The Time Has Come for Health Care for All!

 Let’s Make It Happen.

Well, you may be thinking that we’re on our way to hell in a handbasket but there’s a glimmer of a chance we can actually create significant change during the deranged reign of Donald Trump. Yes, the time may have finally come for health care for all in these United States.

Barack Obama stuck a band-aid on a system that needed a major heart transplant. Right-wing Republicans spent six years or more trying to rip the band-aid off and, when they finally got the opportunity, they had nothing to offer to replace it.

Oh yes, our Wisconsin resident-wonk, Paul Ryan, had a proposal. It proved to be even more unpopular than Obamacare. Ryan had a plan back in 2009 too, when Obamacare was first being crafted. He called it The Patient’s Choice Act, in which he generously offered Americans the choice between a casket and an urn. He followed this up two years later with an equally unpopular campaign to gut Medicare and Medicaid.

But all along there’s been a better option. In wonk-speak it’s called “single-payer.” Some people call it Medicare for All. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a common sense approach that guarantees quality, fair and cost effective healthcare for everyone.

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) has been introducing this legislation in every session of Congress since 2003. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), you may have heard of him, has been presenting similar legislation in the Senate since 2010, influenced by single-payer legislation introduced by the late Paul Wellstone (D-MN) in the early 1990s. Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), now retired, had worked with Wellstone, Conyers, Sanders and others in introducing universal healthcare legislation since 1994.

So is this just a case of a few politicians on the loony left jousting with windmills? Not quite. Conyer’s bill, the Expanded & Improved Medicare for All Act (H.R. 676), was introduced early this year and already has 93 co-sponsors. Even Obama, before he became beholden to the powers-that-be, was in favor of universal healthcare. Speaking to an audience of union leaders in 2003, while running for the U.S. Senate, he had this to say:

I happen to be a proponent of a single-payer, universal health-care plan. I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care, cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody.

As Ralph Nader wrote this past month, politicians on the left and right, from Harry Truman in the 1940s to Hillary Clinton and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in our time, have expressed their support for universal healthcare. According to Nader, Pelosi defended herself to young protesters at a recent town hall meeting by saying: “I’ve been for single-payer since before you were born.”

And what about that Tweety Bird in the White House? Back in 2000, he wrote: “The Canadian plan also helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans … We need, as a nation, to re-examine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing.”

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The Indictment

Let’s back up a little bit and revisit that time around 2006-2009, just before Obama’s Affordable Care Act was cooked up. The Obama reform bill was a political process that fit the adage about law-making: a messy, repugnant business akin to making sausage, not fit for the squeamish to watch.

So what was happening then, and what were the media, politicians and the grassroots doing and thinking?  First of all, there was a deluge of articles in newspapers, magazines and online about the healthcare crisis. Yes! Magazine dedicated an entire issue to it in the fall of 2006. Everyone seemed to concur that the system was broken and almost everyone had a somewhat different theory on what it would take to fix it.

Lately, Republicans have been bellowing about sharply rising healthcare costs, citing this fact to support their assertion that Obamacare has failed. But news reports a decade ago revealed that this trend did not begin with the Affordable Care Act. Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services indicated that U.S. health care costs climbed from 7.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1970 to 17.6 percent by 2009. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the U.S. spent more on healthcare as a percentage of GDP and more per person ($8,608) than any other country. At 17 percent of GDP, the U.S. spent twice as much in 2013 as France, the second highest country.

Back in 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) predicted that total healthcare spending would double to more than $4 trillion by 2017, accounting for one of every five dollars the country spends. (At the time, healthcare spending was increasing at nearly three times the rate of inflation.) When I consulted the latest CMS fact sheet, it showed that national health spending reached $3.2 trillion in 2015.

Americans like to say that “you get what you pay for” but study after study in those pre-Obamacare years revealed that the U.S. health care system was not just the most expensive in the world but also one of the worst performing. The system was not just costly but also inefficient, wasteful, inequitable and faulted for poor outcomes. If report cards were issued to the industrialized nations of the world based on health indicators, the USA would have flunked out of school years ago.

Yes! Magazine’s 2006 issue on American health care noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the U.S. health system 37th, well below most of Europe and even trailing some Latin American countries. On “level of health,” how efficiently a system translates spending into overall health, (i.e. “bang for the buck”), WHO ranked the USA 72nd.

The U.S. has a higher infant mortality rate than most of the world’s industrialized nations. The number of women here who die during or due to childbirth is now double the maternal mortality rate of Saudi Arabia or Canada, and triple that of the United Kingdom. Our life expectancy ranks 50th in the world, below most developed nations and some of the developing ones.

Back when Democrats were beginning to craft their healthcare reform bill, about 47 million Americans lacked health insurance and nearly 45,000 were dying annually due to lack of health insurance. It was estimated that 50 to 60 percent of all filings for bankruptcy were due, at least in part, to medical expenses. And 68 percent or more of those who went bankrupt had some form of health insurance.

A Harris poll in 2005 indicated that three-fourths of U.S. citizens wanted what all other industrialized countries already had, universal healthcare. So what happened? What went wrong?

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Obamacare: A Necessary Compromise or Kiss of Death?

It was not as if no one was watching and no one cared. Healthcare reform was the biggest story in the news—locally and nationally. It was estimated that at least 800 organizations were actively working on the issue. In Wisconsin alone there were probably close to 100.

I was involved, as a community organizer, with a local group that was part of the national, faith-based network that Obama had also worked for as a community organizer. Wisconsin physicians Linda and Gene Farley, who dedicated decades of their lives advocating for single-payer healthcare, spoke at our meetings. Both are now deceased. Three different bills, all of them calling for comprehensive healthcare reform, vied for support in the Wisconsin State Legislature.  One of them, the Wisconsin Health Security Act, would have created a single-payer, “Medicare for All” system in the state. None of the bills got much traction in the legislature, despite referenda in various counties and cities in 2006 indicating 82 percent support for affordable, universal healthcare and a 2008 poll that showed 61 percent of Wisconsin residents favored a  state-run health system.  Nonetheless, a number of significant reforms to the local health system were enacted.

But getting involved and getting to the table where the decisions are made proved to be two very different things. I could be wrong but I doubt that anyone from the multitude of local and national citizen coalitions (or labor unions or other progressive groups, for that matter), was ever invited to the table.

How about Dr. Quentin Young, a physician and native of Obama’s Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago? Young, who died just a year ago, was an ardent advocate of single-payer healthcare, a national coordinator of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), and the leader of many other local and national health organizations. When Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Chicago, Young was his personal physician.

Other notables he treated in more than 50 years of private practice included former Chicago mayor Harold Washington, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn, writer Studs Terkel and newspaper columnist Mike Royko. Oh, and Barack Obama too. Young once commented that the legendary Royko “was always very sarcastic and never liked my leftist ideas. Studs would at least listen to me.” Did Obama listen to him, or invite him to the table where the decisions were being made and the deals cut? Apparently not.

So who did Obama and the Democratic power-brokers listen to back in 2009 and early 2010? A case could be made that they were listening to money.

Those who had the money just happened to be the same ones who make their money off healthcare: the drug industry and the insurance industry. As Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote early in 2009: “Our system of private insurance and powerful monopolies is vastly more wasteful and inefficient than the healthcare systems of other developed countries. Insurance companies spend tens of billions trying to insure the healthy, avoid the sick, and deny payment for claims. Pharmaceutical companies take $350 billion of our healthcare dollars for drugs that cost a small fraction of that sum to produce.”

During the first half of 2009, Big PhRMA (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) spent $13.1 million in lobbying and the drug company Pfizer reported $11.7 million in lobbying expenses.  “The pharmaceutical industry, which President Barack Obama promised to ‘take on’ during his campaign, is winning most of what it wants in the health-care overhaul,” wrote two reporters in the Wall Street Journal. This booty for the industry included no cost-cutting measures, no cheaper drugs allowed across the Canadian border, and no direct government negotiations with the pharmaceutical companies to lower Medicare drug prices.

At the same time, Bernie Sanders was pointing out that the combined profits of the nation’s major health insurance companies had increased by 170 percent from 2003 to 2007. The former head of UnitedHealth Group had accumulated stock options worth an estimated $1.6 billion and the Cigna CEO had reaped over $120 million in the past five years, Sanders wrote.

The Washington Post was scheduled to host a $25,000 per person “salon” to bring lobbyists and health care CEOs together with the policy-makers drafting the healthcare bill, until heat from the public forced the newspaper to cancel the event.

At the center of the national health care debate, as it dragged on in late 2009, was Max Baucus, chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.  Who was Baucus listening to? Probably not any of the millions of Americans lacking adequate healthcare or coverage, or those going bankrupt due to healthcare expenses.

Baucus not only had his own taxpayer-subsidized health coverage but also scored $3.9 million in contributions from the healthcare industry over a six-year period, the most among all members of Congress according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Citing data compiled by the Center, the Washington Post reported that the healthcare lobby donated nearly $170 million to federal lawmakers in 2007 and 2008. During the first quarter of 2009, the Dems, who controlled Congress, collected 60 percent of $5.4 million in contributions from the healthcare industry.

When doctors and nurses advocating single-payer healthcare were banned from Senate hearings on healthcare, they stood in silent protest and Baucus had them arrested.

Many liberal Democrats and some of the grassroots organizations had drawn a line in the sand. The line was what was euphemistically called the “public option.” But the political winds were blowing and sand would soon bury the line.

The public option was a proposal to create a government-run insurance agency to compete with private health insurance companies. It would provide an “option” for uninsured citizens who couldn’t afford the rates or were rejected by private health insurers. Obama promoted the public option concept while running for election in 2008 but downplayed it when he got in office.

The public option was included in three bills considered by the House of Representatives in 2009, one of which was passed by the House. But Baucus and other powerful congressional leaders were against it.

In August, 2009, a group of five dozen House progressives wrote to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ruling out support for any bill without a public option. In early September, two leaders of the progressive caucus wrote directly to Obama, drawing their line in the sand. “Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, a public option built on the Medicare provider system and with reimbursement based on Medicare rates–not negotiated rates–is unacceptable,” they wrote. “A health reform bill without a robust public option will not achieve the health reform this country so desperately needs,” they continued. “We won’t vote for anything less.”

In their brief letter, they used the word robust five times. The dictionary says it means to exhibit sound health or great strength and vigor, but the progressive wing of the Democratic Party proved to be somewhat lacking in these attributes. Late the following month, Joe Lieberman, the man without a party, threatened a filibuster and that was enough to bust the robust demand of the Dems, who began to cave.

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) voted against an early version of the Affordable Care Act in the House. In a public statement explaining his position, he charged: “Clearly the insurance companies are the problem, not the solution. They are driving up the cost of health care … But instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit insurance, H.R. 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care. In H.R. 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers.”

In mid-March of 2010, Kucinich was a guest on Amy Goodman’s show, Democracy Now!, along with another former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate. The House was about to vote on the Senate healthcare bill, Obama had just met with Kucinich on Air Force One on their way to a political rally, and all of the other 77 Democrats who had vowed not to vote for a bill without a public option had already relented. Now it was Kucinich’s turn to toss in the towel.

“It would be impossible to start a serious discussion in Washington if this bill goes down, despite the fact that I don’t like it at all. And every criticism I made still stands,” Kucinich said. “I want to see this as a step. It’s not the step I wanted to take, so that, after it passes, we can continue the discussion about comprehensive health care reform.”

“I think the President could really be instrumental in bringing about just about any kind of change that he wants,” Kucinich added. “For whatever reason, he decided to carefully construct a plan that would admit no chance for any real challenge to the market structure of private, for-profit insurance companies. He’s worked very tightly within that system. That’s a choice that he made. And during the campaign, you know, he made it very clear that he was looking at reforms within the context of the for-profit system.”

Nader, who was not subject to arm-twisting by the President, had this to say: “This bill does not provide universal, comprehensive or affordable care to the American people. It shovels hundreds and billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the worst corporations who’ve created this problem: the Aetnas, the Cignas, the health insurance companies. And it doesn’t require many contractual accountabilities and other accountabilities for people who are denied healthcare in this continuing pay-or-die system that is the disgrace of the Western world.

“For the drug companies, it’s a bonanza. It doesn’t require Uncle Sam to negotiate volume discounts. It allows these new biologic drugs, under patent, to fight off generic competition–that’s a terrible provision. And it doesn’t allow reimportation from counties like Canada to keep prices down.”

But Nader was rather mild in his remarks compared to commentator Keith Olbermann, who used his MSNBC soapbox, just before Christmas 2009, to rant about the legislative conflict and to berate those lawmakers who had fashioned the healthcare bill. Howard Dean had been on his show the night before and had announced he could not support the proposed legislation.

Olbermann began by quoting Winston Churchill: “We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, without a war.” He castigated Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) for “seeking the least common denominator. This is not health, this is not care, this is certainly not reform.”

Olbermann urged the Dems not to make the defeat worse “by passing a hollow shell of a bill” that had been “slowly bled to death by the political equivalent of the leeches that were once thought state-of-the-art medicine, is now little more than a series of microscopically minor tweaks of a system which is the real-life, here-and-now version of the malarkey of the Town Hallers.

“The American Insurance Cartel is the Death Panel, and this Senate bill does nothing to destroy it. Nor even to satiate it. It merely decrees that our underprivileged, our sick, our elderly, our middle class, can be fed into it, as human sacrifices to the great maw of corporate voraciousness.”

“Mr. (Chuck) Grassley of Iowa has lied, and fomented panic and fear,” he said, and “Mr. Baucus of Montana has operated as a virtual agent for the industry he is charged with regulating.”  Olbermann reserved his most scathing criticism for Lieberman, “the one man at the center of this farcical perversion of what a government is supposed to be … he has sold untold hundreds of thousands of us into pain and fear and privation and slavery–for money. He has been bought and sold by the insurance lobby. He has become a Senatorial prostitute.  And sadly, the President has not provided the leadership his office demands.”

Olbermann argued that the provision in the bill requiring people to buy insurance had to be stripped out. “The bill now is little more than a legally mandated delivery of the middle class (and those whose dreams of joining it slip even further away) into a kind of Chicago stockyards of insurance,” he said.

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The game plan: How do we get from here to there?

So here we are, seven years later. Obama got his healthcare program and “cemented his legacy.” He spent the rest of his administration making war and defending his bad health program against rabid Republicans. Instead of the national security of a healthcare system that works, he gave us the national security state. But who was paying attention?

What are our chances now, if Obama couldn’t or wouldn’t do it then? Accuse me of being delusional, if you will, but I think our chances might be a little better now. Here are a few reasons:

OneThe cost of healthcare continues to escalate out of control. In another seven years, nearly half of all healthcare spending is expected to be shouldered by the government, at all levels. So, if government is going to be involved anyway, why not have government take a robust position and save everyone lots of money, by eliminating the middle men (private insurers) and reining in the drug companies?

If the present system is allowed to continue, the government is likely to go bankrupt, along with many of its citizens. We can appeal to free-market Republicans on the basis of cost and appeal to everyone else on the basis of justice.

TwoThe present system is wasteful and doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, making it doubly wasteful. And who likes waste?

Every other industrialized country in the world provides healthcare for its entire population at half the cost and has much better outcomes. In Canada, only 1.5 percent of healthcare costs are devoted to administration of the single-payer system. In the United States, 31 percent of healthcare expenditures go to the insurance industry.

According to Steffie Woolhandler, a physician and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, our hospitals are spending 25 percent of their total budgets on billing and administration, while those in Canada and Scotland are spending only 12 percent. In our bloated system, the number of administrative personnel has grown by 25 times the number of physicians, according to Bernie Sanders.

Trump expressed his admiration for the single-payer system in his book, The America We Deserve, and raved about the Scottish healthcare system on the David Letterman show just two years ago. We, as a nation, need to remind Trump that we do deserve a better system and we want it now!

ThreePeople’s attitudes are changing. More and more people view healthcare as a human right, not a privilege. Bernie Sanders, supposedly the most popular politician in the country, probably deserves a lot of credit for this. Sanders made a publicly-funded, single-payer, universal healthcare program the central tenet of his presidential campaign. Public opinion polls continue to show that the majority of people prefer a government-guaranteed healthcare program. In a LinkedIn survey just last month, nearly half of physicians said they would support a single-payer healthcare system.

Yes, there were people that thought some of Sanders’ proposals extreme, but today proposals of his such as free college tuition are being considered and even tested at the state level.

FourWe’ve tried the other options. They haven’t worked. Now it’s time to try something that will.

There were good progressive people, back in 2008 and 2009, who argued that we needed to “begin where people are at” or that we needed to “get to single-payer by another route.” Well, we’ve been there, done that. We underestimated the people. They were ready all along.

Even the corporate Wall Street Journal, just prior to the implosion of the Ryan healthcare plan, had this to say:

The Healthcare Market is at a crossroads. Either it heads in a more market-based direction step by step or it moves toward single-payer step by step. If Republicans blow this chance and default to Democrats, they might as well endorse single-payer because that is where the politics will end up.

Seven years ago, Dennis Kucinich said he hoped to use the Obama bill as a “step” toward real healthcare reform. Then the Republicans redistricted him out of office. Let’s get him back in the game and take the next step toward health care for all.

Bernie Sanders, who has not stopped campaigning and organizing, recently announced that he plans to soon introduce new healthcare legislation in Congress. Let’s get behind his bill and the Conyer’s bill. Let’s get our unions and faith communities and grassroots organizations and local Democratic groups and all the young people that Bernie brought into the political process to come together and organize another big push. Let’s demand that Trump help “make America great again” by providing a healthcare system that puts people before profits.

The time is now.


Martin Luther King and the Military State:

Can we reclaim the real legacy?

I’ve been travelling a lot lately so I missed a number of portentous events this past month. First there were the inauguration festivities. (Hats off to all of you who made it there to usher in the new regime.) Then there was the Women’s March on Washington. (What could be worse than listening to Trump, except perhaps Madonna?) And then, what was the third thing? Oh yes, the Martin Luther King Day celebrations.

All those songs and speeches, public dignitaries paying homage, and someone, a child perhaps, reciting I Had a Dream. It’s enough to warm the soul for a few minutes on a frigid January day. But I must confess I usually abstain from these ceremonies.  It’s that I’d like to talk about.

Martin Luther King is a lot like Jesus Christ. He’s been so thoroughly sanitized, sanctified and generally scrubbed up that, if he were to come back when mid-January rolls around and listen to what people say about him, he might not recognize himself.

But he’s made it big. He’s got his own day on the calendar, kids get to skip school, mail carriers get a day off, and every major city (and many minor ones) has a street named after him. But something tells me all this hullabaloo is a disservice to the man. Just like with that guy Jesus. (What did he ever do to deserve Christmas?)

And there’s no better way to make you irrelevant than to make you a saint. The person who really showed Martin respect was J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover had the sense to recognize King for what he was, a real legitimate threat, and so Hoover did everything in his power to ruin King’s reputation and attempt to neutralize or destroy him.

Neither King nor Jesus was all that popular in his day, particularly with the powers-that-be, but both were eloquent and knew how to move a crowd. Both were also radicals, agitators, troublemakers: a threat to the power structure.

There are also some similarities between King and our former president. Both happened to be black. Obama could talk pretty. King could talk truth. Both were recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. King earned his for fighting for peace and justice. Obama got his for promising peace and justice and then making war.

Well, I guess they didn’t have much in common after all. But, like many public leaders, Obama professes to be inspired by King. Just not sufficiently inspired to emulate him.

On April 4th of 1967, exactly one year to the day before his assassination, King delivered a bold and compelling speech at the Riverside Church in New York City in which he strongly denounced the Vietnam War and called for a “revolution of values” in the United States. Although the majority of the ten-page lecture focused specifically on the history and evil of the savage war the US was waging in Southeast Asia, King also used it to continue and expand his critique of violence, racism, militarism, imperialism and capitalism.

He summarized a “pattern of suppression” and counter-revolutionary activity that the nation had been engaged in for the preceding decade, including military advisors in Venezuela, American forces in Guatemala and Cambodia, and the use of napalm and Green Berets against rebels in Peru. He quoted the late John F. Kennedy, who five years earlier had said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

“Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken,” King said, “the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth,” King continued. “With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say ‘This is not just.’

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.”

                                                                                             Martin Luther King

Of course, neither King’s many detractors nor his many supporters wanted him to speak out about the war, or capitalism, or even about class and income disparity. But King saw that ultimately all these issues were connected and that violence and militarism were the mechanisms that kept an unjust system in place, both at home and overseas.

“I knew I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government,” King declared in his 1967 speech.

It is now nearly 50 full years since King delivered his speech at the Riverside Church. Not much has changed. Donald Trump’s campaign slogan aside, the United States is still “great”, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, by far. The radical revolution of values that King called for appears to still be a distant dream.

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Perhaps the revolution that Bernie Sanders advocated in his campaign was a hearkening back to King’s message, but Sanders scrupulously avoided any critique of US foreign policy, save for one brave but cautious comment on the Palestinian issue during the last primary debate.  Universal health care, a living wage, free college tuition and, of course, global warming and energy policy are all important and pressing issues, but none of these domestic concerns are likely to be resolved satisfactorily while the nation’s wealth is squandered on war and preparation for war.

And, as King pointed out so eloquently, it is not just the material and economic waste of perpetual war that is at issue, but also the spiritual cost.“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” King said in his speech.

“A rotted national soul enables leaders to wage endless war, but endless war also rots the national soul.”

Glenn Greenwald

I would argue that when an architect of genocide like Madeline Albright is considered a “feminist,” fit to admonish young women for supporting a Democratic Socialist running for president, then we are probably already spiritually dead as a nation. If not dead, then at least comatose. When a woman who consorts with war criminals and architects of genocide such as Henry Kissinger is considered an acceptable presidential candidate by the majority of the population, we are probably already spiritually dead.

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Journalist Glenn Greenwald, (who broke the story of Edward Snowden’s revelations on national security surveillance), wrote a column four years ago on the day Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as president. It also happened to be the Martin Luther King holiday. Greenwald pointed out that Obama, our first African-American president, would always be linked in history to King because King’s activism made a black president possible.

But Greenwald noted that this symbolic link had a negative side: “Obama’s policies are a manifestation of exactly the militaristic mindset which King so eloquently denounced.” He added that Obama had often lifted King’s phrase “fierce urgency of now” from his anti-war speech, a speech “that stands as a stinging repudiation of the continuous killing and violence Obama has spent the last four years unleashing on many countries around the world.” (Greenwald noted that journalist Max Blumenthal had suggested that Obama’s inaugural speech be titled “I Have a Drone.”)

Greenwald went on to say that he felt the most powerful aspect of King’s speech was how he repeatedly linked American violence in the world to the poisoning of the nation’s soul. “The debasement of the national psyche, the callousness toward continual killing,” wrote Greenwald, “the belief that the US has not only the right but the duty to bring violence anywhere in the world that it wants: that is what lies at the heart of America’s ongoing embrace of endless war. A rotted national soul does indeed enable leaders to wage endless war, but endless war also rots the national soul, exactly as King warned. At times this seems to be an inescapable, self-perpetuating cycle of degradation.”

The same day that Greenwald’s column was published there was another article, an interview by Paul Jay of The Real News Network with Anthony Monteiro, an African-American Studies professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.  Monteiro traced King’s life and evolution as a radical, from his early days in a seminary near Philadelphia to his death in Memphis, Tennessee, helping to organize sanitation workers.

Jay and Monteiro wrap up the interview by talking about how King’s legacy is co-opted and defused by members of the power structure. (I don’t know about you, but it always irked me to turn on the boob tube on the evening of MLK Day and see footage of the Obamas volunteering in a food pantry or some other foolishness. First of all, they actually had the power to change something, if they chose to. Second, both of them were intelligent enough to know that, instead of serving Spam to some homeless people, King would have been asking why the wealthiest nation in the history of the world had so many homeless and so many food pantries. Martin Luther King was not about charity, he was about radical change, and this self-serving grandstanding by the “first family” was an insult to his name.)

“King’s legacy is a gift not only to black Americans or to America but to humanity.”

Professor Anthony Monteiro

Here’s what Professor Monteiro had to say about it: “That (MLK’s) legacy is too powerful for the elites. They have to minimize it. They have to distort it. They have to cheapen it. Besides, you know, First Lady Obama calling for people to do service. I am particularly offended by the fact that the president will be sworn in using Martin Luther King’s bible. To me it’s a cheap PR trick. The president has nothing in common with King the man, and his presidency is the opposite of the great legacy of Martin Luther King.”

“You know,” he continued, “King’s legacy is a gift not only to black Americans or to America but to humanity. And here we have a president who in many ways is George Bush on steroids—wars in every part of the world, preparation for war, economic wars against nations like Iran, actual wars in Africa, and so on and so forth. This is the very opposite of what Martin Luther King represents.”

If this indictment of Obama seems too harsh, we should consider that these comments were made only halfway through his presidency. The worst was yet to come. While American liberals slept, content that there was a black man in the White House, much more mayhem would be unleashed at home and overseas. The war against immigrants, the war against Muslims, the war against blacks on the streets of our cities and, most critically, a war against democracy itself with the establishment of a police state, a military state and a surveillance state. It would all lay a solid neo-fascist foundation for Trump to build on.

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Every morning when I boot up my computer, it opens up to the Yahoo! “news,” such as it is. Amidst all the gruesome stories about some man or woman or child savagely slaying the rest of their family, or a mother or father keeping a child locked in a closet for a dozen years, there is always a tidbit (perhaps intended as relief) about an actress or model or Kardashian sporting the newest, ground-breaking bikini. So what does a flimsy swimsuit have to do with the dark side of the American psyche?

For the answer you need only turn to the award-winning Australian journalist and filmmaker, John Pilger. It’s in an article titled A world war has begun that was published on April Fool’s Day this past year. But the story is no joke. According to Pilger, the bikini was named to celebrate the nuclear explosions that destroyed Bikini Island. The United States unleashed 42.2 megatons of nuclear devices in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs every day for a dozen years. Pilger probably knows a few things on this subject, having made two documentary movies about the heinous crimes of Britain and the US in the Indian Ocean. (The population of an entire archipelago was expelled by the Brits in the 60s and 70s, and later the US would use one of the islands as a military base to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Now that I have your attention with the sordid history of the bikini, I’d like to quote at length from Pilger’s article, in which he argues that a world war of catastrophic proportions is right around the corner, if it hasn’t already begun:

In 2009, President Obama stood before an adoring crowd in the center of Prague, in the heart of Europe. He pledged himself to make “the world free from nuclear weapons.” People cheered and some cried. A torrent of platitudes flowed from the media. Obama was subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was all fake. He was lying.

The Obama administration has built more nuclear weapons, more nuclear warheads, more nuclear delivery systems, more nuclear factories. Nuclear warhead spending alone rose higher under Obama than under any American president. The cost over thirty years is more than $1 trillion.

In the last eighteen months, the greatest build-up of military forces since World War Two—led by the United States—is taking place along Russia’s western frontier. Not since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union have foreign troops presented such a demonstrable threat to Russia.

Ukraine—once part of the Soviet Union—has become a CIA theme park. Having orchestrated a coup in Kiev, Washington effectively controls a regime that is next door and hostile to Russia: a regime rotten with Nazis, literally. Prominent parliamentary figures in Ukraine are the political descendants of the notorious OUN and UPA fascists. They openly praise Hitler and call for the persecution and expulsion of the Russian speaking minority.

This is seldom news in the West, or it is inverted to suppress the truth.

In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia—next door to Russia—the US military is deploying combat troops, tanks, heavy weapons. [And just last month the US participated in military exercises in Poland as part of NATO, the largest armed military brigade in Europe since the Cold War.]

This extreme provocation of the world’s second nuclear power is met with silence in the West.

Pilger goes on to document similar provocations toward China, alleging that the US is surrounding that country with a network of bases, ballistic missiles, battle groups and nuclear-armed bombers.  A little later, Pilger writes:

In the circus known as the American presidential campaign, Donald Trump is being presented as a lunatic, a fascist. He is certainly odious; but he is also a media hate figure. That alone should arouse our skepticism.

Trump’s views on migration are grotesque, but no more grotesque than those of David Cameron. It is not Trump who is the Great Deporter from the United States, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama.

According to one prodigious liberal commentator, Trump is “unleashing the dark forces of violence” in the United States. Unleashing them?

This is the country where toddlers shoot their mothers and the police wage a murderous war against black Americans. This is the country that has attacked and sought to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed from Asia to the Middle East, causing the deaths and dispossession of millions of people.

No country can equal this systemic record of violence. Most of America’s wars (almost all of them against defenseless countries) have been launched not by Republicans but by liberal Democrats: Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.

In 1947, a series of National Security Council directives described the paramount aim of American foreign policy as “a world substantially made over in [America’s] own image.” The ideology was messianic Americanism.

Donald Trump is a symptom of this, but he is also a maverick. He says the invasion of Iraq was a crime; he doesn’t want to go to war with Russia and China. The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system whose vaunted “exceptionalism” is totalitarian with an occasional liberal face.

As presidential election day draws near, Clinton will be hailed as the first female president, regardless of her crimes and lies—just as Barack Obama was lauded as the first black president and liberals swallowed his nonsense about “hope.” And the drool goes on.

Described by the Guardian columnist Owen Jones as “funny, charming, with a coolness that eludes practically every other politician,” Obama the other day sent drones to slaughter 150 people in Somalia. He kills people usually on Tuesdays, according to the New York Times, when he is handed a list of candidates for death by drone. So cool.

I’ll stop there. Read the article. Maybe it takes a journalist from outside the US to see us as we really are. But I want to focus for a moment on this concept of “cool.”

Besides the Yahoo! news, my computer presents me each day with a list of literary journals seeking poems and short stories and other kinds of serious literature. Recently an announcement was posted by a journal called Booth, published by Butler University. The notice indicated they were planning a special issue called Birth of the White House Cool: Reflections on the Obama Years.

My first thought was that It’s Cool to Kill might make a better subtitle for their upcoming collection, “a robust gathering of works that illuminate this new intersection between American politics and popular culture.”  But I don’t think that’s what they have in mind. They’re more impressed with how “Obama has slow-jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, freestyled with Lin-Manuel Miranda on the White House lawn, sung Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” at the Apollo Theater, and rebuilt the White House tennis lawn into a basketball court.”

All this talk about Obama being “cool” made me recall how Toni Morrison had referred to Bill Clinton as our “first black president,” presumably because he played his sax on the Arsenio Hall TV show. I’d still like to know how a woman who is arguably one of our greatest contemporary writers could utter such an utterly, pathetically, stupid statement.

I’m not sure why some literary folks seem so clueless, but I have a theory on why so many Hollywood types (and the mass media) are enamored with the Clintons and Obamas. I think it has to do with the fact that their world is all about appearances and personalities, not substance and structure.

I think it’s encouraging that so many people and organizations are confronting Trump, but I think the danger is that many may be responding to his personality and may be deluded by the notion that getting rid of Trump will get rid of the problem.  In the same way that electing Obama or Clinton was supposed to solve the problem. They will judge Trump as they judged Obama, based on superficial qualities, failing to look deeper at structural issues and the nature of the real beast.

▪ ▪ ▪

Ajamu Baraka, the founding director of the US Human Rights Network and the Green Party candidate for Vice President in the 2016 election, pointed out recently that Obama signed into law a new Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) just before Christmas, further strengthening the repressive capacities of the state. “With the left’s attention fixed on Trump and its fear of the “new” authoritarianism that he is supposed to introduce, it has failed to confront or even be aware of the fact that the foundation for any kind of “neo-fascism” that might emerge in the US was constructed over the last 15 years of the combined Bush and Obama administrations,” he wrote.

Baraka’s article seems to seethe with anger as he talks about what he calls “Neo-McCarthyism,” the legislation and repressive actions of the Obama administration to curtail speech and control information. He accuses the “latte left” and their liberal allies of being in collusion with the power structure. His anger is understandable.

As he and others have pointed out, the “dark time” of the Trump administration is not a new predicament for oppressed communities and people. It is business as usual. Black liberation movements in the US have been ruthlessly repressed for many, many years. Baraka ends his essay with the challenge: “commit yourself to build a revolutionary movement or get out of the way.”

▪ ▪ ▪

Sometime between the election and the inauguration, I happened to hear an NPR interview with some foreign affairs “expert”. By this time, the project among neoliberals and the mainstream media to demonize both Trump and Putin was well underway. The person being interviewed proceeded to bash Trump—not for being authoritarian or a fascist or bellicose—but because Trump wanted to get along with Russia. In unequivocal language that I found a little shocking, he asserted that it was not the role of diplomacy or foreign affairs to get along with other nations. He disparaged Trump in an almost mocking tone for his naiveté in thinking that friendly relations might be a reasonable goal of foreign policy. The NPR interviewer failed to challenge him or ask for clarification.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Negotiation with foreign powers might run the risk of peace breaking out. The solution to every problem is violence and war. The only legitimate questions to be asked are: What kind of violence? What kind of weapons or tactics? How much violence will be enough? It’s all part of what theologian Walter Wink calls “the myth of the domination system”.

▪ ▪ ▪

No, Donald Trump did not unleash the dark forces of violence. Any idiot should be aware by now that this nation was founded on violence, with the genocide of native people and the brutal enslavement of black people. The nation grew, and grew wealthy and powerful—some would say great—by persistent and systemic violence against people all over the world, and at the expense of many other people here at home.

Yes, let’s honor King. Let’s honor his real legacy by challenging this shameful national legacy of institutional violence. Let’s begin with the revolution of values that he called for, and then move on to a revolution in the way we relate to each other and the rest of the world.

Don’t worry. You’ll never be accused of being “cool” for being a revolutionary. King was not cool. Thank God for that.

▪ ▪ ▪

While traveling the last few months, I’ve been reading a book of essays about poets and poetry by Robert Hass, a former US Poet Laureate. At the end of an essay that has nothing whatsoever to do with this particular post, Hass refers to the Vietnam War and one of the inventions of American technology that came out of the war. He says it “was a small antipersonnel bomb that contained sharp fragments of plastic which, having torn through the flesh and lodged in the body, could not be found by an X-ray.”

Although Hass may not have intended it, it occurred to me that the shards of this pernicious little bomb, hidden from sight or X-rays inside the body, could serve as an apt metaphor for the malady of the body politic, the national soul, if you will.  “It seems to me,” Hass goes on, “that there really are technics on the side of life and technics on the side of death.” (Hass actually uses the word technes, but in any case, the word comes from the Greek for art.) He ends his essay with the assertion that the “active and attentive capacity for creation that humans have” is finally the only freedom that we have.

They say that what distinguishes us from other animals is our ability to create. Should we create something that is about life, or something that is about death? That seems to me to be the ultimate question.

▪ ▪ ▪

At Standing Rock for Mother Earth …

Time to Slay the Black Snake

The Journey

The sky in Wisconsin had been overcast for days on end when we left for Standing Rock. The clouds persisted all the way through Minnesota and into North Dakota, across the Great Plains, through the prairie pothole region, and into Bismarck. At Mandan, we stopped at an auto parts store to buy a snow scraper. It was a provident decision.

The journey from Bismarck or Mandan to Standing Rock would normally be routine: take Highway 1806 south as it edges along the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, an immense reservoir about 230 miles long. But a bridge on 1806 is blocked, which necessitates taking Highway 6 further west, a more roundabout route.

The bridge has been the focal point of the conflict that has raged throughout the fall between the Sioux of the Standing Rock Reservation and law enforcement officials and the corporations attempting to complete an oil pipeline across the Missouri River. On Sunday night, November 20, about 400 peaceful Water Protectors gathered on the bridge near the reservation, praying, singing and appealing to authorities to open the bridge to give those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) access to Mandan for supplies.

The Water Protectors were met by National Guard troops, local sheriff deputies, and police from various neighboring states. The police terrorized the Sioux and their supporters with water cannons, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and sound cannons that cause severe headaches and loss of balance. About 300 people were injured, many suffered hypothermia from being drenched with water in subfreezing temperatures, an Indian elder went into cardiac arrest, and a Jewish activist, Sophia Wilansky, 21, was hit in the arm with a concussion grenade.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department initially denied responsibility for Wilansky’s injury, which basically destroyed her entire left arm. Wilansky’s father said she had welts all over her body from being shot with rubber bullets, and that it took hours for an ambulance to reach her due to roadblocks.

We arrive exactly one week after this incident. We travel Highway 6, a winding road through beautiful country: it looks like the west, with rolling hills, buttes jutting up here and there, ranches and grassland. Suddenly we see the sun, a red fireball dipping behind the hills to the west. My companion remarks that it is the brightest red she has ever seen the sun, and it is the first we have seen of it in days. Perhaps it is an omen.

“We must go beyond the arrogance of human rights. We must go beyond the ignorance of civil rights. We must step into the reality of natural rights because all of the natural world has a right to existence and we are only a small part of it. There can be no trade-off.”

                                                                        … John Trudell

We arrive at the Prairie Knights Casino and Resort that evening in time for a benefit concert with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and a number of Native American musicians. It is a powerful experience.

Among the musicians performing are members of John Trudell’s band, Bad Dog. Trudell was a Santee Dakota activist, poet, musician and actor who led the American Indian Movement (AIM) for most of the 1970s. He died on December 8 of last year. A founder of the spoken word movement, he fused traditional sounds with his poetry and rock & roll. He had toured with Browne and Raitt in the past for various native causes, and this night his band played some of his poems set to music.

When we leave the concert, it is snowing steadily. I’m not anxious to make the 70-mile trip south to our hotel room in Mobridge, South Dakota, but there are no rooms available at the casino this night. Several harrowing hours later, we arrive safely.

First Visit to Camp

We make it back to the casino and lodge the next morning. It is still snowing. We meet a young man named Ethan who is looking for a ride out to the camp. We take him with us and make the seven-mile trek north to Standing Rock. Ethan is here long-term and he orients us as we drive.

The encampment at Standing Rock is actually a number of different camps and it is an amazing sight to see and experience. The main camp here is Oceti Sakawan (the Great Sioux Nation). To the north, tucked within this larger camp, is the Red Warrior camp. Just to the south, on the bank of the Cannonball River, is the Rosebud camp. To the east a few miles is the Sacred Stone camp.

en-solidaridad-28It is an immense occupation on land that the US government says belongs to it, but which the Water Protectors insist is part of the Standing Rock Reservation, unceded Lakota territory affirmed by the Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1851. Someone has noted that the last time there was a gathering this large at this spot was before the battle of the Little Big Horn.

Flags and banners line the main road (Highway 1806), and flags line both sides of the main camp “road.” The flags represent Indian tribes across the country, as well as various organizations proclaiming their support for the occupation.  There are more flags and banners everywhere you look and a maze of smaller “roads” crisscrosses the camp.

There are tipis, tents, yurts, old school buses and other forms of lodging scattered throughout. Some people are busy building more substantial wood structures to prepare for the harsh winter to come. There are nine kitchens in the camp, where communal meals are prepared and served. The two main gathering places are a large geodesic dome, where meetings are held, and the sacred circle, used for prayer and spiritual ceremonies, where a fire is always burning. And yes, there are porta potties.

To the north are hills, with floodlights pointing down on the camp. This is where law enforcement, I might as well call them the military, are staked out, watching our every move. Others have reported that helicopters are constantly hovering overhead, but I notice only one during our visit.

After exploring the camp for several hours, we leave before dark, returning to the casino where we have a room reserved for the next two nights.

Snowed In

It snowed all that night, and the next day. The wind howled and roared out of the northwest. It was a blizzard. No one was going anywhere. If anyone managed to get out of the parking lot, they got stuck on the road.

The lobby and halls and foyers of the lodge were filled with people: those who wanted to get to the camp and those who had come back for a respite. There was nothing to do but wait out the storm and strike up conversations with all the other “loiterers.”

All around the lodge there were signs posted indicating that people who were loitering and did not have a room might be asked to leave. (As far as I could tell, no one was ejected.) It seemed that some of the resort management may not have appreciated having a hundred Water Protectors and their supporters hanging out in the halls, perhaps discouraging other guests from Bismarck or elsewhere who come to gamble at the casino.

A rumor was circulating that DAPL had booked a large number of the 200 rooms in the resort in order to keep activists away. It seemed plausible. There were entire wings of the resort where there was nary a light on at night. The parking lot was half-empty, even before the blizzard hit.

dont-mix-oil-and-water-51I spoke with Paula, a woman from the Rosewood Sioux Tribe, who was visibly angry. “They turn off the elevator, the Wi-Fi reception, and other services,” she said. “Some people have cut deals with the oil companies.”

George, a longhaired, soft-spoken man, said he too was concerned that DAPL was holding rooms but not using them. He confided that he was part of a team that was providing trauma care for elders and others, using rooms in the lodge when they could get them. After a major action, one hundred people might come through, he said.

I met Lucky Marlovitz while she was standing in line at the check-in desk, hoping to get a room for Tuesday night. Lucky, who is affiliated with a Catholic Worker community in Chicago, had traveled here with two others. After leaving the Twin Cities on Sunday morning, their car had wiped out on black ice in western Minnesota. The vehicle landed on its side in a ditch and was totaled, but a stranger in a small town lent them a car so they could continue their journey.

My longest conversation was with Carole Eastman Standing Elk, a 75-year-old elder from the Lake Traverse Reservation in the northeastern corner of South Dakota. Part of the Santee Dakota group, she now lives in California.

snow-dapl-at-standing-rock-2Carole complained that a community center in the town of Cannonball, which had been used by the Water Protectors to take showers, warm up and prepare meals, was now closed, even though people in the district had voted for it to remain open. The district chairman was in favor of the pipeline, she said.

“Everyone should have a chance to come in and get warm and then go back,” she said. “In the old days, when we went to an action, we’d rent a room and then leave the door open so someone else could come and shower.”

An AIM member since she was 29 years old, Carole said people were gathered at Standing Rock because they recognized the importance of the Missouri River and the water. “If the river is polluted, how can people survive?” she asked. She said that Supreme Court decisions have upheld the rights of native people to the water. “It’s up to us to exercise our sovereignty.”

Don’t Blame the Natives: The Economics of Oil

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a $3.8 billion project that has been the subject of growing controversy throughout most of this year. The Standing Rock Sioux began a prayer vigil in April, and the conflict intensified in August when construction was scheduled to commence on the pipeline’s crossing of the Missouri under Lake Oahe, a half mile north of the reservation’s boundary. A lawsuit filed by the tribe, with the assistance of the environmental law firm Earthjustice, resulted in an injunction temporarily halting the Missouri crossing.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is proposed to stretch 1,172 miles from the Bakken shale oil fields in western North Dakota to Pakota, Illinois. It is designed to carry up to 570,000 barrels of oil per day. As of a month ago, it was 84 percent complete, with the Missouri River crossing being the unfinished link.

While listening to Jackson Browne perform at the concert at the Prairie Knights Casino, someone passed me a booklet about DAPL and the financing details regarding the oil that would flow through the pipeline. The ten-page, well-researched report was produced by Cathy Kunkel, energy analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, and Clark Williams-Derry, Director of Energy Finance for Sightline Institute. It was published last month.

It seems that oil production, similar to other extractive industries like mining, is subject to boom and bust cycles. The report contends that oil production in the Bakken region may now be experiencing the bust phase of the cycle and the pipeline could become what the authors call a “stranded asset.”

Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation behind the pipeline, proposed it in 2014 to transport oil from the “rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota.” By mid-2016, DAPL had signed contracts for 90 percent of the pipeline’s capacity.

Phillips 66 signed a long-term commitment with DAPL and Marathon Petroleum announced its intention to follow suit. Phillips 66 and other oil companies announced plans to tie “collector” pipelines into DAPL.

no-spiritual-surrender-4The pipeline was originally proposed as a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, the report says, but this past August ETP announced plans to sell 49 percent of its stake to a joint venture of Enbridge Energy Partners and Marathon. ETP would still hold the largest ownership stake. The report notes that the sale can’t be finalized until the Army Corps of Engineers grants its final easement on the project.

Meanwhile, prices for crude oil dropped from about $95 per barrel in 2013-14 to below $75 per barrel in December, 2014. Bakken drillers are cutting back on capital expenditures and production. Whiting Petroleum, one of the largest Bakken drillers, cut its capital budget for exploration and development by nearly 80 percent this year. “Recent forecasts of global oil prices do not suggest any recovery of Bakken oil production for at least a decade,” the report notes. “The World Bank’s forecast of oil prices through 2025 does not show oil prices climbing above $70 per barrel.”

Financial regulators have warned that aggressive acquisition and exploration by oil and gas companies from 2010 to 2014 led them to assume “unsustainable debt,” leaving them vulnerable when commodity prices collapsed. The Bakken drillers are confronting serious financial problems and three of the top companies have experienced credit rating downgrades.

The report goes on to argue that the Bakken already has sufficient pipeline, rail facilities and local refineries to handle all the oil it produces. The region’s oil transport infrastructure is already overbuilt, it says, with about 60 percent of its capacity currently unutilized.

no-water-no-life-11Since shipment of Bakken crude to the Pacific Northwest via rail has remained steady, “DAPL capacity could become superfluous by mid-2017. Unless oil prices spike and Bakken production rebounds promptly, the region may soon find its oil pipeline capacity is already overbuilt, even without DAPL.”

All these factors, as well as a unique investment structure–master limited partnership (MPL)–have put ETP in a bind. In an MLP, a large portion of revenue is pledged as distributions to equity investors and distribution growth is key to attracting new capital. ETP has been in a phase of rapid, high-risk growth, requiring it to raise capital quickly. Its assets grew from $4.4 billion in 2005 to $65.2 billion ten years later. The company is currently the lead developer of four other pipeline projects besides DAPL. In June of this year, Moody’s put ETP on a “negative outlook” due to its high leverage.

In papers it filed for the court case brought by the Standing Rock Tribe, ETP said it had made commitments to nine oil shippers to have the pipeline in place and operating by January 1, 2017. “These costs cannot be recovered and loss of shippers to the project could effectively result in project cancellation,” an ETP representative stated in a court document.

Camping Out

On Wednesday morning, with some help from new friends, we dig our car out and drive back to the Standing Rock camp. One of the first things we do is to attend one of the regularly scheduled direct action training sessions. It takes place by the Red Warrior Camp, in a one-room building warmed by a wood-burning stove. About 55 people are crowded into the little structure.

A woman from New Orleans who is a medic and part of the “decontamination unit” here demonstrates how to assist a person who has been subjected to pepper spray, mace or tear gas. Later, we go outside and practice how to protect each other when we are confronted by the over-zealous North Dakota law enforcement.

Remember not to antagonize the police, the trainer cautions. “No violence. Our goal is to protect the water, stand our ground. The people who live here will have to live with the aftermath for decades to come.”

My companion helps prepare meals in one of the kitchens while I explore the camp and attempt to photograph. My camera is tucked inside my jacket, nestled under a scarf, and I have a hand warmer inside each of my gloves.

On one of my walks, I meet Joseph Romandia. He is with the Chumash tribe, people of coastal California. He left California to escape the gangs, he says. He lived in Wisconsin for a while, but now makes his home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where he works with youth and makes drums out of animal hides in order to support his family. He tells me about the third world conditions at Pine Ridge–the poverty and health problems–and I check some of the statistics later on my computer: one of the poorest counties in the United States, unemployment rate of 80 to 90 percent, alcoholism rate as high as 80 percent, life expectancy the second lowest in the hemisphere, trailing only Haiti.

Why are you here? I ask. “Because we drink from the same river at Pine Ridge that they drink from here,” he replies.


Joseph Romandia

Like Joseph, many of the people here have brought their families along. Dozens of children are sledding down a hill; some older ones are hitching a ride behind an auto, a dangerous sport that I too used to play as a teenager. And there are camp dogs, big and small, playing their doggy games.

I continue walking and meet Clarence, an imposing man from Wounded Knee. He is standing by his car with his wife and children. The car is jacked up, waiting for a new tire. I ask him how long he has been at the camp. “Since August,” he responds. How long will you be staying? I ask. “Until it’s over,” he says.

There are native people from all over the country here. There are also white, black and brown people from all over the country. More than a few people have come from other countries. Walking down the main road, I meet Julie, a young woman who hails from Paris, France. She tells me this is the second time she has flown here to spend time at the camp.

The people I meet, despite the cold, are warm, determined, resilient and confident. They are water protectors but they are also caretakers. I’m not certain if it is a skill they have always known or something they learned in the camp, but it seems their nature to look after each other. Something remarkable is happening here.

That night, we bed down with our sleeping bags on the dirt floor of the geodesic dome. Others gather around us and do the same. A man approaches, concerned for our comfort. He finds a large fleece blanket and covers us with it. The elders are still singing down by the sacred circle when we fall asleep.

About six in the morning, we wake to the sound of someone speaking on the PA, a funny but persistent monologue goading us to action. Good morning DAPL, Good morning CNN, Get up, time to pray, We can’t slay the black snake if you stay in bed all day, When I was a kid, we used to walk ten miles … and on and on, a native version of Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam.

Soon we join a circle of prayer down at the campfire. Then we are instructed to each take some tobacco and sage and we walk in quiet procession down to the Cannonball River, with the elder women leading us. At the river, one by one, we sprinkle the tobacco and sage on the water and we sing songs. Another day at Standing Rock has begun.

▪ ▪ ▪


I wrote most of this on Sunday, as snow was falling in Wisconsin. The Sunday before, we had just arrived at Standing Rock. The Sunday before that was “Bloody Sunday” on the bridge near Standing Rock.

This Sunday the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not grant an easement to Energy Transfer Partners to complete its pipeline project. Instead, it would initiate an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to determine if there are other feasible alternatives to the proposed project, such as rerouting the last segment of the pipeline.

Of course, this is reason to celebrate and is testimony to the courageous and creative organizing work of the Standing Rock Tribe, the Lakota and Dakota people, and all their supporters around the country.

But we should bear in mind that the Army Corps is the same Army Corps responsible for building five dams on the Missouri River in the 1960s, flooding over 200,000 acres on the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations, submerging towns under Lake Oahe and displacing many native people.

We should also bear in mind that Donald Trump has substantial investments in Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, (OOPS! It’s just been reported that he’s divested of his holdings in ETP, which could be even worse), and that Kelcy Warren, ETP’s chief executive, has contributed handsomely to Trump’s presidential campaign and the Republican Party.

I want to close by quoting the last paragraph of an essay written by Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of the United Methodist Church, an essay he wrote shortly after the Standing Rock Sioux filed their request for an injunction against the Dakota Access Pipeline this past summer:

Whatever the outcome of the court’s ruling, this may be the moment God is giving us all to come together, not as antagonists in bondage to our traumatic past, but as mutually empowered advocates for the common good and the sacredness of the waters and all of life. This may be the moment God has given us to use our power to define a just and life-giving future.


I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry for not voting for Hillary.

Liberals discover hate, so thank you Donald Trump.

I’m sorry but I’m not sorry.

No, I don’t wish for her to be locked up. I believe in rehabilitation. I voted for Jill Stein and I don’t regret it. We still have the right to vote for a person who deserves our respect and trust, even if it’s a symbolic gesture.

Yes, I know, now we have a president-elect who is racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, etc., etc. How many times do liberals and self-styled “progressives” need to repeat the obvious? This was HRC’s campaign platform, after all. Donald Trump embodied all the odious values she stood against. She couldn’t tell the American people what she stood for because neoliberalism, endless war and more of the same wouldn’t have sold well.

But now, praise be, Donald Trump has given us that one great gift for which we should truly be thankful. He has stripped the American people of all their fantasies and illusions. Or at least we can hope.

Soon we will not have a black president anymore, so we won’t be able to slumber for another eight years, content with the imbecile liberal illusion that the country is in good hands. We also won’t have a woman president, at least for the foreseeable future, so we won’t be able to return to our liberal sleep with the equally imbecile notion that the country is in good hands just because a woman occupies the oval office.

Now we have precisely what we deserve: a white, blathering, bigoted billionaire. All those inclined to make important political decisions based on identity politics can easily see that Donald Trump is not black, is not a woman, and (presumably) is not gay. So we are in trouble. And yes, he has that fatal flaw, he likes to grope women. (I suspect that JFK and Bill Clinton, to name just two former presidents, forgot about more women than Donald ever managed to touch.) But the point is that we are probably getting exactly what we see.

In other words, it’s time to wake up from the fantasy world of American politics and face the music. The dictum “Don’t mourn, organize” comes to mind, but first things first. After sleeping so long we should catch up on a little history and find out what’s been going on for the last eight years, the past decades, and the past century. (No, don’t turn on NPR. You won’t find it there.)

Go back to at least 1948, the year I was born, when George Kennan told it straight, about how “the greatest country on earth” (to use Michelle Obama’s term) had fifty percent of the world’s wealth, but only six percent of its population. “Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security,” Kennan advised.

Today we have five percent of the world’s population and consume a mere 25 percent of its resources. You can see the challenge ahead. I suppose that’s what the Donald means when he boasts he will “make America great again.” Unlike neoliberals, he’s not afraid to say that we mean to get the share we deserve, come hell or high water, just the way he modeled for us in his business career.

So anyway, we had a Cold War. Were you around for that? There was this scary thing called communism. No fear, it’s gone now. The only countries left that could possibly be called communistic are a few island nations that global warming will wash away in a couple decades.

Andrew Levine, a scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and a former philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pointed out in an essay this past August that the old Cold War was supposedly a conflict between Soviet communism and American capitalism.  In truth, he said, it was probably always about “political and economic domination of the world.”

“If the world survives Hillary,she will be remembered for her role in resurrecting the Cold War.”

– Andrew Levine

Now we have no communists left, but those pesky Russians are still around and we also have China vying for political and economic dominance. And, lo and behold, we have a new Cold War, one lacking the old ideology.  Levine and many others concur that Hillary is one of its most gung ho warriors.

“Every American president since Bill Clinton has played a role in bringing it on,” wrote Levine, “mainly, but not only, by bringing NATO, originally an anti-Soviet military alliance, right up to Russia’s borders, contrary to express promises Ronald Reagan made to Mikhail Gorbachev. Promoting anti-Russian (and often fascist-friendly) political parties and movements in Ukraine and other parts of the old Russian Empire has had an effect as well.”

Hillary, with the assistance of other neoliberal leaders and the acquiescence of the mainstream media, has demonized Vladimir Putin. Count on her to be more hostile towards China than Obama has been, but Russia remains her number one enemy.

Levine was writing with the clear assumption that Hillary would be the next president but it was obviously not something he was looking forward to with eager enthusiasm. “If the world survives Hillary,” he opined, “she will be remembered for her role in resurrecting the Cold War.”

The old Cold War was fought through surrogates like Korea and Vietnam. Today’s geopolitical struggles are occurring in Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. These current disasters have Hillary’s fingerprints all over them from her time as Secretary of State. But these proxy wars are probably preferable to what Hillary might have done as president, Levine thinks. No longer restrained by Obama’s cautiousness, her recklessness could lead to consequences impossible to foresee and too horrifying to contemplate.

▪ ▪ ▪

I am down in Florida as I write this. It’s a sunny Saturday morning in downtown Sarasota. After browsing the farmer’s market, I wander near the waterfront and happen upon an anti-Trump rally. (They are happening all over the country today).

People are holding signs and placards. One large one proclaims: We must stop hate from ruling the land. It’s an admirable sentiment and I’m not disappointed that these folks are here. But I would find it hard to feel a part of this demonstration today. Whether stated or not, the implication seems to be that hate just arrived in this country with the election of Donald Trump.

I pass by three people and overhear their conversation. One woman is saying to the other two that she was not so sure about Hillary but that she really loved Obama. I stop and ask her: “What was it you loved about him?” It’s the usual response. He was so intelligent. He spoke so well.

I don’t say so, but I agree. I will miss his cautious intelligence and I will miss his fine words, even if I couldn’t believe any of them. (Trump, at best, sounds like someone you meet at a tavern who has had a few too many drinks.) I even enjoyed Obama’s self-deprecating sense of humor, like when he read his “mean tweets” on the Jimmy Kimmel show just before the election. He is likable; certainly he could not be full of hate like the blustering Trump.

So I ask the woman what Obama has done, what it is about his policies that she likes, and she really can’t respond. I provide her a few answers, but I am angry and so tired of this. In what world have all these good-hearted liberals been living the last eight years? Why can’t I join them in that world so I too can smile in satisfaction when the black, suave, smooth-talking president speaks and get angry when I hear the foolish-talking president-elect with the orange hair? Identity politics can set you free so long as you don’t try to identify with most of the people on the planet.

So how about this Obama legacy that Hillary was hoping to build on?

  • He built on what Bush began, what Bush once called nation building, and escalated it into one of the biggest nation-bashing programs in history. But that was just a matter of national security. No hate involved.
  • He took home the Nobel Peace Prize and proceeded to bomb seven Muslim nations in six years: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. At times, he was bombing most of them simultaneously. But no hate here. Just national security.
  • Borrowing once again from the Bush Administration’s modest beginning, Obama pioneered a whole new kind of warfare–drone warfare–using computer screens instead of soldiers to kill people in distant lands. It enables him and his cronies to sit comfortably in the White House and make up a weekly “kill list,” like you might prepare a grocery list. Then there are the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, where the Assassin-in-Chief eliminates anyone he thinks needs to die, whether terrorist, innocent civilian or occasional US citizen. We will soon have a new $100 million drone base in Africa to make this extermination program even easier. Nothing personal here, certainly no hate. Just national security.
  • Since taking office, our peace president (and the Madam Secretary) have struck 42 separate deals for over $15 billion in weapons for Saudi Arabia, more than any other administration in history. (Much of this weaponry, used to slaughter civilians in Yemen, is still in the pipeline, so it will be up to Trump to make good on all these business deals.) This is just the business of national security. No hate involved.
  • Of course, it’s best to maintain the balance of power. Going back to the Iran-Iraq war, the US has always found it expedient to supply both sides in a conflict, so neither can obtain an edge. So Obama recently signed a deal for $38 billion in military aid to Israel, (our surrogate in the Mideast), so that country can continue its brutal occupation of the Palestinians while keeping the Saudis in check. No hate involved here, purely national security.
  • On the domestic front, Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in history. Nope. No hate, just national security.
  • On the campaign trail in 2007, Obama promised “No more secrecy,” vowing to eliminate illegal wiretapping and protect personal privacy. Instead, he has created the most intrusive surveillance state in the history of the world, with a price tag for the spied-on taxpayers of well over $100 billion dollars. With help from Great Britain, the US has created the technological infrastructure that enables it to spy on most of the countries of the world and their private citizens. When the Edward Snowden leaks revealed widespread government eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens, Obama’s revised message was: “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.” No hate here. Hate is a personal emotion and this is the most impersonal of policies, since national security requires that every person in the world be spied on.
  • Related to this, Obama also pledged that whistle-blowers would be protected and encouraged under his administration. Instead, using archaic laws, he has prosecuted more whistle-blowers and journalists than any other president in history. No hate. Just national security.
  • Obama also pledged there would be transparency in the negotiation of future trade deals. Instead, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement was negotiated entirely in secrecy. No hate, just national security.

TPP, NAFTA and other multi-national trade deals are the cornerstone of neoliberalism. Sanders and Trump came out strong against them, and even Hillary felt compelled to cave, but Obama stood adamant till the end.

So how would Hillary’s presidency have differed from Obama’s? A more bellicose and warlike imperialism, for starters. A ramped-up Cold War, with a more hostile posture towards Putin and Russia. Rabid and unequivocal support for Israel and its occupation. More weapons and other gifts for repressive regimes in the Mideast (as long as they reciprocate with gifts for the Clinton Foundation). Clinton was blatantly critical of Obama’s policies in the Mideast, particularly regarding Syria. Hillary’s Syria policy would have been disastrous and possibly suicidal. Any of the above ventures may have precipitated a nuclear war.

“When American politicians speak, it’s as if they want to disillusion you forever on the significance and veracity of words.”

– Paul Street

How, if at all, might Trump be better than Hillary would have been? Perhaps more inclined to cooperate rather than fight with Russia, to discourage more wars in the Middle East, a willingness to rethink the NATO alliance, and a more skeptical attitude towards “free trade.”

In what ways is Trump likely to be worse? On the domestic front, a Donald administration is likely to be a disaster on most issues, though conceivably not much worse than a neoliberal Democratic one. (After all, Hillary was not even willing to speak out, during the last days of her campaign, against the burgeoning police state protecting the Dakota Access Pipeline project at Standing Rock.) But a Trump presidency will surely be an abomination when it comes to any issue relating to the environment, particularly global warming.

▪ ▪ ▪

In the end, the Obama “legacy” will be just a string of pretty words, signifying nothing. But the words, spoken in a clear, cautious, intelligent manner, were able to seduce, and they seduced many people looking for change, both here and overseas.

Trump’s “gift” to us is that his mean words are simple and we know what they mean and we know that Trump means what he says. There is no excuse for any illusions or delusions.

Paul Street, writing in CounterPunch at the time of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), said: “When American politicians speak, it’s as if they want to disillusion you forever on the significance and veracity of words. They seem to hope to destroy your faith in the liberating potential of humanity’s glorious capacity for language. They and their writers and speaking consultants craft rhetoric and delivery to turn wrong into right, falsehood into truth, fiction into fact, left into right, war into peace, and hate into love. It’s straight out of Orwell, almost.”

During the first two nights of the DNC, Street continued, “one speaker after another, including Bernie Sanders, has stepped up to the platform to depict the right-wing fanatic, Wall Street darling, and Pentagon-endorsed war hawk and arch-neoliberal Hillary Clinton as some kind of progressive people’s champion of workers, minorities, Black Americans, peace, justice, and disadvantaged children.”

Later in the same piece, Street wrote: “Hillary and Barack Obama were for all intents and purposes ideological twins. They were and remain both equally vapid and vacuous neoliberal imperialists masquerading as progressives. They were and remain deeply committed to the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire beneath their respective highly identity-politicized candidate brandings.”

CounterPunch editor Jeffrey St. Clair, writing about the DNC on the same day, summed up the failed promise of the Obama presidency with these few words: “Barack Obama possesses so many scintillating skills, perhaps more skills than any other political figure of the modern era. Yet he put those magical gifts to such meagre, timid and often brutal uses. What a waste. His is the tragedy of a squandered presidency.”

▪ ▪ ▪

José Martí once said that “there are two kinds of people in the world: those who love and create, and those who hate and destroy.” Martí was a Cuban poet, a journalist, and a revered leader of his country’s long struggle for independence during the last half of the 19th Century. He lived for a while in the United States and admired the country’s democratic structures but he was well aware that the goal of the US was to dominate Cuba.

In Florida, I’m reading poetry and essays about poetry. I enjoy it and it tends to help me see the world in a wider context. I’m reading poet Robert Hass with his thoughts on poet Robert Lowell. Hass is focusing on a particular poem of Lowell’s that he admires. He posits that the poem is not “political” because “a political criticism of any social order implies both that a saner one can be imagined and the hope or conviction that it can be achieved.”

Lowell’s poem, argues Hass, has grief and moral rage but no vision of an alternative world. Hass continues to explicate the poem, alluding to mythology and Christianity, and finally the concept of spiritual redemption. Like Lowell, Hass finds it easier to accept cruelty as the “first fall,” not pride or disobedience, (as in the biblical myth), “which the violence of the state has made to seem, on the whole, sane and virtuous.”

“There is no sense here of the crucifixion as a redemption,” Hass writes, and this intrigues me. The early Church celebrated the resurrection, not the crucifixion. I never could get myself to believe that this act of supreme violence, the torture and legal execution of a Jewish rebel and prophet by the Roman Empire, could somehow redeem mankind. It never made any sense to me how the murder of one Jewish rebel, or that of tens of thousands of other ones, for that matter, could redeem anything or anyone.

The theologian Walter Wink has written extensively about what he calls the “domination society” and the myth of “redemptive violence.” He argues that this myth is counter to authentic Christianity and traces it back to ancient Babylon. Today, he says, the myth of redemptive violence undergirds American popular culture, civil religion, nationalism and foreign policy.

Wink explains that John, in the Book of Revelation, revealed that a monster from Babylonian myth that once represented chaos, the ultimate threat to the security of the state, had come to represent the spiritual principle behind empire. “Now evil is represented, not as the threat of anarchy, but as the system of order that institutionalized violence as the foundation of international relations … order is not the opposite of chaos, but rather the means by which a system of chaos among the nations is maintained,” Wink writes. “Violence tends to turn something into the very thing it opposes. Empire is not, then, the bulwark against disorder, but disorder’s quintessence.”

“The rules by which society functions are backed by sanctions,” he continues, … public censure, fines, arrest, incarceration, execution, but their real power depends on trust. When a government or institution must resort to threat or the use of force, its power has already eroded, and the system is in crisis.

“An empire is, by its very nature, a system in permanent crisis of legitimation. It is not a natural system, but an artificial amalgam held together by force. That is why propaganda is so essential to it.”

Where does all this lead? What do we do now? Perhaps we can start by stripping all the clothes off the Empire and examining it closely in all its ugly nakedness. Perhaps we can examine all the myths by which we live. Some are very simple: Democrats are less warlike than Republicans, we are a special people, our violence is always good and everyone else’s is evil.

Perhaps we can begin to challenge the idolatry of violence when we see it. Many people are upset about Stephen Bannon but how come so few seem bothered that Henry Kissinger, one of the greatest war criminals of all time, has played advisor to both Hillary and Trump? Why was there not a massive outcry when Madeleine Albright, responsible for engineering the genocide of the East Timorese by Indonesia as well as other mass atrocities equally heinous, chided young women for supporting Bernie over Hillary, accusing them of not being real feminists?

Speaking of Bernie, he managed to stir the imagination of millions of young people. We need to build on that, not mourn the demise of a neoliberal, and begin to imagine a society and a world that today seems impossible. We need to think beyond identity politics and even imagine a world beyond nation states, which are only dinosaurs left over from a more primitive world.

It is exciting that Black Lives Matter activists and Palestinians are reaching out to each other in solidarity, recognizing that their oppression is similar. And now, these groups and others are reaching out in solidarity to Native Americans at Standing Rock. We must support and join these struggles in whatever way we can. If “political” means to have the capacity to imagine a saner social order, as the poet implied, then we all need to become political in that respect. We need to imagine a social order beyond empire, one that nourishes and sustains us, and find the courage to create it.

▪ ▪ ▪

My first impulse was not to write this essay at all. I thought that Jeffrey St. Claire’s piece in CounterPunch right after the election said it all. Please check it out. Also, Naomi Klein’s article in the Guardian is brief but equally good in explaining who is and who is not to blame for the rise of Trump and the debacle of the 2016 election.

Police Violence in the USA: A Necessary Cost of Empire

Terence Crutcher. Keith Lamont Scott. Korryn Gaines. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Alfred Olango. Charles Kinsey. Laquan McDonald. Antwoyne Johnson. Walter Scott. Tamir Rice. The list goes on and on. Black men and black boys shot and killed by the police.

Every day, it seems, we can expect another shooting, many of them captured on video. They start to scramble in our minds, unless we happen to be the girlfriend, the wife, the sister or the mother of the victim.

But the killings seem to fit a pattern; there seems to be a method to the madness. The confrontation with a police officer often starts with a traffic stop. Or someone calls 911 to report a black man or boy behaving suspiciously. The man or boy may have a gun (but this is usually not the case). Sometimes a relative of the victim has called police, expecting help. In the case of Quintonio LeGrier, a young Chicago man, the victim himself called for assistance.

Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old father of five, was selling CDs outside a convenience store when police officers arrived and tased him, held him on the ground with their hands and knees, and then shot him multiple times at close range.

Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old boy, was playing with a toy gun outside a recreation center when two police officers pulled up in their squad car and jumped out. Within two seconds, Tamir was dead.

Alfred Olango, 30, was reportedly acting erratically when officers approached him in a strip mall in suburban San Diego. Olango was holding up his hands when he was tased by one police officer and then shot five times by another officer. Olanga’s sister had called the police. “I called you to help me but you killed my brother,” the grieving woman told the officers, who were aware they were responding to a mental health emergency.

In an eerily similar incident just a week earlier, police in Charlotte, North Carolina shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in a parking lot where he had been waiting to pick up his son after school. Scott’s wife, Rakeyia, recorded the murder on her cellphone while pleading with the police not to shoot her husband, explaining that he suffered from traumatic brain injury.

The day after Christmas, 2015, Quintonio LeGrier, 19, a student at Northern Illinois University, was shot seven times by police in his home on Chicago’s Westside when they responded to a call from the boy’s father. LeGrier, who had mental health issues and had already called 911 three times, to no avail, was armed with a baseball bat. Bettie Jones, a 47-year-old neighbor who had opened the apartment house door for police, was also shot. When the family filed suit against the police officer who killed the young man and the neighbor, the officer filed a counter-suit claiming “infliction of emotional distress.”

“You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”

 . . . Diamond Reynolds  

Just yesterday, a New York City cop shot and killed a 66-year-old black woman in her apartment in the Bronx. She too was armed with a baseball bat. The police officer had a taser but chose to use his revolver instead.

All of these incidents are shocking and abhorrent, but sometimes they are so grotesque that they border on “black humor.” Did you hear about Mary Knowlton, a 73-year-old white woman in Punta Gorda, Florida? She visited her local police station as a student in the citizen police academy. She was chosen to play the victim in a role-play of a lethal force simulation, in which officers demonstrate how and when they decide to pull the trigger. Unfortunately, the officer’s gun had real bullets. Mary, a mother, wife and career librarian, died.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching video to watch was the one live-streamed by Diamond Reynolds right after watching her boyfriend, Philando Castile, being shot four times by a police officer after their car was pulled over in a suburb of St. Paul, MN. In the video, (viewed almost 2.5 million times by the following afternoon), Reynolds informs the police officer that her boyfriend was carrying a licensed, concealed handgun and had been attempting to retrieve his wallet when he was shot. The video shows Castile moaning and losing consciousness as the officer curses and brandishes his revolver at the couple. Not visible is Reynold’s four-year-old daughter in the back seat of the car.

“You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir,” she is heard saying. “Please don’t tell me he’s dead.”

Reynolds is soon handcuffed and spends the night in jail. She claims that officers failed to check Castile for a pulse or render first aid, but instead comforted the officer who fired the shots. Castile died in a hospital 20 minutes after being shot. Reports differ on how many times Castile had previously been stopped for minor traffic infractions, ranging from 52 up to 82. Most were eventually dismissed.

For those of you who fret that a victory for Donald Trump on November 8th will usher in a fascist state, all I have to say is: don’t fear, it’s already here. And if it’s not here yet, it’s very near. All the necessary ingredients are in place: a prison industrial complex, a military industrial complex, rampant racism and the most sophisticated surveillance state in the history of the planet. And all these fixings for fascism work hand in glove like ham and eggs or pepper and salt.

For those who prefer to think that the problem with our police is merely a matter of a “few bad apples,” I would refer them to a recent monologue by talk show host John Oliver. He reminded his listeners that the expression goes “a few bad apples spoil the barrel.” At this point, the whole barrel is rotten. It doesn’t smell sweet like apple cider. It’s a stench more like stale piss.


Street march at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this past August.

Due in part to the fact that there are nearly 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies spread across the US, no one appears to know for sure how many people are killed by the police each year. But The Guardian newspaper in England has been keeping tabs with a user-friendly database anyone can access. Their count for 2015 was 1,146 deaths, and over 840 so far this year.

(Interestingly, the Guardian data shows that police killings of Native Americans has outpaced that of blacks this year. Other data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than any other ethnic group, according to an October 18 article in In These Times. Peaceful protests by Native Americans at Standing Rock in North Dakota this autumn have been met with massive displays of police power including automatic firearms, riot gear, batons, pepper spray, dogs, armored vehicles and helicopters hovering overhead.)

Citing CNN, Oliver noted that 77 officers had been charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005 and only 26 of these, to date, had been convicted. The US Justice Department found that 4,813 people died from 2003 to 2009 while a law enforcement officer was attempting to arrest or restrain them. Data compiled by Colorlines and the Chicago Reporter in 2007 showed that nearly 9,500 people in the US were shot by police between 1980 and 2005, an average of almost one fatal shooting per day. Chicago alone had 435 officer-involved shootings between 2010 and 2015 and four out of five victims were black.

Aislinn Pulley is a cofounder and lead organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago. She declined an invitation to attend a White House meeting with President Obama and civil rights activists this past February, convinced that it would be a “sham” and a photo opportunity for the president. In an editorial in Truthout, she asked why Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, is not considered a criminal for closing half the city’s mental health centers and for conducting the largest public school closing in US history. We must ask what criminal justice is “when not one officer, including former Commander Jon Burge, has been held responsible for the torture of over 100 Black and Latino men that occurred over 30 years in Chicago,” she wrote.

I think back about four decades to my former life in the central city. While an activist and community organizer in Milwaukee, there was a lot of concern about “police brutality.” It was a common expectation that the police would rough people up from time to time; it was how they maintained control. But murder, not so much. That fate was reserved for people perceived as a real threat to the power structure, like Chicago Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, assassinated by Chicago police in collusion with J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI.

All they have to do is read from his weekly “kill list” and push a computer button. Technology does the rest.

While some people referred to the police as “pigs,” there were others who still considered them “peace officers.” How quaint that term sounds today! Unfortunately, preserving the peace has never been the purpose of police and law enforcement agencies. Since the rise of nation states and the concept of private property, the role of law enforcement, “criminal justice” and, by extension, the military, has always been to protect the interests of the wealthy and powerful and to preserve the empire.

So if we take it as a given that the role of police is to intimidate and brutalize in order to keep the motley rabble in place, why does it appear they have ramped it up, so to speak, skipping the brutality stage in favor of outright murder? I’m not sure I know the answer, but I can offer a few theories.

First, the idea of efficiency is a dominant value in the neoliberal state. Why waste time with arrest and torture when you can just shoot to kill? Second, our country is drenched in violence, drowning in violence. It is usually the first and often the only solution to a problem. Third, people on “both sides of the law” learn by example, whether a kid on the street or a cop on the beat. Who do they learn from? Corporations (Wells Fargo, Dakota Access LLC, Goldman and Sachs, BP  … take your pick), the man in the White House, and our government, the largest and most lethal murder machine in history.

Fourth? Let’s face it, certain people are just not needed anymore. The economy can do fine without them. There’s hardly room for any more in the cages we call prisons. They’re not even of any use as cannon fodder, now that Obama has his drones. All he needs is a few people (preferably without a conscience) sitting behind computers, thousands of miles removed from his “targets.” All they have to do is read from his weekly “kill list” and push a computer button. Technology does the rest. In other words, a lot of people are now disposable. There’s no place for them in the system.

Kathy Kelly had an essay published on Common Dreams this past July in which she compared the shooting of Alton Sterling to the US war machine. Kathy is a peace activist from Chicago twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. (The well-meaning folks who nominated her were probably not aware that you need to have real credentials to win this prestigious prize, like being a president who bombs seven different counties at once.) Kathy’s essay starts with an account of Sterling’s murder in a Louisiana parking lot. A witness-recorded video captures one of the police officers shouting “If you f_ _ _ _ ing move, I swear to God!” just before Sterling is shot to death. She then mentions that police arrest and often kill citizens based on “racial profiling” and, nowadays, “patterns of behavior.”  (This latter is a trick our cops picked up from our friends in Israel. More on that in a minute.)

“The past 15 years have institutionalized and validated the killing process. President Clinton or Trump will be able to do more of the same.”

  . . . Philip Giraldi

The same week that Sterling was killed, the US released a report on drone strikes and civilian deaths, covering “four countries with which the US is not at war,” according to Kelly. The US admitted to killing between 64 and 116 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya from 2009 through 2015, but Kelly points out this is probably only a small fraction of the most conservative estimates by independent reporters and researchers. “Few eyes in the US watch for cellphone video from these countries,” she added, so we only get the official version of what actually transpired.

A March 2015 report by Physicians for Social Responsibility claimed that more (perhaps far more) than 1.3 million people were killed during the first ten years of the “Global War on Terror” in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. When you add Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, the count may exceed two million deaths, with some estimates at four million or more. Kelly quotes Philip Giraldi as saying: “The past 15 years have institutionalized and validated the killing process. President Clinton or Trump will be able to do more of the same, as the procedures involved are ‘completely legal’ and likely soon to be authorized under an executive order.”

Drone warfare eliminates the very notion of trial, evidence and rule of law, Kelly notes, “making the whole world a battlefield. The frenzied concern for our safety and comfort driving so much of our war on the Middle East has made our lives far more dangerous.”

You may have heard of Michelle Alexander, the Ohio State University law professor whose book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, makes the argument that, “rather than rely on race, we now use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.”

Within a span of 30 years, “for reasons unrelated to crime rates,” she notes, US incarceration rates quintupled and the prison population exploded from 300,000 to well over two million today, with nearly five million more on probation or parole. The country created a penal system unlike any other in world history, with incarceration rates far exceeding those of Russia, China or Iran, countries portrayed here as particularly repressive.


Myra Brown, from Rochester, New York, at a march for justice for Dontre Hamilton, a young black man shot and killed by Milwaukee police in 2014. The march was part of the Call to Action convention in Milwaukee.

“No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities,” Alexander points out. In fact, more African American adults are in prison or under correction supervision or probation than were enslaved in 1850. Black men are sent to prison on drug charges at rates 20 to 57 times greater than white men, even though government statistics reveal that people of all races use and sell drugs at roughly the same rate.

“Stop and frisk” searches and traffic stops used as pretext for unlawful searches, along with the increasingly militarized nature of our police forces, have transformed our inner cities into virtual occupied territories. Which brings us back to Israel.

The United States and Israel, its junior partner in the security state business, share many things in common. You might say they are soul sisters. Both were settled by European colonists who appropriated the land of indigenous people, both consider themselves “exceptional,” both have armed themselves with nuclear weapons and decry the efforts of other states to do likewise, both practice “targeted killings” or extrajudicial executions of suspected terrorists, (and Israel is second only to the US in global sale of drones), and both have created economies largely dependent on the production and sale of weapons and security technology. Oh yes, conveniently enough, both benefit from occupied territories on which to test weapons and security technology. After all, what responsible entrepreneur would sell a product on the world market without testing it first?

I had long been aware of Israel’s history of selling weapons and providing military training to repressive regimes in Latin America. But it was not until I picked up Ali Abunimah’s excellent book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine, that I learned of Israel’s role in providing domestic law enforcement agencies in the US with weapons, training and security technology.

Abunimah quotes Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) as saying that Israel has become the world’s “shopping mall for homeland security technologies.” Israel’s arms and security exports escalated from $3.5 billion in 2003 to $7.5 billion in 2012, making it the world’s sixth largest weapons exporter.

“The occupied territories are crucial as a laboratory not just in terms of Israel’s internal security, but because they have allowed Israel to become pivotal to the global homeland security industry,” according to Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Since 9/11, pro-Israel lobbying groups “have created a veritable industry” of shuttling US police chiefs to Israel to “learn from the best,” Abunimah reports.

Groups such as the Jewish United Fund, Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange have sponsored delegations of police officials from dozens of cities including Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Oakland, Austin and Houston, so they can observe how the experts keep a population subjugated. One group alone, the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs, a neoconservative Washington think tank, boasts that it has brought more than a hundred federal, state and local law enforcement officials to Israel and has trained 11,000 more officers across the US since 2002.

The New York Police Department, which has systematically spied on and infiltrated Muslim communities for years, has even set up a branch in Tel Aviv, headed by former Israeli and veteran NYPD detectives. Journalist Max Blumenthal has reported that the “Israelification” of US policing came to full fruition with attacks on the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. According to Blumenthal, “former Israeli military officers have been hired to spearhead security operations at American airports and suburban shopping malls, leading to a wave of disturbing incidents of racial profiling, intimidation, and FBI interrogations of innocent, unsuspecting people.”

“Colonized territories have long served as laboratories for new forms of violence and social control.”

Of course, US law enforcement agencies hardly need Israelis to teach them about spying, profiling or harassment of minorities. But Israel has helped them repackage racial profiling as “behavior pattern recognition,” Abunimah contends, giving US police an opportunity to “spin discrimination as a sophisticated technical solution.”

The detention, abuse and torture of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities closely parallels the experience of black youth in American cities. And the virtual immunity bestowed on US police for their crimes against citizens mirrors that granted to Israeli police, soldiers and settlers who shoot and torture Palestinians. An Israeli legal advocacy group found that 94 percent of criminal investigations by the Military Police Criminal Investigations Division against soldiers suspected of violent criminal assault on Palestinians and their property were closed without indictment.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the tail is wagging the dog or vice versa when it comes to the militaristic policies of the US and Israel but one thing is certain: “national security” is good for business. Occupation zones, whether the West Bank and Gaza or American cities, are an integral feature of the business. Palestinians and African Americans are “lab rats” on which the empire can test its newest weapons, security technology and confinement techniques.

Abunimah ends his chapter on the “shared values” of the US and Israel by quoting another author who observed that “colonized territories have long served as laboratories for new forms of violence and social control and should thus be viewed, in an important sense, as ahead of their time.” As the US continues to expand its wars at home and abroad, Abunimah notes, it’s bound to have dire consequences for Palestinians, Americans and others, “especially those targeted by mass incarceration and the escalated brutality of militarized and racist policing.”

Freelance journalist Chris Hedges seems to concur with this warning in his article titled Legalized Murder and the Politics of Terror. “The miniature police states are laboratories,” he writes. “They give the corporate state the machinery, legal justification and expertise to strip the entire country of rights, wealth and resources. And this, in the end, is the goal of neoliberalism.”

Ever since the media and eye-witness videos have begun to shine a spotlight on the epidemic of police shootings, there have predictably been calls for reform of our law enforcement agencies. It has been pointed out that our police are ill-equipped to deal with the national mental health crisis. Some are demanding that all police wear body cameras to record their actions. Others say the training that police receive is inadequate. (A National Public Radio story in mid-July reported that some police in Minnesota receive only 16 hours of training a year, and that much police training is of the “us versus them” variety.)

But it is doubtful that more training can help so long as the focus is on producing warriors rather than peace-keepers. It is doubtful that more technology can fix the problem either, since the real purpose of technology is to pacify and punish huge segments of the population at home and abroad, and to enrich the arms industry. As Hedges wrote in his essay, “The so-called “professionalization” of the police, the standard response to police brutality, has always resulted in more resources, militarized weapons and money given to the police. It has been accompanied, at the same time, by less police accountability and greater police autonomy to strip citizens of their rights as well as on expansion of the use of deadly force.”

What is needed, of course, is a major disinvestment from the prison and military industries and a commensurate investment in education, mental health, full employment, safe housing, social services and restorative justice. With many people, this will not be a popular proposal. Some will claim that divesting from the prison-military machine is not practical. As I write, liberals in Madison, WI and elsewhere are organizing to denounce divestment as “anti-Semitic.” You see, institutions like the British-Danish multinational security corporation G4S make a lot of money from torturing and detaining Palestinian children. It is also the leading security company in the US, contracting with federal, state and local police and operating various prisons and juvenile detention centers.

I was recently re-reading part of a 1950 book by Alex Comfort, a poet, novelist and biologist from London. In his book, Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State, he maintains that some forms of delinquency are tolerated in contemporary civilized cultures. In fact, he posits that “refusal to participate in the persecution of a racial minority, or in the military destruction of civilian populations,” have recently become crimes in civilized Western societies. The “tolerated delinquents” often gravitate to the machinery of legislative and political power, becoming policy-makers and rulers, but more often are attracted to the machinery of enforcement, which intervenes between the policy-maker and the citizen.

As highly-centralized Western democracies have evolved, he argues, there has been “an increasing tendency for fear, insecurity and an orientation toward war to become permanent features of such cultures.” In these centralized societies, he adds, the tendency has been for those who comprise the machinery of enforcement–the police and prison system–“to be drawn increasingly from those whose main preoccupation is a desire for authority, for powers of control and of direction over others.”

The challenge we face now is to begin to think beyond the circus of the current political campaign of Clinton and Trump and to start to ask ourselves bigger questions, such as what kind of culture and society we want to evolve toward. Do we want to continue down the road toward a prison state, fascism and permanent warfare, or is there a better path we can take? We can begin by demanding disinvestment from prisons, the war machine and all the other forces that oppress people. Then we will begin to discover who our friends are, those with whom we share basic values of freedom and human liberation. And then we can begin the major revolution that calls us to transform the soul of this country.




Good News: A new nonprofit has come to Wisconsin’s rescue!

People are always complaining, justifiably so, about how we never hear any “good news” anymore. We don’t hear about all the good deeds and random acts of kindness some folks are doing, about the humble, unsung heroes among us.

Well, I’m here to change all that, to brighten up your day, put a smile on your face. It’s a story about a group of good-hearted farmers who are out to set things right in the world, to lend a helping hand, to go the extra mile.

No, they’re not delivering blankets and medical supplies to the Native Americans fighting the oil pipeline at Standing Rock. Guess again. Instead they’ve banded together to do some good right here in Wisconsin. They’ve even formed a nonprofit.

What’s the problem they’re tackling? you ask. Well, it seems there are people in the northeast part of our state who don’t have good drinking water. Doesn’t that beat all? I mean, this isn’t Flint, Michigan. This is America’s Dairyland, home of bucolic green fields, quaint red barns, cute brick silos and, here and there, a small herd of contented cows grazing in a pasture.

No water to drink?! How could that be? This is where people come to vacation. To fish in the water, to swim in the water, to sit on the shore on a summer evening and gaze at the sun setting over the water. We even brew our beer from “sky-blue water.”

What’s going on here? Do these well-intentioned farmers have a few screws loose? When they’re sitting around the kitchen table late at night playing Sheepshead, can it be they’re not playing with a full deck? Do we need to report them to the Department of Tourism before they bring our lovely state some bad publicity?

Stick with me on this. It gets stranger. It turns out these good-hearted farmers may be the ones responsible for the fact that a lot of people in northeast Wisconsin can’t drink their own water. What’s more, it turns out these good-hearted farmers aren’t farmers at all. They’re factory owners. They don’t have farms. They run things called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO for short). Actually, they don’t even have cows. They raise something called animal units.

Now I know what you’re thinking. If these CAFO folks are out in the countryside and they have some animals (or animal units), they must be farmers. Nope. Guess again. Hard to believe it but some people started this large-scale confinement stuff back in the 1940s and 50s. They labeled it “factory farming” themselves. (That was when factories had a better reputation.) Then the 1970s rolled around and people learned about factory pollution, so these CAFO folks starting calling what they were doing “industrial” animal production.

Well, you’ve heard the saying “a rose by any other name” … Or a skunk by any other name … but it’s still a skunk. The point is, it’s not a farm, it’s not agrarian, it’s not animal husbandry. It’s something new, at least relatively new to Wisconsin, and it’s an industrial model. And it smells worse than a skunk.

How well is your water?

It turns out that a study released last December found that 34 percent of wells tested in Kewaunee County contained unsafe levels of nitrates and bacteria. About two percent of tested wells were contaminated with E. coli. (These wells have been tested for about a decade.) A lot of people were starting to get upset: homeowners, real farmers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

So then these CAFO folks announced, a little earlier this month, that they had set up this nonprofit named Peninsula Pride Farms and they were starting a program called Water Well. They wanted to promote sustainable farming practices and protect ground and surface water, they said.

The CAFO folks explained that if county residents had their wells tested, at their own expense, and if the test was positive for E. coli, and if they reported it to the County Health Department, and then contacted Peninsula Pride Farms (PPF) to schedule a well inspection, they would get free bottled water for three months. PPF will also provide cost-sharing on a water treatment system for homeowners with an E. coli problem whose wells are not at fault. (I promised you I had good news!)

Don Niles, the PPF president, advised that giving away free water is not an admission of guilt, that dumping millions of gallons of manure on farm fields every year may not have anything to do with the problem. Niles manages a factory near the town of Casco with 2,850 cows, (which comes to 3,990 animal units, if my math is right). His factory is named Dairy Dreams. (Lots of folks in Kewaunee County are having dairy nightmares, but we’ll get to that in a future blog.)

Anyway, PPF, Kewaunee County and the DNR all signed an MOU (that stands for memorandum of understanding) which says that the Water Well program is not an admission of liability or wrong-doing by any party. (I forgot what the acronym DNR stands for these days, but Scott Dye with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) says it means Does Not Respond. That sounds about right.

“What we are doing is owning our share,” Niles was quoted as saying. “We don’t want people getting sick here on our watch. Putting our brains together as farmers allowed us to take action that’s different than what has been done for decades.”

Some people are reportedly pleased that these “farmers” have stepped forward with this goodwill gesture. The Wisconsin chapter of The Nature Conservancy seemed almost exuberant. The program provides a new role for farmers “that is very much appreciated,” said TNC’s Steve Richter. “It is through such collaboration that big changes can occur and differences overcome, with the outcome being a healthier landscape for people and nature,” Richter wrote in a letter to Niles.

I wish I could say I was making all this up but I don’t have that much imagination. I’m not sure about this new role for “farmers” that is “different than what has been done for decades” but I can sketch a quick picture of what’s transpired over the last two decades or so. It isn’t pretty.

CAFOs and Kewaunee County: What’s all the stink about?

The number of CAFOs in Wisconsin exploded in the fifteen years between 1995 and 2010, growing from eight to 154, an increase of 1,825 percent. (A dairy CAFO in Wisconsin contains 1,000 animal units or 700 cows or more.) Today there are about 280 CAFOs permitted by the DNR and more with applications pending.

As with all types of industrial animal production, while the CAFOs increase in number and expand in size, the number of smaller dairy farms steadily shrinks. Wisconsin lost about 140,000 dairy farms since 1944. At the same time, the number of actual dairy cows in the state has changed little in the last 20 years.

Northeast Wisconsin has become a sacrifice zone of sorts for industrial agriculture. Today there are over 70 CAFOs in six counties in or adjoining the watershed (Door, Kewaunee, Brown, Manitowoc, Calumet and Outagamie counties). Brown County leads the state in total CAFOs (20) but Kewaunee can probably claim the title as the official cesspool of Wisconsin.

Each dairy cow produces the waste equivalent of 18 people. Kewaunee County, with 15 dairy CAFOs and one beef CAFO, produces waste equivalent to 924,882 humans, (the combined population of Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay) though its population is only 20,574. To put it delicately, Kewaunee County is in deep doo doo.

As detailed in a report released by SRAP, Kewaunee Cares and Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) a year ago June, the county ranks first in cattle density, first for CAFO density per acre and first in recent cow herd growth.

Three of the areas in Wisconsin with the largest concentrations of CAFOs—the northeast, the driftless region of southern Wisconsin, and the western counties—are also the areas with karst geology. Carbonate bedrock, limestone or dolomite rock formations that are commonly fractured, underlies a broad V-shaped swath of the state from the Door Peninsula to southwest Wisconsin and up to St. Croix County. These carbonate rocks are soluble and percolating surface water can enlarge fractures to form conduits, caves and sinkholes that are hallmarks of a karst system, according to a 2009 fact sheet from the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.

What this means, simply put, is that these karst systems provide important aquifers that are also extremely vulnerable to contamination because groundwater flow can be very rapid and carbonate rocks do a poor job of filtering out contaminants.

Ten years ago the county conservationists from five northeast counties came together to form a task force to study the problem of groundwater quality in this karst region. The task force included university scientists and representatives of state and federal agencies. The Kewaunee County Conservationist noted in their report that two different programs run by county agencies had been testing rural wells and uncovered water quality problems. One program found 18 percent of wells tested were bacteriologically unsafe for human consumption and with nitrate levels exceeding the human health standard (10 ppm). A program dating back to 1996—20 years ago—found that about 30 percent of well water tested was unsafe for human consumption due to bacteria or nitrates above the health standard.

The report released by the task force in early 2007 recommended a number of actions including enhancing manure storage requirements in carbonate bedrock areas, reducing water use in manure systems to create more solid manure, and establishing uniform ordinances and enforcement at the town level. The report recommended different policies for managing manure depending on the depth of soil covering the fractured bedrock. Some of the soils in northeast Wisconsin are extremely shallow.

Oops! I think I spilled something

Of course, the problem of polluted wells barely scratches the surface of what’s the matter with factory farms. There have been accidental spills, discharges and over-application of manure resulting in polluted run-off into streams, lakes, wetlands and rivers. There have been horrendous fish kills in trout streams dating back to the 1990s. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that there were a record number of manure spills in the state—over one million gallons worth—in 2013. In September, 2014 a manure system malfunction at a Door County dairy caused 640,000 gallons of liquid manure to flow across fields and into Sugar Creek. A week later, state environmental officials ordered the farmer to remove retaining dikes in the creek, allowing the remaining effluent—now over three million gallons—to flow downstream into a bay connected to Lake Michigan. (So much for the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”.)

Nowadays, factory owners in northeast Wisconsin and elsewhere have taken to spraying liquid manure on fields, which can only exacerbate the air pollution problems that accompany industrial agriculture. A CAFO can produce 160 to 170 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and gases, with the most notable culprits being ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane and particulate matter.

A growing public health concern is the habitual over-use of antibiotics at CAFOs for non-therapeutic purposes such as to promote growth and deter disease outbreaks. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, about 70 percent of all antibiotics made in the US are used in the livestock industry.

Livestock waste stored in lagoons that is then applied to fields as fertilizer can introduce antibiotic resistance (AR) bacteria into the local environment. The AR bacteria can also be spread by wind, the transporting of livestock, and even via flies and other creatures.

“This is not the future of agriculture, this is the end of agriculture in this country as we know it.”  — John Ikerd

There is a whole laundry list of ills that come with factory farms that is much too long to enumerate here. Earlier this month, I attended a national Factory Farm Summit in Green Bay and heard Dr. John Ikerd speak. Ikerd is a former professor of Agricultural Economics who was raised on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri. He spent 30 years in professional positions at state universities and the last 20 years writing and speaking about sustainable agriculture and the evils of industrial agriculture. I had heard him speak several times before.

Ikerd maintains that the maltreatment of animals and the negative impacts that CAFOs have on the vitality of rural communities are reason enough to oppose them, above and beyond the scourge they represent to public health and our physical environment.

The science and data now exist to demonstrate unequivocally that industrial agriculture is a disaster, environmentally, socially and economically, Ikerd insists. Sixty years of history on large confinement animal operations shows that “we consistently lose something like 90 percent of independent producers” when the factory farm system moves in, he said.

“This is not the future of agriculture, this is the end of agriculture in this country as we know it,” said Ikerd. “In fighting factory farms, there is no middle ground,” he added, calling for a national moratorium on CAFOs.

I agree with Ikerd that this is what we ought to be fighting for, instead of settling for a donation of bottled water, a public relations gimmick. Back in 1998, (nearly twenty years ago!), Senator Alice Clausing (D-Menomonie), chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Environmental Resources, introduced a bill in the Wisconsin Legislature calling for a moratorium on new or expanded factory farms.

Where are our legislators today? Why are they silent about what is arguably the most serious environmental issue confronting the state? Are they willing to accept, along with some of our environmental organizations, a few cases of bottled water while our beautiful Wisconsin is transformed into one giant cesspool?

The floodgates are opened

It would be comforting to report that this mess all began when Scott Walker opened Wisconsin for business, but that is not the case. It was Governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, who was at the helm and opened the cow poop floodgates. Thank you, Mr. Doyle.

I was there, in northeast Wisconsin, watching it unfold. This was about the time the Treml family in Kewaunee County, who lived across the road from a factory farm, turned on their kitchen tap one day and discovered brown liquid coming out of the faucet. The entire family got sick and their six-month-old daughter, Samantha, nearly died.

I was commuting from the southern part of the state, a day or two each week, helping to organize a watershed organization. As I recall, my stipend came from the Do Not Respond (DNR) agency, supplied by a Chicago foundation I won’t bother to name. The foundation grant paid for a second person whose job it was to go arrange conversations with the handful of factory farmers then in the region. While I was helping small local groups devise ways to protect the watershed, this other person would chummy up to the factory owners to encourage them to become good neighbors. Much like The Nature Conservancy wants to do today.

(“If we can be a part of changing for the better the way farms of that size are having an impact, it would be a good thing,” TNC’s Richter told me on the phone after he sent his letter to Peninsula Pride Farms. Good luck, Steve.)

Anyway, me and this other staff person and our fledgling watershed organization were just pawns in a much bigger game with higher stakes. Someone else was holding the rulebook and they weren’t sharing the rules. There were a lot of people playing the game, all interested, for some strange reason, in this same watershed. It was an unholy alliance of the aforementioned Do Not Respond agency, other state agencies, agricultural groups, some of the country’s most prestigious universities, and the Dutch government and various Dutch agencies.

Huh? What were the Dutch doing poking their noses into rural Wisconsin? It wasn’t until years later when a factory farmer from California and by way of Nebraska decided to open up for business in Rock County that I began to connect a few of the dots. Double Dutch Dairy was the name of one of his factories in Nebraska. Now he’s working on his second Wisconsin cow factory, to be located in Green County.

Back then I had already been around the block a few times, but I was still in way over my head. I wish I had known what I know now, and I still don’t know nearly enough. What I do know is that there is no middle ground in this battle. It’s a fight for our communities, our health, our land, our way of life. A case or two of bottled water won’t do.


▪ ▪ ▪

Bernie, Those Damn Emails, and Secrets of the State

In one of the Democratic debates last fall, Bernie Sanders turned to Hillary Clinton and made his now infamous remark: “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” The audience erupted in wild applause. Hillary smiled and even chuckled. I cheered.

At the time, it seemed like a principled and noble gesture on Bernie’s part. After all, he wanted to keep the presidential campaign focused on the “real issues” and he was constantly reprimanding the corporate media for failing to do so.

But as more and more information about the “damn emails” surfaced, I began to doubt the wisdom of his stance. Eventually I came to see it as both a moral and strategic blunder. Rather than being a distraction from the “real issues,” the email controversy was part and parcel of a YUGE issue, perhaps the most critical one of all.

The issue was not just about Hillary flaunting government procedures and policies, putting national secrets and national security at risk, or lying to government officials and the public, as Republicans were inclined to portray it. I came to see that it had more to do with larger questions of who controls and has access to information, what kind of information is relayed to the public and in what form, and how the government and power-brokers use a vast technological apparatus to secretly gather information from an unwary citizenry.

An informed and educated populace is the most essential prerequisite for an authentic, participatory democracy. It was Thomas Jefferson who said: “Free-flowing information is the currency of democracy.” Unfortunately, much of what passes for “information” today—such as the nightly TV news–is a wooden nickel sort of currency. It is not worth much.

“In a society where truth becomes treason, we’re in big trouble.”

                                                                           – Congressman Ron Paul


The government will always try to hide the important stuff, with the willing collusion of the corporate media. It seems that Hillary has made a career of hiding what she is doing–for good reason–and the gullible public does not object, for the most part. If Bernie had been reading more of the WikiLeaks disclosures and less of the mainstream media, perhaps he would have had the sense to call her on it and even consider including foreign policy issues in his presidential campaign.

This might be ancient history for many, but you may recall late 2010, when WikiLeaks released a treasure-trove of documents—250,000 leaked US embassy cables–as an early Christmas gift to the American public. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State and she called the disclosures “an attack on the international community” that endangered innocent people. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were vilified by Senator Joe Lieberman, Attorney General Eric Holder and much of the media. Members of Congress labeled Assange a “terrorist” and called for his assassination.

Amazon terminated its hosting of the WikiLeaks website and PayPal, MasterCard and Visa followed suit by withdrawing the ability to make donations to WikiLeaks. Of course, a few figures on the left, including Ralph Nader, Daniel Ellsberg and Tom Hayden, publicly defended WikiLeaks.

Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul asked his colleagues on the House floor which events caused more deaths, “Lying us into war, or the release of the WikiLeaks papers? In a free society,” he said, “we’re supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we’re in big trouble.”

Paul Craig Roberts called the US “an incipient fascist state” and wrote: “Today the press is a propaganda ministry for the government. Any member who departs from his duty to lie and spin the news is expelled from the fraternity.” He continued: “Today no one believes that our country’s success depends on an informed public and a free press. America’s success depends on its financial and military hegemony over the world.” The ranting of a wild-eyed, drug-crazed lefty, you think? Not quite. He was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal.

Bernie or Bust!-29

City Hall in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention

This past March, WikiLeaks launched a new archive of over 30,000 emails and attachments sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was Secretary of State. Emails continue to be released by the State Department in response to a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request and a court case initiated by the conservative organization Judicial Watch.

The latest batch of emails has revealed two forms of flagrant political collusion that should have incited Bernie to continue his campaign outside the Democratic Party. First was the collusion between Hillary’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to rig the election against Sanders. The second, and probably most egregious, is the cozy partnership revealed between the Clintons, the Clinton Foundation and the State Department.

In what some have characterized as a “pay to play” racket, the emails have exposed how the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s State Department worked together to grant political and monetary favors to individuals and nations in return for contributions to the foundation.

An investigation by the International Business Times, as reported in Mother Jones, revealed how various nations and corporations that donated to the Clinton Foundation reaped an increase in arms deals while Hillary oversaw the State Department. During a two-year time span, the State Department approved $165 billion in commercial arms sales to 20 nations that had donated to the foundation, as well as $151 billion of Pentagon-brokered arms deals for 16 of those countries, a 143 percent increase over the same time frame under George Bush.

In State Department cables published by WikiLeaks, Hillary complained that countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates were supporting terrorists and their financiers and/or generally not doing enough to assist the US in its counter-terrorism efforts. All of these countries contributed to the Clinton Foundation and received increased weapons exports from the Clinton-run State Department.

Saudi Arabia, a country with a disturbing human rights record and deeply implicated in the 9/11 attacks, was cleared by the State Department for an enormous arms deal in 2011. A group of US defense corporations, led by Boeing, would sell $29 billion worth of fighter jets to the kingdom. Prior to Hillary taking over the reins at the State Department, Saudi Arabia had contributed $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. Two months before the jet deal was finalized, Boeing coughed up $900,000 for the foundation.

Sanders was not shy when it came to advocating for “breaking up the banks,” which were responsible for making life miserable for the bottom 99 percent of US citizens. What was disheartening was his reticence to call for breaking up the military-industrial complex, which has been a disaster for the entire planet.

According to William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, the US accounted for more than half the value of all global arms transfer agreements in 2014, the most recent year for which full records are available. Russia, the world’s second largest arms dealer, lagged far behind with a paltry 14 percent. During his first six years in office, Barrack Obama, our “peace president,” contracted to sell more than $190 billion in weapons worldwide, more than any US administration since World War II.

Julian Assange has commented that this year’s presidential race is a choice between cholera and gonorrhea. Pick your poison. But it’s important to look beyond November 8th. Bernie was right that the system is rigged. He was right that we need a revolution. He was right that it will take much more than one person to transform our country.

Trump is a Chump-24

Demonstration during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia

But access to information and knowledge is power. It is essential if we are to create authentic democracy and halt the slide toward an authoritarian state. As sickening and tiresome as they may be, we need to see all the “damn emails,” at least in a metaphoric sense.

Especially today, when our “free press” is sold to the highest bidder, we need more modern revolutionaries: the hackers and leakers and whistle-blowers. Some may not be as eloquent as Tom Paine, but they match him in fervor and courage.

The guy in the White House, the one who makes the pretty speeches, promised us “transparency” in government. Instead, he has done everything in his power to plug the flood of leaks, to keep the secrets safely hidden in the temple. In other words, to prevent us citizens from discovering the truth about our government.

Before Obama took office, his website promised he would “protect whistleblowers;” it praised their “acts of courage and patriotism,” and said they “should be encouraged rather than stifled.” But instead, he has prosecuted more whistle-blowers than all other presidents combined. Let’s look at some of these courageous patriots:

  • Thomas Drake: the first American charged with espionage in nearly 40 years, he is a decorated Air Force and Navy veteran and former senior executive of the National Security Agency (NSA). The Obama administration indicted him after he spoke out on secret mass surveillance programs, multibillion-dollar fraud, and intelligence failures from 9/11. He faced 35 years in prison until the government dropped its charges.
  • John Kiriakou: a former CIA analyst and counter-terrorism officer, he was the first CIA official to publicly discuss and criticize the agency’s various forms of torture, including waterboarding. He served two years in prison.
  • Jeffrey Sterling: an attorney and covert officer for the CIA, he was arrested, charged and convicted of violating the Espionage Act for supposedly revealing details about Operation Merlin to reporter James Risen. He has completed a little over a year of a 3.5-year prison sentence but his health is in serious jeopardy and prison officials refuse to provide adequate treatment.
  • James Risen: the New York Times journalist who has fought both the George W. Bush and Obama justice departments that have tried to compel him to reveal his source for his 2006 book on the Merlin project. Risen won a Pulitzer Prize for this book as well as for his reporting about warrantless spying on Americans by the NSA.

(Operation Merlin was a CIA plan to sabotage Iran’s budding nuclear program by having a Russian spy give Iranians flawed nuclear blueprints. The botched program may have aided Iran in its plans to develop a nuclear weapon.)

  • Jeremy Hammond: a Chicago activist who hacked into a Texas-based private security firm’s system and turned the data over to WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone. The security firm did work for Homeland Security, the Marines, the Defense Intelligence Agency and defense contractors. The three million emails released by Hammond and five others exposed the security firm’s infiltration, monitoring and surveillance of protesters and dissidents, particularly those in the Occupy movement. Reporter Chris Hedges said the information “provided chilling evidence that anti-terrorism laws are routinely used by the federal government to criminalize non-violent, democratic dissent and falsely link dissidents to international terrorist organizations.” Hammond is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in Kentucky.

Of course, let’s not forget Edward Snowden, who would be in prison if our government could catch him, and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, who is in prison and recently attempted suicide.

“Now the secret of every totalitarian system is secrecy itself.”  

                                                                                    – Lewis Mumford


I’d like to close by quoting at length from Chris Hedges, a veteran war correspondent and former divinity student who, according to the jacket blurb on one of his books, “survived ambushes in Central America, imprisonment in Sudan, and a beating by Saudi military police. He has seen children murdered for sport in Gaza and petty thugs elevated into war heroes in the Balkans.”

Hedges has lately written extensively about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and other devices the Obama administration has employed to restrict the ability of the press to do its job and to curtail the constitutional rights of citizens. In 2012, Hedges and others brought suit against Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta over the NDAA, which Hedges says “can be used by the military to seize and detain citizens and deny legal recourse to anyone who defies the corporate state.”

Says Hedges: “The 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act, the employment of the Espionage Act by the Obama White House against six suspected whistle-blowers and leakers, and the Homeland Battlefield Bill [NDAA] have crippled the work of investigative reporters in every major newsroom in the country. Government sources that once provided information to counter official narratives and lies have largely severed contact with the press. They are acutely aware that there is no longer any legal protection for those who dissent or who expose the crimes of state. The NDAA threw in a new and dangerous component that permits the government not only to silence journalists but imprison them and deny them due process because they “substantially supported” terrorist groups or ‘associated forces.’ ”

In 2014, Hedges posted a fictitious speech covering all the things Obama would have told the American people if he had told the truth. I’ll quote a few paragraphs from this document:

In the 1960s, the US Government spied on civil rights leaders, the Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement and critics of the Vietnam War, just as today we are spying on Occupy activists, environmentalists, whistle-blowers and other dissidents. Partly in response to these revelations decades ago, especially regarding the FBI’s covert dirty tricks program known as COINTELPRO, laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. In the long, twilight struggle against communism, and now in the fight against terrorism, I am happy to report that we have eradicated all these reforms and laws. The crimes for which Richard Nixon resigned and the abuses of power that prompted the formation of the Church Commission are now legal … The FBI can now freely issue “national security letters” to your bank, doctor, employer or public library or any of your associates without a judicial warrant. And you will never be notified of an investigation. We can collect and store in perpetuity all metadata of your email correspondence and phone records and track your geographical movements. We can assassinate you if I decide you are a terrorist. We can order the military under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act to arrest you, strip you of due process and hold you indefinitely in military detention centers. We can continue to throw into prison those who expose the illegality of what we are doing … And we can torture.

The horror of September 11th was masterfully manipulated by the security state and our for-profit-military-industrial complex. These forces used the attacks as an excuse to increase the massive pilfering of taxpayer dollars, especially by the Department of Homeland Security, which has a public budget of $98.8 billion. The truth, however, is the system of internal security is so vast and so secret no one in the public has any idea how large our programs are or how much we spend. It is true that our 16 intelligence agencies missed the numerous signs and evidence leading up to the 9/11 attacks. In short, they screwed up, just as they did when they failed to anticipate the fall of the Shah of Iran or the collapse of the Soviet Union, or when they told us Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But we have a rule in Washington: never reform failed bureaucracies or hold government officials accountable; rather, give them more money. Keep failure secret.

New capabilities and new laws have turned us into the most efficient killers on the planet. Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, creating one immense, global corporate system of surveillance and security that obliterates the rights of people at home and abroad … This will ensure endless war, which ensures endless profits for those who make war–which is the point.

According to a 2010 article in The Atlantic, the federal government classifies about 16 million documents each year as top secret. That’s a lot of secrets! One can hardly blame Hillary if she gets confused now and then about which she should delete and which she should keep on her private server.

I’ll wrap this up with a few pertinent lines from Lewis Mumford, the great historian and social philosopher. Writing in the 1960s in his book, The Myth of the Machine: The Pentagon of Power, he talked about the scientists working on the Manhattan Project, inventing the atom bomb.  “While their liberties as men and citizens were curtailed by the need for maintaining military secrecy, their scope and authority as specialists were immensely increased,” he wrote. “Thus sovereign power of pharaonic dimensions was secretly re-established at the heart of a constitutional government of limited powers supposedly under constant public surveillance and control.

“At the same time, never before had scientists been compelled to work under conditions so unfavorable to free intellectual intercourse: they were not merely prevented from communicating with the outside world, but even from speaking freely about their several tasks among themselves. Though these precautions had the wartime justification of military secrecy, secrecy itself became valued as a badge of authority and a method of enforcing control.

“Now the secret of every totalitarian system is secrecy itself. The key to exercising arbitrary power is to restrict the communications of individuals and groups by subdividing  information, so that only a small portion of the whole truth will be known to any single person.”

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All photos by Tom Boswell©2016. All rights reserved.

The DNC in Philly: Revolution postponed indefinitely? …

Or just a bump in the road?

There is nothing more common than to confound the terms of American Revolution with those of the late American War. The American war is over, but this is far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the great drama is closed.”

… Benjamin Rush, 1787


When my mate and I first decided to take the train to Philadelphia for the Democratic convention, it was not quite clear to us why we were going. We were not delegates. We had no official standing. She had worked hard for Bernie, me a little less so. Were we hoping to witness another act in the American Revolution, the one where Bernie Sanders plays a starring role? Or were we expecting to see the party implode, secretly harboring a perverse desire to be present for the autopsy?

Neither of these events transpired, of course. It is difficult to say what did happen, and what import it will have in the coming months and years.

The “real” convention took place at the Wells Fargo Center, a huge arena on the south side of the city. We never actually saw it. An assortment of delegate caucuses and other activities occurred in the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City. We made a brief foray into this building with a contingent from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in order to approach delegates and ask them to wear buttons or stickers to express solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom. A surprising number of them consented.

Those of you who stayed home and watched the convention from your couch probably caught much more of it than I did.  I saw a few snatches of it, late at night, on the TV, but even then I found it too painful to watch for long. Most of what I observed, experienced and learned was in forums sponsored by JVP and other groups or out on the streets.

One thing I hoped to discover was why presumptive progressives (or even ordinary well-intentioned people) could seriously consider supporting and electing the neoliberal Hillary Clinton. I was sincerely mystified by this strange drama that was unfolding this summer. As I got off the train from Chicago in the City of Brotherly Love, I noticed a fellow traveler with a jumble of buttons pinned to his chest. I leaned towards him to read one of the smaller ones. She’s a bitch but she can get things done, it said.

I started to ask him what it was the bitch was going to get done but, realizing I was a Bernie backer, he became irate and we fortunately lost each other in the crowd.

Later, in the B&B on the far north end of the city where we stayed, I met a young woman, an attorney, who had worked as a staff person for a high-ranking state legislator in New Jersey. I’ll call her Lisa because that was her name. She had come to Philly for the convention and was supporting Hillary. We had a long conversation and she offered the usual platitudes for why Hillary was her preferred candidate. Bernie was a nice guy with good ideas but Hillary was practical and pragmatic. She would get things done.

That’s exactly what I’m afraid of, I said. That she will get things done.

A few days later, I happened upon a spirited rally in an outdoor plaza near the convention center and in the shadow of City Hall, the imposing structure in the Second Empire style that is the nation’s largest municipal building, even dwarfing the U.S. Capitol. William Penn is perched on top of it like a gold pigeon in a top hat.

A young black activist was speaking eloquently at the rally, quoting Martin Luther King and others, about why the revolution must go on, with or without Bernie. He expressed the same thought I had in my conversation with Lisa, only with different words: “Donald Trump has said a lot; Hillary has done a lot.”

 What’s Hillary done, and what’s she likely to do?

 So what sorts of things has Hillary Rodham Clinton done throughout her illustrious career, and why should we care? Let’s take a brief look at her resume, keeping in mind that others can no doubt compile a more comprehensive list of accomplishments.

First of all, and most important, Hillary is a hawk. And not just your everyday, run-of-the-mill hawk. When she is not taking selfies with her clueless fans, she is sharpening her talons and practicing her dive-bombing technique.

She has already made Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, look like Mahatma Gandhi. Yes, the same Obama who the clueless Democratic masses hoped would be our “Peace President” and put an end to all those nasty wars that George W. Bush started. Instead, Obama bombed seven countries (all more than 90 percent Muslim) during his first six years in office. In a speech in Cairo, Egypt, early on the Peace President declared he was seeking a fresh start “between the United States and Muslims around the world.” Instead, he made George Bush look like Mother Teresa.

But Hillary is worse. As Secretary of State, and even since, she has undermined Obama’s efforts to keep the lid on in Syria and has lobbied for more aggressive strategies and policies in that poor besieged country. She has already surrounded herself with a whole flock of hawks to help her carry out her belligerent policies once she assumes office.

Brandon Do - Palestinian Student-41

Brandon Do, Students for Justice in Palestine, speaking at a rally in Philadelphia

“It is true, as numerous speakers reported, Clinton is ‘most qualified and experienced,’ “ Ralph Nader wrote at the end of the convention, “but her record shows those qualities have led to belligerent, unlawful military actions that are now boomeranging against U.S. interests. The intervention she consistently called for in Libya, with Obama’s foolish consent, overrode the wiser counsel of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (and his generals), who warned of the chaos that would follow. He was proven right, with chaotic violence now all over Libya spilling into other African countries. This is but one example of what Bernie Sanders meant during the debates when he referenced her ‘poor judgment.’ ”

But Bill Clinton had a different take on it when he praised his wife’s change-making skills during his speech at the convention.  “Drop her [Hillary] in any trouble spot — pick one — come back in a month, and somehow, someway, she will have made it better. This is just who she is.”

Yes, she sure has left her mark on a number of trouble spots, but unlike Mr. Clean has usually left blood behind. (I’m going to crib now, from an article by Paul Street on Counterpunch.) They dropped her into Honduras, where she aided and abetted a vicious right-wing coup in 2009, and Honduras now bears the dubious distinction of being the most violent country on the planet.  Remember those thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America streaming across the border a couple of years ago? Part of the aftermath of Hillary’s making things better. For many people there has been no escape, like Berta Cáceres, the Honduran environmental leader, who was assassinated by a group of gunmen this past March.

Then she dropped in on Libya and led the charge for the disastrous overthrow of Gaddafi, and also dropped in on the Ukraine, (now saddled with a neo-Nazi government, thanks to her rabid anti-Russian stance). She also dropped in to Haiti, where she helped her corporate buddies oppose an increase in the minimum wage from 24 to 61 cents an hour. And finally Syria, “where a disastrous civil war and the rise of the Islamic State bear the criminal fingerprints” of her “lust for fake-humanitarian regime change,” as Paul Street put it. Isn’t it time we take this woman’s parachute away?

We’re about done folks, at least with what passes as Hillary’s foreign policy. But there’s still Israel. And this is where the neoliberals wed with the neoconservatives into one big happy family. (Others have said it before. We don’t need a third party in this country, we need a second party.)

Democrats have historically sided with Israel against the Palestinians but the worst is yet to come. Journalists have commented on the fact that there seems to be a gag order on the mention of Israel’s nuclear arsenal by members of Congress. Now it appears that any mention of the occupation is also prohibited.

On the Monday morning of the convention, I attended a panel presentation organized by US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the American Friends Service Committee. The speakers included James Zogby, head of the Arab American Institute and long-time Democratic Party activist, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-MN) and U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). Both Zogby and Ellison were among Sander’s delegates to the Democratic Platform Committee.

“Bernie gave us a qualified boost forward,” said Zogby, “and we cannot let it go. We’re going to help America save itself, whether it wants to or not. I refuse to let Palestinians take a back seat again to any other issue.”

But Zogby and Cornel West, the black activist and intellectual who was also a Sanders’ appointee to the Platform Committee, failed in their attempt to convince the committee to call for “an end to the occupation and illegal settlements” in the platform. They also failed to strip out language condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Zogby served on the Platform Committee for Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign in 1988 and failed then to have even more moderate language inserted into the platform. But 28 years ago Jackson’s campaign allowed Zogby to introduce a minority plank on the convention floor. This time around, Sanders caved after he endorsed Clinton on July 11, despite earlier promises to take the fight all the way to the convention.

Despite Obama’s unprecedented record of bombing seven Muslim countries, Clinton has often criticized him for being insufficiently hawkish. She used her speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual convention earlier this year to pander to right-wing American Jews, promising to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House as one of her first official acts, and pledging to provide Israel with more sophisticated defense technology “to ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge.” She has also vowed to fight the BDS movement. Sanders, to his credit, skipped the AIPAC convention.

Policy analyst Sean McElwee has pointed out that “the Democratic platform is now officially to the right of George W. Bush on Palestine.”  Indeed, Bush called on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian land and criticized the illegal settlements back in 2008. Meanwhile, loyal Democratic “progressives,” who like to think of themselves as “inclusive,” prefer to pretend that the pernicious occupation of Palestine does not exist.

On Thursday of convention week, my mate, with a few other curious JVPmembers, attended a DNC-sponsored event at the convention center billed as a Jewish Roundtable. She described what transpired there as “surreal.”  For starters, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) spent most of her time at the podium reiterating all the evils of Donald Trump, as if Democratic delegates might not have heard of him. While CODEPINK Cofounder Medea Benjamin staged her own personal protest and was escorted out of the room, my mate managed to approach both Boxer and former congressman Barney Frank and asked them why the Israeli occupation was not mentioned in the party’s platform. Boxer professed to have no knowledge of an occupation, while Frank replied that he wasn’t interested.

I should acknowledge that Hillary Clinton’s vote in favor of the disastrous second Iraq War has received a fair amount of attention, during the debates and elsewhere, but our corporate media seems to have overlooked a lot of “ancient history. “ (Ancient history in the United States is anything older than yesterday.)

In the 90’s, while Hillary was busy working with her ghost writer on her book, It Takes a Village, and crafting her credentials as the champion of America’s children, her hubby was presiding over most of the ten years of economic sanctions imposed on Iraq. One and a half million Iraqis died during this decade as a direct result of the sanctions; more than a half million of them were children. It takes more than a village to raise a child when the greatest power on earth is systematically and ruthlessly destroying your country.

Then, near the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, there was the NATO-US military campaign against the former Yugoslavia, what the US nicknamed Operation Noble Anvil. It was the second major combat operation in NATO’s history, following the 1995 bombing campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was the first time NATO used military force without approval from the UN Security Council.

The campaign lasted eleven weeks and NATO forces dropped 14,000 bombs, including depleted uranium bombs and cluster munitions. “Collateral damage” in this “humanitarian” war included schools, libraries, hospitals, historical monuments and homes. Over 200,000 ethnic Serbs were forced to flee their homeland in Kosovo. Needless to say, children died, but they weren’t American children and by then the book tour was over.

More than a few people and nations considered this aggression against a sovereign country a violation of international law and Amnesty International accused the allied forces of committing war crimes. On the positive side, as far as the US and the Clintons’ were probably concerned, it opened the door for NATO to ignore the UN when it chose to, under the guise of “humanitarian intervention,” the “war on terror” or similar justifications.

OMG! I still haven’t mentioned the “domestic” side of HRC’s resume. But Bernie did a good job on that so I’ll keep it short. You all know the story.

She was a Goldwater girl in high school and attended the Republican convention in 1968. She graduated to become a friend of Henry Kissinger, various Bush-era neoconservatives, and scores of banksters and corporate executives. She served on the board of Wal-Mart. Goldman Sachs paid her $675,000 for three speeches in 2013 and has given her and Bill over $150 million in speaking fees since 2001. And, oh yes, she’s a private person, particularly when it comes to her email.

As president, her husband presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in US history.  As Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has pointed out, Bill Clinton did not start the War on Crime or War on Drugs, but escalated it far beyond what conservatives could have imagined. On the campaign trail, Alexander noted, he accused conservatives of using race to divide the nation, but when he took office he capitulated to the right-wing backlash against the civil rights movement. He embraced former president Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare and taxes, ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan had done.

When the Clintons’ left the White House, the US had the highest incarceration rate in the world and Human Rights Watch noted that in seven states African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of drug offenders sent to prison. Is it any wonder Hillary has garnered more than $133,000 in campaign contributions from the lobbying groups for two private prison corporations?

Sure, now she says she regrets her support of the Crime Bill and her comment on “super-predators,” as well as her vote on the Iraq War. But these were pretty significant “mistakes,” one reaping havoc on the entire Middle East, the other having a similar impact in the United States. Once elected, will she make other “mistakes” to apologize for later?

 Identity Politics: The penis that was and the one that wasn’t

Back to that rally that I wandered into near the Philadelphia City Hall. One of the sponsors was a group called Black Men for Bernie. I listened to a passionate and eloquent black man for Bernie harangue the crowd as rain began to fall on the city. “If they didn’t want Donald Trump, they could have chosen the candidate who had the best chance of beating him,” he said.

So why did all those liberals and presumptive progressives throw their support to neoliberal and baggage-laden Hillary when Bernie offered the best chance in many decades for a truly progressive US presidency? I don’t know. You tell me.

The Clinton campaign is still searching for its identity and its slogan. Bill says Hillary is a “change-maker” but anyone with any sense knows what sort of change he is talking about. Hillary’s argument appears to be two-fold: I’m a woman and you need to fear Trump. The Democrats have lambasted Trump, with good reason, for waging a campaign based on fear but their own campaign seems to focus almost exclusively on fear of Trump.

I did not read the mainstream newspapers much during Bill Clinton’s presidency, but others have told me that for months or years on end the papers were full of every imaginable prurient detail concerning the Monica affair, even down to particulars about the Commander-in-Chief’s wayward member. (I can just hear Bernie ranting “Enough about the damn p_ _ _ _!”) The point being that, above and beyond the impeachment proceedings, it nearly brought his presidency to a halt. At the least it was a major distraction and obstruction.

Babes for Bernie-18I think it is not unlikely that the same thing could occur with a Hillary presidency, between the email fiasco and the Clinton Foundation scandals. A lot of energy and time may be consumed by Hillary and her staff defending her in court and in the public arena, rather than steering the ship of state.

If Bernie had been the nominee, can you imagine the Republicans shouting Lock him up! at their convention? The irony is that Hillary shares a lot more political common ground with the Republicans than does Bernie.

So what does Hillary have going for her other than people’s fear of Donald Trump? The answer: she is a woman. She doesn’t have one of those things that got her husband in so much trouble. I suspect a lot of people support her for just that reason, despite her dubious track record and her neoliberal values.

This was a common theme during the primary campaign, when former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously stated it was a betrayal of feminist ideals to support Bernie against Hillary, alleging that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Which brings me to the concept of identity politics. I don’t see it generally as being “progressive” and I think it can be very counter-productive.  One would think that Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Janet Reno would be enough evidence to disabuse even the most ardent feminist of the fantasy notion that women in power will necessarily transform our government into a more caring, compassionate and peaceful institution.

Let’s consider Albright. In her careers as US Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State, she played a major role in the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and Clinton’s “humanitarian bombing” of that country. She was instrumental in enabling and engineering wars, massacres and genocide throughout the world, most notably in Iraq, Rwanda, Yugoslavia and East Timor.

When she was interviewed on the CBS 60 Minutes show in 1996, she was asked the question: “We have heard that half a million children have died [in Iraq]. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?” Albright’s infamous response was: “I think this is a very hard choice but the price, we think the price is worth it.”

Albright collaborated with Hillary’s good pal Kissinger in enabling the CIA-installed General Suharto to employ his Indonesian military to carry out one of the worst massacres relative to population since the Holocaust, slaughtering about one-third of the people of East Timor. (Prior to that, Suharto had carried out one of the worst mass murders of the 20th Century against his own people. The CIA reported that the massacres were comparable to those of Hitler, Stalin and Mao.) Later, the Clinton Administration welcomed him as “our kind of guy,” according to Noam Chomsky.

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that this woman, who claims there is a “special place in hell” for those who fail to support someone of their own sex, has as much blood on her hands as Hitler. If there is such a place as hell, there is surely a special suite reserved there for her.

Do I need to talk about Rice and Reno? Spare me. But these folks all broke, or at least splintered, the “glass ceiling.” And now there’s Hillary. The trouble is that just about anyone can rise to positions of power as long as they do the bidding of the real power-brokers.

Then there was Obama, who broke another ceiling, and then broke every promise he made to the American people. Liberals and progressives found every excuse they could for his betrayal of every progressive value. Would they have excused a white president for similar transgressions? I don’t think so. I call that racism.

Instead of being the “peace president,” he prolonged and escalated every military conflict that Bush began. His drone warfare is immoral, despicable, cowardly and heinous. Our first black president has done nothing to improve the lives of blacks or Hispanics during his eight years in the White House. Look at income, education, housing, health, segregation or other indicators and you’ll find there’s been no change, except that things have gotten much more miserable for those at the bottom. The only change is that we’ve moved from incarcerating our black citizens to a new strategy, shooting them on the streets. (Over 1,600 citizens have been killed by police so far this year.)

Obama’s administration has deported more Hispanic immigrants than any president before him, and recently rounded up thousands of immigrant children and sent them back to Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, with Hillary’s support.

He came into office promising a new era of transparency and then proceeded to prosecute more whistleblowers and go after more journalists than all past presidents combined. (James Risen, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, has called him “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.”)

Chris Hedges, another journalist, has written extensively about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), also known as the Homeland Battlefield Bill. The bill allows the military to operate on US soil as a civilian law enforcement agency, seize and detain citizens, and deny them legal recourse and other constitutional rights. Hedges and other journalists have brought suit against Obama and Leon Panetta over the law.

Writing back in February, Cornel West had this to say about the identity trap: “The battle now raging in Black America over the Clinton-Sanders election is principally a battle between a declining neoliberal black political and chattering class still on the decaying Clinton bandwagon (and gravy train!) and an emerging populism among black, poor, working and middle class people fed up with the Clinton establishment in the Democratic Party. It is easy to use one’s gender identity, as Clinton has, or racial identity, as the Congressional Black Caucus recently did in endorsing her, to hide one’s allegiance to the multi-cultural and multi-gendered Establishment. But a vote for Clinton forecloses the new day for all of us and keeps us captive to the trap of wealth inequality, greed, corporate media propaganda and militarism abroad–all of which are detrimental to black America.”

Yes, there may be a color ceiling and a gender ceiling but the most pernicious and resistant ceiling of all, and the one that matters most, is the ceiling that prevents a real progressive from getting elected to a powerful office in this country. An Obama or a Clinton can get elected as long as they remain subservient and beholden to the power structure. Anyone who dares challenge the system, like Sanders did, doesn’t stand much of a chance. As Bernie himself said many times, the system is rigged.

Linda Sarsour - 2-13

Linda Sarsour, Executive Director, Arab American Association of New York

So what now? If you’ve read this far, you probably realize I won’t be casting my vote for Hillary in November. Even if I believed in our “lesser of two evils” politics, I don’t consider her a lesser evil. I’ll cast my vote for Jill Stein or “waste my vote” and write in Bernie’s name.

At that first forum I attended on Monday of convention week, I also heard Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, speak about her experiences in the Sanders campaign. She noted that she was the first Palestinian to be involved in the forefront of a presidential campaign and that Bernie gave her free rein to say whatever she wanted.

“The same people who justify massacre and murder of Palestinians in Israel are the ones who don’t say anything about the murder of blacks by police in the United States,” she said. She added: “If you are not a progressive on the issue of Palestine, you are no damn progressive.”

 Superdelegates aren’t so super after all

 Even before I went to Philadelphia, one question that kept gnawing at me was why so many Democratic superdelegates had gone over to the dark side, and why they had done it so early and eagerly. I was mainly thinking of the superdelegates from Wisconsin, where Bernie beat Clinton handily in the primary. I know some of these people personally and I’m sure they see themselves as progressives. So did I.

The term superdelegate conjures up images of an almost mystical being able to do great things. You know – Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

To my dismay, nine of the ten Wisconsin superdelegates sided with Clinton. You know who you are so I won’t bother to name you. But in the end, they did their job. It turns out that the mission was not nearly as heroic as saving the planet from the mad scientist or waging the never-ending battle for truth and justice. The role of the superdelegates was to ensure that a progressive–a Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern, or even a Jesse Jackson or Gary Hart–never became the Democratic candidate for president. So they circled the wagons and did their job well. Sanders gave them a scare, rocked the boat a little, but he wasn’t able to capsize it. Even people like Barbara Lee and Patrick Leahy (from Vermont!) felt obliged to toe the line.

I caught a few more minutes of the convention on TV late in the week. It almost made Law-and-Order Night at the Republican convention look progressive. It was truly repulsive. All those delegates and superdelegates kneeling down in idolatry before the military industrial machine that Eisenhower had warned the nation against when he retired. (Who would have even thought that Ike, the Word War II general, would someday look like a radical!)

And then there was Michelle’s thrilling speech, (I didn’t see it, thank God, only heard about it), continuing her husband’s mission of buttressing the mythology of American Exceptionalism. You don’t actually have to venture out into the world or read a book to understand that this notion is a dangerous and despicable lie. Just sit in front of your TV and watch a couple Michael Moore movies and you can create your own long list of all the ways we are exceptional: very low on the list of nations in terms of providing adequate and affordable health care, education or just about any type of social service for our citizens; at the top of the list of countries incarcerating its own citizens, bombing other nations, enduring and ignoring almost daily violent rampages, selling arms to other nations, and on and on. Yes, we are exceptional, and the Democratic Party deserves a lot of credit for this.

But I didn’t leave Philadelphia completely bummed. It turns out that Bernie had done more than just rock the boat. He had drilled a little hole in the dike and things would never be the same again. Bernie, the grumpy old good-hearted man, was actually a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein who had created a monster. A monster he can no longer control. It has a life of its own.

Bernie’s delegates booed Leon Panetta, the former CIA director who served in the Nixon, Clinton and Obama administrations. They refused to be intimidated or house-trained by the DNC operatives or their thugs. Many of them used their time at the convention, not paying homage to war criminals or corporate capitalism, but plotting the next steps in the revolution. More people under 30 voted for Bernie Sanders than voted for Clinton and Trump together and they are tired of playing by the old rules.

At that outdoor rally I attended in Philadelphia I watched a steady stream of Bernie delegates, young, passionate and angry, get up on the stage and talk honestly to the crowd about their feelings and how they had been shunned and shut out by the party establishment. Some of them said they were going back in to the convention to continue to fight. Others said they had had enough and were going to stay outside and start to organize a new party. All seemed committed to continue the people’s revolution that Bernie had begun.

People supported Bernie because they knew he was right and told the truth. Others supported Hillary because they thought Bernie was “impractical.” But what’s so practical about a Democratic Party that continues to slide relentlessly to the right? What’s so practical about a party that ignores its base and even scorns its progressive wing and the independents it so desperately needs to court?

How about you, ordinary citizen or superdelegate? Will you be voting for the continued militarization of our police and more shooting of unarmed civilians? Endless war in the Mideast? More and more support for Israel’s brutal occupation and apartheid state? More disenfranchisement of poor, black and brown people? Further erosion of our constitutional rights? Corruption and cronyism and corporate control of our government? Are you going to throw your lot in with the counter-revolution or will you help continue the real American revolution? Which side are you on?

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All photos by Tom Boswell©2015. All rights reserved.

The Social License: Will the people issue a permit?

This is the last in a series of eight posts which together comprise an in-depth article concerning a proposed iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills of Northern Wisconsin and the widespread resistance to the project.

One irony about the new mining regulations the Wisconsin State Legislature passed and Governor Walker signed is that, rather than expediting and simplifying the permitting process for a mining company, as intended, they actually slow down the process and may have ultimately eliminated a meaningful regulatory role for the State.

Federal agencies, namely the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will have a large say over whether or not a mine in the Penokees is permitted. Normally the DNR and the Army Corps would collaborate on the review process and drafting of an Environmental Impact Statement but the Corps warned the State during hearings on the new legislation that it might not be able to do so in the future.

The Corps wrote the Wisconsin DNR in late December, 2013, stating: “Thank you for your request that we consider entering into a Memorandum of Understanding for the development of a joint Federal/State Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine in northern Wisconsin. At this time, we must decline the request to jointly develop an EIS, due to differences between the state and federal environmental review requirements that would likely apply to the proposed project.” Copies of the letter went to GTac, the EPA and the Bad River Tribe.

“The Corps is not going to be limited by the State’s timetable,” Al Gedicks said. “The Corps said ‘You can pass whatever laws and timetable you want, but we have a job to do, which is to evaluate the scientific integrity of this process, and if that takes three years or five years, that’s how long it’s going to take.’

“This raises fundamental questions about the premise of the iron mining bill, whether the premise was to permit a mine or whether to attack the integrity of the Mining Moratorium Law and essentially give a green light to other companies that will come after GTac and further use a battering ram to eliminate any kind of environmental restriction,” said Gedicks.

The EPA has regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act and, in fact, the Bad River Ojibwe tribe has been designated by the EPA with status similar to a state to implement and manage the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act within its jurisdiction.  The EPA, for its part, recently put the kibosh on the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska. At more than 2,000 feet deep, the mine would have been one of the largest open-pit mines in the world, generating 10 billion tons of toxic waste. A review by the EPA concluded that the project posed potentially “catastrophic” risks to Bristol Bay and its $480 million salmon fishery.

On July 1, 2014 I met with Tony Janisch, Executive Director of the Bad River Watershed Association, at his office in Ashland. “I believe this battle isn’t going to be won in Mellon or Madison,” he told me. “I think it’s going to be won in Washington. I think the fact that the tribes and the ceded territories are an issue, I think that’s where it’s going to have its play, at the federal level.

“I also believe, and this is my gut feeling,” Janisch added, “that GTac’s gonna leave, but they’ve opened the door for any other company to come in and take over, and we know historically that this happens in mining operations. One company lays the groundwork, they develop this perceived profit, and sell it off to another company. And the laws have been changed so it will be easier for another company to come in.”

Al Gedicks and several others I spoke with referred to the notion that nowadays there’s a new type of permit or license that is not issued by any government agency. People call it the social license.

Bad River near Red Granite Falls

The Bad River near Red Granite Falls

“We have this new term in the mining literature called the social right to operate,” Gedicks explained. “The mining industry understands that getting a permit from a state agency or a government is only the first step in a long process to have a successful extraction. If those government-sanctioned permits and activities are not met with the approval of people at the local level, there are going to be increasing challenges by organized groups of indigenous people, or peasants, or combinations of indigenous and peasants and ordinary workers, as we’re seeing right now in the Lake Superior region.

“When you are displacing massive indigenous populations all over the world, those populations are not any longer going to sit down and have their economies and cultures destroyed without putting up opposition,” said Gedicks. “That means increasing military budgets for pacification, militarization of mining zones, and enormous amounts of resources directed from human needs to an increasing military machine.

“We are seeing, for the first time in the State of Wisconsin, the militarization of a domestic mining zone, with GTac hiring a private security firm to police an area, not from so-called terrorists, but from the public, which wants to have scientific information to make decisions about what resources are extracted and under what conditions.”

Patty Loew at Kakagon Sloughs-0794

Patty Loew

“We’re willing to absorb and accommodate all sorts of things,” said Patty Loew, “but when it gets to our center, and that’s the land, and the cycles and the values and the ethics and the stewardship and everything else about us, that’s where the line gets drawn in the sand and this is what’s being threatened right now.

“I’ve spoken to some of the wisest, most mild-mannered people in my tribe,” she confided, “people who I respect who have incredible wisdom and knowledge, and some who have western degrees and teach at Northland College, people that I know to be really level-headed, who have looked me in the eye and said ‘That mine will not go in here. It will literally go in over my dead body.’ “

GTac cited several reasons for its decision in early 2015 to pull out of Wisconsin for the second time. The company claimed they were surprised at how many wetlands their consultants had discovered on the would-be mine site, and they were concerned about the cost of replacing damaged or destroyed wetlands. They also noted the precedent of the Alaskan Pebble Mine. What they didn’t mention much was the drop in value of iron ore on the world market, largely precipitated by the cooling off of China’s economy. Thomas Powers was quoted in Madison’s Isthmus in late 2015 as saying that the price of iron ore had plunged from nearly $200 per ton to about $50 a ton. Finally, perhaps GTac realized it would have trouble obtaining its “social license” to mine.

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In reviewing a recent book by Ojibwe novelist Louise Erdrich in the New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates wrote:

“The risk for the culturally displaced is that family life, the core of their existence, will be undermined by the malevolent, rapacious, larger society beyond the reservation.”

I doubt one could find a more apt word than rapacious to capture the mindset and political agenda of Scott Walker and Wisconsin’s Republican legislators. When I talked to people–both native and non-native–over the course of 2014 concerning the conflict in the Penokees, I often asked them: what is at stake here? More often than not, their answer had to do with preserving the integrity of a people, their culture, and their place.

Bad River Pow-Wow at Odanah-0843

A Bad River pow-wow at Odanah

The Nature Conservancy has made a significant investment in the Bad River Watershed, protecting close to 27,000 acres of land. Of course, TNC’s primary mission is to invest in places where natural diversity and rare and endangered species are at risk. When it comes to this million-acre watershed, the organization has inventoried a multitude of resources and species that could be jeopardized by an open-pit, iron-ore mine. These include threatened and endangered species in the Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs such as the Piping Plover, Trumpeter Swan, Yellow Rail and Ram’s-head Lady-slipper Orchid. The upland forests provide safe haven for declining forest birds such as the Golden-winged Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler and Goshawk. Of utmost importance, the watershed links two national forests and sustains a wildlife corridor stretching from Northern Wisconsin to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This corridor is critical for wide-ranging mammals that include moose, elk, wolf, pine marten and bear.

But despite all this, when I asked Matt Dallman of The Nature Conservancy what he thought was really at stake in the Penokees, his answer was simple and straight-forward: “This project is really about water, and water’s a long-time process and we all need it. This public resource needs to be considered as we look at profits gained by a few and this common resource that benefits many.

“To me, the biggest thing at stake isn’t the rarest thing out there. It’s the quality of life and this cultural connection of a people to a plant, this food that grows on water. To me, that wild rice is essentially endangered if this gets mined.”


Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins-0486

Mike Wiggins

Al Gedicks is not what you would call an ivory-tower academic. He has been fighting alongside native people for decades in support of environmental justice. When he speaks, there is always passion and sometimes anger in his voice. “This is classic environmental racism,” he insists. Consultation is a requirement of the treaties negotiated between the Chippewa and the federal government in the 1800s, Gedicks notes, and being excluded from the mine permitting process and prohibited access to ceded land is a violation of treaty rights.

“This is a direct threat to the survival of this culture,” he told me. “It is an ethnocidal threat. If those downstream discharges that inevitably will occur when that waste get placed at the headwaters of the Bad River Watershed, and when those wastes enter the Kakagon Sloughs and Lake Superior, that’s going to destroy not just the economy but the entire culture of the Bad River Chippewa. This is the place where they either survive or they die.”

“Capitalism does not have a conscience,” concludes former Bad River Chair Mike Wiggins, who often sounds like a philosopher when he speaks. “Economics does not have any variable that would allow for a conscience or a consciousness as it relates to things of ‘no value’. So the preservation of ecosystems has no economic value in a capitalistic model. The profit has to be as immediate as possible.

“Shadowing us, like a blanket of death, is the absolute give-away of Wisconsin’s land, waters and environmental protections in the form of the new mining bill written by GTac lobbyists. This is a corporate takeover of Wisconsin, pure and simple,” Wiggins said.

“The last thing that any mining company has to have in order to operate is a social license and there will never be a social license granted by the Bad River Tribe. When it comes time to demonstrate how that social license is rejected, it’s probably going to take place up in the Penokee Hills, and it isn’t going to be a positive thing.

“As long as that ore is in the ground, there’s a shadow over this part of the Lake Superior basin that will never go away,” lamented Wiggins. “Nobody wants to die on a fricken mountainside at the hand of some trained special forces mercenary. Who the hell wants to die that death?  I don’t. But I’ve come to understand that there’s other ways to die too. Rotting in a prison cell is another form of death. At the same time, to stand by and watch my river die … “

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All photos by Tom Boswell©2015. All rights reserved.

Hurley and Mercer: A tale of two towns

This is the seventh in a series of eight posts which together comprise an in-depth article concerning a proposed iron ore mine in the Penokee Hills of Northern Wisconsin and the widespread resistance to the project. Two installments of the article are posted weekly.


I’m sitting in the public library in Mercer, Wisconsin perusing a history of Iron County. I’m thinking about Jill Hartlev’s comment about Hurley and its “strip bars.” Although living most of my adult life in the southern part of the state, I’d heard rumors about Hurley and its unsavory reputation. The book I’ve found has a map of Hurley’s downtown “business district” in 1900, 15 years after the beginning of the iron boom.

The map shows Silver Street from 1st to 5th Street. I count 40 saloons, as well as barbers, dentists, drugstores, grocers, jewelers, a post office and shops for shoemakers, cigar-makers and dressmakers. The text says there were actually over 50 saloons in Hurley then, “catering to boisterous lumberjacks and miners.” Taverns accounted for a large share of the city’s tax base, each paying $50 a year for a license.

Hurley, the county seat, is tucked on the north end of Iron County, shoulder to shoulder with Ironwood, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The town’s well-earned image of a wild and lawless place began early on. “Gambling, girls and good times” lured adventure-seekers here as much as did the promise of wealth to be made in the mines. “There are lots of chances here to make money, and you would not have to hunt very long to find places to lose it either,” an unidentified newspaper boasted in 1886.

A newspaper notice from October, 1916 reads: “It has been brought to our attention that women of lascivious behavior … have become inmates of places in the village of Hurley. Resolved by the Town of Vaughn to take such steps as necessary to cause all such women and keepers of places harboring them or permitting their resorting to be prosecuted.”

Apparently, the steps taken were not sufficient. In 1942, state tax agents and the FBI swooped down on Silver Street and cleaned up the “bright light” district, jailing 17 men and 34 women. In 1955, the state took action to close seven Hurley taverns on charges that the businesses were nuisances and “a menace to the morals of the community.” In 1964, state agents and the FBI again raided vice operations in Hurley, alleging that 25 exotic dancers were imported to the city to solicit drinks and prostitution during the deer-hunting season. The Iron County Miner newspaper charged: “The time is long overdue for the decent people of Hurley … to demand that the last remnants of vice and indecency be chased out of our city. We are trying to get industry. No business is going to come to Hurley when we get yellow journalism … by allowing what is down the street to give us a bad name. City officials can no longer look at it as a necessary economic evil.”

Still, in 1989, the Hurley City Council approved nudity in taverns. A resident was quoted as saying: “Hurley without a strip joint is like Rome without a pope.”

I continue to skim through the highlights of 150 years of Hurley history. The account is peppered with reports of fires: at the mine sites, in the lumber mills and in the downtown district. In the summer of 1887, a fire destroys all the buildings on one block of Silver Street; another starts in a theater and quickly spreads to burn down most of the business center; a third fire takes out most of the commercial district of neighboring Ironwood.

In 1906 and 1911, Finnish workers organize socialist union locals in the range. (I wonder if Governor Scott Walker and the Koch brothers have considered that a resurgence of mining in the Northwoods might precipitate a resurgence of good-old Wisconsin socialism?) A 1917 newspaper report proclaims: Miners Strike Across Range! “The workers themselves know that it is the best time to break the iron chain that binds us to the ground.” Their demands include $6 dollars of pay per day for six hours of work, and abolition of the contract system and blacklisting of miners.

In 1939, the Iron County Forest records its first stumpage revenue of $678.78.

In 1946, due to increased traffic and congestion, Hurley city officials erect a four-way stop sign at Silver Street and 2nd Avenue. As far as I can ascertain, there is still no actual stoplight anywhere in Iron County, a county of 574,000 acres or 792 square miles.

The population of Iron County peaked in 1920 at about 10,260 and has been declining steadily ever since. The estimated population for 2014 was 5,916. Hurley’s population is about 1,524. Although Mercer is technically just a town, its population of about 1,430 nearly matches that of Hurley.

Dick Thiede, Iron County mining blogger

Dick Thiede, Iron County resident

Dick Thiede, the blogger and mine opponent, noted that Hurley has been recognized by national media as one of the “kinkiest” cities in the country. He diplomatically characterizes the government of Iron County as “free-form.”

“I don’t want to imply any kind of graft or corruption because there isn’t enough money here to do much,” he explained. “But there is ego and power involved.”

Mercer, in contrast to Hurley, resembles a typical northern Wisconsin tourist town, with an economy and culture centered on lakes and fishing. The one coffee shop in town doubles as a tackle and bait store. There are 300 lakes in Iron County and most of them are located in the southern portion of the county.

Vic Ouimette, Iron Co. Board Member & President, Mercer Chamber of Commerce

Vic Ouimette

Vic Ouimette, the Mercer Chamber leader, told me the average value of a house in Hurley is $40,000, compared to about $220,000 for a house in Mercer. The wealth of lakes has enabled southern Iron County to develop a more healthy economy, Ouimette said. “With the tourist economy, you also bring along second-home owners, and that’s why average value of a home down here is high.”

The area around Hurley lacks the lakefront property, he added “That old mining mentality is there: if we just get the mines back, it will be like it was in the old days, and so they’re still living in the old days. Whereas, down here we didn’t have that, so we’re not looking at going back; we’re looking at going forward.”

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All photos by Tom Boswell©2015. All rights reserved.

Next and Last: The Social License: Will the people issue a permit?