Saturday, December 10, 2016

*In Folklorist Harry Smith’s House-"The Butcher's Boy" — Buell Kazee (1928)

Click on the title to link to a presentation of the song listed in the headline.

The year has turned into something a year of review of the folk revival of the 1960s. In November I featured a posting of many of the episodes (via “YouTube”) of Pete Seeger’s classic folk television show from the 1960s, “Rainbow Quest”. I propose to do the same here to end out the year with as many of the selections from Harry Smith’s seminal “Anthology Of American Folk Music,” in one place, as I was able to find material for, either lyrics or "YouTube" performances (not necessarily by the original performer). This is down at the roots, for sure.

The Butcher Boy

in Dublin town
where I did dwell
a butcher boy
I loved so well
he courted me
my life away
and now with me
he will not stay

I wish I wish
but I wish in vain
I wish I was
a maid again
but a maid again
I ne'er can be
till apples grow
on an ivy tree

she went upstairs
to go to bed
and calling to
her mother said
bring me a chair
till I sit down
and a pen and ink
till I write down

I wish I wish
but I wish in vain
I wish I was
a maid again
but a maid again
I ne'er can be
till apples grow
on an ivy tree

he went upstairs
and the door he broke
and found her hanging
from her rope
he took his knife
and cut her down
and in her pocket
these words he found:

"oh, make my grave
large, wide and deep
put a marble stone
at my head and feet
and in the middle
a turtle dove
so the world may know
i died of love".

Trump Prepares Vicious Attacks - We Must Prepare Massive Resistance-The Cold Civil War Has Begun-Down With The Trump Government!

Trump Prepares Vicious Attacks - We Must Prepare Massive Resistance

by Tom Crean and Philip Locker

Trump’s victory in the presidential election two weeks ago was a profound shock to tens of millions of progressive workers, young people, immigrants, women, people of color, Muslims and LGBTQ people across the US. As Trump’s reactionary cabinet appointments have been announced and the list of targets of his administration has become clearer there is enormous fear and anger in many communities.
Many are waiting to see how events unfold or hoping against hope that Trump will see reason and moderate his positions. But the reported plans to deport three million people, establish a “registry” for Muslims, criminalize dissent, and nominate a Supreme Court justice who will vote to overturn Roe v Wade and shred union rights in the public sector are not idle threats.
Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across the country and the mood to resist is growing. Socialist Alternative called many of the first protests which were dominated by young people. But now we are seeing wider forces preparing for what will be truly massive protests around Trump’s inauguration, particularly the Women’s March on Washington DC on January 21. We and Socialist Students are also focusing on building student walkouts across the country on the actual day of the inauguration, January 20, which could become the biggest coordinated student actions since the Vietnam War. Socialist Alternative, with Socialist Students and Movement for the 99%, aims to raise $25,000 by the end of December to fund the youth-led, national mass student walkouts. Please help us reach that by donating $25 today. 
No Mandate
The truth is that Trump’s racist, misogynist agenda does not have a popular mandate. Votes are still being counted but despite winning in the undemocratic throwback Electoral College, Trump only got 46.4% of the popular vote and Clinton now has a lead of over two million.
Some leading Democrats have continued with their pathetic attempt to blame the outcome of the election on FBI director Comey – who reopened the investigation into Clinton’s emails in the final days of the campaign – Bernie Sanders supporters, or even Jill Stein and the Greens. But even those sections of the corporate media which backed Clinton to the hilt have had to partially acknowledge that the outcome was more a defeat for the Democrats than a victory for Trump.
Exit polls showed that fully 20% of Trump voters (approximately 12 million voters) had an unfavorable view of him. As the Washington Post said, “There is no precedent for a candidate winning the Presidency with fewer voters viewing him favorably, or looking forward to his administration, than the loser.”
The underlying reality in the US remains, as we have said, huge political and social polarization. Big sections of society moved to the left in recent years. This was expressed in Occupy, the fight for $15, BLM, mass support for marriage equality and more recently for Native people at Standing Rock. But without doubt the most dramatic expression of this trend were the millions, especially young people, who supported Bernie Sanders’ call for a political revolution against the billionaire class. At the end of the day, Clinton’s status quo campaign had no appeal to those hostile to the ruling elite and simply failed to energize and mobilize progressive Americans in sufficient numbers despite the fear of Trump. As the roughly 54% election turnout showed, tens of millions of Americans simply saw no point in choosing between the two most unpopular presidential candidates in the country’s history.
This has led to the situation where the right now controls the White House as well as both Houses of Congress. In 23 states the Republicans have control of all three branches of government. This gives the right enormous institutional power. There is also the real danger of an energized hard right sinking roots. But there is huge potential power in the opposition to Trump especially if the social power of the working class can be brought to bear. Trump’s agenda is beatable but it will require the most profound social struggle since the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 60s and 70s.
Trump’s Appointments
In the past week, Trump’s transition team has announced a series of appointments to cabinet and adviser positions in the White House. This includes Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General; Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff; Steve Bannon as Trump’s main adviser and General Michael Flynn as national security adviser.
Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, represents the Republican establishment which is reactionary enough. Bannon, however, who was the CEO of Trump’s campaign in the fall, was previously the chairman of Breitbart News which is one of the central platforms for the hard right, white supremacist “alt-right.” Sessions was rejected by a Republican-controlled Senate in the 80s for a position in the federal judiciary because he was simply too racist even for them, while Flynn rants about Islam being “like a cancer.” It is a bit difficult to know which of these disgusting reactionaries we should be most alarmed about.
Further appointments before Thanksgiving include Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education and Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development. DeVos is a billionaire advocate of charter schools and vouchers and a vicious opponent of public education.
But in appointing Nikki Haley, the Governor of South Carolina, as US representative to the UN, Trump may be seeking to put a bit of balance into this toxic mix. While Haley was elected as a Tea Party Republican she is also remembered for having pushed through the removal of the Confederate Flag as the state’s official symbol after the killing of nine black churchgoers by white supremacist Dylan Roof. This is a bit of a poke in the eye to Trump’s far right fans. Trump may try to go further in this “balancing act”. For example, he now says that he will not pursue further investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails or the Clinton Foundation.
Trump’s Agenda Becomes Clearer
But while Trump may try to inject some “balance” in his appointments and talks of “healing the wounds” of the campaign, this should in no way blind people to the deeply reactionary plans for the beginning of this billionaire-led administration.
It is amply clear that Trump intends to deliver on the threat to deport three million immigrants. He intends to do in months what it took the Obama administration eight years to accomplish as it deported 2.7 million. There will also be a special focus on Muslim immigrants under the cover of “fighting ISIS,” with the threat of a national registry of all Muslims being raised.
This will be linked to a recasting of US policy in the Middle East as an existential struggle with “radical Islamic terrorists.” Both Bush and Obama sought to avoid lumping all the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims together as part of the “enemy” but Trump may be prepared to go in this direction. This is highly alarming to US allies who fear that it would lead to a massive expansion of conflict in the coming period even if ISIS suffers further defeat on the battleground.
Clearly Trump will nominate an outright reactionary to the Supreme Court who could go after Roe v Wade and it is very possible that he will be make a further appointment during the next four years. This comes after years of relentless attacks on women’s reproductive rights by Republican-dominated Southern state legislatures.
There is also clear intent to go after union rights. The public sector unions dodged a bullet last year after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the Supreme Court’s 4-4 tie in the Friedrichs case. The effect of this case succeeding would have meant extending anti-union “right to work” rules which exist in Republican run states to the entire national public sector.
There will definitely be an attempt to revive Friedrichs. Trump’s team sees Scott Walker’s successful campaign to eviscerate public sector unions in Wisconsin as a model. But the administration’s more immediate target will be the unions representing federal employees and those workers’ rights and benefits. They undoubtedly see the federal workforce as a soft target which will not elicit much sympathy. If they succeed this will then allow them to ramp up the anti-union campaign more broadly.
Trump intends to gut environmental protection in the name of “bringing back jobs” as in the energy sector. But the main reason the coal industry has collapsed is due to market factors, especially the extremely low price of oil and natural gas.
Finally there is a clear desire to criminalize political dissent linked to Trump’s ominous talk about a “law and order” offensive. Key Trump ally and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has talked about bringing back the McCarthy era House Un-American Activities Committee which launched an anti-communist witchhunt in the 1950s. Former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, another key Trump surrogate and possible appointee, has described the Black Lives Matter movement as “inherently racist” and “un-American”. Chris Christie claimed BLM called for killing police officers.
Taken as a whole this is the most reactionary agenda of any administration since at least Ronald Reagan. However, to be clear Trump will also push populist measures like infrastructure spending and paid parental leave. He will halt negotiation of further trade deals as part of a protectionist shift. At this point the Trans Pacific Partnership which represented a serious threat to workers rights and the environment is dead in the water. A section of the working class and middle class has real expectations based on Trump’s promises to bring back manufacturing and good jobs. They will be severely disappointed but perhaps not immediately.
The Lessons of the Past
The stakes now are extremely high. Trump will seek to inflict severe and demoralizing defeats by picking off one target at a time. All sections of society targeted by Trump must therefore unite their forces from the start.
The old slogan of the labor movement – “an injury to one is an injury to all” – was never more relevant. And the labor movement has a key role to play in this situation. Despite its long retreat the unions still represent 16 million workers and retain strength in some industrial sectors but especially the public sector and in key cities that will be central to the resistance against Trump.
The social power of working people uniting all parts of a mass movement must be counterposed to the institutional power of the right. The mass protests around the inauguration are a crucial first step. How events unfold after January 20 is very difficult to say but there are critical lessons which must be drawn out from previous battles against the right wing in this country.
After Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the air traffic controllers’ union PATCO went on strike. Reagan decided to turn this into a showdown with labor as a whole by firing all the members of this union which had actually endorsed him in the election! There was an enormous willingness in the still-strong labor movement to fight back. Tens of thousands would have responded to a call from the AFL-CIO for mass pickets to shut down key airports.
Labor Day in 1981 saw 250,000 workers march in Washington DC with the PATCO workers at their head. But the union leadership criminally refused to extend the strike, PATCO was smashed and the labor movement was put decisively on the defensive. The defeat is what is remembered but what is equally important is that Reagan could have been beaten which would have changed the entire dynamic and encouraged the further development of a mass movement to defeat the rest of Reagan’s neo-liberal agenda.
In 2006, the Republican-dominated House passed the Sensenbrenner Bill which threatened mass deportations of all undocumented workers in the US and their families and made it a crime to help them. This sparked the biggest mass demonstrations in US history including the “day without an immigrant” on May 1 which had elements of a general strike of Latino immigrant workers. The movement beat back the bill and also pushed back anti-immigrant attitudes for a period. But although many were sympathetic with the stand of millions of immigrants demanding citizenship rights and “equal rights for all workers,” the native born working class largely stood on the sidelines. This allowed the Bush administration to eventually move to savagely repress the movement especially the section of immigrant workers that was actively moving to unionize.
In 2010, Scott Walker was elected Governor of Wisconsin. He and the Republican-controlled legislature moved to impose savage cutbacks in education but also cripple public sector unions by stripping their right to collectively bargain over anything besides wages. Even then they were no longer allowed to negotiate wage increases above inflation. Part of the legislation also stipulated that all public sector unions had to hold recertification votes on a yearly basis. This was the most serious frontal attack on the labor movement since the PATCO strike. Tens of thousands marched on a weekly basis in the state capital Madison in early 2011 in the largest protests in Wisconsin history, and the capitol building itself was occupied for weeks on end.
Beating Walker required escalating the movement. Socialist Alternative argued for a one day public sector general strike as a first step in this direction. There was an enormously positive response from workers to this idea but the national leadership of the AFL-CIO, as in 1981, put on the brakes. Rather than escalate they de-escalated and advocated a campaign to recall Scott Walker, i.e. to get a Democrat elected. This strategy failed comprehensively and Walker is still in office today.
The Right Is Beatable
As in 1981, 2006, and 2011, the right can be beaten but only with an effective strategy and an utterly determined leadership. There are several factors that can help the movement. First of all, unlike in the 1980s when neo-liberalism had a real base of social support including within sections of the working and middle classes, right wing ideology has a weaker social grip today. The far right is emboldened by Trump’s victory but they are far from establishing a mass base in their own right.
Also the ruling class remains on the whole deeply unhappy about Trump’s accession to power. They see him as potentially highly damaging to their global and domestic interests. It is true that at the moment markets are factoring in the possibility of economic growth under Trump because of infrastructure spending and ending DC gridlock. Wall Street also supports his proposals to cut taxes further for the superrich and get rid of financial regulation. But there is real possibility of global and domestic recession in next period which would throw a Trump administration into deep crisis.
With or without a recession sections of the ruling class could begin to exert real pressure against Trump, especially if he overreaches and provokes effective mass resistance. They would do this in the wider interest of the system and precisely to cut across the movement. In this context, it is significant that a number of Democratic big city mayors are promising to resist attempts to ban “sanctuary cities” for immigrants despite threats to cut federal funding. Governor Cuomo of New York, a reliable ally of Wall Street, even declared that he, as the grandson of immigrants, should be deported first.
But where was Cuomo as the Obama administration ramped up deportations to record levels? We must place no reliance on corporate Democrats whose anti-working class policies have driven so many into the arms of the right. Instead, a mass movement against Trump must be centered on the social power of working people mobilized to fight for their own independent class interests.
Working Class Unity Against the Right
There has been a vast amount of ink spilled in the media about the “white working class” either vilifying it as one reactionary mass because it is supposedly in lock step behind Trump or trying to “understand” its concerns. We have consistently rejected the narrative that the support for Trump is simply motivated by racism and sexism although that is a real factor for a section of his supporters. We have repeatedly pointed out that Trump, through a right-wing populist and nationalist appeal, tapped into the anger at the effects of neo-liberalism and globalization especially the massive loss of good manufacturing jobs which was partly the result of trade deals like NAFTA. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 5 million manufacturing jobs were lost between 2000 and 2014.
But while some particularly obtuse liberal commentators seem to think that the question of jobs is about defending “white male privilege” the truth is that de-industrialization and the deep retreat of the unions in the private sector had an even more devastating effect on the black working class.
But neither are we blind to the fact that Trump’s open racism, xenophobia and misogyny resonated with a section of his supporters. This is not the first time in history that the accumulated failures of the left and the labor leadership has opened the door to dangerous right wing ideas. This situation can be reversed with a determined mass movement that speaks directly to the common interests of all sections of the working class and firmly opposes racism and sexism.
The truth is far more complicated and contradictory than most liberal commentators seem able to grasp. What is certain is that the Democratic Party establishment has lost the ability to even pretend to speak to working people’s interests, whether white, black or Latino. What was notable in this election was not just a limited (and frequently exaggerated) turn by white workers to the Republicans, but the lack of enthusiasm among young black workers for the Democrats and the incredible nearly 30% vote among Latinos for Trump. As Mike Davis recently pointed out on, “the lower Black turnout in Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia alone would explain most of Clinton’s defeat in the Midwest.” He adds though that the lower turnout was also due to voter suppression, ie traditional Republican election rigging.
The question of Trump’s working class support is not simply a matter of “understanding others.” It is a very real practical question facing the movement. Simply put, to really defeat the right and begin to resume an offensive struggle for the needs of working people, the movement will need to win over sections of Trump’s base. Sanders’ poll numbers against Trump and the huge response he received among working people generally shows that this can be done.
Another section of Trump’s base will not be reached. But it is possible to isolate and defeat the organized far right forces which at this point remain small, though emboldened, and generally extremely unskilful.
The Democrats, the Unions, and the Role of Socialists
A huge debate is opening up among progressive workers and youth about how to defeat Trump. Packed meetings of hundreds, including many organized by Socialist Alternative, are being held around the country.
One argument which at this point has a lot of support is that we must combine building a movement against Trump with a determined effort to “take over” the Democratic Party and make it an instrument that represents the interests of ordinary people rather than Wall Street. This is the argument of Sanders and Our Revolution, as well as the dominant elements in the Democratic Socialists of America.
Given the crisis that has opened up in the Democratic Party due to their incredible failure to defeat the odious Trump, it is understandable why many would be attracted to this perspective. More than at any time in the past 40 years the “centrist” neo-liberal leadership of the party is on the defensive. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren have been strengthened. They are supporting Keith Ellison, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who is standing for chair of the DNC. While Ellison has also received the support of some figures in the establishment like Chuck Schumer, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, who are playing for time and want to avoid deeper division, Ellison’s campaign is now running into pushback from the Obama White House.
Undoubtedly, the Sanders position which stresses the need for movements “from below” is far superior to the craven response of Richard Trumka, head of the AFL-CIO and key Democrats who said they wanted to “work with Trump” or have a “seat at the table.”
We believe in the unity of the widest possible forces in common action against Trump’s attacks. But we strongly disagree with the idea that the corporate Democrats can be turned into an instrument for working people. There is a mistaken idea promoted by some on the left that the Democrats once represented the interests of working people. This was never the case. It is true that the party shifted sharply to the right in the 80s and 90s but this reflected the needs of capitalism in a new period.
The question of the character of the Democrats was sharply posed by Sanders historic campaign earlier this year. This led to ferocious resistance by the party establishment. The lengths to which they were prepared to go to prevent Sanders pro-working class campaign winning has now been fully revealed by Wikileaks.
But even if Sanders had somehow managed to win the rigged primary he would have faced the choice of either capitulating to the demands of the neo-liberal party establishment or having to go to war against their sabotage. This would have meant essentially laying the basis for a new party. As Sanders correctly said to Clinton in the debates you can’t serve the interests of both Wall Street and working people.
A party which stands for working people must first of all advance a bold anti-corporate, working class agenda. But it must also require their elected representatives to refuse all corporate donations and accept only the average income of their constituents like Kshama Sawant, socialist councilmember in Seattle. Most Democratic elected officials would choose to leave the Democrats rather than accept this situation. This is why we will continue to argue for a new party of the 99%.
The movement to defeat Trump’s reactionary agenda will face many challenges. But there is no reason for despair. The enormous determination to fight back already being shown by hundreds of thousands of young people, women, people of color and LGBTQ people points to the potential for building the biggest mass movement in American history which can inflict a decisive blow to the right.
But we have to clearly understand the tasks posed and who our friends and who our enemies are. As we have argued here we need a clear strategy based on the social power of working people. Some might despair given the conservative leadership of the existing unions. But there have also been real signs of life like the Verizon strike earlier this year, the biggest strike in nearly 20 years which beat back the company’s attacks. There is also a developing alliance of progressive unions including National Nurses United, the Communication Workers of America and the Amalgamated Transit Union, all of whom supported Sanders and are now supporting the heroic fight of Native people at Standing Rock. The questions of shaking up, transforming and building unions into democratically run campaigning organizations that can organize and lead struggles will be more and more sharply posed.
At the end of the day, Trump’s ascendancy is a reflection of the deep and growing crisis of the capitalist system whose institutions have been deeply discredited during the last historical period and even more during this election cycle. The ruling class is divided, not sure how to respond. The economic collapse of 2008 and 2009 and the millions of jobs lost and homes foreclosed while the rich have got richer has led to a serious questioning of the system along with the looming climate catastrophe and the exposure of searing racial injustice.
Trump’s presidency will deepen the radicalization of sections of society. Poll after poll indicates growing support for socialism especially among young people. Socialist Alternative is working towards building a new socialist party, based on Marxist politics. The movement we are building will need a clear anti-capitalist, socialist force within it that argues for a working class centered struggle against Trump and the entire system which has totally outlived its usefulness. If you agree, join us!
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President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning-She Must Not Die In Jail-A Story Goes With It-Observe Her Birthday December 17th

President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning-She Must Not Die In Jail-A 
Story Goes With It-Observe Her Birthday December 17th

By Fritz Taylor 

[The organization that the two men, Ralph Morse and Bartlett Webber, in the story below belong to, Veterans for Peace, has been a long-time supporter of the struggle for freedom for heroic whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. Veterans for Peace has supported Chelsea since the organization found out in the summer of 2010 through Courage to Resist, an organization dedicated to publicizing the plight of military resisters, that she had been arrested and through a long process wound up in solitary confinement down at the Quantico Marine Base south of Washington in Virginia. She had been charged with releasing hundreds of thousands of documents via Wiki-leaks to a candid world. Many of them documenting the cover-up at all levels of military atrocities by American soldiers, mercenaries under contract to the American government or within the American-led coalition. The most graphic and infamous piece of evidence of such actions was a tape of a helicopter crew gunning down unarmed civilians in Iraq which is available on YouTube under the title Collateral Murder and laughing about it afterwards. (That tape, the entire tape, all thirty-nine minutes is permanently part of the record in the Manning case placed there at trial by the defense team. No one ever challenged the veracity of the tape although no one was ever charged with any crimes either.)
Chelsea was held in pre-trial confinement for over three years (opening an appeal question about constitutional speedy trial rights-applicable even in the military courts. Her solitary confinement (for her own good either because she was then a suicide risk by one account or because her fellow soldiers would be so outraged by her whistle-blowing that they feared for her safety by another-take your pick) at Quantico lasted almost a year before she was due in part at least to a public outcry and rallies of hundreds at the gates of Quantico for her release she was placed in Fort Leavenworth. (Here is the military logic tough-every time she had to appear for some matter before the court at Fort Meade she would be flown back and forth after the conclusion of whatever had transpired.) Ms. Manning (Private if you prefer her rank) has after an over two month trial been convicted of a number of charges including several counts of espionage under a law going back to World War I and sentenced to a thirty-five year sentence as a result of being court-martialed in the summer of 2013 and is currently being held in the all-male barracks at Fort Leavenworth out on the prairies of Kansas.     
Ralph and Bart first heard about the details of the case in the fall of 2010 when they received an e-mail from the American Civil Liberties Union announcing a forum to be held at Boston University to publicize the case. (Bart was not sure that he had not seen something about the matter earlier on Boston Indy Media where Anonymous, a radical underground group, had places news about the case and of course the leaks would have been by then public knowledge but this forum was the first active part they played in the case.) They both attended that forum and as a result have been ever since involved one way or another in Chelsea’s defense. Their first action was to “pony up,” these are working-class guys so pony up is right, some money for the defense. (Courage To Resist was/is the repository for raising and accounting for all legal defense monies since the beginning. As stated above that organization has had a long history of supporting military resisters-for military whistle-blowers as well.)         

There were many reasons why this case had appealed to them personally but the strongest reason was that they were “paying their dues” as Bart put it while speaking about the case one Saturday afternoon at a vigil for Chelsea at historic Park Street Station on the Boston Common for not having had the courage during their own military service during the Vietnam War to “buck the system.” For a long time, actually since the last days of the Vietnam War when they supported an anti-war G.I. coffeehouse near Fort Devens about forty miles outside of Boston, they had no opportunity to get involved in a military resister case so once this case surfaced they were “all in.” (After they “got religion” on the war issue they had done their respective peace activist works through various mostly ad hoc organizations and for the past several years through VFP. The last time I checked they were still “all in.” That will tell you something about them, about how razor sharp that military service had made them  about the folly of war and about the importance of the Chelsea Manning case, especially as now as the long drag of her sentence and her environment has worn her down and she has attempted suicide twice in the past few months. (Google the Chelsea Manning Support Network for details.) So Frank Jackman’s phrase “she must not die in jail” in the headline is not a rhetorical flourish. Not at all. F.T.]      
“You know it is a crying shame that the Chelsea Manning case has fallen beneath the cracks, that her plight as the only woman prisoner in an all-male prison out there in the wheat fields of Kansas, out at Leavenworth has been ignored except for an occasional news note or yet another petition for President Obama to do the right thing like he has with the draconian drug cases and pardon her, to commute her sentence to time served, to the six plus years she has already been tossed away behind the walls,” yelled Ralph Morse over to Bart Webber while they were preparing to set up a banner proclaiming that very idea as part of a birthday vigil for Chelsea on her 29th birthday on this cold December day. The banner “President Obama Pardon-Chelsea Manning-“We Will Not Leave Our Sister Behind” with two copies of a photograph of her as some friendly artist had drawn of an image her as she might look like if she could express her full sexual identity (see above) and not the Army’s hard-ass male version since she had “come out” as a transgender woman shortly after her sentencing in 2013 had been inspired, the last part anyway by their fellow VFPer Frank Jackman. Frank had had his own very personal “war” against the military during his war, again Vietnam, and had served time in an Army stockade for refusing to go to that war. He always said that the one thing the Army did teach him was that you did not leave your fellow soldiers behind, and sometimes that might be the only reason left to fight. He thought it appropriate that peaceful veterans could express that same sentiment about a political prisoner who once the notoriety of the case faded could use plenty of that sentiment. 

(Ralph thought to himself while he was yelling over to Bart and cutting some wind holes in the banner to cut the sometimes fierce winds that passed through the Boston Common that he would never get over those basic training drill sergeants during his time in the military during the Vietnam War, never get over being spooked by them that if you did not toe the mark you would wind up in Leavenworth and here he was supporting a young transgender whistleblower who wound up in that very place after having done what he should have done-resist- but he cowered to those redneck drill sergeants. Well even 60-somethings can learn a thing or two from the younger crowd.)

“Yeah, between the fact that she had to in order to protect herself against maltreatment from a bunch of goddam threatening guards who told her to “man up” at Leavenworth after she was convicted and sentenced to those hard thirty-five years in 2013 “come out” as a transgender woman and the overriding blow-up over the Snowden revelations which took all the air out of any other whistle-blower case Chelsea got the short end of the stick,” replied Bart also yelling his comment across to Ralph against both the windy day and the constant stream of loonies, crazies and con men and women who populated the environs around the Park Street subway station at Boston Common on any given Saturday of while both men could tell a million zany stories about between the hours of one and two in the afternoon when the space, or part of it, was given over to  peace action groups and other left-wing political organizations.

(That business about formerly Bradley having to reveal her true sexual identity the day after her sentencing had been a personal safety necessity against the taunts of the guards out in Leavenworth as both men had been told by a man from Courage To Resist who knew the inside story when they asked why she had “come out” so soon after the sentencing which threw a lot of supporters off-center who had not been privy to the sexual politics involved although some stuff had come out courtesy of the Army about her sexual identity in order to diminish her heroic actions.)   

Oddly, or maybe not so oddly at that, Bart, as he told Ralph later that day when they were sitting in a bar having a couple of drinks to warm themselves up against the coldness of the day thinking about the day’s action that he too had been thinking about how incongruous it would have been in his old working class neighborhood in Riverdale to be supporting a transgender soldier condemned to Leavenworth, a “transvestite,” a drag queen they would have called her not then making the subtle distinctions that have evolved on questions of sexual identity. Had that day thought about the time that he and his corner boys, that is what they called each other back then when there were corners for dough-less guys to hang around on, that one summer they had travelled down to Provincetown, even then a gay and other odd-ball Mecca for the specific purpose of baiting the drag queens, faggots and dykes along with getting the usual drunk to gather courage. Jesus.                    

Ralph thought to himself as he continued to cut a few wind holes in the banner proclaiming the need for President Obama to grant Chelsea her pardon that he had come a long way (and Bart too) since the fall of 2010 when they learned that Chelsea (then using her birth name Bradley but here we will use her chosen now legal name and assume everybody understands that this is the same person we are talking about) was being held essentially incommunicado down at the Quantico Marine Base (strange location since Chelsea was in the Army and the various branches of the services jealously guard their prerogatives) in solitary and their organization, Veterans for Peace, had called for demonstrations to have her released even then, or at least taken have her taken out of solitary and stop being tortured (not some  small “peacenik” charge or propaganda super-charged to gain sympathy for the victim of government repression since the appropriate United Nations rapporteur had made such a finding in her case concerning her pre-trial treatment). Ralph and Bart had been among the very first to set up a rally (not at Park Street but in Davis Square over in Somerville where Bart had lived for the previous decade) and they had been committed to her defense ever since. The weekly shout-out on Friday afternoons is the place where Ralph not known a as a public speaker but more as a “Jimmy Higgins” figure (a rank and filer who did the odd chores to insure the success of the event) began get his “voice,” get his political facts in a row with at first maybe a minute speech. By the end of that series of vigils which were switched the busier intersection at Central Square in Cambridge you could hardly get the “mic” out of his hand. Bart who had some college behind him where he had to take a debating class as a requirement his freshman year tended to give the pitches about what people could to support Chelsea, usually a set five minute speech.   

(That shout-out designation was simply current usage for such events in the wake of the Occupy movement where the term took on an almost religious mantra quality. Also acceptable and used at other times including the event that Brad and Ralph were helping stage this day- vigil, rally or whatever other appropriate name you want to call an event where people were free to express their opinions about Chelsea’s case and other causes which made sense to speak of and a few times budding folk singers who also hung out in the space would come by and sing some song, especially David Rovacs tribute to Chelsea’s heroic action.)

Both men freely admitted and it bears repeating here that what was driving them on this case more fervently that other peace and progressive actions they had been involved with over the decades had been their own admittedly sorry response to “their” war, Vietnam. In Ralph’s case joining the Army, meaning volunteering for three years   and in Bart’s case by accepting induction into that same Army for the mandatory two years had caused then after the fact, after their military service to “get religion” on the questions of war and peace. Ralph had gone out of his way to join up as soon after high school as he could. Had bought in hook, line and sinker all the admittedly paper-thin anti-communist domino theory reasons provided by the government any given week to justify their actions. Hell, the hard truth and Ralph was hardly alone in this a young man was looked down at in his old Forsythe Street section of Troy if he waited for the draft board to come calling for him to get on the ball. Most of the guys he knew were already in or getting ready to. The neighborhood had already lost a few guys over in Vietnam, a few more had come back as shells of their former selves. Ralph in any case like his class had done his “tour” in Vietnam without a peep although already he knew that he had to do something to let people know what really was going on-mostly straight out murder and mayhem against people that he had no quarrel with-after he got out if he survived to calm the horrible pit that never left his stomach one he got “in country.”

Bart had had more qualms about the war, had seen no way though that he could escape the draft once the draft board tagged him. Like Ralph most of his friends and neighbors supported the war, the guys doing their service, a few not coming back as in all wars. While he made a few more noises about his feelings about the war while he was in uniform he had kept quiet mostly, kept the drill sergeant-driven “you don’t want to wind up in Leavenworth” quiet. He did not wind up going to Vietnam as after Tet in 1968 when all hell broke loose which signaled either endless war or an ordered retreat the military authorities were beginning to pull back the troops during his time. He often wondered though if he had gotten orders for Vietnam what he would have done. Probably gone quietly like his wife, his very patriotic wife whose two brothers were doing second tours in ‘Nam wanted him too when the deal went down. No Canada or jail for him. To his shame as he told the military resister one night at a VFP general meeting after hearing about what Frank had done during his time (this is about Chelsea but Frank had done time in the Army stockade for refusing to go to Vietnam).          

They saw the Chelsea case as pay-back to a real hero, maybe the only hero of the Iraq War and had worked like seven dervishes on the case. More importantly had kept the faith even after the case inevitably went off the front pages and became a cypher to the general population. The case like all high publicity and high stakes political prisoner cases had been front and center for a while, say from the time of the Wikileaks exposes with their endless documentation of the nefarious activities of the American and other governments in covering up everything that could be covered up in order as both Ralph and Bart knew from their short Army experiences to “cover your ass” to the verdict and sentence at trial. After that unfortunately even some supporters drift away and the thing becomes yesterday’s news in the welter of some new case (here the Snowden case took a lot of the air out since his revelations were current unlike Chelsea’s which dealt with pass atrocities and had personal effects on almost everybody in the cyberspace universe meaning almost everybody). Yesterday’s news to everybody but the defendant who has to do the hard time while the attorneys sniff around for issues on the long drawn out appeal. That is the hard reality of political prisoner cases, especially when it seems the trial was “fair” and the defendant had been convicted of a crime after all.

Not doing what was right at the time of your confrontation with your own war a very powerful now lifelong impetus to push on in the face of indifference and hostility among the general public these days. Both men had agreed once the fanfare had died down that along with keeping the case in the public eye as best they could they would commemorate two milestones in Chelsea’s life yearly-the anniversary of her incarceration by the government now over six years in May and her birthday in December (her 29th). That was why Ralph and Bart were struggling with the downtown winds to put their banner in place. These days they were not taking the overall lead in setting up such events but had responded to a call by the Queer Strike Force to do so and they were following that organization’s lead to rally and to make one last desperate push to get Chelsea a pardon. They had urged everybody who had not done so to sign the on-line petition to President Obama (see link above) to commute her sentence to “time served.” That on-line petition needed one hundred thousand signatures in order to get an official response from the White House about the matter (it also had to be done in a thirty day period). They were still short so hence the urgency of their calls. Everybody agreed, willingly or not, that under the impending Dump the Trump regime that Chelsea’s chances of a pardon were about zero, maybe less. So the rally. And so too the desperation in Ralph and Bart’s own minds that the slogan their fellow VFPer Frank Jackman had coined-“we will not leave our sister behind” would now fall on deaf ears, that she would face at least four, maybe eight years of hard ass prison time-time to be served as a man in a woman’s body when the deal went down. Worse that Chelsea had already attempted twice earlier in the year to commit suicide and the hard fact emblazoned in the added sentence on their banner-“she must not die in jail” had added urgency. (She had as well under some bizarre Army logic been “sentenced” to fourteen days in solidarity for the first attempt-Jesus, figures both men had blurred out when they heard that news earlier in the fall.)         

Ralph and Bart had met down in Washington in 1971 after both had been discharged from the Army and had gotten up some courage, with some prompting from their respective very anti-war girlfriends (Bart had divorced that hung-ho wife as soon as he got out of the Army), to go down and get arrested during the May Day actions when in another desperate situation they tried to help shut down the government if it would not shut down the war-the Vietnam War. They had been through a lot over the years in the struggle to keep the peace message alive and well despite the endless wars, and despite the near zero visibility on the subject over the previous ten plus years.

Both had grown up in very working class neighborhood respectively Troy in upstate New York and Riverdale out about thirty miles west of Boston and had followed the neighborhood crowds unthinkingly in accepting their war and participating in the war machine when it came their time. So no way in 1968,1969 say could either have projected that they would hit their sixties standing out in the lonesome corners of the American public square defending an Army private who in many quarters was considered a traitor and who moreover was gay. In the old days the best term they could think of to describe their respective attitudes toward gays was “faggot and dyke”-Jesus. (That whole gay issue was already well known to them from some information provided by agents of Courage to Resist, the organization which was the main conduit for publicity about the case and for financing Chelsea’s legal defenses. They also were aware through those same agents about Chelsea’s sexual identity which all partisans and Chelsea herself had agreed to keep on the “low” in order not get that issue confused with her heroic whistle-blower actions during trial and only later revealed by her publicly as a matter of self-defense as mentioned above.)    

Later that night after the birthday vigil was over and Ralph and Bart were sitting at Jack’s over in Cambridge near where Bart lives (Ralph still lived in Troy) having a few shots to ward away the cold of the day’s events both had been a bit morose. The event had gone as well as could be expected on a political prisoner case that was three years removed from the serious public eye. The usual small coterie of “peace activists” had shown up and a few who were supporting Chelsea as a fellow transgender and there had been the usual speeches and pleas to sign the on-line petition to the White House to trigger a response from the President on the question of a pardon (see link above). (That lack of response by the greater LGBTQ community to Chelsea’s desperate plight all through the case had had Ralph and Bart shaking their heads in disgust as the usual reason given was that all energies had to be expended on getting gay marriage recognized. The twice divorced Ralph and three times divorced mumbled to themselves over that one).

Ralph and Bart were in melancholy mood no question since they had long ago given up any illusion that the struggle against war and for some kind of social justice was going to be easy but the prospects ahead, what Ralph had called the coming “cold civil war” under the tutelage of one Donald Trump had them reeling as it related to Chelsea’s case. They bantered back and forth about how many actions they had participated in since they got the news of the case that a young whistle-blower was being held for telling the world about the cover-up of countless atrocities committed by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (via Wiki-leaks, not the mainstream media who would not touch making the information that Chelsea had gleaned for love or money).

There were the trips to Quantico down in hostile Virginia in order to get Chelsea out of the “hole,” get her out of Marine base solitary (and where they faced an incredible array of cops and military personnel all to “monitor” a few hundred supporters). The trips to the White House to proclaim their message. The several trips during the trial down at Fort Meade in Maryland where they had to laugh about being on a military base for the first time in decades (they had been barred many years back for demonstrations on a military base against the Reagan administrations war against Central America). The weekly vigils before the case went to trial and over the previous three years the fight to keep the case in the public eye.         

As they finished up their last shots of whiskey against the cold night both agreed though that come May they would be out commemorating Chelsea’s seventh year in the jug if Obama did not do the right thing beforehand. They both yelled as they went their separate ways (Ralph was staying with his daughter in Arlington) old Frank Jackman’s coined phrase-“we will not leave our sister behind.” No way.   

*From The Pages Of “Workers Vanguard”- Free the MOVE 9 Prisoners! Remember May 1985 MOVE Massacre

Click on the headline to link to the article from “Workers Vanguard” described in the title.

Markin comment:

As almost always these historical articles and polemics are purposefully helpful to clarify the issues in the struggle against world imperialism, particularly the “monster” here in America.

Out In The Big Bubble- Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson’s Fair Game (2010)-A Film Review

Out In The Big Bubble- Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson’s Fair Game (2010)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Fair Game, starring Naomi Waits, Sean Penn, based on the writings of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, 2010  

It is a rather odd circumstance when I am rooting for a CIA agent to win, or at least get out from under what burden he or she is facing. Not that I wish any particular harm but the agency as a whole is usually in my sights for criticism for its nefarious activities. Those activities, as highlighted in the film under review Fair Game about the “outing” of CIA operative Valerie Plame over her assessments about the rationale for the Iraq War (the one started officially in 2003 not the earlier one in 1991 although there is a connection about the fate of the Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, WMD, that link the two together) including some very shady dealings around the lead-up to the war in 2002. Although that agency was hardly the prime culprit for that disastrous war policy that we are still paying for in cash, lives, including innocent Iraqi citizen lives, and for arbitrary use of military power that had made the world cringe before and has since the initial phase of the military campaign was completed.   
Valerie Plame Wilson was a career CIA operative whose tasks included checking up on the bad guys who were looking to get nuclear weapons for jihad or whatever purpose bad guys were looking for powerful weapons. In the post-9/11 world that task took on greater importance as the American government under President Bush was looking for a rationale to blast Iraq’s dictator and nemesis Saddam off the map as part of the overall national security plan to thwart the international terrorist cabals. The Bush administration (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell, et al) were looking for any evidence that Saddam had his WMD program still intact after 1991. So even the slightest evidence that would physically prove that he was still pursuing his program was welcome-they would “spin” whatever tidbits they had once they got a bite.    
One big piece of “evidence” that was making the rounds, the thing that got Valerie, played by Naomi Waits, and her ex-ambassador husband, Joe Wilson, played by Sean Penn was “yellowcake” uranium, lots of it, allegedly being sought by the Iraqis from Niger in Africa. During the lead-up to the war the CIA “hired” Joe, who had contacts in the area, in Niger, to verify if possible that trail. Joe’s conclusion: the “purchase” didn’t exist, nada, nothing of the kind. Of course that conclusion when the CIA kicked it upstairs died a quiet death. Lost amount a million other things in the welter of war. The administration had buried the information deep in some hole and had spun a whole different unture tale and Joe was ticked off about it.      

As the disastrous policy in Iraq unfolded Joe Wilson, who had connections in the press, wrote an op-ed article about his true findings in Niger concerning the yellowcake. Then all hell broke loose. Administration officials were running for cover, guys like Karl Rove and Scooter Libby in particular. A little trick they played to get even was to “out” Valerie Plume. A no-no. A no-no as far as federal law went and a no-no as far as Joe Wilson was concerned. While Valerie was the “good soldier” keeping quiet despite her being kicked out of the agency Joe was determined to find the culprits who did his wife and her career in. And he succeeded, or at least had the satisfaction to see somebody take the fall (Scooter Libby who was subsequently sentenced and pardoned for his crimes). A small victory against the big boys by an average citizen. That part is to the good. Still I am a little uneasy about having had to raise my fist and say well done Joe and Valerie. An interesting topical movie in the age of serious “disinformation” and “false” news.