Thursday, May 22, 2014

Due Process: It Was Nice While It Lasted

When did the Democratic Party stop supporting peace and civil liberties? Did the party's lofty ideals die with JFK? When I read Thomas Naylor's assertion in his book The Vermont Manifesto that "[t]he Democratic Party is effectively brain dead, having had no new ideas since the 1960s," I scoffed at the seeming hyperbole of the statement. But when you see an entire party vote in practical lockstep in favor of a man whose legal opinion undermined 800 years of due-process law, you can come to no other conclusion than that they've completely lost their way.

At issue is David Barron, who was the co-author of the Justice Department memos that provided the legal basis for the Obama administration to kill American citizens without due process. Barron's justification served as the basis of the administration's assassination-by-drone of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and Islamic militant living in Yemen. His 16-year-old son was killed in a drone strike shortly afterward.

In what was obviously a political favor for giving Obama the legal workaround, the president subsequently nominated Barron for a seat on the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

When the Senate wanted to see the memos, the administration said no, until their hand was finally forced in court. Even now the president forbids those who have seen the memos from saying what’s in them. But it doesn’t really matter, because killing American citizens with no legal representation or trial is blatantly unconstitutional. It doesn't matter whether al-Awlaki was a nice guy or not. As a citizen, he retained his right to due process.

Even more important, Barron's legal sleight of hand sets a terrifying precedent that undermines our entire rule of law. If the president can order an extrajudicial assassination of an American citizen in violation of that citizen's Constitutional rights, then due process is dead, and anyone can be killed in exactly the same manner.

That didn't seem to matter to the Democrats in the Senate, all but two of whom voted to confirm Barron for his judgeship.

I'll bet you think you can guess who the two holdouts were, but if you were thinking of "progressive" leaders Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, you'd be wrong. They voted for Barron, too. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana were the only Democratic defectors.

In fact, Rand Paul, from the Republican side, seemed to be the only person in the Senate with enough courage to actually call out Barron:
What we're talking about is the extraordinary concept of killing Americans who are overseas but not involved in combat. It doesn't mean that they're not potentially -- and probably are -- bad people. But we're talking about doing it with no accusation, no trial, no charge, no jury. ... Are we comfortable killing American citizens, no matter how awful or heinous the crime they're accused of; are we comfortable killing them based on accusations that no jury has reviewed?

... I rise to say that there is no legal precedent for killing citizens not involved in combat and that any nominee who rubber-stamps and grants such power to a president is not worthy of being one step away from the Supreme Court. ... [T]he Barron memos at their very core disrespect the Bill of Rights.
On the Democratic side, the comments were more along the lines of the spineless apologetics from Massachusetts' Ed Markey:
Let's be clear: Barron is ... certainly not responsible for the administration's drone policy or the decisions to authorize an attack. He is a lawyer who was asked to do legal analysis for his client: the president of the United States.
In other words, the Nuremberg defense: Barron was just following orders.

Of course, Barron was absolutely responsible for the administration's drone policy as it pertains to assassination of U.S. citizens. He was the one who twisted the law to give Obama cover for what he wanted to do.

It seems like a long time ago when candidate Obama was decrying the excesses of the Bush administration. Now he's one-upping Bush's appointment of torture-memo author Jay Bybee to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In 1215, the Magna Carta gave voice to the concept of due process under law, and it did not discriminate between good guys and bad guys:
No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution embraced the same concept in the Fifth Amendment:
No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.
This is what we're undermining. Cornerstones of Western legal tradition that have protected the rights of citizens for centuries. Little wonder that Edward Snowden, who saw these rights unraveling before his eyes, said of his heroic efforts:
I want to help my government. But the fact that they are willing to completely ignore due process, they're willing to declare guilt without ever seeing a trial, these are things that we need to work against as a society and say, "Hey, this is not appropriate."  
Someone needs to stand up. And it's apparently not going to be the Democrats, now that they've confirmed to a judgeship a man who should never even be allowed near a judge's bench. It's been clear for some time, to anyone who doesn't wear partisan political blinders, that the Democrats bow to the military-industrial-surveillance complex as deeply as the Republicans do, and that the parties' views on foreign policy and civil liberties are virtually indistinguishable. We already knew of the administration's hostility toward due process, with its repeated defense of the provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens without charge or trial. But now we've gone one dangerous step further. Thanks to Obama and Senate Democrats, there will literally be a war criminal sitting on the First Circuit, one step below the Supreme Court -- which means Barron could one day end up sitting on the highest court in the nation.

Anybody who cherishes the rule of law should be outraged. And every person who was responsible for the nomination and confirmation of David Barron should be ashamed of themselves. They have betrayed the Bill of Rights.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

In Honor of Cascadia, My Home

The Doug Flag, created by Alexander Baretich.
A month or so ago, I was browsing at Left Bank Books, a little anarchist bookstore collective on the grounds of Pike Place Market, when I came across a box of bumper stickers. On top of the pile was a sticker that featured the silhouette of a Douglas fir centered atop three horizontal stripes -- blue, white, and green. It was, unmistakably, a flag. Next to the flag, in all caps, read the command "FREE CASCADIA!"

Somehow, without knowing a thing about what Cascadia was, I felt that it must relate to a movement in the Pacific Northwest -- an expressed desire, perhaps, to take a different approach to how we live our lives here. I bought the sticker, went home, and began my research. Since then I've been to a Cascadia conference and a Cascadia organizational meeting, and for the first time in my life I've dipped my toe into a type of real-life social-political activism.

So, what is Cascadia? Well, it depends on whom you ask, but one interpretation that would find widespread agreement is that Cascadia is a way of thinking about one's sense of place, seen through the lens of our relationship to the natural environment. The lakes, rivers, mountains, waterfalls, flora, fauna, and seas are in large part the things that define Cascadia, which is the name given to our bioregion -- a region defined not by artificial political boundaries, but by shared ecological characteristics.

In the case of Cascadia, opinions vary on what ecological delineations define the region in a geographic sense, though a popular conception of Cascadia takes in a vast space that includes the Columbia River watershed, the watersheds of other Northwest rivers that flow into the Pacific, and a wide area encompassing the Cascade Range and surrounding lands. That conception of Cascadia stretches north into the Alaskan panhandle, south into northwestern California, and east to the Continental Divide and the Rockies. It includes all of the state of Washington, virtually all of Idaho, large sections of Oregon and British Columbia, significant fragments of Montana, California, and Alaska, and tiny slivers of Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, and the Yukon.

©Cynthia Thomas; taken from Sightline Institute.
For others, Cascadia takes on important cultural and political considerations, built around the shared values of the people who live there. That may seem like a tall order when you consider the political diversity of the Pacific Northwest. People on the coast tend to be quite liberal, while the farming communities in eastern Washington are more conservative, and a strong libertarian bent marks much of Idaho and Montana. But in my time here, and having the advantage of comparing this area with both the Midwest and East Coast, I've found one theme that uniquely presents itself across the spectrum, and that's a do-it-yourself attitude. It's probably something rooted in the region's history, when the white settlers were so far away from the population centers on the East Coast, including the nation's capital, that they found it easier, and in many cases necessary, to take matters of governance into their own hands.

Consider that Seattle, the largest population center in Cascadia, is 2,700 miles away from Washington, D.C. That's a five-hour flight even today. How can bureaucrats who are so far removed from daily life here in Cascadia ever hope to understand and effectively address the region's needs? The people best equipped to do that are the people who live and work here, who love the places they call home and know what's in Cascadia's best interests.

That's why there's an emphasis among those in the burgeoning Cascadia movement for taking local action and reclaiming the power to do so -- whether that means standing in solidarity with the region's workers for better wages and labor rights, protecting our waterways from pollution and our forests from being decimated, supporting the rights of the region's indigenous peoples, resisting corporate exploitation of people and the environment, promoting better transportation alternatives, shopping at locally owned stores, or even something as simple as promoting community gardening. It's the myriad small daily actions taken by ordinary people who are here, on the ground, with their roots firmly planted in Cascadia, that have the potential to transform our region for the better. Sitting back and expecting the nation's capital on the opposite coast to do everything for us won't change anything. Neither will blind obedience to its laws and demands. We do things our own way here, because it's the most practical, and most humane, thing to do.

The Cascadian flag flies at a Portland Timbers game. The Portland, Seattle, 
and Vancouver MLS teams compete annually for the Cascadia Cup.
That's not to say Cascadia is an independence movement, although that undercurrent does exist. Maximizing local autonomy, by way of building cooperative partnerships and alliances throughout the region, remains a central focus of the movement regardless of Cascadia's political relationship with D.C., or Ottawa, or the rest of the USA and Canada.

I therefore speak only for myself, and no one else in the movement, when I say that I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of Cascadian independence. I've always believed that accident of birth shouldn't dictate one's national loyalties, and I've long desired to expatriate to a place that better represents my values and would give my daughter the best opportunities in life she can possibly have. That dream, for various reasons, will probably never come true, but one of the things that made the idea of Cascadia such a revelation to me was that I could strive to build the kind of place I'd like to live in right here, amongst many like-minded people -- not in the place where I was born, but in the place I chose to call home. In his novel Ecotopia, Ernest Callenbach envisioned an enlightened independent republic consisting of northern California, Oregon, and Washington, and if Cascadia could strive toward building a new nation based on some of the ideals Callenbach imagined for his Ecotopia, we would be in a good place indeed.

Then there's that matter of scale again, with the people in Cascadia being so far removed from those who rule over them. Can a large nation govern effectively over such a vast area? Does a nation reach a point at which it simply becomes unsustainable and unmanageable? Would it perhaps be more effective to let states and regions go their own way and do what they deem to be in their own best interests? When you get down to it, how much do New Englanders have in common with Southerners, or Southerners with Californians, or Californians with Midwesterners? Is it possible that we're not even so much a nation as a collection of regions long ago cobbled together by misguided notions of Manifest Destiny?

Several authors in recent years have been confronting that very question, from Colin Woodard in American Nations to Dante Chinni and James Gimpel in Our Patchwork Nation. And several other authors all propose a similar response to that question, from Bill Kauffman in Bye Bye Miss American Empire to Leopold Kohr in The Breakdown of Nations, and from Thomas Naylor and William Willimon in Downsizing the USA to the contributors to Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century. The titles should tell you all you need to know about their visions of the future. All things end, even nations, and it certainly does no harm to think about what form of governance, if any, will replace our current systems, and what nations, if any, will rise up in the place of those that dissolve. If we want to, we can even have a hand in building the kind of world we'll want to see. For some of us here in the Pacific Northwest, that's where the idea -- and the ideal -- of Cascadia fits in.

But even if one rejects the idea of political downsizing and chooses to embrace our national mythologies as they've been handed down to us through the generations, the problem with large, unwieldy nations remains: By their very nature, they simply cannot be as responsive to their people's individual needs on a local, personal level as a smaller nation can. And smaller nations, perhaps even more importantly, tend to mind their own business on the international stage. Who wouldn't want that? I know that I, for one, would love to be the citizen of a smaller nation that favors peace over empire and aggression, that doesn't violate its citizens' civil liberties through massive espionage programs and unchecked detention policies, that's more concerned with tending to its people's health, education, and economic sustainability than in handing out subsidies and tax breaks to those who don't need them. A nation that puts people before profits, values family and community over the unbridled pursuit of material gain, and doesn't neglect, belittle, and penalize those who have nothing at the expense of those who already enjoy great abundance. A nation whose citizens respect both the planet they live on and each other. A nation of equal people who make the best decisions for themselves and their communities from the bottom up, rather than the top down. We could have that nation, right here in Cascadia. Getting there would not come without great effort, although peaceful separation would always remain the goal.
I realize that the very word "secession" carries a lot of historical baggage for Americans, but the desire for political self-determination need not be built on goals or ideals antithetical to human liberty. There are breakaway movements all over the world, many fueled by the simple desire for more local control or the pursuit of greater cultural, economic, or social justice. Scotland will hold a referendum later this year on whether it should break away from the United Kingdom. A similar vote in Quebec just barely rejected provincial independence back in 1995. In Vermont, one organization wishes to return the state to an independent republic, as it was between 1777 and 1791. (For more on the Second Vermont Republic movement, check out the collection of essays titled Most Likely to Secede: What the Vermont Independence Movement Can Teach Us About Reclaiming Community and Creating a Human Scale Vision for the 21st Century.) Even here on the West Coast, portions of southern Oregon and northern California once attempted to form their own state -- and they might have succeeded had the bombing of Pearl Harbor not diverted attention away from the idea. And finally, what is the United States itself, but a nation that long ago declared its right to secede from the British empire? All of these breakaway movements were and are built on the basic desire for something better.

And so it is in Cascadia, for those of us looking at the movement at least partially in those terms. If we so chose, we could embark on building a nation that in many ways might stand as an example of how to create a better world. Economically, an independent Cascadia could be a powerhouse rivaling Switzerland. Ecologically, it would be -- and is -- like no other place on the planet. Furthermore, consider that Thomas Jefferson himself expected that as the United States expanded westward, this region would one day become its own separate country, which he referred to as the "Republic of the Pacific."

Maybe Jefferson had the right idea all along. It's certainly an idea worth considering.

First row: Multnomah Falls, Oregon (Adam Sawyer/Craigmore Creations); Mount Rainier as seen from West Point Lighthouse, Seattle (Joe Lourencio/Panaramio); pisaster ochraceus starfish at Point Robinson, Vashon Island, Washington. Second row: Panoramic view of Portland (Little Mountain 5/Wikimedia Commons). Third row: Orca whale in Puget Sound (Carl Wodenscheck/; driftwood at Point Robinson, Vashon Island, Washington; Snoqualmie Falls, Washington (City of Snoqualmie); moss-covered trees; Federal Way, Washington. Fourth row: Panoramic view of Vancouver, B.C. (Tourism Vancouver/Molecular Origins 2014). Fifth row: Mount Hood, Oregon; salmon swimming through the fish ladder at the Hiram M. Chittendon locks, Seattle (Three Sheets Northwest); Mount St. Helens and the remains of a tree leveled in the 1980 eruption. Sixth row: Panoramic view of Seattle (markanon/Panaramio). Seventh row: Olympic Mountains (Dale Ireland/Kitsap Sun); Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver (

But for now, simply increasing people's awareness of the movement is a leading priority. That's why my Cascadian flag is flying today and will be for some time to come. The "Doug Flag," as it's popularly called, incorporates the colors white, for our clouds and snow-capped mountains; green, for our verdant landscape; and blue, for the sky and our vast waterways. The Douglas fir, front and center, is a living symbol of the combined power of all three elements -- of nature itself standing tall, resilient, and defiant.

USGS/Robert Krimmel
Wikimedia Commons
I raised the Doug Flag at my house today because May 18 has been declared Cascadia Day. Some people are marking the day by traveling to the Peace Arch Park at the Washington-B.C. border to unfurl banners that inform passers-by in each direction: "You may be leaving [America/Canada], but you're still in Cascadia!" Work obligations prevented me from going, but I love the symbolism of the event, as a bioregion that crosses an international boundary line is being celebrated at a park that literally straddles that line -- part of it sits south of the 49th parallel, and part of it lies to the north, and those within the park can pass freely back and forth. Perhaps one day, there will be no international border there at all -- just the arch that reads, on one side, "Children of a common mother," and on the other, "Brethren dwelling together in unity."

So why is May 18 Cascadia Day? The date was selected in honor of the day Mount St. Helens blew her top in 1980. That deadly event reminds us of the magnificent power of nature and serves to humble us when we find ourselves under the illusion that we humans call the shots on this planet.

Cascadia is alive, as its flowing waters, lush forests, and active volcanoes all remind us. And today we stand in awe and reverence of the place we call home.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

From McMillan to Yates, the Fight Goes On

Photo: Jenna Pope.
One of the most tragic parts of the Cecily McMillan trial is that the verdict may have turned out different had the jurors been fully informed -- not just of what happened the night McMillan was arrested, but of what fate a guilty verdict would bring, and also of their own rights to judge the merits of the case, regardless of the charges leveled against the defendant.

In the aftermath of the jurors' guilty verdict, one juror came forward and expressed regret, after learning what the verdict could mean for McMillan when the sentencing phase arrives. From The Guardian:
Finally freed from a ban on researching the case, including potential punishments, some were shocked to learn that they had just consigned the 25-year-old to a sentence of up to seven years in prison, one told the Guardian. "They felt bad," said the juror, who did not wish to be named. "Most just wanted her to do probation, maybe some community service. But now what I'm hearing is seven years in jail? That's ludicrous. Even a year in jail is ridiculous."
So why did this juror swing to the "guilty" side? Because the rest of the jury was basing its verdict on the only real piece of video evidence it was allowed to see: a grainy video showing only McMillan's attempt to flee from her assailant, but failing to show the larger context of the widespread police brutality against her and many others in Zuccotti Park that night.
"For most of the jury, the video said it all," the juror said. The juror said that an immediate vote after the 12 were sent out for deliberation found they were split 9-3 in favour of convicting. After everyone watched the clip again in the jury room, the juror said, two of the three hold-outs switched to the majority, leaving only the juror who approached the Guardian in favour of acquitting the 25-year-old. Sensing "a losing battle," the juror agreed to join them in a unanimous verdict.
And that's how a young woman will end up in prison: because one juror, rather than standing firm, felt he or she was fighting a losing battle against the rest. The juror caved.

Had the juror stuck to his or her guns, we could have seen a hung jury and a mistrial -- which certainly would have been a better outcome than what we ended up with.

On one hand, it's hard to fault the jury for seeing things the way it did. The jurors saw one video in isolation. The judge didn't allow them to hear about the police officer's own violent past, about the brutal police crackdown that evening, about how McMillan was beaten on the ground until she had a seizure and passed out, or about McMillan's own commitment to nonviolent protest -- since all of those things would be "prejudicial." Jurors saw an up-close picture of the elbow McMillan hit the officer with, but there were no close-ups of the officer's alleged injury. Prosecutors went so far as to suggest that McMillan faked her seizure and deliberately injured her own breast after the fact.

But on the other hand, how could these jurors have ever seriously thought that finding a woman guilty of assault on a cop would lead only to "probation, maybe some community service"? The system protects its own. There should have been no question that the potential sentence would be draconian.

One thing that seems certain is that these jurors had no concept of the right to jury nullification, and it always amazes me how many jurors seem to be oblivious to it. If some of the jurors were reluctant to find McMillan guilty, they didn't have to, regardless of what they thought the evidence showed them. It needs to be common knowledge among all potential jurors that you are under no obligation to render a verdict in accordance with the letter of the law.

One glimmer of hope is that the presiding judge, Ronald Zweibel, was so biased during the proceedings that the defense may win an appeal on that basis alone. Zweibel has been characterized as "a prosecutor with a robe." He placed a gag order on McMillan's defense team and raged against anything that even remotely resembled support for McMillan in his courtroom. Again from The Guardian:
Judge Ronald Zweibel.
Photo: New York Daily News.
When supporters entered court wearing paper hearts on their chests in an attempted show of solidarity, the judge furiously sent out the jury and ordered a police officer to confiscate the hearts. When a handful chuckled from the gallery at McMillan's bashful recounting of her university days in Wisconsin, Zweibel ordered them to shut up.
When the defense team complained about his tactics, all he did was bark at them to stop talking. From Chris Hedges:
The silver-haired Zweibel curtly dismissed a request by defense lawyers Martin Stolar and Rebecca Heinegg for a motion to dismiss the case. The lawyers had attempted to argue that testimony from the officer who arrested McMillan violated Fifth Amendment restrictions against the use of comments made by a defendant at the time of arrest. But the judge, who has issued an unusual gag order that bars McMillan's lawyers from speaking to the press, was visibly impatient, snapping, "This debate is going to end." He then went on to uphold his earlier decision to heavily censor videos taken during the arrest, a decision Stolar said "is cutting the heart out of my ability to refute" the prosecution's charge that McMillan faked a medical seizure in an attempt to avoid being arrested. "I'm totally handicapped," Stolar lamented to Zweibel.
All we can do is hope that McMillan doesn't become another political prisoner in this country, and that she wins justice on an appeal.

But even if she does, the fight goes on, as these complete abortions of justice will continue to happen over and over again. A case coming up in July highlights another example of police overreach, as Emily Yates goes on trial for the crime of standing in a park and not moving out of a public area when a cop asked her to. As it turned out, the police were sectioning off the area in preparation for a pro-marijuana rally later that day, but they never explained that to Yates. All she wanted was an explanation for why she had to leave an area of a public park where she'd been doing nothing but playing a banjo and singing during a rally opposing U.S. military action in Syria.

Here's how it went down:

Notice how the one cop continues to say "stop resisting" when she's not resisting, and "stop kicking" when there's no visual evidence that she was kicking anyone. She's being bent over a park bench and manhandled, screaming for help and overpowered, unable to do anything else. It's likely the cop knew he was being filmed and said "stop resisting" only to give himself automatic cover in court.

In Yates' own words:
As you can see in the video, I had my back turned when multiple Park Service rangers grabbed me by my wrists, bent me over a park bench, picked me up by my arms and legs, dragged me away from a crowd, dropped me face-first on the ground (as you can see in these photos:, then carried me to a truck, threw me in – again face-first – and dropped me off at the Philly Federal Detention Center, where I was kept for three days without any explanation. Upon my release, I was told I was being charged with assaulting the rangers (while they were manhandling me, not before). 
According to one report, she was ultimately charged with resisting arrest, failure to obey law enforcement officers, and disorderly conduct.

Here are a couple of those photos she mentioned:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

What part of "peaceful assembly" is unclear to these thugs?

The fight goes on. Maybe one day the good guys will finally win.

Monday, May 5, 2014

When Is Enough Going to Be Enough?

How much are we supposed to take?

Virtually every day we hear stories about cops -- ever more militarized and aggressive -- who grossly overstep their bounds, even to the point of killing defenseless people, yet their deeds consistently go unpunished. Well, today came word that Cecily McMillan, the peaceful Occupy protestor who had her breast grabbed and bruised by a police officer, was found guilty of assaulting that officer.

Keep in mind that McMillan was grabbed from behind, and her natural instinct was to defend herself from an assailant. The cop apparently took an elbow to the eye, even though he couldn't seem to remember which eye when he was testifying. McMillan was promptly thrown to the ground and beaten until she had a seizure and lost consciousness. And she was far from the only victim of police brutality that night in Zuccotti Park.

But none of that mattered in court, since prosecutors and the hostile judge in the case seemed to want to make an example of McMillan and the Occupy movement from the very beginning, as if to send a warning to future protestors that if you attempt to peacefully assemble to speak out against the system, the system will find you and crush you. McMillan's lawyers were gagged, and relevant evidence was suppressed, making it difficult for the jurors to know the full story and practically impossible for proper justice to be served.

The moral of the story: If a cop sexually assaults you, you can go to prison for up to seven years. Welcome to Police State America.

Oh, the cops can assault you, of course. That's perfectly fine. Like in San Diego, where the police blasted a man in the face with pepper spray, slammed his face into the pavement, beat him with a baton, cuffed him, and threw him in jail for five hours. The man's crime? Putting up his hood and not responding when police called to him on the street. And why did he not respond? Because he has Down syndrome and the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. He's also 4-foot-11 and 158 pounds. Clearly a menacing threat to the cops.

Do you think the cop who assaulted this mentally disabled man will go to prison for assault for seven years? Hell, no. At last report, he was still on the job.

Always remember that the police are not there to protect you. The Supreme Court has ruled as much. They are only there to enforce the laws the government passes. And they are clearly free to use as much force as they want to, and often do. After all, who's going to stop them?
awsuit states that the deputy “looked Tony in the face and then unloaded a canister of highly irritating pepper spray into Tony’s face and eyes,” beat him with a weighted baton, slammed his face on the pavement and cuffed him.
awsuit states that the deputy “looked Tony in the face and then unloaded a canister of highly irritating pepper spray into Tony’s face and eyes,” beat him with a weighted baton, slammed his face on the pavement and cuffed him.
awsuit states that the deputy “looked Tony in the face and then unloaded a canister of highly irritating pepper spray into Tony’s face and eyes,” beat him with a weighted baton, slammed his face on the pavement and cuffed him.

The Cecily McMillan travesty follows other recent judicial rulings in which the cops can now pull you over merely for driving in a "stiff" position with your hands at ten and two on the wheel, and you can be stopped and searched on nothing more than someone else's anonymous 911 call. So much for probable cause.

As we await McMillan's sentencing, we would also do well to keep in mind that while she almost certainly faces time behind bars, other people who actually deserve jail time get none. If you're a rich kid, get behind the wheel drunk, and kill four people, you get 10 years of probation and nothing else, because you suffer from "affluenza" and can't discern right from wrong because of your privileged status. Or if you're a wealthy heir to the DuPont family fortune, and you rape your own 3-year-old daughter, you get zero jail time because you wouldn't "fare well" in prison. Eight years of probation is good enough for violating your own 3-year-old child.

But if you elbow somebody who's grabbing your breast, and the assailant happens to be wearing a little tin badge? It's prison for you, after being railroaded in a kangaroo court.

In other acts of judicial malfeasance, the Supreme Court won't hear Chris Hedges' case against NDAA indefinite detention, upholding a lower court's ruling that he and his co-plaintiffs have no standing, in that they can't prove that they face any threat of being detained under the detention provision. Under those requirements, the only person who could ever bring a suit would be someone who's already been detained under the provision -- but the provision indefinitely denies detainees the right to a trial. So there's no way to create "standing," so the law can never be struck down. (Not that the Obama regime would ever let it be struck down, considering the zeal with which the administration has defended it so far -- a zeal that, Hedges believes, suggests that the administration is already holding people under the provision.) Consequently, the American military can now pull you off the street, here in the United States, and lock you away for as long as it wants. And as the executive branch has already shown, it will go so far as to assassinate American citizens without due process.

[Related: Chris Hedges: The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies]

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court does everything in its power to tip the tables in favor of the super-wealthy. The poor continue to be marginalized in every imaginable way, not to mention vilified as lazy freeloaders who steal our hard-earned tax dollars -- when it's the super-rich who place the burden of paying for the safety net on the rest of us because they use loopholes and overseas shelters to skip out on paying into the system.

What does our "progressive" president do about all of this? Not a thing. He stands by while the FCC prepares to undermine net neutrality to favor huge corporate interests, after campaigning for president in favor of net neutrality. He signs a farm bill into law that guts food-stamp benefits to the poor, while saying the bill will keep poor people from starving. And he turns the government's illegal surveillance of American citizens into a punchline.

What an embarrassment this man is.

Of course, I'm sure he's happy to have allies in sorry excuses for men like John McCain, who, when it comes to surveillance overreach, tells us it's "something you've got to accept." I wonder if he thinks the people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and God only knows where else also just need to "accept" having bombs drop on them from Obama's drones, leveling villages and killing women, children, and other innocent bystanders. In case you need a visual representation of how our Peace Prize winner is doing in comparison to his predecessor:

That's more than 2,000 dead on Obama's watch, with over 40 added to the total in April alone.

To top it all off, China is set to overtake us as the world's largest economy, and Canada's middle class has already overtaken us as the world's richest middle class -- even as Canada manages to pay for its citizens' health care and greatly subsidizes college education. Let me put that another way in case it's not clear: Canada makes sure its citizens get the health care they need, without making them worry about how they're going to pay for a massive pile of hospital bills, and it makes college affordable enough that new graduates don't go out into the world burdened by a crushing load of student-loan debt that can't even be discharged in bankruptcy -- and the Canadian middle class is still the richest on the planet. Maybe, just maybe, Canada's tax regulations and spending priorities aren't as screwed up as ours.

As for China ... well, we long ago shipped our manufacturing jobs to China, in a corporate race to the bottom to see who could get the cheapest labor, with no regard for American livelihoods, or Chinese human rights. We're now seeing the end result. Sure, the latest jobs report shows we're creating new positions here in the USA, but most of them are in the low-paying service sector -- things like cashiers and waiters. We simply aren't replacing the higher-paying skilled jobs that we lost. That's why it's such an insult for people to take swipes at service-industry workers and say they don't deserve higher wages, because if they only had the proper skills or drive, they'd have a better job. Well, guess what? Those low-paying jobs are increasingly the only ones available, which is how you end up having people with master's degrees serving coffee at the corner Starbucks. Try supporting a family on $7.25 an hour. And try walking in their shoes before you judge them. Bootstrapping is a nice fantasy, but it's not reality for a lot of people in an economy that's been raped by corporate greed.

[Related: An Apartheid of Dollars: Life in the Minimum-Wage Economy]
Yet when you have somebody come up with an idea to fight back against the oligarchy and dismantle the corporate state, people shoot the messenger and ignore the message. Consider Ralph Nader's new book Unstoppable, in which he argues for creating left-right alliances to fight against corporatism, militarism, civil liberties, and other issues whose solutions can easily transcend one part of the political spectrum. The reviews of the book have been fair enough so far, but the comments sections for most of the online articles invariably take shots at Nader, whether from right-wingers who see him as a left-wing avenger, or from left-wingers who still blame him for the 2000 election -- as if Al Gore was somehow entitled to every vote on the left. Nader calls for us to rise up out of our partisan camps and find common ground for the good of the country, and people respond by doubling down within those same partisan camps.

(Best comment I've seen so far online in response to the knee-jerk Democrats-good-Republicans-bad-Nader-even-worse mentality that keeps people voting for the lesser of two evils: "We definitely need to keep a Democrat in office. I was worried during the last two elections that if a Republican got in office there might be the constant threat of new wars, we might not see the end of Citizens United (or, heaven forbid it may be expanded), there might be increased surveillance, corporations might not lose power, there might be an attempt to establish more 'NAFTA' style free trade agreements, the wage gap would increase, social programs might be cut, and we'd see less government transparency ... what a nightmare that would have been." Ouch. Truth hurts.)

Sadly, to a lot of people in this country, Cecily McMillan got what she deserved, the poor are all lazy freeloaders who just need to work harder, and being ideologically partisan is more important than trying to find common ground with one's opponents for the sake of the greater good. Tea Party activists are derided as ignorant, rednecked "Teabillies" or "Teabaggers" who want to create an American theocracy, while Occupiers are dismissed as violent, clueless college kids who think they're all Marxists but really just need to take a bath and get a job. The stereotyping and incessant juvenile name-calling are enough to wear a person down.

Some days I just lose hope that things will ever get any better.

In fact, if I could, I would simply throw up my hands, leave this mess of a country behind, and never look back.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Remembering the Real Labor Day

Flags are funny things, aren't they? Ultimately, they're just colorful pieces of cloth that people hang on poles and fly in the breeze, yet the symbolism they convey is powerful enough to make some of us pledge oaths to them, fight for them, even die for them. Some people, conversely, burn them in protest of what they represent. Either way, flags become a strong focal point for our emotional relationships toward what they symbolize.

Starting on the Sunday before Earth Day, I raised the Ecology Flag outside our house, and it's remained there until today, in recognition of the ongoing struggles our planet faces and the care we need to take of her. On Earth Day itself, I replaced it with the Flag of the Earth. The Global Climate Convergence movement asked us all this year to take the period between Earth Day and May Day to focus on the need for an "emergency green economic transformation," before it's too late to turn the tide. Flying our flags here at the house was a reminder to myself to be aware of my role in changing the world for the better, and it was a small display of solidarity with our Mother Earth.

Now we reach May 1, which in itself is a day strongly associated with our natural world. The ancient pagan celebration of Beltane honors life and fertility, as the Northern Hemisphere of the planet shakes off the cold and darkness of winter and embraces the light and warmth of spring and the approaching summer.

But May 1 is also an important day in the history of the labor movement. We don't think about it much in the USA, since Labor Day is months away here, but May Day is recognized as a public holiday in honor of laborers and the working class in more than 80 countries around the world. Labor Day was deliberately placed on another day besides May 1 in the USA so that it wouldn't be seen as a celebration of an incendiary moment in labor history.

That moment? The Haymarket Massacre.

Workers around America had been campaigning for more humane working conditions, and in an 1884 convention, a gathering of workers decreed that May 1, 1886, would mark the date by which the eight-hour work day would become standard practice. Strikes were planned for that day around the country, and the largest of them was in Chicago, where workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company had been locked out over a labor dispute.

On May 3, a rally was held outside the McCormick plant, where several workers had crossed the picket lines and gone back to work, alongside replacement workers. When the protestors moved to confront the strikebreakers at the end of the work day, police surged toward the strikers, guns drawn, and opened fire. As many as six people were killed. 

August Spies, an anarchist labor activist in Chicago, had spoken to the gathered strikers that day and urged them to stand together by their union. Outraged by the unprovoked violence from the police, Spies appeared the next day at Haymarket Square, to speak to a rally organized by local anarchists.

The gathering remained peaceful as a large contingent of police officers looked on. Chicago's mayor, who was also present, suggested that "nothing looked likely to happen to require police interference" that day. Rain eventually drove most of the crowd away.

Only around 200 people remained when the police, numbering around 180, suddenly moved in and ordered the crowd to disperse. 

At that moment, somebody threw a bomb into the crowd. No one knows who. But the blast killed police officer Mathias J. Degan, and gunfire began ringing out in response. Several witnesses said all the gunfire came from the police. But before it was all over, seven police officers and at least four protestors were dead, and dozens more were injured.

In the aftermath, anarchists and labor activists were vilified. Police raided meeting halls and conducted warrantless searches of the homes of suspected anarchists. Scores of arrests were made. "Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards," the state's attorney said.

Ultimately, eight people were charged with being accessories to the murder of officer Degan. Only two of the eight had been at the Haymarket rally when the bomb went off -- Spies and Samuel Fielden -- and they were both stepping down from the speakers' wagon at the time of the explosion. In other words, none of the accused was the bomb-thrower.

But the public wanted revenge, and the justice system delivered, by making examples of eight men known for their activism in anarchist and labor causes. The presiding judge was openly hostile toward the defendants, and most of the jurors expressed prejudice toward them before being seated. It was in this kangaroo-court environment that seven of the defendants were sentenced to death. The eighth, Oscar Neebe, was given 15 years in prison, though he asked to be executed along with his fellow defendants when the sentences were handed down.

Four of the men -- Spies, Albert Parsons, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer -- met their ends at the gallows. Another, Louis Lingg, committed suicide in prison. Two of the remaining three -- Fielden, and Michael Schwab -- had their sentences reduced to life in prison after petitioning for clemency.

Fielden, Schwab, and Neebe were eventually pardoned, after John Peter Altgeld, a labor-friendly progressive, became governor of Illinois. By doing so, he sacrificed his own political career. But as he was said to have told his secretary of state, "No man has the right to allow his ambition to stand in the way of the performance of a simple act of justice."

Within a few short years, nations around the world began commemorating May 1 as International Workers' Day, in the continuing fight for the eight-hour work day -- which, of course, has since become the standard thanks to the tireless efforts of the labor movements of those times -- and in honor of those who died in connection with the Haymarket Massacre.  

In our current age, as income inequality reaches record proportions, and as we learn that law-enforcement groups worked at the behest of corporate and elected leaders to violently suppress grassroots citizens' protests during the Occupy movement, we would do well to reflect on how history often repeats itself, and how the struggle for basic fairness for the poor and working class goes on even today. 

As for the anarchist movement, it's been widely characterized as dangerous and violent ever since Haymarket, from which the stereotype of the radical bomb-thrower was probably born. Some who associate themselves with anarchism do the movement no favors when they engage in random acts of vandalism and destruction, but it's also fair to say that the popular notion of anarchy is misguided, perpetuated largely by people in positions of power who want to keep people afraid of anarchists. At its core, anarchy is simply the opposite of hierarchy. It doesn't have to mean random chaos. To the contrary, many, if not most, anarchist movements wish only to build an egalitarian, democratic society, built on a horizontal basis of self-determination at the personal or community level -- a level playing field, in other words, in which everyone has an equal voice, as opposed to the top-down hierarchical structure that characterizes most social and political constructions. Decisions over people's lives, anarchists believe, should be made by those people, at the local level, since local decision-making is, by its nature, more responsive to the needs of the people than a far-flung, unaccountable bureaucracy hundreds or thousands of miles away.

My notion of what anarchism is -- or at least should be -- squares with the views J.R.R. Tolkien held. In writing to his son, he once proclaimed:
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs). ... [T]he most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.   
Noam Chomsky distills anarchist philosophy down to a simple challenge to established systems of power:
The basic principle I’d like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified or be dismantled. To me, that’s anarchism: the point of view that people have a right to be free, and if there are constraints on that freedom, you have to justify them.  
There are many flavors of anarchism -- since anarchism remains an idea in the theoretical realm, there are many opinions as to how it would work in the real world -- and the one I identify with most closely is anarcho-pacifism, which, as you'd expect, rejects any form of violence in the fight to tear down the existing system. Thoreau and his acts of civil disobedience against the state certainly constitute some of the earliest philosophical foundations for modern anarcho-pacifism. Leo Tolstoy and Dutch author Bart de Ligt are also regarded as two of its primary proponents and most formative thinkers. Their argument, one with which I agree, is that the state is inherently violent, relying on force -- either explicit or implicit -- to make people comply with the law. Therefore, legitimate opposition to the state also requires opposition to force. Gandhi's acts of passive resistance would certainly be an example of anarcho-pacifism in action -- fighting the system with unblinking resolve, but without violence.

The anarcho-pacifist flag, then, is half black and half white. The black represents the traditional flag of the anarchist movement, colored black to represent a sort of anti-flag, in symbolic opposition to the notion of a nation-state. White flags, in contrast, have traditionally been used as signs of peace and non-aggression. Think of the white flag that requests a truce in battle, signifying that the person holding the flag is not armed and will not resort to violent means.

While I'm still not sure I identify as an anarchist, I do identify as a pacifist, and anarchism makes more sense to me than any other political philosophy I've encountered so far.

So in honor of the day, the labor movement, the Haymarket martyrs, peace, and political self-determination, today I fly my anarcho-pacifist flag.

Happy May Day, everyone.