Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Max Daddy Of The Concord Woods-The Bicentennial Of The Birth Of Walden’s Henry David Thoreau

The Max Daddy Of The Concord Woods-The Bicentennial Of The Birth Of Walden’s Henry David Thoreau

By Fritz Taylor   

I came to the mad monk of the Concord (Ma) woods, the prophet seeker of Walden Pond late, too late when the deal went down. Too late to help me get through the draft/Army war-circus that was for my generation called Vietnam, the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War where we torched, burned, blasted, bombed, belched seven shades of hell against people, excuse my English, who never did a fucking thing to me or mine. To anybody else’s “me and mine” in this country as I learned later, later when I started to connect, started to dig what this mad monk of the Walden had to say about bothering or not bothering other people just because some, excuse my English again, fucking jerk decided that he needed to prove who was king of the hill. Yeah, so you know I was incensed after I did my Vietnam torching, burning, blasting, bombing and belching seven shades of hell against people I had no quarrel with. I didn’t get “religion” until later.           

Now there are many things that this mad monk of the woods taught a candid world (candid when that word had some meaning) about how to preserve the earth, about taking about six steps back and chilling out in your over-stressed life but what grabbed me about the guy was that time when he went crazy over that bastard Jimmy Polk running his ass ragged going to war with the Mexicans. Another people we had no quarrel with and still don’t just because they want to come north to their homeland when you thing about the matter. Yeah, Henry David drove them crazy back in the day when he said he wasn’t pitching in dollar number one for that damn war. Took some jail time for his act of civil disobedience, for speaking truth to power, for setting an example that others later when they took a look at history and guys who did what they had to do did what they had to do.

Yeah left a legacy for later generations. Left it for guys like me who took a wrong turn-for a while. The other day thought I think I might have done old Brother Thoreau proud though. I and a group of Vietnam veterans who I associate were arrested for protesting and protecting some Mexican immigrants who the bastards were trying to deport even though they have been in Estados Unidos all their lives almost. That was my seventeenth arrest for an act of civil disobedience. Henry David your act back in the day did not go unremarked- Thanks Brother.         

Be-Bop, Be-Bop Daddy-In Honor Of The Centennial Of The Birth Of The Mad Monk- Thelonious Monk

Be-Bop, Be-Bop Daddy-In Honor Of The Centennial Of The Birth Of The Mad Monk- Thelonious Monk   

By Zack James

No question I was (and still am on nostalgia late nights) a child of rock and roll and while I was just a shade too young to appreciate what was driving my older brothers and sisters to blow their socks off screaming about the new dispensation brought forth by Carl, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Buddy and a fistful of other (and earlier influences like Big Joe Turner, Warren Smith, Smiley Jackson) I was washed clean in the afterglow of that time. Then the music died, got stale for a time and I, along with a billion other lost tween and teen souls, was looking for something to take the pain away from having to listen to Conway Twitty, Fabian, and Bobby Dee and Sandra Dee(I won’t even get into the beef I have with those guys who “stole” the hearts of the very girls I was interested in who would not give me a tumble since I was not their kind of “cute”). Later before the rock revival of the 1960s-the British Invasion for one thing I feasted on the folk minute.

But that was later. In between those times during the drought I got “hip” to jazz, to the cool ass max daddy of cooled-off jazz not the stuff that my parents were crazy for-you know Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, the Duke, the Count, the Big Earl beautiful Fatah Hines (I would appreciate those pioneers a little late-about fifty years late). What caught my ear one night when I was flipping the dial on my transistor radio (look it up on Wikipedia if you don’t know what that life-saver was) and I caught a few strands of a piece on Bill Marlowe’s Be-Bop Jazz Hour (it was really two hours but hour probably sounded better in the show’s title). After that piece was over, really after several pieces were completed since the show unlike rock and roll shows was not inundated with commercials after every song Bill mentioned that those pieces had been performed by a guy he called the Mad Monk. Mentioned Thelonious Monk in a loving awestruck way as a max daddy of cool, very cool, maybe ice cold jazz. This I could listen to. Moreover the whole show was filled with cool jazz including guys like Charley Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Charley Christian, the Prez, sweet Billy Holiday when she blasted outside the big band sound.

Get this though the real hook was that some guys like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burrows and a bunch of sidekicks were setting the cool ass jazz to poetry, to “beat” poetry that I was beginning to hear about. Started talking in clipped voices about there being new sheriffs in town-about the time of the hipsters come down to earth- that the thaw was on and that you had better get on board and some of us did-did catch the tail end of beat fever. But you cannot understand “beat”  without paying dues to guys like the Monk who was born a hundred years ago this year. Could not understand “beat” if you didn’t “dig” the Monk on the piano searching for that high white note to blow the world out into the China seas. Thanks-brother.              

Artist’s Corner-For Black History Month-J. M.W. Turner’s Slave Ship

Artist’s Corner-For Black History Month-J. M.W. Turner’s Slave Ship

Sometimes, to paraphrase the old saw about a picture telling more than one thousand words, a painting or film will tell more about what was going on in a society than a million books or speeches on the subject. Once can think a Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and the scene against the black and white film of the red coat of a little girl walking in what amounted to her death in the concentration camp and the later shot of that same red coat on a pile of clothes to tell more than a lot of speeches about the horrors inflicted there. Similarly the short scene in the film Amistad when dead and sick slaves going through the Middle Passage are slipped overboard as a matter of course to know the repugnance of slavery.          

J.M.W. Turner, himself a slavery abolitionist, did the same thing with his masterpiece Slave Ship for an earlier generation to graphically show what that institution was all about. Amazingly his style was based on color schemes rather than defined bodies and other details like the fish and sea monsters circling in for a feast which makes the whole scene that much more compelling. Hopefully that painting, as Turner intended it, turned its viewers to action against that vile institution. It certainly affected me the first time I saw it in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston almost over a hundred and fifty years later. If you are in Boston go to the second floor of the old building where the artists of the Romantic period in European painting are exhibited and spent a few moments looking at the details of this one.      

***Poet’s Corner- Langston Hughes -50-50

***Poet’s Corner- Langston Hughes -50-50

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

February is Black History Month


I’m all alone in this world, she said,
Ain’t got nobody to share my bed,
Ain’t got nobody to hold my hand—
The truth of the matter’s
I ain’t got no man.

Big Boy opened his mouth and said,
Trouble with you is
You ain’t got no head!
If you had a head and used your mind
You could have me with you
All the time.

She answered, Babe, what must I do?

He said, Share your bed—
And your money, too.

Langston Hughes

The whole world knew, or at least the important parts of that world, that summer of 2012 downtown Boston world (near the Common say from the Public Gardens to Newbury Street but also near birth place Columbus Avenue), knew that Larry Johnson was Ms. Loretta Lawrence’s every day man (and it goes without saying her every night man too). Make no mistake, girls, women, even though they didn’t hold hands in public or throw public kisses at each other, they were an an “item.” Loretta at five-ten and rail thin, fashion model day thin and what in the old days was called a very light “high yella,” mixed blood from some old South Mister’s wanting habits and some “passing for white” along the way but in any case very highly sought after just then for coffee table magazine shoots didn’t look like trouble, but anytime a a woman gave Larry a side glance look Loretta’s eyes said keep your hands off. And they did, those in the fashion industry, mostly her fellow models, and maybe a few longing sidewinder guy designers too. But somebody had Larry’s attention and Loretta was going to get to the bottom of it.

It had all started back in February when Larry asked her for a hundred dollars one night, out of the blue. Now Larry had been on a tough stretch ever since the financial collapse in 2008 (although it only bagged him in early 2010) when the markets went crazy and he got caught short, and since business was bad he eventually got that old dreaded pink slip from the big finance company that had hired him straight out of the Harvard Business School MBA program to diversify their employee mix. (Larry found out later that one manager, who had publicly said he was crazy to get him had told a friend of his that he hired Larry to add “color” to his staff). Nobody was hiring so he had just been kind of living off his old time bonuses, and a little of this and that.

Funny, funny now, Larry and Loretta had met at a bar down in the financial district where he had stopped off for a drink after passing his resume around for about the umpteenth time and she had just finished a shoot (for a cosmetic company as they were trying to expand their markets that had keyed on her for her ravishing looks, brown hair, brown eyes, very light brownish high cheek-boned skin which was a plus since whatever diversity there was in the fashion market the hard fact was there was a drop off when dark as Africa black women graced the covers of most magazines or other advertising venues) down near the water at International Place and her photographer had offered to buy her a drink. His eyes met hers, her eyes met his in return and before anyone really knew it he had moved in on her like something out of one of those old time thriller romance novels that you read and at the end can’t believe that you spent your good hard-earned rest reading and cannot believe either that the “she” of the story would be so stupid in the end to have gotten mixed-up with a wacko like that.

Larry had moved in on her too, literally, after a few weeks of downy billow talk and his argument (which she was okay with, she wasn’t saying she wasn’t) that two could live as cheaply as one (which isn’t true but close enough) and he could cut down on expenses during his rough patch. And it was nice, nice to have a man around, with man’s things, a man’s scent, and a man’s silly little vanities that she had not experienced since Phil (she would not use a last name because Phil was well known, too well-known) had left her a few years back. Every once in a while though she would notice a ten here or a twenty there missing from her pocketbook but figured that either she, spendthrift she, had spent it on some forgotten bobble or Larry had taken it for some household thing and didn’t report the fact (although she, they, had insisted on a collective counting of expenses). Then came the night of Larry’s official request. And she gave it to him, a loan, a loan was all it was. The first time.

After a few more requests for dough, and the granting of those requests, Loretta started to try to figure out what the heck he was doing with the dough (he said it was to help get a job, or he needed new shirts, or something, something different each time). Then she thought about Phil, not about the money part (Jesus, he had thrown his dough at her when he was strong for her, called her his little money-machine and laughed) but as he started losing interest in her he stopped showering the money because he was seeing another woman on the side and showering it on her (that “her” being a friend of hers, and not even beautiful, just smart). And so she started thinking that Larry, Larry the guy who was sharing her bed every night (every night so it had to be a daytime dalliance), was having another affair. She resolved that Larry would get no more money, no more loans, as he called them and if she found out that he was two-timing her that woman had better leave town because, two-timer or not, bum-of-the-mouth or not, he was her man and she had told one and all hands off. And she meant it.

A Veteran’s Open Letter to President Trump


A Veteran’s Open Letter to President Trump

Mr. President,
As my family and friends could attest, I do not advertise my veteran status as the first thing people hear about me, but I use it here simply to achieve several minutes of your time to read this letter in its entirety. What I write here comes from a place of deeply held moral conviction, and an utter abhorrence for your treatment of democracy. As a great many veterans and military members did, I signed an enlistment contract with the intent of serving my country and protecting the values we consider most sacred. I was na茂ve in many ways, and my experiences in Afghanistan showed me that, but my original intention was rooted in service to country and to others. Your idea of service seems to be unilateral decisions and swift strokes of a pen with which you destroy the lives and hopes of millions of human beings. Your idea of “protecting” us is to label entire countries and people groups as evil, which is not only ignorant, but it puts a larger target on America’s back and provides terrorist recruiters all the ammunition they’ll need for the next decade.
I know you value your own voice over that of anyone else, but just try for the next five minutes to hear me – actually hear me, and not automatically dismiss what I’m saying just because it doesn’t pad your ego. I am the daughter of a housekeeper and a maintenance man, both life-long republicans and devoted Christians. I do not share all of their political beliefs, but I respect them as people and I adopted key elements of my character from their lived example. They taught me the value of hard and honest work, rather than the endless pursuit of a vast accumulation of personal wealth. They taught me that the value of human life means ALL human life, young or old, rich or poor, white or black, American or not. They taught me that if a person needs a place to live, you open up your home. They taught me that if someone is hungry, you offer them a place at your own table. They taught me that a person’s character is judged by their actions, and yours speak to an incredible level of arrogance, selfishness, and narcissism.
For someone who has never witnessed war, you are awfully quick to speak of dropping bombs. For someone who used veterans as a regular prop in your campaign, I’m hard pressed to find a single shred of evidence that you ever spent time in a VA hospital or visited troops in a combat zone. For someone who professes to be a Christian, you blatantly ignore the overarching and continual theme of the Bible which is to show love and compassion for those most in need, especially to those in poverty, those being oppressed, and those considered immigrants. Refugees are all of those things, and should be receiving the best help America can offer. Instead they are being treated like the enemy. You claim to be a patriotic American, yet your every action spits on the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on Lady Liberty “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. I suppose if past presidents acted as you are now, then your family would never have made it here from Germany.
I speak now to the tiny shred of you that may actually care about the whole next generation of Americans, not just your own children. Stop talking and start listening. Stop signing things for which you have no idea the true impact and start doing some research. Stop playing on people’s worst fears and start employing their best values. Because you see, Mr. Trump, America is not your country, it is OURS – those of us who live in its flawed but still precious neighborhoods and not in its ivory towers or corner offices; those of us who work decades just to own a single home, not multiple mansions or resorts. You seem to live in an alternate reality, but let me tell you some true history – this country was stolen from indigenous people, enlarged by forcefully taking land from Mexico, populated through mass immigration, enriched on the backs of slaves, and made powerful through the constant use and abuse of the military for geopolitical motives. Now for our future you want to:
1 Desecrate what remaining land indigenous populations do have 2 Ban the arrival of refugees who are fleeing for their very lives 3 Build the next Berlin wall to keep out Latin American people who are more entitled to the land than we are (FYI – your hero, Ronald Reagan, thought the Berlin wall was …
Here are some alternative options that would actually achieve some of things for which your voters elected you WITHOUT trampling on the Constitution and the other half of the country who did not vote for you:
1 Rather than forcing the building of oil pipelines (a finite resource), you could try asking Native tribes and other land owners to partner with you on building and maintaining wind and solar fields (infinite resources and sustainable jobs). Give something back to Native Americans instead of contin…
Mr. President, you will likely never see this letter or read these words, but the truth still needed to be said. If you truly cared about the working class, you would have put them on your Cabinet in place of Goldman Sachs. If you cared about being the highest example of ethics and leadership, you would have divested from all of your businesses, because that is what is in the best interest of the American people. If you truly cared about veterans, you would never dare say “maybe we’ll get another chance” to “take the oil”. The truth is, you don’t care, you are just obsessed with people thinking that you care. There is a world of difference.
Erin H. Leach-Ogden
US Army veteran
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Report from Standing Rock / DAPL Pipeline - Feb. 16 in Dorchester

VFP - Smedley member, Dan Luker, who is now at Standing Rock plans to return to participate in this forum.

Dorchester People for Peace Solidarity Project!
DPP works with other local groups to build a Multi-Racial Peace Movement: End wars abroad and work for justice at home.  Please join us in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe!

Peace and Prayer for Humanity
Report from Standing Rock/ DAPL Pipeline
Thursday, February 16, 2017, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
St. Marks Church School Hall, 18 Samoset St. Dorchester

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, other Native American Tribes, and non-Native allies gathered in the thousands in North Dakota to prevent the building of an oil pipeline under the Missouri River by the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Company, threatening the water source for 18 million people.  The “Water-Protectors” succeeded in halting the construction a few weeks ago, pending environmental assessments. But now Donald Trump has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to immediately approve the final step of the pipeline.

In the freezing cold, Native people are putting their bodies on the line and resisting this injustice by Trump. Thousands are joining them again, including our own community members. Together, they will be facing highly militarized forces. We must show equal fortitude!

Join us on February 16 to Plan Support for the Resistance!

MC: Judith Baker, Member, Dorchester People for Peace
Mariama White Hammond, Minister, Bethel AME Church
Emmy Rainwalker, Social Justice Activist and Support for Vets at Camp
Wyze Love, Native American Activist
Jude Glaubman, Water Protector Legal Collective at Standing Rock
Dan Luker, Vietnam Veteran, will report from Standing Rock

Endorsed by: Massachusetts Peace Action; Milton for Peace; Veterans for Peace; AFSC;
(list in formation)

For more information: 603.320.0813
MBTA Directions: Red Line (towards Ashmont): 5 minutes walk from Shawmut Stop
Wheelchair Accessible, Parking Available
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For Black History Month- Race, Gender And Space-The Black Women’s Place-“Hidden Figures” (2016)-A Film Review

Race, Gender  And Space-The Black Women’s Place-“Hidden Figures” (2016)-A Film Review     

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Hidden Figures, starring Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, 2016  

Come on now when you are thinking  about the super-duper advanced mathematicians, computer whizzes or aerospace engineers who put men and women into space and to the moon  you are thinking about short-haired crew-cut  white guys in white shirts with those plastic sleeves in their shirt pockets filled with off-hand pens sitting in mission control at Houston calling the shots as part of a vanilla team of anonymous figures (except the head guy whose head was always being fitted for the platter with each early rocket failure back in the late 1950s and early 1960s after the red scare Cold War Russians put an object and then a man in space leaving the United States of America flat-footed and looking kind of foolish what with all the expertise and dough around).

Yeah, you are thinking in those days, somewhat still true now as well of guys who went to big time science schools like Cal Tech and MIT maybe an oddball from Stanford (although now you will see at least at MIT which I am most familiar many Asian guys and gals filling the classrooms with their computers at the ready but also with those plastic sleeves still holding their pens-the gals too.) What you would not be thinking about is three black women (complete with kids at home something you don’t associate with those white-shirted guys too busy figuring out the latest orbital trajectory) who did not go to Cal Tech, MIT or even an oddball at Stanford but in the case of one Podunk West Virginia and another having to attend night school at some previously all white high school to get up to speed in order to become an aerospace engineer. But that hard if long delayed acknowledgement is what drives the film under review Hidden Figures about those three black women who were pioneers in a man’s world (along with help from other black women from the “colored” pool of human computers from which they were selected). Hell there weren’t even that many white women come to think of it but this film is a black-etched story not a generic women’s story.          

Here’s the way the plot-line played out and why we should admire the tenacity and their sense of patriotism of those women. As mentioned above the U.S. was caught flat-footed by the Russians in the late 1950s with Sputnik first of all and so NASA down in Virginia was pushed hard, pushed hard politically to show some results-to catch up and surpass the Ruskkies (with the object of winning the big prize-landing on the moon not in the distance future but as per Jack Kennedy by the end of the 1960s). So everybody needed to pull some weight-all those highly prized Cal Tech and MIT guys had to push the envelope. Aided of course by those human computers who if you can believe this in the age of the personal computer and an average eight year old’s ability to handle the damn thing with ease used adding machines and pocket calculators-maybe slide rulers too. They appear to have been mainly women-“colored” (hey that is the term of the time so let’s let that stand here as well) and white women working in separate areas of the complex at Langley.           

That seemingly ancient situation which may seem weird in our so-called “post racial” society was however the social reality in early 1960s Virginia due to the Mister James Crow laws and their strict enforcement  in that state despite whatever the courts had proclaimed in the 1950s (or for that matter the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution from the 1860s). This is the “race” part of the “race and space” title of this review. Those laws and “customs” extended right up to those highly educated white- shirted guys who in a very  telling scene put a separate “colored” coffee pot in their break area (and in another scene it took almost a second civil war to get convenient restroom facilities against the previous distant “colored” women’s restroom- Jesus)               

Why was all this breaking down of the social norms of post-bellum Virginia necessary beyond the national goals and pacing set in far-off Washington? Well one Katherine Johnson, played here by Taraji Henson, a natural and brilliant mathematician, was put on the team on her merits which would be fully tested as the white guys were behind the curve most of the time on the critical trajectory tight numbers needed to insure a safe reentry from orbit to “splash down.” One Dorothy Vaughn, played by Olivia Spencer, who was in charge of the “colored” human computers and for a long while not given her due with the actual rank of supervisor who brought her “girls” over after learning the Fortram computer language which was the wave of the future in the computation world. And one Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae, who at great effort would become the first African-American (not “colored”) aerospace engineer at NASA. Their neglected contributions to the space program and their having to facing with dignity the skewed racial ethos of the time made this an enjoyable and thoughtful two hours. Yeah, move over Cal Tech and MIT the sisters are in town.         

4/22 March for Science (Boston)-Support Scientific Research & Build The Resistance

This is the Boston, MA rally being held in parallel to the Scientists
March on Washington DC. This page is simply an event page so you can get
time, date, and location updates. Please JOIN OUR GROUP for discussion,
calls to action, volunteering opportunities, and other ways to be
involved. 馃槉

We are working on permits to determine a venue. Stay tuned for more
updates on logistics.

We have also updated our mission statement in solidarity with the D.C.
organizers (now updated in the group's description, and included below).

We would like to again emphasize that the focus of this event is a
non-partisan support for science. While we understand that politics may
be a motivator for involvement by some participants, the core goal of
this event will continue to be the show of support for science.

Mission Statement:
The March for Science champions publicly-funded and
publicly-communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and
prosperity. We unite as a diverse, non-partisan group to call for
science that upholds the common good, and for political leaders and
policy makers to enact evidence-based policies in the public interest.
This group is inclusive of all individuals and types of science!

Sat. 12 PM - 5 PM

Boston Common

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The Cold Civil War Has Started- General Strike Against Trump-February 17th-Build The Resistance!

The Cold Civil War Has Started- General Strike Against Trump-February 17th-Build The Resistance!  

The Cold Civil War In America has started (maybe has been going on, brewing, for longer than the start of the Trump regime but this is where the social fault line lies now) -Which side are you on? Build the Resistance! Build the International Solidarity Front! Build the General Strike! All Out On The 17th.

Check out this Facebook link to the General Strike Against Trump Page-Which Side Are You On?




On February 17th We SHUT IT DOWN!

We will have day of general strike and non-violent civil disobedience and demonstration.

Our Demands:

1. No Ban, No Wall. The Muslim ban is immoral, the wall is expensive and ineffectual. We will build bridges, not walls.

2. Healthcare For All. Healthcare is a human right. Do not repeal the ACA. Improve it or enact Medicare for All.

3. No Pipelines. Rescind approval for DAPL and Keystone XL and adopt meaningful policies to protect our environment. It's the only one we've got.

4. End the Global Gag Rule. We cannot put the medical care of millions of women around the globe at risk.

5. Disclose and Divest. Show us your taxes. Sell your company. Ethics rules exist for a reason and presidents should focus on the country, not their company.


In his first week in office President Trump has trampled on human rights at home and around the world. He has banned legal immigrants and refugees from entering the country, defunded critical health initiatives for women in developing nations, dismantled the EPA and environmental protections, approved the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, and directed the government to begin to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without any plan for covering the millions who would be left uninsured.

Trump has put our foreign policy and our very democracy in peril. He has purged the Joint Chiefs of Staff director of national intelligence and put them on invitation only status for future meetings. Meanwhile Trump added his political strategiest and extreme right media executive, Steve Bannon, on the National Security Council. These are troubling decisions and signal a move away from democratic governance.

His actions are being felt around the globe as legal immigrants are detained and deported. The Muslim ban is immoral, illegal, and un-American. He is not making America safer, he is hurting our economy and damaging our reputation with his racist policies and rhetoric.

Trump is not draining the swamp in Washington. He and his billionaire friends ARE the swamp. He refuses to divest from his company, creating a massive conflict of interest the likes the presidency has never seen. His cabinet is worth more than $9 billion and comes from ExxonMobile, Goldman Sachs, and predatory mortgage investment firms. These are the wrong people to lead our country.

On February 17th we will show Donald Trump and his cronies in Washington that our voices will be heard. No work will be done. No money will be spent. We will not support his corrupt government. We will STRIKE!!

Right now we are putting together a coalition of people and groups that are interested in organizing the strike. If your group would like to help let us know! To be successful we need buy in from a large number of political organizations and labor groups across the country.

#GeneralStrike #StandUpFightBack #BlackLivesMatter #NoBanNoWall#NoDAPL #NoKeystoneXL #StopTrump #RefugeesWelcome #Resist#WomensMarch

Friday, February 10, 2017

A View From The Left- After Years of Torturing Chelsea Manning, Obama Grants Clemency-Free Leonard Peltier!

Workers Vanguard No. 1104
27 January 2017
After Years of Torturing Chelsea Manning, Obama Grants Clemency
On January 17, Barack Obama announced that he was commuting all but the next four months of Chelsea Manning’s remaining sentence, scheduling her release on May 17. We welcome the freeing of this heroic whistle-blower, but we also recognize that this was a cheap and cynical move by Obama to burnish his “legacy.” For the past seven years, the Obama administration has persecuted and tortured Manning, driving her to two suicide attempts. Arrested in 2010, she was sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in prison for leaking to WikiLeaks military documents and diplomatic cables that exposed U.S. war crimes and sinister machinations—an unprecedented sentence for a whistle-blower. Manning is a courageous and self-sacrificing truth-teller who did a service to humanity.
Sadistically, Obama’s Department of Justice had pushed for a 60-year sentence following Manning’s conviction by a military kangaroo court. The day after her conviction, Manning announced that she wanted hormone treatment for gender reassignment. She has since been locked away in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she has been subjected to brutal treatment, isolation and humiliation, and has had to wage one battle after another to continue her transition. Even in commuting Manning’s sentence, Obama set the release date for May, giving the ghouls of the incoming Donald Trump administration four months to continue torturing her.
From the perspective of the working class, the real crime was the prosecution and imprisonment of Manning in the first place—a crime for which Obama has pardoned himself by now ordering her release. The government’s torment of Manning and its continuing witchhunt of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and other whistle-blowers are aimed at silencing those who dare expose or oppose its atrocities and mass surveillance. The Obama administration prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, three times the number prosecuted by all previous administrations combined. Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, remains in the Ecuadorean embassy in Britain, the government of which has vowed to arrest him if he steps outside, while National Security Agency whistle-blower Snowden is in exile in Russia. Hands off Assange! Drop all charges against Snowden!
The same day that Obama announced Manning’s commutation, he also commuted the 70-year sentence of Oscar L贸pez Rivera, a 74-year-old member of the Puerto Rican Armed Forces of National Liberation. L贸pez Rivera is now set to be released in May after over 30 years behind bars. In 1981, L贸pez Rivera was convicted of “seditious conspiracy”—a thought crime—for struggling for the independence of his native Puerto Rico from U.S. colonial occupation. Another 15 years were added on in 1988 for conspiring to escape from prison. A courageous fighter, L贸pez Rivera refused President Bill Clinton’s offer of clemency in 1999 out of solidarity with Marie Hayd茅e Beltr谩n Torres and Carlos Alberto Torres, two of his comrades who were not included in the clemency offer. (Beltr谩n Torres was released in 2009 and Alberto Torres in 2010.) It is the duty of the U.S. proletariat to stand for Puerto Rico’s right of self-determination.
Presidential pardons and commutations are often issued by the capitalist rulers to bail out their cronies—for example, President Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974. Obama has continued that tradition by issuing a full pardon to retired general James Cartwright. In October, Cartwright had pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents investigating a government leak, and he was scheduled to be sentenced this month. In contrast to Manning, this former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the blood-drenched U.S. imperialist military faced a maximum of a $500 fine and six months in prison.
Not on Obama’s list for “mercy” was class-war prisoner and American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier, despite tens of thousands having petitioned for clemency. He is internationally renowned as an unbowed fighter who symbolizes resistance against this country’s racist repression of American Indians, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier was convicted of the killing of two FBI agents shot during a 1975 government assault on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota—a crime the Feds know he did not commit. Even a former U.S. attorney who was a central player in Peltier’s frame-up, James Reynolds, joined the call for clemency. Peltier, an innocent man who never should have spent a day in prison, has spent over 40 years in prison and as a result has numerous health problems. As his attorney put it, Obama’s refusal to grant Peltier clemency amounted to “a sentence of death.” Free Peltier now!
As Marxists, we understand that the capitalist state, including its courts, exists to defend the rule and profits of the bourgeoisie. While pursuing all legal means to win freedom for class-war prisoners like Peltier, we put no faith in the “justice” of the courts. We look to the social power of the multiracial working class, which must be mobilized independently of and in opposition to the capitalist state and its political representatives, whether Republican or Democrat.
Obama wants to secure his “legacy,” including through the commutations for Manning and L贸pez Rivera. But for the world’s oppressed and working masses, it is war, drone strikes, mass surveillance, repression and economic inequality that define the real legacy of Barack Obama.