others earlier in the 20th century whose unyielding efforts made the movement work. In the 19th century, when we lionize Harriet Tubman and the brave people she brought to freedom, we must also cherish the imperfect people who did not escape. They are our Southern ancestors. And when we think of pre-Civil War America, we can’t simply conceive of black slavery and white masters – especially in New Orleans. We must consider the people of color who were both owners and, at various times and in various ways, enslaved.
That is the clear intention of the production, A Free Man of Color, by playwright John Guare and director George C. Wolfe Jr, which has just opened at New York’s Lincoln Center. It is a complex and intimate play, attempting to encompass the sweep of history from French colonial New Orleans to just after the Louisiana Purchase, including the influence of Spain, the United States and San Domingue (Haiti) on the sale .
An outrageous assertion by a potential presidential candidate who praised a group which had notoriously and openly supported racial segregation played a role in finally righting one of the most grotesque wrongs anywhere in America’s justice system with the freeing of two sisters serving controversial double-life sentences for an $11 robbery they did not commit.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour recently announced suspending the troubling prison sentences of Gladys and Jamie Scott primarily on the humanitarian grounds that older sister Jamie needs a kidney transplant.
Back in 1994, a Mississippi jury convicted the Scott sisters for a Christmas Eve robbery the preceding year. The Scotts, according to police and prosecutors, had lured two men into an ambush where three teens robbed the victims of what records indicate was $11 in cash.
Despite their having no criminal record and no direct involvement in the actual robbery, according to testimony, the Scott sisters received a double-life sentence each for what the prosecutor said was their roles in organizing the robbery.
Though seldom used, Mississippi law permits life sentences for robbery.
Am I the only queer person in the country that is sad about the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”? I know the long-delayed bill just signed into law has destroyed my plan to avoid any future military conscription.
Let me explain. Many of my male friends in college photodocumented their participation in pacifist activities. They explained that this was their insurance policy against any eventual military draft: solid proof to support a history of conscientious objection. As a queer person, I had another plan, though: If anyone tried to compel me to serve in the military, before anyone could even “ask,” I planned to “tell” by yelling, “I’m gay, and not in the happy way!” loudly and repeatedly, until no branch of the military would want me. Just for extra measure I would threaten to convert any and all women that I ran across.
Now, in the wake of another victory for queer rights in this country, it seems silly to not have taken pictures of myself at anti-war protests anyway.
But I have mixed feelings about the repeal of DADT for other reasons, too. With queer folks now allowed to serve openly, it seems that yet another oppressed minority group has been pulled into being exploited by the American military-industrial complex.