Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Reckless and Dangerous Path to Syria

U.S. officials say they expect an attack to begin at night with missiles launched from sea and air in an operation that could last up to three days – LA Times August 28, 2013

China has now joined Russia in publicly opposing US military action in Syria without Security Council Approval.  Military action there would subject our country to economic threats certainly, and possibly much more.  The actions being breathlessly lobbied for by Obama are extremely reckless and expose the nation unnecessarily.  We can’t continue to act as if this is 1946 and we have the world’s only functioning economy and intact manufacturing centers.

Limited strikes in Syria will not accomplish regime change, are nearly guaranteed to kill many civilians, will generate more jihadist antipathy, and will not be enough to change the course of the war, if indeed they are limited.  They also have the serious potential to explode the scope of the current conflict.

What do we hope to accomplish at what cost?  The notion that the nation who installed and supported the Shah, Pinochet, Trujillo, Rios Montt, Somoza, Suharto, the repressive Saudi regime, invaded Iraq illegally, killed 4+ million southeast Asians and so on and so on, is operating purely out of humanitarian motivation is historically naive to the point of comedy or willful blindness.  If our concern were humanitarian, why did we not get involved as Assad was killing 100,000+ and counting with conventional means?  If our concern is that Assad violated the rules of the civilized world by using chemical weapons, why do we sit here contemplating aggression outside of the UN Security Council, which is literally a war crime?

Enough warmongering in the Middle East.  Contact your congressional representatives and demand an end to this reckless and dangerous path to Syria.

The Most Odious Legislation in the World?

beard-tax token from the reign of Tsar Peter I

Today marks the anniversary of a truly abhorrent piece of legislation…a tax on beards.

Tsar Peter I (who should never, ever be called “Peter the Great”), in a craven, sycophantic, Leonard Zelig-like frenzy, outlawed beards on all but priests and peasants.  He allegedly did this so his countrymen would appear more modern and western, but I see only the work of a madman.

Bearded folk could pay the tax and wear the bronze token pictured above as a way to show they were not only gorgeously plumed, but also in full compliance with the most odious legislation in the world.

Viva the beard!

August 28th and The Last Laugh

On August 28th, 1957 Strom Thurmond, deceased long-serving Senator from South Carolina, began the longest filibuster in the nation’s history…against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Although Senator Thurmond bravely denied being a racist, he also saidall the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement.

We should get a petition together to have good ol’ Strom exhumed and reburied under the loudest gospel church in his hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina.

Despite Strom’s exhausting and hate-filled efforts, no one really remembers what he actually said during this filibuster he began on August 28th.

But we all remember the words of another man who spoke out on August 28th.

On August 28th, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech and changed the world.

Poor Strom…showed up by an African-American of all things.

 

p.s. 

History continued playing with Strom as you look through its tattered book of dates & anniversaries.  On August 29th, 1957 the Civil Rights Act was passed.  On August 30th, 1967, history snickers as it tells us that Justice Thurgood Marshall was sworn in.

I am back from an unplugged summer.

Being a stay-at-home Dad with young kids means that summer is on-the-go, lake-swimming, zombie-killing, hike-taking time.  I spent the summer pretty unplugged from news and grateful for any sleep that came my way.

As the world seems about the same as when I “left” it, (Howard Zinn, Gandhi, MLK, & Che Guevara all remain tragically uncloned, with so much work still to do, no pack of gods has thrown Goldman, Sachs out of the temple, and Kissinger is still only an unindicted war criminal), I must report that I am back to my rants and looking forward to reconnecting with my fellow ranters.  

Rants are important. 

Howling into the digital wilderness is important… as I think Henry Jeckyll wrote, who knows which drop of water breaks the dam? 

 

Police State: The House of Two-Way Mirrors

A “Panopticon” is a prison where the inmates are always, always, potentially under surveillance.   The inmates are never to know when they are being observed, but the observers have access to all inmates at any time.  The system is set up so that even the shadows of the observing prison guards are invisible to the inmate.  The inmate has no choice but to be obedient all the time or face the consequences.

This prison model was conceived by philosopher Jeremy Bentham.  It was written about by Michael Foucault, influential French philosopher, in his book “Discipline and Punishment”.

Knowing that you are always under surveillance makes obedient citizens as well as obedient prisoners.

Yesterday, The Guardian newspaper broke a story revealing how the US government has been secretly recording the phone numbers called and length of conversations as well as incoming call numbers and other information for millions…millions of American Verizon customers suspected of no wrongdoing whatsoever, on a daily basis.

The BBC reported today that “tens of millions” of Americans have had their call information captured by the government as part of this assault.

The Guardian UK issued an editorial today titled “Civil liberties: American freedom on the line”.  In the piece, they write

Few Americans believe that they live in a police state; indeed many would be outraged at the suggestion. Yet the everyday fact that the police have the right to monitor the communications of all its citizens – in secret – is a classic hallmark of a state that fears freedom as well as championing it.

The NSA and FBI, sought and obtained, in complete secrecy, a court order from a top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to have access to Verizon’s metadata.  The Order had been in place with Verizon for seven years per Diane Feinstein.  It is formally unclear at this point whether any other telephone companies are involved.  I know where I would put my money on that question.

The FISA Court Judge who issued the order was Roger Vinson, a Reagan-appointed tea partier who overturned Obamacare in Florida.  I reprint his name here in the hopes that I can, in a tiny but personally satisfying way, contribute to his eternal historical damnation.

The FISA courts came about in 1978 as a legislative solution to systematic governmental abuse of its eavesdropping powers against civil rights leaders and anti-war groups.  The Church Committee was tasked to investigate this intelligence abuse.

By the time the Church Committee hearings began, the NSA was reading a mere 150,000 messages a month involving its own citizens.

Amateurs.

Today we read that, even with the “protection” of the FISA courts, millions and millions of communications, per day, are being monitored from only one service provider, Verizon.

Mission creep is inevitable as this sort of unconstitutional contagion is institutionalized.

The FISA courts were meant to provide some oversight to our intelligence communities.  Not a terrible idea, of course, in a society that is rumored to be democratic.  The legislation creating the Courts made it a criminal offense for government officials to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from the newly created FISA Court.

How effective are the FISA courts at providing oversight?

How much of a hurdle do they provide between our privacy and a total-surveillance police state?

Glenn Greenwald, a ferocious and insightful journalist for The Guardian, writes

From its inception, it [The FISA Court] was the ultimate rubber-stamp court, having rejected a total of zero government applications – zero – in its first 24 years of existence, while approving many thousands. In its total 34 year history – from 1978 through 2012 – the Fisa court has rejected a grand total of 11 government applications, while approving more than 20,000.

…and here we are today, 35 years after the FISA court’s creation.  The government is using the same machinery meant to provide oversight to allow unfettered surveillance of Americans.

Read this unbelievable, four page document, the FISA Court Order, released yesterday from The Guardian, that shows what kind of world we really live in.

Note the rich mission-creep in the Order’s language as a “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA)” effortlessly and predictably becomes a tool used for purely internal phone calls from “we-the-people” to”we-the-people”.

The bulk of the four page Fisa Court Order is spent discussing the gag provisions providing that no one should ever know the NSA and FBI have sought and obtained such records.

The government has not stopped with getting Verizon’s records on tens of millions of Americans.

Not by a long shot…

Today, in a separate NSA police state scandal, it was revealed that the NSA has obtained direct access to the customer files of the major internet players.  A top-secret NSA document has just been leaked to the Guardian who, today, exposed the “Prism” program.  The program is ongoing, and the leaked information includes material from as recently as April 13, 2013.

Ever hear of Prism?

Me either…no one had that did not have top-secret security clearance.  The leaked information consists of NSA training materials, a 41 slide presentation.

Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian write

some of the world’s largest internet brands are claimed to be part of the information-sharing program [Prism] since its introduction in 2007. Microsoft – which is currently running an advertising campaign with the slogan “Your privacy is our priority” – was the first, with collection beginning in December 2007.

It was followed by Yahoo in 2008; Google, Facebook and PalTalk in 2009; YouTube in 2010; Skype and AOL in 2011; and finally Apple, which joined the program in 2012. The program is continuing to expand, with other providers due to come online.

Collectively, the companies cover the vast majority of online email, search, video and communications networks.

The article goes on to inform us as to the breadth of access the NSA has directly, meaning no permission is needed from the providers.  The NSA is “…able to obtain: email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP (Skype, for example) chats, file transfers, social networking details, and more.”

The NSA states in the leaked materials that the internet providers gave permission for this, but Google, Facebook, and Apple say no such permission was given.  Many corporate officials had not heard of Prism.

The Washington Post also has excellent coverage on the late-breaking PRISM scandal which can be read here.

Our government is spying on us, and there is no meaningful congressional oversight.  They watch us perpetually, and we see nothing they are doing.

We live in a thinly veneered police state.

We all need to wake up and realize we live in a house of two-way mirrors…and we need to start looking for metaphorical rocks.

Stand against this privacy-shredding, free-speech chilling, totalitarian behavior in any way you can.  As Frederick Douglass said “The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Haven’t we had enough of this?

May 31st – June 1st: Anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots

The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 had their anniversary this past weekend.

How many of us remember this event?

Take a second and think about the specifics you might remember about this amazing and particularly vicious event.  It has largely been white-washed, pun intended, from our collective memory.

I don’t recall being taught about the Tulsa Riots in high school or college or law school, but the event was truly horrific and of a scale that demands, at a minimum, a permanent place in history.  The major media was nearly silent on the anniversary of this incident, as it is understandably more important to talk about Justin Bieber.

The Digital Library at Oklahoma State University houses the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encylopedia.  It has an excellent, and chilling, account of what happened as well as many contemporaneously taken photos.  I have summarized below from this Encyclopedia and appreciate their keeping the details of this event alive.  I also came across a very good article in a blog worth reading, Lawyersgunsandmoney.

In 1921, Tulsa Oklahoma was a town of about 100,000 people and had a vibrant african american community.  Most of the city’s ten thousand African-American residents lived in the “Greenwood District” (depicted below), [known as the Black Wall Street] a vibrant neighborhood that was home to two newspapers, several churches, a library branch, and scores of black-owned businesses.

The Greenwood District, and its financial success, was the product itself of segregation.  Above it is pictured in the ruins of the race war.

Segregation, ironically, gave rise to a nationally renowned black entrepreneurial center. As families arrived and homes sprang up in the Greenwood District, the need for retail and service businesses, schools, and entertainment became pronounced. A class of African-American entrepreneurs rose to the occasion, creating a vibrant, vital, self-contained economy that would become “Black Wall Street”, the talk of the nation.

Black Wall Street, more commonly known simply as Greenwood Avenue, had it all: nightclubs, hotels, cafes, newspapers, clothiers, movie theaters, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, grocery stores, beauty salons, shoeshine shops, and more. So developed and refined was Greenwood Avenue, the heart of the Greenwood District, that many compared it favorably to legendary thoroughfares such as Beale Street in Memphis and State Street in Chicago. (taken from Greenwood District)

The success of the black businesses in the Greenwood District undoubtedly played a part in its being burned and destroyed.

We have the report of an official with the NAACP, Walter White, from 1921, post riot, to give us a review of the economic strength of this particular black community in Tulsa just before the race riots.  Walter White  traveled to Tulsa, in disguise, to survey the damage caused by the 1921 race riot. His report is well worth reading and can be found here.

White’s report states

[T]he Negro in Oklahoma has shared in the sudden prosperity that has come to many of his white brothers, and there are some colored men there who are wealthy. This fact has caused a bitter resentment on the part of the lower order of whites, who feel that these colored men, members of an “inferior race,” are exceedingly presumptuous in achieving greater economic prosperity than they who are members of a divinely ordered superior race. There are at least three colored persons in Oklahoma who are worth a million dollars each; J. W. Thompson of Clearview is worth $500,000; there are a number of men and women worth $100,000; and many whose possessions are valued at $25,000 and $50,000 each. This was particularly true of Tulsa, where there were two colored men worth $150,000 each; two worth $100,000; three $50,000; and four who were assessed at $25,000.

There was resentment of black success in Oklahoma, and racial tension filled the city.

And then…the spark…

Walter White’s NAACP report states

…a white girl by the name of Sarah Page, operating an elevator in the Drexel Building, stated that Dick Rowland, a nineteen-year-old colored boy, had attempted criminally to assault her. Her second story was that the boy had seized her arm as he entered the elevator. She screamed. He ran. It was found afterwards that the boy had stepped by accident on her foot. It seems never to have occurred to the citizens of Tulsa that any sane person attempting criminally to assault a woman would have picked any place in the world rather than an open elevator in a public building with scores of people within calling distance.

The young man, Dick Rowland, a shoeshiner, was arrested and put in jail…the same jail that had been broken into 8 months earlier by a lynch mob, who carried out the lynching of a suspected murderer.  The black community was justifiably concerned that yet another lynching would occur.

Knowing their government would not protect the young black defendant, a group of black veterans went down to the jail and volunteered their services to protect the jail from any mob activity.  Their offers of help were rejected.

A group of whites then tried to break into the armory (jail)  where Dick Rowland was being held.  A handful of local guardsmen were able to turn the mob away.

Then, about 75 black World War I veterans came down to the jail to protect the young defendant.  The group was confronted by an angry mob of whites that had formed outside the jail.  One of the veterans was attacked by a white man trying to disarm him.  A shot was fired by someone, and the riot blossomed.

The Oklahoma Historical Society has written “Tulsa police officers deputized former members of the lynch mob and, according to an eyewitness, instructed them to ‘get a gun and get a nigger.’ Local units of the National Guard were mobilized, but they spent most of the night protecting a white neighborhood from a feared, but nonexistent, black counterattack.”

Blacks were the targets of random violence across the city.  A lone black man was even killed inside a movie theatre.  Drive-by shootings were erupting across Tulsa.

At dawn, the day after the storming of the jail, the white assault on Black Wall Street began.

Thousands of whites poured into the Greenwood District setting fire to businesses.  A prominent black surgeon was seized, surrendered, and was shot in the street like a dog.

Many black homes were burnt to the ground resulting in black residents’ spending the winter in tents as they rebuilt “their city”.

During eighteen hours on May 31 and June 1, 1921, more than one thousand homes and businesses were destroyed.   Credible estimates place the number of riot deaths up to 300, although it is difficult to count the black dead.

By the time the violence ended, the city had been placed under martial law, thousands of Tulsans were being held under armed guard, and the state’s second-largest African-American community had been burned to the ground.

We need to remember the Tulsa Riots and keep this destruction and these racist murders firmly in our collective memory.