October 26, 2011

Finis to Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street has made encouraging progress awakening Americans to the true nature of their condition and to the fact that many are willing to take to the streets in non-partisan, bi-partisan solidarity to protest crimes of big business and "cosmodemonic" financial institutions. OWS has raised spirits, invented new methods of communication, networked millions through social media and person-to-person conversations, that inform and familiarize one another with various issues, which somehow are inter-connected and related, from financial crimes and capitalism, to racism, war, and anti-environmentlism.

Great slogans were born: "We are the 99%!" "They got bailed out; we got sold out!" are but two favorites of the marching crowds. The crowds have been mixed in age, races, religions, professions, politics, opinions, tactics, strategies, and mostly have been orderly, enduring provocations and easily-provoked police brutality, and the unprofessional, amateurishness of the under-educated Press; Media who never really get it right--except for those small independent media people at "Media Central" in Zuccotti Park--who interview anybody on radio and  internet television stations, for distant regions outside urban New York.  But the established press can't seem to get a handle on it. Every story they write is inadequate, patronizing, misleading, derogatory or trivializing.

Oh well, that is what the Press does, and we should not be surprised; in fact we now expect it and would be surprised if it were otherwise. Press and television reports on protest activities are subjects of scorn, disbelief, and hilarity among protesters from the right coast to the left coast. How can they get it right, when we protest against the masters that they serve?

But the fact is that Occupy Wall Street for all intents and purposes is  finished, in triumph and failure, because,although many were wakened from apathetic slumber, there has been 'nary a breath of investigation, exposure, indictment, or punishment of very-high-up-criminals of  the financial cosmos, inhaled or exhaled where it matters: Congress. Where is our Watergate Committee? Where is our Senator Sam Ervin? Where is the national spotlight on scandalous crimes and ruinous policies, that have taken us to the brink of national bankruptcy? Why aren't the big time criminals sweating in front of congressional investigations? Why aren't they fleeing to non-extradicting nations with their trunks of oil and gold securities?

Because they know there is little to worry about. They know their power. They know the power of capitalism. They know the art of the Bribe. They know who to pay and when to pay and what it will get them. They quit sweating these periodic protests of frustration and anger in the 70s, when they learned one needs only deflect the aim, without the necessity of actually  destroying movements or organizations, in order to overcome their demands. (The FBI tried with limited success to destroy the Black Panthers, the Socialist Workers Party, and others, and finally had to decide whether it was worth the embarrassment of inevitable exposure.)

As long as arrows are deflected from their targets, it's no sweat. Let them, hell, help them, organize a huge demonstration in Washington against the El Salvador War, one consuming thousands of volunteer labor-hours organizing transportation, making signs and phone calls, fund-raising, letter-writing, and building coalitions;  let them get a half-million people together; we don't care. [Whisper] But make sure the demonstration is on a Saturday, when government workers are home and the Capitol is full of pleasure-seeking middle class tourists. It becomes entertainment for the spectator set.

As an alternative to this government-advantaged strategy, a mere 1,000 athletic demonstrators could disrupt Monday morning traffic all over Washington, at far less cost and to greater effect, if their aim was to impede the war machine and get national attention. Masked demonstrators blocking traffic with blazing trash containers and burning rubber tires, spray-painting video cameras, and disappearing as fast as they came. Small actions are easier to conceal, as well. Of course, I am not advocating such a thing, merely giving an example of how we can be deceived and deflected by the notion of "largeness", of massive numbers, so as never to achieve an actual objective. A hundred thousand people gather, march, shout slogans, sing songs, and go home feeling good about themselves and "the Movement." But no result beyond that, as valuable as raising the spirit can be.

In my opinion, OWS succeeded and failed. The question is, which will have the larger effect? The cops led the demonstrations; they led and channeled protesters where they permitted them to go, which, of course, was anywhere but Wall Street. Despite trapping 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge in order to show how far they were prepared to go, and despite occasional protester defiance and tussles with the cops--who always win tussles--despite the fact that they busted at least a hundred heads, and despite the fact that no important Senators or Congresspersons are stomping their feet and yelling for an investigation, Occupy Wall Street accomplished and demonstrated the power of spontaeous and leaderless action. It was formless, and therefore difficult for foes to track, trace, predict, or stop.

But, as for control, they have it under control. The cops and Homeland Security have it under control. The formlessness, however, drives the Media pundits and politicians nuts, for they have no fixed target whom they can call child molesters, drug addicts, or communists, or whatever works to personalize, and, by association, to defame the protesters. Formlessness is the key, but it is one which is most difficult to achieve, for it must endlessly adapt and change, like water of a river, and yet have an internal order and discipline, and secret to be sure.

                                          Maybe we can dig our way out of this hellhole.

Now, no one ever asks for my advice, which is why I give it seldom and reluctantly. After all, who am I? (We won't go into that.) But I will share this: I live a delightful, and secret, Walter Mitty-type, existence. I fancy that I am a scholar of history and war, a fairly good tactician, and an emerging strategist. I can hear you accusing me of grandiosity and narcissism; and that's okay, if you want to see it that way. But I really have studied historical movements and  profound revolutions, and have the temerity to claim to know a thing or two by now, at 70, after engaging in this kind of thing for nearly 50 years, and participating, in one way or another, with numerous anti-war and human rights demonstrations from coast-to-coast; not to mention four years in the Marine Corps, and probably reading newspapers too much. I know what the Media says, and the more I have learned about the real world, the better I know what the Media doesn't dare say: the whole truth.

There are many under-educated and toady-types in the Media, and it's a crying shame. The pity is that they think they know so much.

OWS is an element of warfare; a tactic; and some strategy. The struggle between the classes, the struggle within the classes, the struggle to define national purpose, the struggle to overcome the malevolence of some who rule, and the struggle to overcome ignorance, and to make ourselves a better people and a better nation in a better world, is no less than a war of many fronts and purposes. But Occupy Wall Street is not the war; it is only another (better-late-than-never) battlefront, in another theater of war, engaged on a non-violent level here, and on more violent levels elsewhere, from Greece to Pakistan and beyond.

Some are marching for "democracy" in the United States, and they are mostly unharrassed by officialdom, if beaten-up now and then, while in other parts of the world, men and women are hung on meathooks and skinned alive, or roasted over pits of smouldering coals. Violent bursts of electricity course through their genitals. Eyes are gouged out. Hot steel is rammed up rectums and vaginas. Fingers are chopped off. Nipples are amputated with scissors, battery acid is dripped on faces, and so on and so forth, ad nauseum. It's all in the records of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and they will let you read the raw reports. The cruel inhumanity of humanity is the scandal of the galaxy.

We cannot hear, nor can we truly imagine, the painful screams of the wretched and tortured people, who have run afoul of established power in the most-lawless and violent regions. While we march peacefully, calling for "love" and "brotherhood and sisterhood,"  and "unity," it is not pleasant to know or imagine such atrocious things. So we mostly don't, and our demands are generalized, or provacatively exaggerated, and we end up arguing about "what kind of country do we want to be, and when can we have our democracy back?" This forces the pundits and disinvolved politicians to say we have "no focus," and to an extent, they are correct. The lack of "focus" is exactly what confuses them, and saps their power of persuasion.

But these issues, of democracy, of what kind of country we are, although they are fundamental, are not the basic issues of the day. The middle class homeowners of America mostly are workers, though unemployed they hope temporarily, and they already have an idea of what their country is, and what they want it to be, and, mostly, they like and support it. The consider themselves American patriots. They vote and fly the flag on holidays, and many are racists because all immigrant groups had to become so in order to assimilate into a white racist society, that murdered Indians and stole black African slaves. Many protesters also display the flag, claiming American patriotism, while opposing the very "values" (or the lack of them) which the other flag-wavers claim for themselves and deny to us.

To be honest, I think nationalism sucks, I think its time is over, and identify  myself as an American internationalist.

For an army to succeed, it must be formless like water and secret as thought. It must be prepared to switch strategies and tactics in order to keep foes unbalanced. It must never repeat a successful strategy after the authorities are onto it, and must stay alert for new opportunities and advantages, where the foe least expects it; at his weakest position. Where our forces are weakest, our foes are strongest. When they relax their guard, thinking they have won, then is the time to advance, as water advances downhill, seeking the natural, easy channels.

We should never engage in a battle that we know we cannot win. Therefore, we must go after smaller, easier targets, and observe how our opponents react, and adjust tactics accordingly. Nothing of any real value is possible without secrecy and speed; and speed above all; which is why it is important to have healthy, spirited, athletic young people throughout the march.  But youth and spirit alone are not sufficient for leadership, which must be left to the wiser, older, more-experienced, and hopefully charismatic persons, whose lifelong comittment to the struggle is proven. People like Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Tom Hayden, Amy Goodman, Bob Fass, and a hundred other leaders I don't know and never heard of; but I know they are out there.

Where revolutionaries like Ho Chi Minh and General Nguyen Giap communicated with miniature handwriting on cigarette papers, eating or burning them afterward, we have a different problem keeping plans secret, and organizing people to cooperate to advance them. This is impossible without internal discipline, and the willingness to follow leaders, who have proved themselves leaders, not by seeking leadership, but by leading with intelligent thought, persuasive argument, timely action, and by example.

Perhaps our best cover is the internet itself, because of its size, because of the openess of most "social networks," and because it is impossible for man or machine to monitor all of it. And we need codes of course. But nothing will replace human-to-human interaction, and in order for human contact and cooperation to produce something of value, we must be a new kind of human being. In the anarchic structure of capitalism, which promotes individualality above social values, loyal followers are hard to find. Nobody likes taking orders. But without the willingness to do so, and without the power of belief and the glue of loyalty, leadership can achieve little, or nothing.

"War is deception," said Sun Tzu. But, as we seek to deceive, confuse and disperse the power of our foes, we must take care not to deceive ourselves. We must not fool ourselves that Occupy Wall Street is evidence that the American people are ready to undertake real and meaningful struggle; determined and successful struggle, like the early and most-violently opposed labor struggles in the United States, demands self-sacrifice, which, in such a selfish society, is more rare than an unbroken egg in an overturned refrigerator.

Who will immolate himself to draw attention to the desperation of the poor? A fellow named Morrison burned himself up in front of Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara, and it shook him to the core, bringing home to him for the first time that the Vietnam War might be a mistake. Who will be the first to die, when power-wielders finally feel threatened-enough to kill?

What will happen to the present generation of enthusiastic "revolutionaries" when they arrive at their own Kent State? and Jackson State, where protesting students were murdered by national guardsmen? (Without penalty.)Kent State, in my opinion, was the official end of the Sixties. Tuitions went up, activists were weeded from universities, and most admitted to themselves at least that they were not prepared to die in order to defend the Vietnamese, or promote a revolution in the United States.

Non-violence is my preference, and not because I'm a pacifist--I'm not--and not because I believe it can overwhelm Hitlerian violence, but because we can do no less--unarmed and unready to defend ourselves against the ultimate violence of the State. Gandhi's non-violent approach worked in India--to an extent--because the British considered themselves "civilized," and the sight of thousands being clubbed willingly to the ground disgusted public opinion and undermined imperial policy.

Dr. Martin Luther King's non-violence worked for awhile, because it was timely, media coverage was widespread and widely-watched, and at least the Kennedy Administration had some respect for public opinion.

It ultimately won't work here, however, because, not only does America have a horrid history of violence, the American people have been innured to violence by the media; and they actually seem to enjoy violence, as long as it is "the blood of others." Millions of American would like to see the cops beat the living hell out of protesters, and others want simply to shoot or burn them alive; even though they agree that the rich are out of control!

Don't kid yourself. They are out there, in numbers; and many are armed, and wishing...

I cringe when I hear a speaker say "revolution." I talked like that in my ignorant youth. As some Vietnamese revolutionary said, "Revolution is the greatest adventure in the world, especially when you know that you will win." But revolution, despite the adventure, is a civil war. I am for non-violence and reform, reform, reform, wherever, whenever, and with whatever progressive force insists on it. Civil war is destruction plain and simple. Family trauma and painful grudges last for generations, even for centuries,  regardless of peace or armistice. As long as reform is possible, revolution is a non-starter.

Most revolutions really are exactly as a revolution is scientifically defined : a 360-degree turn. And most revolutions end where they began, by replacing one set of tyrants with another, slightly different set of tyrants, with a different set of laws, which nobody wants to obey, just as they did not want to obey the laws of the previous regime. So the first thing a successful revolution does, after chopping off heads, is to hire cops. And what cops? People who were already cops, persons who know how to be cops, and what a cop has to do to make people obey the current set of laws. It is a vicious cycle, and all cops carry weapons, and are jealous of the privilege.

I don't want a revolution. Neither do I want to go 180-degrees to the rear where the Luddites lurk. I want a Left Face. "LEFT face!" A ninety-degree turn--to the left. A quarter of a "revolution" will be fine for me.

So my advice to Occupy Wall Street is this: change our "focus" to Investigate Wall Street.

We have had hundreds of thousands of public demonstrations for innumerable causes since the Sixties, and demonstrations all are pretty much the same after awhile, rather boring and predictable, because, in the first place, we know our demands (to not invade Iraq, for example) are never met. They are hardly discussed, not taken seriously at all. So we must conclude that the repetition of street demonstrations is a strategy which worked, when it was new and surprising, but its present effectiveness is greatly diminished. Demonstrations make participants feel that they at least have done something important, that they have set themselves apart from the ordinary run of apolitical, uninvolved and uncaring Americans, and other, altruistic reasons. But Americans are accustomed to demonstrations now, and demonstrations are not working, because the power structure has learned how to control them, and does not give a damn for "public opinion."

But, American minds have already occupied Wall Street. Millions supported it. We didn't blockade or impede the Den of Thieves, where it is business as usual.  But, we have been there and done that, where it matters: in the mind. All change begins there. Occupy Wall Street has happened. It is time to move on, and forward.

Now is the time to demand most forcefully, that a full congressional investigation, by standing committees in both chambers of Congress, press forward on investigating, exposing, indicting, trying, and punishing high-up financial criminals, responsible for much suffering, poverty, and undermining of our national security.

At present, only a Baker's Dozen of mid-level securities scam artists have been imprisoned. We must start where it is possible to start and work our way up, then down again, until certain punishent scares the hell out of irresponsible and unethical speculators, and the bosses who give them their marching orders. We must demand that they be punished severely with long prison terms, that they be fined, and that the financial and banking sectors be brought back under control of strict regulation, and for fines and taxes to make them pay back what they have stolen.

Every damned penny.

August 11, 2011

La Promisa

Everywhere I walked woodsmoke scented the night air...the night was darker than sin and no electricity anywhere except in the center of the small town from the Sandinista generator that powered the little police station in Bocana de Paiwas...Reagan's "freedom fighters," the Contras, had cut the electric wires a week before, after threatening to kill anybody caught helping the Sandinistas...since nearly everyone was helping the Sandinistas do the necessary things--build and stock schools, man health clinics, food centers, farming help, and some justice--which had been lacking since the Bolivarian Revolution...in other words, since the whole town stood to benefit from the Sandinsta program, helping it to emerge from a state of historic impoverishment, the whole town, excepting the Contra spies within, was on the hit list...nobody was safe.

I felt safe, however, being an American. If the Contra killed me, it wouldn't play well in the US Congress, and if the Sandinistas did it, it would be another "provocation," giving the United States even more reason--if "reason" entered into anything then--to continue the war. I had hitchhiked into the little town in the middle of Nicaragua, catching a distant boom of artillery from somewhere, and had even caught a ride on a six-by with 15 Sandinista soldiers, who were headed for the Front. (A "six-by" is a large military truck for transport of troops and supplies.)

People around the town in the wooded, hilly farm and ranch land had been tortured and thrown bound into the rapid Bocana River to drown. Their friends and relatives told me their stories and I believed them. I went there to hear the stories, but my Spanish was bad, and their English was only slightly better. I did it anyway and understood enough to believe what I heard...nobody lied about the small rancher who wouldn't hand over his 40 cows to the Contras...it had taken him 40 years to accumlate them...so they gang-raped his daughter and cut her head off and put it on a pole on the road...they also killed his son...then they tied the old fellow up and threw him in the rapid-flowing river...an American man from Witness for Peace translated for me now and then...his group was all over war-worn Nicaragua, documenting, and trying to stop the killing and kidnapping, which the majority of Americans seemed to approve, since the victims supposedly were "communists," and communists weren't really people after all, but demonic, ignorant, evil and deluded sub-humans, who hated liberty, freedom, democracy, God, the American way of life, and the United States of America in particular: communists without good reason hated God's only Nation on Earth (besides Israel) and Ronald Reagan, the God of the Lunatic Right, who conducted His public relations.

Reagan had told a fairy tale about his "freedom fighters"--a bunch of filthy torturers, murderers and rapists...as being the equivalent of our Founding Fathers...(it was true! ask the Indians!)...and a gullible American public--raised on the corny, romantic, untruthful Death Valley Days, and the even-cornier Leave it to Beaver--bought the story, but missed the irony. Americans, brainwashed to hate anything that contradicted capitalist doctrine, were ready to buy anything, after losing the disastrous Vietnam War, and feeling the excruciating pain of gas lines and gas prices going up a whole dollar, during the Jimmy Carter period. People who know something of the pain Nicaraguans were enduring scoffed at the whimpering and whining American public, brainwashed for 100 years to view leftist ideas as clownish or demonic. The Sandinistas were leftists, but Violetta Chamorro, the widow of the assassinated Pedro Chamorro, the editor of La Prensa, was herself a member of the Sandinista Directorate, and certainly was no communist; and the Directorate acted only after consensus had been achieved; no consensus, no action. This kind of unity had brought down Somoza, and launched the Sandinistas into power. It really is as simple as this: the US and other exploiters rule their subjects by dividing them against one another. Unity is the biggest threat to this system, and "a bad example" for adjacent nation, suffering also beneath what can only be truthfully called "imperialist domination."

The Contra were torturing, murdering bastards, and they were bossed by the worst of the dictator Somoza's terrorist army, the National Guardmen who escaped revolutionary justice...notably Enrique Bermudez, and by his CIA handlers, of course. Those Contra, who had managed to escape the country and connect with the CIA in Honduras and Costa Rica, intimidated, recruited, and kidnapped men and kids, and trained them to attack other Nicaraguans...terrorists by any reasonable criteria...they sowed terror with rape, theft, torture and murder. Ironically, after the war ended, many of these Nicaraguan Contra returned to their home villages only to find that other bands of Contra had done the same in their own villages to their own families and friends...whoever was a friend of the Sandinistas was fair game, and the Sandinistas had a lot of friends. I was one, and still am.

The Contra had to raid from over the borders of Honduras and Costa Rica, because there was no support or sanctuary for them inside Nicaragua. The Sandinista army swarmed them like hornets when they were detected, and the Contra always fled. The Sandinistas were armed with Soviet and US weapons, a few powerful .175 millimeter howitzers...some Cuban training, and a determined revolutionary spirit, that put their long-suffering country under the control, at least temporarily, for the first time in its history, of a true peoples' party, set on ridding the nation of United States dominance once and for all.

But the Sandinista vision was doomed to failure because Nicaragua, unlike Cuba, is not an island, and the character and temprament of the Cubans and Nicaraguans are very different. It is not unfair to say that Cuba's success had doomed the Sandinista Revolution. The US wouldn't be caught short again. Invasion was not only possible, but probable in Nicaragua's case. It would have been a cakewalk for American forces to establish military control of Nicaragua in a way that never could be accomplished in Cuba, where the Revolution has had nearly 50 years to dig in and establish itself, to educate Cuban youth to their true history vis-a-vis the United States, and to train the people for defense, and to make them more social and less selfish, to keep them lean and hard, and dedicate successive generations to Cuba's independence. Fidel's vision for socialism in Cuba was to make "a new man," unselfish, educated, community-spirited, and militant to defend the revolution.

The unfortunate fact for the United States is that Fidel Castro made public health his private obsession. Medical schools were expanded, clinics were established, technical help was sought from advanced countries, and health care, despite the lies of Wall Street and the other capitalist bastards who want Cuba to be a whorehouse again, is free for all. A few years ago, Cuba had 15,000 doctors and nurses treating the poorest people in Amazonia of South America. People come from all over the world to Cuba for free eye operations. Even the CIA will tell you that. In fact, if you are interested or want to be surprised, you might check out the CIA's website, and see what it says about Cuba, most of which is a direct contradiction to the daily litany of anti-Cuban propaganda that our compliant and cowardly Press blathers about.

Despite constant economic and military assaults against Cuba since President Eisenhower (Vice President Richard Nixon was in charge of this program), revolutionary spirit in Cuba remains high. But one Cuban soldier that I spoke to briefly--I had asked him if the Sandinistas were communists--told me, "They are infants compared to us." He meant as far as communism went. The Sandinistas were nationalists first and pre-communists second, but there were many opinions among the Nicaraguan people.

US assaults, sabotage, espionage, and economic blockade of Cuba had toughened and strengthened Cuba's armed forces, and the economic blockade had made lean the people, who, unsurprisingly to all but the Americans, never stopped making music and dancing under the most-harsh, most-dictatorial, most-communistic, most-tyrannical, and most evil dictatorship the world has ever known or heard of (and so on). But Nicaraguans were emerging with bent backs from centuries of colonialism, one of the most brutal dictatorships in the western hemisphere,(really) a devastating revolutionary war period, and a century of America's crippling "dollar diplomacy," which had robbed their resources, denied them education, corrupted their politics, impoverished and cowed the majority, vastly enriched a small minority, and empowered an organization of murdering, torturing thugs under the Somoza family, who ruled Nicaragua for 50 years with a Nazi hand, and with US money, arms and training.

It is an understatement to say the US government never met a capitalist dictator it would not cut a deal with. But there were no deals proposed to the Sandinista government, unless Secretary of State Shultz offered one, during a brief stopover from South America in 1985, when he met President Ortega and other officials at the airport. No one I know of has ever heard or read what Shultz said to Ortega, but it is not hard to imagine.

"Do what we say, or we are going to invade and kick the shit out of you," is what I imagine. Or maybe he only offered money for the Sandinistas to back off their principles, quit spreading literacy throughout the illiterate population, and stop building health clinics and schools. That sort of program, when successful, scares the hell out of the United States Government. Somehow, such programs get twisted around to mean, "communism." The magic word that causes millions of American knees to jerk so hard they slam their owners in the brainpan.

We'll probably learn what Schultz said to Ortega when we learn who really killed John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

I was waiting for an American clergyman of Bocana to return from the town of Bluefields so that I could interview him. One sunny afternoon, I was walking around the hilly town with my ex-brother-in-law's Nikon around my neck, climbing a very rocky street, when I noticed an old man standing in the doorway of a shack with a curtain for a door, waving for me to come in. I went in. The room was bare except for a small cot and a thin mattress, a small bedside table with a cloth over it, and a wooden box for a chair. He might have been 40 or 50 or 60. He was shirtless and shoeless and his pants were threadbare and torn. His frame was skeletal from malnourishment. His belly was as flat as a kid's. He motioned for me to sit. I sat. He reached beneath the cloth and brought out a tin plate of cooked red beans with a spoon, and offered it to me. I declined. He offered it again. I declined politely, and he put it back behind the cloth.

He spoke a mixture of halting English and Spanish, beginning with the word, "Por que?" Why? I made out that he wanted to know why the United States was making war on his town. "Por que la guerra?"

I told him that it was because the United States Government was a son-of-a-bitch to poor people everywhere, and that the United States Government did not like the Sandinistas, because they were helping the poor people. That was as well as I could explain what to me was the essence of a simple truth, and he nodded his head in agreement.

"El Presidente Reagan es uno hijo de bitche," I said. President Reagan is one son-of-a-bitch.

"Tell them that we are only poor people. We poor people, we do nothing to them, but they kill us, matar, por nada. When you go home. Solamente los pobres aqui." Only poor people here. "Tu hablas los Americanos, por favor." You tell the American people, please.

That, roughly, was how I translated it with my poor Spanish.

I promised that I would. We shook hands, and I departed. He patted my shoulder as I passed.

"Tell the United States people," he said.

I promised again that I would.

"Promiso," I said.

I have told this story so many times.

August 6, 2011

The Boys of Nicaragua

Sometimes it’s too much to bear.

But we bear it anyway, or stop living or live a life of escapism and mediocrity. Many people don’t know how bad it really is because their feelings are buried. Some bury feelings for self-defense; others never had feelings because they were raised hard by unfeeling people or people who felt only anger, hate and pain. Many of these become sociopaths and psychopaths or misanthropes and haven’t a glimmer of conscience. But even they are redeemable sometimes.

“The Boys” of Somoza’s Nicaragua come to mind.

The following story was told to me by Margareta Nordh, a Swedish woman I met in Nicaragua in 1985, and returned there with in 1986-87. I wish I had recorded her words, because she had a way of telling in a musical voice remarkable and memorable things that stuck in my mind. She had seen much of Nicaragua and other parts of Latin America.

Margareta was a credentialed communist of high integrity and deep commitment to the poor, who worked closely with the Swedish government and had something to do with the FMLN in El Salvador and the Sandinistas of Nicaragua. Sweden at that time enjoyed the popular and enlightened leadership of Olaf Palme (assassinated,) and the Swedes had no fear of communism, having lived next door to Russia for many centuries with the little-known honor of having been the only nation in history to whip Russia in a war, during the reign of Peter the Great. The government when I knew Nordh was a coalition of conservative capitalists, socialists, communists and independents. Sweden has a competent army and navy and has not had a war for about 400 years. It sat WW II out in Neutrality (like Spain and Portugal) and angered Norway because, under the threat of invasion, it had let the Nazis travel through by trains, supposedly without weapons.

She spoke five languages fluently and was a medical doctor who specialized in broken bones. She also was a social anthropologist who had spent much time living with and studying the pre-Colombian Indians of Venezuela, and she had traveled alone in 84 countries, and lived in Mexico for five years.

During the fifty years or so of the dictatorship of the Somoza family of Nicaragua, the National Guard which the United States had set up in the late 1920s as a “constabulary”-- like the one we had established in the Philippines to maintain our rule in absentia-- was a terrorist organization which kept “order” by torturing and killing any Nicaraguan of any rank who opposed Somoza Garcia and later his sons, Luis and Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

The all-male Guard (El Guardia) lived in barracks, enjoying lives of privilege and comfort separate from and unlike the daily lives of most Nicaraguans. Privilege, possessions, all they could steal and unchallenged power was their domain. To say they were brutes is a great understatement. They were torturers, murderers, rapists and terrorists, and were trained by the United States of America.

Somoza Garcia sent his son Anastasio Debayle to West Point. The Guardia periodically filled its ranks by grabbing young men from their homes and families and immersing them in their brutishness to desensitize them and put them to work keeping the Nicaraguan people in line.

They also kidnapped infants and toddlers of their murdered victims and raised them without women in the barracks and trained them to torture and kill. This group of youthful killers was known as “The Boys,” and was widely feared because, having been raised that way, they had no conscience at all. In many cases their depredations were worse than their mentors’.

The later Sandinistas are the inheritors of the rebellion of General Cesar Augusto Sandino of the Twenties, the only general who refused to sign a pact calling off a rebellion against the presence of US troops in his country. The marines had been there in greater or lesser numbers since President William Howard Taft invaded Nicaragua in 1909 with the flimsy pretext that a liberal president was “denying freedom and liberty to his people.” (Sound familiar?) In reality, Taft was stopping Nicaragua from obtaining a loan of 6.5 million Pounds from England to build a railroad to take Nicaragua’s productive agricultural products from the west to the east coast for trade with Europe, which at that time had 60% of Nicaragua’s foreign trade.

The US under its infamous and misunderstood “Monroe Doctrine” had been trying to get England off the Caribbean coast altogether, and the loan was seen as a lingering foothold of a capitalist competitor that had to be ended if US capitalists were to dominate Nicaragua’s trade. The Miskito, Rama and Suma Indians of Nicaragua’s east coast speak English.

Then as now the wishes and aspirations of the Nicaraguan people were as irrelevant to Washington and Wall Street as were the wishes and aspirations of the American Indians, and people of the Philippines, Vietnam, and now Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They were only pawns in the great game of great powers for world dominance of resources, markets and profits.

Taft—and Presidents Wilson, Harding and Coolidge--didn’t any more care about the “freedom and liberty” of the Nicaraguan people than for the man in the moon. After the marines ran the president out of the country (he died in poverty in New York) this became apparent to everybody except the American people who, not caring anyway, then as now got their information from Media owned and operated by the same patriotic capitalists who stood to gain much from Nicaragua’s forced submission to the will of Washington. But that is a whole other story.

Sandino, known to this day as “the general of free men,” fought the marines so well that the helicopter was invented to catch him. A Sikorsky copter attempted its first and failed flight from the airport in Managua. The first aerial bombing of civilians was not in Spain as Picasso’s Guernica memorialized, but in Ocotal, Nicaragua, in 1928, when Navy and Marine pilots dropped bombs on the northern town, killing about 200.

Finally the State Dept. and White House admitted it could not stop the rebellion or catch Sandino and his loyal generals and followers, and took a different tack: establishment of a National Guard, and a false peace treaty. The US Navy, which had been in charge of the war, left Anastasio Somoza Garcia as head of the National Guard. Somoza’s grandfather had been a famous bandit in the 1800s and was hanged. Somoza Garcia’s only talents were greed, dishonesty and murder. He, like his sons afterward, called Nicaragua, “my farm.” He took whatever he wanted, but 12 old families also owned large swaths of territory and the people who dwelled in it and worked mainly for them.

After the marines had sailed for home and the shooting had stopped and a peace of sorts had settled on the country and Sandino’s men were settling in lands promised them, Sandino and his brother paid a dinner call on the President of Nicaragua. When the dinner was finished they departed in good cheer and were arrested at the gate by the Guard. The President had nothing to do with it; power had accumulated in Somaza’s hands because he had the guns the United States had provided.

Somoza himself established an alibi by attending a reading by the Chilean poet Gabriella Mistral. Stories about what happened next are different, but it is generally accepted that the two nationalists were taken to the airport and shot, and that their bodies were buried on a runway later covered by tarmac. Somoza’s murderers hunted down and killed Sandino’s generals and men over a period of years as the dictator established his rule by terror with US financing and training.

Prior to WW II Somoza took a fancy to Hitler’s fascist Brown Shirts and established a similar outfit to bully and intimidate the country. When the war started the unit vanished and Nicaragua became a loyal ally. If there were any hard feelings in Washington no one heard about them. When Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1932, he is reported to have said to his Secretary of State, “I hear this man Somoza is a son-of-a-bitch,” and Secretary Cordell Hull is reported to have answered, “Yes sir, he is. But he’s our son-of-a-bitch.”

The Guardia was one of the most-feared of all the dictatorships of Latin America. When I visited Nicaragua for the first time in 1985 with Abbie Hoffman’s second tour, we went to the site of the “21 Jail” in Leon. It was about the size of a ranch-type house in the United States and had no roof when we were there. US marines had built it in 1921, thus the name. A guide told us that at times it had contained up to 1,000 prisoners.

During one period in the Sixties, he said, a commander of the jail had the nightly habit of getting drunk and showing up late, picking a prisoner he didn’t like, and torturing him to death. Leon is a rather small town. The guide said that the screams of the tortured men could be heard all over town. This was the nightly visitation of the Guardia in Leon and a warning not to be disregarded.

Anastasio Somoza Garcia was assassinated at a dinner party in 1954 by a Nicaraguan poet posing as a waiter.

Things became so bad in Nicaragua that in the 1960s Carlos Fonseca and Tomas Borge revived the nationalistic Sandinista movement and began another long struggle to topple the Somozas. (Luis had died of a heart attack and Anastasio was chief.) After a hellish struggle that one must go to Nicaragua to hear about, the Sandinistas triumphed in 1979, following the murder by Somoza’s grandson of the country’s most-popular editor-owner of La Prensa, the largest newspaper.

Somoza’s last act before fleeing with his hated father’s bones was to bomb the poor neighborhoods of numerous cities and towns, leaving about 50,000 wounded and many dead. President Jimmy Carter responded to the successful revolution by cutting off medical aid, since some of the Sandinistas had been trained in Cuba.

Fidel Castro sent 500 doctors and nurses and medicine and equipment, endearing himself and Cuba to Nicaraguans who knew the score. I watched Daniel Ortega’s presidential inauguration as Fidel sat behind him, and didn’t see one person in the cheering crowd who looked like he read the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, and knew that Fidel was such a terrible dictator. When Fidel spoke he got a bigger hand than Daniel.

The Sandinistas’ first official act was abolition of the death penalty, which had been the chief weapon used against them. When Somoza had captured the top Sandinista leadership including Carlos Fonseca in 1967, they all had been tortured and castrated. Thirty years served without parole became the maximum sentence for any crime. Mary Hartman, an American Maryknoll nun who the Sandinistas appointed as Ombudsman for the prison system, confirmed this for our tour when we visited a prison. She was empowered to take any prisoner aside, without notice and without an observer, to learn about prison conditions and whether there was any torture. The Sandinistas forbade it and came down hard on any soldier caught at it.

The Boys who failed to escape with other Somocistas to Honduras or Costa Rica were rounded up and jailed. They were considered beyond rehabilitation. They had learned their murderous trade too early, had never developed a social conscience, and knew not the corrective scolding or forgiving softness of a loving mother. Women to them were only to rape, torture and kill.

As the Sandinistas established their government, and began fighting a defensive war against the CIA and Reagan’s “freedom fighters,” The Boys were left to endure their fate. But eventually, Tomas Borge, the only actual communist on the 12-person Sandinista Directorate, arranged a meeting between them and some of the mothers whose sons and daughters had suffered and died of their depravity.

Margareta wasn’t there. But she knew others who had attended. She related that they told her that the mothers confronted The Boys directly and told them what they had done. They criticized and scolded them severely about their murdered sons and daughters, how this one had been a bright schoolboy who had studied hard and read the Bible and had wanted only to help people; how this daughter had been pledged to marry; how that one had left orphaned a small child, and how their beloved children had brightened their lives and given them a sense of purpose and a reason to live. They cried and displayed their grief and justifiable anger. Some were inconsolable.

Some of the boys cried for the first time when they understood what they had done. Some of the mothers saw that they were, after all, still only boys, that they too were victims, and pitied the vicious children who had crippled their lives. They hugged and consoled them and reached out. Some were reconciled. Some of the mothers forgave. They cried together. Some of the boys apologized and sobbed. Others remained untouchable. But some mothers could never be reconciled to the unspeakable horror they lived with every minute of the day and night, and could not forgive. Margareta said that some of the mothers had found “closure,” and that some of the boys had been transformed by the meeting, finally discovering their stolen conscience.

When I returned from Abbie's tour in early 1986, I went back to driving a cab in New York. As soon as I had about $500 clear and the rent paid, I drove my old Ford van to Washington and camped behind the Jefferson Library of the Library of Congress and began researching Nicaraguan history from 1821 to the present. I read and took notes until the Library closed at nine. But there was a lot of material, and no way could I read it all. After a couple of weeks, my money low, I would hock something for gas back to the City and return to taxi-driving. As soon as I was solvent again, I would return to DC and study some more.

In late 1986 I returned to Nicaragua with Dr. Margareta Nordh of Sweden, and did more research, intending to integrate everything I had learned for a freelance article about Nicaragua and the Contra War. And then my personal circumstances changed.

During this time my former brother-in-law decided to sell the apartment on
MacDougal Street
which I had sublet and paid low rent on for three years, and my rent went from $330 to $1,300. I returned to living in my van and parked for security and privacy in a cemetery in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I kept going back to Washington for the research for six months. I learned a lot of things that I thought might wake the American people from their customary numbed sleep and political idiocy. But I couldn’t write about it for personal reasons.

I found no mention of The Boys.
[I first published this true story on Nov. 22, 2008; and think it's worth re-publishing, because the American people should hear it, if they are to comprehend the true dimensions of power and its consequences on real human beings, as exercised by the United States Government.]


Freedom to work has morphed into compulsion to work; compelled by our stomachs to labor and toil, seldom with pleasure or satisfaction, for mere sustenance and shelter, from the elemental tyranny of Nature, we are abject caricatures of our stronger ancestors. Machines, greed, fear and ignorance are the masters of Mankind. Here we are at WW I again.

International combinations, financial markets, treaties and Alliances, trade agreements and labor pacts, and centuries-old assumptions about wealth and power, democracy vs. Fascism, science vs. Religion, tolerance vs. Racism, environment vs. Exploitation, war vs. Peace, labor vs. Capital, rehabilitation vs. Torture, and the “innate goodness of man,” all are crumbling, like cookies in a clothes dryer.

Selfish, afraid, violent, submissive, greedy, idiotic, aggressive, ignorant, docile, fanatic, overworked, underpaid, entertainment-loving, and leaderless humanity is divided up, like marbles in a child’s game, a game that is the butt of a high-class joke, and made slaves to the job-at-hand, unless they are of the ruling elite. And even they are slaves to their passions; or the lack of them.

Religion is a tired, masturbatory exercise in crowd-control, and a sentimentally absurd belief in impossible magic. Man defines God as an incredible parody of himself, a mean-spirited entity, sentimental and unfeeling, who “needs our help,” and lays down absurd laws, and demands blood for evidence of loyalty. “Worship” is hocus-pocus, and “a loving God” is the fancy of hopeless romantics, who are blinded by the cataracts of wishful-thinking, each holding legal title to “the Word.”

Liberals and conservatives alike stumble upon each other in a jumble of broken mirrors, cutting themselves on the razor shards of their dishonest and outworn “ideals,” and bleeding their toxic nonsense into the minds of all. The vast and silenced throngs of humanity know them for the fraudulent career-politicians that they are, but feel powerless to do a thing about it. Cow-like humans are herded into cities for slavery in various “enterprises,” and are beaten or intimidated into submission for robot-work, which is excused by Science and Economics, sanctioned by Law and Religion, and rewarded by food and betrayal. They slave to fill bank accounts for the high-class rats, who piously posture and pose as “the best and brightest,” that the human race has ever produced, and who are demonically innocent of all criminal activity.

The best of human history, and of human beings, is almost-entirely hidden from view, and the worst is daily drilled into our eyes and ears, by the relentless lasers of technology and media. Politics is the national religion, and religion is no more than politics in robes. Somewhere in the human psyche, the infant in the cradle of conscience is undernourished and cowed. Its crib is a prison where freedom is lost to embarrassment. The concept of Nobility is hidden, lost or misunderstood. The baby has been bayoneted, and the Archbishop, who pleaded for peace and justice, has been slaughtered at Mass.

No one is responsible. No one is guilty. No one has been charged. No one will be charged. No investigation will be made. No remuneration will be possible. No apologies will be forthcoming, or even implied, because the powerful do not apologize, and the survivors think that they are free, and lucky to be alive.

The act of an improbable God has condemned the major portion of humanity to slavery forever. To slavery forever in the stench of a rapidly decomposing swamp, where all the sewage of history has joined to overflow the lawns and roads, and every word of every power stinks, provoking only excrement and vomit.

The artist can do what he likes with reality, because there are no rules in art. Whatever art is, it is not a device which can be crafted into form by a mere persistent desire to make art, and art can never “make revolution.” The artist makes nothing but his own point, and whatever is done, is done against his will, and through him, as something he merely snatched from the air, and threw to a gang of a thousand monkeys pounding on typewriters, because he found it there (and now it’s gone). In his blind man’s peregrination over an obstacle course of lonely choices, none of which can ever satisfy his original vision, the only obligation of the artist is to truth, ever-elusive, in a world where a thing can be both true and false at the same time.

But the citizen must accept the reality of his or her present condition, and decide whether to act, or not to act, to influence events. Action by non-action is a mystery few humans can grasp, like the holding-by-not-holding, or the insubstantiality of solids.

Right action is impossible without courage and nobility. Only courage can overcome dread, and nobility is not a condition of wealth, but a mode of behavior, and it cannot be inherited. Principles are not happened upon instinctively in the immediacy of crisis, but are taught by example from an early age, by principled mentors. Principles are lines-drawn-in-the-sand, long before one reaches the point beyond which he will not go.

The human being is a wild animal beneath a veneer of custom, civilization, and Law. Fear of death robs us of life. But, “death is not an event in life.” In death, there is nothing to fear, and all fear is a fear of death. Competition did not make us the dominant species; mutual aid did that. This knowledge is nearly lost, but it is all that keeps us alive. It is competition which has impeded our progress, and competition that will destroy us. It is ignorance and fear, and selfishness and cowardice, which makes it possible.

“Freedom” cannot be given; it must be taken, seized, and defended to the death.

Until un-free humanity grasps this simple fact, and acts in concert of “all for one and one for all,” it will remain in slavery to the sweathouses and brothels of earth, believing that it is “free,” in this noxious swamp of “liberty,” and “democracy,” where television substitutes for intelligence, and death rules life in unbelievable acts of war. There is no slave more abject or ridiculous, than one who thinks he is free.

The freest spirits are running the rocky, narrow trails of the highlands, past dangerous and hungry predators, risking life, limb and sanity, and shouting with mad joy, to the amazed herds, chewing in the dying fields, “Follow us! We know where food grows out of the ground and falls off of the trees!”

Does anyone hear their shout? Does anyone even care?

August 2, 2011

Postal Politics

I walked many sun-scorched blocks in my 70-year-old body, cadaverous and winded, to find a small Post Office, off Fulton Street, in my Brooklyn neighborhood . A truck that was servicing the Elevated was parked on the sidewalk, obscuring the flag, but I eventually found it, and went in to mail my letters and buy stamps. I was grumbling about the price, and that stamps didn't seem to come in books anymore, when the African-American clerk surprised me with something I had never heard in an American Post Office: politics.

"Well, you can't blame President Obama for that," she said.

Since I had not blamed him for anything, and, wondering where it came from, I said, "Well, I don't blame him for that. I blame him for doing a lousy job with his domestic and foreign policy."

She broke into my sentence before it was finished, saying, "I know, you will blame him for something, but it isn't his fault. It's the Republicans and people like you, who won't give him a chance."

"You just like him because he is black," I said.

"That's right!" she exclaimed.

"Well, I like him because he is black, too, but I don't like his wars, and I don't like the fact that he won't stand up and fight for the poor, including the black people, who are poor."

But she heard none of it, because she had been talking over me throughout my sentence. I didn't get all she said, either. I have observed that it is difficult for people to transmit, and receive, at the same time. In fact, I wonder if it is possible.

Anyway, she was pretty worked up, and her tone suggested that she felt mighty superior to me. We both raised our voices then, and, of course, mine won, because I have a mighty voice, despite my decrepitude, and need no microphone.

"Ask Representative John Conyers what he thinks of Obama's presidency," I said, loud enough for her, and everyone else, to hear, as I made for the door, wondering if she knew who Conyers is, and pursued by more accusations. I was "just trying to bring the legally-elected President of the United States down."

I went shopping next door.

Yogurt, milk, cake, ice cream, my usual diet. Then, as I was checking out, I remembered my tan cap, which was on my head. I got it from the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN. It has a threaded logo of black, white, and red. The white is in the shape of a man, who is pushing to the left against an approaching red mass, with a black background surrounding him. Pretty subtle, yet explicit, if you ask me. That's why I like the hat.

No one ever notices it in East New York, although I have seen people looking at it on the crowded J train.

I walked with my groceries back into the Post Office, and waited in line, until she was free of customers, and then approached her bulletproof window. There were three clerks, and no one behind me.

"I want to apologize for raising my voice," I began. She began transmitting immediately, so I don't know if she heard my apology. And then, I took off my cap, and said, "I just want to show you something." I pointed at the logo. "Do you see what that says?"

She ignored the question and the cap, and went on with her diatribe, about how President Obama was not responsible for anything wrong in Washington, and so on.

"Do you see what that says?" I asked again, having her attention for a second.

"Yes, it says, 'Memphis Tennessee'."

"No! It says National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN'."

She acknowledged nothing. I silently wondered if she knew what Memphis means in the Civil Rights milieu.

"That's Dr. Martin Luther King's museum," I said. "Have you been there?" She didn't answer, because she was transmitting again.

I said, "I want to clear something up with you. I am not against President Obama. I had a lot of hope for him. I am not against you, either. I have been in more Civil Rights demonstrations than you know. I've also been in more antiwar demonstrations than I can recall. I think you are judging me on the color of my skin. You don't know me, or my heart. You don't know where my heart is."

"Oh, yes I do!" she exclaimed.

"How can you know, by the color of my skin?" I held up my fishbelly white forearm.

"That's right!" she said.

"Oh? Then it's okay for me to judge you by the color of your skin?"

"That's right! You can!"

I was flabbergasted, and wanted to say something about "the content of one's character," but decided it was time to leave, because I was beginning to feel superior.

"We call that racism," I said, leaving.

Sigh. I hadn't said "black racism." What's the point? I can't change her. She doesn't care to know or understand me. She probably doesn't believe that such a thing as black racism can exist. It was depressing, because the whole, brief encounter had reminded me of New Orleans, my old hometown, where I had spent three depressing years, living in my van, after Katrina, and, periodically, endured the bullying, and threatening, black racism there. A black government had been in power 14 years by then, and blacks comprised most of the Police Dept., nearly all of the bus and taxi drivers, and streetcar conductors, and every office in City Hall, and managed many stores and businesses all over town.

Of course, New Orleans, with its horrible history of slavery, and 20th Century racism, is a different story, to me, because, in my mind, if "justification" is possible, nobody could feel more justified in hating the whites, than those tough black people there. They have good reason to suspect whites, more reason, to my mind, than most blacks in Brooklyn, who had civil rights, before they had been heard of in New Orleans.

"Please don't sell me down the river, massa. Please don't sell me down the river, down to New Orleans." It was the worst place, with the possible exception of the Florida Everglades, for a slave to be sold. Only the toughest survived.

I know that. Does she know that? Would it be childish to ask if she had ever been in a Civil Rights demonstration, and, if she had, had she ever demonstrated for the rights of white people? Probably. But, I have a feeling, that she, like many blacks today, justified or not, thinks that whites have no rights, which a black person is bound to respect.

Of course, one can say, "How does it feel?" It feels lousy, just the way they want us to feel. It feels even lousier, when you know, as I know, that I lost my whole, original family, and their trust, when they thought I had gone crazy, because I took the side of the oppressed, black poor. I don't think I deserve to be treated like a white racist. Naturally, neither did blacks deserve their oppression. It's like Clint Eastwood said, in "Unforgiven": "Deserves got nothing to do with it."

That's the way it is. "We all have our cross to bear." Racism is alive, and thriving, in this world, and all over this world, in every race that I know of. It is co-equal with war as the most-malignant force moving on our pernicious, human planet.

I'm not asking Congress to deal with this. It already tried, and failed.

It's my party, and I'll whine if I want to.

July 31, 2011

"The Piping Days of Peace"

I forgot who wrote, “War shall endless war still breed.” (Coleridge?)

Watching President Obama since his election, alternately thrilled by it, and disgusted by his warmaking, and by his concessions to conservative Republicans, and by his patronizing, uninspiring speeches, I find myself still liking him, but detesting his lukewarm domestic, and incendiary foreign policies. How many times, during the last two months, have we heard, “the middle class?” One would think that the middle class is of more importance to politicians than their own families. Many of them came from the middle class, but are of that class no more, and are the owners of property, businesses, “perks,” status, and power. Of course, they are aware that it was this class, which elected them, and which they need to elect them again, if they will continue their lucrative careers in politics.

Another thing that comes too often from his mouth--for they are the magic words politicians must utter at least once daily, to convince us that everything they do is for "the American people." For a better understanding of what I mean by this, please Google Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. He said it better than I ever can.

I remember the 60s very well, because I was in my prime, and a small part of it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was my hero, though I am a white southerner, and, even today, his simplest words make me teary. What a loss. What a terrible loss. Imagine, if this committed and passionate man, this moral and courageous man, assassinated at 39, had been elected to Congress.

Additionally, I remember Bobby Kennedy, a very rich man, who tramped through the shantytowns of the South, the poor white towns of Appalachia, the squalid migrant labor camps of the West, and the ghettos of the North, and sat in smelly rooms with the poor, the aging and hopeless poor, on sagging chairs, with cockroaches all about, and no electricity, and little or no food in the cupboard. Kennedy was not bashful about pointing to the plight of the poor, black or white, and insisting aggressively, but with grace, that it was the nation’s duty to pay them attention, and provide care. I cannot help but compare President Obama to Robert Kennedy. But there is no comparison.

If King and Kennedy were here yet, and still in their lovely prime, they would not be saying, “the middle class.” They would be saying, “the poor.” It is the poorest who must be attended to before all others; before the wealthy, before the military, before the students, and before the middle class. As President Franklin Roosevelt said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Republicans and members of FDR’s own wealthy class, called him, and still refer to him in private, as “a traitor to his class.”

FDR, in effect, created the middle class, when he put money in the hands of the poor, who spent it, helping business to prosper and grow, and for new business and enterprise to become. How quickly we forgot this, in our too-comfortable, complacent, and materialistic lives.

Now I’m reminded of another quote, by John Wilmot, in reference to King Charles II:

“We have a pretty witty King,

Whose word no one relies on.

He never said a foolish thing,

And never did a wise one.”

But the clever King Charles, hearing of it, replied, “That’s true, for my words are my own. But my actions are those of my ministers.”

If President Obama has such wit, we have not seen it, and wit is a sign of high intelligence, as the wit of Presidents Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and John Kennedy and his brothers, and lately, of Senator Al Franken, proves.

President Obama may be intelligent; but he is not witty. He has never made me laugh, and is about to make me cry. Who will follow his likely one-term presidency, which promised so much, and delivered so little? What a loss. What a tragedy. But, if he doesn't light a fire in his belly, and start speaking out for the poor, I won't be sorry to see him gone, no matter who follows him. The "lesser of two evils" is only "the evil of two lessers."

It is like Representative John Conyers (D-SC), a toughened veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, said recently: "President Obama went to Harvard."

And, considering the middle class, I’m reminded of yet-another quote, which, again, I think came from Coleridge:

“Mid thy herds and thy cornfields secure

Thou hast stood,

And joined the wild yelling of famine and blood.”

This is a copy of a blog I've begun at firedoglake.com ("The Piping Days of Peace")

July 19, 2011


I've been going through a serious criticism of my blog by someone whose opinion I valued for awhile. I'm going to post some of it here and then try to analyze and deal with it.

"you mike have a one track mind.
your problem - and it has been all your life - in every one of your damn blog entries THAT I HAVE READ
you only hear your own woes and your own self.
everyone who has met you in this process has pointed that out.
funny, how fifteen people all come to the same conclusion.
and while yours might say "she's still young" mine all say "well he is an angry old man that never grew up"

This person praised my blog to the sky: "There is some good stuff in there." She said it was "strong" and "unique" and other accolades. I admit that those sorts of compliments encouraged me to keep writing. The blog enabled me to finish things and led me to think it was one of the most-productive periods of my miserable 50 years of writing life. I'm not used to people reading my writing, much less praising it. It encouraged me to keep on with it. It was heady praise, and it went to my head of course. When I lost her friendship, my self-confidence went down like the moon, and I lost interest in blogging.

The problem is that I don't know much about anything other than myself. I have opinions of course, strong ones, and think I could organize some things better than they are; but I don't know much about anything, and doubt everything I think I might know. It's my skeptical nature and low-self esteem, which was birthed by betrayals and failure.

But looking back through some of the 190 pieces I've posted here, I can't fully accept the criticism that I "don't listen," and write only about myself. It's simply not true, though it has elements of the truth.

I'm forever re-writing things I read:

"The moments after engaging with a sunset or engaging with a partner in the act of sex are the ones that offer true clarity"

My rewrite:

moments after engaging a sunset or with a partner in sex are moments of true clarity

I wouldn't know.

I've seen thousands of sunsets and remember only one. It certainly was a moment of clarity. The sex I remember ended with temporary unconsciousness but not clarity.

I was walking beside an estuary in Corpus Christi in the early 80's, probably hitching to the university, where I was reading about the Holocaust, when I saw thousands of birds; gulls, pelicans and cranes, standing on rocks rimming the small cove to prevent coast-erosion. They were standing there apparently watching the sunset. I stopped to watch it too.

I was probably stoned. I usually was. I was broke most of the time too, jobless I'm sure, and for awhile I donated blood in one of those plasma-sucking stations that paid 15 bucks for a quart of my vital body fluids every two weeks; but somehow I always had some weed. So I stood there for about 10 minutes completely immobile as our fiery star sank past the curvature of the planet. Then, to relieve my feet, I kneeled.

Every single bird in the estuary lifted off in a flutter of silent wings, hovered a moment, then settled back to the shoreline. They had all been watching me, and, when I dropped into a shooting position, they had instinctively lifted off for evasive maneuvers. I was shocked. They had been watching me. Imagine that a simple act of yours frightens thousands of other creatures into taking flight.

It did not make me feel powerful or important, but small, mean and feared. Other creatures feared me and my species, even as I meant them no harm, and I could not claim species-discrimination. After all, do sea birds shoot at us? Wherever there are birds, it seems, there are two-legged humans killing them for food or sport.

All the other animals must feel the same instinctive wariness, because there isn't a one we haven't killed in great numbers. They know our firesticks. It is in their genes.

At one time it was probably a more-even contest.

There are many many creatures who are our betters in physical ability and ferocity. A bear of any kind can tear us to pieces and eat us alive; a whale can swat a whole boatload of men with a single stroke; tigers, lions, cheetahs, and all other cats,can kill and devour us. A baboon can rip us to shreds with its teeth, a chimpanze can tear us apart with its hands, and our faithful dogs can turn on us and kill everybody in the house. There's hardly an animal out there which a single human can defeat in hand-to-hand combat. Imagine what a wild boar with tusks and teeth can do to a frail or flabby human being. A pig can kick our ass.

We learned to gang up on them, to distract them with drums and poke them with hot sticks, and to beat them to death all at once in a circle of death by rampaging human fury impelled by fear. We learned how to hunt, trap and kill every one of them over time. We are the best predators on the planet; if not the best-looking.

Our intelligence out-matched their strength and ferocity, as Nature would have it, and the smarter ones learned to give us a lot of room, with the noble dog being the only clear exception. This poor animal is probably the only one capable of loving us despite our abuse. Well, we feed them too. Actually, most domestic house-dogs are drugged by their dog food. (As for cats, they are an alien species and parasites of the first order; but they provide us with soothing vibes in exchange for food and shelter.)

We obviously are more afraid of wild animals than they are of us. We've proved we can kill anything on the planet except the cockroach, and the other animals know it. The real danger is if the cockroaches learn it.

The trouble is that there are so many of us, and way too much killing of all sorts. If we keep killing at this rate--species, fish, oceans, forests, air, each other--soon the only thing left to eat will be the cockroaches and each other.

We need to slowly over many generations reduce the population of humans to a manageable billion. There's no reason why each of us can't have hundreds of acres of land and all the resources thereon. Nor is there a sensible reason why we should steal and destroy the natural habitats of the other species. It is clear that all life and systems are inter-dependent. If our quality of life is to improve, the quality of all other lives also must improve. Our arrogant, warlike species has defiled the planet and this must stop. We must rid ourselves of thinking that we can and should control the earth. The planet will destroy us before we destroy it. And it is absurd: we don't control the earth.

It would be so much the easier to do with fewer people and less waste, and, served by robots and machines operated by robots, we could have a happy and serene life. A life perhaps of contemplation or sensation, or whatever we choose. A free life, presumably. Or could we? Life is so complicated and hard sometimes that we can only attribute the cause to human malevolence and stupidity.

But we still would have to put up with cockroaches. They will always be here, feeding on our stenchy waste, searching for and finding food and territory. Rather like ourselves. Of course, they can't make atom bombs. But atom bombs can't wipe them out either. Nothing can withstand radiation like a cockroach.

April 7, 2011

The First Famous Man I Met

The first famous man I ever met was John Nance Garner. He was Speaker of the House of Representatives, and then was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Vice President during FDR's first two terms, 1933-41. Garner was part-Indian; I don't know which part or what tribe, but he was the second most-powerful part-Indian in the whole world for eight years, and rose higher in American politics than any other of Native ancestry. He tried again for the top job against FDR in 1941 (the year I was born,) and lost. He must have served nearly three decades in the House, and was Speaker from 1931 to 1933, when he joined Roosevelt's ticket, after losing to him in the Democratic Primary. A famous quote of his went, “What this country needs is a good 5-cent cigar.”

Another, less-quoted, was "The vice presidency isn't worth a bucket of spit."

For some reason, I knew some but not all of this, although, in 1960, I was only a 19-year old marine, overfull of testerone, totally oblivious to what lay ahead, and hitchhiking to California with transfer orders from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Long Beach, CA, for re-assignment to Okinawa as an amtrack crewman (amphibian tractors.) I was hitching to save money. The Marine Corps didn’t care how you got there, but expected you to be on time. I'd been hitchhiking since about 14, and was averse to wasting money for buses.

Some guy let me out in the middle of Uvalde, TX, about three in the morning. It looked like a car-an-hour would be the deal, and the town was deader than a door nail, except for one place open; a large restaurant across old Highway 90. It had a cater-corner entrance. So I went there.

At first the restraunt looked empty. Tables with white tablecloths and ketchup and a bowl of sugar and salt and pepper and maybe 10 wooden booths with padded leather seats laid out the same, and a counter with about five stools. Then I saw a waitress, an older woman, and could hear a cook moving around in the kitchen. And, way in the back in the last booth, I saw an old man with a table full of papers lit by a green glass-shaded bronze lamp, the kind you see in courts, libraries, and Congress, reading.

I sat facing the counter and the kitchen at a table about 20 feet from where he sat to my far right. We looked at each other and I waved. He waved back. Strangers often did that in Louisiana and Texas then. He returned to his reading, and the waitress approached.

“Oh, do you know Mr. Garner?” she asked, setting down a menu.

“No ma'am,” I said. “Just being friendly.”

“That’s nice,” she said. “Well that is John Nance Garner. He was the vice president of the United States under President Roosevelt. He's our most famous citizen in Texas.”

“Oh yeah, I've heard of him,” I replied. I guess I'd seen something on television or read about him in a magazine.

“Do you know what you want?”

“I’ll have a hamburger with mustard and mayonnaise only; a cup of black coffee and a piece of apple pie heated up with vanilla ice cream on top, after I eat the hamburger.”

“My, that sounds wonderful. “

“I have to wash up. Where’s the bathroom, please?.” I’d been hitching for about 18 hours from Louisiana, my 30-day leave almost expired, and felt grimy.

“Over there,” she pointed to a door behind Mr. Garner.

She went to the kitchen and I walked toward the bathroom. Garner looked in my eyes, so I stopped and stuck out my hand. There was a dead cigar in a big brass ashtray.

“Good morning, Vice President Garner,” I said boldly. “I’m Private Mike Havenar.”

I was in uniform of course. It was easier catching rides that way, and I wouldn’t have imagined wearing anything else at the time. I'd earned that uniform on Parris Island two winters before.

“Well good morning," he said, shaking my hand with a hard firm grip. “What outfit are you with, marine?”

“Sir, I'm an amtrack crewman. Until a month ago, I was stationed at Courthouse Bay, Camp Lejeune. I’m being transferred to First Amtrack Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, on Okinawa. I’m on my way to California. I’m due there in three days.”

“You’ll make it all right. Where are you from?”

“Lake Charles, Louisiana, sir. I was just there visiting my grandmother.”

“And where is she from?”

“She’s originally from Jasper, but she’s lived most of her life in Westlake now, across the river from Lake Charles.”

He said he saw.

“Mr. Garner, can I ask you a question?”

“Go ahead and ask,” he said.

“Sir, what was it like, being vice president?”

He smiled and said, “Like sitting on a cactus for eight years and wishing you were some place else.”

We laughed together.

“Thank you sir. Nice meeting you.” We shook again.

“Nice meeting you too. Good luck, marine.”

I went to the bathroom, came back and ate my hamburger slowly, and then the coffee and pie, and glanced at him a few times. He was absorbed in his reading and writing. I guess that he liked to get away from the house to do it, and this would be the perfect place too; deserted but for we three at three in the morning. Good place to smoke a cigar. Quiet, but with ordinary people about.

The waitress brought yesterday’s paper. I read part of it slowly. The hamburger was perfect, none of this lean cuisine dry fatless and tasteless stuff you get now; the crust of the meat was soaked with tasty grease, and the bun was toasted. The apple pie and ice cream and second cup of coffee were delicious. I smoked a Lucky Strike. I was starved from going all day. I was making pretty good time. I stayed about an hour. Then I left about a 50-cent tip on the table, got up and paid, exchanged a pleasantry with the waitress, waved goodbye to the former vice president, and walked on up the road with my sea bag for about a quarter-mile, turned and faced east, and waited. Nothing was coming. Dawn was near.

I was hoping he’d come along and give me a ride. I don’t remember any of the rides to California, and I didn’t remember that I had met John Nance Garner for years. It just slipped my mind. When I started remembering, I remembered it all. I told my uncle about it when I was in my late fifties. I don’t think he believed me. But why would I make something like that up?

April 3, 2011

Mike's Dream

President Obama strode to the lectern and acknowledged several journalists from the major media as they seated themselves, then launched immediately into the subject at hand: the budget deadline.

"As of midnight tonight, in exactly two hours, the United States Government will be forced to suspend all but vital military and emergency aid services to the American people. Social Security employees will not be on the job; federal funding for colleges and universities will not be forthcoming, and government-subsidized transportation and communications facilities and so on will not be operational. All national parks and recreation areas will be closed. We have prepared a list of which employees in every department are to be laid off, and it is going out as I speak. I order all non-essential federal employees to go home at midnight and to not report until further notice.

"Additionally, because military expenditures and legal contracts cannot be paid on time without a working government, I am ordering all of our military units in every part of the world to suspend operations where safety allows it, since none of this either can be done without funds. We are temporarily closing most of our embassies, including those in Europe, the Far East, and Africa. State and other federal departments will run with a skeleton staff of only the top management officials, without secretarial or other help.

Someone laughed.

"In other words," the President continued, "I am ordering all federal employees other than those previously indicated to stay home tomorrow. Do not come to work, and do not work from your homes. We cannot pay you. I am cutting my own staff by approximately 50 percent."

"Constitutionally, I have no choice in the matter. Congress alone holds the strings to the purse, or in this case the keys to the Treasury. Our Founders wisely decided on this method, with the representatives of the people deciding how taxes will be spent, instead of a lone executive who might become a dictator if he had such power.

"There are emergency funds available to me as the Executive, and I will dispense them as fairly as I can. It is constitutionally up to Congress to find concord on how taxes will be spent. It is my job and constitutional duty to sign or not sign that legislation. In this case, there is no legislation for me to accept or veto. I reiterate that I will veto exactly what too many in Congress are now proposing, and that is why they have not decided whether to pass the bill in dispute. At midnight, by law, or rather for the lack of a law authorizing expenditures, it will be illegal and unconstitutional for the federal government to operate without a budget.

"I bow to the will of the Congress and presumably to the will of the American people, since they elected the members who did not come forth with a budget, and am shutting down the federal government. My hands are tied. It is up to the Congress and the Congress alone to resolve this delimma, and up to the American people as well, to let their will be known, and to make their will be done. That is how it is supposed to work in America. Thank you. Don't worry. God bless the United States of America."

"Mr. President!" shouted the 30 journalists.

"I'm sorry. No time for questions. Well, just one." He chose the guy from the New York Times.

"Mr. President, is there anything you would like to say to the Republicans and some Democrats in Congress whose refusal to pass a budget brought this on?"

Obama considered the question for about 10 seconds.

"It's your play."

And he walked away from a chorus of shouts.

Michele was waiting with a big smile when he returned to the private residence.