Saturday, June 30, 2012

UnArmed & Dangerous! Musicians, poets and artists against attacking Iran, Mercury Cafe, today

UnArmed & Dangerous!
Public Event · By Colorado Coalition Against Attacking Iran

Saturday - today, June 30 - at 1:00pm until Sunday at 12:30am
Musicians, Poets & Artists Declare NO MORE WAR! NO Attack on Iran!

1pm doors open, meet, greet, eat, drink & be merry

Art on display and for sale all day

1:30-3:30: Cost of War workshop by Veterans for Peace,
film "True Cost of War"

4-6pm Films about Iran, it's people, culture, history

7pm traditional dances by Iranian Cultural troupe

Music, Poetry featuring Phil Woods & our Words-Against-Warriors

8pm Elena Klaver & Friends

9pm HipHopRapPoetExtraordinaire Chris Time Steele

10pm Kate LeRoux Band

Mercury Cafe Denver
2199 California St., Denver, Colorado 80205

I will be one of the poets reading today.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Affordable Health Care and the poor

This is a good indication, provided by Andrew Sullivan, of how the very poor (and I mean very poor) are doing in the United States. It is a reason why Affordable Health Care - that nearly everyone can get some kind of health coverage, that one is not disqualified for breathing (a preexisting condition) is an enormous victory.

Ironically, Chief Justice Roberts voted for the Heritage Foundation health care proposal - the most rightwing though decent health care proposal - and that this was unlikely. He seems to have made a decision that after Citizens United (and Bush v. Gore), the politicization of the Supreme Court is too obvious. The role of money in American politics is very disturbing - Scrooges like Adelman can buy candidates personally...- and likely to make it increasingly hard for decent candidates to get elected anywhere. Roberts opted, in other words, to preserve the facade of the institution rather than making it even more unspeakable politically.

To see why Occupy is the future, one needs but to meditate on these statistics and what they mean:

"The Poorest Of The Poor

Are getting poorer:

Consider this: in 2010, 6.7 percent of Americans were among the extreme poor, as compared to 5.2 percent in 2007 and 4.5 percent in 2000. That's a 50 percent increase in the fraction of extremely poor individuals -- the greatest increase, by far, of any income group relative to the poverty threshold. The unambiguous statistical trend since 2000 has been large increases in the fraction of Americans at the extreme end of poverty, with little to no change in the fraction of Americans considered "near poor." The poor, in other words, are getting poorer -- or more precisely, poverty in America is becoming an increasingly extreme and unequal phenomenon.

In a follow-up post, Evan Soltas adds:

The mean real income of Americans below the federal poverty threshold is at a historical low, $5957 in 2010, after stagnating since the 1980s. It is important to explain here that the Census determines the threshold by calculating the minimum income needed for a minimally adequate standard of living, not in comparison to the income distribution -- poverty here is absolute, not relative -- and so the drop in incomes of the poor means that they can provide a lesser and lesser fraction of the goods and services seen as necessary for themselves and/or their families. The current level represents a 4.1 percent drop since 2000. More disturbingly, the mean individual below the federal poverty threshold makes 13.3 percent less in real terms than what he or she did in 1976. The poor haven't felt any sort of rising tide lifting all boats, so to speak. Instead, they are the worst off they've been in decades."

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The importance of law: fundraiser in London Tuesday for the campaign against joint enterprise

On Tuesday, June 26, there will be a fundraiser in London for the campaign against joint enterprise (below). The joint enterprise law enables all who are present or who can plausibly be associated with a person committing an act of violence to be charged themselves with the same act. See here. This results in Britain in an enormous number of people being jailed (17% of the prison population with life sentences compared to 3% for the rest of Europe is one indication) with a predilection for young blacks. But the predation extends, as this event indicates, to whites as well.

Jordan Cunliffe, a white 16 year old who suffered from acute keracotonus (he can only see some colors; he is effectively blind), was in a group of boys who had a confrontation with Garry Newlove. Newlove had been told by his daughter that they were vandalizing a neighbor's yard. Two of the young men struck Newlove, one kicked him in the throat, and killed him. These two men were rightly tried for homicide.

Cunliffe was present but did not take part in the attack. Though legally blind, the prosecutor, with the aid of a corrupt judge, excluded direct medical testimony at his trial about what the nature of keracotonus is (the case would not have survived). As a result of joint enterprise and prosecutorial and judicial malfeasance, Cunliffe was convicted and has now served four years in prison (part of a 16 year sentence; a 30 year sentence is a life sentence in Britain).

Prime Minister David Cameron singled out this crime as an example of "broken Britain." And he is certainly right that the assault itself was a horror. But what is broken in Britain (and in a different way in the United States) is the law. According to Blackstone's ratio, it is better than ten guilty men go free than that one innocent is thrown away. Jordan Cunliffe is blind. Jordan Cunliffe did not part in the assault on Gsrry Newlove. Jordan Cunliffe is in jail.

His mother Janet Cunliffe will speak about the case.

Worse yet, many more innocent people - especially young blacks and Asians - are in jail in England, which has a police state proportional, in terms of population, to the United States (the United States holds 2.3 million people in prison, 25% of the world's prisoners).* What happened to Jordan Cunliffe shows strikingly how an abuse against minorities extends at last to everyone. how whites also are hurt by racism as a form of divide and rule, how Pastor Niemoller's statement first they came for the Communists and the jews and I did nothing, and at last they came for me, and there was no one left to protest, lives on.

The other speaker is Paddy Hill, as IRA member, part of the Birmingham 6, wrongly convicted of a bombing in England. He served six years but has been found not guilty on appeal and released. He is, as it were, the Communist in the Niemoller poem.

It is easy to take law frivolously, to go on about one's life, to think that the presumption of innocence is of no great importance and that it is better to throw away "criminals." It is not.

Tabernacle presents:

Tuesday 26 June @ Tabernacle, London

For ticket information, see here.

Joint Enterprise: Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) is a grassroots Non for profit campaign made up of volunteers who have loved ones wrongly convicted under Joint Enterprise. JENGbA is supporting over 300 prisoners who are maintaining their innocence including men & women and sadly many, many children as young as 13. Our aim is to highlight the abuse of this law to convict large number of people regardless of their involvement in a crime. We demand that wrongful convictions are reviewed retrospectively. Please come and support JENGbA’s UpRISING. You will learn how our British Justice system is systematically and corruptly incriminating innocent people. Don’t stand by and do nothing as this can and will affect someone you know.

Guest Artists:



Guest Speakers:

PADDY HILL – Member of the Birmingham 6. Falsely imprisoned for 17 years

JANET CUNLIFFE – Mother of Jordan Cunliffe – Imprisoned under the unjust joint enterprise law for a crime he did not commit or even see – He is Blind


6.30pm DOORS



* There are substantial economic motivations in the corruption of the law, the increase in the prison population and the privatization of prisons in both societies. "In Prisons, Privatization, Patronage," New York Times, June 22, 2012, here, Paul Krugman underlines the discoveries by New York Times reporters about the privatization of prisons, the brutalization of prisoners and the escape of some who need to be locked up in New Jersey. He traces the extraordinary role of Governor Christie, once a lobbyist for Community Education Centers, in these abuses. Krugman underlines that privatization of core state functions - for the US, the military as well as prisons and, he could have added, voting (consider the role of computerized voting on machines which left no paper trail and for which the companies refused to allow government and other experts to look at the programs in the 2004 Presidential election), for England, prisons - is merely a boondoggle, a collaboration of the state and large companies, in the absence of competition, to make more expensive and corrupt every public activity. The motive of the politicians is gaining some short-term revenues from selling off assets (or hiding the real numbers of troops involved in aggressions and escalations); the costs are often kicked down the road and hidden by smooth words.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What is the meaning of the naked corpse in Plato’s story of Gyges?

In teaching at Metro, I ask students to consider the tales in Plato’s dialogues and to some extent the arguments (depending on the question that is asked, the context in which it is asked) as inviting further questions rather than being settled conclusions (that one reads a dialogue and supposedly knows, in the form of theses, what "Plato" means). This is true especially of the stories in the Republic (and, of course, related images – for instance, that one who could know and teach virtue would be like Tiresias, the blind seer in Hades who alone among the dead can see (see here and the end of the Menohere and here).* The analogy with Socrates is striking.

Plato's stories are multifaceted, glittering, like dreams and poems about which it is often hard to name, let alone exhaust the significance.

Sometimes, students come up with startling insights from which I learn. For instance, Zachary Young wrote a short paper for me on the ring of Gyges, Glaucon’s tale of successful injustice, loudly praised as justice, in book 2 of the Republic. Many students conclude, cynically but with a lot of truth, that the story just expresses what mainstream politicians are (the corporate press providing the ring, ordinary politics the cave).

One can say Socrates or King is a counterexample – and perhaps nearly all the people in the civil rights movement – but the story has always, as in the Lord of the Rings or The Portrait of Dorian Gray, exerted a fascination. This post is a third part of a sequence on the ring: see here and here.

I often say about the story that the chasm that opens in the earth during a storm and a sudden earthquake and into which Gyges descends repeats the movement of going down of the first line: “yesterday I went down to the Piraeus with Glaucon, son of Ariston…,” and of the cave and of the myth of Er.**

On the surface, Glaucon tells the tale to suggest that everyone who had a ring of invisibility would be unjust. And one can then live, he says, "like a god."(360c and Adeimantus, 365b)

But the hollow wooden horse with metal doors that the shepherd Gyges finds in the dark is a Trojan Horse, something that deceives Troy and causes its fall. Does it perhaps deceive Gyges as well?

Gyges, intrepidly, crawls in and finds a large naked corpse with a golden ring on his finger, takes the ring, returns to the surface, sits among shepherds, discovers that turned a certain way, the ring makes him invisible (just like Bilbo Baggins in the first scene of the movie of Lord of the Rings), gets sent to the capital to report on the numbers of sheep, sneaks into the queen’s room and jumps on her – “seduces,” Plato says (360a-b), but this is a patriarchal description of rape. Compare Herodotus’s story in which the queen, who has been shamed by her foolish husband who sneaks his advisor Gyges into a corner behind a door to view his wife, whom he says is the most beautiful women in the world and thus, again, reminiscent of Helen of Troy - is the main actor here and here. In both Plato's and Herodotus's version, however, Gyges and the queen plot to kill the king and Gyges becomes king.

Zachary, however, focused on the naked corpse. Isn’t this a hint, he suggests, that those who do such crimes do not end up happy? That to be like a god, as the ruler-"father" often assuming a quasi-divinity, is not to be a god (gods are, after all, immortal...).

That those who listen deeply to the story might not heed the course vividly recommended on the surface by Glaucon? That the corpse is, in fact, an inner mirror of Gyges, what his soul, too, will become, a prisoner of the ring?***

In the most obvious sense, the body is dead; we humans are all mortal. And so, the greatest pretensions and appearances accomplish little.

There is a Sumerian tale of Inanna in which the goddess unrobes to go down for her judgment in the underworld…See here.

Second, Glaucon's tale focuses on appearance, not soul or inner reality. One can trick oneself up, ascend to the highest and most seemingly protected places (Adeimantus’s worry at lines 365a-b****), and still end up naked and dead. All the striving of pretence and doing evil while appearing good ends up – a waste of one’s life – in this buried place.

And third, as I noted, the occupants of the horse tricked Troy and destroyed it. But warriors on all sides, as Homer tells us in the Iliad, end up dead. Some die an admirable death, a death which fits who they are. Thus, Achilles accepts his fate in going down to avenge Patroclus and kill Hector. His scene with Priam – see here – is one of the most striking in Homer, one in which the bereft father, whose city is ravaged, and is now, on the "threshold of old age," near death, kisses the murderous hands of Achilles who will never again see his own father. And they achieve some compassion, some understanding, not yet dead…

Socrates resembles Achilles in going down…

How many returned home? And at what price, as we see, in the case of Odysseus? (see Jonathan Shays, Odysseus in America on how difficult the shock of war, ptsd and so forth, described so vividly in Homer, is).

What Plato does in the symbol of the naked corpse in the Trojan Horse is to suggest, within the story and counter to Glaucon's obvious meaning, how Gyges’ search for power and domination avails him little.***** To be such a person, as opposed for example, to doing philosophy or living a quiet life or going down as Socrates – or Achilles - does for asking questions and seeking truth and honor (obviously, a parallel, but not the same), ends up sprawled naked in the coffin horse of one’s own (self-) deceptions.


* At the beginning of book 3 of the Republic, this line is supposedly to be excised along with others about the scariness of Hades in Homer. But this line differs from the others. See here. Particularly as a demonstration that a question wrongly posed leads to a mistaken argument (Socrates wants to pursue the question: what is virtue? but in coquetting with the beautiful Meno, ends up pursuing the question: can virtue be taught?), the Meno would have less power without this final image.

** I also ask the question in the course: who is in the cave? It is in obvious that Socrates is not in the cave, that that is where he goes, descends to be rended or put to death. But as I pointed out, the very first line of the Republic: I went down to the Piraeus signals this theme of which the various meanings – the cave of politics, the quarries, as another student Rich Rockwell has pointed out, in Syracuse in which the Athenians die in Thucydides' History, the cave of the trial of Socrates, see here - are a realization.

***What the ring does to Smeagol/Gollum and to Frodo in Lord of the Rings captures the underlying spirit of this story and a theme of the Republic.

****At 365c-d, Adeimantus offers an explicit tyrannical (in modern terms, police state) description:

"After all, the philosophers have proved that appearance is mightier than reality [sic - not Socrates!] and hence the true lord of happiness. To appearance then, one must turn one's efforts without stint. A man must deceive. He must don costumes andcontrive stage-effects that impart the illusion of virtue even as he heeds the wise Archilochus and trails behind him the wily and subtle fox. If another objects that it is not always easy to conceal wickedness, the answer can only be that nothing great is easy. In any case, if one wants happiness, this is the way to go. One can cover one's tracks by organizing political clubs and secret brotherhoods and by relying on professors of rhetoric [such as Thrasymachus] who teach the art of persuading courts and assemblies. And so, partly by persuasion and partly by force, one can make illicit gains and yet go unpunished."

On Thrasymachus from book 1, see here, here, here and here.

*****Plato transforms the resonances of Troy compared to Herodotus - he does this with all earlier stories he takes up; both, however, suggest a fatal self-deception. For Candaules, the king in Herodotus's story, boasts that his wife is the most beautiful woman, reminiscent of Helen of Troy, to his aide Gyges. Puffed up with hubris, Candaules does not have to have her stolen. Instead, needing to brag to others, he does himself in without any foreign plot or taking his people to war. He is self-deceived.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Poem: coil e d

made a speech the last day of the strike
I made the Pakistanidean turn over in his house
the palace could not contain the strikers
the man’s politeness, arm around my shoulder
I walked with him by the jeweled
lake where a trust of sky
spotted the earth with vines
found words lying about
coiled amidst stones
nectar of cactus air of the
unatomed desert
a place to walk signs of unwritten
perhaps you can see them now

waterplacards them

to the page

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Phil Woods' poem "The Klan in Colorado"

The University of Denver long owned the Phipps Mansion, donated by one of Denver’s wealthy families, and the Graduate School of International Studies used to have an early evening reception there for beginning students.

I always made it a point to tell people the story of how Senator Lawrence Phipps was a Klansmen (it was openly an upper class organization in Colorado when it reigned in the 20s and early 30s during its second wave…).

Phil Woods sent me a poem about his family, the Klan in Colorado and the resistance to it. For a poem about slavery and "Blind Willie Mctell," see here.


How many blacks even lived
In Colorado in the Twenties?
Yet WASPS went bananas.
Got to keep these damned Catholics
& brown & black people down.
Got to keep America pure.
So they marched in their hoods
Through downtown Denver.
Elected a member governor.
Had the mayor as a fellow traveler.
Burned crosses all up & down
the front range.
Old timers remember the flames
on Ruby Hill,
On the mesa above the Coors plant
The fiery cross lit the night sky.
But then came the push back.
Ten thousand marched from
Regis University to Arvada.
Said No to burning churches
& tearing up the Bill of Rights.
The mayor was a smooth operator.
Knew just when to change sides
When a different wind
Started to blow.

But in 2012 the Romero Troupe,
Just for fun & justice,
Ridiculed the secret hand shake
& the pointy hats at the steel worker's hall
Down in Pueblo. At intermission
My dad's half-sister
Told me a story I never knew.
She said when her father,
My grandfather Melvin,
Moved into the house
On the St. Charles Mesa,
Just east of the Mafia nightclub--
The Silver Moon—and the
Broken smelter ruins
Where my father stumbled
On a still & an irate Dago guard
Who told him to get the hell
out of there.
Yes, this modest house with
Chicken coops & a barn
Also had a basement.
With two abandoned crosses.
My other grandfather-- a Celt
With Scottish & Irish
Catholic blood had a devil
Of a time getting on with
The fire department
& just made it before
Turning forty. Even then,
The WASPS needled & raged
On him trying to force him
to quit.
It never dies out completely--
That Nativist virus.
Radio demagogues like
To stir it up for fun & profit.
Just ask Glenn Beck with
His brand new $100 million contract.
If Hitler was alive now,
Do you think he'd be on FOX?

Phil Woods

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How joint enterprise undermines the rule of law in Britain, part 1

In America, it is easy to look at England and think that there is a respect for the rule of law, dating back to the Magna Charta in 1218. In contrast, for the United States, torture became a routine practice of the Bush-Cheney regime. While Obama has abolished certain forms of torture, i.e. waterboarding, he has let the torturers go free. There is a bipartisan consensus (a legal regime in Yale constitutional lawyer Jack Balkin’s phrase) that elite criminality – a violation of American domestic laws against torture as well as international laws which America often sponsored and are the highest law of the land according to the Supremacy Clause, Article 6 section 2 of the Constitution – can be engaged in with impunity. War criminals (the entire Bush-Cheney officialdom with the possible exception, about torture, of Colin Powell) go free. See here, here and here. John Brennan the torturer under Bush is called by one-time authority about war powers Howard Koh a “priestly man” with regard to counselling Obama’s horrific policy of selecting far off candidates for extinction by drone. See here.

Corrupted by power in this major respect, Obama grandly makes himself personally responsible for killing anyone near a supposed terrorist and says: if a young man hangs out with terrorists, and is killed, that is another “terrorist.” This may lighten the conscience – Barack does, comparatively, want to avoid the larger scale murder and war that Romney hungers for in seeking to bomb Iran or attack Russia – but it is false.

In elite circles, it used to be said that guerillas and terrorists hide among civilians so that “collateral damage” – i.e murder of innocents - is “necessary.” Though an apology for murder, that lie acknowledges some killing of innocents. The current doctrine is mere guilt by association, a form of collective punishment.*

And the Democratic neo-neo cons say that the mass murder of innocents in several countries the US is aggressing against without declaring war – Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, for instance – is on a smaller scale than that of all-out aggression and occupation (Iraq, Afghanistan). So Barack is, his publicists point out, tougher than Romney, more focused (he did, after all, take out the murderer Bin Laden) and less of a would-be wanton mass murderer a la Bush. But as head of the Empire and “commander in chief” of the war complex, he, tragically, still sends out the drones...

The Obama administration lets all the bankers who swindled the poor though collateral debt obligations and brought down the world economy walk free – and the other party, the imperial authoritarian 1%ers, wants to undo even the inadequate Dodd-Frank regulations. Yet Obama fiercely punishes those who have or are accused of having blown the whistle on American crimes. Bradley Manning, not Dick Cheney or Condi Rice or Lloyd Blankfein, is on trial, and America is angling, with Swedish prosecutorial aid, at bringing Julian Assange, an Australian who published the documents, to one of its, by now pseudo-courts.

In a startling contrast, the Law Lords, the British high court, declared that there is an absolute prohibition of torture. Habeas corpus, that each person arrested must have a day in court and neither be tortured nor indefinitely detained, is in force. On the face of it, British justice looks and is very different from the American travesty of law.

And yet the British prison/probation complex I discovered in my recent visit to Oxford and London to talk about Black Patriots and Loyalists and its implications today is quite similar to the American. See here. Some years ago, Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights commission, wrote an article on how 10 young African- or Afro-Caribbean Britons were in jail for every 6 that are in university. Last Thursday, he mentioned to me that at the Russell universities (a British attempt to extend Oxford and Cambridge into an Ivy League), the ratio is today 3 to 1.

Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow*** traces how the segregationists, switching after the Civil Rights movement from the Democratic to the Republican Party pushed for mandatory sentencing and fierce drug punishments, and expanded the prison system 8-fold, from 300,000 to a startling 2.3 million today, 25% of the world’s prisoners. And there are 5.1 million more trapped on probation, unable to find work, live in public housing, and often, to vote...

But England has, I have learned, for its population size, broadly similar statistics and practices. Many young blacks (and Asians and poor whites) are unemployed – the rate was 45% in 2007 for blacks before the economic collapse – and is probably much higher now (h/t Lee Jasper).

And those who rebel against police murder as in the nationwide uprising starting over the murder of Mark Duggan in a police car,**** are being ruthlessly denounced as "criminals," whether they engaged in significant criminal activity or not, in a strange form of collective punishment called joint enterprise, and imprisoned. And this is a general police practice affecting young blacks, Asians in Nottingham and whites in Liverpool.

Note a parallel to the U.S. – the drones punish collectively, the policing of “gangs” in America punishes collectively (in Denver, when the police stop and harass you for walking while black or chicano or poor white, they list you in a gang; the next time you are stopped, you are already on a list, ready to go…), and so in England, joint enterprise.

This is no small abridgment of the rule of law. In England, 17% of all prisoners are “lifers” (a 30 year sentence is considered a life sentence there); in the rest of Europe outside of Russia, 3% of all prisoners are lifers. As we will see, the doctrine of joint enterprise contributes substantially to this difference.

Centerprise, the wonderful black history bookshop and Jamaican restaurant (136-38 Kingsland Road), is one of the places that welcomed me in Britain. See here. Emmanuel Amevor who runs it, has created a kind of community center in which a lot of people come through. I gave the keynote talk in their midsummer literary festival Wednesday night, along with Lee Jasper, who worked with radical mayor Ken Livingston of London (The Livingston administration put a tax of 15 pounds on driving into the city which only the well-to-do pay and subsidized public transportation. This policy is today unusually redistributive: a Robin Hood compared to the reverse Robin Hood of Tory and, even more sharply, “Republican” tax policies).

Emmanuel introduced me to Dougie who has a very lively radio show I was on in the early morning on Wednesday on SCR radio (10:30pm-2AM). Through him, I met three women who are at the center of JENGbA – Joint Enterprise No Guilt by Association. See the website with a very good account of the abridgment of law and justice here and some striking stories on 300 people, mainly teenager, accused without significant evidence and sent to long prison terms here.

Gloria Morrison, one of the leaders, talked to me about Kenneth Blackwell, her son’s friend, a young black man who was over at her house a lot, and was arrested because he had some friends, one of whom was involved in a stabbing. Kenneth was a would-be police officer, tried to break up a potential fight, and was knocked unconscious from behind and lying on the ground when the incident occurred. Committed to do the right thing, he later helped the police, testifying about what happened. He was still sent away. The story reminds one of Kafka...

“Kenneth Alexander

Kenneth's Story

Ken was 19 working full time and training to be a youth offending officer.
He and his school friends were attacked by another group of men during which one of them was fatally injured.

Initially Ken tried to quell the fight telling them ‘they didn’t want any trouble’ and he turned his back.

He was knocked semi-conscious to the floor where he tried to extricate himself from the ensuring struggle. and it was agreed in court that he did not have a weapon nor did he participate in attack.

Ken co-operated fully with the police believing it the ‘right’ thing to do. It was his testimony that helped the CPS get convictions including his own 16 year Life joint enterprise murder.”

For Kenneth's "case," nothing had to be proved other than that Kenneth was in a group of people who knew each other, fighting with another group. Knowledge that another person, perhaps an acquaintance, perhaps a member of the other group, had a knife and would, in the moment, stab someone, was inferred, grotesquely, without the slightest need for evidence. He was even knocked unconscious (did someone else commit an assault? is he "jointly" guilty of knocking himself out?).

What Kenneth did in the situation was disregarded. His aid to the police was disregarded in the sentencing as well as his ambition to be a police officer. His commitment to "the right thing to do" was disregarded.

Gloria Morrison, a white woman who knew him well and could cast light on his character, was not consulted in the process of sentencing.*****

Consider the use of Joint Enterprise: one person present does a stabbing, a serious crime for which he or she should be arrested and prosecuted. But everyone possibly connected to him or her, either being present or being injured on the ground and unconscious or being outside or having phoned her recently, is also convicted and sent away for life.

If this is professional police and judicial work revealing British commitment to the rule of law and differs from tyranny, someone could get a Ph.D. for coherently explaining the difference….

Absent racism, an attempted apology would, I am afraid, be vanishingly short.

Teenagers, boys and girls, often hang out in large groups, part of their normal socialization in many societies. To stigmatize groups of certain races or classes as “gangs” enormously magnifies the amount of persecution done by the authorities and the number of “likely criminals.” Combine this with high unemployment (larger than 50%), weak schooling (though this has improved since the 1980s), cutbacks in community centers and services, and one has a blueprint for the police falsely criminalizing and disproportionately jailing a whole population...

Magnifying ordinary stop and search procedures (specially for the poor, black and Asian), joint enterprise enables shaky and racist police procedures.

Joint enterprise itself is a legal term which 300 years ago was used about dueling. Both the duellers and a doctor who would patch up survivors as well as assistants/companions were part of the joint enterprise and subject to criminal charges. Or consider bank robbers and the driver of a getaway car. The law once had something like a specific and plausible justification.

But there is now a tyrannical creep or "laziness" in the law, as JENGbA says. This “law” is now used against stigmatized parts of the population – blacks, Asians and poor whites – to deter “gangs.” It has peregrinated so if you call a friend on a cell phone and the friend later commits a crime, that is sufficient “evidence” - without any knowledge of what was said - to convict the phone caller of conspiracy to murder and throw her away for life.

British law, Gloria explained to me, is common law. Very weak evidentiary standards have been handed down from judge to judge furthering implausible notions of conspiracy.

There had been no parliamentary discussion of the merits of this extension until a 2011 Judicial Inquiry hearing which issued a report criticizing it (now, the American congress has farcically passed mandatory sentencing, crippling the necessary role for a judge and a sentencing hearing in each particular case; having a serious legislative discussion depends on the courage of and decency of representatives and is hardly a guarantee – but it probably works out better most of the time). This parallel House inquiry was sparked by rank and file protest against this law.

But for blacks and poor Asians and whites currently, the law is inverted, the verdict is guilty many times over until proven innocent. And once one is enmeshed in the machinery of justice, once one has been found guilty in an ostensible legal proceeding, it then takes a great deal of evidence to prove one’s innocence….

In British law, Gloria describes Blackstone’s ratio: better that ten guilty men escape than that one innocent man suffer (William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in the 1760s)...This is the principle of a free regime, a regime which respects the rule of law and restricts the enormous, often arbitrary power of government compared to any individual. Joint enterprise and the mass imprisonment of BME (black minority ethnic) lifers reveals today's reversal or betrayal of this cornerstone of English justice for a large part of the English population (it undermines law, as Pastor Martin Niemoller reminds us, for everyone).

In corporate politics and the press – Britain is full of news this week about Prime Ministers and party leaders testifying because they were yo-yos for Rupert Murdoch and his criminal activity**** - there is no consideration of structural and increasing inequality, the continuing racism toward dark-skinned, formerly colonized or enslaved peoples, the demeaning that goes on every day. Tony Blair referred angrily to black youth as a “feral population,” David Cameron as “criminals” and to “broken Britain.” One can only be inspired by Cameron's fine appreciation of law as shown in his appointment as his communications director of indicted Murdoch executive Andy Coulson and friendship with indicted Murdoch executive Rebekah Brooks...

During the uprising last year, Darcus Howe, a West Indian Briton, was interviewed on the BBC. He spoke heartbreakingly of his grandson, an “angel”, who had been stopped and frisked twice a month by the police for the crime of walking while black. See here. One might try, he suggested, to understand the cause of the rebellion - one of patterned injustice without stint as John Locke describes how an elite provokes revolution in his Second Treatise. Howe identified this rebellion as part of Arab spring and Madison and Greece and Spain, an unwillingness of many now to accept fierce injustice.

In the interview, Howe had to say twice that of course, he opposed the violence. The foolish racist who asked questions and the man sitting silently beside her actually had a story from which listeners might have learned and tried – unsuccessfully – to bury it.

As an American, one thinks of English bobbies who do not carry a gun in Piccadilly or near Parliament. One thinks of English civilization, of habeas corpus, of Blackstone’s ratio. But for black people, Asians and many others, including the white poor, the rule of law does not exist. Mark Duggan was executed in a police car near Tottenham police station on “suspicion” of having a weapon…

Kenneth Alexander, a would-be cop, was thrown away…

Breathing while black is as much a “crime” in Britain as in the development and persecution of gangs in the United States. Yes, gangs are a serious problem in both societies. But many people are labeled gang members because the police harass them, and then write them down as gang members (no evidence beyond the cop’s imaginings). They go into a file, and the next time, they are stopped…

If one takes bad schools, constant disparagement by the politicians and the BBC, police harassment, and massive unemployment, many kids will still go through this and not fight back. These are after all very young people, often swept up in bizarre unfairness as if in a Kafka story. Yet they may still, as we will see in a subsequent post, get thrown in jail for a long time under joint enterprise. JENGBA below has some 260 stories, and between 5 and 10 new ones coming in weekly.

Others will get frustrated, angry and act out.

The energy of the elite in Britain is as ferocious toward poor black, brown and white teenagers as it is in the United States. They are given little to no chance. And they react accordingly.

In an era of fierce cutbacks and enormous rises in college tuition (Britain emulates American debt-slavery to the banks; university now costs some 12,000 pounds a year, Lee Jasper notes) coupled with greater than 50% unemployment for young people and police bigotry and harassment, is it any wonder that there is trouble in Britain comparable to the United States?

An Article on Joint Enterprise from the JENGbA website

Joint enterprise is a law used when the police cannot prove who the perpetrator of the offence was. So for example you are walking down the street with a friends or relative.Your friends/relative gets into a fight, you're at the scene watching what is happening obviously thinking that it has nothing to do with you, it’s not your fight. The fight ends everyone walks away. The next day you are arrested on the suspicion of murder, you find out it wasn’t just a fight you witnessed, the person who your friend/relative fought with was fatally stabbed. You tell the police ‘ I was there but it wasn’t me’. You feel confident because you played no part, you didn’t know the person was going to be or had been stabbed.

You are then charged jointly with murder! You know you are innocent but it will go to trial. The prosecution will allege that you were part of a common purpose or plan, you were there for encouragement, you are equally guilty. The prosecution will ask if you knew whether your ‘accomplice’ had a knife, you will of course deny this, you thought it was just a fight. The prosecution will then allege that you should have known what was in your ‘accomplice’ pockets because you are best friends or relatives etc etc. The prosecution will allege you shared the same intent as the murderer, he will go on to trash your defence with his wild speculations during his closing speech. His whole speech will be intent on damaging your character because he has no solid evidence against you, he barely mentions your co-accused, he doesn’t have to, the evidence presented in court has secured his first conviction. He will save his closing speech all for you, attacking your character and making sure the jury learn that you are no scared little chicken sitting in the back of class too afraid to speak with your school teacher.

But the jury won’t take too much persuading, after all the standard of proof is set frightfully low in joint enterprise law. Your life has been placed in the hands of 12 people who don’t know one end of the law from the other. It takes a person 10 years to qualify as a barrister and yet a jury of 12 people with no law experience are expected to understand such complex laws like joint enterprise in 3-4 weeks. The jury will go on to convict you because of one or two things. 1. ‘There’s no smoke without fire’ the prosecution has done his job by attacking your character with totally unwarrented speculations, or 2. They just don’t understand the complex law of joint enterprise or worse, they can’t be bothered to work it out – after all they have sat through a rather lengthy trial. Conviction number 2, really good day for the prosecution.

Ok so now you think, ‘ I’ll appeal, I know I am innocent’. You will then be told that you can’t appeal on the basis of your innocence. Why? Because juries don’t get it wrong. The fight you will have on your hands to over turn your conviction will be way bigger than you can ever imagine. Why? Because the ‘Justice System’ doesn’t like to admit they have made a mistake. You will still fight though there is nothing left for you to do apart from a sentence for a crime you haven’t committed. Things will get a whole lot worse before they get even a smidgen better. The newspapers will print that you are a murderer, that you joined in with the fight. They will crush any chance of people believing you, you will feel trapped. Because you keep maintaining your innocence you will stand little chance of parole. Why? Because maintaining your innocence is not showing remorse therefore you are not rehabilitated because you are not sorry for a crime you did not commit.

Someone said to me not long ago that juries should be told how difficult it is to have a murder conviction over turned. Some Juries will more than likely go on to convict under the illusion that if they got it wrong a higher court will correct their mistakes. This is wrong, courts do not like to over turn convictions and admit their perfect system is wrong.

Other people are serving life sentence’s because of simply using their mobile at the wrong time. Another is serving a life sentence for being a good samaritan, unfortunately all he did was offer the wrong person a lift. Another person is serving life because he was asked to burn out a car for the insurance money, little did he know that the car had been used in a murder, and there you have it – another miscarriage of justice.

This is joint enterprise, I know you will probably not believe what you are reading but these things happen, this is real life. If you think Joint Enterprise will never affect you think again! Remember all you have to do is be in the wrong place at the wrong time or even innocently use your own mobile phone. This law is unjust and is crying out for an amendment that will set the standard of proof extremely higher than what it is now. But don’t worry I know you will be thinking this simply couldn’t happen to you….. Could it?

(Posted in JENGbA's Facebook Group)


February 1, 2012 — Interview

Written by Liz Fekete

An interview with Gloria Morrison, Campaign Coordinator of JENGbA (Joint Enterprise – Not Guilty by Association) which is a prisoners’ support group made up of the friends and families of people convicted under the doctrine of joint enterprise.

Liz Fekete: Since its launch in 2010, JENGbA has pointed out that the law on joint enterprise is a mess, and that hundreds of people have been convicted of serious crimes, such as murder, that they did not commit. Now, following public hearings in October 2011, the Justice Select Committee has called for reform on the grounds that ‘the lack of clarity … on joint enterprise is unacceptable’. Do you see the Committee report on joint enterprise as a vindication of your campaign?

Gloria Morrison: Absolutely! What you have to realise is that for a long time it was virtually impossible to get our voice heard. One problem is that the law is extremely complicated. The doctrine of joint enterprise, also known as common purpose, forms part of the laws of secondary liability which has evolved through common law. In cases of murder it holds that the secondary party is liable for murder on the basis of foresight of the principal party’s action. It’s all very technical, and there’s all sorts of caveats, and qualifications. So if it’s really hard to get people to understand what the law’s about, it’s going to be hard to get your criticisms across.
But there is a second, much deeper problem, here. There is a lot of anger directed against campaigners against miscarriages of justice if those campaigners are friends and families of those convicted for serious crimes, especially murder. We are always mindful that these crimes have victims, and that murder is a heinous crime. So it’s not easy for a prisoners’ support group to get its voice heard, particularly if many of the cases it deals with are convictions for murder. But we are a grassroots campaign and there are a lot of us. We just kept hammering away, and we forced the issue. To be fair though, ever since the (then) Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips stated in 2006 that the law was unfair, there has been a lot of disquiet in the legal world about joint enterprise, and a legal campaign has run parallel to ours. The Committee on the Reform of Joint Enterprise was set up by lawyers and eminent legal people, and they said that the application of joint enterprise was a mess. But we do believe that the issue would not have been taken up by the Justice Select Committee if there hadn’t been a grassroots campaign.

Tell us how the law affects BME communities specifically.

GM: Well, let’s first look at the data. (A vexed issue in itself, as the government does not keep any data on joint enterprise convictions, which makes it hard to categorically prove that it’s a discriminatory law.) When JENGbA gave evidence to the Justice Committee in October, 256 people challenging their convictions under the laws had contacted us. (Since then, we are getting between five to ten new cases a week.) But if you take this original data, you find that of these 256 cases, 152 are from BME communities – African-Caribbean, Asian, Irish, Travellers etc. This also reflects the areas of the country where the police and CPS have a greater tendency to use joint enterprise. While the families we represent come from all over the country (save the south-east, we don’t have any cases there), it is in the bigger cities – Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, London -where the law is used the most, and these are the cities where more BME people live. Sixty per cent of the prisoners we are now in contact with are from BME communities. Overwhelmingly, our prisoners come from poor neighbourhoods and because of cuts to legal aid they have often been failed by poor legal representation, getting very bad advice at the time of their arrest.

But it’s also important to point out that JENGbA is made up of people from all ethnic backgrounds. In fact we were started by two white women, myself (I am second generation Irish) and Jan Cunliffe. We got together after we were interviewed for the Panorama programme ‘Lethal Enterprise’. I was interviewed because I had been supporting my son’s best friend, Kenneth Alexander, an African-Caribbean lad who was 19 at the time of his conviction for murder, even though the judge confirmed he did not have a weapon and did not take part in the fight which tragically led to the loss of another young man’s life. Jan, who is from Warrington, is the mother of Jordan Cunliffe, 15 at the time of his conviction for the joint enterprise murder of Garry Newlove, even though Jordan is blind, had no contact with the victim and the court accepted he did not inflict the single fatal blow which killed Mr Newlove. So while the law affects all communities, irrespective of ethnicity, there is no doubt in our minds that the way it is applied by the police and CPS disproportionately affects BME communities.


GM: Joint enterprise is a sledgehammer in the hands of the police and the CPS when it comes to fighting ‘gangs’. The whole widening of the application of the law in recent years is totally linked to the police’s approach to knife crimes. Now anyone, who has a modicum of understanding about the reality of young people’s lives, knows that the joint enterprise laws do not deter young kids from carrying knives. But instead of having a real debate as to why young men, in particular, feel unsafe on the streets, we have all stood by while the police mis-use the law to scoop up young people at the scene of knife crimes. This is why we say joint enterprise is a lazy law, because it allows the police and CPS to secure multiple convictions, in cases where they are unable or unwilling to gather evidence, including forensic evidence that could prove categorically which individual was responsible for the crime.

If you take a look at JENGbA cases, approximately 30 per cent of the cases we have dealt with so far involve particularly serious offences carried out by young people who are perceived to be part of a gang. But we know our data is not giving the full picture. We’ve encountered many problems here. For a long time, we could not contact prisoners held in YOI’s [young offender institutions] because we only had a PO Box, which they were not allowed to write to. So that was one problem. But there is also a complexity when it comes to the way young people handle their sentence – issues like loyalty (or is it fear) of their peers – which we as adults, find it hard to get a handle on. But we also feel there is a reluctance amongst the families of young people, particularly in the black community, to come forward. Could it be that because of the whole media furore around ‘black on black crime’, because of Operation Trident and the way the gangs issue is seen as a black issue, that these families feel somehow that they are also guilty by association, that they should not make a fuss, that they will hounded by the media if they come forward and campaign? One African-Caribbean mother in JENGbA believes it’s because criminalisation has become accepted in the black community, that most black people know someone in prison, and they just don’t talk about it anymore.

We were quite clear in our submission to the Justice Select Commitee and in all the subsequent media interviews that the widening application of joint enterprise has nothing to do with targeting organised gangs, major criminal conspiracies, drug traffickers etc. The main targets are groups of young people gathering in the streets, or adults caught up in the kinds of random violence that are a depressingly familiar feature of poor neighbourhoods.

One thing that the Leveson Inquiry should look at is the unhealthy relationship that has developed between the police and the media. Our families are absolutely crushed by the way the newspapers report the so-called high-profile cases. What we find is that the facts of the cases are totally sensationalised in newspapers, with a steady trickle of prejudicial information, citing unverified ‘police sources’. These stories even make up the names of gangs – such as ‘MDP’ ‘Abbatoir Gang’ ‘Market Street Boys’…

GM:Exactly! Because it makes for a salacious story, elevates the case into a cause célèbre and establishes a highly prejudicial environment in which to secure convictions. Now, if a jury sees five young black friends in the dock, they don’t see five individuals, but one black gang. The jury might be influenced by racist media stereotypes, and because of this they may find it difficult to separate, apportion responsibility, determine culpability. Seven black kids in the dock immediately becomes a dangerous black gang, because that is exactly the way members of the jury are taught to see black boys by the media.

We even had to point this out to the Select Committee, prior to the hearings. We contacted the clerks as an image was used on the committee’s website to illustrate the fact that the inquiry was going to take place which in our view played into exactly these frameworks. The picture used was of two kids in hoodies, they looked black, and were lurking in a doorway. We told them that the choice of such image just served to reinforce dominant perceptions that joint enterprise is a way of dealing with feral youth and gangs, particularly black gangs. We raised this with the clerks, and to their credit they went away and removed the image from the website immediately.

So racism comes in to play with convictions under the joint enterprise laws, yet Gary Dobson and David Norris have just been convicted under the same joint enterprise laws for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Isn’t this contradictory?

GM: Well, I don’t see a contradiction at all. The same reasons why Doreen and Neville Lawrence could not get justice are the same reasons that black kids convicted under joint enterprise can’t get justice today – it’s the same issue of poor policing, just different times and different issues. When Stephen was killed, the police didn’t even bother to secure the evidence at the crime scene. It works in a very similar way with joint enterprise. And let’s ask ourselves this: joint enterprise has been around for a long time, why didn’t the police use it at the time of Stephen’s murder? The way I see it, the convictions of Dobson and Norris are not a victory for joint enterprise. All that it proves is that the police pursue the law when they want to, not when it is right, and not when it is just. For eighteen years they could not secure a conviction of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence, yet the prisoners we represent have been convicted on very little evidence, and this mostly circumstantial, certainly not forensic evidence. That’s why we have always said that joint enterprise is a lazy law that allows for lazy policing.

The Justice Select Committee has asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue guidelines on the proper threshold for prosecutions under joint enterprise. If you were advising Keir Starmer what would you ask him to do?

GM: We are currently working with lawyers to draft our own guidelines. One thing for sure is that it has to be used much more sparingly and with greater care. It must not be used as a convenient way of sweeping up potential defendants, including bystanders, and there must be a much tighter definition of foresight or intention. Degrees of culpability should be reflected in subsequent sentencing. What we want to do is get a meeting with Keir Starmer, and make sure that JENGbA, and the lawyers we work with, are part of any process prior to the issuing of the new guidelines. We are in the best position to understand how the law has failed – and we should be part of the process of change. In our evidence to the Committee, we were quite clear that the misapplication of the joint enterprise law is not just a subject demanding of legal remedies in the future. The families of prisoners, who have borne the emotional toll of a miscarriage of justice, have been denied legal remedies in the past. That is why we are calling for a retrospective review of all joint enterprise convictions. Once the guidelines are out, we can use them as a benchmark against which to review all our cases. And then we can see just how many people would not have been convicted in the past, if the guidelines had been followed then. We are going to get this retrospective change, come what may.

The campaign had an uphill struggle, but now you are getting a massive amount of press coverage. Do you think the climate is changing, and if so why?

GM: I do think there’s been a sea-change. It’s been very difficult for us. As I’ve said, we are friends and families of people convicted for serious crimes. People have been killed and that is awful. But what we have seen in recent years, and this is not easy to say, is the politicisation of certain victim organisations, that have become very close to the police, and may also, at some point, have received funding from the Home Office. A few of these groups stand for a certain sort of ‘vengeance culture’ and many of their members even argue for the return of the death penalty. (Remember that one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice which was also prosecuted as a joint enterprise was that of Derek Bentley and he was hung!)[1] In this climate, it has not been easy for us to show that our prisoners’ and their families are victims too. Some of them, like Jordan Cunliffe, who is also disabled, were children when they were convicted and have been locked away for years for a crime they did not commit. It is not easy to talk of prisoners as victims in today’s climate.

However, we saw in the response to the Justice Select Committee that there has been something of a change, even in the BBC, where for the first time we have been invited on to television news and onto radio programmes like Today. Our voice has been sought and listened to. We have been given fair time to present our case. I do believe that something is kicking in, in society. Maybe there is, somewhere out there, an innate sense of justice, about what is fair, about what is wrong. We feel that now we have a foot in the door.


GM: Education is really important. We want to continue our educative role, telling young people about this law, about the dangers about being caught up with an incident that they couldn’t foresee. In the past, we had a small start-up grant, but this is long gone. We don’t need a lot, but we do need an office because we are a campaign that is growing. We do need money and we need stamps. We write letters to all the prisoners who contact us, and we send out a regular newsletter. This is a huge cost in itself and one paid for by the prisoners or their families. It’s not fair. We consider joint enterprise along with the question of the IPPs [indeterminate sentences for prisoners on the grounds of public protection] the biggest injustices in the criminal justice system today. We need stamps … we need an office … we are a campaign with legs … we need a retrospective review of the law … Only then will we stop.



The House of Commons Justice Committee report on Joint Enterprise here (pdf file, 472kb)

*Note that Obama killed Osama Bin Laden, a mass murderer of innocents, with a sophisticated operation which did not require drones. See here, here and here.

**See the fine speech of Margaret H. Mitchell, chief justice of the Massacuhussetts Supreme Court, a Radcliffe day medalist, on the assault on judicial impartiality and the rule law in the United States here (h/t Hilary Putnam). She comes from South Africa and has a deep understanding of racism and what has been good about the United States, fought for below, and how it is threatened. Her assessment of Justice Scalia is apt and frightening. Her remarks begin 30 minutes in.

***As I discovered on this visit, Alexander’s book is not yet widely known among activists in Britain. It reveals many parallels and deserves to be. See here, here, here, and here. Two days ago, there was an anti-stop and frisk March of thousands in New York...See here and here:

"Mr. Jealous [Benjamin, Jealous, head of the NAACP] rejected the argument set forward by Mr. Bloomberg and the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, that stop-and-frisk policing reduced crime and improved the quality of life in black and Latino neighborhoods.

'Stop-and-frisk is a political tool, victimizing one group of people so another group feels protected,' Mr. Jealous said. 'It’s humiliating hundreds of thousands of people.'

According to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union, during the 10 years of the Bloomberg administration, the police have performed 4,356,927 stops, including 685,724 last year. Among African-American males ages 14 to 24, the number of stops last year was greater than their total population."

****The police lied about it, but commendably the Independent Politics Claims Commission revealed that only police bullets were fired.

*****Murdoch’s assistant Rebekah Brooks, a close friend of David Cameron, will go to trial for eavesdropping on and publicizing conversations, for instance, about Gordon Brown’s son. The case broke open because one of Murdoch’s agents tapped into the cell phone of a murdered teenage girl, and deleted some messages, giving false hope to her parents that she was still alive. That Fox continues in the United States, that the issue is not even raised, and that Rupert Murdoch is not banned from the news business and subjected to criminal investigation is as blatant an example of the rule of money in these societies as there can be.

******I also spoke with Hesketh, a teacher for 35 years, two of whose students whom he thinks well of, were arrested under joint enterprise and sentenced. He, too, was not consulted during sentencing….

Monday, June 18, 2012

On Resonance FM London today and tomorrow at 8 pm (1 pm Denver time)

I will discuss Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence with Richard Marshall of 3:AM magazine on Resonance FM 104.4 in London at 8 o'clock this evening (1 pm in Denver, noon in California, 2, in Chicago, 3 in the east) and the same time tomorrow here or here. These are both hour long shows and so, we have an interesting and wide-ranging discussion. They will also be available for podcast soon on Resonance's Suncloud site.

For the interview with Richard Marshall, see here.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A letter to Evergreen college students boycotting the Israeli occupation

Whitney Bard, my step-daughter, is part of the ecologically conscious and egalitarian Flaming Eggplant Café collective at Evergreen State in Olympia, Washington. When the proposal was made last fall to boycott Israeli products because of the occupation (see the Yossi Sarid commentary – “Human Beings whose bodies are one big black star” below – h/t Helena Kennedy), the collective members began a process of deliberation, debate and study, resulting ultimately in consensus. Whitney asked me to write a letter to them which I did below.

I admire the BDS (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) especially for its nonviolence but I should note: the third demand for resettlement of the houses that were stolen in the original ethnic cleansing is probably unworkable if there is to be a two state settlement, one which will stop the killing and head off further, escalating war (Netanyahu’s and the Republicans’ idea of bombing Iran) or even a decent one state settlement (one democratic state, preserving the rights of every citizen). The Israeli government will need to accept some resettlement in what is now Israel – some of the $3 billion given yearly for arms by the United States could be directed to such purposes - and at minimum, compensate others for their stolen property. But that is something to be worked out by that government in negotiations over a settlement with the Palestinians and need hardly be in the demands raised by a movement from below.

BDS is a powerful, nonviolent movement for justice and deserves support.

For related posts on possible solutions in this new century, see Harriet Feinberg’s letter on what a regional Middle East and Mediterranean might look like here and here.

Here are the mission statement and one in support of the boycott by the Flaming Eggplant, my letter, and a telling article by Yossi Sarid:

Mission Statement

As a student-worker collective, the mission of the Flaming Eggplant Café is to nourish the local food system by making delicious, healthy, ecologically and social just food accessible to all. We strive to empower the campus and greater Olympia community to organize, study, teach, seed, and create an egalitarian society together beginning with the act of eating.

Statement of Principals

Our intention as a collective is to foster a strong, healthy and compassionate community by:

-supporting local food systems and the local economy
-supporting political participation and direct action to create a just and egalitarian society
-providing a safer space for community participation, engagement and enjoyment
-providing education opportunities around nutrition, food systems, collective business management and anti-authoritarian decision making
-promoting transparency within our organization, the food system, and society as a whole.


We, The Flaming Eggplant Cafe, have decided to join the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott Israeli products. “These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.” (from the Palestinian Civil Society call for BDS)

Our Mission Statement outlines a commitment to serving socially just food. Israel’s policy of illegal land seizure and destruction on Palestinian lands means purchasing items from Israel is in conflict with our mission.

As a student-run collective with the stated principle of supporting direct action for a just and egalitarian society, and as a café representing the student body at large, we feel it is important to uphold the desire for boycott and divestment as voted for by the students at The Evergreen State College.

Here is my letter:

“Dear Flaming Eggplant Collective members,

Whitney has told me of your commitment to the earth, to food, to treating each other and others as equals and with fairness. She has told me some of your struggles about this issue, since in no society do these things come for free, and we are raised in a very inegalitarian regime though one with important hopes for and which has made important contributions to democracy. We are each on a journey toward these things that you aspire to.

I am Whitney’s step-father and a Jew. I have spent most of my life teaching about democracy and nonviolence, and organizing campaigns and demonstrations against racism in the United States.

I quickly learned that the eugenics in the United States – that some “races” are better born than others – had its height in Nazism. Nazism murdered millions of Jews (how many millions will never be known), slavs, gays, and Roma. Racist murder is part of divide and rule. Nazis also murdered 25,000 “defective Aryan children” and every mental patient in Germany (some 300,000). These people were, in German “wertlos,” lives devoid of value.

The beautiful poem of Pastor Martin Niemoller here reveals how even those with Aryan privilege were hurt, and also why even people seemingly distant from an act of oppression should take a stand against it:

“First they came for the communists,
 and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, 
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
 and there was no one left to protest. “

We are all one web of humanity. We are brothers and sisters on this earth with the animals and plants. The earth is torn apart by killing, and by the rapacious in power.

As a teacher of nonviolence some fourteen years ago, two members of the International Solidarity Movement spoke to one of my classes. They told us that in the Occupied Territories, a Palestinian child cannot go to school in Israel or a young person to work without passing through a checkpoint manned by armed soldiers. Those who go through are at the least made to stay in a long line and verbally abused. They are often searched, sometimes beaten or jailed. The Palestinian “state” has no airport. The Israeli government feels no obligation to honor the rights of strangers (international law mandates this as does Jewish tradition – “honor the rights of strangers because you were once a stranger in Egypt…”) in the Territories it has seized.

It was obvious to me instantly that the kind of rule there was authoritarian and reminiscent of the concentration camps. Under international law, stemming from the seizing of non-Israeli territory in the 1967 war, this imprisonment is outlawed.

I later read a report of an Israeli policeman in the New York Times about stopping a car, strip searching a 10 year old. I hate to do it, he said, and I can see that he fears and hates me. But if I don’t do it, and he has a bomb...

Very few had bombs. In the second intifada, the highly armed Israeli military killed 7 Palestinians for every Israeli killed. And in the slaughter in Gaza in 2008, 1400 Palestinians were killed by the army of Israel in comparison with 11 Israelis. The army killed 300 Palestinian children; 1 Israeli child was murdered by a Palestinian rocket. And you may have heard of the relief ship to Gaza, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters, attacked by the Israeli military, slaughtering 7 Turkish citizens and 1 American.

Morally speaking, this aggression and occupation poisons the spirit of Israel. Israel was once a democracy with kibbutzes, an attempt to create a more cooperative society in which everyone was recognized. It has become increasingly exclusive, the property of those who fear others – with a paranoia or trauma shaped by the long European persecution of Jews and the genocide, as well as hostility from Arab regimes. It is a government whose policies make many Israeli protestors against it like the reporter Gideon Levy whose story I give below or Amira Hass or Ury Avnery or the 1,000 students and others turn out in Tel Aviv to resist, in the face of police harassment and abuse, ever new Israeli slaughters in the Occupied Territories. In addition, hundreds of Israeli young people in the organization Yesh Gvul or on their own have refused to serve in the Occupied Territories.

Your fellow student at Evergreen, Rachel Corrie went to work nonviolently against the oppression of ordinary Palestinians. She was there, protecting the house of a doctor and his family from destruction by a Caterpillar tractor, when the driver, an Israeli soldier, drove the tractor over her and backed up over her, too. Her death was dealt with by a poor imitation of a trial (the military “withheld” a film of what happened, scenes from which were shown in an Israeli television documentary, as Rachel Corrie’s parents underlined). The law of that land is increasingly thin, particularly for Arab Israelis – some 20% of the population of Israel – and Jewish Israeli protestors, but even for most Jews. One cannot fear and despise the humanity in others and be genuinely strong, nurture the earth and one’s place in it.

We have now reached a terrible crossroads. There are those like the Flaming Eggplant who are trying to work and live together, and nurture the earth. Through the discussion of this boycott, your collective may learn, as I have learned, that even persecuted ethnicity is not the slightest justification for the persecution of others.

In Palestine, a movement has developed again to lift this oppression nonviolently. It has learned from Martin Luther King and from Bishop Tutu. It asks all of us not to cooperate with companies which profit from and batten off the suffering in the Occupied Territories, to make a strong and real movement to stop this. The boycott is right. It is a far better and more humane tactic than the violence (often striking at innocent Israeli citizens) which it is replacing. In addition, it is also right for Jews including Israelis. At the bottom, I include a sad and powerful newspaper column in Haaretz, written by Gideon Levy, about what the government in Israel and its supporters have become. 9 Palestinian children were killed in a bus accident this past Thursday. On Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Facebook page, Israelis who have lost their way as human beings, grotesquely and by name, revel in this.

Is there a child in this world, Israeli or Palestinian or American or Mexican or South African, who is not of infinite worth?

The phrases Levy quotes from Facebook, were these not the sentiments of some Germans when Jewish children were sent to the gas chambers? As Levy’s own example reveals, no decent Israeli shares this sentiment. No decent Israeli fails to be with Pastor Niemoller in that poem; and for the others who have lost their way, their existence and well being is also under threat. Can they look again in a mirror before they have named these statements for what they are, been struck with sorrow about them, apologized for them? If South Africa could achieve Truth and Reconciliation, why not Israel and Palestine?

You might think that a discussion at the Flaming Eggplant, in far off Olympia, Washington, among people who are seeking food security and the truth, does not matter much for the world. In a way, this is true. But one never knows what small effort contributes to moving a mountain. In the early 19th century in England, many people refused to buy sugar because it had been produced in English colonies by slaves…

And when people reach out nonviolently against injustice, it is the hope and humanity and compassion of the rest of us to reach back. Students often take the lead, as happened in the American civil rights movement and many others, and it has now come to you.

You have explored this terrible issue. You are from the same school as Rachel Corrie, who had, as we now know, beautiful words, someone whose writings might have lived with us for a long time and whose surviving words do so even now...

I admire the Jewish prophets, those on the outside, who speak truth to power, name the oppression of kings, even that of elected leaders. In the enduring words of Amos in the Old Testament, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everlasting stream.” I see the occupied territories, with settlers crazed on hatred, destroying the olive trees that are a family’s thin livelihood, trees 50 years or older, and the desolation of the family that has lost its tree of life...And I think of the Warsaw ghetto and the protests of Jews in World War II. Every effort made to stop this, nonviolently, is a hope for humanity. No, the Israeli government will not withdraw the settlements and stop these crimes against the earth just because of efforts in Olympia. But Rachel Corrie and those efforts in Olympia will contribute to reaching a decent resolution.

I had a Rachel Corrie in my life. As a child, I was friends with Andy Goodman. We were in a small class together at Walden School in Manhattan. I played at his apartment and he at mine. Later, we were not so much in touch. But both of us thought of going to Mississippi with Freedom Summer in 1964. I had been on a freedom ride in Chestertown, Maryland, and seen the violence of a mob led by the sheriff. I decided after some reflection not to go. Still living in New York, Andy did decide to go. He and James Cheney and Michael Schwerner, nonviolently protesting oppression, were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi by a mob led by the sheriff.

The great nonviolent movement led by Martin Luther King eventually lifted the oppression. The South and America are now a different and better place because of the sacrifice of those who stood up and the support and small and large actions of millions of others. I did not go to Freedom Summer then (though I have often gone before and since). But every effort that any of us makes to lift the terrible shadow of racism, oppression and violence from humanity, to defend food and the growing of it on this earth, does a powerful thing. None of us can be sure how long we are here or how things will look to us in the future. But doing the right thing when it is difficult, when the powers and newspapers are full of falsehoods and errors, when one has to think and struggle with it, was something for me to build a life on. I hope it will be for you.

You have already done much in discussing this issue. In joining the boycott, you, too, can join this growing movement to defend the earth and all its people.

Best wishes,
Alan Gilbert

Haaretz, published 19.02.12
Enemies, a hate story

It is impossible to ignore what is happening to us: Palestinian children die in an accident, and many Israelis are happy about it - and are no longer even ashamed of it.

By Gideon Levy

The all-clear was sounded as soon as the news came that the school bus was Palestinian.

Only the most perceptive viewers of Thursday's accident - in which nine children and one adult were killed when their bus collided with a truck north of Jerusalem - could make the distinction. But something in the manner of the coverage intimated at it immediately.

Then the reports and images started flowing in. The coverage was workmanlike overall, if faceless and depersonalized. It is not difficult to imagine how such a horrific accident would have been treated had the children been Jewish: with a lot more blood and tears. There is no disputing that, as the Talmud says, "Every person is partial to himself" - and to his own people, we might add. One can also excuse the ridiculous way the Jerusalem-Ramallah road by Aram, near the north side of the capital, suddenly became "beyond the Israeli border," in the language of reporters - the Green Line springs to life when it suits us.

But what came next cannot be excused. The Internet roiled - not with the usual anonymous comments, the last refuge of boors and perverts. This time they revealed their names and their Facebook photos, spewing forth nauseating, hate-permeated racism that seemed to exceed anything seen here previously.

"Relax, these are Palestinian children," Benny Dazanashvili wrote on Twitter. To which Tal Biton responded, "It seems these are Palestinians ... God willing." Itai Viltzig offered up a prayer: "I hope every day there is a bus like this." Dozens, if not hundreds, of Internet surfers said a prayer of thanks - for the terrible death by fire of young children on a school field trip - and the responses were featured on the web pages of the prime minister and the Israel Police and the Walla! web portal.

"They'll want money, because money is more important to them than the children who were killed," one person wrote. Others commented, "Can we send another truck?" and "I'd have sent a double semi-trailer to obliterate all those shits."

On the official Facebook page of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was actually quick to express his sorrow from faraway Cyprus over the accident, the comments are still visible like some mark of Cain on their authors and their host.

From Yisrael Ohana: "I don't care; for my part every Palestinian child is a future suicide-bomber candidate. Tomer Ben Haim: "There is just one thing that anyone who attacks Judaism deserves." The only light came from Meira Baruch, who wrote: "I'm 63 years old. Only a few times in my life have I been ashamed to be a Jew. Today I am ashamed. How can anyone rejoice over the death of little children?"

No longer can all this be waved away with the argument that these were the responses of a handful of crazies that do not reflect the whole. Perhaps we should also give thanks for the democracy that allows these responses to be published, and to flood public awareness. But it must be recognized that the sentiment they express is common and that it runs deep in Israeli society.

Enemies, a hate story. In the past few years, anti-Arab hatred and racism have reached monstrous proportions and are no longer restricted to a negligible minority. Many people dare to express it, and many more agree with them. All the discriminatory, separatist laws of the past few years are an authentic expression of that hatred.

When Netanyahu's Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority stop the incitement against Israel, it's a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Perhaps it is difficult to measure precisely, but after 25 years of covering the Israeli occupation, and after innumerable meetings with ordinary Palestinians, I think I can safely say that the hate and racism on our side is not matched on the Palestinian side. I repeatedly find myself astounded by the fact that the majority of the thousands of Palestinians I have met over the years, all of them victims of the occupation, speak about their dream of living together in peace (while the majority of Israelis dream of "the separation" ). Yes, there are those who hate, those who carried out murderous attacks against Israelis - and only a few protested against it. But the Palestinian hatred is focused mainly on the Israeli occupation. During the Carmel forest fire of December 2010, the PA dispatched fire trucks to Israel, and apparently no one protested against it. It is doubtful that Palestinians rejoiced over the Israeli deaths then in the way that Israelis are rejoicing over the Palestinian deaths now.

But even if I am wrong, even if I am blind to the facts and the hatred is indeed mutual, nevertheless it is impossible to ignore what is happening to us: Palestinian children die in an accident, and many Israelis are happy about it - and are no longer even ashamed of it.


Human beings whose bodies are one big black star
Xenophobia is a permanent variable, only its victim changes from time to time.
By Yossi Sarid | Jun.01, 2012 | 4:26 AM

We bought a basket of cherries at the greengrocer's, and on our return home we noticed the label: "Yattir Forest Cherries." No name of the grower, no phone number, no post office box, nothing. Is someone out there in the South Hebron Hills, beyond the Green Line, trying to hide? Do they intend to deceive us?

And what will we do with the suspicious cherries - eat them or throw them into the garbage can? Even if they're sweet, a bitter taste will remain in our mouths. For a moment I thought of consulting with Ovadia & Sons, with the "Beit Yosef" kashrut supervisors, but they specialize in a different kind of swinishness, and give a seal of approval to different abominations. Oh, holy impurity: It's all in the family, Kosher Nostra.

And then I thought of contacting the South African ambassador, maybe he knows: What do Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu do in such cases? What do they do when they don't want to eat pickles, to drink stolen water, or wine from the vineyard of Naboth?

But over the radio I heard that the ambassador had disappeared. After he found out about the meeting in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem where he would be reprimanded, he went underground; where is he? The Danish ambassador is also thinking of changing his address and cutting off contact. The low-chair method is proving itself - they're afraid.

Because what will they have to say in their defense? They have no chance of leaving this inquiry safely. "This is singling out Israel unfavorably on a clearly political basis," said the spokesman when the scandal was revealed: They are plotting to force us to engage in truth in advertising, to distinguish between products of the settlements and Made In Israel. And who has ever heard of a government that decides "on a political basis," and of another country that offers the fruits of stolen land.

And here is a reminder: The Israeli government promised 10 years ago to mark the difference clearly - Yesha (Judea and Samaria ) is not here. Since then the government has been using our money to compensate factories in the settlements for their losses. But the Ahabs who are being robbed insist on both benefiting and deceiving. Israel did not keep its promise, blurred the borders and mixed up the products. And they still come with complaints to those who have been deceived, who wanted to buy grapes and cherries and were sold rotten fruit.

And perhaps the ambassador is hiding out somewhere and refusing to go up to Jerusalem because he fears for his safety. He is liable to look like a foreign worker, a cancer or a microbe, and Miri Regev is liable to stone his car on the way and shatter the windshield. Never mind that she is now a Knesset member, but only yesterday this cow was a brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces, and we can wonder why she wasn't appointed a major general on the basis of her profile. I won't forgive her and her girlfriends, MKs Ronit, Tzipi H., Anastasia, Yulia and Limor for undermining my hope for a better world under female leadership.

The South African government, with all due respect, is also not exempt from suspicion of ulterior motives - is it possible that they remember there what Israel did to them? Do they still bear a grudge against us for remaining among the last of the collaborators with the racist regime? Do they know in South Africa how to smell apartheid-like regimes from afar?

The moon of Alabama [from the Lotte Lenya song composed by Bertolt Brecht to music of Kurt Weill in “Happy End”] is shining on Tel Aviv and Eilat. How fortunate that its light did not reveal crystal dishes, mahogany furniture and pianos. After all, what are we talking about here: about human beings who are in any case broken and battered, whose bodies are one big black star.

And another good thing: For a brief period another "other" [see here] has been found to whom we can condescend and whom we can blame for everything, and a million "non-Jews" who live among us will enjoy a temporary respite. Xenophobia is a permanent variable, only its victim changes from time to time, and he doesn't have to be an Arab, who is harder to identify in the street, whereas all the blacks have the same face, especially at night.

Friday, June 15, 2012

On "god's work" and finance capital

Doug Vaughan sent me a “quick note-reminder re: predatory finance capitalism” in response to my post on Eric Mann and Vietnam here.

“Like warong in Indonesian puppet theater, there is real class conflict behind the scrim of financial paper, often hidden from the players themselves.

The sleazy manipulations by Goldman Sachs are easily dismissed as only affecting the rich, the 1%, hedge fund investors, etc., with G-S playing both ends against the middle. But G-S is neither unique nor even particularly flagrant, only the most successful and therefore emblematic practitioner of what Blankfein called "god's work" -- and whether it's even legal is almost beside the point, or misses the political-economic (class!) point in the ethical-moral framing of the problem. As with "sovereign (public, governmental, state) debt" issues mentioned in an earlier post, you ignore the fact that many workers' pension funds are the institutional investors that have been gulled, swindled in the credit-default swaps and other schemes by which financiers exact huge commissions from both sides of the swap, purchase and sale; when the underlying instrument proves less valuable than touted, there are real losers -- usually workers' share of surplus value reposed in pension funds.”

Doug is right and one might add: steamily re-imagined as “God’s work,” these manipulations brought down the whole international economy, impoverishing millions all over the world and inaugurating a second great depression…

And regulation, like Glass-Steagall (what prevented deposit banks from speculating with the money of ordinary people from the depression until Clinton, at the behest of Phil Gramm and Larry Summers, abolished it; Romney is Mr. Unregulate the 1%), does have an effect.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Poem: mus i c

She does not walk

she movesby

laughs when not in darknes s


like thenight

Monday, June 11, 2012

Eric Mann’s journey and Vietnam

Eric Mann wrote me a letter about what he kindly names the great discussion of Dien Bien Phu. See here and here.* As an organizer of a canvassing project on Vietnam, he reports a very interesting dinner with I.F. Stone who encouraged him in thinking more deeply about imperialism, Marc Raskin and Senator Ernest Gruening, who along with Wayne Morse, were the only two senators to oppose the war. From his description, Eric’s views were – aside from Izzy’s – the life of the party. Izzy encouraged many, and diversely including Will Altman, who connected with him about Plato and Greek, to learn Latin. That Izzy inspired many of us (also me, who was a kind of relative- Celia Gilbert, his daughter, is my sister-in-law) to dig more deeply and go our own way is a striking point. See here, here, here, here and here.

Marcus Raskin had a very good insight about the conflicts of Chinese, Vietnamese and Soviet interests, often having little to do with radicalism, and thus, raising, though not answering the question of what explains these changes (how the Soviets came to be in many respects an imperial power, and how they all often behaved badly – the Vietnamese in stopping the Cambodian genocide which had been supported by Nixon and Kissinger, however, being a striking counterexample – in foreign policy).

I share Eric’s view on imperialism – see here – and admire his commitment, from the time he awakened to what Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War was, to explore what it is (now, there are often stupid aggressions by imperialists which undercut their power and thus, their particular aims - hence, the aptness of Eric's naming of Johnson's war - or say, the Bush-Cheney aggression against Iraq). Izzy did not use the word "imperialism" – again, someone may hesitate in the United States a) because the explanation is complex and neither completely worked out nor as a whole commonly understood, and b) because there are words that are true, like the child speaking of the Emperor’s nakedness, which promptly get one unread in Washington, even in otherwise quite decent liberal circles – see Eric’s comment on Ernest Gruening’s courage and limitations. Izzy, of course, had his own words...

As I often emphasize, the announcers at the SuperBowl two years ago panned on several screens to different groups of American troops watching the game (each screen a symbol of many). They spoke of troops in 177 countries...There are some 1,280 American military bases abroad. At this year's game, they flashed on a base in Afghanistan, did not mention the number of bases or countries, and thus corrected, maintained the corporate media’s silence about…the empire.

In addition, recall the crazed oil and base-hungry disaster in Iraq and endless occupation of Afghanistan or the drones from the White House killing “terrorists” and civilians in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, countries which the US aggresses against but with which it “has not gone to war”: what other word quite fits?**

In Cambridge, in 1964 I took part in a May 2nd march against the Vietnam war (some barflies came out along Mass Ave. and screamed at us). In 1965, I joined the May 2nd movement at Harvard. After Johnson’s escalation, I found I.F. Stone’s speech on the war resonant (he came to Harvard after writing his expose of the State Department White Paper – see here). I spoke at the first rallies against the war in February (the first day, we had a couple hundred people, about half against the war, half for it, including a special forces guy who taunted me - I was happy not to have to meet him in a dark alley…) and debated McGeorge Bundy in May (I asked him how the US expected to win a war against a successful peasant revolution trying to restore the landlords). See here.

So I empathize with Eric’s journey from the initial SDS demonstration in Washington of some 25,000 people in 1966 (I was then studying at the London School of Economics, joining protests in England against the war, and was thrilled to hear of it – into reading deeply about Vietnam and translating this into community/political action. I am especially grateful to hear some of Paul Potter's words.

In 1966, I was involved in canvassing for a referendum for immediate withdrawal of American troops in Cambridge among mainly white workers and had similar conversations to the ones he reports. The referendum gained 60% of the vote in 1966 along with a similar one in San Francisco. If one talked to ordinary people only about the war being immoral - particularly with an edge that suggested that one's interlocutor might have a moral failing - one would not get far. But if one asked: what stake do you and your children or friends have in this war?, the conversation quickly turned to a common, moral opposition.

Either one thinks out, just as in an ordinary conversation, how to connect with each person or one has little effect. Out of fear one will be disliked or meet with resistance or shyness, students often miss the opportunity to talk with workers (today, since many can't go through school without working more than one job and entering debt slavery, the gap is being eroded...).

A great difference separating people in the anti-war movement was, however, that looking down on other Americans, some radicals did not reach out to everyone (Eldridge Cleaver and the Weathermen tended to make this error in a more explicit way - Cleaver at one point identifying 175 million Americans, out of some 200 million at the time, as the enemy).

But the experience of talking with those more affected by the war (I eventually gave up the 2-s – student – deferment on principle) is a kind of class reluctance or even prejudice. Such prejudice is of course fiercely anti-democratic or against a common good.

Now, as I emphasize in the case of Socrates, it is not anti-democratic to oppose corrupt democracy, like that of the segregated South and the Ku Klux Klan - what Rousseau called a will of all. But many working people opposed Vietnam, others could be persuaded, and even the relatively few reactionaries were by no means close to the centers of power that spawned and maintained the war.

It is thus a virtue of the Occupy movement that it hopes to reach the 99%. As a very new movement, it, too, has limitations in involving black, latin and poor white teenagers. But as Eric’s experience and mine illustrate, making the effort to reach out is a start (the OccupyForeclosures movement among many other initiatives, is doing this).

I, too, learned from many of the same books as Eric particularly from French histories of Vietnam (Denis Warner, Bernard Fall, and others). No American in the State Department read Vietnamese and there were no American books - in this context, Izzy's journalism was dazzling - about this rerun of French colonial hubris.

And as those of us at Harvard all participated in trying to change the empire and Harvard began throwing people out of school for sitting in against the Dow Chemical Company which made napalm (Harvard professor Louis Fieser invented it) – we had all seen a newspaper photo of a 9 year old girl running in the road near a village naked burning*** – and were denounced by President Nathan Pusey as “those who wanted to tear Harvard down stone by stone and jump up and down in the rubble,” one could not but reflect that something unspoken and profound motivated Pusey’s hysteria and foolishness. No other power today has more than 5 bases abroad today (the French in former French colonial Africa). What is America if not an empire, American foreign policy if not, in the main, imperialism?****

In the anti-war movement, it was sometimes said that one couldn’t convince others of ideas we ourselves had come to believe. Thus, we were warned by some even in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) not to use “dogmatic commie rhetoric out of the 1930s.” One should, of course, question any silly or inadequate idea, refine it, move on, like Socrates. But this attack conceals the absence of argument or of thought, reveals only mental subservience to the powerful. And that is true inside the radical movement; it is a great temptation, which sadly many succumb to, to travesty others’ thoughts (all of us did it, to some extent; it is one major reason why I prefer Gandhi and King...). And of course, the fierce divisions that arise have helped often to undermine powerful movements.

Imperialism is such an idea. It is good Eric stuck with it.

Today, the US combines militarism or what I call the war complex and a novel phase in the speculative economy (derivatives, collateral debt obligations). Curiously, militarism is also the main productive or innovative part of the American economy; consider the internet and green energy which the Republicans- the bizarre party of oil and thus, eliminating human life on the planet, including their own...– seek to prevent.

But in terms of Lenin’s vision of imperialism, finance capitalism now has achieved new and innovatively perverse forms. Goldman Sachs lends the Greek government money, gives it advice – and bets on the derivative market it will fail. It funds collateral debt obligations, slicing and dicing mortgages, sells them as good “financial products” to the wealthy - there is nothing productive in Goldman Sachs’ or AIG’s activities, just parasitism - and simultaneously, allows an investor to make a killing betting that these “products” will fail without telling the other investors who trusted its contrary advice to them. Its lying to its customers to gull them and protect itself - its hidden conflict of interest - stands out. How monied people choose to invest in Goldman Sachs, given this evident conflict and its lying to them (why it doesn’t, as it deserves to – collapse) is an interesting question, particularly about the psychology of the wealthy…

The turn of the twentieth century debate about finance capitalism and imperialism, Hobson, Hilferding and Lenin, has thus been given a stunning new meaning by the parasitic, destructive and bizarre, “financial products” industry which is characteristic of spectacular inequality. One might also think anew about Marx in this respect, since the level of inequality, particularly in wealth and impoverishment of the many, now being achieved by capitalism, is also unheard of. Marx and Engels expected a majority to be impoverished by the development of capitalism. They did not foresee the deprivations in the less developed countries, and increasingly, even in Europe and the United States, the 99%....

Their vision of the anti-democratic degradation, one might say, was too moderate…

For any beginning insight theoretically, there are always new revelations historically – and in this case, painful ones, the welfare state had some decency and this, none – to think about.

Eric’s emphasis on how black and latin (and First Nations) people are specially hurt by imperialism is central (in the US after the 2008 economic collapse and the loss, by many, of homes, black people had a startling 1% of the nation’s wealth, Chicanos 2%). But I also think Eric downplays something important: that most whites (and now most formerly middle class people) – the 99% - are hurt by imperialism. Whites, too, lose jobs, are foreclosed, have underwater mortgages, are threatened with the loss of pensions and social security, are jailed in the monstrous prison system (1 in 3 black male children born in 2001 could expect, according to the Justice Department, to go to jail in his lifetime, 1 in 6 chicanos, 1 in 17 – mainly poor – whites), pay the costs of imperial aggressions, and the like. So a big movement, an American spring as in the Madison demonstrations and Occupy, with effort and imagination, can hope to achieve a major alliance across differences (it is finding a way to unite with the more oppressed through fighting racism which is still the key issue for an anti-war or anti-imperial movement).

I am also not sure in Eric’s very good questions to people about the Vietnam war what precisely “racial interests" are in supporting the war (it is good to speak explicitly about and invite conversations against racism and nationalism). And blacks and latinos also sometimes serve and believe in American imperialism (just remarkably less so; the black population in particular is the most skeptical of American imperialism of any segment of the American population)."*****.

I recommend Eric’s Playbook for Progressives which is very good on the story of the recent Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles and many other examples (also, John Maher has a new book, Learning from the Sixties: Memoirs of an Organizer) on his experience in Students for a Democratic Society and more recently, Neighbor to Neighbor (N2N) in Massachusetts.

Eric writes:

“It seems a missing 11 letter word is imperialism. I began an anti-Vietnam war program in Washington D.C. right after the SDS March on Washington in April 1965. I was furious, was just beginning to read anti-war books, "The Two Vietnams" by Bernard Fall, and I.F. Stone's Weekly. I had already worked two years with the Congress of Racial Equality in Harlem and the Northeast and was on my way to be a community organizer with the Newark Community Union Project. For the summer I organized a community investigation project to try to assess what was the level of consciousness of people about the war, and what were the building blocks of people's consciousness that we would use to build a more radical critique. We asked questions focusing on people's actual knowledge of Vietnam, did they know about the Geneva Convention, did they know that North Vietnam was only the northern part of what would be a unified Vietnam, what personal interests--economic, racial, ideological did they have for supporting the war, what anti-racist, anti-unjust war, human rights, concerns about the U.S. as the world policeman for big business did they have. We learned a lot, including that people's support for the war was a "mile wide and an inch deep" most did not know hardly anything about the war and were influenced by our counter-hegemonic arguments. That is, unlike those in today's"communications world" we did not try to ask if the war (that is genocide) was a good use of taxpayer money or if it violated the great American virtues of freedom, liberty, and self-determination (Which in fact did not exist and in fact were the exact opposite of U.S. policy towards Indigenous peoples, Blacks, Vietnamese, and all Third World People).

I was so enraged by the war and had already been impacted by Paul Potter's Speech at the SDS march, "We have to name the system" in order to change it.

One of the guys in the projects asked me, "Have you read Harry Magdoff on Imperialism" I had heard the word imperialism and thought it meant when one country took over another for economic or political gain, but it was not myoperative concept. As I was reading the book I was able to organize a meeting with I.F. Stone, Marcus Raskin of the Institute of Policy Studies, and Senator Ernest Gruening, an amazingly courageous Democrat from Alaska, who along with Wayne Morse from Oregon were the only 2 NO votes against the Lyndon Johnson Vietnam War. I learned a lot at that dinner. Gruening to my surprise, said he thought Cuba was the great danger not Vietnam and talked about not fighting a war with such extended supply lines" I was still impressed with his courage but very disappointed at his generalanti-communism and lack of support for the principle of self-determination from Vietnam to Cuba. I then asked Marc Raskin if he thought the war was based on imperialism. He was adamant it was not. He explained that while Eisenhower had said the U.S. was in Vietnam for "tin and tungsten" in fact, net imports of foreign materials were a small part of our economy and went on to try to prove that there were no economic benefits to U.S. wars of conquest. Instead, he argued that the U.S. had a knee jerk reaction to communism as a world system, that it did not understand the contradictions between Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union (contradictions that did accelerate after the U.S. War on Vietnam), and our best argument was to show that the war was not in our "national interest." I said I could not debate his argument but that I did not see imperialism simply as an economic system, that I was it as a system in which the U.S. would try to control the world for low-wage labor, raw materials, subservient markets, and also to extend its hegemony as some type of world power. The dinner was great and everybody there was so forthcoming an honest and engaged I was lucky as hell to be able, as a 24 year old organizer, to be invited into such a high level of discourse that pushed my own ideas forward. (I.F. Stone set up the dinner after he met with me and supported my Vietnam organizing project. "As we left, Stone said to me, "You've got to read my Hidden History of the Korean War" whether I choose to call it imperialism you're on the right track so keep digging.")

Finally, I think much more time could be best served by reading Vietnamese and Third World History, from Wilfred Burchett's Brilliant Vietnam Will Win, Eduard Galleano's The Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent; Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, and Vo Nguyen Giap, How We Won the War, and People's War, People's Army: the Vietcong Insurrection Manual For Underdeveloped Countries. I think it was the latter that drove the U.S. in Vietnam, its fear of creating, as Che predicted, "Two, Three, Many Vietnams."

If you are interested, check out my new book, Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer.

Eric Mann”

*Whitney Bard had the insight on the special feminizing - "kind of rapey" as she put it - as an imperial stereotype about Vietnam.

**About the militarism, consider the very sad New York Times piece here on Obama’s Tuesday meetings to work out the "kill list" for his drone strikes and how every young man of military age in the same area as a 'terrorist" is of course also a “terrorist” and not even “collateral damage.” Among American imperialists, the more apt idea was that once upon a time "guerillas" and today "terrorists" hide among the people to make themselves hard to find, difficult to kill. Here Obama's and Brennan's lies to lower artificially the number of civilians murdered stand out.

If one wants to understand, why even under Obama people in the Middle East hate the United States – how its murders of civilians continue to breed terrorism – this is a good place to look. The article twice refers to the war criminal Brennan – a torturer under Bush – as a “priestly figure” in apologizing for the government's role as judge, jury and executioner, the opposite of the constitutional separation of powers and the rule of law.

Tom Engelhardt has a very good piece on the assassin-in-chief, what Obama has now made the American presidency explicitly, and what of course the next President will continue. See here.

***In response to the article, Rusty sent me the following piece on her later life, where she left Vietnam and eventually came to Canada – some of the deficiencies of and important questions to think about concerning the further development of Vietnamese Communism can be discernedhere.

****The initial bombing of Libya may have stopped a massacre and be an example of humanitarian intervention. But the longer Western intervention in Libya was also a method of gaining influence over Arab spring and was motivated by oil.

*****In the anti-American aggression in Iraq movement in Colorado, I once spoke to a meeting of some 250 SEIU [Service Employees International Union] custodians, who were all immigrants, in (clumsy) Spanish. Before I spoke, a woman who was one of the leaders in SEIU made a few points, the main one that this war was for “los ricos” (the rich people). After she said that, there was not a single person in the room – if there had been any before - who doubted that the war was evil or failed to see that it had nothing - except harm - to do with them. As also an imperialist party at its upper reaches, it is no accident that the Democrats now offer a Dream Act which would provide citizenship to immigrants – the oligarchs and their minions are willing enough to recruit and exploit so-called illegal immigrants – though joining the military.

I added a few points…

When I spoke before a similar gathering of hospital workers in SEIU – mainly white interestingly – there was little debate about the war (no one had the slightest enthusiasm for the aggression) but not that kind of crystalline clarity.