March 26, 2009

Is Afghanistan Strategic?

One of the first points in the fine new Freedom Road statement released on the occasion of the 6th anniversary of the occupation of Iraq is the interesting assertion that Afghanistan is less about the strategic interests of US imperialism than about bourgeois politics here at home:

The war in Afghanistan is not mainly about oil or gas pipelines nor, at this point, is it principally about al Qaeda. If the war there were central to US ruling class interests, the George Bush administration would not have low-balled it for eight years. If Afghanistan were a central strategic focus, the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations wouldn’t have completely ignored it from the Soviet defeat there in 1989 right through to 9/11/01.

Afghanistan is a pawn in the game of US domestic politics. Obama ran on Bush’s failure to keep his promise to capture Bin Laden, and in his statements during the campaign and since has repeatedly made his own pledge―Victory in Afghanistan. Yet no one in the administration can say what that would look like and it is acknowledged that so far there exists neither an overall strategic plan, clear goals nor an exit strategy.
I just ran across an interesting confirmation of that assertion, in an Agence France-Presse article tellingly entitled "West lowers sights in Afghanistan":
"We are lowering our ambitions," a senior French official admitted to AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The Americans are now looking for a way out, they no longer regard Afghanistan as strategic. It'll take two to five years, but we're in a logic of disengagement."
They want out because they are losing (as the FRSO/OSCL statement points out) and there's no way to "win" by practically any definition of the word, and because the real strategic problems for the US in the region remain Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.

I won't insult FotM readers by explaining why this does not mean that anti-war activists can breathe a sigh of relief and turn our attention to other issues. Let us rather take up the call made in the recent--and eloquent--open letter of IVAW, MFSO and VFP to the peace movement (available here):
We ask all those who have stood with us in the past to stay faithful to the cause.

Read more!

March 25, 2009

Indigenous Struggles: Learning From Canada

[As FotM is partly responsible for this article, it's a pleasure to post it here. It arose from conversations between Rowland Keshena Robinson of the By Any Means Necessary blog, and Jimmy Higgins, on line and then on the phone. Rowland, a prolific young radical now based at the University of Waterloo in Canada, raised the question of why the Canadian left--socialist and anarchist--is so much more advanced in line and practice on issues relating to the First Nations, than those of immediately to Canada's south. Jimmy and Rowland came up with the idea of posting links to some of the best stuff from Canada for those in the US. Rowland's first shot was a large compendium of links to articles from The New Socialist, published by the New Socialist group. That got whittled down to five key articles presented here, with an introductory commentary by Rowland. He modestly did not include any of his own writings on the subject but you can find links to them here.]

After posting my big long list of readings yesterday on this subject, reader Jimmy Higgins commented, wondering if I could whittle it down in anyway to a “Top 5″ of sorts. I have obliged, and so here is my top 5 must-reads about the current wave of native struggles in Canada. I have tried to cover a wide range of issues about Indian resistance in Canada, including: armed resistance to colonialism (warrior societies, AIM, NYM); the current state of the struggle for native self-determination, especially as it pertains to the new “politics of recognition; the gulf that currently exists between native activists and socialists and revolutionaries who come from the Stalinian traditions and the idea of socialism from above; the rising tide of native feminists, who are fighting not just patriarchy in their own traditional communities, but in wider Canadian society; and finally a look at how native traditions actually came to influence Marx’s thought near the end of his life, and how socialist activists can show solidarity with the current phase of radical indigenism. Four of the articles are from Issue # 58, which was a special edition of the current resurgence of militant native struggles, while the fifth article comes the latest issue, # 63. I have also given a quick descriptive paragraph next to each article.

From New Socialist Issue # 58, September/October 2006

* What Are Warrior Societies? by Taiaiake Alfred and Lana Lowe - This article looks at the rise of the modern Indian warrior societies in Canada and the United States, with a particular focus on the Mohawk Warrior Society, which was on of the first and became a clear model for others to follow. The article also contrasts the rise of the warrior societies, which took place in the traditional, reserve based Indian communities, with the rise at the same time of the American Indian Movement, and other, later groups like the Native Youth Movement, which began, and remained as, groupings of urban based Indians. Taiaiake Alfred is Kanien’kehaka and a professor in the Indigenous Governance Programs at the University of Victoria. Lana Lowe is a member of the Fort Nelson Dene First Nation and works with indigenous peoples in Central America.

* Indigenous Peoples and the Politics of Recognition by Glen Coulthard - This article examines the current mainstream of Indian-Canadian relations, which is often cloaked in the vocabulary of “recognition”. The author of this article employees the work of anti-colonial revolutionary and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon to challenge the idea that the colonial relationship between indigenous peoples and the Canadian state can be transformed via a politics of “recognition”. He takes the “politics of recognition” to refer to the now expansive range of recognition-based models of liberal pluralism that seek to “reconcile” indigenous claims to nationhood with Crown sovereignty by accommodating indigenous identities in some form of renewed relationship with (and within) the Canadian state. In other words, rather than leading to true self-determination, the “politics of recognition” is just recreating the current colonial state of affairs in Canada. Glen Coulthard is a Dene activist and PhD student in political theory at the University of Victoria. He teaches in the Indigenous Governance Programs.

* Socialism From Below and Indigenous Peoples by Deborah Simmons - This article examines the fact that during the peak of the Red Power movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many newly radicalised Indian people became interested in exploring various theories of revolution and socialist organisation but that by the mid 1970s however, many of these same activists had become hostile to socialism, advocating a separate path to liberation rooted in indigenous traditions. This article takes a critical stance with regards to the relationship between indigenous peoples and the tradition of socialism from above advocated by the various pro-China and pro-Soviet parties in Canada. The author also tackles the problem of Stalinian socialists who argue that Indian peoples’ struggles for self-determination are the actual problem and that they must assimilate into Canadian society. While I may not agree with everything that is said in the article (such as the reference to Ward Churchill’s book “Marxism and Native Americans), I think overall this article is a good look at why Indians do not identify often with the mainstream of North American socialist thought. Deborah Simmons has recently returned to live and work in the Northwest Territories. She is a member of the New Socialist Group.

* Indigenous Feminism Without Apology by Andrea Smith - This article examines the often heard claim that Native women aren’t feminists. Those in native communities who make this claim feel that supposedly, feminism is not needed because Indian women were treated with respect prior to colonization, thus, any Indian woman who calls herself a feminist is condemned as being “white.” However, this article looks at how many community-based activists are now describing themselves as “feminists without apology.” They are argue that feminism is actually an indigenous concept that has been co-opted by white women. The fact that Native societies were egalitarian 500 years ago has not stopped women from being abused now, and since Indian women are the women most likely to be killed by domestic violence, it is an issue now more than ever. This article poses the question, “when we talk about survival of our nations, who are we including?” This article asserts that these Indian feminists are challenging not only patriarchy within native communities, but also white supremacy and colonialism within mainstream white feminism. That is, they’re challenging why it is that white women get to define what feminism is. Andrea Smith is Cherokee and a professor of Native American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and co-founder of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and the Boarding School Healing Project.

From New Socialist Issue # 63, 2008

* Indigenous Traditions in Freedom by Deborah Simmons [requires downloading]- The main thrust of this article is how native traditions, especially those of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois, came to influence the work of Marx in his later years, especially on one of his final pieces of writing known as the Ethnographic Notebooks. The article also looks at the history of indigenous resistance to colonialism and capitalism within Canada, and how modern socialists can best show their solidarity with current native struggles for land and dignity. Finally, this article also looks at the rise of modern forms of radical indigenism in North America, in particular the new Wasáse movement, which is inspired by the work and theories of Taiaiake Alfred.

Read more!

March 22, 2009

The Israeli Terror

by David Rovics

I was in Olympia, Washington driving towards Evergreen State College when I got a phone call from someone in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. An Evergreen graduate named Rachel Corrie had been killed a few days before by an Israeli soldier in an armored bulldozer, and someone with an Australian accent on my cell phone named Tom was wondering whether it was OK for the International Solidarity Movement to use the lyrics to a song I had just written about the incident on their website. Rachel's murder was followed quickly by the murder of a British ISM activist named Tom Hurndall.

And now, almost six years to the day after the murder of Rachel Corrie, my friend and comrade Tristan Anderson has been critically injured by the IDF. He joins ISM activist Brian Avery, who was also shot in the face. Brian survived, seriously disfigured but otherwise intact. Tristan lies in a coma in a hospital near Tel Aviv and may or may not be as lucky as Brian. His brain was exposed by the tear gas canister fired at close range at his face, and as I write, large parts of his frontal lobe have had to be removed by the surgeons.

Rachel, Tom, Brian and Tristan join the ranks of the thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese civilians killed and the tens of thousands maimed by the IDF since 2000 alone. Being privileged foreigners (at least before they were killed or maimed), they did not have the opportunity to join the ranks of the millions of Palestinians and Lebanese who have been driven into desperate poverty, malnourishment and homelessness by the Israeli invasion and occupation of their lands.

There are many other contemporary and historical examples of genocidal regimes. A few of them – contemporary Turkey, Indonesia or, chiefly among them, the United States – lay claim to the notion that they are democratic countries. Others, such as Saddam's Iraq, apartheid South Africa, and Nazi Germany also made such claims, but nobody believed them. It's challenging to make comparisons between them, at least in terms of trying to figure out which one should deserve the title of Most Genocidal Regime. There are issues of scale, longevity and historical circumstances that make such judgements difficult. Other types of comparisons, though, are not only easy to make, but seem as unavoidable as the elephant in the living room.

It probably didn't help that as the Israeli military was laying siege to the Gaza Strip two months ago I was on a tour of Australia, free from my responsibilities as a father and thus with more free time than I ever have when I'm home these days. I did then what I normally do in my free time – read. The book I happened to be reading at the time was one I had been meaning to read for decades, which I had just picked up at a book store during a visit to Canada – William Shirer's 1,200-page tome, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. As Israel's massive armored divisions and ultra-modern Air Force was laying waste to an already-occupied walled ghetto filled with nearly starving refugees armed with nothing more than rocks and the occasional small arms, mostly home-made, I was reading about the siege of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The comparisons are not exact. At the height of what was then widely known as the Nazi Terror, in Auschwitz the SS killed thousands of Jews and Russians every day. No such gas chambers exist or have ever existed in Israel. But for those of you reading this who have not already decided that I am a self-loathing Jew or some kind of anti-Semite, I would like to share with you some of the streams of consciousness that were passing through my head as I was attending protests in Australia against the bombing of Gaza, in between the unavoidable visits to the ubiquitous Australian war memorials and the next chapter of Shirer's history of Nazi Germany.

There I was, bearing witness to the siege of a walled ghetto already under occupation. There have been many sieges of cities over the centuries, but sieges of already-occupied walled ghettoes are far fewer, and for any student of history the similarities are obvious, the comparisons inevitable.

When I first visited Israel in 1999 I was struck by what a nation of trauma survivors it was. I was reminded immediately of my first visit to Ireland some years before, where the great famine that wiped out half the population over a century before seemed like it had happened perhaps a generation ago. In Israel the Nazi Holocaust seemed to have happened yesterday, and in the mindset of many Israelis it seemed as if it were carried out by Palestinians rather than Germans. I encountered anti-Arab racism daily in Israel. When I sang songs about the horrors of the sanctions against Iraq (around a half million Iraqi children dead as a direct result at that point according to UNICEF) I was told by middle-class, middle-aged Israeli folk music fans that killing Iraqi children was OK because they were just going to grow up to become terrorists anyway. I was told that “the Arab mindset” was hopelessly backwards and that They just wanted to “drive us into the sea.” (I even heard Israeli Jews refer to “Latin numerals” when it was clear from the context that they meant Arabic numerals – a Freudian slip I'm sure.)

Most of the Israeli Jews I met seemed confident of the historical persecution of Jews in the Middle East. Actual history bears no resemblance to their version of it, but this did not get in the way of their fantasies. It was in Europe where the Catholic Church and the Nazi movement carried out pogroms and built death camps, not in the Muslim world, but these Jews identified culturally with their European inquisitors, not with their historical Muslim and Christian friends with whom their Arab and Persian Jewish brethren had lived in peace for thousands of years.

And now after decades of the so-called “peace process” Israel's new Foreign Minister openly advocates for the ethnic cleansing of Israel, for the driving out of the million or so Palestinians living within Israel's 1948 borders. In this nation of survivors of the Nazi Terror, race laws reign supreme. There is one set of laws for Jews, and another set of laws for everyone else. As in Nazi Germany, “everyone else” is then divided into groups with relative privileges in comparison with each other (for example, “Israeli Arabs” vs. West Bank Palestinians vs. those condemned to live in Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison and the most densely-populated place on Earth).

Like the Zionists, the Nazis also came to power on the backs of trauma and claims of victimhood. For decades, history has been written by the victors, so it is hard to imagine how well Hitler was able to sell the case to the German people (and to many others around the world) that Germany was a nation oppressed by their neighbors as well as by “the enemy within,” the Jews.

Millions of Germans had been slaughtered -- along with millions of Russians, French, Brits, Australians, etc. -- in the War to End All Wars (WWI). German Jews were disproportionately of a leftwing persuasion, and many of the leaders of the social democrats who signed the Treaty of Versailles were, in fact, Jewish. Thus the Jews could be blamed for Germany's defeat (never mind the Kaiser's imperial ambitions) and could also somehow be blamed for the devastating economic depression that followed it (never mind the fact that much of the rest of the world was also in the throes of a similarly devastating depression). The Nazi solution to the “Jewish problem” was to create a society based on racial laws that systematically discriminated against Jews, took away their property, prevented them from joining the military or doing any number of other jobs, drove them out of the country or into ghettoes around which the Nazis built walls, and then ultimately invaded many of the countries into which the Jewish refugees had fled, laid siege to the ghettoes, starving and ultimately killing most of the residents.

Fast forward a few years to 1948, to Obama's Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel's father and others in the Zionist movement. The propaganda to try to encourage Jewish emigration to Palestine was that Palestine was a “land without a people for a people without a land,” but the Zionist movement actually on the ground in Palestine knew better. For them, the Palestinian people were all too real, and were an obstacle, a problem to be fixed through systematic, brutal ethnic cleansing. The Zionist movement in Palestine, followed by the State of Israel, dealt with the Palestinian problem (that is, the problem of the existence of Palestinians), by creating a society based on racial laws that systematically discriminated against Palestinians, took away their property, prevented them from joining the military, drove them out of the country or into ghettoes around which the Jews built walls, and then ultimately invaded many of the countries into which the Palestinian refugees had fled, laying siege to their cities, ghettoes and refugee camps, starving and killing thousands upon thousands of the residents, oftentimes in the form of wholesale slaughter that in some instances rivalled the intensity of the Nazi genocide.

The Irgun and other groups whom the British administrators of Palestine referred to as terrorists blew up buses full of Palestinian civilians, attacked Palestinian towns and cities with naval bombardment, laid siege to towns with tanks and automatic weapons on three sides in order to force the residents to flee. This is how the Zionist movement formed their state, this was the Israeli “war of independence.”

The Zionists who were flooding into Palestine and quickly changing the demographics of Palestinian society claimed they were being persecuted. There were many isolated incidents that could be called persecution, and many more incidents of Zionist settlers in pre-1948 Palestine persecuting the residents with whom they were sharing a country. By the same token, the Nazis made mostly baseless claims that German-speaking citizens of Poland and Czechoslovakia were being persecuted – the Germans were being persecuted and had to defend themselves by invading their neighbors. By the time the Nazis invaded and occupied France, and Britain finally decided to make good on its treaty obligations and fight fascism, the Nazis could – quite rightly – claim that they had been attacked by Britain. The Germans were the victims of Britain was the Nazi line.

Fast forward again to 1948. The Arab countries neighboring Palestine belatedly sent in a force to defend their fellow Arabs from the Zionists – a force that was numerically and militarily no match for the Zionist army and was quickly defeated. But in the annals of Zionist propaganda this was not Arabs coming to the defense of their brethren who were being slaughtered and driven from their land, it was an “unprovoked attack,” like the British assault on poor Germany. Like the Germans surrounded by hostile neighbors bent on keeping the Germans down, “the Arabs” wanted to “wipe Israel off the map.”

One of Hitler's favorite methods of managing, at least in the Nazi-run press, of appearing to be the voice of reason in the face of his “war-mongering” European neighbors was to make a pretense of “peace negotiations” which were generally last-minute ultimatums that could be accepted or not without any actual negotiating at all. For example, Czechoslovakia (and its ostensible allies, Britain and France) was told it could give up the Sudetenland and other Czech territories and thus avert destruction at the hands of the German military. It actually acquiesced to all German demands (with the encouragement of Britain and France) and was annexed by Germany anyway, on the grounds that the Czechs were being unreasonable, that Czechs were terrorizing ethnic Germans within its borders, etc.

Similarly, the Israeli government regularly asserts that if countries like Syria and Lebanon and political movements like Hamas would only “recognize Israel's right to exist” then there could be peace. The Arab states are consistently portrayed by Israel as the unreasonable parties, and any efforts on the parts of Arab countries to obey the will of the majority of their people and stand up to Israel's daily theft of Palestinian land and slaughter of Palestinian people is portrayed by Israeli leaders as proof that they want to “wipe Israel off the map.” Yet when the Israeli government is asked the very simple question, where are your borders, no answer is forthcoming. Like Nazi Germany, the neighboring countries are expected to acquiesce to all Israeli demands or be portrayed as the aggressors. But how can any reasonable country be expected to recognize a nation that will not itself recognize its own borders? What is Israel, and where does it end and its neighbors' lands begin? Also, on what grounds should Israel be recognized, when it is daily involved in violating all sorts of international laws, daily involved in theft and murder, daily involved with the subjugation of the Palestinian people, and refuses to give back land it took by force of arms from Lebanon and Syria?

Resistance to Nazi tyranny within Germany or in occupied countries was dealt with through incredible brutality. Entire families of dissidents would routinely be sent to concentration camps and often killed. If an occupation soldier was killed, collective punishment was the modus operandi of the Nazi regime. Oftentimes a hundred people in a village would be killed in retribution for the murder of one German soldier.

Similarly, whereas the families of partisans would be sent to the camps, the houses of the families of resistance fighters from the West Bank and Gaza are routinely destroyed. An attack on Israeli territory is routinely responded to (even when the attack itself was generally a response) with massively disproportionate collective punishment, including attacks by helicopter gunships on densely-populated areas where multiple families are killed in order to take out one Hamas or other political leader. Border closures resulting in loss of employment for hundreds of thousands are another routine Israeli response to any resistance to their occupation. Thousands of children and adults are routinely arrested and held indefinitely in Israeli prisons without ever being charged (in courts that are themselves illegitimate anyway). As in Nazi-occupied Europe, no Palestinian man or boy can ever be confident that he will not be dragged out of bed on any given night, taken from his home and arrested.

We are told by the Israeli government not to pay attention to the numbers, that proportionality doesn't matter. There often seems to be a clear effort on the part of the IDF and its political leaders to kill a hundred Palestinians for every Israeli killed, as was the case in the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. If proportionality is irrelevant and morality has no numerical measure, then presumably it would be morally justifiable from the Israeli government perspective if a hundred Israelis were killed for every Palestinian the IDF shoots, but if such a thing were to happen we could be sure to hear from the Israelis all about Palestinian monstrousness, no doubt. This, however, is extremely unlikely ever to happen, since there is no Palestinian military, no Palestinian tanks, no Palestinian Air Force, etc. It's jet fighters versus home-made bombs and ineffective “rocklets” that rarely hit any target.

The Nazis became famous for, among other things, developing methods of torture that make the Spanish Inquisition look humane. Israel has also excelled at developing new ways to cause horrible physical and emotional suffering to human beings. During the most recent Israeli “war” against Lebanon, among the many buildings demolished from the air was the old Khiam Prison in southern Lebanon. When I visited Lebanon in 2005 I toured the Khiam Prison, which was in an area abandoned by the Israelis in 2000 after years of fighting between the IDF, their Lebanese collaborators, and Hezbollah. In Khiam Prison one could see where the US military got its ideas for torturing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib. There were specially-designed boxes just big enough for a man to kneel, far too small to stand up or lie down, in which men would be held for weeks at a time and subjected day and night to loud music, regularly taken out of their boxes to be beaten.

We are told by the Israelis that the massive civilian death toll among Palestinians is unavoidable, since Palestinian “terrorists” hide among the civilian population when they carry out their attacks on occupation soldiers. We are also told that the Palestinians are targeting civilians in the (now almost nonexistent) suicide attacks inside Israel. It's an interesting form of two-faced logic, since the main form of transportation used by Israeli soldiers are public buses. This is abundantly obvious to anyone who takes a public bus in Israel. In this highly militarized society where most men and women over the age of eighteen are either active-duty soldiers or reservists, you can hardly find a public bus that is not transporting at least one uniformed soldier with a machine gun hanging off of his shoulder.

It's also an interesting form of dual logic, since the ghetto fighters of Warsaw so justifiably revered by Israeli society were fighting entirely from civilian areas, since they were themselves civilians, fighting from and for their homes, armed with home-made or occasionally smuggled weapons, just like the Palestinian fighters today.

The Nazis found collaborators within the Jews of Warsaw, who became their Jewish Police, or Judenrat. Prior to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, it was the Judenrat who arrested or rounded up Jews wanted by the Nazis, and brought them to the border of the ghetto, to be safely (for the Nazis) handed over, and generally sent to their deaths. Taking a page from this history, the Oslo “peace process” involved a dividing up of Palestinian territory into areas A, B and C. Area A is the downtown, or the area within the ghetto walls that now surround so many of the bombed-out shells that were once thriving Palestinian towns and cities. Area A is the part that Israelis have generously allowed to be policed by Fatah, which has increasingly become, in the eyes of many Palestinians, Israeli collaborators. Israel regularly invades Area A parts of the West Bank whenever it wants to, but otherwise it tries to get the Fatah police to do their policing for them.

Hamas, which refuses to go along with the program, is then painted as a terrorist group that simply must be wiped out, because they doggedly refuse to be collaborators. Like the Jewish Fighting Organization (the ZOB was their Polish acronym) in Warsaw, Hamas does not deal gently with collaborators or with the Israeli occupation forces. Facing impossible, overwhelming odds and essentially certain death, Hamas does what they can to mount some kind of a resistance to the Israeli Terror. ZOB fighters referred to themselves as the “walking dead.” Like the ZOB and other valiant resistance groups throughout the history of every continent, Hamas also embraces martyrdom. Embracing martyrdom is often painted by Israelis and others as some kind of peculiar trait of “Islamic fundamentalists,” which is ridiculous and completely ahistorical, as well as an insult to the memory of the very ghetto fighters in Warsaw who helped inspire the Zionist state in the first place.

Hitler loved to portray his “Aryan” soldiers as icons of morality and good behavior, which of course was nonsense. Like the IDF, the German soldiers fought very well and bravely, especially from the inside of a tank. And like the IDF, who are also widely viewed within Israel as the world's most moral army, the German soldiers consistently engaged in acts of sadism against civilians throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. And like the IDF, they were almost never punished for such acts.

Reminders of the sadism that permeates the Israeli military are never far away, and are often described most eloquently by former occupation soldiers who turned against their commanders in the Knesset. (Thankfully, there are many such soldiers. Unfortunately, there aren't nearly enough of them to make a difference.) The tendency of IDF soldiers to shoot children in the head with live ammunition is well-known and well-documented.

I vividly recall the outrage of many of my Jewish Israeli fans when Ariel Sharon “visited” the Al-Aqsa Mosque, along with hundreds of soldiers, prompting some stone-throwing from local Palestinian youths, to which the soldiers responded with live ammunition, killing many, leading to the Al-Aqsa Intifada and thousands more deaths, overwhelmingly of Palestinian children.

My fans weren't outraged at Sharon, however, they were outraged at me for writing my first of a series of songs about the Israeli occupation, “Children of Jerusalem.” What many people took particular offense to was the line about the general (Sharon) grinning. They told me this couldn't be accurate, because IDF soldiers carried out their duties with a grim sense of necessity, never enjoying the killing of the kids who were always shot because they were in the way of the ubiquitous “Palestinian gunmen” who were always firing first, at the poor defenseless tanks which for some reason were in the middle of their cities. For my outrageous accusations they called me a fascist and all sorts of other things.

But unfortunately they're wrong. The soldiers often are grinning. Like the smirking soldier who was standing in the ambulance that was trying to transport Tristan Anderson to the hospital just a few days ago, refusing to move to allow the medics to close the door. Tristan was only one of a multitude of victims of the Israeli Terror, and this sadistic soldier was only one of many other sadistic Israeli soldiers obeying the whims of a government run by sadistic, racist men and women.

Israel bears many of the hallmarks of a fascist regime. What's more, it is, like Nazi Germany, a very popular regime among its people. Like Nazi Germany, it is justly reviled by people around the world, but actively supported by so many of its people. Like Nazi Germany, governments and corporations around the world prefer to profit from trading with it rather than standing up to it and isolating it. Like Nazi Germany, it is dependent on the outside world for food, fuel and other basic necessities of life.

Unlike Nazi Germany, Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear weapons. Unlike Nazi Germany, Israel is not going to be defeated militarily. But it can be defeated if the people of the world – especially in the US -- pressure their governments to recognize Israel for the aggressive, racist state that it fundamentally is and has been since 1948, cut off the aid and impose trade sanctions of the sort that were imposed on South Africa under apartheid. The beginning of the process of isolating this small country from the world community that allows it to prosper is to educate people about the true nature of Zionism.

The Middle East has been and must be shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews as it was since long before the Zionist armies expelled 700,000 Palestinians from their lands in 1948. Nothing, including the Nazi Holocaust, justifies what has been done and, most importantly, continues to be done to the Palestinians. The time is long since past to call the Jewish state out for the fundamentally racist regime that it is. In the name of the ghetto fighters of Warsaw, let us strive to see a world where no one needs to die with a stone in their hand trying to defend a starved, walled ghetto against an army of tanks and planes, where people like Tristan don't need to have their brains blown out for trying to prevent a wall from being built around yet another ghetto.

Read more!

March 19, 2009

POP and Allies Expose Murdoch's NY Post

When the People's Organization for Progress called its second demonstration targeting the NY Post at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets in Newark for March 14, some self-described allies said it was too late, "the issue is over," or suggested that continuing to protest the February 18 cartoon was "riding a dead issue."(Read about POP's earlier protest here.)
When less than ten POP stalwarts began picketing at about 11:30 AM this past Saturday, it may have looked like the naysayers knew something, but by the time the sound equipment arrived twenty-minutes later, the crowd of marchers showed everyone at the historic intersection another lesson entirely! On Saturdays, the street vendors show up early to set up their tables and vie for prime "real estate" close to the bus stop. But as more and more POP members arrived and the picket line had tripled or more, as more and more shoppers getting off the many buses whose lines stop there had set aside their downtown errands and joined the protest, the vendors shrugged and carried their tables away from the ever-expanding crowd.

Elected officials like Assemblyman Bill Payne, People's Organization for Progress members and supporters, allied organizations such as the New Black Panther Party as well as concerned community members were there and on-point to proclaim that: 

  1. we will get our "Lotto" "Mega Millions" and "Pick 4" numbers from other papers… 
  2. we will get our sports scores from other news sources… 
  3. we will not read The Post or watch either of Murdock's TV-stations without a full and heart-felt acknowledgement and apology about the racist editorial policy embodied in the hateful February 18 cartoon!
        FotM thanks People's Organization for Progress member Ingrid Hill for the photos in this story.

        Read more!

        March 15, 2009

        Building & Winning: Left Response to the Economic Crisis

        [Ever look at the right hand column here at FotM? There are two Key Links there. One is for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad. Fire on the Mountain just wants to pull everybody's coattail to some changes at the Freedom Road website. There's a snappy redesign, still ongoing and including easier navigation.

        More important, there's been an increase in the frequency with which new articles are posted, and some damn interesting ones have gone up. This is one of them, reposted here because in reporting on one city, Portland, OR, it sketches some of the tasks as the New Depression deepens. So, please check out the Road's new improved website--and bookmark it. More good stuff coming right up, we understand.]

        Written by Patrick Ryan
        Saturday, 07 March 2009

        “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House.” - Audre Lorde

        It has been credited to the life of Oregon activist Tom Bernard, who not only thought it up, but provided the initial sketches for his idea: a local “town hall” style meeting of the Left in Oregon, bringing together the dispersed and diffuse groups to coordinate effective responses to the economic crisis. Tom unfortunately did not live to see his idea manifest on January 31st, 2009, when a mass gathering of 900 activists and community members was held in Portland, Oregon, to learn, discuss and organize a response from the Left.

        The guiding principle of the town hall was that “getting back to some pre-meltdown state is inadequate,” and that allowing people to wait and see how the government would respond would not win any real victories. Organized initially by the local Jobs with Justice, the town hall brought participants from unions, churches, and antiwar groups. Teachers, students, parents and activists got together to complain about the state of things but also to equip themselves with the tools and organization to change it.

        Martin Hart-Landsberg, a noted professor of economics and writer for Monthly Review, gave a succinct breakdown of the events leading up to the crisis, and insisted that economic democracy is as much of a right as political democracy, and that it is ours to win. Local labor leaders demanded that working people defend the rights of immigrant brothers and sisters. Jo Ann Bowman from Oregon Action explained how people of color in the Northwest were “never the problem, but those who paid for [the problem].” In what can only be described as an electric feeling from the audience, respected veteran activist and Teamster Tom Leedham said, “If workers wage an aggressive fight, we can win. Now is the time to go on the offensive!”

        Town Hall

        Participants then worked in groups to discuss issues on various topics such as better wages, accessible health care, affordable housing, local environmental sustainability, democratic unions, and strengthening local democracy. Affordable housing, for example, is blocked by state exemptions that prevent measures like rent control. Unemployment stands officially at 9.9%, which ranks Oregon among the highest in the country. Hundreds of homes have already been foreclosed on, and the hardest hit have been the neighborhoods of color. After learning the stark reality, groups then learned what organizations and resources were already available to help, and how to strengthen them or build new resources.

        Activists around the country will be mobilizing to fight for the improved conditions for the people and not more wealth and power for the absurdly wealthy, who, with capitalism, caused this problem in the first place. This is the point we need to promote among our friends and families. Capitalism got us here and the people organized and mobilized to win will be the ones who solve it.

        Firmly understanding that this crisis will be different than past ones, possibly even worse, will be the basis for organizing a strong and effective Left resistance. We are already watching this crisis produce suffering for working people, especially those of color: massive layoffs, rising unemployment, cutbacks in state and local budgets, and millions of foreclosed and lost homes.
        All of those are only the immediate problems, which overlook the larger looming ecological crisis.

        The town hall saw itself as a beginning of something larger. Organizers invited participants to problem solve in an open and democratic way and got the message out on local listservs and mailing lists and the local independent media. The town hall ended with a message of inspired activism that works to sprout many more teach-ins, church meetings, protests and demonstrations that put the tremendous opportunities for the Left up for grabs. It was the beginning of a dialogue “toward building an economy good for all working people.” The energy and motivation was followed by a meeting a few weeks later to sum up the town hall and determine focus areas of struggle. They expected about fifty people to come, but over a hundred did, and they brought friends. The primary focus that emerged from those discussions was the need for local democratic control of city and state budgets, and the people-power to struggle against attempts to privatize resources.

        What activists and community members took from this event was the knowledge that we are facing historic challenges and unimaginable difficulties, but also profound and equally historic opportunities. Basic people are questioning this whole system and its legitimacy. They wonder why their children receive no health care or slashed food stamps when the ruling rich are taking million dollar vacations. They say we're all “in this together.” The word “socialism” is being used again in popular discourse, of course with the tired old rhetoric and equations claiming that socialism is some kind of safety net for the rich. We know that isn't socialism.

        The corporate media have us believe that we all have to tighten our belts. But our communities have been tightening our belts for a long time and we say it's time for the rich rulers to tighten their belts by ending their wars of aggression, and providing us with real health care, living wages, and livable housing. We will not allow the mess the capitalists have gotten us into to scapegoat immigrant workers, deepen their racist programs, and strengthen their privatization efforts. Going “back to the way things were,” as the town hall said, is completely inadequate. We want a better world, and we will win.

        Patrick Ryan is a member of FRSO/OSCL and student activist in the Portland, Oregon area who has worked with a number of labor and community organizations.

        Read more!

        March 8, 2009

        Join in the Response to Racist Cartoon: Boycott the NY Post, Demonstrate in Newark on March 14

        The People's Organization for Progress (POP), the northern NJ-based African-American community organization that built the massive urban-NJ antiwar coalition highlighted here (see Black NJ Organizes Against the War: 2008 Edition) as well as the fight to save Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield (see Save Our Hospitals, Part 3— Muhlenberg defense moves to Trenton) demonstrated at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets in the heart of Newark, NJ on February 18 against the racist "they'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill" cartoon, above (see "Shut it Down! Boycott the Racist Rag! No to the New York Post!!!" for FotM's report on that picket line).

        POP, along with Newark City Councilwoman Mildred Crump as well as the New Black Panther Party and other organizations, plans a massive demonstration at noon on Saturday, March 14, 2009. Join us there!

        Councilwoman Crump sponsored the following resolution:
        Whereas, The main editorial cartoon that The New York Post published in its February 18, 2009 edition, portrayed two police officers shooting a chimpanzee, with the caption “they’ll have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill” is viewed by many as not only a veiled, racist reference to President Barack Obama, but also as an open invitation to any individual with a cause, to take the life of the first African-American ever elected to the Presidency of the United States; and

        Whereas, the New York Post, which was established in 1801, is the 13th oldest newspaper in the United States and is considered the nation’s oldest daily, is keenly aware of America’s shameful history of slavery, the era of Jim Crow and segregation and the profound use of racial imagery to negatively stereotype, demean and dehumanize the African American as monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees; and

        Whereas, considering America’s violent history of lynchings, burnings and assassinations which have been directed towards African American leaders, the cartoon depicting the gunning down of a chimpanzee – a veiled reference to President Obama – is construed by many in the African American community as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, and should be subject to prosecution; and

        Whereas, the feeble, disingenuous apology offered by the ownership and management of the New York Post, stretches the boundaries of credulity and is seen by many as a ploy to stem mounting negative criticism, avert the clamor for a national boycott and to protect its financial well being, is without a doubt “too little, too late”, and

        Whereas, Members of the Council along with the residents of Newark, who were highly offended and insulted by the New York Post’s cartoon and its despicable, veiled reference to kill President Obama, call upon the public to begin a national movement that asks United States Attorney General, Eric Holder, to launch a full investigation into this matter,, and to begin to treat the publication of images that even remotely simulate the assassination of our President as equal to a terrorist threat; and

        Whereas, Nothing short of the prosecution of individuals responsible for this type of slander is acceptable, and as Mr. Holder himself recently said, “though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we, I believe, continue to be, a nation of cowards.”

        NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE MUNICIPAL COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NEWARK, NEW JERSEY THAT it strongly condemns the New York Post and its management for its highly insensitive, humorless and racially charged characterization of President Barack Obama, in its main editorial cartoon which was published February 18, 2009, and that the United States Attorney General investigate the newspaper for possible terrorist threats and prosecute the individuals responsible to the fullest extent of the law.

        BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the certified copies of this resolution be forwarded to Governor Jon Corzine, the Urban Mayors’ Association, The New Jersey State Senate President, the New Jersey State Assembly Speaker, Mayor Cory A. Booker and Newark’s legislative representatives.
        With the support of City Council President (and Councilwoman-at-Large) Mildred C. Crump, as well as the massive outpouring of community anger, and many other community-based organizations, the People's Organization for Progress hopes that this picket-line of Saturday, March 14 will be truly massive.

        See John Legend's letter to the editor (here), sent to the NY Post for more background on this vicious attack, and then Join Us on March 14, 2009!!!

        Read more!

        March 7, 2009


        The following leaflet offers a short, sharp approach to the deepening depression, leaning heavily on militant local actions--asap. It is from the NY/NJ district of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad. It was distributed at the big union demonstration (circa 25,000, though it's hard to tell with police "crowd control" tactics) near City Hall on Thursday.


        It's hardly surprising if you are. Fear is a rational response to an economy crumbling more visibly every single day. Fear strikes when we see friends and family members laid off or losing their homes. What's bad is when fear becomes paralysis and not a spur to action.

        Thousands and thousands of us are here today to stop the gutting of our already underfunded public education system. Unprecedented cutbacks and layoffs are already underway. As the economic meltdown deepens, even more brutal attacks on public services are in the offing.

        Everyone hopes that this disaster will be staved off by President Obama's budget and stimulus package. It does offer important programs to mitigate the damage, and those programs are under fire from the banksters and Wall Street bigshots. But it also includes $150 billion more for the banks that drove the economy over a cliff in the first place, on top of the trillions already thrown away on them.

        We need to face facts: the capitalist financial system is broken. The banks themselves are broke, hopelessly insolvent. They are beyond the point of rescue. The banks may wind up nationalized soon--which means we, the taxpayers of this country, will own their huge debts and toxic "investments." It would probably be better to let them go under. Use those trillions insetting up new smaller banks and a new financial system, to rescue homeowners and to invest in infrastructure and productive businesses.

        Our cities and towns, our people need every dime of those trillions. And we don't have much time to lay claim to them. The old saying goes:

        "Use what you've got to get what you need."

        We don't have money, and we don't have direct access to the corridors of power. What we've got is anger. And numbers.

        The banksters and politicians are afraid of the future, too, as their system collapses. The problem is that they are not afraid of us. We need to use our anger and our numbers to strike fear, cold terror, into the hearts of the politicians and policy makers as they plan more cuts, more layoffs, more giveaways to Wall Street and the banks.

        Sparks of struggle have been spreading in recent weeks:

        ACORN is training "Home Defense" teams to resist foreclosures.

        Students at the New School and NYU seized buildings to stop tuition hikes and demand financial transparency.

        Young folks in Block Movement use Unlimited Ride MetroCards to let people in poor communities ride free as transit fare hikes loom.

        Right to the City, a coalition of community-based groups, disrupted Mayor Bloomberg's "Future of NY" dog and pony show.

        We need more of this angry, militant resistance, lots more. And the sooner, the better. It's the only thing they'll listen to.

        When the people resist, it is the perpetrators who fear US!

        Read more!

        March 2, 2009

        A Tale of Two City Kids (Part II)

        This is the second of two articles about two young, African-American men---both abandoned by birth parents, both labeled “learning disabled"—who attended a supportive small high school in New York City. [Read Part I here.] As a school social worker, I counseled both of them. I first looked at JB, who graduated and, after two years, seems to be doing okay. Now, I’ll look at Solo, who didn’t graduate and seems like he’s lost, with his possibilities narrowing to the streets.

        SOLO’S STORY

        Solo, now almost 19, dropped out in senior year. Last I heard, he’d been kicked out of his adoptive parents’ house and was living in a different borough with his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend and her mother.

        Solo came to us from a self-contained Special Education class in elementary school (a small class of 12 to 15 students with Individualized Educational Programs who stay together all day). This indicates that his learning disability was more significant than JB’s. He seemed a little lost and overwhelmed, shy and socially awkward coming into high school (and we didn’t have a self-contained class at that point).

        During the first week of school, a cute, aggressive African-American freshman girl named Keisha took Solo under her wing and soon served as his confidante, protector and advocate. She led him to reveal to me in one of our early counseling sessions that he had been getting some pretty severe corporal punishment from his adoptive parents, whom he called Grandma and Grandpa. Best I recall, he had recently punched a wall and hurt his hand slightly, out of anger from the punishment he had received.

        Solo had been with Grandma and Grandpa since he was four or five years old, didn’t know the whereabouts of his birth parents and had no contact with them. Grandpa worked for a school custodian and Grandma took care of Solo and two foster children in the house she and her husband owned. They were in their sixties, their biological kids long grown, devout Christians with a “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy, deep ties to relatives in the South and an old-fashioned, country shrewdness. It was one of those borderline situations where I considered calling child protective services (ACS) for excessive corporal punishment and gave Solo a stress ball so he could take out his frustrations on it rather than hurt himself or get himself into more trouble. (I think that frequently, the reason for his adoptive parents’ anger was that he played rough, broke things, didn’t want to stop playing etc.) Solo told me he thought the worst had passed and he’d be okay. At our next session, he further stated that he didn’t want ACS called because “I don’t wanna get taken away from them. They’re mostly good to me, they give me the games and clothes that I ask for.”

        The school soon created a self-contained class for Solo, Keisha and three other kids. Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be a disaster because, in such situations, the students often feel stigmatized and have no positive peer models. So they feed, provoke and copycat each other’s dysfunctions and diss each other all day: “Ape Face,” “Stupid” etc. Also unsurprisingly, when the school abolished the self-contained class, these students resisted re-integration. They were used to being mocked by each other but they really feared being put on the spot by more demanding teachers and looking stupid in front of “normal” students.

        Solo: Weaknesses and Strengths

        Unlike JB, Solo had little interest in intellectual pursuits or books beyond whatever soft- core porn he could get his hands on, though he could read at a decent 5th grade level. In math, his skills were poor beyond basic whole number computations, and he didn’t know the times tables by heart. He was strong, fast and well-coordinated, good at helping Grandpa with home repairs and yard work.

        Solo sought out nurturing relationships with adults, and he could be reflective and insightful in one-on-one conversations. But if he saw a curvy girl walk by, some drama brewing among acquaintances or a new game on somebody’s Play Station, any other thought was out the window. (I learned that he had previously taken some medication for ADHD but like many teens, now was refusing to take it.) He could critique himself later on—with prompting--- but he couldn’t stop himself from responding to the strongest, basest stimulus. This was a set up for trouble as he grew older, developed into a well-built and more socially adept young man, and had opportunities for actual sex.

        Socially, Solo was prone to engage in crude, eight year-old boy-style teasing, laughing at the cruelest put down’s and even at someone’s obvious pain or discomfort. Yet he could also be incredibly kind and protective when he perceived others as vulnerable, and himself in a more powerful position. For example, in one of our first encounters, he was trying to help a new Latino student (from the school upstairs), who didn’t speak any English, to find the right office and get his class schedule.

        Solo had obviously been scolded a lot as a child, and when he was confronted about something wrong that he had done, or simply out-talked by someone with good verbal skills, he usually laughed out of embarrassment. If it was an adult authority figure, he was likely to then become tongue-tied, say nothing and do anything to exit the situation as soon as possible. If it was a male peer, he was prone to get physical when he felt put down.

        Solo: Smart to Teachers vs. Smart to Kids

        Solo entered his junior year making intermittent academic efforts, cutting and hiding from classes he found difficult or boring, and avidly following every drama and comedy in the hallways. He refused my suggestions to ask teachers for help, which they would gladly have given, when he didn’t understand. He couldn’t articulate a reason for this refusal, just shook his head. My sense is that he feared looking stupid or slow. Sometimes we agreed that I would talk to a teacher on his behalf and then the teacher would approach him, but he didn’t really persist in tutoring or classroom work with the push-in Special Ed teacher.

        As educators, we often ask ourselves about students like Solo: Is he just unable to do the work? Are we using the wrong teaching methodologies? Or is he really lazy? I realized that Solo wasn’t unwilling to make an effort to learn things, but because he wasn’t the most facile learner and hadn’t developed good work habits, he had to prioritize. And his priority was learning about stuff that matters to kids, not teachers. He and his friend, Curtis, from the former self-contained class, took to following like puppy dogs a more moderately learning disabled student named Robert, a basically decent but un-scholarly kid, rumored to be a minor gang leader. Why? Because “Robert tells us about stuff.” Similarly, Solo explained to me that he had to roam the hallways all the time to know what was going on with everybody, so that he wouldn’t be considered dumb by his peers.

        Solo: Struggling with Judgment and Impulse Control

        That year saw two incidents where Solo’s poor judgment and impulse control almost caused disasters. The first incident, never completely clear to me, involved his foster-sister. She had taken his new Game Boy and wouldn’t give it back. So to shock her and get back at her, Solo snuck upstairs to her room and dropped his pants. The foster-sister then claimed that Solo touched her sexually, Grandma called the police (perhaps doubting the girl’s story but knowing that the girl might tell the foster care agency and Grandma would be in trouble if she hadn’t acted), and Solo was arrested. He told me that the police promised to release him if he “admitted” it, and guaranteed worse punishment if he didn’t. Typically prioritizing getting away from an unpleasant situation and adult criticism, Solo “admitted” it.

        This sounded like a disaster—a possible adult criminal conviction for sexual assault—and I did basically believe his version of the story, feeling that childish antics like dropping his pants were in character, but sexually touching his foster-sister wasn’t. So I got on the horn to the lawyer to try and vouch for his character, and checked in with his Grandmother who had never talked to the lawyer, was very stressed out, and said that neither of the kids’ stories fully made sense. Eventually, the foster-sister recanted her story, the charges were dropped and Solo was saved.

        A few days before Christmas, Solo walked into my office as classes started and said “I’m about to do something really stupid and I need you to try and talk me out of it.” The previous evening, he and a few friends had gone Christmas shopping and a few guys approached them, demanding his friend Jovan’s expensive jacket. A fracas ensued and the guys eventually ran off, but not before one of them spat on Solo. Solo restrained himself from retaliating for one reason: he knew that his friend Curtis, who is prone to seizures and had suffered serious head injuries, would have stood up for him and might have been seriously hurt or killed in any fight.

        Solo had been seething with rage all night and was now determined to find these guys and have his revenge, no matter the consequences. “I’m not takin’ that—I don’t care what happens.” Throughout first period, I offered reason upon reason to restrain himself. Finally I pointed out that if he hit or killed them and then wound up in jail, it was like letting them win because it would really mess up his life. He said somberly “That’s true. So I’m gonna give you these.” Solo then opened his parka and pulled out two long knives (from Grandma’s kitchen, he explained). They didn’t look like very sharp or strong knives but I didn’t think it was particularly useful to point that out. I quickly stuffed them in a file cabinet I could lock and said I was going to call his grandmother, let her know what happened, and return the knives to her the next time she came to the school. Solo accepted this.

        Solo: A Downhill Slide

        The next year Solo’s attendance was more and more erratic. In the spring, realizing that he was screwing up, Solo asked to re-consider the suggestion that he attend an off-site vocational program for half the day, and stay with us for the other half of the day until we could give him an IEP diploma. This is the lowest level of diploma, basically a certificate of attendance in school for twelve school years from first grade, not good for college. We had a meeting with Grandma and an Assistant Principal, and Solo signed a contract promising he would attend regularly and complete assigned work.

        Solo began the building maintenance program, which rotates students through the basic skills required to be a building superintendent: electrical, carpentry, janitorial etc. He soon got stymied by the measuring required for carpentry. I asked him to bring me some assignments and saw that he couldn’t add and subtract fractions. I spoke to the Special Ed coordinator at our school, who agreed to work with Solo during after-school tutoring. But Solo seldom showed up for that. Then, when the teacher at the vocational school noticed this and apparently created a smaller class for Solo and other IEP students who were having similar problems, Solo was insulted. Feeling he was being shunted off into a special class, he attended the vocational program less and less frequently.

        For all his withdrawal and intolerance for school, Solo was eager to work and become more self-reliant, and to this end, I helped him apply for a Summer Youth job, which he was offered. At first I couldn’t understand why Grandma didn’t want him to take the job but was insisting that he go with her to visit relatives in the South for the summer. I finally realized, and she confirmed, that while she was away and her husband at work, Solo might invite friends over the house. Given his poor judgment, they might not be the kind of people you’d want in your house. So he resentfully went down South for the summer.

        The next October, Solo turned 18. His attendance got even worse, and he was increasingly at odds with the grandparents for staying out late. He realized that legally, no one could tell him what to do anymore. He’d check in after a long period of absence, and several times, I did convince the principal, who could have dropped him for non-attendance, to let him come back and keep open the option of an IEP diploma (which is given at the principal’s discretion and involves no credit or exam requirements). I knew, as did several sympathetic teachers, that he wasn’t going to actually do much work—and I told him that. We just wanted him to come often enough to grab the diploma and have a better chance of getting jobs.

        Solo: Sex and New Complications

        After one long absence, Solo reported a whole new level of complication in his life. His grandparents had thrown him out, he was staying with his new girlfriend, and she was pregnant.

        Solo had accepted a dare from a friend to meet a girl on line and convince her, within a week, to have sex with him. So he seduced Lisette, but then, being a basically decent person, he felt really bad about it, and told her, and started an actual relationship with her. It turned out she was really only 14, (she’d pretended to be older), had been truant from school for a couple of years and was the subject of an open ACS case. Her mother liked Solo and was letting him stay at the house but she didn’t yet know about the pregnancy, and Solo and Lisette were concerned about her reaction. Several times, I asked him if he really thought it was good for his life and his future to be staying with someone who hadn’t been getting her 14-year-old daughter to school. He acknowledged a problem here and several times almost moved back with the grandparents. But he’d stay out too late and they’d get angry, then he’d go back to Lisette. She'd beg him not to leave and he felt responsible to her and his unborn child. And then we didn’t see him anymore.

        Solo: What Went Wrong?

        Solo wasn’t the slowest kid or the angriest kid or the most distractible kid (though he was pretty distractible) in our school. We had graduated kids with bigger deficits. His biggest weaknesses were judgment and impulse control. I don’t know how to help a kid develop judgment and impulse control at age 15 or 17 when there’s not a previous groundwork for it. I tried all the obvious little techniques. “Before you do something, think of how it will affect you tomorrow, next month and in 5 years;” I talked through the possible consequences; I showed him gestures to shift his thinking and snap himself out of it, etc. But nothing carried over from my office to the heat of the moment, though Solo was capable of solid, if a bit overly concrete, reasoning .

        My sense and what I know of the literature and research says that helping a child to improve judgment and impulse control has to begin at much earlier age. And the intuitive working class approach practiced by his adoptive parents--using corporal punishment to reach a child who’s so concrete and so in the moment-- is pretty much the opposite of what’s needed. It doesn’t help a child to develop internal controls, or show him how to slow down and not be just pulled in by the most intense stimulus. It doesn’t model the behavior you want him to follow. It also left Solo with huge resentments of people telling him what to do and never listening to him.

        Solo had been prescribed Ritalin when he was younger and then begun refusing medication as a teen, so I don’t know if a drug would have helped him to slow down and focus until hopefully, maturation might have alleviated his distractibility and impulsivity. Maybe if he had grown up in the 1940s when guys could drop out and get a factory job at 16, with decent pay and little stigma, he could have channeled his physical strength and gained the dignity and self-reliance that he craved. I only know that the genuine love of his adoptive parents and the caring of several competent pedagogues in a generally supportive school have not been enough to get him graduated and prepared for a decent job. I hope that somehow, something works out for him.

        Infrastructures Needed to Support Young People

        Looking at the life chances of Solo and JB in the context of a deepening economic crisis, I believe we face a struggle to re-build two types of infrastructure that kids like them need. For Solo, a program that trains youth of color to construct, repair and environmentally retro-fit buildings and transportation grids—advocated by Van Jones in The Green Collar Economy and potentially fundable by President Obama’s recently-passed stimulus package-- could help. It could provide the job, the income and the organic discipline of cooperative labor that he needs to channel his energy and aspirations for self-determination. And JB’s story shows how essential it is to preserve the social service agencies, the public school system, and the subsidized training programs for human services jobs, which have sustained him.

        Of course, the causes and solutions of their problems go much deeper. We need to address what drove their parents to illegal drugs and neglect, and to find other ways besides legal drugs and beatings to help kids control their attention and impulses. Exposing kids to more green space and less asphalt and video screen would probably help. But maintaining and expanding the two infrastructures would be a start.

        Read more!

        March 1, 2009

        Singing, Again, for John Brown

        With this fall marking the 150th anniversary of the raid on Harpers Ferry, I find my mind turning often to John Brown. And today I am pleased to be able to do something about it.

        Regulars here know that I am pretty serious about music (not that the music itself is necessarily serious) and may even recall that I posted three pieces on music about John Brown last year here, here and here.

        I now add a new song by my friend David Rovics. It is called "Beecher's Bibles" after the Sharps rifles John Brown's band carried in the war to keep slavery out of Kansas and, in fact, at Harper's Ferry.

        As you can see, David knocked this video out by pointing a camcorder at himself in his living room. I hope to see him do it live sometime soon.

        And partial though I am to this song, I am compelled to steer you, dear reader, to David's MySpace page and encourage you in the strongest possible terms to click in the right hand column to listen to "The Village Where Nothing Happened." Listen, and think about what 17,000 new troops and a Presidential pledge of 'victory" will mean in Afghanistan.

        Read more!