Archives for posts with tag: Elections

Dangerous Happenings and Dangerous Myths

A Vinalhaven, Maine resident, who lived through WWII, said it very succinctly. This is the way it starts. What did this person mean? What happened?

Charlottesville happened. Of course there were prelims. Rufus Wolf, with a confederate flag waving in the background, happened. Nine African Americans shot dead in a church, happened. Two men slashed to death protecting Muslim women, happened. A grandfather and nephew killed outside a synagogue, happened.

The old Buffalo Springfield song, For What It’s Worth, ripples through the air. (I thought you might want to play the song as you read.)

Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth 1967 – YouTube

“There’s something happening over here.” It is clear. But dangerous myths abound that divert from that clarity. Let’s see how.

It’s actually been happening for some time. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, extreme right-wing militia groups quadrupled during the Obama presidency. They were developing. They were waiting for their moment. Then it happened.

A misogynistic, wealthy, ignorant but sly leader, with gobs of free media exposure, happened. U.S. military forces surrounding Russia and China, happened.

There are myths afloat that not only prevent people from grasping the clarity necessary, but also further feed this growing, fascistic movement.

What are the myths? Let’s consider three.

Myth I. The military will keep Trump under control. Myth II. There are no grassroots, progressive leaders. Myth III. Both the Right and Left are violent. I also did some digging into the purveyors of these myths. So let’s take them one at a time.

Myth I. The military will keep Trump under control.

Every time I hear this little ditty, my mind flashes back to the fall of 1968. Teaching Junior Senior High in Thomaston Connecticut, I was directed by the administration to take my eight-grade class to the auditorium. Introduced was a retired military general replete with metals from chin to waist.

The general had one clear demand that I remember to this day. He emphatically told my twelve and thirteen year old students to convey a message to government leaders – unleash the air force on North Vietnam. Bomb them into the Stone Age.

It took a short time before I realized who was subjecting my students to this madness. We have to go back 28 years from my introduction to General Curtis LeMay. He was the commander who ordered the firebombing of Tokyo in the spring of 1945. Over 100,000 people died in a rolling, flaming hell. The napalm made infamous by U.S. use in Vietnam was experimented with here. An overwhelmed Secretary of Defense Stinson, reported to President Truman with a sense of bewilderment. No one seemed to object to killing all these civilians.

Of course, events escalated from there. Brigadier General Leslie Groves advised President Truman. This General encouraged the next mass killing of civilians in Hiroshima and in Nagasaki. The vast majority of the 210,000 killed were civilians. State terror had found something close to the ultimate weapon.

It was only later I learned that “the bomb” had little to do with ending the war. This mass killing was to keep the Soviet Union from having a say in the peace process in the Pacific. It was also a message to communists, socialists, and the world. Don’t mess with us. It helped kick off the Cold War.

Another connection brought home to me around that fall time of 1968 was just as important. One George Wallace served with that XX Bomber Command under General Curtis LeMay. The archetypical racist, now Governor of Alabama, would team up with his former military boss in the 1968 presidential race. LeMay would be his running mate. What my captive students in small town America were being subjected to was a not so disguised campaign stop with public taxes supplying a pliant audience.

Racism, militarism, and rabid anticommunism were being combined in deadly fashion.

It took me many years to realize that little Thomaston, CT was not some random stop. Small towns are a soft target. The most racist and militarist elements in the USA make small town America a destination.

LeMay, and other militarists like him, pushed the likes of Presidents Johnson and Nixon to bombs away. They followed orders nicely. Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians died in large numbers, 3.8 million would die in Vietnam alone. It also left 55,000 very sad U.S. families.

So with all this data readily available, how can the myth of generals being a “calming” influence on a President still have currency?

Myths need help. They need mass dissemination if they are to serve. They need to be kept up-to-date. Let me give an up-to-date example.

The Free Press is a newspaper of the Mid-Coast Maine area. The area is peppered with small town America for sure. Their very small town America newspaper is located right on Main Street, Rockland, Maine. The August 31st, 2017, Page 4 editorial page headline caught my eye. It was titled – Protective Layer?

It states that there is this “heroic” protective layer in government. It’s a “thankless task.” This protective layer prevents, “ . . .Trump’s latest self-inflicted crisis from spiraling out of control . . . “ Really?

Who occupies this “protective layer”? The editorial points to a small group. It says they are “ . . .not ideological” but have a “ . . .heroic if thankless task.” What stood out among this group was the dominance of the career militarists in the White House – H.R. McMaster, James Mattis, and John Kelly.

Peek back at the historical examples above and tell me if you feel these “bright, accomplished “generals are “protecting the Republic.” Do you rest at ease nightly because these generals are the “controllers”? Did ‘’generals ”protect the republic”, or the world for that matter, from the Bush Family when they gleefully invaded Iraq and Afghanistan? How about when the Obama Administration invaded and created yet another failed state in Libya? You know answers.

Now who are the purveyors of this myth of generals as the “calm downers”? Is it just The Free Press of cozy Rockland, Maine? Think again. The Free Press is owned by Maine Today Media. That group also publishes the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, and the Coastal Journal in Bath, as well as the pressherald.com, centralmaine.com and mainetoday.com websites.

It doesn’t stop there. It also has its tentacles around The Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald, and The Republican Journal in Belfast. For good measure it owns the Alliance Press, a commercial printing company in Brunswick.

And it does not end at the state border. Maine State Media may have to change its name. It now owns The Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, and their affiliated print and online publications. Yes, that’s Vermont.

As is so often the case, the concentration of wealth and power led to corruption. One publisher at Maine State Media made off with $530,000. Also, victimized were 160 jobs cut just at the Portland Press Herald alone. They were union jobs with health benefits.

Ownership of Maine State Media has gone through many hands. Just recently financier and hedge fund owner Donald Sussman had controlling interest. Sussman managed Paloma Partners which received $200 million in US taxpayer funds as part of the AIG bailout. He also owns the Turner Farm on North Haven Island. In 2015, Maine State Media was sold to Reade Brower of Camden.

Michael Roskin, who wrote the above opinion piece in The Free Press, is a retired professor of political science. Among other stops, Roskin served as Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy at the U.S. Army War College from 1991 to 1994. Among esteemed graduates are George Patton and Leslie Groves (See above.).

What would be comical if not so insidious, are that people will hand me copies from multiple newspapers named above thinking they reflect multiple sources. Wrong.

So is The Free Press giving you some small town viewpoint? No. It’s among a long list of media outlets that has been gobbled up by concentrated wealth. They are the purveyors of the long-standing myths.

The truth – militarists propose military solutions. Further truths. Concentrated wealth controls the media. It extends from the print media to digital media. Concentrated wealth with a pliant media helped give us the 2016 elected president of the USA. Concentrated wealth, including the owners of the media, love those myths. It serves their interests.

Next up is Myth II. There are no grassroots, progressive leaders. Then there is Myth III. Both sides are violent. Stay tuned. Stay active.

 

 

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Generals, billionaires, along with the Alt-Right, are marching into the administration of our country. Smelling the political air, this essay made its way to the surface.

Running With Iron Heels

This past spring I was camping and hiking in the Taconic range with a good friend. We walked and talked while soaking in the beautiful terrain of those green mountains.

Such excursions are important. They transport us physically. They also transport us mentally. The humdrum of everyday life fades as rolling hills and valleys come into view.

We are lucky in Connecticut. Beautiful, green woodlands, rivers, and an ocean surround us. We can choose the company of beautiful, caring people.

What can slip by almost unnoticed is that others are out there. They have a different view of what surrounds us. They see ugly everywhere.

African Americans are shot down, with regularity, in our streets. Some see injustice, others see genetics. Some see the continuance of hundreds of years of oppression and struggle. Others let fear consume them.

Fossil fuel pipelines ram through lands, from New England to Indian sacred spaces. Some see centuries of stealing land, religious violations, environmental degradation, and fight-back. Others see maintaining a lifestyle. More dangerously, the 0.1% sees major profits threatened with protests of the former.

Bombs are dropped an ocean away. People migrate. Some see state terror, a humanitarian disaster, and struggle. Some hear only “terrorists” and seek revenge.

People see, and maybe feel, these differences. The “others” handle them in different ways. A peek into our family’s 20th century histories may elucidate some of this. Let’s try mine.

In 1907, two sets of people made there way from the Apennine mountain range above Naples, Italy, to the USA. One, the Ciarlone’s, had a business orientation. The other, the Iannielli’s, was among the vast peasantry of those times. In relative order, the Scarpitti’s and Summa’s completed each set of the pairings. Children arrived, eight to be exact, from each pairing. Included among those offspring were my parents.

Why did my grandparents leave their homeland? After all, it’s not an easy do. Ever get that uncomfortable feeling when away from the familiarity of home? That sense of place comes into play. No. Not easy.

As a youngster, I asked that question. My maternal grandmother gave me a hint with a wonderful Italian inflection and waving an open hand in the air. It consisted of two words. “The Kaiser!”

That two-word answer and the move across the big pond took a bit of time to grasp in any full way. My experiences on the home front during the U.S. War in Vietnam helped. (For more on those experiences see

https://www.createspace.com/4330714

 

Later I got an assist from famed biologist Stephen Jay Gould. Here’s what I learned.

Before World War I (1914-1918), Vernon L. Kellogg was an entomologist (insects) at Stanford University, California, a pacifist; he became an official in Belgian relief work. In this capacity, he somehow ended up being among the German high command, including the Kaiser. Wilhelm II was the last Emperor (Kaiser) of Germany and King of Prussia (Parts of Germany and much land heading eastward).

Many of the German officers were involved in higher education before the war. They saw the war as a natural outgrowth of human behavior. These officers saw natural selection, a la Charles Darwin and evolution, as dictating violent competition among peoples.

The group of people representing the highest evolutionary stage, in their minds Germans, would prevail. Kellogg was so sufficiently horrified that he abandoned pacifism and supported the war against Germany as the only way, in his considered opinion, to stop them.

What Kellogg stumbled on here is one of the best examples of the perversion of evolutionary theory. It resulted in a crude form of social Darwinism. In other words, war erupts from our DNA.

We now know that redivision of the world for colonial plunder was a driving force for both sides of those wretched trenches. In other words follow the money, or better, the profits. When normal politics could not settle differences, war followed.

History had more to unfold, especially in Germany. In the years following World War I, much of the above crude social Darwinism became incorporated into Nazi ideology with a vengeance. That ideology, mixed with racism, ran amuck with extreme nationalism.

The Nazi Party actually started in the mountains of Germany in the 1920s. They nurtured a crude form of nationalism born of the disaster of WWI, social Darwinism, and with a questing religious fervor. The crash of 1929, unemployment and disgust with “big” government brought them into the cities and looking for a savior. They found Adolf Hitler and bankers willing to solve problems with an iron heel. WWII followed.

 

There is a fundamental difference in the mindset of the groupings of people mentioned at the beginning of this writing. Some hope to peacefully and thoughtfully grabble with war, racism, environmental degradation, and the injustice of it all. Others? They run with iron heels.

Politically, one outlook says let’s protest nonviolently, dialogue, and peacefully negotiate. The others say let’s protest violently, take people off voter roles, and stomp on those fighting injustice with that iron heel, including the use police/military force.

The iron heels, the fascist axis that took state power in Germany, Italy, and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s, were defeated in WWII. Its cost was 60 million lives and many fragmented ones. But hints that the outlook guiding those iron heel states had penetrated the USA were around us. The twin ideological weapons of fascism were at work.

The Soviet Union, an ally and friend during WWII, quickly became labeled an enemy, then later an evil empire. Anyone remotely associated with the recent ally was considered part of the “red menace” and a spy. U.S. State institutions pursued communists with a vengeance as well as others interested in peace and social justice.

Japanese living in the USA, and Japanese Americans, were treated differently from German and Italian immigrants. Internment camps were set up. (Don’t miss this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeBKBFAPwNc ) African Americans remained under intense segregation, with lynchings and other violence visited upon them.

 

Let’s go back to bucolic Connecticut. We bathe in the suave of greenness. We need the caressing arms of nature. We need the company of caring people. The point here is that we can’t get lost in it.

We have to engage other outlooks. Some don’t want the iron heel approach to solve problems but don’t see the danger. We need to revisit the 1920s and 1930s, and shake out the causes, and lessons, of WWII.

There is hope all around us. We do have to take the time to see it. I met a welder recently who had drawn healthy lessons from her work experiences. She adamantly opposed Trump.

A fisherman once told me, “they make you not want to care.” This woman went in the opposite direction. She cares. My hiking friend ventured to Ohio to block Trump mania. We have to find bits of caring among our people and help develop a willingness to fight for caring core values.

We are going to need to put that caring into action. Too many times we didn’t do that when the Obama Administration, and also peoples’ movements, made forward-looking decisions e.g. halting the X-L Pipeline. When that same administration brought backward proposals to the table, as they did in Libya, Syria and elsewhere, a confusion and paralysis followed.

Ask yourself, “What do I care about?” Then ask yourself, “How do I show it?” It means getting outside of our comfort zone.

Here’s two ways. Go out and talk to those who did not vote, those who voted for Trump, and those coming of voting age. Use history, especially intertwined with personal stories, in a calm explanatory way. Then gather with like-minded friends and those who are learning.

We need to walk the talk.

P.S. My Grandmother (Scarpitti/Ciarlone) didn’t totally escape the discrimination meted out during WWII. More on that with the next blog.

One of my favorite little pieces of awareness is, “The challenge in organizing is to keep a healthy outrage at injustice while maintaining an inner peace.” Merrilee Milstein, who wrote those wonderful words of wisdom, was pulling from experiences in a lifetime dedicated to the labor movement. Thank you Merrilee.

We lose activists on both sides of that sentence because they forget it makes one interconnected whole. Some let their outrage consume them and recovery is never in full. Others get lost in seeking an inner peace that eludes them as outrage at injustice fades.

My “outrage “ side has been working overtime lately. Battling foes of passive open space and struggling with an onslaught of dirty fossil fuel initiatives involving a methane based power plant and new pipelines, head the list. Toping it off are the truly outrageous political events and politicians in the electoral arena.

Republican candidate Donald Trump’s clear racist incendiary statements on Mexicans and Muslims, with Senator Cruz joining him here, are much more than irritants. They are dangerous. The sight of white Trump supporters attacking African American protesters is down right scary. I can remember a veteran of progressive movements telling me long ago that if fascism comes to the USA, it will be on the backs of African Americans. Clearly we don’t have fascism or I wouldn’t be freely writing these words for a blog post. The question is, are we seeing its rolling thunder gathering steam? (More of this on another blog day.)

To take a break from all this, and in concert with Merrilee’s sage advise, I took a walk on Naugatuck section of the bridle trail. For those not familiar, this is a long woodland trail that was formerly a railroad bed stretching from Waterbury to Southbury, Connecticut and beyond. My approach to these outdoor walks is simple. Try to stay in the moment. If my thoughts drifted to the above challenges, I would reorient to be in the present.

While on this little nature excursion, I stumbled upon one of those small but truly magical moments. In the distance I saw what turned out to be a mid-sized bird seemly stuck to the side of a rock-like cliff covered with moss. It bobbed this way and that way while occasionally shaking its head. As I neared, the bird flew off into the surrounding treetops. Then I realized what it was doing there.

Thanks to the I-Phone on my hip, I can share it with you with a 35 second U-Tube video. I call it nature’s sounds of silence

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xHeJNPt5C-4

Apparently, that bird was taking a shower, shaking the water off as we do in a shower, and getting a drink of water at the same time. Whatever competing thoughts I had melted away.

Ecosystem is a flexible concept. It can be as large as a biome like trundra or small as a knothole in the tree. I was transfixed and enraptured by this micro ecosystem consisting of a bird, moss, water, and rock. It put a smile on my face, accompanied by a satisfying sigh. How basic is that?

Now science has given us data to substantiate what we feel in such instances. In the July 14th, 2015 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it was reported that morbid rumination is strongly associated with increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. What’s the big deal? Here’s the punch line. Excursions in natural settings quieted that portion of the brain. The outdoors literally improved mood.

We need these green redoubts in today’s world and in our country with their topsy-turvy events. At the same time, or rather after these wonderful excursions in the outdoors, we need to pay close attention to what is going on around us. The reason is the necessary third ingredient to the outrage/inner peace package. That is action.

Activity is where we put our outrage and inner peace to good use. Outrage can eat our insides. Inner peace is an eternal search. Activity is what makes us whole. Win, lose or draw, it is where our humanity is practiced.