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“I hope you’ve got enough cojones

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:52

“I hope you’ve got enough cojones!” George Bush snapped at Tony Blair. The American president then outlined his planned bombardment of Iraq to the British Prime Minister: “I’m gonna kick ass!”

Over the last two decades, much of the world has witnessed a wave of masculinization. Ideas about how strong men are an attractive future ideal have taken hold in many people’s minds. The #MeToo movement is facing a serious attack, fueled by the resentment and aggressiveness of large numbers of men.

Autocratic, populist right-wing leaders are an example of this new, unbridled masculinity.  Donald Trump mocks disabled people, treats women as if they were sex dolls, and boasts about touching them up. Vladimir Putin has a habit of stripping to the waist so he can show off his muscles while being photographed in the snow. In recent years, his government has decreed that domestic violence is not against the law and the Russian state encourages cruelty towards homosexuals and people with different ethnic backgrounds. To the extent that in Russia things have got to the stage where the murders of the dissident journalist Anna Politkovskaya and dozens of other intellectuals, are regarded as little more than peccadillos. Much of Russian society became fed up with democracy and gave the green light to the so-called  siloviki, the tough guys. Many Russians support the rule of force as a state policy. One of the  most popular Russian rock songs is dedicated to Putin and his tough guys: “I love a guy like Putin, he’s as tough as they come’, sing the teenage stars Larissa, Natasha and Ira.

“Man what’s wrong with you? Females are trying to take on the man’s role because you don’t fuck them and because you are an embarrassment. Men are wolves, men are lions, men are the leaders. Stop being weak, be a man, be a warrior, what’s wrong with you?” This was tweeted, verbatim, by the great Russian dancer Sergei Polunin, whose followers are accustomed to comments in which he shouts out his indignation against homosexuals, obese people and the undisciplined. Polunin has had a large portrait of Putin tattooed on his chest.

After Vaclav Havel, the late Czech president whose ethical, humanitarian and pro-European stance was representative not only of the Czech Republic but of all post-Communist Europe, we have seen the rise to power of certain politicians whose values are very different from those of the president-playwright Havel: autocrats such as Prime Minister Orban in Hungary and President Duda in Poland help boost ultranationalist, archaic, and patriarchal values.  There is only one woman in the whole of the Hungarian government:  Andrea Bartfai-Mager, a minister without portfolio. In Poland, where the ruling party, PIS and the Catholic Church give each other mutual support, women count for nothing except as mothers, wives and church parishioners. In the Czech Republic, president Milos Zeman is incapable of saying a single sentence which isn’t strewn with scatological swear words.

But the new tendency towards sexism is not found only among politicians. I discovered that a journalist for a Spanish newspaper referred to the former director of the Federal Reserve as ‘little old lady Yellen’. The French writer Yann Moix reduced women to their bodies when he publicly declared that the body of a fifty year old woman is nothing special, whereas that of a twenty-five year old woman is, especially those of Asian women of this age, who are the kind he likes to date. The current Pope was once recently overheard saying ‘All feminism eventually turns into sexism in a skirt.’

In an article on the rise of sexism, the Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra traces the new rush of testosterone in the Anglo-American establishment to a date not long after the attack on the Twin Towers; by way of demonstration, he quotes the Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who said that “from the ashes of September 11 arise the manly virtues…masculine men, men who push things and pull things.”

Peggy Noonan defends ‘heroes’ such as John Wayne, above all because: “The GOP should go back to being John Wayne. He had a gun, it was loaded and he knew how to use it… A lot of people killed him – not only feminists but peacemakers, leftists, intellectuals. You could even say it was Woody Allen who did it.”

Peggy Noonan is a great fan of Jordan Peterson, a neuroscientist and the author of self-help books. The New York Times columnist David Brooks described Peterson as “the most influential public intellectual in the western world right now”. Like Peterson, David Brooks insists that the means justify the ends, even if this means wiping innocent villages off the face of the earth: “In an age of conflict, bourgeois virtues like compassion, tolerance, and industriousness are valued less than the classical virtues of courage, steadfastness, and a ruthless desire for victory.”

Jordan Peterson is a typical example of the anxiety felt by Western men. I met people – some of them in American universities – who revere his ideas. Peterson complains that the West has lost its faith in masculinity and attacks the idea that the sexes are equal as a “murderous equity doctrine”. “The masculine spirit is under attack” he likes to proclaim in his speeches on YouTube, which have had just under a million visits. According to him, feminists have “an unconscious yearning for brutal masculine domination”. He also asserts that chaos is feminine and order, masculine.  This must be the reason, say I, why – according to the American Psychological Association – 90% of murders in the United States are committed by men: the wish to restore order. Most of his 560,000 followers on Twitter are young men.

His supporters think of him as a beacon of reason against “the social justice warriors”. Just like president Trump when he talks about Mexican refugees, Peterson instils the idea into his devotees that people on the margins of society are aggressive and violent, enemies which society should rid itself of without thinking twice. Jordan Peterson acts as a guide for people who have lost their way in a society which they find incomprehensible, by promising them that the far right can be a refuge in which they can conceal their frustration.

In Spain, to mention just one European country, the party political programme of Vox, aka ‘the testosterone party”, reads like the transcription of a conversation between several male sexists sitting in a tavern over beers: its salient points are the fight against feminism and abortion, together with the vindication of hunting and bullfighting.. It comes as no surprise that, according to the polls, 60% of its Spanish voters are men (in the most recent autonomous community elections in Andalusia, 65% of Vox’s vote was male). Although a majority of Republican voters in the United States are men, whereas a majority of women prefer the Democrats, the male percentage achieved by Vox is unprecedented. Pablo Casado, the leader of Spain’s mainstream right-wing party, the Partido Popular (PP), caused an outrage on social media when he stated: “If we want to receive pensions, we’re going to have to have more children”. Casado, aside from his rejection of abortion, is trying to put an end to a constitutional promise to protect women against sexist domestic violence. Just like the archaic, ultranationalist parties in Hungary and Poland, Vox and the PP believe that women have only one role in society: to reproduce in order to guarantee the nation’s future.

It is a short step from these patriarchal beliefs to the glorification of war and the law of the strongest; such was the ideology of Fascism and we already know where this type of thinking led to in the 1930s. This ode to violence and force, which considers any attempt to hold talks with one’s adversary to be a sign of weakness, is a denigration of democracy and constitutes a grave danger to society as a whole.

Categories: News for progressives

The Real College Admissions Scandal

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:51

In what’s being called the largest college admissions scam ever, a number of wealthy parents, celebrities, and college prep coaches have been accused of offering large bribes to get rich students into Ivy League schools, regardless of their credentials.

The parents facing charges allegedly paid up to $6.5 million to get their kids into college.

Shocking as it is, this is hardly a new phenomenon in higher education. Wealthy and privileged students have always had an upper hand in being accepted to prestigious universities.

They’re called “legacy preferences.”

“Many U.S. colleges admit ‘legacies,’ or students with a family connection to the university, at dramatically higher rates than other applicants,” The Guardian explains, because “they are widely seen as a reliable source of alumni donations.”

Some of our countries most prominent figures have benefited from legacy preferences. When applying to Harvard, future president John F. Kennedy noted that his father was an alumnus. And although his academic record was unspectacular, he was admitted into the Ivy League school.

The same can be said for George W. Bush, whose father and grandfather graduated from Yale. Despite his “lackluster grades,” The Guardian reported, Bush was accepted.

This overt — and legal — preference for the wealthy and powerful goes back at least a century. Yet when the children of middle class families are denied admission, some families have laid the blame on affirmative action programs for students of color, who’ve historically faced discrimination.

As the college admissions process becomes more competitive, campaigns against affirmative action have revved up immensely. In 2016, Abigail Fisher challenged the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions program after being rejected when she applied for a university program designed for the top 10 percent of her class.

Despite not having the credentials to get into the program, Fisher cited affirmative action as the reason why she was denied. In other words, she claimed she was being discriminated against because she was white. Her case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that affirmative action is in fact constitutional and doesn’t hurt white students.

In fact, even with programs like affirmative action, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, racial divides at universities still remain. While college enrollment is increasing across the board, it found that enrollment rates for college-aged white students (42 percent) remain higher than for both black students (36 percent) and Hispanic students (39 percent.)

Meanwhile, a 2018 analysis of Harvard’s admissions process found that legacy applicants were accepted at a rate of nearly 34 percent from 2009 to 2015. That’s more than five times higher than the rate for non-legacies over the same six-year period: just 5.9 percent.

It’s clear that students like Abigail Fisher are picking the wrong fight when it comes to discrimination in the college admissions process.

The high-level of corruption of legacy admissions hurts the majority of students, regardless of race. So too do the parents spending millions on bribes. But that’s how inequality thrives.

Today’s college admissions scandal is just another illustration of the rich encouraging working- and middle-class people to turn against each other — and blame people of color — while they quietly rig the game for themselves.

Instead of pointing the finger at each other, the victims of these manipulations should come together to take the monster of economic privilege down.

Categories: News for progressives

US Higher Education Influence Takes a Different Turn

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:51

The official opening of the American University of Malta (AUM) on Friday 8thMarch foregrounds a new trend in USA Higher Education influence in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. The term ‘American’ is being applied to universities which are not US-driven at all but which simply adopt the US university style of operation and system.  The AUM is run by a Jordanian Company, the Sadeen Group.

The Sadeen Group’s official statement says that “Through the years, the group has its reputation and had been made known to various engineering consultants, business travelers, investors and other business organizations for being committed to produce a high quality and excellence services. Today, Sadeen Group has recorded a sizable growth in the field of construction, travel and tourism services. The group is a graded class in building constructions both on commercial and industrial RCC, pre-engineered building, water treatment plant construction, correspondence and their business with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality.”

It has been reported that it had bought the programmes on offer at AUM from De Paul University in Chicago. This is as far as ‘American’ goes with respect to the ‘for profit’ private university in question.  It has been effectively operating for the last two years, while works were being carried out on the campus site, attracting few students to date.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this university in Malta because it was originally meant to be set up on ODZ (outside development zone) land and also because it uses as its current premises a building which has great historical value, dating to the time of the Knights of St John who governed the island for 268 years.  The building formed part of the now closed and refurbished Dock no 1 of the former Malta Drydocks which has been privatised. This type of institution has been criticised for being an example of the ‘American’ brand being attached to business higher education enterprises which have little that is ‘American’ about them in terms of ownership. Philip Altbach, a key and widely published researcher on higher education and a regular blogger on Inside Higher Ed, pointed to the danger of ‘business interests starting universities to make money using the American brand.’

This represents another trend in the long influence of US higher education in the Mediterranean. This influence may get even stronger as the heralded USA-driven liberal arts concept continues to make its way into the region, in view of its being attributed great importance with regard to the fourth industrial revolution (4th IR). A lot is being made of the institution for studies in this area set up in Singapore by Yale University and the National University of Singapore (NUS): Yale- NUS College; the Mediterranean area can easily follow suit.

The region has a long history of US Higher Education involvement which is worth outlining at this stage, an interesting situation given the attempts made by the Union of the Mediterranean to develop a common Higher Education and Research Area, as well as the EU itself in trying to extend the Bologna process to areas outside its domain, perhaps with a view to attuning students from these areas to its system which can condition their choices when it comes to furthering their education abroad.

The Mediterranean region comprises countries forming part of the EU and whose universities fall under the Bologna agreement, aspects of which have appeared in the discourse around Higher Education in countries such as Turkey and Morocco, earning those who promote this system the appellation of ‘Bologna missionaries’.  This is one way of enticing students towards Europe and its universities. European higher education institutions are being called upon to engage in internationalisation, apart from Europeanisation (harmonisation across EU universities with transfer of credits between the institutions).

Internationalisation entails attracting students from outside the EU fold to EU universities as these universities are being exhorted to compete with their US counterparts in this regard. The USA enjoys the lion’s share in terms of attracting foreign students. The setting up of AUM demonstrates how US-style university education has a strong presence throughout the region.

US universities, genuinely USA-driven, with both local and American accreditation, have, for many years, been prominent in cities ranging from Cairo and Beirut to Sarajevo, Paris and Rome. The American University in Cairo (AUC), especially through its Humanities and Social Science School (HUSS School), and the equally prestigious American University of Beirut (AUB) are widely believed to have been instrumental in foregrounding practices of liberal education and critical thinking in the Middle East region. In the words of prominent AUC alumni, Asef Bayat and Linda Herrera, both established academics at the University of Illinois, Urbana –Champaign and well known for their co-edited book Being Young and Muslim: New Cultural Politics in the Global South and North (Oxford University Press, 2010), “Students repeatedly, over the years, have talked about being transformed in their thinking…and consequently changed the direction of their lives, after taking courses in HUSS.”

Some Mediterranean universities owe their origin to US driven colleges. For instance, one of Turkey’s most prestigious universities, Istanbul’s Boğaziçi University was founded, in 1863, as Robert College, the first American higher education institution established outside the USA.  American schools in Italy, such as the American University in Rome, or overseas campuses of top US universities, such as Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Relations, set up in Bologna in 1955, were established, according to a particular interpretation, as a means to extend US influence in the countries, especially after World War II, with the country having veered towards the US political orbit.  There are Mediterranean universities, such as the University of Malta, which have been developing joint master’s programmes in areas such as Conflict Resolution, with prominent US universities. The Conflict Resolution joint degree programme in Malta is developed with George Mason University.

The connection between many US-driven universities in the region and those established in the USA itself can be gauged by the fact that many of the former’s graduates proceed to ‘ivy league’ and equivalent universities to pursue their studies.  Top US academics form part of their faculty which comprises locals many of whom have been educated in the USA. This constitutes a strong area of US Higher Education influence in the region and other parts of Europe with which the EU has to compete to attract more international students (students from outside the EU) to its higher education fold. For the moment, the USA rules supreme in this regard.

The main struggle for institutions such as the new AUM, situated on an island at the heart of the Mediterranean, strategically posed to attract students from North Africa and Europe, is, not only to attract an adequate number of students (this has been incredibly low to the extent that some recruited academics were dismissed before the end of their probation period), but, one would imagine, to establish links with US universities and perhaps seek accreditation from important USA agencies.

The US based universities would recognise this institution by attracting its graduates for further study in their fold, thus rendering its undergraduate and possibly master’s programmes more marketable, as in the case of say the American University in Cairo or the American University of Beirut. The AUM has been granted EU recognition via Malta’s National Commission for Further and Higher Education. Whether it gains similar recognition by US institutions and accreditation agencies remains to be seen, should it attempt to achieve this status with a view to rendering the name ‘American’ more genuine.

Exposing international students to a US type of higher education can be a step in the direction of channelling students to further education in the US. It would be one of many institutions in the region doing this. It would constitute another institution forming part of the already strong US sphere of Higher education influence in the Mediterranean, Europe and beyond. This constitutes a significant sphere of influence with which the EU has to contend in its bid to outdo its US’s rivals in attracting international students to its Higher Education fold, that is to enhance the ‘internationalisation’ of its universities and tertiary institutions.

Categories: News for progressives

New Study Confirms That Eggs are a Stroke in a Shell

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:50

For years animal agriculture apologists have tried to convince the public that “inflammation, not cholesterol, is the cause of chronic disease.” Eat all the eggs, meat and milk you want, they cajole: you won’t die from a stroke or heart attack at age 50. We promise.

This week a JAMA study reverses the industry-friendly hype, at least until the industry shills resume their spin. Each added 300 milligrams a day of cholesterol represented a 17 percent increase in risk of cardiovascular disease and 18 percent increased risk of all-cause premature death, concludes the study.

This is far from the first time eggs have been definitively linked to disease and death. In 2008, the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation reported that just one egg a day increased the risk of heart failure in a group of doctors studied.  And in 2010, the Canadian Journal of Cardiology lamented the, “widespread misconception…that consumption of dietary cholesterol and egg yolks is harmless,” cautioning that, “Stopping the consumption of egg yolks after a stroke or myocardial infarction would be like quitting smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer: a necessary action, but late.”

Eating eggs is also “positively associated” with the risk of diabetes say the journals Nutrition and Diabetes Care and with the risk of ovarian cancer says Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. “Thus, it seems possible that eating eggs regularly is causally linked to the occurrence of a proportion of cancers of the ovary, perhaps as many as 40%, among women who eat at least 1 egg a week,” reported Cancer Epidemiology, citing a study of Seventh Day Adventists, who eat no meat, and the Iowa Women’s Health Study which showed threefold and twofold increases in the cancer, respectively.

Egg operations–30,000 caged hens stacked on top of each other over their own manure in a windowless, unventilated barn–also invite germs and therefore rely on antibiotics. A few years ago, the FDA reported it found a hatchery injecting antibiotics directly into eggs of laying hens presumably to take the offensive with germ control.  But wouldn’t the eggs the antibiotic-treated hens then lay have antibiotic residues? Yes, reported the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2000; some residues remain.

Antibiotics are so basic to animal-based agriculture, reps from the egg and other industries as well as Big Pharma stormed Capitol Hill in 2009 when the FDA threatened to limit them. And, despite new antibiotic regulations from the FDA in 2013 and more recently, antibiotic use on megafarms is actually going up not down.

There are ethical reasons to reject eggs too. For example, “cage-free,” “humanely raised” labels mean nothing since male chicks are ground up alive at the hatchery long before the females get to the “humane farm.”

“Chick culling is the process of killing newly hatched poultry for which the industry has no use. It occurs in all industrialised egg production whether free range, organic, or battery cage—including that of the UK and US,” says Wikipedia.“Many methods of culling…include cervical dislocation, asphyxiation by carbon dioxide and maceration using a high speed grinder.” Grinding the males up alive while they are fully conscious, called maceration, is the primary method in the United States. Videos of the killing, which produces a “slurry” that becomes dog feed, are widely available on the Internet. The egg industry does not deny the killings.

With their health risks and cruelty why aren’t eggs tarred like cigarettes? Because of counter-information disseminated by the egg industry. For example, an egg industry sponsored supplement in Canadian Family Physician actually wrote  “consumption of up to seven eggs per week is congruent with a healthy diet,” and questions the cholesterol/cardiovascular disease link that the current JAMA research confirms. Why believe scientific research when you can believe the egg industry?

Categories: News for progressives

The Greatest Projects I Never Mad

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:50

She was a terrible boss. But she was wise about work. “We are defined more by the business we refuse to take than the ones we do,” she told me. That turned out to be true. My cartoons are notable for what they don’t include: symbols like donkeys and elephants, labeled graphic metaphors, a reliance on caricature.

Film fanatics muse about the Greatest Movies Never Made. There was talk about remaking John Carpenter’s campy, low-budget, politically brilliant 1988 movie “They Live.” Unlike Harrison Ford’s oafish 1995 do-over of “Sabrina”—first rule of Hollywood should be don’t remake a film by Billy Wilder—“They Live” with money for special effects and real actors might have been something to see.

Projects that get dropped before completion reveal the outer limits of a creator’s interests. Ideas intriguing enough to pursue initially and fall apart in the face of financial or marketplace distribution issues or other, easier-to-finish plans present a tantalizing portrait of a career that might have been under different circumstances.

I’ve been slogging through a midlife crisis. Court battles, career pains and my mother’s flagging health have me focused on mortality. For a poor kid from the Rust Belt I’ve lived an amazing life; if I die today I’ll feel that I scored a better deal than many others. Still, to whine is human. Closer to death than birth, I’m considering how to spend the time I have left and regretting cool things I never got to do and probably never will: work on staff inside the offices of a newspaper or magazine, study toward a master’s degree, teach, live or study overseas.

As a project-oriented creator I think even more about specific projects that, for whatever reason, never worked out. Call them: Ted Rall’s Greatest Projects Never Made.

I got close to newspaper staff jobs several times. The editor at the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch admired my cartoons but said she didn’t think her readers wanted to swallow the graphic equivalent of “ground glass with their breakfast every morning.” The Newark Star-Ledger passed me over for a recent college grad on the grounds that “it’ll be easier to tell a kid what to do.”

The Sacramento Bee flew me out for a decidedly unimpressive interview, putting me up at a motel whose view was an endless parade of homeless man pushing shopping carts. I knew the fix was in when I saw Rex Babin’s latest cartoon on the editor’s desk, not mine. They hired Rex. Anyway, the editor informed me that my caustic cartoons “might be too upsetting to the good burghers of Sacramento.” At the Harrisburg Patriot-News the fault was mine. They asked how much I wanted and I told them ($80,000 if memory serves). They hired another sportswriter instead. Two decades later, the cartooning job is still vacant.

Then there was the Asbury Park Press. I’d been schlepping down the Jersey shore from NYC for more than a year to draw about local and state politics. Finally the day I had been waiting for arrived: the big interview. Ray Ollwerther and I talked for an hour. Everything went smoothly until the executive editor’s last question. Gesturing to a window that overlooked the parking lot, he asked: “Will I ever look out there and see someone protesting something that you drew?” Honest to a career-suicide fault, I said, “I don’t know. Maybe.” As at the Ledger, they hired a young guy instead.

In the 1980s, in my twenties, I was desperately poor and viciously ambitious, a combination that opens one to a certain moral flexibility. I hated my life as a low-level banker. Why not sell out? Which is how I found myself being treated to lunch at the Four Seasons by Priscilla Buckley, editor of the archconservative National Review.

You may wonder why I include NR on this list. I obviously didn’t belong there. Because the money would have been great. And I would have loved to have worked with Buckley. Republican she was, and also an excellent human: witty, incredibly intelligent, kind. I left with instructions to draw 12 cartoons from a right-wing point of view.

I agonized. The poor: it’s their own fault. Reagan, we’re lucky to have him. We ought to have more wars. I couldn’t do it. Not because it made me feel evil—it was simply that none of it was true and there is no satire without underlying truth. I ducked Priscilla’s calls and she soon gave up.

Morals entered the equation in late 1990 when the New York Daily News went on strike. It was a brutal labor battle. Newsstands that sold the scab paper got torched; a strikebreaking delivery truck driver was shot at or shot, I don’t remember which. Along with every other newspaper, the News had been on my mailing list so that’s how they came to call me about a cartooning position at what was then America’s largest circulation newspaper. The editor offered me $120,000 at a time when I had zero prospects. I was a 28-year-old college senior, with no income and the same amount of financial aid, about to graduate into a tough recession. Editorials, not just at the News, portrayed the strikers as spoiled overpaid brats, but the offer bothered me. So I called my mom.

Uncharacteristically, she listened carefully without interrupting. “I didn’t raise a son,” she said simply, “to cross a picket line.” She was a teachers’ union shop steward. That was that.

We’re defined by what we refuse to do. But whenever I’ve worried about money, I wished I hadn’t called mom.

Next week: the really weird stuff I never did.

Categories: News for progressives

Saving the Big Wild: Why Aren’t More Conservationists Supporting NREPA?

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:50

The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act or NREPA was once again introduced into Congress by Rep. Carolyn Mahony from New York last month. NREPA would protect all the remaining roadless lands in the Northern Rockies by designation under the 1964 Wilderness Act. Conservation scientists recognize Wilderness as the “Gold Standard” for land protection.

Hell’s Canyon, a 10-mile-wide canyon located along the border of eastern Oregon, eastern Washington and western Idaho, is North America’s deepest river gorge. The bill, if passed, would also create a Hells Canyon National Park and Preserve in Oregon and protect several other iconic wild places in the Northern Rockies.

Iconic wild places that would receive permanent protection includes Scotchman’s Peak, Meadow Creek, and Lost River Range in Idaho, the Great Burn, Big Snowies, and the Gallatin Range in Montana, the Palisades and Wyoming Range in Wyoming, and the Kettle Range in Washington. The bill, if passed, would also create a Hells Canyon National Park and Preserve in Oregon.

In addition to protecting these wilderness areas, it would designate and protect more than 1,800 miles of rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

NREPA would protect the best of the best wildlands in the United States and help ensure that ecological integrity of our ecosystems is conserved. It would help recover and preserve the high-quality habitat for endangered species like bull trout, grizzly bear, and lynx, as well as other iconic species like elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.

It would help to battle climate heating by keeping our forests intact rather than logging them, which has been shown to release tremendous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

NREPA protects the quality of life attributes that depend on the three Ws — wildlife, watersheds, and wildlands — that are foundational to the new creative and amenity-based economy of the region. And it saves taxpayers funds from being wasted on money-losing timber sales (nearly all logging on federal lands costs more to administer than the government receives in payment for the timber). Finally, it requires the ecological restoration of more than a million acres, providing jobs for rural communities.

Since these federal lands belong to all Americans, it is not surprising that in past iterations, more than 184 Congressional representatives were co-sponsors, and recently the legislation has also enjoyed support in the Senate.

So, what’s not to like about NREPA and why isn’t it being publicized? If you are a member of many of the regional “wilderness” groups, you probably haven’t heard about what is the boldest, but also most ecologically defensible conservation legislation of the past decades. Surprisingly many of the region’s conservation organizations do not support NREPA even when they suggest their goal is to promote wilderness designation across the region.

Whenever I have queried these organizations why they fail to support and promote what is easily the most ecological, economic and ethical conservation legislation introduced into Congress, they always tell me it won’t pass Congress.

Well, that surely is a self-reinforcing loop. Yes, if few conservation groups promote or support NREPA, the legislation faces strong headwinds. The fact that NREPA gets as much backing as it does despite this lack of assistance from regional and national “wilderness” groups demonstrates how attractive the legislation is for many Americans.

Ironically, naysayers expressed the same doubts about past conservation efforts criticizing such efforts as too “ambitious” or too “radical.” What is radical about trying to preserve biodiversity and wildlife habitat?

If we had listened to these past negative views, we would not have a 2.3 million-acre River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho, or the nearly 1 million-acre Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness in Montana, or the 1.2 million-acre North Cascades National Park/Glacier Peak Wilderness complex in Washington, as well as the even more ambitious Alaska Lands Act that created more than a 104 million acres of new national parks, wilderness and refuges in Alaska.

Tragically many of today’s conservation groups lack vision and even an understanding of conservation science. Whether NREPA would never pass Congress is unknown unless you try. Unfortunately, most of the regional conservation groups seem too afraid to try, much less work hard to protect wildlands. Instead, they rely on collaboratives that give away prime wildlands to achieve partial, if any additional protection of our wildlands.

NREPA is like a puzzle. One can support NREPA while promoting wilderness for individual parts of NREPA, thus assembling the whole piece by piece as some groups do.

NREPA is legislation that recognizes that what the roadless lands in the Northern Rockies do best is provide exceptional wildlife habitat and clean water. They are some of the best wildlands ecosystems left in the world. NREPA supporters recognize those superlative values and seek to ensure that what we have today will be here in the future.

I am reminded of another “radical” named Henry David Thoreau. Ralph Waldo Emerson who bailed Thoreau out of jail for protesting slavery and the Mexican War by refusing to pay a poll tax is reputed to have said: “Henry why are you in there?” Upon which Thoreau replied, “Ralph why are you not here?”

And so I ask the reluctant conservation groups to rethink their stance on NREPA and start standing with wilderness, instead being an obstacle to wilderness designation.

Categories: News for progressives

Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:50

To understand Beto O’Rourke as a candidate, it’s vital to go beneath the surface of his political backstory. News watchers are already well aware of the former Texas congressman’s good looks, charisma, youthful energy and fundraising prowess. But most remain unaware of an inconvenient truth that could undermine the O’Rourke campaign among the people who matter most — the ones who’ll be voting to choose the Democratic presidential nominee next year.

O’Rourke is hardly eager for those upcoming voters to realize that the growth of his political career is rooted in an alliance with powerful Republicans that began 15 years ago. Or that he supported raising the minimum age for Social Security in 2012. Or that — during six years in Congress, through the end of 2018 — he often aligned himself with Republican positions.

If facts matter, such weighty facts could sink the “Beto for America” presidential campaign. Since his announcement, information gaining traction nationwide runs directly counter to the Beto brand.

“Before becoming a rising star in the Democratic Party,” the Wall Street Journal reported a week ago, “Beto O’Rourke relied on a core group of business-minded Republicans in his Texas hometown to launch and sustain his political career. To win their backing, Mr. O’Rourke opposed Obamacare, voted against Nancy Pelosi as the House Democratic leader and called for a raise in the Social Security eligibility age.”

Meanwhile, a Washington Post news article — under the headline “Beto O’Rourke’s Political Career Drew on Donations From the Pro-Republican Business Establishment” — also foreshadowed a bumpy ride on the campaign trail. In the eyes of most people who don’t like the GOP, key points in the Post’s reporting are apt to be concerning. For instance:

+ “Several of El Paso’s richest business moguls donated to and raised money for O’Rourke’s city council campaigns, drawn to his support for a plan to redevelop El Paso’s poorer neighborhoods. Some later backed a super PAC that would play a key role in helping him defeat an incumbent Democratic congressman.”

+  “O’Rourke worked on issues that had the potential to make money for some of his benefactors. His support as a council member for the redevelopment plan, which sparked controversy at the time because it involved relocating low-income residents, many of them Hispanic, coincided with property investments by some of his benefactors.”

+  “As a congressman, he supported a $2 billion military funding increase that benefited a company controlled by another major donor. That donor, real estate developer Woody Hunt, was friends with O’Rourke’s late father. Hunt also co-founded and funds an El Paso nonprofit organization that has employed O’Rourke’s wife since 2016.”

Central features of Trumpism are budgets that add billions to already-bloated Pentagon spending while cutting essential programs. In Beto’s last year in Congress, when nearly one-third of House Democrats opposed the record-breaking 2019 National Defense Authorization Act of $717 billion, Beto voted with Trump. (Four senators who are running against O’Rourke voted no: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.)

Overall, the Post reports, “in contrast to the aspirational image he has fostered in recent years,” O’Rourke’s political career has gone along a path of “winning support from a typically pro-GOP business establishment interested in swaying public policy. Born into one politically potent family and married into another, he benefited repeatedly from his relationships with El Paso’s most powerful residents, including several nationally known Republican moneymen.”

To put his more conservative actions in context, O’Rourke cannot plausibly claim that he was striving to be in sync with the voters who elected him. El Paso and the House district that O’Rourke represented are heavily Democratic. The Wall Street Journal summed up this way: “In a one-party town — the Democrats have held El Paso’s congressional seat for all but one term since 1902 — local Republicans viewed Mr. O’Rourke as one of their own.”

Naturally, O’Rourke would much rather talk in upbeat generalities than answer pointed questions about why anti-Republican voters should cast ballots for him — when he has a long record of going along with many GOP positions they find abhorrent. It may be better for him if unflattering coverage fixates instead on matters like youthful stints as a punk rocker and early computer hacker.

It was just seven years ago when — during his first run for Congress — O’Rourke did a campaign video to tell people in the blue West Texas district that “we’ll have to look at future generations . . . retiring at a later age, paying a greater percentage of their income into Social Security and making other necessary adjustments.” And, the Wall Street Journal reports, “in a candidate questionnaire published two days before the May 2012 primary, Mr. O’Rourke called for raising the Social Security eligibility age and means-testing federal entitlements.” According to exit polling, O’Rourke won that election with major help from Republicans who opted to vote in the Democratic primary and cast their ballots for him by a ratio of more than 7 to 1.

After becoming a congressman, O’Rourke backtracked and, as Politico reports, “co-sponsored legislation that would increase Social Security benefits — without raising the retirement age.” Yet his wobbly stance on Social Security in this decade is a warning flag.

O’Rourke affinity with Republican sensibilities related to corporate power has continued. So has largesse from interests that are the antithesis of progressive values. Notably, for his final term, Beto retired from the House as the member of Congress who was the second-highest recipient of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry.

In June 2015, O’Rourke was one of only 28 Democrats — out of 188 members of the party in the House — who voted to give President Obama the power to negotiate the corporate-oriented Trans-Pacific Partnership. The measure squeaked through the House, propelled by support from 190 Republicans.

A year later, the TPP was a highly visible and contentious issue at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where hundreds of Bernie Sanders delegates held anti-TPP signs. (I was one of those delegates and still support Sanders.) These days, O’Rourke is typically aiming to have it both ways, as Vanity Fair reported in a campaign kickoff cover story last week: “O’Rourke now says he would have voted ‘no’ on the ultimate agreement. But in 2015, he traveled with Obama on a trip to Asia to help build support for the deal.”

At the end of last year, the Guardian published an exhaustively researched article under the headline “Beto O’Rourke Frequently Voted for Republican Legislation, Analysis Reveals.” The piece reported that “even as O’Rourke represented one of the most solidly Democratic congressional districts in the United States, he has frequently voted against the majority of House Democrats in support of Republican bills and Trump administration priorities.”

Written by investigative journalist David Sirota (who days ago joined the Sanders presidential campaign as a speechwriter), the Dec. 20 article reviewed “the 167 votes O’Rourke has cast in the House in opposition to the majority of his own party during his six-year tenure in Congress. Many of those votes were not progressive dissents alongside other left-leaning lawmakers, but instead votes to help pass Republican-sponsored legislation.”

A cautionary tale comes from David Romo, an activist and historian in El Paso who describes Beto O’Rourke as a “masterful politician. . . It’s all fluff, it’s all style, it’s all looks.” Romo clashed with City Councilman O’Rourke when he went all-out for redevelopment that would enrich some of his wealthy backers. Romo said recently: “O’Rourke, because of his charisma, can kind of pull off some of this behind-the-scenes power peddling. He was the pretty face in the really ugly gentrification plan that negatively affected the most vulnerable people in El Paso.”

To the casual listener, however, O’Rourke might sound lovely. Consider this verbiage from the presidential campaign trail: “We want to be for everybody, work with everybody. Could care less about your party affiliation or any other difference that might otherwise divide us at this moment of truth, where I really feel we will either make or break this great country and our democracy.”

From O’Rourke, that kind of talk has sometimes overlapped with disinterest in defeating Republicans. Last year, while running for the Senate, O’Rourke helped a friend in need — Texas GOP Congressman Will Hurd — by notably refusing to endorse his Democratic opponent.  Gina Ortiz Jones, a gay Filipina-American, had momentum in a district with a majority of Hispanics. But O’Rourke’s solidarity with his Republican colleague may well have saved Hurd’s seat.

Hurd won re-election by under one-half of a percentage point, while O’Rourke won in the district by a five-point margin. As the New York Times reported, O’Rourke “had elevated” his Republican colleague Hurd “with frequent praise and, most memorably, a live-streamed bipartisan road trip that helped jump-start their midterm campaigns.” During the campaign, O’Rourke tried to justify his refusal to endorse Hurd’s Democratic opponent by declaring: “This is a place where my politics and my job and my commitment to this country come into conflict. I’m going to put country over party.”

When Politico asked O’Rourke late last year whether he considered himself to be a progressive Democrat, O’Rourke replied: “I don’t know. I’m just, as you may have seen and heard over the course of the campaign, I’m not big on labels. I don’t get all fired up about party or classifying or defining people based on a label or a group. I’m for everyone.”


After O’Rourke campaigned in the Detroit area a few days ago, the Detroit Metro Times published information that would concern anyone with minimally progressive leanings: “He supported Republican efforts to limit the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was established by Obama and Democrats to protect Americans from Wall Street following the recession. O’Rourke also broke with the party to support Trump and GOP attempts to loosen requirements in hiring border patrol agents; chip away at the Affordable Care Act; kill a ban on oil drilling in parts of the Gulf of Mexico; and lift the 40-year-old oil export ban. He also supported Republican legislation that protected utility companies that start wildfires.”

It’s understandable that many progressives came out of 2018 with a favorable view of O’Rourke. He ran a strong campaign that got remarkably close to unseating the odious Sen. Ted Cruz. Along the way, O’Rourke showed himself to be eloquent and tireless. Some of his stances are both enlightened and longstanding, as with his advocacy for legalizing marijuana. And O’Rourke provided some stunning moments of oratory, as in a viral video that showed his response to a question about NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem; his support for dissent in the context of civil rights history was exemplary.

Yet, overall, there’s a good reason why O’Rourke declines to call himself “progressive.” He isn’t. His alliances and sensibilities, when you strip away some cultural affinities and limited social-justice positions, are bedrock corporate.

In his quest for a Democratic nomination that will require support from a primary electorate that leans progressive, Beto O’Rourke will be running to elude his actual record. If it catches up with him, he’s going to lose.

Categories: News for progressives

Greedy Boeing’s Avoidable Design and Software Time Bombs

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:50

As internal and external pressures mount to hold Boeing responsible for its criminal negligence, the giant company is exerting its immense influence to limit both its past and future accountability. Boeing whistleblowers and outside aviation safety experts are coming forward to reveal the serial, criminal negligence of Boeing’s handling of its dangerous Boeing 737 Max airplanes, grounded in the aftermath of two deadly crashes that took 346 lives. Boeing, is used to having its way in Washington, D.C. For decades, Boeing and some of its airline allies have greased the wheels for chronic inaction related to the additional protection and comfort of airline passengers and airline workers.

Most notoriously, the airlines, after the hijacks to Cuba in the late Sixties and early Seventies, made sure that Congress and the FAA did not require hardened cockpit doors and stronger latches on all aircraft, costing a modest $3000 per plane. Then the 9/11 massacre happened, a grisly consequence of non-regulation, pushed by right wing corporatist advocacy centers.

Year after year, Flyers Rights – the airline passenger consumer group –proposed a real passengers bill of rights. Year after year the industry’s toadies in Congress said no. A slim version passed last year — requiring regulations creating minimum seat standards, regulations regarding prompt refunds for ancillary services not provided or on a flight not taken, and a variety of small improvements for consumers.

Boeing is all over Capitol Hill. They have 100 full time lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Over 300 members of Congress regularly take campaign cash from Boeing. The airlines lather the politicians with complimentary ticket upgrades, amenities, waivers of fees for reservation changes, priority boarding, and VIP escorts. Twice, we sent surveys about these special freebies to every member of Congress with not a single response. (See my letterand survey .)

That is the corrupt backdrop that at least two Congressional Committees have to overcome in holding public hearings into the causes of the Indonesian’s Lion Air crash last October and the Ethiopian Airline crash on March 10, 2019.

Will the Senate and House Committee invite the technical dissenters to testify against Boeing’s sequential corner cutting on its single sensor software that miscued and took control of the 737 Max 8 from its pilots, pulling down on the plane’s nose? Boeing’s sales-driven avoidance of producing effective manuals with upgraded pilot training was courting disaster as was outrageously leaving many of the pilots in the dark.

The Congressional Committees must issue subpoenas to critics of Boeing and the FAA in order to protect them from corporate and agency retaliation.

Moreover, the Committees must get rid of the grotesque self-regulation that allows Boeing to control the aircraft certification process for the FAA. This dangerous delegation has worsened in recent years because Trump and Republicans in Congress have cut the FAA’s budget.

Brace yourself. Here is how the Washington Post described this abandonment of regulation by FAA, endorsed by Boeing’s Congress:

“In practice, one Boeing engineer would conduct a test of a particular system on the Max 8, while another Boeing engineer would act as the FAA’s representative, signing on behalf of the U.S. government that the technology complied with federal safety regulations…”

“Hundreds of Boeing engineers would have played out this scenario thousands of times as the company sought to verify the performance of mechanical systems, hardware installation and massive amounts of computer code…”

So, citizens, watch out for bloviating Congressional Committee members castigating Boeing executives at the witness table before the television cameras and then doing nothing once the television broadcasts fade away.

Boeing’s 737 series started in 1967 and has had a good engineering safety record in this country. But Boeing was in a rush with its Boeing 737 Max 8. They had to catch up with the growing orders for a similar-sized passenger jet built by Airbus. Being in a rush meant a modification that added more seats (a key motivation), that led to larger engines that affected the aerodynamics of the plane that led to the inadequate, mostly uncommunicated software fix to the pilots. Step by step, top management pushed the engineers in ways that compromised their professional expertise and each slide set the stage for a deeper slide. Now, the press is reporting a criminal probe by the Justice Department. The Inspector General of the Department of Transportation is also investigating the FAA’s certification of 737 Max 8.

Years ago, aviation experts say, Boeing should have developed a brand new aircraft design for such intermediate distances. But Boeing dug in and compliant FAA officials dropped the ball. And President Trump has failed to fill three top slots at the FAA since January 2017.

That is why, after flight 302 crashed outside Addis Ababa, both Boeing and the FAA kept issuing statements filled with gibberish saying that the 737 Max 8 was safe, safe, safe—the malfunction-prone software time bomb to the contrary. A brand new plane, crashing twice and taking hundreds of lives, can’t be blamed on pilot error.

Caution: the grounding of the planes may receive a whitewash unless the media keeps light and heat on this corporate-government collusion.

Installing artificial intelligence replacing or overpowering human intelligence in ever more complex machines, such as modern aircraft or weapons systems or medical technology is the harbinger of what’s to come.  In a 2014 BBC interview Stephen Hawking, the famed theoretical physicist, said:  “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” And in 2018 Elon Musk said: “If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it. No hard feelings.”

At the wreckage near Bishoftu in a small pastoral farm field and in the Java Sea off Indonesia lie the remains of the early victims of arrogant, algorithm-driven corner cutting, by reckless corporate executives and their captive government regulators.

Categories: News for progressives

White Supremacy is a Global Threat

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:48

It’s time to talk about white supremacy.

White supremacy — the belief that white people are somehow superior to people of other racial backgrounds, and should therefore politically, economically, and socially rule non-white people — isn’t going away any time soon.

It’s been deeply woven into the fabric of our culture, systemically and institutionally ingrained into this country’s DNA. It’s at the root of every racist act. It’s metastasized into the soil of this land and beyond, shaping our nation — and our world — as it stands today.

White supremacy is a disease that’s never been quarantined or contained. It’s as widespread and destructive as it’s ever been, erupting in extreme displays like the massacre at twin mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand by a self-proclaimed white supremacist.

President Trump is quick to exaggerate any alleged threat posed by immigrants or Muslims. But when asked by reporters if he believed that white nationalism was a rising threat, he responded: “I don’t really. I think it’s a very small group of people that have serious problems.”

Trump’s dismissive response echoed similarly jarring comments blaming “both sides” for the 2017 white nationalist rally that left one person dead in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The real problem is that the attacks in New Zealand indeed reflect a growing threat worldwide of white supremacist terrorism, according to former FBI and Homeland Security officials.

In the United States, domestic terror at the hands of white nationalists is on the rise. The most recent incident involved a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, who created a “hit list” of progressive leaders, activists, and media personalities he intended to kill.

In fact, one recent study showed that white supremacists committed virtually every single act of terror in the United States last year. These incidents and others documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center expose a new iteration of white supremacist resurgence, with hate that dates back centuries.

You can see it even in “ordinary” political speech.

Rhetoric used throughout history labeling Indigenous people as “savages” and Africans as “brutes” is shamelessly being repeated by Donald Trump to describe immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. His reference to Haiti and African nations as “s—hole” countries bespeaks an oppressive colonial mentalitythat depicted non-white countries as being uncivilized.

In his 74-page manifesto, the New Zealand terrorist admitted he committed his crimes to “show the invaders that our land will never be their land,” and praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

We’re not witnessing the acts of “a very small group of people.” We’re witnessing a terror that has spanned the globe, from the British Empire to Nazi Germany to the Jim Crow South and now to New Zealand.

Is it a coincidence that Trump would deny white nationalism is on the rise, while simultaneously using it as a framework to impose harsh restrictions on immigration and other policies?

This resurgence of white supremacy is rooted in a fear of what activists refer to as its “dismantling” — the stripping away of white supremacist rules, systems, beliefs, and ideologies. That can’t be done without understanding its origins or its fundamental violence — or the fact that ideologues like those in power today have little else to offer working white people.

To state it plainly, all people are equal. The perpetuation of racist ideas is one big fallacy; so too is the legacy of white supremacy. The sooner we name it and dismantle it, the better for all of us, whatever our color.

Categories: News for progressives

Intersectionalities of Gender and Politics in Indian-Administered Kashmir

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:48

In my work, previous and current, I attempt to foreground the radical potential of voices that are considered marginalized. In doing so, I neither attempt to neglect the adverse effects of domination or displacement, nor do I associate the authoritarian qualities of writing and pedagogy exclusively with the West. How did Kashmiri women navigate the often impenetrable terrain of formal spaces of political power created not just by elites but by insurgent movements as well, which are often striving for forms of nationalism that are similar to the exclusionary and patriarchal nationalisms of neocolonial elites? Did Kashmiri women create new forms of subjectivity that were radically different from the essentialist and dichotomous state-nationalist subject? Do these new forms of subjectivity enable the construction of resistance feminisms? Does this subject provide “a constant critique of nationalist and even insurgent agendas, of power relations that structure global economic flows, and will never be complete” (Grewal 1997: 234)?

I briefly examine the oppositional and nonessentialist narratives of Kashmiri women that forge new niches in Kashmiri society through the pathways of multilayered identities and inclusiveness. The multiple narratives of Kashmiri women, including my own, disrupt the voicelessness of women placed on the altar of cultural iconicism.

The renowned Kashmiri scholar Prem Nath Bazaz assesses the scintillating role that Kashmiri women of ancient times played in the social and cultural life of Kashmir (Bazaz [1967] 2005: 12), but these women were cushioned by their royal lineage in a monarchical regime, untormented by the lack of wherewithal that women of other socioeconomic classes were had to contend with. How did Kashmiri women, from different walks of life, express their political agency during the  nationalist awakening in the 1930s; during the Quit Kashmir movement in the 1940s; during the invasion by raiders from the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan in 1947; during the period preceding and succeeding the accession of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian dominion; at the onset of the militant movement in the late 1980s; and during the era of gross human rights violations by the Indian army, paramilitary forces, Pakistani-trained militants, mercenaries, and state-sponsored organizations in the 1990s and 2000s? Does the insurgent movement in Kashmir create parameters for women that are just as restrictive as those created by the politics of the nation-state? Have Kashmiri women signified a reconciliatory presence and been harbingers of peace?

Women politicos in the legislative assembly and legislative council of Jammu and Kashmir are token members, who are seen as symbols of their entire group. Today, in the politics of Indian-administered J & K, women do constitute a minority, increasing the pressures of high visibility, unease, stereotyping, inability to make substantial change, over-accommodation to the dominant male culture in order to avoid condemnation as “overly soft.” Even those with access to the echelons of power are unwilling or unable to forge “broad feminist coalitions and informal networks along party lines” (Dahlerup 2001: 104), refusing to challenge state-centered, elitist, and masculinist notions of security.

Construction of the “Kashmiri Woman” by the Discourses of Religious Nationalism, Ethnonationalism, and Secular Nationalism:

The encounter with essentialist notions of identity is inevitable in the construction of the Kashmiri woman as a parchment on which the discourses of religious nationalism, secular nationalism, and ethnonationalism are inscribed, and the most ruthless acts are justified by Indian paramilitary forces the only viable way to assert an aggressive nationalism, and by militant organizations as means to claim ownership over the putatively impregnable boundaries of women’s spaces. Secular as well as ethnonationalists claim that as long as the core of the culture is retained, an unchanging essential Kashmiri identity, reducing the diversity of the society to one criterion, which came to be seen as the definitive component of Kashmiri identity, particularly a Kashmiri woman’s identity. Nationalist discourse creates Kashmir as a space inhabited by monochrome women “whose identity is simple and straightforward.” This discourse “recognizes only a limited range of the spectrum of collective identity. It gives that part of identity a privileged place in political discourse, simultaneously defining the identity, projecting it and appealing to it for support” (Smith 2001: 39). For example, ethnonationalists assert that a Kashmiri woman who marries a non-Kashmiri loses her legal right to inherit, own, or buy immovable property in the state. This argument gives legitimacy to the supposedly “unchanging essence of individual and social identity” (Smith 34), by asserting that the Kashmiri woman is the repository of primordial culture and ethnicity which would get tainted by her stepping outside the cultural threshold. As a strategy to maintain the inviolability of the cultural sanctum sanctorium, ethnonationalists problematize the law concerning state subjects which was promulgated in Jammu and Kashmir on April 20, 1927 by Maharajah Hari Singh. This injunction was meant to protect the interests of the local landed class and the peasantry against wealthy people from outside the state who had the wherewithal to buy the locals out of hearth and home. In 1957, the new constitution of the state changed “state subject” to “permanent resident.” Permanent resident status was accorded to individuals who had been living in the state for at least a decade before May 14, 1957. On March 25, 1969, the state government issued an injunction requiring all deputy commissioners to issue certificates of permanent residence to Kashmiri women with the stipulation that status was valid till marriage. After that, women who married permanent resident men would need to get their certificates reissued, and those who married outside the state would indubitably lose their permanent resident status, where-as, a male permanent resident be entitled to bestow on his non-state subject spouse the ability to own and inherit property in the state as long as she didn’t leave the state for permanent residence elsewhere (Abdullah, 1993). This essential identity becomes “normative, a pressure . . . to conform . . ., as members of one nation or another, or along” a “single dimension out of the many that make” people “who they are” (Smith 2001: 39).

In 2002, the state High Court declared that this proviso had no legislative sanction because it violated the gender equality clause of the constitution of the state as well as of India. The High Court held that the proviso relied on section 10 of the British law which governed pre-partition India, and that law had itself been amended (Bhagat, 2002; Puri, 2004). The bench quoted section four of the Sri Pratap Consolidation Law Act to declare that the only legislative prohibition was that the property inherited by a woman permanent resident who married a non-permanent resident could not be sold to a non-state subject. But this decision created an uproar in which the then opposition National Conference asserted that the declaration of the earlier proviso invalidating the permanent resident status of women who married outside the state as antiquated was an attempt to undermine the normative cultural identity of the state. This political discourse greatly influenced the dominant sense of Kashmiri identity, “defining the identity, projecting it, and appealing to it for support” (Ibid.: 39). The National Conference (NC) accused the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of having kowtowed to the federal government by withdrawing its appeal from the Supreme Court against the judgment of the state High Court. The PDP, rattled by its fear of losing electoral support in the Kashmir Valley, which is the province in which it holds most sway, overlooked the gender perspective and violations that women could potentially experience in the spheres of socioeconomic and cultural rights, and, without wasting much time, drafted a Permanent Resident Bill in the assembly reinforcing the earlier stipulation. The High Court’s decision was supported by the then ruling PDP’s coalition partner, the Congress, which later formed a coalition government with the NC in 2008. The issue of permanent residence was communalized by Hindu fundamentalist originations, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Samaj Sevak, to inflame regional divisiveness by condemning the opposition of the NC and the PDP to the High Court’s decision as acts of Muslim secession, underscoring the religious identity of predominantly Hindu Jammu.  The representatives of the NC and the PDP in the legislative assembly and legislative council vociferously opposed the decision of the High Court that declared the earlier proviso obsolete, and the representatives of the Congress and the BJP unequivocally endorsed it (Puri, 2004).

The process of identity politics here became a “battle to assert the salience and meaning of a given identity” (Ibid.: 37) of a Kashmiri woman. The women members of the legislative assembly and legislative council acted as agents of the state as opposed to recognizing identity as multidimensional, because “it is in the nature of political mobilization that the arbitrary nature of an appeal to identity cannot be acknowledged. . . . the political insistence that one category of identity has the highest salience and a particular meaning is accompanied by a denial that there is any real choice in the matter” (Ibid.: 38).

My Personal and Intellectual Trajectory: The Narrative of a Diasporic Kashmiri Muslim Women:

How do I choose to remember Kashmir? The mellifluous music of life; verdant, rolling hills; sparkling snow topped mountains; gushing streams; dew sprinkled meadows in summer and snow flake blanketed meadows in winter; horses with trappings, sleigh bells, shingled roofs, and the cocooning smell of burning wood in furnaces; the aroma of pines, firs, and conifers; a fertile landscape inundated with the alluring ripeness of loquat, cherry, apple, pomegranate trees, firmly denying stagnation or any hint of barrenness; an unmistakable vitality and zeal for life in the air; the rustling of autumnal leaves that becalms the harried soul; the lustrous snows of winter that promise to expiate the most egregious sin; a palpable rapture that beckons the unsuspecting observer to plunge into the tempestuous waters of existence; the tenuous throes of infancy in the vibrant atmosphere of spring, with tenderly sprouting flower buds feeling their way into existence; the unflinching faith of the mystic in communion with the divine; a mysticism that cannot be reduced to history.

It was in this Valley of languid beauty, a cornucopia of passions, mysticism, syncretism, and evanescence, best symbolized by changing autumnal hues, that I came to consciousness. Although interrogating my own narrative produces angst, it allows me to examine the blind spots in my perception, which I have attempted to do by closely looking at women’s movements launched by marginalized groups as well as at the class dimensions of the gendered activism in a highly militarized Kashmir. While struggling to develop a critical awareness of my positionality, I recognize the validity of political ideologies and activisms that were orchestrated by elite women as well as by women at the grass roots level, some of which get dismissed all too easily in some narratives of Kashmir as “unrepresentative.” And yet, as I write this piece at a geographical and physical remove from my land of origin, the Valley of Kashmir, it is not halcyon days that haunt my memory, but the disintegration of that world and the subsequent dispossession and dislocation for some, which has had a profound impact on my subjectivity. There are times, however, when I am wracked by nostalgia for a past when political repression, conscripted democratic spaces, jeopardized cultural emancipation, bigotry breeding intolerance, militarization stunting growth were not even specks on the horizon.

The history of Kashmir, similar to histories of other conflict zones, has never been sanitized. Also, although a class/ caste hierarchy does not enjoy religious legitimacy in predominantly Muslim Kashmir, socioeconomic class and caste divisions in Kashmir are as well-entrenched as they are in other South Asian societies. There is also a rigidly entrenched gender hierarchy in Kashmir, to deconstruct which some substantive attempts have been made. The role of women in a conflict zone; the reconceptualization of a woman’s identity in a politically militarized zone; intersectionalities of class, education, ethnicity, religious identity in theorizing a woman’s identity; women’s agential roles or lack thereof are issues that can no longer be relegated to the background.

Although I am wary of the construction of a monolithic “Kashmiri” female subject and well-aware of the repressive politics of a homogenizing cultural nationalism, I do not wish to forestall the possibility of a unified subjectivity as the basis of nationalist politics. I acknowledge the political productivity of the construct of a unified subjectivity, while cautioning the reader against eliding specific, varied, and unique forms of agency deployed by Kashmiri women in times of relative calm, conflict, political turbulence, resurgence of nationalism, and internal critique not just of state-nationalism, but insurgent nationalism as well. Although every instance of the resurgence of nationalism in Kashmir has strategically employed the term “women” to further engender this category of subjects, I reiterate that there is no monolithic “Kashmiri woman.”

My maternal grandmother, Begum Akbar Jehan, supported her husband’s struggle and represented Srinagar and Anantnag constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian parliament from 1977 to 1979 and 1984 to 1989, respectively. She was also the first president of the Jammu and Kashmir Red Cross Society from 1947 to 1951. But during Grandfather’s incarceration, she had been burdened with the arduous task of raising five children in a politically repressive environment that sought to undo her husband’s mammoth political, cultural, legalistic attempts to restore the faith of Kashmiri society in itself.


New efforts and new forums are required not just in Indian-administered Kashmir but in other parts of the world as well for the germination of new ideas, broad based coalition politics that transcends organizational divides, and gives women the space and leeway to make important political decisions. In order to mitigate the conflict in Indian-administered Kashmir, “women have to re-establish their historic links with peace and the peace movement, asserting themselves as the harbingers of a genuine alternative. It is with this perspective in mind that women have to speak to those in public power and when they themselves are in public authority. This is very different from adopting, in the name of the search for equality, the existing masculinist and militaristic mentality” (Chenoy and Vanaik: 2001, 137).

The most effective way to make a gender perspective viable in Kashmiri society would be for women, state as well as non-state actors, to pursue the task of not just incorporating and improving the positions of their organizations within civil society, but also by forging connections between their agendas and strategies for conflict resolution and reconstruction of society with the strategies and agendas of other sections of the populace impacted by the conflict. It is imperative that women actors in collaboration with other civil society actors focus on the rebuilding of a greatly polarized and fragmented social fabric to ensure the redressal of inadequate political participation, insistence on accountability for human rights violations through transitional justice mechanisms, reconstruction of the infrastructure and productive capacity of Kashmir, resumption of access to basic social services. It is imperative that the state government recognize the worth of the peace-building work that women’s organizations can contribute at the local and regional levels. The aspirations for state accountability, healing, and peace of the members of the APDP must be translated into a powerful force that would determine the substance of conflict resolution.

Categories: News for progressives

Citizenship in the Age of Trump: Death by a Thousand Cuts

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:47

It turns out that walls can’t always be seen. Donald Trump may never build his “great, great wall,” but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working to wall Americans in. It’s a story that needs to be told.

This past month, for instance, claims of ISIS’s near total defeat in Syria have continued to mount. As a result, numerous foreigners who had traveled there to fight for, or support, the caliphate have appealed to their home countries to take them back, presumably to stand trial for their support of terrorism. Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, and other nations have crafted responses that vary from lukewarm acceptance to outright denial of their citizenship status.

On that score, Donald Trump’s White House hasn’t just led the way, but has used the occasion to put yet more concrete and steel into the great wall his administration has been constructing around the very idea of what it is to be an American. Here in the United States, where the Statue of Liberty has been a welcoming beacon for more than a century, the Trump administration’s response has not just been a fierce aversion to the return of such people, but the use of one of them to help redefine ever more narrowly the very idea of citizenship, of who belongs to this country. In the rejection of the citizenship of a former ISIS bride with child, the president and his advisors have, in an unprecedented way, refused to uphold the rights of U.S.-born citizens, let alone naturalized ones.

Get Out and/or Stay Out

Donald Trump arrived in the Oval Office with an expressed desire to take an axe to the lawful notion of citizenship as either a right or a promise. In the first days of his presidency, he promptly began reducing the number of individuals who might someday be eligible for U.S. citizenship with a Muslim ban against the arrival of anyone from seven largely Muslim countries. During those first days in power, the president also issued an executive order aimed at specifically reducing the number of refugees from Syria who could enter the country, even as he actively advocated for the building of his great wall on our southern border to keep out Mexicans and Central Americans.

But walling Americans in and keeping others out proved only to be a starting point for the most xenophobic president the country had elected in at least a century. On becoming president, Trump made it crystal clear that he meant to reduce the number of non-citizens already living here as well. Yet another of his early executive orders was aimed at rounding up and deporting illegal immigrants who had been in this country, often for decades.

His promise and initial plan, never implemented, was to eliminate the prospect of future citizenship not just for undocumented immigrants already here, but for their children born here who, under the law, were certainly U.S. citizens. And he was true to his word. Over 2017 and 2018, he deported nearly half a million individuals who had come here illegally, many of whom had, until then, lived productive lives in this country for years, if not decades. So, too, he continued to threaten DACA, or “dreamers” program, designed to provide undocumented immigrants who arrived as children with protection against deportation. When it comes to that program, his intent is crystal clear, even if the courts and Congress have slowed him down so far.

Meanwhile, he also turned to naturalized citizens. On them, the Fourteenth Amendment is clear. It grants citizenship to all persons “born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Under U.S. law, denaturalization can occur only in certain situations, such as if an individual lies on his or her application for citizenship or due to bad conduct — such as membership in a terrorist organization or an other-than-honorable discharge from the armed forces — in the first five years of citizenship.

During Trump’s presidency, there has been an all-out effort to find and prosecute such cases. Between 1990 and 2017, according to the National Immigration Forum, the Department of Justice filed an average of 11 cases of this sort a year. In 2017, that number more than doubled, and 2,500 new investigations were reportedly opened. In June 2018, the DHS even announced plans to create a new office in southern California, whose focus would be uncovering cases ripe for denaturalization.

From undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers to refugees, DACA kids, and naturalized citizens, the pattern has been evident and the message the same: “Get out and/or stay out.” Despite a powerful xenophobic period early in the twentieth century, this attitude has hardly been the essence of a country that, for most of its history, has welcomed strangers and given hope to those in search of safety, security, and the rights and liberties of America’s promise.

No longer. In September 2017, using an American foreign fighter designated as John Doe, the administration went after the concept of dual citizenship, too. Doe had been captured by Kurdish militia in Syria and was then handed over to U.S. forces in Iraq. A dual U.S.-Saudi citizen, he was not brought to this country to be investigated and possibly tried, but secretly held in military detention in Iraq, while being denied access to a lawyer. When the news of his detention was leaked to the media, lawyers at the ACLU filed a habeas corpus petition challenging it.  The courts then put limitations on the government’s plan to transfer this citizen to a third country. Finally, he was reportedly released to Bahrain to join his wife and daughter.

The Ultimate Slippery Slope

Recently, a providential ISIS case has allowed the Trump administration to turn more directly to the denial of citizenship for those born in this country.

Two weeks ago, lawyers representing a young U.S.-born woman, Hoda Muthana, filed papers in the District of Columbia on behalf of her father, challenging the administration on her fate. She had traveled to Syria in 2014, had become an ISIS bride, had borne a child, and now is asking to return to the United States with her son. The Trump administration has barred her from doing so, denying that she is even a citizen, despite the fact that she was issued U.S. passports in 2005 and again in 2014 and is the citizen of no other country. The government’s decision is based on the false claim that, though she was born in New Jersey, her father was then still a Yemeni diplomat serving in the U.S. on a diplomatic visa. Muthana, her family, and her lawyers dispute this claim, correctly insisting that she was born after his visa had ended. At that time, her mother, they also point out, was a legal permanent resident.

At the age of 20, Hoda Muthana, brought up in Alabama, was reportedly radicalized by ISIS online. She then took the money her parents had provided for tuition at the University of Alabama and absconded to Syria. Her goal: to become an ISIS bride.  She married an ISIS fighter and bore him a son. When her husband was killed, she married another fighter, and yet another after his death. Online, she promoted violent acts in the U.S. and elsewhere on behalf of ISIS. “Go on drive bys, and spill all of their blood, or rent a big truck and drive all over them. Veterans, Patriots, Memorial, etc. day… Kill them,” she tweeted.

Muthana is now living in a Kurdish displaced-persons camp in Syria where, she claims, she has seen the error of her ways and, on return, is willing to take her chances in a court of law. Thirteen other foreign fighters from the U.S. have already returned home to face trial. In denying her citizenship, however, the Trump administration is obviously using a distinctly unpopular figure, a willing former Islamist terrorist, to strike at the very heart of the idea of citizenship. Depending on how her case is decided in courts that are increasingly filled with judges chosen by President Trump, it could change the way the government handles citizenship for the U.S.-born; and as citizens are at the top of the pyramid, it could strike yet a stronger blow against those with lesser guarantees under the law who are now distinctly in Donald Trump’s sights.

Muthana does not hold dual nationality, which means that any withdrawal of her citizenship would actually violate international law as the Geneva Conventions specify that no person can be rendered stateless by the revocation of his or her citizenship.

In other words, the attempt to block Hoda Muthana’s return represents a potentially giant step by the Trump administration, setting a precedent that could weaken the formerly sacrosanct idea of citizenship in the United States. Consider this the ultimate slippery slope, one that could, over time, transform both the image, and the reality, of what it means to be an American.

Will the Statue of Liberty Be Denied Citizenship?

Halfway through Trump’s presidency, his administration has also moved to use citizenship as an exclusionary factor in other ways, continuing to craft a new, ever more restrictive vision of what it means to be an American. His team has proposed, for example, adding a “citizenship” question to the U.S. Census, taken every 10 years, in hopes of depressing the count of immigrants who are not yet citizens. That, in turn, could change the way political power and federal funding are distributed, reducing voting rights and potentially the number of congressional representatives in a handful of key states, including Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas, where the majority of undocumented immigrants reside.

Sued for this proposal on constitutional and procedural grounds, the government lost at the district level in federal court. As U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Furman stated, the attempt to add the citizenship question was “arbitrary and capricious,” as well as “unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons.” Moreover, Furman said, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and his aides “tried to avoid disclosure of, if not conceal, the real timing and the real reasons for the decision to add the citizenship question.” (The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case during its spring 2019 term.)

The United States is hardly alone in reconsidering the nature of citizenship in a world where the populist right is obviously on the rise, at least not when it comes to those foreign fighters for ISIS. The German government recently decided that such fighters with dual citizenship will, in the future, lose their German citizenship. New Zealand has agreed to take back an ISIS fighter, recognizing that rendering a person stateless is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Great Britain has stripped citizenship from several individualsaccused of terrorism or ISIS affiliations, something at least theoretically permissible under the law there (as it is not in the U.S.). And Belgium just decided to revoke the citizenship of two women who joined the Islamic State, while accepting the citizenship of their six children.

In several countries, the conversation is not limited to foreign fighters. A report by the Center for Migration Studies, for instance, concludes that recent actions taken by the Australian, Canadian, and British governments illustrate a troubling expansion of a trend in which the revocation of citizenship is a response to transnational terror threats.

In its urge to build walls of every sort, seen and unseen, however, the Trump administration has taken the global lead in creating a world in which citizenship will be ever more narrowly defined. The Statue of Liberty has stood in New York harbor for well over a century. If President Trump succeeds in his assault on citizenship as an inclusive, irremovable right, then Lady Liberty will find herself, like Ellis Island, a mere reminder of another world, of a lost America, a country that once was a beacon of hope for those fleeing oppression. Perhaps it will even be sent back to France.

This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

Categories: News for progressives

Getting It Right on What Stuff Costs

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:47

I think we, as a nation, have a problem with how we discuss money and public policy. Let me compare it to household finances, since that is something everyone can relate to.

Imagine you have $100. You have choices on how to spend it. You could save it or invest it. You can buy something now that will save you money (or earn you money) later. You could buy something you need.

Or you could spend it on something entirely wasteful and frivolous. Like, an Xbox for your goldfish. That’s definitely a waste of money.

The prudent options here are obvious — save it, invest it, or spend it wisely on something you need. For example, I bought a coffee maker. I used to buy coffee out each day. The coffee maker cost money, but it allows me to save hundreds of dollars a year on my coffee habit.

Right now I’m working on my PhD. I pay tuition and school fees, plus I’m spending at least six years of my life in poverty as a poorly paid graduate student. Is that a waste of money? No. Right now, it’s not a profitable decision. In the long run, however, my degree will (hopefully) allow me to earn more money in my career.

When you can afford it, making decisions that allow you to save money or earn more down the road, even when the payoff doesn’t occur until years later, is a wise choice.

When we talk about public spending and the national budget, we all understand the general idea that we should spend our tax dollars on useful things that will benefit all of us. We shouldn’t pay wasteful, inflated prices for what we can get for less. And we certainly shouldn’t spend money on things we don’t need at all.

Where we really miss the boat is on the decisions we can make now to save or earn money later. And we often miss some of the larger implications of our choices.

What happens when we spend now to improve education and health care? Eventually, we save more and earn more through a healthier and better educated population.

If we get better coverage with universal health care for less than we spend on our privatized system, isn’t that a good investment — even if it costs money upfront? If the next generation of workers earns a better living because we invested in their education today, wasn’t that smart spending?

Money spent isn’t always just money down the drain. When you buy groceries and eat them, they’re gone. Does that mean you might as well live on ramen alone, since it’s cheap?

Of course not, because what you eat affects your long term health. Maybe that salad costs a bit more than ramen noodles now, but it will be a net gain in terms of health later. That means increased quality of life and economic productivity and decreased health expenses later.

The same is true when we discuss immigration and jobs.

Yes, immigrants who come here take jobs (though the question of whether “they” take “our” jobs is a lot more complicated, and requires a lot of unpacking besides). Regardless, they also create jobs. Immigrants are consumers, just like everyone else. When they consume housing, cars, furniture, clothes, and groceries, they contribute to the economy, and that creates new jobs.

When we discuss policy, we must remember that the first and most immediate result of a policy is not its only result. Often there is an initial cost but long term benefit for the American people. If there is long term gain to be had for our nation, then spending now is worthwhile.

Categories: News for progressives

Pacific Odyssey: Puddle Jumping in New Britain

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:46

This article is Part VII of a series that describes a journey from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. For Part I, please click here.

A map of wartime New Guinea. In this series, the author goes from Port Moresby to Milne Bay, Lae, Hoskins, Rabaul, and Guadalcanal. Cape Gloucester is on the western tip of New Britain. Photo by Matthew Stevenson.

Although my get-out-of-town ticket from Kiriwina was only to Alotau, my goal was to travel on to Port Moresby, which is where the plane was headed after a short stop at Gurney Airport to drop off and collect a few passengers. Rebecca had told me that I would need to see the agent on duty in the airport to buy another plane ticket. (Travel in Papua New Guinea is a series of one-way adventures.) But when I hustled off the plane and found the agents in the terminal, the last thing on anyone’s mind was selling me a seat on the continuing flight.

For a while two or three men in yellow vests—more luggage handlers than agents—showed some interest and quoted me a price to Moresby. But when I tried to pay with a credit card, no one knew how to operate the payment register (one of those hand-held devices that waiters bring to your table).

So we switched the negotiations to cash. I had PNG Kina notes, but not in the correct denominations, and the airport had no change. I offered to pay in dollars, which were acceptable on Kiriwina, but by that point I had become a nuisance, along the lines of “This would be a great airline if it didn’t have any passengers.”

In the end, the yellow vests clerks walked away from the desk, closed up the plane’s door, and waved away the flight with those orange sticks, much the way, in my mind, I saw the rest of my trip to New Guinea’s battlefields disappearing on the murky horizon. I wasn’t no longer a castaway on Kiriwina, but now found myself waylaid in Milne Bay.

* * *

At least by now Alotau was familiar, and when I walked back through the front door of the Napatana Lodge everyone on the staff was happy to see me again. They assigned me the same empty backpacker room—the lovely screened porch, with views of the water and a large desk—and, before venturing into town in search of the internet on which to buy a plane ticket, I ate fish soup and drank cold beer (with the company of the hotel cat) as part of a late lunch celebrating my escape from Kiriwina.

The International Hotel in Alotau sold me access to the internet for $5, and I sat there for several hours in the late afternoon, trying to figure out the next steps of my travels. I could book a flight the next day to Moresby (nearly all flights in PNG start or end there), but to get to Lae or Rabaul, as a next step, would mean spending another night in Moresby, something I wanted to avoid.

Before making a ticket decision, I checked my incoming emails, to see if any of the travel operators I had written had any ideas about Cape Gloucester. Aaron, from Ecotourism Melanesia, had written to me:

Here’s what I dug up so far:

> Local PMVs [personal motorized vehicles, aka a truck] travel from Kimbe [large town on New Britain, but still a hundred miles from Gloucester] town to place called Garu. [Four to five hours.] From Garu a motorised dinghy would have to be used to get to Gloucester. [At least five or six hours.] The Gloucester lady says crime wouldn’t be a problem in the Gloucester area, but winds and rough seas can be at times. My guess is it would be K30-K40 by PMV and K100-K150 by dinghy. I’m not…. [There the message ended, as if kidnappers had dragged Aaron away in mid-sentence.]

In earlier correspondence, Aaron had described a twice-weekly ferry service from Lae, the large town and port on the north coast, to Cape Gloucester. But now I was reduced to a banana boat from Garu to Gloucester, assuming I could get to Garu on that trail through the jungle. In all, it looked like a week’s proposition, maybe more. At least I might get the chance to wear my lifejacket, or try out my whistle.

Little by little my grand plans for Papua New Guinea were fading away. I had not succeeded in finding a boat from Goodenough either to Alotau or Buna, and now I would have to backtrack (for more than a week) from Kimbe if I wanted to visit Gloucester. It seemed daunting. As my father would have joked: “Will you be on the roster after Cape Gloucester?”

Even though I had given myself a month in the Pacific for what I knew would be difficult travels, with the slow progress that I was making I would not have time to stop in Gloucester and then connect to either Rabaul or make it to my outbound flight from Honiara, on Guadalcanal in the Solomons.

In retrospect, I should have invested all of my spare cash in Gavin and the good sailing ship “Chemistry,” and seen how far I could get. But he had said that the prevailing winds, at that time of year, would have made it difficult for him to take me to Cape Gloucester and still pick up his next charter party in Alotau. So I was on my own, at the International Hotel in Alotau, which was nowhere.

* * *

After several hours of brooding over the computer (I paid out another $5 to extend the connection), I booked an air ticket to Rabaul, on the eastern tip of New Britain. Instead of booking a direct flight (there were none from Alotau), I decided to take a flight from Port Moresby that would make stops along the way in Lae and Hoskins, the airfield for Kimbe.

In this way, especially on the flight from Lae to Kimbe, I might be able to see Cape Gloucester from the air. And as I would be flying on a small propeller plane the length of New Britain, I might also learn something about the landscape of the Marine campaign that slogged through its rain-soaked jungles. In his remembrance my father would say: “It just never stopped raining.” In his MacArthur biography William Manchester writes: “On New Britain sixteen inches of rain fell in a single day.”

It was like booking a flyover of Gettysburg or Normandy, but it was all I could manage from an internet cafe on Milne Bay. I consoled myself by thinking that I would get a good visit in Rabaul and that, for my next trip to New Britain, I would have a much better understanding of the local topography.

It felt like a defeat, but I weighed it against having made it to the D’Entrecasteaux and Trobriands islands, places I never imagined that I would visit. And I now understood why the war in the Pacific was called a “War of Distances.”

* * *

My travels hit rock bottom on my layover at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby, where I checked into a nearby hotel called Airways. I had been looking for that bank of airport telephones that make direct calls to local hotels when a tout, with a fistful of hotel brochures, approached me.

I was skeptical about the sidewalk sell but did need a hotel, and Jacksons was yet another stop on my route that did not include wifi connections, preventing me from booking on my own through the internet. Suddenly I was back in 1989, wandering around a strange airport, trying to find a place to say.

In laminated brochures, all hotels are appealing. I booked Airways because it had a pool, air conditioning, and an airport shuttle bus. Had I gone into downtown Port Moresby, the cab ride would have cost $30 each way, and I would have paid $200 for the room—a lot for a stopover in Papua New Guinea.  

My problems began after I had checked into the hotel (the room was dirty but I could have overlooked that) and asked to have or buy the code for wifi, the reason I was there at all. (The tout had assured me that the internet connections were blazing fast.) Instead of passing over the code, the clerk said that the hotel had a policy of only letting guests who had booked online use the internet. Walk-ins from the airport, such as myself, could do without connections.

I huffed and puffed, and asked the see the manager. After about twenty minutes (like Buddha with his laptop, I sat brooding on a sofa in the lobby), I was told that, exceptionally, I could use the internet for one hour. The manager refused to come out of his goldfish bowl of an office to speak to me, but would occasionally peek through his blinds at me, as if someone else was whispering to him: “No, it’s that crazy guy on the sofa.”

* * *

The puddle jumping flight to Rabaul was scheduled to leave early in the morning but it wasn’t until after 10:00 a.m. that we took off. While we were waiting, the public address system in the waiting room comforted the passengers by explaining that one of the pilots was missing. (“Ladies and gentlemen, Air PNG wishes to inform you that….”)

Whether with one pilot or two, we flew through high cloud banks over the Owen Stanley range, which from the air looked like a vast green carpet, with jungle trees in the place of wool stitches. I tried to see foot paths through the valleys or over the peaks, but sooner than I wanted the high sierra of PNG was lost in the mist.

I had arranged the stopover in Lae so that, as the plane approached Nadzab Airport, I could see the from the air the peaks of the surrounding hills and mountains, which figure so prominently in Peter Ryan’s Fear Drive My Feet, one of the classics of Australian war literature.

During the Second World War in New Guinea, Ryan was stationed around Lae with the constabulary forces. An Australian from Melbourne, he was nineteen years old and had learned, from his father, some of the rudiments of pidgin, the local dialect.

His mission was to patrol the hills around Lae and to report on the sympathies of the local tribes and the movements of the Japanese army, whose forces were dug in around the coast.

Ryan spent several years in the bush, and his memoir captures the grim conditions on the ground in New Guinea. He writes: “But this vast landscape in which nothing moved or spoke was eerie and rather frightening. It was not the peaceful quiet of a friendly countryside, but brooding, malevolent, full of watchful eyes.” On behalf of the Australian government, Ryan watched the mountains the way coast watchers had their eyes on the sea.

I first came across Ryan’s memoirs in the 1980s, when I was traveling to Australia for work and would go on Saturdays to local bookshops. I read the book then, but reread it now, to prep for my flight over what is called the Huon Peninsula, which is the mountainous head of a dragon staring in the direction of New Britain (a long island off PNG’s north coast).

Ryan got to his post there by traversing the Markham River, which from my window seat appeared as a murky, sandy estuary at the base of tall mountains. In the memoir, however, it’s the dividing line between the low country—the broad valley around Lae that includes the airport at Nadzab—and the high country, where Ryan was often patrolling.

Of the Markham River, he writes: “All the hazards of a sea voyage were to be had in a trip across this incredible stream – reefs, islands, currents, waves, and sand-banks – any one of which might have wrecked us.” Once he was in the high ground, he blended more contentedly with his surroundings. He writes: “[The rushing waters] were, in another sense, like a gate, for each time I crossed the Markham on my way to the mountains I felt I had passed through a door into another life.”

Compared with many memoirs of the Second World War, Ryan’s book is light on scenes with blood and guts. His enemies were the climate and landscape, and he counted it a victory whenever he persuaded a local tribe to alert him to the movements of the Japanese in the lands around Lae.

Ryan writes: “We knew neither where we would come out nor the name of the first village we would find. For all we knew, the Japanese might be waiting in force for us, and all we would earn, at the price of the endeavour of this nightmare journey, would be a miserable and lonely death, which we might have found more easily by staying in the Wain” (one of the districts). In effect, the book is one long patrol through the coastal mountains around Lae.

Ryan lived off the land, trading salt and trinkets to local tribesmen in exchange for fruit and meat. He camped in the wild and, every so often, he returned to an Australian base to report on what he had seen or heard. His personality was perfect for the missions undertaken, in that he did not mind the solitude of the bush nor the miserable conditions. He writes:

After his mosquito-net, the bed-sail is probably the New Guinea traveller’s most useful item of furniture. It consists of a double sleeve of canvas about seven feet long and three feet wide. Two stout poles are inserted along either side to make a rough stretcher, and the poles are supported at the ends by a couple of stout sticks lashed together at the top like shear-legs. The result is a tightly stretched canvas bed, cool and springy, raised two or three feet off the ground. It can be erected in a few minutes, and the canvas is practically no weight to carry. Moreover, in the daytime, on the track, it forms a useful waterproof wrapper for blankets.

Here and there, Ryan got sick or just tired, but mostly he was on the run, one or several steps ahead of pursuing Japanese patrols, who feared that the bush watchers would alert Allied air forces to their troop concentrations.  

* * *

At the time of Ryan’s memoir, General MacArthur’s men (American and Australian) had captured Kokoda and Buna and were beginning to leapfrog up the north coast of New Guinea toward Lae and Madang, both of which fell during 1943, when Ryan was in the high mountains.  

Ryan accomplished his missions with cunning and bravery, and unlike many footloose in the war, he appreciated the surroundings through which he was moving. He writes: “The Wain country was to be my home for many months, and I grew to love it all. It contains many beautiful sights, but I have always had a specially soft spot in my heart for Gain village, possibly because of the contrast with the hot, flat, mosquito-ridden Markham. The house-kiap, a little apart from the village, was set in a grassy clearing on the hillside, whence one looked across the deep valley of the Upper Busu River towards tiers of blue mountains rising ever higher as they receded into the distance.” 

Had the American armies in Iraq or Afghanistan had the equivalent of the Australian constabulary forces in the desert, they might have saved themselves many months and years of reconnaissance trying to figure out which side the locals were on. Ryan makes clear how minimal was the investment to harvest useful intelligence. He writes: 

Perhaps the blame, in the final analysis, should be placed on the Australian governments, of whatever political colour, which, before the war, had consistently starved the Territory of funds and forced district administrators to manage on shoe-string budgets. It was the legacy of that sort of patrolling which was now making it difficult for us to have any influence, in any real sense, on the people, though my stay at Bawan had convinced me how ready they were to be friends once an interest was taken in them as individuals and not just as entries in the village book, to be censused and, probably, censured. 

He was even sympathetic to villagers who could not make up their minds about allying with the Australians or the Japanese. As Ryan points out, neither colonial army was indigenous to New Guinea. He writes of one wavering tribesmen: “But even if he had been playing ball with the Japanese, who could blame him? The war was not of his making. If, for some reason unknown to him, white men and yellow men wanted to fight like animals in his country, what was more natural than for him to work for the safety of his own people? Until it became clear who was going to win the war, a sensible politician would speak softly to both sides.” 

Fear Drive My Feet ends with a chase scene through the jungle in which the Japanese pick up the scent of Ryan and his bearers, and it reads like the jungle equivalent of The Thirty-Nine Steps, although instead of fleeing across the Scottish borders, the Australian party fords streams and hacks through jungle.

In one of these firefights, Ryan’s colleague and friend Les Howlett is killed, and his loss became, to Ryan anyway, a senseless tragedy of the war. He writes: “I realized then that I did not really hate the Japanese – that I did not hate anyone. I realized that war accomplishes nothing but the degradation of all engaged in it. I knew that Les Howlett’s death had been in vain, that the loneliness of spirit and suffering of body I had forced myself to endure had been to no end, and that the selfless devotion of my native companions had been, in the final analysis, purposeless.” 

Until he was killed, Les is an almost mythical figure of the constabulary, someone who, on his own, could find remote paths through the jungle or over the high mountains to the coast. At one point he and Ryan had this exchange: 

‘ ‘‘Damp rusts men as it rusts rifles; more slowly, but deeper” ’ quoted Les. ‘I can’t remember who said that – can you?’ ‘No. But he must have been a soldier.’

Les’s death leaves Ryan numb, just as many deaths across the contours of World War II left other men bereft at the loss of a friend or mate. Ryan recalls coming in the from the jungle, having eluded the Japanese who killed his friend: “Nobody said anything much, and I sat there dully, staring at the swamp. I had no sensation of joy or relief, though I knew in a remote and abstract way that I was now safe. I had no thoughts, no feelings whatsoever. I felt neither grief on account of Les nor anger at the Japanese or Chivasings. Nor did I feel any sense of warmth or companionship towards the soldiers who were now preparing water for me to wash, and giving me articles from their own scanty clothing to cover my nakedness.”

* * *

The book ends with Ryan back in Moresby, trying to recover from his years in the jungles. He needed to draw new clothes and gear, as his were lost in his escape from the Japanese. He writes about the conversation his quartermaster:

After a few days I went to the store to get new clothes. I was wearing a woollen shirt, a pair of ragged green shorts, and some old sandshoes, but no hat or socks. All of these had been given me either at Kirklands or Wampit. ‘Where’s your paybook and your other papers?’ demanded the quartermaster. I explained the fate of my clothes and papers and other possessions. ‘Good God, man, that’s no excuse!’ he snapped. ‘Don’t you realize it’s a crime in the Army to lose your paybook? You can’t be issued with any equipment here without a paybook.’ I didn’t argue, but let the district officer arrange a new issue of clothing for me. But I started to wonder all over again if wars were really worth the trouble.

I am sure that the scene Ryan describes would have resonated with my father, who like Ryan spent many months over three years in the jungles of New Guinea (and the Solomons) and who would have brushed up against the same military officialdom.

In my father’s case, he liked to tell the story of what happened to him during Christmas 1944, when he had his first leave in the United States since May 1942. Since then he had fought through three bitter campaigns on Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, and Peleliu.

At one point during his leave, he met friends at the West End Bar, which was adjacent to the campus of Columbia University, where my father graduated with the class of 1940. While he was at the West End and dressed in civilian clothes, military police swept through the campus bar, searching for draft dodgers.

For whatever reason my father had no ID with him proving that he was a major in the Marines, and, of late on Cape Gloucester, executive officer of the 1st battalion, First Marines. The MPs scoffed at what they deemed to be a preposterous claim, pointing out that he was only twenty-five years old, and they arrested him. He spent the night in a military brig.

I never did hear who was called at Marine headquarters to straighten out the confusion, but years later my mother said to me, in a low confessional voice, “I think it’s safe to say that he was a little angry,” much as he was on being discharged from active duty in late 1946, when a warrant officer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard charged him for his service revolver, which had gone missing during his three years of front-line fighting.

I have no idea if the Marine quartermaster said: “Good God, man, that’s no excuse!” But I can easily imagine my father nodding with approval at the last lines in Ryan’s memoir, when he writes: “Man is very brave. His patience and endurance are truly wonderful. Perhaps he will learn, one day, that wars and calamities of nature are not the only occasions when such qualities are needed.”

* * *

As my plane circled over the Markham valley and approached Nadzab Airport (it is at the head of the valley, about twenty-five miles from the center of Lae), I got to see where, in the World War II battle for the airstrip, MacArthur had authorized the use of paratroops, who jumped close to the airfield and overran the Japanese garrison that was guarding it.

It was one of the first uses of paratroops in the Pacific war, and MacArthur watched the operation in person from a plane circling above the drop zone. To his detractors, his involvement was a circus stunt that accomplished nothing; to his supporters, it was another example of MacArthur’s personal courage and his ability to think in three dimensions about the war in the Pacific.

Had I gone into Lae, I am sure that I would have visited the Lae War Cemetery, which is next to the Botanical Gardens, and then tried to track down the schedule for the coastal ferry, M.V. Chebu, which in my obsession over getting around Papua New Guinea had become something of a great white whale.

After the MV Rabaul Queen sank in 2012, there was no ferry service between Lae, Rabaul, and Bougainville until a Chinese investment company entered the Chebu into service around 2015. Now it’s “on the line” between Lae and Buka (in Bougainville) but despite months of searching, I was never able to determine its weekly schedule.

I knew that it called at Kimbe and Rabaul, but I never could find out when, despite reading numerous posts to TripAdvisor and the Lonely Planet websites.

Such was my obsession with the Chebu that I joined the community of a marine traffic website, which uploaded to my computer (in real time) the positions of the Chebu.

Whenever I called up the satellite website, I could see the location of the Chebu around New Britain. Sometimes it was in Rabaul; other times it was at sea near Lae. I kept notes about its positions, but they never allowed me to verify, as Lonely Planet claimed, that the Chebu departed Lae at 11:00 a.m. every Sunday. Nor did they ever suggest a stop in Gloucester, which today is no more than a village. As Herman Melville writes in Moby-Dick: “Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock.”

In Lae, I would also have gone to the Lae Yacht Club and looked up the general manager, who has the delightful name of Basil Snowball. He had been very kind to me, at least in a series of emails, when I was searching for a connection between Lae or Finschhafen (just down the coast) to Cape Gloucester, across the Vitiaz and Dampier straits. I had thought that perhaps a boat from the yacht club could ferry me across these rough waters (better a fishing than a banana boat, in my mind).

In his emails, Mr. Snowball had said he was not aware of any ferries that stopped in Gloucester. Nor did he think I would have much luck finding deck passage on a steamer. He did say that he knew of fishing boats that could be chartered, but he estimated that the cost would be $1500 a day, and that I would need two days for my excursion.

I left off our correspondence thinking that I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of finding affordable transportation (something on the lee side of $1500) out of Lae, which was another reason I was bypassing the city and flying toward Kimbe.

* * *

Had I been on the flight deck of my Airlines PNG plane to Kimbe, I would have asked the captain (presuming he wasn’t the one missing) to give Finchhafen a fly-over.

The old German trading port is about fifty miles east northeast of Lae, and in September and October 1942 Australian forces took the town and nearby Cape Cretin from the Japanese, giving the Americans another forward base from which to stage their attack on Cape Gloucester and its airfield.

Some guide books hint that Finschhafen has retained its German accents, although the entries (as with my email correspondents) are divided on how easy it is to visit the town.

Other websites talk of a regular coastal ferry service from Lae to Finschhafen, taking about four to five hours. But I had downloaded messages suggesting that there was no ferry service and that only private banana boats make the coastal run. In any case, no one indicated that there was a connection between Finschhafen and Cape Gloucester, despite their proximity.

I was interested in Finschhafen because the First Marines, after leaving Goodenough Island, staged themselves near Cape Cretin before the attack on Cape Gloucester. I am pretty sure, but was never positive, that my father was among this landing party.

In speaking about his campaign medals during the war, he would say: “We made three combat landings but they gave us credit for four, including Fischhafen. We landed there but the Aussies didn’t need us. They were a good outfit.”

I have no doubt that medals were given to the First Marines for their presence (however briefly) at Finschhafen. As Napoleon pointed out, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”

Some forward elements of the First Marine Division were at Finschhafen during the September fighting, but I do not believe that my father was among them, as his war record indicates that he only made a ten-day stop there, in mid-December, on his way from Goodenough Island to the D-day landings at Cape Gloucester on December 26, 1943.

His record for December 1943 reads as follows:

Company C, Company Commander; 13, embarked aboard LST 452 and sailed from Goodenough Island, D’Entrecasteaux Islands, Territory of Papua, Australia; 14-15, at sea; 16, arrived and disembarked at Nascing Alatu, New Guinea; 25, embarked aboard LST and sailed same day; 26, arrived and landed against Japanese enemy forces; 27-31, participated in action against enemy forces at Cape Gloucester, New Britain.

For a long time I was unable to find the location of Nascing Alatu. I even wondered if it might have been Alotau. But in a Medal of Honor citation for PFC John Fardy (who won it when he was serving with C Company, First Marines, on Okinawa in 1945), I came across the following passage:

Attached to Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines [my father’s company] upon his arrival at Goodenough Island, D’Entrecasteaux Islands, early in December 1943, PFC Fardy left with that unit about a week later for Nascing, Alatu, New Guinea. The stay there was a short one also, for the 1st Marines left Finschafen on Christmas Day 1943, for their December 26 landing on enemy-held Cape Gloucester, New Britain. Within two months of the time he left his home shores, the former draftsman was involved in a battle for an enemy airdrome on an island rarely heard of before.

From this account, I was able, for the first time, to link Nascing Alatu to Finschhafen, and later (on a satellite map) I found a village by the name of “Nasingalatu,” located 7.6 kilometers south of Finschhafen, on the coast (near Buki).  

Finally the pieces of the puzzle that I had been working on for years were falling into place. Everything in front of me, as well, matched an official Marine Corps history of the campaign on New Britain, which reads: “Six weeks later [from late October] a detachment of Combat Team B moved to Finschhafen…”

And if I had had the resources of the U.S. navy behind me, I might also have followed in their footsteps, instead of giving Finschhafen and Gloucester a flyover.

* * *

My flight crossed Ryan’s Huon Peninsula and flew on a direct course to Hoskins, which is on the north coast of New Britain, equidistant from Cape Gloucester and Rabaul.

Before boarding the plane, I had badgered the check-in agent to give me a window seat on the left hand side of the plane. When she asked why, I explained about my father and Cape Gloucester, and she placed me in seat 1A. But even with an unobstructed view to the north, I was not able to see Mt. Talawe (which dominates the area) nor anything about Cape Gloucester, which remained hidden in the mists.

I should not have been surprised. After all, Ryan writes in his memoir: “Damp, green, dim, unreal, it made the journey like a combination of a bad nightmare and a scene from one of Grimm’s fairy-tales.”

The American campaign on New Britain, at least for my father’s C Company, lasted for four months, but the heavy fighting was over in the first two weeks, after the 1st battalion, First Marines, took the aerodrome on Cape Gloucester.

Again it was C Company that took the runway, but when it came time to award medals for the achievement, the battalion commander, Walker Reaves, said: “Hell, Nick [my father] won one last time. [Meaning on Guadalcanal.] Let’s give one to Hal Jennings.”

Jennings commanded A Company and was a close friend of my father’s for the rest of their lives. Whenever I heard either one tell this story, both of them would laugh. Neither thought much about Reaves and his habits of command, even though the career officer himself won a silver star for having “taken” the airport. His citation reads:

Assigned the difficult mission of defending the left flank of an assault force which was attacking across a low coastal plain while his battalion’s zone of action ran through the hilly, swamp-infested jungle, Lieutenant Colonel Reaves brilliantly led his men across the treacherous terrain in the face of concentrated enemy machine-gun fire from cleverly concealed pillboxes. Disregarding the constant hostile fire, he skillfully directed his assault formations effectively and employed supporting artillery and auxiliary weapons to maintain pace with the main body of troops.

But to hear my father or Hal Jennings tell the story, Reaves was nowhere near the airfield when it was captured.  

* * *

After the airstrip was taken, the job of the Marines was supposed to be over, and the army should have garrisoned the battlefield on West New Britain. But MacArthur left the Marines on New Britain until the end of April.

For the first few weeks, after the landing, there was heavy fighting around the airfield and inland from Borgen Bay (especially around Hill 660). But after that New Britain became a battle of endurance between the Marines and the weather, which consisted of non-stop rain and humidity.

The weather would have matched this description in Ryan’s memoir: “The heat, too, grew more and more oppressive. It was the sort of heat one sometimes finds in big laundries or in other places where there are large quantities of boiling water. Though we were now almost down to sea-level, and the heat and humidity could not have got much worse, I nevertheless had the strange feeling of going ever downward into an inferno.” Look up any picture in any book about the fighting on New Britain, and all you will see are men or tents in the jungle, flooded with rain.

After the taking of the airfield, my father had another coming-of-age moment about a month later, when he was given command of a patrol to explore through the jungle south of Mt. Talawe and to link up with another patrol from the 7th Marines that was pushing toward the volcanic mountain from the coastal village of Sag Sag.

No Marine patrol had gone along the trail that cut south in the lee of the mountain, and my father’s orders were to be gone no more than five days and, if possible, to link up with the patrol coming from the other side.

His description of the patrol is far different from the one that appears in the official histories. In The Campaign for New Britain, Lt. Col. Frank O. Hough writes, after first describing their progress on the first day out from the perimeter:

The next day, however, told a different story for the Stevenson patrol. Hardly had their men got off to a good start along their difficult route than a hidden machine gun opened up on the point at a range of about 30 yards near Mt. Langla. Only a small volume of rifle fire supported it, leading to the belief that no more than six or seven Japanese had set the ambush. The advance guard deployed and drove these off in a brief fire fight, without loss to the Marines, nor to their opponents so far as they could tell.

The patrol proceeded more cautiously after that, but was ambushed again at about 1500 in almost precisely the same manner, and quite likely by precisely the same Japanese. This time the advance guard reacted more quickly and killed two of the enemy before the rest took to their heels. With his men tired and short of water, Stevenson did not attempt to pursue but selected favorable terrain and set up an ambush of his own for the night.

On 24 January the patrol pushed on to a point about 1,500 yards south of Mt. Munlulu, where it was suddenly pinned down before a strongly situated enemy force estimated at platoon strength, stiffened with two heavy machine guns. Unable to neutralize this fire, and unable to close with it—or even see—the Japanese positions in that rugged terrain, Stevenson finally managed to break contact and fell back to more favorable territory in hopes that the opponents, encouraged by their success, might feel optimistic enough to attack him.

My father’s second in command on the patrol, Captain George Dawes, said later that, in his opinion, this Japanese force had 2-3 platoons and 3-4 heavy machine guns.

On the fifth day of the patrol, under orders to bring it back, my father returned to the Marine perimeter. I never heard the account in detail, but in snatches of conversation over the years my father said that his superior officers (perhaps the same Walker Reaves?) were critical of him for not having cleaned out the Japanese on the trail and for not having managed, in five days, to locate the Parish patrol coming from Sag Sag.

My father’s take on these criticisms was that they were coming from officers in tents far from Mt. Talawe, for whom the only reality was some markings on a field map. He said to me:

Yes, I heard what they were saying, and I didn’t much care for it. In their minds I was proceeding through the jungle on a marked trail, but very quickly, after leaving the base, we were cutting our way through dense thickets, where visibility was less than ten yards. When shots were fired, because of the acoustics, it was very hard to tell where they were coming from, and I saw no reason to lead a patrol (mine) into an ambush.

What made him most proud about the patrol was that none of his men were killed or wounded. He said, “I know it didn’t impress my superiors, but it’s how I measured my success on that patrol. Besides, if, miles from the perimeter, we had sustained heavy casualties, our mission would have ended right then and there, as we would have had to carry the wounded back to base.”

Later in life, in reflecting on the war, he liked to say:

I learned how to do my job and do it well, but I also learned how to do it without getting myself or a lot of my men killed. And the reason the men liked serving in C Company is because it had a reputation for not taking needless casualties. And it also had a reputation for getting the job done.

* * *

From near the airfield on Cape Gloucester, C Company was shifted along the coast to garrison duty at Iboki Planation. By that point in the campaign, February 1944, the Japanese forces were not manning a particular sector or ridge line, but had scattered into the jungle in small numbers, and it was the job of the Marines to track them down.

It meant near-endless patrolling in the jungle more than it meant large scale firefights, and all the men on New Britain began to weary of the rain, heat humidity, and the missions to an interior that might well have been a heart of darkness. (Or as Conrad writes: “Everything belonged to him—but that was a trifle. The thing to know was what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own.”)

Despite those conditions, my father liked to say, later in his life, that the campaign on New Britain was one of the most efficient Marine operations in the Pacific war. He said that the division suffered relatively light casualties—about 500 men died on New Britain, as opposed to more than 1,500 deaths on Tarawa—and that New Britain had lasted months longer than many other campaigns.

He thought the plans to capture the airfield were realistic, although he did laugh when relating that they came ashore on D-Day directly into a swamp. (“We had to ‘sleep’ that night standing up in water.”) On the maps, behind the landing beaches, were the words “Damp flat.” If the Japanese had opposed the landings, which they did only sporadically, it would have been a disaster.

My father’s only dealings with the senior Marine commander, William Rupertus, on New Britain came at Iboki Planation, when the general inspected C Company on a visit to the front. My father later said:  

He was an unpleasant man. Completely by the book. Regular officer. He took over from General Vandegrift. A get along, go along guy, that sort of thing. Not really up to the job. He was lucky to have an excellent staff and so many veterans from Guadalcanal, and the regimental and battalion commanders were mostly excellent. Look at Gordon Gayle. Or Lew Walt. When Rupertus inspected the men at Iboki, he was always pointing out something wrong with how they were dressed or how they were standing. These were men who had had been fighting in the jungle for months. They hated all that chickenshit.

The First Marine Division would pay for Rupertus’s incompetence in the next campaign, at Peleliu in the Caroline Islands, where he ordered these same men, with dire consequences, directly into a stone wall, otherwise known as Bloody Nose Ridge.

* * *

It was on one of the patrols from Iboki that C Company captured a man who had been at Columbia University at the same time as my father. The prisoner was brought back to a hut that served as the company headquarters, and my father said, “All the men crowded around us, peering in through the windows, figuring I might deal with him as if he were a traitor.”

Instead, my father began the interrogation by saying, “Well, both of us are a long way from the subway stop at 116th Street.” In perfect English, the captured man spoke about having been a student at Columbia and being in Japan for summer vacation when war against the United States was declared.

For my father and the other officers in C Company, the challenge was how to get this man safely back to regimental intelligence, some fifty miles to the west at Cape Gloucester.

Some junior Marine officers feared that if he fell into the wrong hands “back at regiment” he would be killed, an indication how some prisoners were handled, even by American troops. “I cannot tell you what happened to him,” my father said later. “I hope he made it.”

This empathy for one of his enemies might explain something about how, in his professional life, my father worked very well, for decades, with several Japanese trading houses. When friends would ask, “Does it bother you to do business over there?” he would answer: “Occasionally, on the metro, I have a moment of frisson, surrounded by so many Japanese. But I’ve gotten over it.”

* * *

When the plane landed at Hoskins Airport, I felt frustrated that I would get no closer, on this trip anyway, to Cape Gloucester than the tarmac of this runway about a hundred miles to the east.

At the same time, in the last fifteen minutes of the flight, we had flown low over the contours of New Britain—rivers slicing through the dark jungle, and volcanic mountains on the horizon—and just before landing we had crossed over a plantation that might well have been that at Iboki. (Palm oil plantations have a way of looking the same, with their neat rows of trees and dirt roads in between.)

For some reason, as I was taking pictures of the land around the Hoskins Airport, I recalled a story from my father’s close friend, Everett Pope. He was a fellow officer of my father’s on Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester, and was often attached to C Company with his heavy weapons platoon.

On Peleliu, Pope succeeded my father as the C Company commander, and in that battle (on Hill 100 in the face of Bloody Nose Ridge) Pope won the Congressional Medal of Honor for holding an exposed position all night, in the face of numerous Japanese counterattacks.

Once, in talking about the patrolling on Cape Gloucester, he spoke about moving past a dead Japanese soldier who was propped against a palm tree.

The patrol ignored the dead Japanese, but later, when it returned and walked past the dead man, Pope noticed that several of his gold teeth had been pried from the man’s mouth.

When Pope told me this story he was in his late seventies, but he still flashed with anger that an American marine, especially one under his command, could have committed such an atrocity.

We were sitting on the porch of his summer house in Maine, and Pope said, while shaking his head: “I just don’t understand it.” It was as if the defilement of the corpse had happened yesterday.

In his celebrated memoir of the Pacific War, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, E.B. Sledge writes that it was common among the men of the First Marine Division, at least in those battles, to collect the body parts of dead Japanese. On their side, as if to intimidate the Americans, the Japanese desecrated dead American soldiers and Marines in the most unspeakable manner.

In his reintroduction to the paperback edition of the Sledge memoir, the essayist Paul Fussell (Wartime, Doing Battle, and many other books, including The Great War and Modern Memory) writes:

“Something innate died at Peleliu,” Sledge writes. One of the many casualties there is his initial innocence about human evil. Without turning mechanically pessimistic or cynical, Sledge is obliged to complicate and deepen his understanding of human possibility when he watches a fellow Maine use his Ka-Bar knife to extract gold teeth from a wounded but still living Japanese, who kicks and writhes as the Marine goes to work. Frustrated and impatient, the Marine finale eases his task by slicing his prisoner’s cheeks ear to ear, which, as it makes him gurgle in his own blood and thrash about, exposes the teeth nicely. Watching this, Sledge learns what every generation would learn if it could see its youth engaged in infantry fighting. As a Marine sergeant told Philip Caputo during the Vietnam War, “Before you leave here, sir, you’re going to learn one of the most brutal things in the world is your average nineteen-year-old American boy.” 

By the time Sledge got to Okinawa, and the Shuri Line (of World War I proportions), he was more accustomed to the horrors of battle. He writes:

In disbelief I stared at the face as I realized that the Japanese had cut off the dead Marine’s penis and stuffed it into his mouth. My emotions solidified into rage and a hatred for the Japanese beyond anything I ever had experienced. From that moment on I never felt the least pity or compassion for them no matter what the circumstances. My comrades would field strip their packs and pockets for souvenirs and take gold teeth, but I never saw a Marine commit the kind of barbaric mutilation the Japanese committed if they had access to our dead.

It was an odd memory, I know, to have at the Hoskins Airport at the base of the stairs leading up to my flight, but I was looking at the same jungle that Everett Pope had patrolled in March and April 1944, as the Marines’ campaign on New Britain, came to an end.

Next up: Rabaul on the eastern end of New Britain. To read other parts in this series, please click here.

Categories: News for progressives

The Rich Are No Smarter Than You

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:45

Nothing makes me angrier than stupid rich people getting unfair advantages. These same entitled rich people then turn around and fight against so-called “entitlement” programs and affirmative action because they seem to think their achievements are based on merit while the rest of us who actually work for a living—or at least try to—are nothing more than lazy freeloaders or unscrupulous “welfare queens” who deserve to die if we can’t afford our hospital bill.

Now we see some richies arrested for lying, bribing and cheating to get unfair advantages for their offspring. To hell with them and their unearned privilege. May they suffer the indignity of a second-rate college or otherwise rot in a minimum-security prison.

The college bribery scandal is just the latest example of what anyone who’s been paying attention should already know: the United States is not a meritocracy. The biggest marker of success seems to be the zip code you are born into—regardless of how talented, intelligent, or charismatic you are. The Horatio Alger story has gone from mythical to fraudulent.

The real tragedy is that many average people, whose parents cannot afford to spend millions to send them to Harvard, operate under the assumption that a person’s financial net worth is equivalent to actual worth. I blame this primarily on our education system and our mainstream media, both of which do the masses a grave injustice by shielding them from class-based analysis.

I recall learning about Helen Keller and watching “Miracle Worker” as early as elementary school. Missing from the lessons was the important detail that Keller, who joined the Socialist Party of America as an adult, acknowledged that she would not have achieved personal success—much less celebrity status—if she had not been born of wealthy parents. This would have been a far more useful classroom discussion-starter than questions about overcoming disability that omit any mention of class or other structural considerations. I was led to believe in my formative years, thanks to public schools, that every achievement, no matter how suspicious or improbable, can be attributed solely to personal ambition and talent.

The mainstream media took over where schooling left off. It’s no exaggeration to say that media personalities are obsessed with actors, athletes, monomaniacs, zealots, wealthy entrepreneurs, eccentric politicians, and anyone else who can be spotlighted rather than contextualized. To put it simply, we do not celebrate team players—we celebrate ball hogs. We celebrate people who would suffocate their own twin just so that they could emerge from the womb a little sooner. And when I say “we,” I am talking about everyone—even those of us who stand to gain nothing from this celebrity-obsessed culture except the juvenile diversion of vicarious living.

Think of what the common people would gain from a feature story that, instead of lionizing a mediocre celebrity, questioned whether he or she was worth such honorifics in the first place. The reporters could scrutinize the celebrity’s past performance in school, talk to the friends they had before they were famous, browse their tax returns, learn how they performed on standardized tests, and so on. This is what journalism is supposed to be but often is not. What if they had produced stories like this in 2016 about Trump and ran them on the major networks as often as they ran his childish-rants? I doubt he would have garnered many votes.

But instead, we as Americans pretend as if every rich person is smarter, more attractive, or otherwise better than we are because we didn’t win the (zip-code) lottery. We like celebrities for the sole reason that they are celebrities. We let our inadequate education and uncritical media determine how we think about those with more power and privilege. This serves the purpose of keeping us in intellectual chains so that we would never dare organize ourselves and challenge these two-bit oppressors with their baseless braggadocio and ghastly comb-overs. Most of us would rather be them than fight them.

Please. The rich are no smarter than you. But they think they are, they want to you think that, and they are pushing you around like you’re the small kid on the playground. They have been stealing your lunch money and sense of self-respect for generations.

What are you going to do about it?

Categories: News for progressives

College Scams and the Ills of Capitalist-Driven Education

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:45

My first reaction to the recent college admissions scandal was, “Who is Lori Loughlin?” I had never heard this name and not having watched American television until 2007, I also blanked on the name of the TV show which was her claim to fame. My second reaction, however, was simply one of dismay as to the naïveté of those who were surprised by the tactics being used by parents desperate to see their children enter into elite universities.

Coming from academia and having taught at universities around the world, I have gained a healthy skepticism for the university systems in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom where entry to these universities is generally quite expensive aside from admissions processes which often disadvantage anyone from lower class backgrounds. Or, a quick review of the Harvard admissions process trial last Fall shows us that not only can anything be bought, but standards can be skewed any which way to produce the desired “personal rating” for the intake of new students. While the Rolling Stone story on this issue outlined the facts of this case, one statement from the U.S. District Attorney for the state of Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, unwittingly spoke volumes about the larger structural problems: “We’re not talking about donating a building so a school is more likely to taker your son or daughter….we’re talking about deception and fraud.” I cackled reading this line since Lelling clearly sees a moral and legal distinction between these two acts where most of us simply do not.

It is this difference which serves as the paradigmatic basis for reading university admissions today: those of us who were accepted to universities for having taken prerequisite tests and having achieved certain high school grades—many despite great odds—and then the rest. And this rest not only includes the elite families who can afford to send their children to private schools and elaborate summer programs that tick all the right boxes, but failing this these parents have the means to hire someone to sit their children’s exams, create fake photos of their daughter on a rowing team and the money to purchase a building or endowment to ensure their progenitors will have easy admissions to the institution of choice.

The discrimination lawsuit against Harvard University last Fall revealed just this as the campus paper, The Harvard Crimson revealed a 2013 email where a former Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School David T. Ellwood (1975) thanked the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, William R. Fitzsimmons (1967) for his help admitting a groups of students with the financial reward of a building: “Once again you have done wonders. I am simply thrilled about the folks you were able to admit… [Redacted] and [redacted] are all big wins. [Redacted] has already committed to a building.” In another email, Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development, Roger P. Cheever (1967) reflected on the another Harvard applicant whose family had donated $8.7 million to the University whose worth was being evaluated to the admissions process: “[Redacted] was a devoted [redacted] Chair and generous donor…Going forward, I don’t see a significant opportunity for further major gifts. [Redacted] had an art collection which conceivably could come our way.”

There are several things about last week’s revelation that escape me entirely and they generally begin with a feeling that this isn’t new or news. This is really part of a very long paradigm of people with money ensuring that their own clan members will continue to inherit all the self-entitled wealth that these families feel is owed them. You know, feudalism in the 21st century and all. It’s almost as if Engels had never penned Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884) wherein he discusses precisely this sort of relationship between the accumulation of private property and the centralization of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority along with the “increasing impoverishment of the masses and an increasing mass of impoverishment.”  Engels analyzes how power and wealth function back to Athens and Rome, “the new aristocracy of wealth, in so far as it had not been identical from the outset with the old hereditary aristocracy, pushed it permanently into the background.” From a building here to a photoshopped crew team there, it’s all pretty much the same story recycled throughout history: one aristocracy is replaced by the wealth-owning class. It’s not coincidence that in 2002 Harvard reported accepting 40% of applicants who are children of alumni while only 11% of general applicants were accepted. And from 2009 to 2015,  legacy students represent 34 percent of the undergraduate population at Harvard as opposed to non-legacy admissions which came in at  5.9 percent.

Despite all this data, one has to wonder why some of the wealthiest people in the country are pulling such scams to aid their children’s entrance to elite institutions today. I mean, were the many years at college preparatory schools not enough? Was it not even enough being raised in the economic lap of luxury in all senses of the word? While it might be the case that we are witnessing the wealthy living the fear of their offspring not being able to keep up with class expectations, worried that their child might also be relegated to being a barista or a food prep intern, we need to understand that what Felicity Huffman and many others committed to was both unethical to a certain ideal of the college entrance system, but it was completely in line with what has always been. To see Rita Wilson wax positive about the hard work involved in getting into college. But this too is partly true and partly myth. 

The struggle and hard work of getting into a good—or any—university mostly begins at high school for most of the students in the US and the UK.  It’s is no coincidence that more than 60% of Oxford University students went to private or grammar schools or that those attending Ivy League institutions in need of student loans (28 percent) are not receiving the perks of very large financial endowments ($39.2 billion at Harvard as of 2014).  So, let’s not pretend that these Ivy League student or cash-strapped graduates are going to need much reprieve from crippling student loans that most students face. Let’s not even go through the charade of pretending that a degree from an elite institution doesn’t help one enter the job market or secure a far higher-paying job than graduates from public institutions.

Let’s face it: the most secure and best-paid employment opportunities are going to those graduate from the Ivy League and Oxbridge and the lie is in pretending otherwise. These institutions are the social and political gatekeepers of wealth and power and Loughlin, Huffman et al know it all too well. If anything, it is the university where our children will attend that will be the barometer for their future economic wealth and even success, depending on how one measures success. And in today’s economic times, the university is the gatekeeper not only to wealth, but to healthcare, housing, and survival.  The reality is that these schools are making a killing in the economic hierarchy gatekeeping and if it isn’t William Singer who is getting paid off by wealthy, worried parents, then it’s Harvard, Princeton and Yale making the money.

The question to me why did these parents undertake unethical maneuvers to ensure their kids enter an elite university, but why the system in place ensures that only the elite will hold these places. If it isn’t showbiz or CEO kids, it will certainly be another show biz or CEO offspring who steps into that place. Is it that these children aren’t working hard enough or that the system in place is guaranteed to ensure the myth of meritocracy so prevalent in countries like the US and the UK. But if money really is the key here, why not follow the advice of The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah who proposed: “For that amount of money, just buy a smarter kid!”

Categories: News for progressives

It’s March Madness, Unionize the NCAA!

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:43

When Zion Williamson’s foot broke through the sole of his Nike shoe on February 20th, the sporting world stood still.

The consensus number one player in college basketball was playing in the biggest game of the season — North Carolina versus Duke — and suffered his startling injury in the opening minute. Williamson’s sprained knee cost Nike $1.1 billion in stock market valuation the next day.

The injury came on the doorstep of March Madness, the NCAA’s most profitable event of the year — to the tune of $900 million in revenue.

Despite the billions riding on his performance, the NCAA insists that athletes like Williamson are “amateurs” — student-athletes there only for the love of the game. It forbids them to make money off their performance, even as they support an industry worth billions. Duke alone makes $31 million off its basketball program.

Williamson has been a force of nature this season, captivating audiences and NBA scouts alike. Enticing those NBA scouts is the only way this 18-year-old can build his own future career — and any sort of injury imperils that future.

High-level “student-athletes,” after all, don’t get to spend much time being students.

They’re supposed to only spend 20 hours a week on sports-related activities. In reality, they spend around 40 hours on practice alone. Schoolwork falls by the wayside, so many schools have outside tutors do the players’ schoolwork and by create classes-in-name-only where the only requirement is to turn in a paper.

A few years ago, some former athletes at the University of North Carolina sued the school and the NCAA, claiming they’d been denied a meaningful education. It’s hard to argue with that.

The athletes, in exchange for scholarships, give these schools their lives and put their health at risk. Concussions of football players have sparked lawsuits, and an injury like Williamson’s could cost a player millions in the professional leagues. If they can’t go pro — and their education didn’t do them any favors — what option do they have?

That risk is where the travesty lies. These thousands of athletes who play in the NCAA are often not allowed to enjoy the benefits of the schools they attend (and enrich). If they’re not able to make use of their education, they should be paid for the work they put in.

When college sports revenues are as high as they’ve ever been, the failure to pay the athletes is absurd — but not surprising.

Inequality of all kinds is on the rise, and the gap between the top and bottom of the pay scale is the highest since the Gilded Age of the early 1900s. The NCAA not allowing athletes to be paid — or even sign autographs for money! — is an extension of an economy where unions are busted and people have to work three jobs to make ends meet.

It needs to change. College basketball players are on average worth $212,080 to their program, much more than the cost of their scholarships.

Schools should pay these athletes a share of the revenue their sport brings in. And the NCAA needs to, at the very least, allow for these people to make money selling autographs or appearing at sports camps.

Just as importantly, athletes should be allowed to unionize their teams and fight for their own rights.

Billions of dollars are going to be spent on betting on March Madness games. CBS and Turner paid around $19 billion for the television rights to the tournament. And over $1 billion in advertising is spent on the tournament.

This event is all about the money. We should spread it around to the people who make it worthwhile.

Categories: News for progressives

Paper Receipts Could be the Next Plastic Straws

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:43

Paper receipts are a habitual end to retail transactions. But their usefulness is questionable — they can be tossed out within minutes of being printed, or go on to line the bottoms of our bags and wallets.

In an increasingly digital world, it may seem that paper receipts are in decline, but new data from Grand View Research shows the opposite to be true. Every year, paper receipt use is increasing worldwide — including in the U.S., where 256,300 metric tons of paper receipts were consumed in 2018.

These small pieces of paper can have a huge impact.

Millions of trees and billions of gallons of water are consumed to create them, generating tons of waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Most thermal paper receipts are also coated with Bisphenol A (BPA) or S (BPS), endocrine-disrupting substances that we absorb through contact, posing exposure risks for workers and customers.

But there may be changes coming soon.

In California, a proposed “skip the slip” bill would require businesses to offer a digital receipt option by 2022 throughout the state. The bill would switch the role of paper receipts from being automatically printed into being provided upon customer request, changing it from an opt-out process to an opt-in.

It wouldn’t ban paper receipts. It would simply prevent people from automatically getting paper receipts they may not want.

The bill is part of a larger movement to reduce waste. Receipts are one of many single-use disposable items that exist in all corners of our daily lives. Tackling disposable items, like receipts or straws, is leading to increasingly major shifts in public awareness of waste, which can lead to widespread demand for more systemic solutions.

Reducing paper receipts and other disposable items can be good for business.  Market analysis shows that the cost of thermal paper used for receipts is increasing more than double the volume increase each year. This is due to a critical shortage of leuco dye, essential for producing thermal paper.

In 2017, Chinese manufacturer Connect Chemicals, a major supplier of leuco dye, was shut down due to exceeding limits of hazardous fine particulate matter in its emissions. This cut leuco dye production by an estimated 80 percent, which led to drastically higher prices.

Despite this cost increase, demand for thermal paper is still projected to increase. That’s why moving away from paper-based receipts to digital options can save businesses money over the long term.

California has the opportunity to be the first state to “skip the slip” and reduce the impacts of receipts on the environment and human health.  The proposed bill in California is an opportunity to open the door for implementing more sustainable solutions and shifting society away from unnecessary waste.

It’s a model the rest of the country should study carefully.

Beth Porter is the climate and recycling director at Green America.

Categories: News for progressives

Eric the Heartbroken

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:43

It is no wonder his heart is broken.  Not only have they been wonderful employees, but it’s impossible for him or anyone else to know what Eric’s daddy really wants.  It all has to do with the confusing rules about legal and illegal immigrants, his daddy’s inconsistent statements, and the difficulty his daddy’s companies have had complying with the law when it comes to employing immigrant workers at their various properties.

When it was reported, late in 2018, that the Trump organization employed many undocumented workers at its assorted properties, and in some cases had assisted them in falsifying their documents so they could remain employed, the organization vowed to change its ways.  Eric Trump, a vice president of the company, explained, while simultaneously demonstrating his grammatical creativity:  “We are actively engaged in uniforming this process across our properties and will institute e-verify  at any property not currently utilizing this system.”

When it became publicly known that the Trump organization employed a number of workers who were not qualified to work in the United States, even though many of them had worked for the Trump properties for many years, they were fired.  Their firing took an emotional toll on Eric.

Referring to their firing, Eric said: “I must say, for me personally, this whole thing is truly heartbreaking.  Our employees are like family. . . .”  He went on to say that the fact that the Trump organization had hired illegal immigrants was not unique to that organization and that it “demonstrates that our immigration system is severely broken and needs to be fixed immediately.” He didn’t bother to comment on the fact that had the organization used the e-verify system, a system used by countless other organizations around the country to determine the status of immigrants seeking to work in this country, those working at the Trump properties illegally would not have been hired in the first place.

Eric’s daddy, as we all know, has strong views on immigration.  They were disclosed during his State of the Union address on February 5, 2019.  In that speech he said: “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers we’ve ever seen, but they have to come in legally.”

The day after daddy’s speech, daddy was further questioned by reporters about his stance on immigration.  In response he said “I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in.  We need people.” Here’s how that is going to happen.

On March 12, 2019, it was announced that the administration is planning to close its 23 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices overseas. (USCIS).  People needing their services can either go to offices in the United States, assuming they can get in to do that, or to State Department outposts overseas. Not everyone is familiar with the USCIS.

According to its website,  USCIS “administers the nation’s lawful immigration system. . .. {I}t is the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States.  We are 19,000 government employees and contractors working at more than 200 offices across the world.” It further states:   We will be ever mindful of the importance of the trust the American people have placed in us to administer the nation’s immigration system fairly, honestly, and correctly.The explanation given by the administration for closing the international offices of that agency says  the closure will not only save millions of dollars,1 but will clear up the back-log of domestic applications for legal-immigration programs.

The Director of USCIS, L. Francis Cissna, explained that the work the closed offices had been doing would be transferred to offices in the United States and embassies and consulates abroad.  He said the effect would be to “maximize our agency’s finite resources.”  He was further quoted in the Washington Post saying: “I want to assure you we will work to make this as smooth a transition as possible for each of our USCIS staff while also ensuring that those utilizing our services may continue to do so and our agency operations continue undisrupted.”

Critics, of course, may find it difficult to reconcile the closure with Eric’s daddy’s pronouncement that he welcomed more new workers from foreign countries entering the United States.  Some say it is an attempt by the Trump administration to discourage foreigners from seeking to come to the United States.  A former director of USCIS described the move as “a pullback from the international presence of USCIS.  It’s in keeping with this isolationist bent that this administration has had more broadly.”

Lynn Lee, an immigration attorney who files many petitions at USCIS offices overseas commented on the changes and the backlog confronted by those offices saying:  “We would love for USCIS to alleviate that backlog, but it’s not going to be done by taking the most streamlined and efficient office in their entire organization and eliminating that office. It’s a serious loss.”

George Brun, an immigration lawyer and former ambassador to Belize said:  “This is not an immigration friendly administration.  The service currently being provided is awful, and I can only imagine it’s going to deteriorate further with these office closures.”  He may well be right.  When Eric learns of it, it is almost a sure thing that Eric will find it “truly heartbreaking.”  He isn’t the only one.

Categories: News for progressives

Rebuilding a Revolutionary Left in the USA

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:43

On a number of different levels, John Levin and Earl Silbar’s “You Say You Want a Revolution: SDS, PL, and Adventures in Building a Worker-Student Alliance” is a must-read book. To start with, it represents an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle known as SDS. For many, SDS meant either the New Left of the Port Huron Statement or the organization that imploded in 1970, leaving behind the wreckage strewn behind it, including the Weathermen and the various Maoist sects such as Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party that came out of RYM and RYM2. Missing until now from this puzzle was arguably SDS’s most disciplined and serious component, the Worker-Student Alliance (WSA) that was well-represented in the landmark student strikes at San Francisco State and Harvard University.

In addition, it is a close look at the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), a group that was the backbone of the WSA as well as the group that had the official blessing of Beijing in the 1960s until the party leadership broke with China over its “revisionism”.

While being essential for professional historians and those simply trying to understand what was happening on the left 50 years ago, it is also a breathtakingly dramatic story of how people from my generation burned their bridges in order to become revolutionaries. As someone who has read and written about a number of Trotskyist memoirs, none of them comes close to the story-telling power of the 23 people included in this 362-page collection that you will find impossible to put down.

Take, for example, the story of Michael Balter, whose mini-memoir is titled “I Might Have to Kill Vietnamese People”. Describing himself as a Goldwater Republican until his freshman year at Stanford in 1965, Balter radicalized for the same reason I would at the New School the same year and for the same reason: Vietnam. After getting involved with the antiwar group on campus as a contributor to the antiwar newspaper Aardvark, he quickly learned that PLers were key players. Joining PL naturally was the next step for him.

Despite his gung-ho attitude as a Maoist revolutionary, he did not have the same gung-ho enthusiasm for going into the military. When facing the draft, party leaders told him that it was his revolutionary duty to go in as if a handful of PLP’ers could have the same effect as Bolshevik propaganda did on the Czarist army in 1917. Balter told them “If I go to Vietnam, I might have to kill Vietnamese people”, hence the title of his piece. Their response was to ask if he was a pacifist, a non-sequitur intended to question his devotion to the cause.

Relinquishing his 2S student deferment, Balter went into the army even if it meant losing his girlfriend, who was opposed to the whole idea, as well as losing his life. His experience in the military as recounted in his memoir is a valuable addition to the antiwar GI literature, even more so because of his story-telling flair. After being court-martialed twice, the army finally had its fill of him and sent him packing through Regulation 212, an escape valve for people not seen as good for the army but one that provided Balter with an honorable discharge and the right to use the GI Bill to go back to school. While he and his other comrades who went into the army did not have the impact as soldier-Bolsheviks had in 1917, his experience was the high point of his political voyage:

What really was the case was that by 1970 the GIs were very open to the antiwar movement. They were either antiwar or didn’t want to get killed in Vietnam. I’m a witness to the fact that there was a deep and broad receptiveness to the antiwar message among the GIs who were mostly working class, white, black, and Hispanic. You would think that being a communist in the military is something you would want to hide, but it was really like a novelty to people. I was an excellent cook. If you’re a good cook in the army, you can do no wrong because the next meal is all anybody has to look forward to. I talked to people all the time about politics. Being in the army was probably the most wonderful time in my life as a political person. This was the one time, the one experience that I had actually doing what I was supposed to be doing in PL, which was building that base in the working class, all that I had joined the party for. That was the one time that I was really doing it and it was really working.

Each of the 23 contributors to “You Say You Want a Revolution” has a blurb after their mini-memoir that describes life after PL and/or the WSA in a few sentences. Michael Balter is described as a freelance journalist whose work focuses on anthropology, mental health and sexual harassment in the sciences. Reading this made me wonder if he was the same person I had contact with a little over a decade ago when I discovered that he had written a takedown for the prestigious Science magazine of Jared Diamond’s New Yorker article that claimed Papuan New Guinea tribesmen were engaged in a “revenge war” At the time, I was writing the same kind of rebuttal to Diamond (but obviously with a lot less expertise) for Rhonda Shearer’s website. She was Stephen Jay Gould’s widow and a fierce defender of the people Diamond had defamed. I got in touch with Balter and we had an enjoyable meeting over lunch. It was no coincidence that an ex-Maoist and an ex-Trotskyist had taken up a different kind of cudgel 40 years after departing “Marxism-Leninism”. Every single contributor to Levin and Silbar’s book has kept up with the left even if the revolution we dreamed about never came to pass.

The postscripts that follow each mini-memoir reminded me of the end of “American Graffiti” as we learn about the eventual outcome of each of the young characters. This helped me understand the connection I had to Michael Balter, whose name I recalled but only faintly. Another was Henry Picciotto, whose article is titled “Princeton’ll Straighten You Out”. Like Balter and most of the PL/WSA’ers, Picciotto was just one of many elite university students who rejected the bitch goddess success. You can get an idea of the temper of the time from this recollection: “My most daring (and pointless) action consisted of working with another SDSer to spray-paint a hammer and sickle with the dates ‘1917-1967’ all over the campus walkways. We did this at night using a stencil on the anniversary of the Russian revolution. The next day, a history professor stopped by the SDS office and told us that this was the best thing SDS had ever done.”

As was the case with Balter, the name Picciotto rang a bell but I couldn’t place it until I got to his “American Graffiti” whatever happened to this PLer moment. I learned that he became a math educator as well as the co-constructor of the cryptic crossword puzzle in The Nation. When I read this, I felt the same kind of kinship I had with Balter. I have been a digital subscriber to The Nation but not for the pro-Democratic Party bromides offered up each week. It is the puzzle that I rely on. How does a 1960s Maoist end up creating cryptic crossword puzzles? Probably, the answer is that most of us were a bit on the rebellious side to begin with and had little interest in conforming to the American white-collar nightmare. When the revolution failed to take place, we each tried to make a difference whether it was standing on a more realistic leftist basis or just helping to provide an alternative to the sterile culture capitalism imposes on us. (Henri informed me that the next cryptic puzzle will be very radical.)

Another example of that is John Levin’s own mini-memoir. He writes: “After I graduated [from Columbia] in June 1966 my plan was to head for San Francisco, the city of my dreams, where I would live in North Beach, hang out at the jazz clubs on Fillmore Street, attend poetry readings at Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore, and listen to Lenny Bruce at the “hungry i.” My role models were not Che Guevara or Chairman Mao but fellow Columbia alumni Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg.” This describes my own goals in 1965 after graduating from Bard College as I headed out to San Francisco to write poetry, take LSD, and see God. Within two weeks of landing there, the newspapers were filled with headlines about LBJ’s escalation of the war in Vietnam. So, I headed back to New York to figure out how to get a student deferment. If it hadn’t been for Vietnam, I’d probably have ended up as an obscure poet and existential liberal. Life has a way of playing tricks.

As I read through “You Say You Want a Revolution”, I was struck by how life in the SWP and the PLP/WSA was so alike. They worshipped at the altar of Mao Zedong while we at Leon Trotsky’s but other than for that, we were focused on opposing the war in Vietnam. They were stronger on the campus; our priority was the mass demonstrations against the war. They were straight-laced just like us. Marijuana and other drugs were a no-no; we drank beer or cheap wine to get high.

And, most importantly, nearly every one of these Maoists came to the same conclusion as most of us who have left the SWP, which at one point in the 1980s an ex-SWPer working with me on Central America issues described as the largest group on the left: ex-SWPers. We opposed sectarianism and cult behavior. To understand how the Maoists who left SDS to join Mike Klonsky or Robert Avakian’s cult-sects lost their way, there is Max Elbaum’s “Revolution in the Air”. Peter Camejo’s “North Star: A Memoir”, my dozens of articles  influenced by Camejo, and those by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman  try to do the same thing for the Trotskyist movement.

There is an urgency to rebuilding a revolutionary left in the USA. I am not sure what most of the contributors to “You Say You Want a Revolution” think about this but I am as angry as I was in 1967 when I decided to join the SWP. Back then, revolution was in the air as Max Elbaum put it but today it looks much more like counter-revolution. Perhaps continuing to advocate the need for socialism (and not the Swedish model) is a Quixotic endeavor but I’d rather tilt at windmills than resign myself to making peace with the capitalist system. Unlike the 1960s, the threat of a Sixth Extinction is deadly serious. There is a categorical imperative to resist the despoliation of the environment, the relentless drive for profit, the growing nuclear weapons threat, and a neo-fascist movement that nobody ever would have considered possible 50 years ago.

To prepare for the future, it is necessary to understand the past. In the same way I read about the CIO struggles of the 1930s when I was a young Trotskyist, I urge young people today to read “You Say You Want a Revolution: SDS, PL, and Adventures in Building a Worker-Student Alliance”. It will arm you for the inevitable showdown with the ruling powers of the most vicious capitalist state in history.

(My next article for CounterPunch will be about the political battles between the SWP and PLP in the 1960s and my subsequent ties to ex-PLers as the sixties radicalization wound down.)

Categories: News for progressives

Small Businesses Like Mine Need Paid Family and Medical Leave

Fri, 2019-03-22 15:40

Ten years ago, my husband and I opened a specialty oil and vinegar shop. Early on, we learned that our store would be only as good as the people who work in it. To invest in our employees is to invest in our business.

Now we employ five people. One of our most valued long-term employees, Linda, worked at the phone company for 27 years before coming to us. She left the phone company as a retiree but didn’t have enough money from her pension to retire.

When Linda fell and broke both of her arms last year, my husband and I told her to take the time she needed to recover. When payroll came around, I went to her apartment with her paycheck. She was sitting with the TV tray in front of her, deciding how to figure out rent with her leasing agent, what food to cut, and whether to sell her car.

I gave her a full check, including pay for the time she’d been out recovering. She was incredibly relieved, and my husband and I were honored to be able to cover her time, which we continued to do through her recovery.

But this took a toll on our family, our finances, and our business. I have three children and scrambled to pay for child care to cover my employee’s shifts. My husband and I missed a mortgage payment on our house, and we were late on a commercial rent payment.

Our business is thriving, but when it comes to paid family and medical leave, we just can’t do it alone. Many small business owners like me desperately want to offer leave but simply can’t afford it.

In February, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to share my experience with members of Congress at a special briefing on paid family and medical leave hosted by Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.

I told them the same thing I’ve told lawmakers in my home state of Minnesota: To give small business a fighting chance, we need to level the playing field and adopt a strong paid family and medical leave program.

Whether we’re business owners or employees, we all should be able to take time away from work when a loved one is sick, or we have health problems of our own. In our current economic climate, that’s a real financial struggle for all of us, and it shouldn’t be.

Paid family and medical leave laws create a system where everyone pays in a little, spreading the costs so everyone can benefit. This is the kind of solution that small businesses are clamoring for.

A recent survey of 1,500 small businesses by Main Street Alliance found overwhelming support for national and state paid leave policies. Sixty-four percent of small business owners — including 76 percent of women and people of color — support paid leave.

Linda is now recuperating from hip replacement surgery now, and will also need knee replacement. We have another employee who will likely need time off to assist his mother, who has early onset dementia.

Meanwhile, we’re trying to open another store, which would provide needed jobs in a small town. Yet the dollars we need for the store are being diverted to paid leave.

Nearly every other country in the world has figured out that a low-cost, pooled insurance program is a sound investment in economic and family health.

I’m encouraged that our national lawmakers are willing to listen, but we don’t have time to waste. While Congress discusses paid leave, state lawmakers around the country, including my state of Minnesota, should lead on this issue. Let’s send a clear message to Washington that the time for paid family and medical leave is now.

Sarah Piepenburg, is the owner of Vinaigrette with locations in Excelsior and Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a member of Main Street Alliance, a national network of small businesses.

Categories: News for progressives



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