Thumbs Up at Falling Statues

mckinley statue
Statue of former U.S. president William McKinley (with thumb intact) in Arcata, California

Incidents of deadly racist violence in the United States — the neo-fascist demonstration in August in Charlottesville, Virginia and the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting of 2015, to name just a couple — have helped to raise public awareness and reignite public protests over the existence of Confederate statues, monuments and memorials throughout the American South that have long been despised symbols of the legacy of racism, slavery and the oppression of African-American citizens.

There are
more than 1,500 symbols of various sorts honoring Confederate leaders, soldiers or the Confederate States of America in general throughout the U.S., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a public-interest law firm that specializes in fighting civil rights cases and documenting the activities of hate groups in American society. Of those, more than 700 are Confederate statues and monuments on public property in mostly southern states.

And the public outrage over such symbols hasn’t stopped there.

Statues of Cristoforo Colombo (better known as Christopher Columbus), the Italian explorer who is mythologized in U.S. history books as having “discovered America” in the year 1492 AD, have also been under recent attack in cities such as
Buffalo, New York and Baltimore, Maryland.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a statue erected in honor of the late Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner and mayor of the city long associated with racism and police brutality toward the city’s Black populace, has also become a target of public wrath. “Take the Rizzo statue down”, demands Helen Gym, a Korean-American member of Philadelphia’s city council.

And in the college town of Arcata, Humboldt County on the far northern coast of California, where I used to live, the hot issue has been whether to remove or to keep a statue of
William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, in the town’s square. Protesters over the years have cited his legacy as a right-wing, war-mongering leader in the late 1800s/early 1900s as standing in stark contrast to the town’s proudly liberal image and ideals of today.

Tasting Empire

Smack-dab in the center of this old timber-producing town of Arcata
[“ar KAY ta”] — now dominated by a public institution of higher learning, Humboldt State University, and its legions of mostly white, liberal students — stands a nine-foot-tall, bronze statue of McKinley (see photo above).

The statue watches over the Arcata Plaza, a public square around which some of the city’s leading businesses are located. The Plaza is the main meeting place for residents of the city, a place where yearly festivals, a weekly farmer’s market and the occasional anti-war demonstration bring people of the community together. Among the regular visitors to the Plaza to share in that feeling of community were my family and I in the early 2000s, when we lived for a short time in Arcata.

But that good feeling, for me and for others in the city, was often offset by the
existence of the statue of McKinley there in the Arcata Plaza — or to be more precise: the imperialist legacy of McKinley as a U.S. president.

A veteran of the American Civil War (he fought on the Union side of the North) and a lawyer by profession, McKinley served as Republican governor of the mid-western state of Ohio and as member of the U.S. House of Representatives during the late 1800s. He was elected the 25th president of the United States in 1896, with support from Big Business and the major news media companies.

President McKinley took the U.S. into the Spanish-American war in Cuba two years later in 1898, against Spain and on the side of the Cuban rebels, more for the future economic possibilities in Cuba than anything else. And for good measure, he ordered the invasion of the Spanish colony of Puerto Rico as well. That same year, the United States “annexed” (read: stole outright) the Hawaiian Islands from the indigenous people, as a way to keep the land and its rich resources within U.S. corporate hands. The following year in 1899, McKinley started the Philippine-American war.

“The taste of empire was on the lips of [U.S.] politicians and business interests throughout the country now,” as the late historian Howard Zinn chronicled that period in his classic work
A People’s History of the United States. “Racism, paternalism, and talk of money mingled with talk of destiny and civilization.” By the time all the dust raised by McKinley had settled a few years later, the USA had become the de facto owner and occupier of all these nations and territories — politico-economic slavery by another name, but undeniably, slavery all the same.

Far from being universally respected as a great statesman, McKinley was despised in some parts of the world at the time as a bloodthirsty Yankee capitalist who represented America’s elite robber-baron class. In 1901, six months into McKinley’s second term as U.S. president, he was shot to death in Buffalo, New York by a Polish immigrant anarchist, a steelworker, who claimed that McKinley was “the enemy of the good people — the good working people”.

And here’s where the statue on the Plaza comes in: Following McKinley’s assassination, a local businessman in Arcata commissioned the creation of a statue of the late U.S. president by Haig Patigian, an Armenian immigrant artist in San Francisco, in honor of McKinley. The statue was shipped up to the North Coast and erected on the Arcata Plaza on Independence Day, 4 July 1906.

It is safe to say that the McKinley statue at the Arcata Plaza hasn’t seen much peace during the past 111 years that it has been standing there. The statue has been the victim of spray-painted graffiti, assorted costume and wardrobe changes by pranksters, and defilements of many sorts — some politically motivated, others motivated by
less lofty aims like partying until you drop.

The Great Missing Thumb Caper

But no disrespect of the McKinley statue seemed to raise the ire of the local populace more than that memorable day in May 2003 when an unknown person vandalized the statue by sawing off, then stealing, the bronze thumb on McKinley’s extended right hand, and disappearing into the night with the metal prize in pocket.

Members of the local white liberal establishment of Arcata, as I recall, nearly lost their minds over this. Never mind that Arcata was generating national and international headlines at that very moment for being the first city in the USA to legally
refuse to cooperate with the administration of then-president George W. Bush in carrying out the USA Patriot Act and its various invasions into U.S. citizens’ rights.

Arcata was also pushing to vote for Bush to be impeached as president. I attended one of those heated town hall meetings in which the impeachment of Bush was on the public agenda. It was a great time to be living in Arcata, and to see all the attention that the city was generating for its opposition to Bush and his newly declared “war on terrorism”. Arcata was not the place I was born or raised, but at that moment, I couldn’t have been prouder of the progressive people of that town where we were living.

On the other hand, for many white liberals of Arcata at that critical moment, the bigger issue seemed to be finding the perpetrator of that heinous crime of stealing the McKinley statue’s thumb and getting the thumb back once and for all to its rightful owner. And no local liberal figure stood out more on that score than Mayor Bob.

That was Bob Ornelas, mayor of Arcata at the time — the first mayor of the Green Party to serve in public office in California and a
real progressive pioneer in that sense. A self-described “Humboldt Hippie”, Ornelas owned a local beer micro-brewery at the time. It was not uncommon back then to see Mayor Bob out and about the town on his official duties, easily identifiable by an overgrown, cheesy-looking mustache, by his long pony-tailed hair, and his choice of very casual clothing and sandals during official working hours at Arcata City Hall.

As mayor of the city, he was mighty upset at what the unknown vandal had done to McKinley’s thumb on the Arcata Plaza. Mayor Bob offered a reward of $500 of his own money, right out of his pocket, for the return of the missing digit. “I just think it was a stupid, selfish, unjustifiable act,” Mayor Bob told the local press. “It’s public property. I don’t care if you don’t think it was art. Get drunk and pierce your nose, but leave McKinley’s statue alone.”

I ran the whole controversy through my mind at that time and kept coming to the same conclusion:
What’s wrong with this picture? The contradictions abounded: Mayor Bob = Green Party, hippie, progressive, left wing — very good. William McKinley = Republican, imperialist, extreme capitalist, right wing — very bad. Green Party progressive mayor fights for arch-conservative Republican harder than Republicans (or Democrats) fight for him themselves. Reward offered by living Green Party mayor so as to save the legacy of long-dead Republican U.S. president. What, indeed, was wrong with this picture?

Well, about a month later, Mayor Bob got his wish: The whereabouts of the McKinley statue thumb were soon determined, the perpetrator voluntarily turned in the stolen thumb to the local police, a welder in the community surgically reattached McKinley’s severed thumb to its hand, and the mayor’s $500 reward was given to an honest local citizen for helping to solve the great caper.

Mayor Bob even got his picture taken by the local newspaper at the police station with the recovered McKinley thumb, a smile spreading across his face as he flashed a victorious thumb’s-up gesture to the camera. As a parting shot, he reminded the public that Arcata had succeeded where even the U.S. government under Bush had failed. “They couldn’t find [Osama] bin Laden; they couldn’t find weapons of mass destruction,” Mayor Bob told the local press. But: “We found McKinley’s thumb.”

And with that, everyone lived peacefully ever after.

Descendants of War

Or so they thought. Bush’s “war on terrorism” from 2001 onward, a direct descendant of McKinley’s imperialist wars of the late 1800s/early 1900s, became Obama’s war and now becomes Trump’s war. Thousands, possibly millions, of innocent people overseas have died in this so-called war, and countless more have become refugees in their own lands. The tragedy goes on. We need to remember that the real significance of McKinley’s legacy as president lies in his role in the empire-building of the USA at an important moment in history: The geopolitical realities that McKinley helped to define through warfare, conquest, and economic domination and exploitation are still very much with us today on the maps of the world and in the news.

In 2005, some local people in Arcata, citing that imperialist legacy of McKinley, got together
a petition to remove the statue, though apparently, nothing ever came of it.

Meanwhile, in 2017, the current city government of Arcata under Mayor Ornelas — no, not ol’ Mayor Bob of Green Party fame, but his wife, Mayor Susan Ornelas, a Democrat — is resisting the removal of the McKinley statue from the city’s downtown plaza as being too expensive an undertaking. They have a point there. And besides, the local argument goes, the statue has become an important part of local tradition. But what “tradition” is that? William McKinley never had anything to do with the city of Arcata in his lifetime, as far as we know. And if the U.S. government can remove McKinley’s name from the highest peak in North America (formerly known as Mount McKinley in Alaska) —
as U.S. president Obama did in 2015 — then surely the liberal city of Arcata could do the same with a statue that most folks don’t seem to care about anyway.

Some people in Arcata, such as local newspaper editor Kevin Hoover, are proposing a
public vote to decide once and for all to resolve the question: Does the William McKinley statue stay where it is, or does it go? “The solution is simple: put the statue removal to a vote of the people via the initiative process,” Hoover told me recently in an interview with LifeTimes. “That way, we’d have a vivid public conversation, we’d possibly clarify the historical claims, and an incontestable decision that represents the will of the people could be made. In fact, I’m guessing that that’s the only way it will ever happen.”

I would have to agree. That kind of referendum seems to be a reasonable solution. It would work in cities like Arcata, California or
New Orleans, Louisiana that are open to change.

But then again, in other locales around the United States where the institution of slavery was once firmly entrenched and where the white power structure would still not go for such a “reasonable” resolution today, would people then be justified in bringing the Confederate monuments to the ground, as
they have done in some places?

At press time, the protests show no signs of slowing down or running out of steam, at least not yet: Some residents of Memphis, Tennessee — the city where Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 — are
demanding the removal of a statue honoring the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). New York has recently seen the “beheading” of a statue of Christopher Columbus. And in California, the city council of Los Angeles, a major American metropolis, has voted to remove Columbus Day from the official city calendar and replace it with Indigenous People’s Day.

My final vote in all of this controversy? In the true non-spirit of ol’ Mayor Bob of Arcata, I give
two thumbs down for all the statues and memorials left standing, in the South and elsewhere across the USA, that glorify white supremacy and manifest destiny, and are still being allowed to serve as public symbols of a truly shameful past. As the law of moral gravity dictates, what goes up insensitively and without thought for the past or the future is eventually bound to come down. The sooner, the better.

And on the other side:
Two thumbs up by me at the sight of all the falling statues across the USA and to all the genuinely concerned citizens who refuse to let this issue rest until more people in society have been informed, woken up and made to directly face the ugly parts of America The Beautiful’s reflection in the mirror of history. There is still much work to be done, and we all need to be part of that public discussion and historical debate in the months and years to come.

The Boy in the Picture: A Remembrance

sumiteru taniguchi at un
Atomic bomb survivor Sumiteru Taniguchi, giving a speech at the United Nations
in New York in 2010 against the existence of nuclear weapons while holding up
a photo of himself from 1946 in Nagasaki.

A 16-year-old Japanese boy lies face down on a hospital bed, his eyes closed and face partially obscured from view. His back and arms, oozing blood and pus, show the severe radiation burns he suffered during the atomic bombing of his city, Nagasaki, just five months before by the United States. He is still clinging to life and the Japanese doctors keeping him in a bath of penicillin to fight off infection seem amazed that the boy is still alive.

“I shuddered when the lights were turned on to film him,”
recalled Herbert Sussan, a U.S. military video specialist assigned to film Japanese survivors of the two atomic-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in January 1946. The youth with the severely burned back was the worst of the cases his U.S. filming team had come across. “None of us expected him to live,” Sussan said, “but the doctors persisted.”

It was that persistence alone by doctors in Nagasaki that saved the life of the youth, and for decades afterward, Sumiteru Taniguchi would go on to publicly display to the world that video image of himself as the boy with the bleeding back, in an appeal for the permanent banning of nuclear weapons.

New York Times obituary on Taniguchi, who died of cancer in Nagasaki on 30 August at age 88, is indicative of the high status Taniguchi held as one of the more well-known, publicly identifiable of the hibakusha atomic bomb survivors in Japan. News outlets around the world have reported on his passing, and told and retold his story.

Taniguchi was a teenage postal carrier delivering the mail on his bicycle around 11 a.m. that morning of 9 August 1945, and was 1.8 kilometers (about one mile) from the hypocenter when the “Fat Man” plutonium bomb — as it was nicknamed by the U.S. military — was dropped over the city, killing at least 40,000 people instantly, most of whom were civilians. Like many victims of the bomb that day, Taniguchi was subjected to a wall of heat measuring an estimated 4,000 degrees Celsius (more than 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit), hot enough to melt steel.

Those who died instantly in the blast or were simply vaporized into ashes may have been the lucky ones; those who survived faced a hellish reality of death and destruction all around them. Many, like Taniguchi, had their clothing grafted onto their skin by the bomb blast and could not keep their skin from sliding off their bodies. And like many, Taniguchi lived on the border of life and death in the immediate years of medical treatment that ensued.

Taniguchi would go on to say that in surviving the atomic bombing, he grew up with an intense hate for the world of adults that would do such a thing to him as a child. It was perhaps not surprising, then, that Taniguchi would later join, and then lead as chairperson,
Nihon Hidankyo, an organization formed by atomic bomb sufferers in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1956 to pressure the Japanese government to improve support for the victims and to lobby governments of the world to abolish nuclear weapons forever.

In interviews and speeches in Japan and overseas over the years, Taniguchi would often hold up that famous film image of himself as the youth with the bleeding back for others to see. He did it less for pity or to accuse than as a stark reminder of what nuclear bombs can do to human beings and as a warning to never let such a horror be repeated. In the 2007 documentary film
White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Japanese-American filmmaker Steven Okazaki (which I encourage you to watch here in its entirety), Taniguchi removes his shirt for the camera and reveals his once-bleeding back as it now looked decades later: still heavily scarred and still prone to infection. Like other survivors of the two atomic bombings, he was constantly plagued by radiation-induced illnesses and ailments through the rest of his life.

In 2010, Taniguchi, representing Japan’s atomic bomb survivors, reiterated his appeal for the banning of nuclear weapons during a review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations in New York City. “I am not a guinea pig, nor am I an exhibit,”
he told the audience, once again showing the well-known photo of him as an ailing 16-year-old. “But you who are here today, please don’t turn your eyes away from me. Please look at me again.”

hibakusha of Japan, over these past seven decades, have had to make sure two governments in particular get that message loud and clear: the United States, as the foremost nuclear power in the world, and Japan, with its increasing moves toward remilitarization as a staunch U.S. ally protected under the American nuclear umbrella.

Have these two governments gotten that message? Apparently not. In July 2017, just a month before Taniguchi died, 122 countries of the world voted to pass the
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations in New York. This is the first legally binding international agreement ever to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons; the goal is total elimination of all nuclear weapons on the planet. But the governments of the United States and Japan, among a few others, have essentially boycotted the treaty negotiations from the start for political reasons and will not support its passage.

How supremely ironic it is that today the government of Japan, the only country ever to have been the victim of a nuclear bomb attack during war, will stand on the side of the USA, which dropped those bombs on Japan back in 1945, in opposing a treaty that could very well save us all from nuclear annihilation someday. In any case, with or without American and Japanese government support, the formal signing and enactment of this important treaty will go on as scheduled and take place later this month in New York on 20 September.

Sumiteru Taniguchi, at 88 years of age, did not live long enough to see this long-awaited day come, but his soul can rest peacefully knowing that he did as much as any one person could have done to help bring it about. From that hospital bed in Nagasaki in 1946 as a severely injured boy lingering near death, to his last public anti-nuclear appeal in Malaysia in 2016 as an ailing elder, he kept the hope for a truly peaceful world alive and in front of us, never allowing us to look away or to forget the past.

May we all find it within ourselves to help carry on his final wish from here and see that it becomes a permanent reality for our world, epitomized in the two simple words: “Never again”.

America’s Oil Coup in Venezuela


The recent utterance by so-called president Donald Trump of the United States about using a “military option” in dealing with the South American nation of Venezuela has shifted a slow-motion coup d’état into crisis mode, with the very real possibility now existing that the socialist government of Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro could fall in the near future.

That coup has been years in the making, of course, and the U.S. role in it has not been a passive one — far from it. Just as it did with another South American country, Chile, in the early 1970s, the United States government has been hitting at Venezuela on multiple fronts, both seen and unseen, until the desired goal is achieved: the overturning of a democratic system of government and the wresting of an economy away from its people.

Venezuela is no mere banana republic for the USA. Situated in Washington’s “backyard” in northern South America, Venezuela happens to hold the highest levels of known reserves of oil on the planet. It is also the
third-largest importer of oil to the USA at more than 700,000 barrels per day, a vital source of revenue for Venezuela and of much-needed oil shipments for the crude-hungry consumers of the United States.

In Chile in the 1970s, it was mostly about the U.S. retaking control of Chile’s vast copper wealth that led to a military coup and overturning of the Chilean government; in Venezuela, it is oil the USA has its sights on. That both Latin American countries chose to follow a socialist model of government hostile to Yankee capitalism can be no mere coincidence either, when considering U.S. actions against these countries.

Just what has been happening in Venezuela and which way are things likely to go? Here are some things to keep in mind as we watch America’s oil coup unfold in Venezuela in the coming weeks and months, news of which the U.S. corporate-dominated press is failing to report with any kind of consistency or context.

Oil Money, Oil Politics

Venezuela is among the countries of the world whose economy depends mostly on petroleum to keep the system functioning: Oil accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s exports and more than 40 percent of government revenues, leaving the country’s fortunes tied directly to the price of oil on the world market.

As with other Latin American nations that have long been in the good graces of Washington DC, Venezuela’s wealth had been mostly controlled by an influential, elite class of its society, resulting in a wide gap between the rich and poor. Things changed drastically on that score in 1999, when Hugo Chávez, a career military officer of working-class background, was elected president of Venezuela. He pushed through new socialist-based policies that put a priority on human rights, social welfare, social justice, education and reducing poverty. Chávez vowed to use Venezuela’s vast oil resources to benefit the majority of its working citizens, instead of enriching a small minority of its privileged class.

This did not endear Chávez to Venezuela’s ousted oligarchy or their American masters on Wall Street and in Washington. In 2002, Chávez was removed from office during a military coup — a coup that the
U.S. government knew in advance was coming and to which the administration of then-U.S. president George W. Bush gave its blessing. Popular support of Chávez, however, helped break the coup and put Chávez back in office.

In 2007 the Chávez government nationalized several major oil projects worth an estimated $30 billion. Two American oil giants, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips, refused to play by Venezuela’s rules and pulled out of the country instead, filing claims for the potential money lost. The head of Exxon Mobil at the time, Rex Tillerson, reportedly “
took it very personal with Chávez”. Today, Exxon Mobil is represented in the American White House by none other than Tillerson himself, who currently serves as U.S. secretary of state in the Trump administration.

As part of Chávez’s attempts to break free from the politico-economic grip of the United States and other western powers, the Venezuelan president also took the unprecedented step in 2011 of moving billions of dollars of Venezuela’s gold stocks out of banks in the United States and Europe, and
bringing the gold back to Venezuelan banks. He intended to transfer those gold stocks to other countries such as China, Russia and Brazil that were considered by Venezuela to have a more “solid” economic future.

Chávez was diagnosed with cancer that same year; he died in 2013, ending his controversial 14-year-old presidency. One of his loyal lieutenants, Nicolás Maduro, assumed leadership of the country, vowing to carry on Chávez’s socialist revolution.

The following year, 2014, saw the United States and Saudi Arabia set up what was viewed in some quarters as an
act of “economic warfare” against the major oil-producing nations of the world, including Venezuela: a steep drop in the price of oil on the international market.

It was really from that point onward, according to some analysts, that Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy started its downward slide. Mismanagement of the Venezuelan economy over the years can surely be placed to some degree on presidents Chávez and Maduro, but that alone does not tell the whole story. An undeniable
factor in Venezuela’s devastated economy over the past few years has been oil — and the U.S. and Saudi management of that oil supply on the global market.

Today in 2017, the Venezuelan economy stands
on the verge of collapse. President Maduro lays the blame for Venezuela’s highly unstable economic situation in part on Exxon Mobil and other petroleum powers of the west. There is some truth to support this accusation, but you won’t find it on the front pages of the U.S. establishment press.

For the moment, anyway, the oil industry in the United States (along with the White House) is divided on how to deal with Venezuela’s economic crisis. One powerful oil tycoon close to Trump, Harold Hamm, advocates a total ban on oil-related activity between the USA and Venezuela — which, if it came to be, would essentially destroy the Venezuelan economy as we know it, and open the door for Wall Street to move in and take over.

Never heard of Harold Hamm? You should: He was
Trump’s energy advisor during the 2016 presidential campaign and still holds a lot of sway in the White House. (more on Hamm here)

The Road from Chile, 1973

In the South American nation of Chile in the early 1970s, the economic weapon of choice for the USA in toppling the government took a different, though no less deadly, tack. Back then, Washington’s obsession was with removing Salvador Allende, the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, by any means necessary. Then-U.S. president Richard Nixon ordered the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to “
make the economy scream” in Chile, and this plan was soon undertaken covertly through U.S. influence at the national and international levels.

In his definitive book on the subject,
The Pinochet File (2004), author Peter Kornbluh, head of the National Security Archive in Washington DC, documents in fine detail how the U.S. government wielded an “invisible blockade”, behind the scenes and well out of the public eye, to weaken Chile’s economy and isolate the socialist country on the international stage to the point where a domestic coup could happen. It worked, and by 1973 the economic and political centers of Chile were indeed ripe for being overthrown. (more details here)

The CIA sponsored and supported the Chilean military in its toppling of Allende’s government on September 11, 1973 — the “first 9-11”, as many Chileans today know it — in which Allende died and the reins of government were taken over by a military general, Augusto Pinochet, who went on to rule for decades to devastating effect. Chile’s economy has been safely contained within the U.S. politico-economic sphere of influence ever since then. As a society, though, Chile up to today has never really recovered from the blunt-force trauma of that 1973 coup and the ensuing years of brutal military rule under Pinochet, a U.S.-supported dictator.

Meanwhile, in the past few years, the government of Venezuela under president Maduro has been fighting off its own domestic coup attempts — among them, a
helicopter attack on the country’s supreme court building just a couple months ago — and has been lucky enough so far to put those attempted coups down. But with the Venezuelan economy now in critical condition, violent street protests on the rise and the country’s U.S.-supported political opposition calling for regime change, it would seem that time is running out. “You can hear the ice cracking” in Venezuela, as one Obama administration official put it. “You know there’s a crisis coming.”

And the United States, through both Republican and Democratic party administrations, has certainly had a hand in making that ice crack and creating such crises in Venezuela, just as it has done in Chile and other Latin American countries for decades now.

We would all do well to understand that the recent rant by so-called president Trump about the possible use of a “military option” by the USA against Venezuela is only the tip of a much bigger, deeper iceberg. That said, the stakes would seem to be far higher for Venezuela today than they were back then for Chile. The real prize — the subjection of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves on the international market — now seems within the USA’s reach, though obviously anything could happen.

Will the oil-dependent nation of Venezuela, in the end, succumb to yet another U.S.-sponsored military coup as part of a
long history of such interventions in South America? Or will Venezuela eventually rebound and recover, living to fight on another day? The answer to that may well lie in the hands of the common Venezuelan people, and how united and strongly they can stand up to the very real dangers facing democracy in their country by the greedy, oil-grabbing empire to the north.

The Most Curious Creature of All

The world of politics, as they say, makes for strange bedfellows indeed. The Right sleeps around with the Left, the Left sleeps around with the Right, and the Center sleeps around with just about anybody they can find across the spectrum. Nothing unusual about that, though, right? Politics, after all, is arguably the world’s oldest profession.

But among all the individuals that we can find whenever we explore the wondrous world of politics, none is more exotic, alien, peculiar and vexing than the most curious political creature of them all. I’m talking, of course, about the White American Liberal (WAL).

What makes this creature so curious in the political animal kingdom? No. 1 is the double standard. Every person in politics has a double standard of some sort or another, naturally. But the White American Liberal has perfected the double standard and raised it to an art form.

For a recent example of such a curious creature, we need look no further than to Dennis Kucinich, the former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the midwestern state of Ohio. Kucinich, an American of European descent, has long stood as a champion of liberal causes in everything from abortion to war — sometimes in contradiction to that towering castle of American neo-liberal capitalism to which he belongs, the Democratic Party. Kucinich even won a “Gandhi Peace Award” in 2003 from a U.S. non-profit organization run by other White American Liberals.

Kucinich ran for president of the United States twice (2004 and 2008) on liberal campaign platforms, but lost. After retiring from the U.S. Congress in 2013, Mr. Kucinich decided to become a “political analyst”. For which media company, you ask? Why, for none other than the bastion of right-wing extremism, Fox News. Yes, you read that right: Dennis Kucinich has been using his credentials as a WAL pundit these past few years on such popular Fox News programs as “The O’Reilly Factor” (goodbye and good riddance, Bill).

It was on
one of these recent Fox News programs that Kucinich and Fox program host Sean Hannity, an unapologetic and mostly uninformed right-winger, wholeheartedly agreed about the existence of a “deep state”, an invisible government of sorts operating behind the public façade of the U.S. government today and working beyond anyone’s control. “You have politicization of the agencies that is resulting in leaks…and the intention is to take down a president,” Kucinich said, referring to current U.S. president Donald Trump and his many problems with U.S. intelligence agencies. “Now, this is very dangerous to America. It’s a threat to our republic. It constitutes a clear and present danger to our way of life.”

Mighty scary words there: “a clear and present danger” to the American Way of Life, or AWOL. We should all be concerned about something so dangerous to the public. But wait a minute — hasn’t Dennis Kucinich himself, as a vaunted member of the White American Liberal class, served the aims of the deep state in the past? The answer is yes, in fact, he has.

On September 14, 2001 — just three days after the 9-11 attacks —
Kucinich joined 419 other members of both houses of the U.S. Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, in passing House Joint Resolution 64, which would allow then-U.S. president George W. Bush sweeping powers in the newly declared “war on terrorism”. Only one member of the U.S. Congress bothered to vote against that resolution, and that was African American representative Barbara Lee of California. For Lee’s brave vote of conscience and her well-placed concern about giving the U.S. president such broad powers, she was condemned by conservatives and liberals alike.

President Bush signed the resolution into law as
Public Law 107-40, “Authorization for Use of Military Force”, on 18 September 2001, a week after the 9-11 attacks. The law was used from then on by the Bush administration to justify, among many other bad things, the suspension of fundamental habeas corpus rights of hundreds of illegally held prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the wiretapping of innocent U.S. citizens on a mass scale at home.

Fifteen years and several overseas wars later, Barack Obama, on his way out the door as U.S. president,
issued a report that essentially gave his legal blessing to that same law as “provid[ing] the domestic legal authority for the United States to use military force against the terrorist threats” of organizations like al Qaida and the Taliban, justifying Obama’s decision to bomb Syria. That was just about the best possible Christmas present that president-elect Donald Trump could have asked for, and in the short time he has been in office, Trump has continued those war policies of the Bush-Obama years to devastating effect.

And to think: All of this was made possible in part by White American Liberals in the U.S. Congress like Dennis Kucinich, who helped get the law passed in the first place. Now, in 2017, Kucinich crows wildly on Fox News about the dangers of a deep state that seems intent on taking Trump down (not that some of us wouldn’t enjoy watching Trump being disgraced and led out of office in an orange jumpsuit). Yet, the blame for the current state of political affairs, and the continued rise of the deep state, must also be laid at the feet of Kucinich and other WALs like him who played footsie with the U.S. deep state at key moments since 2001.

Kucinich has also advocated over the years the creation of a new “
Department of Peace” that would replace the current U.S. Department of Defense (aptly named the Department of War up until 1947, two years after the end of World War II). This new “DoP” as proposed by Kucinich would be a cabinet-level department in the executive branch of government.

While the idea of such a Peace Department overseen by a U.S. president sounds nice in theory, all kinds of questions and liberal double standards arise: Wouldn’t this new Department of Peace then become part of, or at least serve the aims of, the deep state that Kucinich is so alarmed about? Could this new department even begin to make a dent in the worldwide military-industrial complex that has come to make war the ultimate profit-making venture in the 21st century? Would world peace then be something controlled and manipulated by the U.S. government, instead of fostered by the people themselves? So many questions abound.

Another factor that distinguishes the curious White American Liberal in the political animal kingdom is the deathly fear of being branded unpatriotic. Such liberals will say anything, do anything, to avoid being branded with a scarlet
U (for Unpatriot) on their chests and being called a coward to their faces. It strikes fear into the very hearts of white liberals, activating a primitive flight-or-fight instinct deep within them like nothing else can.

I happened to be in the United States at the time of 9-11, and I saw firsthand how members of major U.S. news media organizations — many of them liberal and white individuals — literally trampled over each other in the rush to follow the self-appointed patriotism police at Fox News in shamefully cheerleading for war. One TV episode from around that time still stands out clearly in my mind: a live Fox News program in which the host was berating another White American Liberal icon, Medea Benjamin of the women’s activist group
Code Pink, who was rightly criticizing Bush. “Why do you hate America?” the Fox News host demanded to know. Benjamin was aghast. “I don’t hate America!” she shot back, “I love America!” The conversation went downhill from there.

The White American Liberal, like a fish in water, will always bite on the bait of being called “unpatriotic” or “un-American” out of fear. To be fair, though, Japanese liberals here in Japan do the same thing with right-wing accusations of being a
hi-kokumin — literally, a “non-citizen” or traitor. I guess it’s just something in the liberal DNA worldwide that you can’t change.

If you ask me, we should just stop dealing with such curious political creatures as White American Liberals altogether, step around them and the political obstacles they seem to be constantly erecting, and then muster the truly progressive, grassroots people out there who are ready to get down and fight for the changes that we all seek. No more liberal double standards or patriotic fears or wishy-washy apologies or weak-kneed compromises: We all come together across our societal differences and join hands to fight the good fight (of course, using the Gandhi/King principle of nonviolent action to guide us), and really make things happen.

Then, what to do with that most curious creature of all? One idea might be to just gather together all the best and brightest of the White American Liberals in one nice, air-conditioned museum someplace in the continental United States and make those WALs the subject of a major public exhibit. There, paying visitors could point and gawk and be awed at how those liberal marvels of nature sitting there behind the thick glass wall have driven themselves to near-extinction in the U.S. political scene today.

That solution could work well in two ways: It would give the curious White American Liberals on display at the museum a permanent, captive, non-questioning liberal audience — a new base. And, more importantly, it would free up the rest of us to move progressively ahead and get down to the serious work of
real social change, now and for the future. Advance tickets for the museum show, anyone?

Remembering Judi Bari


Most people in the United States and around the world, it is fair to say, have probably never heard of Judi Bari — or if they have, they may just barely recall a news story about some crazy domestic American eco-terrorists blowing themselves up in a car.

But if such people had ever spent any time on the far northern coast of California in the U.S., they would need no introduction or explanation as to who Bari was. They would already know.

A few weeks ago, March 2, marked exactly 20 years since the death of Judi Bari. In the era of Trump and the elite one-percenters who now occupy the White House and seem intent on reducing Planet Earth to a pile of rubble, Bari’s life and legacy as an environmental activist, feminist and advocate for working people still have much to teach us today — both the rewards and risks of standing up to the forces of authority in the USA.

From the 1980s onward, Bari was active in protecting the old-growth, ancient redwood forests of primarily Mendocino and Humboldt counties on California’s North Coast from being destroyed by logging companies. These are lush rainforests with gigantic redwood trees that date up to centuries old, and are every bit as important to the ecological balance of the planet as the Amazon rainforests of South America.

A radical environmental group by the name of
Earth First! was Bari’s home base as an activist. The group’s slogan was “No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth” and it rejected the milder protest tactics of other liberal-run, mainstream environmental organizations. Local branches of Earth First! sprang up around the western United States, with one central goal: putting a stop to the human destruction of nature by any means necessary.

What Bari brought to Earth First! was women’s voices and active participation in what was up to then a mostly White male-dominated hierarchy. Bari also insisted that some of the more dangerous practices of Earth First!, such as tree-spiking (driving long metal spikes into redwood trees as a deterrent to the loggers’ chainsaws) be stopped. She promoted a code of nonviolent protest and demonstration as a means to ending the cycle of human violence that was destroying the ancient forests in the first place.

Bari, by all accounts, was a dynamic speaker and effective grassroots organizer and could move large groups of people to follow her. She was a carpenter by trade, a labor union member, feminist, a single mother of two children, and a musician who sang and played a mean violin at the forest-protection rallies that she helped organize. She often used humor as a political weapon, but pulled no punches when it came to vilifying the logging companies that were razing the redwood forests and leaving such complex ecosystems in ruins.

If you have ever seen, like I have, a California redwood forest that has been clear-cut by a logging company — that is, completely leveled to the ground — you would never forget it. All that remains of a clear-cut forest are huge, flattened redwood tree stumps, and shredded tree bark and sawdust scattered everywhere on the ground. There are no wild animals to be found and no birds flying anywhere nearby. It is completely silent, the sound of death in nature. The silent air reeks of the smell of grease and oil, lingering long after the chainsaws and logging trucks have gone.

Timber wars

In summer 1990, Bari and other activists organized a protest campaign called “Redwood Summer” that would significantly raise the stakes in what were being called the “timber wars” of northern California and other western U.S. states.

Bari got the name and inspiration for “Redwood Summer” from
“Freedom Summer”, a 1964 mass-volunteer effort organized by African American civil rights groups in Mississippi to help get Black citizens registered to vote amid White racist violence. Just as Freedom Summer had done in defense of Black civil rights, Redwood Summer, under Bari and fellow organizers, sent out a call for concerned people across the country to come out to California in large numbers and join them in nonviolent resistance to the help save the last of the redwood forests — and to add an extra layer of protection from White redneck violence against environmental activists.

It was on 24 May 1990, in the city of Oakland, California, when the violence surrounding the timber wars of northern California came to a head. As Bari was driving with her partner, Darryl Cherney, a fellow Earth First! activist, to a local gig in support of Redwood Summer, a bomb exploded in her car and severely injured them both.

The Oakland police as well as agents from the local FBI office were at the scene of the car bombing within minutes, and at the hospital, they informed the wounded Bari and Cherney that they were under arrest and being charged with knowingly transporting a homemade bomb in the car. They were being treated as eco-terrorists, and that was how the American news media played up the story at the time. Bari and Cherney, on the other hand, strongly believed that the car bombing was the work of the timber companies in an effort to stop the Redwood Summer campaign from going forward as planned.

A couple months later, the FBI and Oakland police dropped all charges against the two activists due to lack of evidence. Yet Bari and her partner were still publicly tainted with that “eco-terrorist” image, despite their innocence. In 1991 she and Cherney
filed a federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland police, citing false arrest and a violation of their civil rights. The FBI, in the meantime, was making little effort to find out the true identity of the bomber(s) of the two environmental activists.

The reason for the FBI’s lack of interest in this car bombing on American soil in broad daylight soon became apparent. It was found during the trial process that the
FBI had organized a “bomb school” just a month before the actual car bombing of Bari happened. The bomb school was organized by an FBI agent, Frank Doyle, and offered as a community college course at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California in Humboldt County, an area that was ground zero of the timber wars in the region at the time. Among the students attending the FBI bomb school classes were officers with the Oakland police department. The bomb school site was located on land that had already been clear-cut by the Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, one of the major timber companies in northern California.

And what did they do at this FBI bomb school? They practiced blowing up a car and then responding to the crime scene. What kind of car was it? A Subaru — the exact same make and model of car that Judi Bari had been driving at the time. And a few weeks later, when a bomb exploded in Bari’s car in Oakland, who showed up at the actual crime scene within minutes? You guessed it: The FBI’s bomb school instructor, Frank Doyle, and some of his earlier bomb school “students” with the Oakland police department. So, it appeared that the FBI was linked somehow to the car bombing itself; no wonder the agency was in no great hurry to investigate the crime.

In any case, Bari always considered the car bombing to be what she called an “assassination attempt”. This was no mere warning to some loudmouthed environmentalist to get her to shut up. She was not meant to survive the bombing; she was meant to be eliminated from the scene altogether.

Bari miraculously recovered from her severe wounds, but the deep bodily injuries she sustained in the bomb blast took their toll. A few years later, she was diagnosed with cancer.
She died in her cabin in rural Mendocino County, California, on 2 March 1997, two decades ago this month.

Among those who spoke at Bari’s memorial service and gave moving tributes to her work on behalf of the redwood forests — and the deeper spiritual meaning behind the struggle — was
John Trudell, a Native American activist who had had his own experiences with persecution by the FBI.

Bari had wanted the federal lawsuit against the FBI and Oakland police to continue even after her passing, and it was indeed carried on. In 2002, Bari, in death, got the last word. The
court verdict in her lawsuit came out favorably, and the FBI was ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages. My family and I were living temporarily on the North Coast of California at that time (in Arcata), and I can still remember how excited local people were to hear the news about the late Bari’s legal victory against the FBI and how widely the local press covered the story.

Dangerous times

Looking back now, 20 years after Judi Bari’s death, we can only ask: What made her a target of the timber companies and the FBI? How could she have been considered such a threat to the status quo that she needed to be “neutralized”?

There are a few reasons. As mentioned earlier, she was an effective organizer and could move large groups of people toward a common goal. But Bari not only organized White environmental activist tree-huggers. She also worked actively to bring the timber employees and the forest protectors together. She understood that the same big American timber corporations that were screwing their own logging employees with low wages and little job security were, in fact, the same corporate criminals that were raping the land and robbing the Earth of precious natural resources for the future.

She recognized that the fight of the environmental activists and the logging company workers were one and the same. She tried to get the two sides talking to each other and even supporting each other. To some degree, she succeeded in that — which must have scared the hell out of the corporate powers-that-be in America. That alone would have been reason enough to want to eliminate her.

But there is another reason that is seldom talked about, which I think is deserving of mention here: Bari, as a White activist, took up the causes of people of color in the United States and followed in their footsteps. It is one thing for Whites to make a lot of noise amongst themselves about saving nature. But it’s quite another thing to have such Whites crossing U.S. society’s racial barriers and standing in solidarity, as Judi did, with the Black civil rights struggle and with radicals of color such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement (AIM), all of which had been targets of FBI spying, harassment and/or political assassination in the past under its
Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO).

Bari was an activist who knew her American history well, but even she seemed to have underestimated the lengths to which the FBI and other such government agencies, in support of powerful U.S. corporate interests, would go to bring the hammer down on Whites who dared to reach out and stand together with people of color in their own struggles. But it’s a reality that many today understand much more clearly, in the wake of Judi’s life and death.

And the car bombing of 1990 that went on to claim her life? The identity of the person(s) who planted the bomb under the driver’s seat in Bari’s car that day has never been found, though the
search for truth in the case goes on. The question remains unanswered: Who bombed Judi Bari? A recently released documentary film asks that very question; this important movie can now be viewed in its entirety on the Web.

So, here we are in 2017, two decades after Judi has been gone, with a corporate CEO by the name of Trump and his cronies sitting comfortably in the White House. The state of the planet’s ecological balance has reached a critical level, and people of color across the board are being targeted more than ever before. U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights have been steadily eroding and law enforcement agencies, armed to the teeth with military-grade weaponry, often seem out of control. Things look much worse today than when Judi was alive.

Yet if the situation looks increasingly dire, it is also true that we have more choices as well in how we can deal with it. We can do what Bari did — strategize and organize across barriers of gender, race, occupation — and work to unite people instead of dividing them. We can stand up and speak out in ever greater numbers, find common (sacred) ground with each other, and move together toward a common goal. We can keep our eyes open to the rising risks involved, but also to the many long-term rewards in overcoming dangerous or even deadly obstacles.

We can
remember Judi Bari.

A New Media Storyline for MLK (pt. 1)

Coming out against the Vietnam war: Martin Luther King Jr.
at Riverside Church, New York City, 4 April 1967

Today, 16 January, the people of the United States of America will recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a national holiday. And just as they have for most of the 31 years that the birthday of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been a nationally observed holiday, the American news media will basically get the story wrong.

Every year around this time, the storyline of the U.S. press goes
something like this:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. battled racial segregation laws in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 [cue up: brief excerpts of violent police scenes against Black marchers], followed by a heartwarming speech later that year during a big public demonstration at the U.S. capital of Washington DC in which he shared his dream of future racial harmony in the USA [cue up: brief excerpts of “I Have a Dream” speech]. In 1965 King marched in Selma, Alabama for voting rights for African American citizens [cue up: more brief scenes of police violence against Black marchers]. And finally, in 1968 King was killed by the single bullet of a lone, crazed assassin, ending King’s dream forever [cue up: brief scene of a fatally injured King lying flat on his back on a second-floor motel walkway].

That’s how the American media version of Dr. King’s life has gone for most of the past 49 years since his death: with the sad tale of a nonviolent, naïve dreamer who stood up for the rights of his people but who died never having achieved his dream of racial harmony between black children and white children. Martin Luther King Jr. — the harmless, hopeless dreamer.

But King’s own actions during the last full year of his life tell us a much different story, one that the U.S. press establishment has never been comfortable with reporting in detail, in part because the press played a direct role in knocking King down at the time. Here are parts of the U.S. media’s yearly storyline on Martin Luther King Jr. and the national holiday in his name that have been all but erased from history and public memory:

• Vietnam war awakening — Rev. King, by his own account and that of others who knew him, was shown the January 1967 edition of Ramparts, a leftist political/literary magazine based in San Francisco, California, just after the magazine had come out. That issue of Ramparts featured a lengthy article by U.S. educator and activist William Pepper titled “The Children of Vietnam”, based on evidence he gathered during a trip to Vietnam. The report by Pepper featured shocking photos of innocent Vietnamese children who had been maimed or severely burned by napalm (jellied gasoline) used by U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Rev. King would later say that once he saw on those pages of Ramparts the truth of what his own government was doing to innocent civilians in Vietnam, he knew he could never remain silent about the Vietnam war again, as he had been in the past.

• Coming out against war — From the pulpit of the interdenominational Riverside Church in downtown New York City (a church financed and built decades earlier by the wealthy Rockefeller family), Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gives one of the most important speeches of his life — if not the most important one. In “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”, co-written with historian Vincent Harding, King speaks for about an hour and announces for the first time his opposition to the U.S. war of aggression on the Southeast Asian nation of Vietnam. “…I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos [of America] without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those [Black] boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent,” King declares.

King points out the cruel irony of young African American men being drafted in disproportionately high numbers to fight side by side with young white American men in Vietnam, burning down the villages of Vietnamese peasants together, while back at home in the USA those same young men of different races might not even be able to attend the same schools or live in the same neighborhoods.

The U.S. war on the people of Vietnam was a symptom of something deeper and more sinister, King says, than just a matter of simply fighting against communism abroad: The real enemy is capitalism at home in the USA, which had turned the nation into a “thing-oriented society”. King points out how the USA is increasingly on the wrong side of struggles for freedom around the world, and that it is time to look beyond the U.S. war in Vietnam to the real causes of war, poverty and racism. He calls for a “true revolution of values” in the USA, and quoting the Christian bible, urges America to support such a revolution: “These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. ‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light’. We in the West must support these revolutions.”

King encourages young people in the USA to refuse to fight in the Vietnam war by becoming conscientious objectors. King is instantly welcomed into the broad anti-war movement in the USA, but is immediately ostracized and isolated among those, both Black and white, who think the “civil rights” struggle should be kept separate from the anti-Vietnam war movement. King’s direct access to U.S. president Lyndon Johnson, a southern Democrat who had worked with Black leaders for civil rights in the past and who also dramatically escalated the U.S. war on Vietnam, is now gone forever.

King chose the language of nonviolent revolution, strong and clear, to make his case for coming out against the war. The date of King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech was 4 April 1967 — a date that would figure significantly in his remaining life.

• Condemned by the press — The influential U.S. news media establishment reacted swiftly and strongly against King following his “Beyond Vietnam” speech. The Washington Post publishes an editorial that ends on a merciless note with these words: “Dr. King has done a grave injury to those who are his natural allies in a great struggle to remove ancient abuses from our public life; and he has done an even graver injury to himself. Many who have listened to him with respect will never again accord him the same confidence. He has diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country and to his people. And that is a great tragedy” {*1}.

The New York Times publishes an editorial, titled “Dr. King’s Error”, in which it chastises King for trying to link together the fight for civil rights of Black people at home in the USA with the anti-war movement spreading across the nation, which the Times called “two public problems that are distinct and separate. By drawing them together, Dr. King has done a disservice to both” {*2}. A comparison by King in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech between the USA and Nazi Germany draws a swift rebuke from America’s newspaper of record: “…Dr. King can only antagonize public opinion in this country by recklessly comparing American military methods to those of the Nazis testing ‘new medicine and new tortures in the concentration camps of Europe’. The facts are harsh, but they do not justify such slander.”

In severely criticizing King and his new anti-war stance, the big American media companies were essentially trying to put King in his place and strip him of his credibility among the public. But one thing that the
Washington Post and New York Times never bothered to tell the public at the time back in 1967 is that these two newspapers (and several other U.S. major news media outlets as well) had been maintaining close ties at the highest levels of their news companies to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the most powerful spy agency within the U.S. government, as this writer and others have documented {*3}. Such news organizations were far from being objective, neutral sources of reporting on King and his activities.

• Challenging press hypocrisy — A few weeks later, on 30 April 1967, Rev. King reconfirms his stance against the Vietnam war during a Sunday sermon that he preaches at his home church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In his sermon, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” (text link here), King reiterates much of his earlier speech at the Riverside Church in New York, but with an important addition: He takes the American press to task for its hypocrisy in the way that news media companies reported on him both before and after he came out against the Vietnam war:

“There’s been a lot of applauding over the last few years. They’ve applauded our total movement and they’ve applauded me. America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery [Alabama in 1956], when I stood before thousands of Negroes getting ready to riot when my home was bombed and said, ‘We can’t do it this way’. They applauded us in the sit-in movement when we nonviolently decided to sit in at lunch counters. The applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. They praised us in Albany and Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause and so noble in its praise when I was saying ‘Be nonviolent toward Bull Connor’, when I was saying ‘Be nonviolent toward Jim Clark’ [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff]. There’s something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say ‘Be nonviolent toward Jim Clark’, but will curse and damn you when you say ‘Be nonviolent toward little brown Vietnamese children’. There’s something wrong with that press!”

“Three Evils” speech — Rev. King is the keynote speaker of a political gathering he helped organize in Chicago on 31 August and 1 September 1967 by the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP), a group of prominent intellectuals and activists on the political left who wanted to directly challenge the pro-war policies of both the Republican and Democratic parties. In this memorable but long-forgotten speech, King attacks what he calls the “three evils” of contemporary American society: racism, militarism and excessive materialism (speech transcript here). King, in putting his support behind the NCNP, saw much potential common ground to be tapped between the civil rights movement, with its focus on Black equality, and the broad anti-war movement of mostly white young people.

The NCNP conference this Labor Day weekend includes laying the groundwork for fielding an independent presidential candidate in the upcoming 1968 election. The presidential candidate nominated at the NCNP conference? Martin Luther King Jr. himself, with pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock nominated as King’s vice presidential running mate. (This first annual meeting of the NCNP turned out to be its last, due to the presence of
agents provocateurs and U.S. government infiltrators in the audience who managed to sabotage the group’s activities.)

• Poor people’s campaign — Rev. King ends the year 1967 by announcing on 4 December his next big campaign: taking the model of local marches against poverty in the U.S. South to the major cities of the North, and expanding them greatly in scale. The first target of this massive Poor People’s March: Washington DC, in spring of the coming year, to be followed by a series of major marches on other big northern U.S. cities as well.

“This will be no mere one-day march in Washington,” King says, but rather “a trek to the nation’s capital by suffering and outraged citizens who will stay until some definite and positive action is taken to provide jobs and income for the poor.” People will flood into Washington DC in their thousands, pitch tents, and lay claim to the financial resources and governmental policy priorities that are rightfully theirs as U.S. citizens, he states: “We will go there, we will demand to be heard, and we will stay until America responds”

King says this new anti-poverty campaign will involve a base of about 3,000 African American volunteers, and other volunteers across the racial spectrum, from at least 10 major northern U.S. cities, and grow from there. The human resources and networks of the anti-war/peace movement in the U.S. will be used to help carry out the poor people’s campaign at the grassroots level, he said, and all participants in the Poor People’s March are to be trained in nonviolent tactics of resistance. King emphasizes that this sustained, nonviolent campaign against poverty and war in the United States is a preferred alternative to the violent, destructive riots that are sure to engulf U.S. cities in the near future.

• Olympic boycott — Ten days later, on 14 December 1967, Rev. King enters a raging controversy in international sports when he announces his public support for Black American athletes who are threatening to boycott the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City the following year, refusing to playing as part of the U.S. team. This Olympic boycott, King says, is “a protest and a struggle against racism and injustice” toward Black athletes and other athletes who were being discriminated against {*5}.

(continued in part 2)

A New Media Storyline for MLK (pt. 2)

Cartoon_Shreveport Times_1967
Editorial cartoon, Shreveport Times
(Shreveport, LA), 13 Dec. 1967

(continued from part 1)

• 1968 — The new year of 1968 begins on a turbulent note with a severe routing of U.S. forces in South Vietnam as part of the successful “Tet offensive” of the North Vietnamese guerrilla fighters, exposing the lies of U.S. military commanders and President Johnson himself that the USA was winning the war in Vietnam. U.S. public opinion against the war rises steadily from this point onward. Rev. King, at this critical time, stands at the forefront of the nation’s anti-war movement. And, as the above editorial cartoon shows, King is being increasingly viewed by white America as a rabble-rouser and a "troublemaker" who needed to be dealt with; U.S. government agencies such as the FBI are treating King as public enemy No. 1.

• Shanty towns in Washington — Rev. King announces on 2 February 1968 that the ongoing plans for the kickoff of the massive Poor People’s March in Washington DC, scheduled for a few months later in April, are basically to occupy Washington. This will include the erecting of makeshift shantytowns by thousands of poor people in the nation’s capital as a symbol of the USA’s deep poverty problems. In doing so, he says, the poor people of America hope to provoke some drastic policy changes from the U.S. Congress and also appeal to the conscience of the nation.

King says that poor children joining the march, who are in dire need of medical treatment, will occupy the hospitals of Washington DC until they get treated, while other demonstrators will take their protest directly to their members of Congress, and still others will “descend upon government offices in waves”. King is seeking a reaction from the U.S. government: “We plan on staying [in Washington DC] until we get a response. If a response is not coming, we will escalate our methods. Disruptive measures will be used only as a last resort”

A few days later, on 8 February, Rev. King gives the U.S. government a price tag of at least $10 billion as the amount the government needs to urgently set aside in its fiscal budget to meet the job and income needs of the thousands of African Americans who will be joining the Poor People’s March in Washington DC a few months later. At a time when the U.S. government is spending billions of dollars on a losing war in Vietnam, King says, allocating $10 billion for the needs of poor Black people at home in the USA should not be hard to do

• “Unfulfilled Dreams” speech — On 3 March 1968, Rev. King preaches a Sunday sermon in Atlanta, Georgia at his home church, the Ebenezer Baptist Church, on the theme of “Unfulfilled Dreams”. Speaking mostly in Biblical terms, King delivers a personal reflection and confession of sorts on his successes and failures. King was a man who always chose his words carefully, and the deeper meaning behind his words are hard to miss: Long gone are his optimistic “I Have a Dream” sentiments of racial harmony from five years before at the big March on Washington. That dream had not been fulfilled; the reality of racist violence and social upheaval still confronted his country. King speaks powerfully and prophetically to his congregation this morning, almost as if sensing he does not have much time left.

• Peace efforts in Africa — A few days later, it is confirmed that Rev. King will be joining a delegation of four other well-known African American leaders on a peacemaking mission to the African nation of Nigeria starting 15 April {*8}. The purpose of the mission is to help mediate between the two sides in the country’s civil war, which had begun the year before: the heavy-handed military government of Nigeria on one side, versus the Biafra region of the country that had seceded and declared itself an independent state on the other side. The underlying cause of the civil war was the supply of oil in the region. Millions of civilians in the Biafra region were reported to be starving to death due to a blockade by the Nigerian government, and relief efforts for Biafra were springing up all over the world.

While the U.S. government claims to be neutral in the conflict and thus offers no help to the millions of starving Nigerians, the U.S. is giving military assistance to the Nigerian government. American companies are heavily invested in the oil-rich region as well. By going to Nigeria as a peace broker, Martin Luther King Jr. is standing in direct contradiction to U.S. government policy in the Biafran war. But, it is reported, King will be back in the United States in time for the start of his massive Poor People’s March on Washington DC, which is moving ahead as scheduled for 22 April 1968.

• National Cathedral address — At the end of that month, on 31 March 1968, Rev. King preaches a Sunday morning sermon to an overflowing crowd of hundreds at the prestigious Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC, titling his talk “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”. He had given variations of this same sermon several times in the past, but this day it takes on a whole new meaning: His planned Poor People’s March on Washington DC is now just a few weeks away, and there is indeed a sense of revolution in the air.

King had evolved and come full circle since his “I Have a Dream” speech in this same city just five years before at the big March on Washington. This time, at the National Cathedral, he uses the metaphor of “being awake” as a sort of counterpoint to the dreaming of the past. Delivering this sermon was a masterful orator at work, crystalizing everything he had worked for up to this point. His eyes are wide open now to what he calls the “difficult days ahead in the struggle for justice and peace”. But, he says, “I will not yield to a politic of despair. I’m going to maintain hope as we come to Washington in this campaign. The cards are stacked against us. This time we will really confront a Goliath. God grant that we will be that David of truth set out against the Goliath of injustice, the Goliath of neglect, the Goliath of refusing to deal with the problems, and go on with the determination to make America the truly great America that it is called to be.”

In a press conference following his sermon, King confirms that the Poor People’s March will begin in Washington DC on 22 April as planned, followed later in the week by 3,000 to 4,000 selected demonstrators who will build shantytowns at a site within the city, symbolizing the need for the government to deal with poverty. That, in turn, will be followed by a much larger demonstration of hundreds of thousands of people coming to Washington DC on 15 June.

If that does not get any meaningful results from the U.S. government, King hints, then the Democratic Party’s upcoming 1968 election convention later that summer in Chicago might also be targeted for nonviolent protests — the Democrats “will have a real awakening”, he says — along with the Republican Party’s planned convention in Miami Beach, Florida
{*9}. King is turning up the heat as high as it could go on the political powers that be in America.

That heat was no doubt felt all the way across town at the White House, where, that very same evening of 31 March, President Lyndon Johnson announces in a televised address to the nation that he will not be running for re-election in the next presidential campaign. Johnson is a defeated president by then, having gone up against public opinion in escalating the war and losing that public support in the process. And it surely did not help Johnson to have Martin Luther King Jr. publicly opposing him and his policies, both domestic and foreign. King’s address at the National Cathedral that Sunday morning would be the last major speech of his life.

• Assassination — Rev. King’s planned trip to Africa as a diplomat for peace at the international level never took place. King is killed by the single bullet of an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee on 4 April 1968. That date is significant: It was exactly one year to the day since King had first come out against the Vietnam war in his speech at the Riverside Church in New York City.

The Poor People’s March on Washington went ahead in the wake of King’s killing that spring, however, with a few thousand volunteers setting up a tent camp called “Resurrection City”. A few months later, the police forcibly removed the volunteers and cleared the area. Without King to lead it, the poor people’s campaign all but withered and dried up, receiving few if any meaningful concessions from the U.S. government in addressing the problem of poverty throughout the nation. The American war in Vietnam would go on for another five years or so.

• “Lone crazed assassin” theory — Part of the U.S. news media storyline every year in commemorating the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is the tale of James Earl Ray, a petty criminal who had been in and out of jail, as the man who relentlessly stalks Rev. King during his final days out of racial animosity and finally catches up with him that day in Memphis when King steps out of his motel room at the Lorraine Motel and Ray shoots him to death.

But there is one big problem with the U.S. media’s reporting on James Ray as the killer of Rev. King: It never actually happened. The lone, crazed assassin theory is merely that — an official theory, and not a well-constructed one at that, as to how King was assassinated. The true facts of the killing of King, which have come out in bits and pieces in the decades since his death, provide us with a much different and more disturbing conclusion.

Ray fought for years from inside of prison, with the strong support of the surviving family members of Martin Luther King Jr. and some of King’s closest associates, to clear his own name in the notorious murder, and in demanding the public trial he had been denied from the beginning

Ray, the accused assassin, at one point retained as his attorney William Pepper, a former friend and associate of Martin Luther King Jr. It was Pepper, remember, who had published the shocking report for
Ramparts magazine back in 1967, “The Children of Vietnam”, that had been shown to King, eventually leading King to come out against the war in Vietnam in the first place.

Nobody has done more than attorney William Pepper, in fact, in establishing the closest thing to the truth regarding the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Pepper has published several books over the years on the King assassination
{*11}. In his research and investigation for those books, Pepper presents chilling evidence of King being under military surveillance and followed in his final weeks by a U.S. army special forces sniper team — right up to the moment King was killed.

And it was Pepper, as an attorney for the King family, who helped bring to trial the only court case ever held in relation to the death of Rev. King. In that case,
Coretta Scott King, et al, vs. Loyd Jowers, et al, the jury decided on 8 December 1999 that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed on 4 April 1968 as a result of a conspiracy that involved Loyd Jowers, a local Memphis restaurant owner, and also a conspiracy involving U.S. “governmental agencies”.

And the actual shooter of Martin Luther King Jr.? The shooter has been identified as Frank Strausser, a police officer with the Memphis Police Department (MPD) and a highly skilled marksman back in 1967. The MPD shooter fired the single, lethal shot at King from behind bushes just across the street from the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King and his entourage were staying. The ensuing cover-up at various levels kept the MPD’s role in the assassination secret for years.

It had taken more than three decades for the truth to rise again about Rev. King’s death in the trial brought by Pepper and the King family, but it was now out. “This verdict is not only a great victory for my family, but also a great victory for America. It is a great victory for truth itself,” Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain leader,
said afterward.

And where was the American watchdog press during this trial of the century? Fast asleep as usual or busy chasing down other more titillating stories around that time, such as a presidential sex scandal and yet another U.S.-led war overseas. The 1999 conspiracy trial of the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. appeared nowhere on the
list of the top reported news stories of that year or, indeed, of that whole decade.

The wrap-up: Such media treatment should come as little surprise now in 2017, considering that while Rev. King was alive and pushing ahead with his activities for social and economic justice in the richest country on the planet, he was often vilified by the press in the U.S., from the local level up to the national level. In some cases, we now know, members of the news media even cooperated with U.S. government agencies such as the FBI to smear, discredit and otherwise distort King’s message and work. And yet the myth of a free, unfettered American press persists.

Today, 49 years after King’s death and 31 years since his birthday became a nationally observed holiday in the USA, the public still receives a media-washed version of King’s life that comes nowhere near to being complete or even correct on many counts. As we approach the half-century mark of King’s demise next year, it is more important than ever that people insist that Rev. King in death be reported on more accurately and fully as the social revolutionary he was in life — not as some mere harmless, hopeless dreamer, but rather someone who posed a real threat to the existing structures of political and economic power in the USA.

We will know we have succeeded in our insistence when a new U.S. media storyline of the observance Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2018, exactly a half-century after Rev. King’s death, is something more along these truthful lines:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for which today’s national holiday is named, battled racial segregation laws in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 [cue up: extended footage of violent police scenes against Black marchers], followed by a heartwarming speech later that year during a big public demonstration at the U.S. capital of Washington DC in which he shared his dream of future racial harmony in the USA [cue up: footage of “I Have a Dream” speech]. In 1965 King marched in Selma, Alabama for voting rights for African American citizens [cue up: more extended footage of police violence against Black marchers], and was instrumental in getting a historic voting rights bill passed into law that year.

In 1967, King spoke out for the first time against the U.S. war on the sovereign nation of Vietnam and the many civilian deaths that war was causing [cue up: news footage of dead Vietnamese families killed by U.S. soldiers + King’s speech at Riverside Church]. He was attacked in the U.S. press after his “Beyond Vietnam” speech [cue up: close-up shots of critical newspaper articles]. In the last year of King’s life, he increasingly spoke of “revolution” and of waking up from the dream [cue up: audio/video of King’s National Cathedral speech]. King was organizing a series of massive Poor People’s Marches, starting with one on Washington DC planned for the spring of 1968, demanding that poverty be addressed in the United States, when he was cut down by a single bullet from an assassin [cue up: scene of a fatally injured King lying flat on his back on a second-floor motel walkway].

The initial suspect, James Earl Ray, was imprisoned for the shooting. Ray long maintained his innocence in the killing, and was even supported in his quest for a public trial by the King family itself. Ray eventually died in prison without ever getting his full trial. The real killer of Martin Luther King Jr., meanwhile, has been identified since then as a Memphis Police Department sharpshooter, officer Frank Strausser.

A historic civil lawsuit was brought in 1999 by the King family [cue up: footage of Coretta Scott King giving testimony at the trial]. The final jury verdict in that trial was that U.S. “governmental agencies” had been involved in a “conspiracy” to assassinate Dr. King. But why would the U.S. government want King dead?

That question remains unanswered today. Perhaps it had something to do with Dr. King being seen as a very real threat to the government and to the favored status of major corporations in American society in his demands for an end to war, racism and militarism — and for more U.S. tax money to be spent on the millions of Americans who lived, and continue to live, below the poverty line in our country. After all, just a few months before his death, he was laying the groundwork for standing as a U.S. presidential candidate in the 1968 presidential election. In the last one year of his life, especially, King was becoming more radicalized in his political views and actions, thus becoming a thorn in the side of the political and corporate powers-that-be in the United States. He had to be removed, permanently, from the scene.

This year marks 50 years since Dr. King’s death, and today’s national holiday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is a day of reflection and action for a man many consider to be one of the most remarkable public figures of the last century: a Baptist preacher by profession, a revolutionary thinker and nonviolent social activist for peace, a tireless advocate for racial equality and economic justice in the USA. Has his dream been achieved? Will it ever be achieved?

That, of course, will be up to us.


{*1} “A Tragedy” (editorial), Washington Post, 6 April 1967, p. A20.

{*2} “Dr. King’s Error” (editorial), New York Times, 7 April 1967, p. 36.

{*3} Brian Covert, “Played by the Mighty Wurlitzer: The Press, the CIA, and the Subversion of Truth”, in Censored 2017 (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2016), pp. 251-284.

{*4} United Press International (UPI), “King Vows Capital Marches”, Chicago Tribune, 5 December 1967, p. 1A-9, and Associated Press (AP), “King Plans March of Poor on Washington”, Danville Register (Danville, VA), 5 December 1967, p. 8-B.

{*5} Associated Press, “Dr. King Backs Negro Boycott”, Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM), 15 December 1967, p. D-1.

{*6} Associated Press, “Shanties in Capital Planned by King for Poor People’s March”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 February 1968, p. 8.

{*7} Associated Press, “Key to Job Demands”, Kansas City Times (Kansas City, MO), 8 February 1968. p. 16C.

{*8} Associated Press, “Martin Luther King Plans Nigerian Visit”, Kane Republican (Kane, PA), 9 March 1968, p. 3.

{*9} Associated Press, “Dr. King Threatens Convention Protests”, The Tennessean (Nashville, TN), 1 April 1968, p. 12.

{*10} See James Earl Ray, Who Killed Martin Luther King?: The True Story by the Alleged Assassin (Washington DC: National Press Books, 1992). Foreword by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, a former close associate of King.

{*11} See William F. Pepper, Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Warner Books, 1995), and William F. Pepper, An Act of State: The Execution of Martin Luther King (London/New York: Verso, 2008). Pepper’s latest book is The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016).

When Johnny Went Marching Home Again

The recent decision by the U.S. government to put aside for now the plans to build the $3 billion Dakota Access pipeline near the sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux nation was a tremendous People’s Victory — a good example of how the forces of nonviolence and “prayerful” spirit-power can stand up to the economic and political bullying of the mightiest nation on Earth, and win.

What brought about such an unlikely victory? It may be a good time to study and reflect on that very question, for it will surely come up again in the future somewhere, someday in the USA. But without out a doubt we can chalk up the immediate victory over the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) construction to the dedication and commitment of the proud, courageous self-dubbed “water protectors” of the Sioux and other Native nations of North America. Without them, the pipeline would already be going under the Missouri River and getting ever closer to completion.

But one factor we must not overlook is the urgency that many former U.S. military veterans — Native American and non-Native veterans alike — brought to this fight over the building of the pipeline. Without them, too, there might well have been a bloodier and more tragic confrontation at Standing Rock by now. Before Johnny decided to come marching home again to rural North Dakota, the authorities responded the way they always had to Native peoples: with warnings to get out of Dodge before sundown
or else….

22 August 2016 — Construction sites of the Dakota Access pipeline are blocked at Cannon Ball, North Dakota by water protectors and their allies from Indian Country and beyond. A state of emergency has recently been declared by the governor.

3 September — On the anniversary of the infamous Whitestone massacre of 3 September 1863, in which more than 300 members of the Standing Rock Sioux nation were killed by the U.S. Army, private security guards for the Dakota Access pipeline spray the demonstrators with pepper spray and set guard dogs upon them, causing several injuries. Comparisons are made to the use of attack dogs by the police on unarmed crowds during the U.S. civil rights (read: human rights) era of the 1950s and 1960s.

27 October — Nearly 150 water protectors are arrested in escalating clashes with police, who fire upon the unarmed crowds with bean-bag grenades, douse them with pepper spray and blast them with a sound cannon. The number of arrests since the anti-pipeline actions rises to about 400.

20 November — In scenes that were witnessed around the world via social media, police fire water cannons at the protectors in sub-freezing weather and shoot at them with grenades and rubber bullets. Police deny having taken such brutal action against the protectors.

25 November — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is attached to the U.S. military, issues a deadline: All water protectors have until 5 December to vacate the areas where thousands are camped out in support of the Standing Rock Sioux against the building of the pipeline, or face arrest. There is talk among the water protectors of a massacre approaching — one of many such atrocities committed against Native peoples throughout American history. The water protectors, risking serious injury or death, refuse to leave.

28 November — Tensions rise as the governor of North Dakota orders the “mandatory evacuation” of the base camps of thousands of water protectors, effective immediately. The water protectors still refuse to leave.

In the meantime, a group of U.S. military veterans, under the banner of “Veterans for Standing Rock”, watch the growing anti-pipeline tensions with concern and start “calling for our fellow veterans to assemble as a peaceful, unarmed militia at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation” to “defend the water protectors from assault and intimidation at the hands of the militarized police force and DAPL security”. More than 2,000 U.S. veterans reportedly respond to the call.

2 December — Braving the snow and freezing temperatures, the veterans begin trickling in to the site of the demonstrations at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. One 32-year-old former U.S. Navy serviceman says the veterans showing up to join the water protectors in their fight against the pipeline are “standing on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr. and [Mahatma] Gandhi”.

4 DecemberIn an emotionally moving scene, a leader of the veterans group approaches Native elders at Standing Rock and asks for forgiveness for the past genocide of Native peoples at the hands of the U.S. military. It is one day before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ own deadline for the protectors to leave the base camps. Before the day is out, however, the Corps announces that it is denying the pipeline company’s request for an easement to run the line under nearby Lake Oahe, sparking a celebration among the water protectors. They have won — for now.

What the U.S. government most likely feared, we can see in hindsight, was the possibility of images being broadcast around the world of U.S. military veterans getting beaten up, injured, shot at, arrested and possibly even killed at Standing Rock — in others words, being treated like foreign terrorists — for the simple “crime” of wanting to protect those who defend water as a source of life. And this, of course, at a time when the U.S. military is expanding on a daily basis its so-called “war on terrorism” abroad.

The U.S. government has never cared much about Native Americans being abused and mistreated, but how would it look, on the other hand, for “patriotic” U.S. police forces to be beating up a bunch of their own country’s military veterans? No, that would not look good at all. It would show the world what a moral hypocrite the USA really was as a nation. But in the end, the plug was pulled, the big showdown in Indian Country was averted, and the Obama administration in particular saved a lot of face.

We can confirm from this experience, moreover, that nonviolent U.S. military veterans have an active role to play in such future conflicts as well. A number of veterans gathered at Standing Rock then moved on to another place plagued with water problems — the city of Flint, Michigan — to stand up with the local people there too in their own fight for clean water.

I have made the bold prediction that a kind of Second Civil War in a deeply divided United States will be the result of a Trump presidency. I honestly hope such a war does not come to pass. But if it does, it’s good to know that we’ve got brothers and sisters from the former ranks of the U.S. military to back us up in our nonviolent struggles. There’s nothing like the sight of Johnny marching back home again, without weapons and in massive numbers, to put a little humility, respect and, yes, even fear, into the hearts of those in positions of influence over our lives.

Castro’s Most Enduring Legacy: An African Story

Say the words “Cuito Cuanavale” to the average American citizen, liberal and conservative alike, and you’re likely to get a blank stare in response. Add the name “Fidel Castro” to that phrase and you’ll instantly notice a nervous tick in their squinting eyes. Dare to throw the word “hero” into the mix and you’ll see a definite jerking motion in their knees and a reddening in the face.

“BUT CASTRO WAS A BRUTAL DICTATOR!!!!!” is what usually comes next (give or take an exclamation mark or two), followed by saliva dripping from the corners of their mouths, a clenching of their fists and an aggressive posture toward you. Symptoms resembling an epileptic seizure may even appear in the more rabid citizens. Like Dr. Pavlov’s famous laboratory dogs, U.S. citizens are trained by their corporate-driven news media to react a certain way to the sound of the name of Cuba’s long-reigning leader, who recently passed away at the age of 90.

Yet mention the words “Cuito Cuanavale” to people in other parts of the world, especially African and Latin America countries, and you’re liable to get a whole different response altogether. There, you’re more likely to get a knowing smile, a nodding of the head and an affirmation of what a hero Fidel Castro truly was in his lifetime — how he stood up to the forces of racism and imperialism in the world, and came away triumphant.

That victory, however, took place not on the shores of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba or even on American soil in New York City, home of Harlem and the United Nations, where Castro sometimes visited when he was alive. No, Castro’s most enduring legacy is arguably one that most of the U.S. press is not evening touching these days in the wake of the Cuban leader’s death. It occurred on the continent of Africa decades ago, and this is the story behind it.

Prelude to a Victory

Among the selected international heads of state who had the honor of paying homage to the deceased South African president Nelson Mandela at a massive Soweto stadium memorial service on 13 December 2013 was Raúl Castro, president of Cuba.
Castro referred to the late Mandela as “the ultimate symbol of dignity and unwavering dedication to the revolutionary struggle for freedom and justice — a prophet of unity, peace, and reconciliation.”

“Cuba, a country born in the struggle for independence and for the abolition of slavery, and whose children have African blood in their veins, has had the privilege of fighting and building alongside the African nations,” said Castro. He spoke of Mandela’s “moving homage to our common struggle” in the past and the “bond of affection” shared between his brother Fidel Castro, the aging former leader of Cuba, and the late Mandela as a “symbol of the fraternal relations between Africans and Cubans.”

The manic focus of American press coverage, however, was on a diplomatic handshake at the event between Raúl Castro and U.S. president Barack Obama, whose respective countries had not had official relations since the U.S. severed them in the early 1960s.
USA Today breathlessly called it the “handshake that shocked the world”. News reports widely repeated one U.S. senator’s likening of Obama’s handshake with Castro to shaking hands with German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. And not to be left out, Fox News dutifully propagated the U.S. right-wing political outrage that all but called for Obama’s head for daring to make such a gesture to a murderous “thug”.

Beyond all the hype of this typical U.S. media-created “controversy”, however, there was another far more important and legitimate news story about South Africa that was
going unreported in the American press: the vital role that Cuba, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, had played on the battlefield in helping to bring down the brutal South African apartheid regime at a time when the USA was busy propping it up.

This news story dates all the way back to 1965. It was then when Cuban revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara secretly went to Africa in support of the Congolese liberation guerrilla army, following the Congo’s independence from its former colonial power of Belgium. While there in the Congo, Guevara met leaders of another African guerrilla force fighting against Portuguese colonial rule in the nearby southern African nation of Angola, the “Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola” (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), or MPLA. Guevara promised, and eventually delivered, Cuban military instructors and soldiers to the MPLA that would fight alongside the Angolans in southern Africa for as long as they were needed

In 1974 in Europe, the right-wing government of Portugal was unexpectedly overthrown in a military coup. With Portugal’s centuries-long colonial grip now gone, the African nation of Angola was finally poised to get its own independence. The MPLA’s leader, Agostinho Neto, an Angolan medical doctor firmly supported by the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc of nations (including Cuba), was the heir apparent to power in Angola. But the USA had much different plans in mind.

The U.S. government, under president Gerald Ford, saw the coming independence of the resource-rich Angola under the communist-supported Neto as a strategic threat, both ideologically and economically. Through its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the U.S. government backed two other rival anti-government guerrilla armies in Angola — the FNLA (supported by neighboring Zaire) and UNITA (supported by apartheid South Africa) — to fight the MPLA and prevent it from coming legitimately into power.

The first big attack came in October 1975, on the eve of Angola’s independence, when apartheid South Africa sent its army across the borders of Namibia — a neighboring nation that South Africa had been illegally occupying for decades — and into Angola. “[W]e couldn’t just sit and watch,” said then-Cuban president Fidel Castro. “And when the MPLA asked for our help, we offered the aid necessary to prevent apartheid being installed in Angola”

The “aid necessary” turned out to be a contingent of Cuban special military forces, more than 30,000 Cuban foot soldiers and a host of Soviet-made weaponry. Due in great part to Cuba’s support, the South African army, the most powerful military on the entire continent of Africa, was beaten back. Angola’s national independence went ahead a month later as planned in November 1975, with Neto becoming its first president.

The USA and South Africa, however, continued working together, both overtly and covertly, to bring down the newly independent African nation of Angola through civil war.

The Battle of Cuito Cuanavale

For a dozen years, the government of Angola, with the military support of Cuba and the Soviet Union, fought off its two remaining domestic guerrilla forces, which were being backed by South Africa and the United States. A small country town in the south of Angola, Cuito Cuanavale, where two rivers meet, was where it all came to a head — the last “hot battle” in the world to be fought during the long Cold War period.

In late 1987 the South African military once again crossed over into Angola from its bases in occupied Namibia in support of the Angolan UNITA guerrilla army. And the Angolan government once again urgently requested backup from Cuba. Fidel Castro sent over tens of thousands of volunteer troops from Cuba, Soviet-made tanks, anti-aircraft weapons and, for the first time, military aircraft and pilots to join the Angolan air force in fighting the South African military, both in the air and on the ground. The fighting went on for about half a year

By early 1988 the Cuban military presence in Angola had contributed significantly to a defensive victory: saving the key battleground of Cuito Cuanavale. An offensive followed, with Cuban troops helping to push the South African Defense Forces back across the border into Namibia
[*4]. By summer 1988, it was all over. Although South Africa maintained that its military retreated on its own accord as “winners”, there could be no doubt that without Cuban support in the 13-year-long war, the independent nation of Angola would have fallen long before to the combined might of apartheid South Africa and the United States.

The siege at Cuito Cuanavale was
a military turning point that brought the Angola-Namibia border war to an end. That, in turn, led to a U.S.-brokered “peace plan” that saw the withdrawal of both South African and Cuban forces from Angola and Namibia, as well as the independence of Namibia from apartheid occupation soon afterward. Many in the South African liberation movement, not least Mandela himself, always saw Cuito Cuanavale as the straw that broke apartheid’s back — the decisive battle, along with domestic and international pressure, that eventually helped to weaken the apartheid regime of South Africa sufficiently enough that it was forced to negotiate with Mandela and the ANC for the future of a democratic South Africa.

Mandela, following his release from prison in February 1990, made his first visit to Cuba a year later. Standing on a stage alongside Cuban president Fidel Castro and addressing an outdoor rally crowd of thousands on what was the 38th anniversary of Cuba’s revolution on 26 July 1991, Mandela said that the “decisive defeat of the apartheid aggressors [in Angola] broke the myth of invincibility of the white oppressors”
[*5]. “The defeat of the racist army at Cuito Cuanavale has made it possible for me to be here today,” Mandela told the massive crowd of Cubans. “Cuito Cuanavale has been a turning point in the struggle to free the continent and our country from the scourge of apartheid” [*6].

The U.S. corporate-dominated media had their own take on this historical meeting between the two leaders. The
Los Angeles Times, reporting from Havana, termed Mandela’s three-day visit to thank the Cuban people for their support against apartheid an “unhesitant embrace of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution.”

“Hugging on the dais, the two men made an odd couple,” the
Times reporter observed. But such a gesture would seem “odd” only if you did not factor in, as the U.S. media had not bothered to do, the more than 300,000 Cuban troops, 2,000-plus Cuban military deaths and thousands of Cuban civilian aid workers that Fidel Castro had committed to the cause of freedom in southern Africa for almost a quarter of a century [*7].

Two decades later in South Africa, at Mandela’s memorial service, the American news media were all agog over a handshake between another Cuban leader and a U.S. president. Then, as now, the American media missed the real news story entirely: that when all the dust over four decades of apartheid in South Africa had settled and Nelson Mandela and his people were finally free, it was Fidel Castro and Cuba that stood on the right side of history and the USA that stood, to its eternal shame, on the wrong side. That story of what is arguably Castro’s most enduring legacy remains unreported today by the U.S. corporate press in the wake of his recent death, and will probably continue to go unreported or misreported for years to come.

Epilogue: A New Bone for the Dog

U.S. citizens are about to get a taste of what a “brutal dictator”
really looks like within the coming months, when an obscenely wealthy, unacceptably racist Wall Street businessman with a neo-fascist political agenda becomes their next president — the so-called Leader of the Free World. The abuse of power that Donald Trump will exercise from the White House in Washington DC these next few years is expected to pale in comparison to any failings shown by Fidel Castro when he was president of Cuba.

While Castro was no angel and certainly made his share of political mistakes, most of the people of the world recognize that Castro did turn Cuba’s economy around and oversaw the restructuring of his nation’s educational, medical and social welfare sectors — which now rank far higher than those of the United States on just about any indexes you care to name. Likewise, even though Castro surely had his share of political opponents and enemies in the world, he has still received, and will continue to receive, far more genuine respect from the international community than Donald Trump could ever hope to get.

Not least on the continent of Africa, where, it could rightfully be said, Castro’s most enduring legacy lies. He dared to have his Caribbean nation, located just 90 miles off the coast of the Yankee mainland, stand side by side on a battlefield halfway across the world in the global fight against white racial supremacy by South Africa and the USA.

So, Pavlov dogs of America: Unite! You are about to experience what it means to have the people of the world accusing you of “human rights abuses” at every turn and having doors that used to be open to you slammed shut in your face. You will be thrown a bone every now and then, sure, when countries like North Korea or China or Iran do something really bad and earn your rabid displeasure. But your knee-jerk reaction to all the sins being committed by countries that you don’t like will look mighty hypocritical indeed, considering your own government will now be the source of many such abuses in the world.

Hey, who knows? Out of all this you may even find enough humility, in what little soul you’ve got left as the most powerful nation on Earth, to reach out and ask the Cuban people for some help. After all, they and their departed leader, Mr. Castro, are known for kicking some serious butt and getting the job done — skills you may well need in the not-too-distant future in dealing with your own domestic devils and internal terrorism.

Cuito Cuanavale. Remember those words well and what they meant to people in other parts of the world in the past century, especially in Africa, and why they remain so important a part of Fidel Castro’s legacy today in the wake of his recent death. And please, from now on, refrain from dribbling down the front of your clothes when the mere mention of his name is made in your presence. It’s so unbecoming of you.


[*1] Background information from the DVD Cuba, une Odyssée Africaine (Cuba, an African Odyssey), Arte France, 2007. This epic three-hour, French-made documentary film stands as perhaps the definitive cinematic source on the subject of Cuba and the liberation struggles of Africa.
[*2] Quoted in
Cuba, une Odyssée Africaine.
[*3] Piero Gleijeses, Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 408-09. See also Horace Campbell, “Cuito Cuanavale — a Tribute to Fidel Castro and the African Revolution”, Pambazuka News, June 3, 2008.
[*4] Gleijeses,
Visions of Freedom, 425-430. For an interview with author Gleijeses on the subject, see also “The Secret History of How Cuba Helped End Apartheid in South Africa”, Democracy Now!, December 11, 2013.
[*5] Quoted in Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro,
How Far We Slaves Have Come! (Atlanta: Pathfinder Press, 1991), 23-24.
[*6] Ibid. For a video record of meetings between Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro, see also
Mandela y Fidel (Mandela and Fidel, 2013), a short documentary film by U.S. filmmaker Estela Bravo.
[*7] Gleijeses,
Visions of Freedom, 521.

Love the World, America, or Leave It


As the early shock waves from the great earthquake known as the 2016 United States presidential election subside and the world now braces itself for the resulting tsunami waves to follow, it is a good moment for us all to pause and do what the USA, in particular, has always been very poor at doing throughout its history as a young nation: self-reflection.

It is not part of the American collective psyche to spend much time looking back on the past, reflecting on big mistakes, and then, having learned from those mistakes, to move on to a brighter future. No, the emphasis has always been on
right now, grabbing and snatching all it can get its hands on as a society, with little thought of either yesterday or tomorrow. But that will all have to change, now that a billionaire businessman with a neo-fascist agenda is set to be sworn in and addressed by all U.S. citizens, whether they like it or not, as “Mr. President”.

What led the USA to this ignominious place it stands at today? Was it the European trans-Atlantic slave trade of the 1500s onward in which millions of human beings were shipped in chains from the continent of Africa, the cradle and apex of human civilization, and brought to a “New World” to build an economy from the ground up? Or was it the systematic slaughter of millions of indigenous First Nations people who had lived on the continent known as Turtle Island tens of thousands of years before the word “America” was ever uttered by those European invaders?

Or could it have been the concept of “manifest destiny”, a theory of divine providence that was first made popular not by some politician but by
an American journalist named John O’Sullivan, much later in the mid-1800s, to justify the mass rape and theft of other peoples’ lands across the North American continent and beyond? Or was it the ensuing destruction of foreign lands, wars, genocide, more wars, mass accumulation of wealth, still more wars, slave labor, hyper-productive industries, permanent environmental pollution, and yet more wars — all done over the course of centuries, up to the present day, with the blessing of the god Greed?

Whatever it was that spurred you along, you’re now at that place, America, and you’re in deep trouble. And the worst part of it is that due to the global influence and reach of your tentacles of politics, economics and culture, the whole world will have to suffer along with you.

America — Love It or Leave It was a common slogan heard in U.S. society especially around the time of the USA’s war on the sovereign Southeast Asian nation of Vietnam back in the 1960s and 1970s. This slogan was found everywhere, from bumper stickers of cars to neighborhood graffiti to placards of pro-war demonstrators in the United States. “Love it or leave it” dripped from people’s lips in the media at the time. The words seemed to be everywhere.

And some Americans took that advice, literally. Canada was the first choice of escape for many young people who refused to go and kill some innocent brown-skinned people across the ocean just because their corrupt government in Washington DC told them to. During that time, a number of American military personnel stationed on U.S. bases here in Japan deserted their ranks and were secretly smuggled out of Japan and on to Europe with the help of a grassroots network of sympathetic Japanese antiwar activists. Americans, when given a choice of loving it or leaving it, will often choose the latter.

And that choice, ironically, now comes back to haunt you as a society, America, decades later as you prepare to swear in a Wall Street real estate mogul by the name of Donald J. Trump (a.k.a. The Muskrat) as your 45th president in just a couple more months.

Love this world or leave it, America. There are more than 200 countries and independent territories on this planet, of which you are only one. You are superior to no one, and if the truth be known, you are inferior in many ways to other nations when it comes to taking care of their own people and nurturing peaceful relations between countries. You are not God, America, and never were. “Manifest destiny” was the Great White Lie that was buried long ago. The seven billion people on Planet Earth will need to survive together, and the times call for us all as a human species to stop and go in a different direction now that we see the Earth, our common mother, crumbling at the seams at a time of massive environmental change.

Love the world or leave it. We hope you choose the former, America, but if the latter is your choice due to your sense of adolescent self-centeredness and arrogance, then please make sure you leave as far away from here as you can go. Have your NASA scientists find a way to send all those selfish U.S. citizens who refuse to get along peacefully with the rest of world’s people into a gigantic space station outside the Earth’s orbit, and then get lost somewhere out there in the Final Frontier. If you just can’t love this world in all its diversity, and if you can’t act responsibly and respectfully among the international community of nations on this beautiful planet, then sorry, you’ll have to leave.

We’re sure you can understand what we mean when we say
Love the world or leave it. You are the Land of Two Choices after all, right? It’s either Coke or Pepsi. Coors or Budweiser. Ford or Chevy. Democrat or Republican. Communism or capitalism. Guilty or innocent. For the terrorists or against the terrorists. Support the war or shut up. Life or death.

Self-reflect or die: That is the urgent challenge before you now, America. It goes against all your materialistic instincts to collectively reflect on yourself and your past mistakes, but that is exactly what you need to do now. And once you’ve reflected deeply enough and taken a good, hard look in that mirror that’s before you, then you need to quickly shift into resistance mode and stop this dangerous incoming president and all the vile things he stands for at every single opportunity. Trip up Trump. And do it well.

If you ask me, America, you’re damn lucky that there are still enough honest, hard-working, good-hearted citizens left within your borders who are willing to fight for your soul and for what little bit of dignity you’ve got left as a nation, considering all the unforgivable things you’ve done to your own people and others around the world over the past few hundred years. But fight they must now, and if there was ever a nonviolent Good Fight to be fought for the sake of the survival of the whole world as we know it, then this one is it.

We’re all in this thing called Life together. Love the world or leave it. Reflect deeply on that, America, then get right to work on helping to save the globe from this holy mess you’ve created. It’s either that, or we bid you farewell into the vast cosmos. And you know there won’t be too many extra-terrestrial beings up there in outer space who are glad to see you, either.

Dakota Pipeline: Prelude to a Land Grab

High tensions over the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in the USA have subsided for the moment, with the recent announcement by the administration of U.S. president Barack Obama and a federal appeals court ruling that temporarily suspended the building of the 1,825-kilometer (1,135-mile) long pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois.

You have to hand it to the U.S. government for the clever way it handled the crisis. The last thing Obama needed in the last few months of his presidency was another Wounded Knee-type showdown before the eyes of the world in the heart of America’s Indian Country, pitting the
Standing Rock Sioux nation and its many allies against a Dallas, Texas-based gas and oil pipeline operator and its many allies (the U.S. government being one of them). The postponement of construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline was a victory, albeit a limited one, for First Nations peoples of North America and the protection of sacred lands.

But the conflict over the Dakota Access pipeline — with pepper spray and attack dogs shamefully used at one point against those who tried to block the construction — is merely a prelude to even bigger troubles to come for such lands, and soon: the biggest act of government theft of Native American territory in more than a century that is now in the making.

A bill is currently being pushed through the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow the western state of Utah to outright claim 100,000 acres of land belonging to the indigenous Ute tribe in the name of progress and development (in other words, potential oil profits) by the state of Utah. Yes, you read that right: 100,000 acres of Native American lands. The state of Utah wants to put these tribal “reservation” lands under its own management, as stipulated by the
Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, which was introduced a few months ago in July as House Resolution 5780. (A related bill, the Scofield Land Transfer Act, or Senate bill 14, is also making its way at the same time through the U.S. Congress.)

Representatives of the Native American community are calling this the most blatant act of official Yankee land grabbing and violating of Native American sovereignty rights since the late 1800s, and there is
growing opposition to the plan. “We were shocked to learn that the bill proposes to take more than 100,000 acres of our reservation lands for the state of Utah,” announced officials of the Ute tribal nation. “This modern-day Indian land grab cannot be allowed to stand.”

If this does indeed go through, it would make projects like the Dakota Access pipeline look like a harmless Saturday night Bingo game at the local YMCA in comparison. So, where is the national news media coverage of this historical act of land theft? You will not find the substantial coverage it deserves by the U.S. corporate press, much as in the case of the Dakota Access project and other such development schemes that threaten to destroy natural ecosystems on Native lands for generations to come.

Native American leader Dennis Banks, co-founder in the 1960s of the American Indian Movement (AIM),
described the situation well in an interview I did with him more than two decades ago here in Japan:

“The attitude of the [U.S.] government has changed from one of covert activities to one of overt activities,” Banks said. “They’re still trying to swindle Native people out of their land. They’re still trying to support Corporate America, and Corporate America has a lot of
hands on Indian lands. So their attitude, as I said, is one of covert to overt business. I will never trust the policies that come out of Washington — ever. Individually, the Congress people, I’m sure, are good persons. But something happens to them when they become a collective body. They corrupt themselves, as honest as they are individually.”

In the case of the two Republican congressional sponsors in Utah of the land-grab bill, there can be no doubt about where their dishonorable priorities lie. U.S. representative Rob Bishop,
known around Washington DC for his fashionable three-piece suits, has pushed for environmental regulations to be loosened in U.S. national parks to allow for more private use of public lands. The other sponsor, U.S. representative Jason Chaffetz, is known for his antipathy to laws that would protect wild animals facing extinction, saying, in one memorable quote: “The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed is on the menu of a French bistro. It does not deserve federal protection, period.”

In other words, in the 21st century, it is business as usual when it comes to the treatment of First Nations peoples and the stealing of lands inhabited by their ancestors for thousands of years before this curious thing called the “United States of America” ever came into existence.

The good news is that the controversy over the start of the Dakota Access pipeline construction has led to more and more Native people across the continent joining hands and standing up to the corporate and governmental defiling of sacred Native lands. More than 50 tribal nations in Canada and the northern United States
recently formed a treaty alliance vowing to “come together in unity and solidarity to protect our territory from the predations of big oil interests, industry, and everything that represents”.

In the meantime, the struggle continues. Big Money never sleeps. The company constructing the Dakota Access pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, has already
bought up parcels of sacred Sioux lands that it intends to develop as the Dakota Access pipeline construction progresses. The Standing Rock Sioux promise us that the pipeline project definitely will be stopped in its tracks, and the tribe is fighting toward that end on all fronts: in the courts, in the media, at the United Nations, and right on the ground in North Dakota.

President Obama wisely stopped the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline for now, just long enough for him to slide out of office and pass the problem on to his successor in the White House. Whoever becomes the next U.S. president, whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, we can be sure that such big gas and oil development projects will continue to be approved and supported at the highest levels under the staunchly pro-corporate policies of both candidates.

The issues of Native sovereignty rights and sacred land protection, in North America and beyond, are bound to rise in the years to come as the confrontations and conflicts grow in intensity. And as they rise, we would all do well to remember that these many Native battles to protect the land are our fights too. We need to support them wherever and whenever we can.

As for me, I know clearly where I stand: right alongside our Native brothers and sisters, wherever in the world they may be — not just to “protest” something, but rather to
protect everything that has a right to life on this Earth, the common mother of us all. There can be no higher purpose to our own lives than that.

Time to Reject the Politics of Fear

It was an amazing transformation to see: Here were all these hard-core, politically progressive persons steadfastly maintaining that Bernie Sanders was the best and only viable candidate in the United States presidential election of 2016. And for good reason. He was promising them a revolution, and it looked like he was indeed taking the masses city by city up to the gates of the towering castle, at which point the masses would barge in and seize power from the crooked kings and queens. A new day was indeed coming in which the American people would rule.

And then, suddenly, faced with the prospect of becoming a political “spoiler”, Sanders did a dirty thing, in the eyes of many of his own supporters: He left them standing outside the castle gates in the cold, while he went inside and joined the Democratic Party establishment for tea and cakes. When he came back outside, he had changed his mind. His supporters must now vote for Hillary Clinton as the next U.S. president, he told them. His campaign from that point on welcomed and endorsed Clinton at every turn.

Many of Sanders’ ardent supporters turned and left him behind, disgusted, and went over to the Green Party and elsewhere to help them continue the march up to the castle walls again. But many other Sanders supporters did as they were told, and in a single day, many of them who had been vilifying Hillary Clinton for months were now ready to support her. I watched on Facebook as otherwise intelligent, politically conscious, liberal-minded friends of mine now turned to Hillary Clinton as the only real choice for the next U.S. president. But what could account for that dramatic turnaround? Why had Public Enemy No. 1 in the Democratic Party now suddenly become hip, in vogue, the only candidate of choice for American liberal voters?

Fear. Raw fear. Fear at the thought of a Republican Party monster (the latest one in a long line of them) occupying the president’s chair in the White House in Washington DC.

And not only were your liberal friends deathly afraid, they wanted
you to be afraid too of Donald Trump as a possible successor to Barack Obama. And if you weren’t afraid, then you personally would be held responsible by Hillary Clinton’s flock of supporters the day after the elections for being the ones who let Trump take power. Yes, fear is in the air, and the fearmongering has been flying wildly from both the left and the right this campaign season.

Most citizens of the United States, according to public opinion surveys, do not really trust either Trump or Clinton. That alone says tons about who both candidates are and what they represent: the elite 1 percent of U.S. society and the interests of Wall Street. Republicans at least are honest about being bought off; Democrats, on the other hand, have been in a state of psychological denial about it for decades (if not longer). But the truth is that the political party machinery of both parties is corrupt and has been so for a long time, as history books teach us.

Is this what the mighty American democracy has come to in the 21st century — voting for a candidate because you’re so afraid that the other person might win instead? What happened to freedom of choice? Do Americans go shopping for homes, cars, TVs, cereal, toilet paper or what have you, and buy something only because they’re scared to death that the other products won’t work right? Do they marry someone because the other possible choices for a life-partner frighten them out of their wits? No, of course not. They choose based on what they like, trust or respect about a product or a person. This is human nature.

But then a U.S. presidential election comes along, and we’re supposed to throw all human nature out of the window and vote out of pure fear instead?
But this is the way things work in the USA — we have a political duopoly, I hear some American liberals saying. We have to deal with the system we have, with reality.

Ah, reality. Such a fickle thing to define. Well, all I can say in response to those liberals about reality is that this may be the way it is in the USA, but that’s sure not the way it is in many other countries. The Green Party is well represented in the parliaments of several nations. Here in Japan, in addition to the two major political parties that resemble the Republican and Democratic parties of the USA, we also have represented in parliament members of the socialist party (shudder!) and the communist party (shock!), not to mention the political wing of the Soka Gakkai religious organization (read: cult). And the grand irony is that this Japanese political diversity is due in part to the “reforms” pushed on Japan by the U.S. government during the American occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1952. Now, if Americans can give the gift of political diversity to a country like Japan, a former enemy in war, then why can’t they demand such political diversity for themselves at home? Think on that one for a while.

There is a lot of talk these days about the need for a third party in the U.S., since the country only has a two-party system at present. But that too is not quite correct. What the people of the United States have, in reality, is one party with two factions. Call it the “Demopublican Party” or the “Republocratic Party”, if you like, but the fact is that Americans essentially have a one-party, two-faction political system in place. One party, two factions. What they really need now is a viable
second party that stands independently from both the Democrats and Republicans, and offers some real choices.

The season of fear that we are seeing now in the United States takes me back to another time in U.S. history — to the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan ran for president twice on the Republican Party ticket and won by a large margin both times. Democratic Party voters in large numbers tripped and trampled over each other on the way to the polls to vote for this war-mongering, air-headed, ex-actor Republican in order to get him into the White House. Never mind that people like me were warning of the dire economic consequences of a Reagan presidency on the majority of working people throughout the country.

More than three decades later, we still feel the harsh effects of those Reagan-era policies. And now, in 2016, Democrats want all of us to give them our support so they can put another representative of the 1 percent in office?
As this recent news report shows, Hillary Clinton, not Trump, is now the candidate of choice among the wealthy class of U.S. citizens. How can either one of them even remotely deal with the problems facing most working Americans?

The last time I voted for a Democratic Party candidate was in those same 1980s, when I voted for Rev. Jesse Jackson for U.S. president. Jesse was a lot less conservative in those days than he is now, and really promised to shake up the U.S. political establishment. But then I watched as the Democrats (yes, including Bill Clinton) moved to the right and increasingly betrayed every single bloc of voters who put them into office: Blacks, Latinos, women, working people of all backgrounds. It sickened me. I haven’t voted Democrat since then, and I’m not about to restart now.

Presidential elections in the U.S. these days bring to mind for me the words of the late African American leader Malcolm X. When he was alive, Malcolm characterized the Republican and Democratic parties as a wolf and a fox, respectively. One of those parties, the wolf, will make no pretenses about eating you alive on the spot, Malcolm noted. The other party, the fox, will lure you alone deep into the forest with a sly grin and promises of security, then eat you alive. Whichever party you turn to, Malcolm said, you’re dealing with a breed of dirty dog. He was obviously referring to the two parties in relation to Black folks and the prevalence of racism in U.S. society, but as the years go on, I can’t help but see the wisdom in Malcolm X’s political analysis for us all.

I’ve only started voting again in recent years in U.S. elections, which I admit was a mistake. I should have never dropped out. But the rise of other parties — the Green Party on the left and Libertarian Party on the right, among several others on the political landscape — has given me reason to get back into the game again. And it appears there are many, many other people out there who have felt the same way I have about the whole thing.

And if fear hasn’t been a bad enough problem in this U.S. presidential election campaign this year, President Obama recently inserted a healthy dose of guilt as well into the minds of the electorate when he said in a speech that he would take it as a personal “insult” if Black folks in the U.S. did not show their support for him and his presidential legacy by voting for Hillary Clinton in the coming election. So, now we have
fear and guilt as the two prime motivations for voting for Clinton. But fear and guilt are negatives, and many people, myself included, want to vote for someone instead of against someone. Being offered the choice between voting for a forest fire or a flash flood still leaves you, in the end, with a disaster waiting to happen. So it is with Trump and Clinton.

So, the next time one of your “liberal” friends comes up to you and wants to lay a guilt trip on you and put you into Fear Mode with the mere thought of Donald Trump becoming the next American president, straighten them out and tell it like it is. No reasonable-minded human being wants to see Trump take office and divide the country, as he promises to do if he gets elected. I know I don’t want to see it. A Second Civil War in the USA is what I envision under the administration of a possible President Trump. But the truth is that Hillary Clinton, a wealthy, hawkish politician, is not the cure for Mad Trump Disease. Only a healthy democracy can cure that, and at this stage, the USA is still far from being either healthy or a democracy in the truest sense of the words. The problem is the corrupt electoral system itself, and that’s what we have to deal with immediately.

Donald Trump fancies himself as another Richard Nixon, nostalgic for the law-and-order days of the Vietnam war of the 1960s. So, the Muskrat wants Nixon? We’ll give him the Nixon treatment, all right. We all know how Tricky Dick’s story turned out, and we can give Trump the same treatment if he becomes president and abuses his power and U.S. government policies. The people are not helpless, and we can take Trump on in the courthouses, in the court of public opinion, and yes, even in the streets if need be. The point is that we should not be afraid to deal with whichever of these two supremely lame candidates, Trump or Clinton, becomes U.S. president.

Vote your conscience on election day. Whichever way you decide to vote, it is time to reject the politics of fear that both political parties are bludgeoning us over the head with at the moment (with lots of help from the U.S. corporate-dominated news media). Inform yourself, get involved, vote — and
then get down to serious work once the election is over on really upturning this dirty U.S. political system so that in 2020 and beyond, the politics of fear is removed from the U.S. national election process. The last thing we need is Trump and Clinton or any of their ilk reappearing before us again in four more years, with their greasy palms open, asking for more of our votes cast out of dread and fear.

Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (3)

High up in a skyscraper overlooking the port of San Francisco, California, Coral Talavera Baca began telling the story of “Dark Alliance” that no one in the USA had yet heard. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon, 15 February 1997, and a TV documentary program crew from Japan (for which I served as coordinator) had her wired for sound and the video camera rolling. It was all going on the record — her first public comments ever in regard to the controversial “Dark Alliance” investigation by San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb that was published the year before.

A former gymnast with short brown hair and dressed in a dark-blue pant suit, Talavera Baca sat somewhat nervously at a long conference table in a meeting room of a San Francisco law firm, where she was employed as a legal worker. She told us how U.S. government involvement in drug trafficking wasn’t some sort of “conspiracy theory”. It was fact. Her boyfriend, Rafael Corñejo, a Nicaraguan national, was then still in prison in California in connection with cocaine trafficking in the Bay Area, and she had long moved in family circles that allowed her to know firsthand of such U.S. government links to the illicit cocaine trade.

She recalled visits to a small, secluded island in the Bahamas some years before that was owned by Carlos Lehder (she used the pseudonym “Carlos Perez”), a Colombian drug lord and co-founder of the infamous Medellín drug-trafficking cartel. People who she came to understand were working for Lt. Col. Oliver North, a National Security Council staff member under former president Ronald Reagan, would fly cocaine shipments from South America and “stop off at his [Lehder’s] island usually and refuel, and then fly back to the United States”. Talavera Baca characterized North as “the biggest drug trafficker in the United States’ history” despite North’s repeated denials over the years of having anything at all to do with such criminal activities.

It was through fighting her boyfriend’s court case that she first reached out to
San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb in 1995. Actually, she had contacted reporters from three other major newspapers as well — the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner — but none of them seemed “too smart” when it came to understanding the complex issues of drugs in society. She decided to open all her files exclusively to Gary Webb instead, which led to “Dark Alliance” eventually getting published, and she was sure now that she had made the right choice.

“When Gary started looking in all these boxes, I think he was pretty much blown away. I think he planned to come in and peruse them and make lunch in the city and what have you,” she said. “He was at that office the whole day, and at the end of the day, he says, ‘Can I take these boxes with me?’. And there was just a chemistry there, you know? From the first time, he was a great guy. He was a professional in every sense of the word. …I made a really, really good choice because he’s done a great job on this”.

“He documented everything [in ‘Dark Alliance’] beautifully,” she added.

Contrary to the portrayal of Webb by the big media companies as something of a journalistic loose cannon who was sloppy in reporting facts in “Dark Alliance”, Talavera Baca had found Webb to be just the opposite: a bit too cautious and even naïve about high U.S. government involvement in the cocaine trade . “His story very clearly implicates the United States government,” she said. “And I don’t think Gary went far enough. Gary just takes it to the CIA. I think he needed to take it and go right up to the steps of the White House. And he didn’t like me saying that to him. However, I got a phone call recently from [Webb] and he says, ‘Wow, you were right. It led all the way to Oliver North’”.

We asked Talavera Baca if she thought her life might be in any danger, now that she was going public on "Dark Alliance" through our interview. She put on a brave face and shrugged it off, making an oblique reference to the assassination of the late U.S. president John F. Kennedy. “No one has ever made threats,” she said. “But you know, it’s like, if they really want you taken out, they’ll just take you out. And if they can get to a president, they surely can get to me”.

Much of the interview with Coral Talavera Baca, the prime source for Webb in the “Dark Alliance” investigation, turned out to be a bit rambling and anecdotal, but there was enough information there to mold into a solid story. After the interview she saw us all off to the elevator, where we shook hands and said goodbye. As soon as the doors slid shut and the elevator started descending with all five of us and our gear crammed inside, I and Scott Gorman, our U.S. coordinator and interviewer, gave each other some triumphant high-fives. “Can you believe that?” “We got it!”

The other three Japanese members of our film crew looked on, a bit puzzled, at my and Gorman’s elation. I explained over lunch later to the Japanese crew members the gist of the interview with Coral Talavera Baca and Gary Webb, and how important they were. This could be the centerpiece of our documentary film — a real scoop, I said, that no journalist in the U.S. has yet gotten. I explained to them in Japanese all about the CIA and drugs and the
contras. “Contras?” came the reply, with blank looks. I explained: “Yeah, you know, the right-wing terrorist army run by the CIA in Nicaragua back in the 1980s”. More blank looks: “Nicaragua?” Me again: “Nicaragua, yeah. You know, the country in Central America?” Still more blank looks. They did not seem to have the slightest idea where Nicaragua was geographically, let alone the historical significance of all this information we had gathered over the past few days concerning “Dark Alliance”.

It was at that point, for the first time in our 10 days of filming in the U.S. for a Japanese TV program on the so-called global “drug scourge”, that I realized we might be in trouble.

The Wrap-Up

From there, the five of us headed up north to Washington state, where Scott Gorman had lined up for us some more good interviews with struggling drug addicts, drug treatment counselors, methadone center staff and others. Together with all the footage we had shot over a week and a half in New York City, San Francisco, Sacramento, and now Seattle and surrounding environs, we had what I considered to be the makings of one hell of an exposé on the state of America’s drug problems to be included as part of the Japanese TV program.

I was the one entrusted to hand-carry all the video footage in a locked aluminum briefcase with me from California back to Tokyo, while the other Japanese crew members continued on to Europe to get more drug-related footage for our planned documentary.

Two months later, with great anticipation, I sat before my family’s living room television in Japan and tuned into TV Tokyo during the evening prime-time hours of Tuesday, 1 April 1997 — April Fools’ Day, appropriately — for the broadcast of our two-hour program on drugs. By the second half of the program, I was still waiting for the part about “Dark Alliance” to come on. With each passing minute of the program, my heart sank lower and lower. With about 10 minutes left in the program, I had given up all hope, and it was all I could do just to keep the TV on through the closing credits.

There was no “Dark Alliance” in it. No Gary Webb. No Coral Talavera Baca. And very little of the best footage we had shot over 10 days of filming in the States. Instead, the TV program focused on some of the more sensational scenes of drug addicts getting high, scary background music, sloppily shot footage from Europe, and even some episodes that, to my trained journalist’s eye, appeared to be what Japanese media critics call
yarase (faked scenes). Even the facts were screwed up: Seattle, for example, was referred to in the documentary as “America’s third largest city”, a major mistake. And in fact, I now realized that it wasn’t meant to be a documentary, per se, at all. It was conceived as just the typical kind of low-quality tripe that is so pervasive on the so-called “wide shows” of all the corporate TV networks in Japan, and that is what it finally delivered.

So much for the perfect alignment of the stars….

Picking Up the Pieces

I should have seen it all coming, back when the film crew members expressed puzzlement about Nicaragua that time in San Francisco. But looking back then, I couldn’t say I was totally surprised. There were lots of tense moments throughout our 10 days of filming between the Japanese and American team members. The three Japanese members were younger than us and had no journalism qualifications whatsoever; they were just employees of some Tokyo production company, not reporters. Scott Gorman and I had had more seniority, both age-wise and in the news field, and we did use that seniority often during our shooting schedule to keep things journalistically honest, which no doubt went unappreciated among our less-experienced brethren from Japan.

(And in the interest of public disclosure 20 years later, toward the end of our filming leg in the USA, Gorman and I did conspire among ourselves on how we might liberate and rescue all the “Dark Alliance”-related video footage we’d shot from a possible editorial death on the cutting room floor in Tokyo, and maybe use that footage instead to make a hard-hitting documentary film of our own on the issue in the States. But that conspiracy, dear readers, is another story for another time.)

In May 1997, just one month after our TV program on drugs bombed out in Japan, the hammer fell at the
San Jose Mercury News in California. The newspaper abandoned the “Dark Alliance” investigation and essentially hung its star reporter, Gary Webb, out to dry. The “Dark Alliance” website itself was pulled down not long afterward. It was all over. Webb left his news company in disgust by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Scott Gorman, back in Washington state, had become managing editor of an online news magazine called
REALNews. Gorman kindly offered to help salvage something of our “Dark Alliance”-related interviews by publishing our joint analysis of “Dark Alliance” and its significance to journalism in the new age of the Internet. REALNews later went defunct, but that analysis survives today as one of the first of its kind to recognize the long-term importance of “Dark Alliance” in the digital age of journalism.

I still had Gary Webb’s business card, though, and I kept in touch with him by e-mail, offering whatever long-distance sympathy and support I could as a fellow journalist in the ranks of the newly independent, for what it was worth. I told Webb that if he could somehow pay his own way over to Japan, I would try to use my connections over here to help set up a paid speaking tour for him in Japan concerning his “Dark Alliance” investigation and make sure his accommodations were taken care of while he was in the country. Webb thanked me in reply but politely declined my offer, saying that under his new job as investigative writer with the California state government, he was not allowed to accept outside remuneration. In hindsight, I should have realized the real reason — that Webb was going broke at the time and had no extra money to be flying anywhere.

It was encouraging, though, to hear a year later that Webb got full his “Dark Alliance” investigation published in book form by the New York-based Seven Stories Press. Of course, I ordered a copy of it here in Japan and devoured every word.

The last time I ever heard from Webb personally was some time in 1999, when he let me know in an e-mail that Seven Stories Press was coming out with a paperback version of his book
Dark Alliance, and that I might want to pick up a copy, since it contained a lot of new information. And with the future looking bright once again for the journalist that the U.S. media establishment had tried so hard to discredit, I moved on and mentally wished him all the best.


Five years later in 2004, I happened across a news article on the Internet that referred to Gary Webb in the past tense, as “was”. No, I thought, it can’t be. But it was true, and Webb was found dead at age 49 of two gunshot wounds to the head in his Sacramento, California home. The date of his departure: 10 December 2004 — seven years to the day after he had left the
San Jose Mercury News.

Like many of his colleagues in journalism I felt devastated, and overwhelmed by a personal and professional sense of loss. I still do. And the real loss, of course, is as much for the public as it is for the journalism community.

I can’t say that Gary Webb was a close friend. I can’t say I knew him well or that we worked closely together. And I can only imagine the deep despair he found himself in, a few years after enduring the sustained assault on his credentials by those in a profession to which he devoted his life. But as one who has worked in the media field for some years, I do know a very important news story when I see one and I do recognize a damn good journalist when I meet one. And Gary Webb was the best journalist I’ve had the honor to personally know in my lifetime.

Webb’s seminal work, the “Dark Alliance” investigation, has stood, and will continue to stand for many years, the test of time as a classic, high-quality work of journalism. And in a way that I wish could have turned out so differently, Webb and his laudable work will have the last word on it all. Of that much, I am certain.

In the post-“Dark Alliance” world of corporate-created news cycles, pompous press personalities and media self-censorship in the United States, the challenges remain as daunting as ever for those among us who still feel some sense of responsibility to the higher purposes of journalism and to take the kind of risks Gary Webb took in getting the facts and the truth out to the people. Twenty years after “Dark Alliance”, the real work, in many ways, begins now.


Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (2)

There is nothing like a little police harassment to lend an air of authenticity to producing a TV documentary on the so-called “drug scourge”, and that, appropriately enough, is just what I and a couple other Japanese members of a video production team first experienced upon our landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Sunday afternoon, 9 February 1997.

The three of us were getting our suitcases together when, suddenly, a big German shepherd dog appeared out of nowhere and was in front of me, aggressively sniffing at my ankles (apparently in search of some drug stash hidden in the socks, the oldest trick in the book).

I love dogs, but the sight of this unfamiliar canine blocking my way visibly startled me. The plainclothes agent holding the dog’s leash said something like, “Don’t worry, he’s just smelling you”, but I was still frozen momentarily in fear. The dog checked our bags and we got a pass from the drug agents, who disappeared as quickly as they had come. Man, I thought, they really
are paranoid about drugs in this country. I also wondered at the time if the drug agent, a Caucasian, would have tried to reassure me like he did had my skin color been a darker shade of brown.

Our next big surprise was just outside the terminal doors at JFK Airport. There, we were met by Scott Gorman, a big, bearded bear of a guy who was living and working in Washington state as an independent journalist. I had invited him on to our project as the paid guide, driver and overall Stateside coordinator for the 10-day filming excursion of a planned Japanese TV documentary on the issue of drugs for our five-member Japanese/American team.

Gorman opted for making a big opening splash and, to our surprise, he had reserved a long, white limousine during our two days of filming in New York. So, we headed off on the expressway into Manhattan in style — the first and last time I had the pleasure of riding in a limo.

Through the Camera Eye

Our very first destination for filming the next day: a walk-in drug recovery clinic at 23 St. Marks Place in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York City. There, we filmed heartbreaking stories of otherwise decent people from all backgrounds who were strung out on one narcotic substance or another and just in off the street, looking for a place to “dry out” before they could move on to a formal drug treatment program. These people’s wrecked lives struck me as the undeniable evidence of the failure of America’s so-called “war on drugs”.

This building with the drug clinic also happened to be a piece of countercultural history: It was once the home, back in the late 1960s to early 1970s, of the “Electric Circus”, a nightclub and multimedia event space where all the big names of American underground music and art hung out and performed. As we trudged up and down the faded psychedelia-colored stairway inside the old building, I had the distinctly eerie feeling of music, people, lights filling the now-deserted rooms. There were some old ghosts still lingering in that building, to be sure. By the time we got there in 1997 to film for our Japanese TV documentary, however, the old Electric Circus building was a near-forgotten relic of the past that was being used in part as a drug recovery clinic.

A few days later on Wednesday, 12 February, we were in downtown San Francisco, California, filming at the Cannabis Cultivator’s Club on Market Street. The issue of medical marijuana was a hot one at the time, and the U.S. government was coming down hard on doctors, patients and anybody else, including in “liberal” California, who went afoul of strict federal U.S. drug laws in daring to use marijuana even for healing purposes. We got a lot of great footage at the smoke-filled Cannabis Club of people legally toking up and buying plastic baggies of weed over the counter, just like you would at a drugstore.

Dark Alliance’

By noon that day, we were set up in a classroom across town at City College of San Francisco, where we were going to film a quite different angle of the so-called drug problem: a special guest lecture by Gary Webb, the
San Jose Mercury News reporter. At long last, I was going to see him in person. Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series on the CIA-contra-crack cocaine connections had been out six months by this time, yet the public outrage had still not died down. The Big Three newspapers — the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times — had already trashed the “Dark Alliance” series and run defense for the CIA, taking great pains to try and destroy Webb’s credibility as an investigative journalist in the process.

But as we soon found out for ourselves, half a year after “Dark Alliance” had been published, crowds of people were still gathering to hear Webb speak and were still angry at the prospect of the U.S. government having had a hand in the crack cocaine outbreak of the 1980s. And they were also angry about the way the U.S. corporate media had treated Webb and his big story. The classroom at CCSF that day was filled to capacity with 100 or more students, and even though it was a beautiful, sunny day outside and it was noontime, the students opted to skip lunch and stay indoors to hear what Webb had to say. There was a buzz of excitement in the crowd as the students waited for Webb’s arrival.

We had a camera and sound machine set up in the back row of the classroom by the main doors, and soon in walked Gary Webb with Juan Gonzales, head of the CCSF journalism department. Looking every bit the image of the overworked journalist, with his shirt sleeves rolled up and his necktie loosened at the collar, Webb was introduced to me. He expressed some surprise at my having come all the way from Japan, smiling as we shook hands.

spent the hour or so with CCSF students that day walking through the “Dark Alliance” story, how he chased it down and where things stood at that point, then taking questions from the audience. There was a lively exchange of opinion, and Webb was warmly received by the audience. At the end, we interviewed some of the students as they filed out of the classroom. African American students were particularly incensed over the “Dark Alliance” controversy, as well they should have been, since it was their communities that were hardest hit by all the crack cocaine that had inexplicably flooded into cities across the United States a decade before.

The next day, 13 February, we drove up north to interview Gary Webb face to face at his
Mercury News Sacramento bureau office, located in the press building just across the street from the state capitol complex. Webb kept us waiting for a while, and when he finally did show up, he came in casually attired in faded blue jeans, a tieless shirt with rolled-up sleeves and in tennis shoes, as if he had just gotten up (which he probably had). I have to confess: I wondered at that point if we would get a usable interview from him. But any doubts I may have harbored were soon dispelled as the camera rolled and Webb took all our questions in stride. And they were not all softball questions, either. Our coordinator, Scott Gorman, who did the interviewing, occasionally put Webb in defensive mode. But Webb handled all the questions forthrightly and directly, and gave us what I thought was a great interview.

Gorman, in fact, had put it plainly to me at one point during our filming trip in the U.S. that he was “not as enamored” with the whole “Dark Alliance” affair as I was. It was a hard sell, even among our film crew: I wasn’t “enamored” with anything, I had to explain. I just felt strongly that if we were going to be doing a serious documentary on the so-called drug problem, then at some point we would have to include U.S. government complicity in the global drug trade as part of our report. And Gary Webb had documented precisely that kind of complicity in his “Dark Alliance” series. As far as I was concerned, Webb’s story had to be a vital part of our planned documentary — or any documentary on the subject of drugs, for that matter.

We ended the interview with Webb that afternoon by asking him about what was next for “Dark Alliance”. He answered that there was “a
lot more information” about the CIA-contra-crack connection to be reported and that his newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, was planning to run two additional follow-up stories that he had already written. Webb would go on to do a total of four follow-up stories to the initial three-day “Dark Alliance” series.

After the formal interview with Webb that day in his cluttered
Mercury News office, we invited him out to lunch with us. I was dying for some good homemade Mexican food at this point (having been deprived of such pleasures while living in Japan), but knowing that the Japanese palate was often too tender for such spicy and heavy cuisine as Mexicana, we took the three other Japanese crew members to a nearby Chinese restaurant instead. There, Gorman and I continued to talk with Webb in a more relaxed and open way about the “Dark Alliance” investigation. It was a rare treat for us. On less serious topics, like music, Webb talked about rock musician Frank Zappa, whose music he apparently dug.

After lunch, we all walked across the street to the state capitol complex and filmed some final scenes of Webb conducting his research on a microfiche machine in the state capitol library. We said our goodbyes there, and as the five members of our Japanese/American team headed back toward our rental car through the tree-lined lanes of the state capitol grounds in Sacramento, I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow the worst was yet to come for Gary Webb and his “Dark Alliance” investigation. To this day I can’t explain why it all hit me that way, but as events later played out, my gut instinct was proven right.

Straight to the Source

Before we left Sacramento that evening, however, at my request we contacted Webb for one more favor — a big favor that I knew he was likely to turn down: We asked him to let us talk directly to his prime source in the “Dark Alliance” story, Coral Talavera Baca. She was the one who had first tipped Webb off to the U.S. government connections to the Nicaraguan drug dealers who had, in turn, helped fuel the crack cocaine outbreak in inner-city Los Angeles back in the 1980s. Webb said he would run our request past Talavera Baca, and get back to us.

The reply soon came. To my great surprise, they said yes. I guessed that at that point, having endured the American corporate media onslaught against “Dark Alliance” and all the U.S. government denials about the CIA and crack cocaine, Webb and Talavera Baca probably felt they had nothing left to lose by sharing their story with a TV film crew from faraway Japan. Whatever their reasons were for accepting our request, I knew that we were getting access into the inner sanctum of the “Dark Alliance” story that no other press company, certainly not in the USA, was getting at the time. This was indeed an exclusive — the first public interview that Coral Talavera Baca would do in relation to “Dark Alliance”.

I also knew that Webb was also violating the unspoken rule in the news business of never sharing your prime sources with other journalists. It was a universal thing in the news business: When you had a big story, you kept your sources close to you and usually did not go around sharing them with other reporters. I myself had refused to share sources in Japan in the past when I worked for Japanese newspapers. The magnanimity of Webb’s gesture in our case was not lost on me, at least, and my professional respect for him rose a notch higher.

What kind of interview would we get from the woman who had lit the fuse that led to the national and international firestorm that was “Dark Alliance”? We headed early the next morning back down to the San Francisco Bay Area, where we would soon find out.

(continued in part 3)

Remembering ‘Dark Alliance’ (1)

It was late in the afternoon on a September day in 1996, when my wife and I and our young son, then just a couple years old, visited a small retail store in West Los Angeles that U.S. filmmaker Spike Lee had recently opened to promote merchandise from his various films. Being a fan of Lee’s work at the time, I knew his store, “Spike’s West”, was one of the places we had to visit during our brief vacation in L.A. before we returned home to Japan.

As we walked into the store that late afternoon, my eye caught a set of free newspapers sitting on a small vertical rack on the sidewalk just outside the shop. I paused to browse through them. They were local African American community newspapers, and a front-page story on one of them immediately pulled me in.

It was a story about a recently held town hall meeting organized in Los Angeles by Ms. Maxine Waters, a representative of the U.S. Congress whose district covered this part of the city. She had brought a special guest to speak directly to her constituency: a reporter I had never heard of, Gary Webb, who worked for a newspaper I knew well, the
San Jose Mercury News of northern California.

I read on, literally glued to the spot, and waved my wife and son on into the store ahead of me. As I stood in front of the store reading the article, everything around me was tuned out, even the noise of traffic on busy Melrose Avenue and passersby on the sidewalk. The newspaper article reported about how the journalist, Gary Webb, had published just the month before a three-part series in the
Mercury News that linked the crack cocaine outbreak in the United States with the contras, a right-wing paramilitary force in Nicaragua sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the 1980s, back when actor-in-chief Ronald Reagan was president of the USA.

The CIA and crack cocaine? How come I never heard of this? I wondered. I had left the corporate newspaper business in Japan for good the previous year in 1995 and was admittedly out of the loop on things, but this seemed like a major issue. Why hadn’t I ever heard anything about it in the Japanese press — or even in the American press, for that matter?

Before I realized it, the sun was slowing sinking and lights were starting to come on. I put the newspaper back in the rack and made a mental note to myself to pick it up again when we left the store. And that’s just what I did. Later that evening, when I had time to sit down and read through the whole story, the sense of shock sank in even more deeply.

It was shock not so much at the thought of the CIA being linked to drugs — there was a documented history of that, after all — but more like shock over a U.S. government connection to a major social problem that had literally devastated Black communities all across America, as the outbreak of crack cocaine use and abuse had done in the 1980s and 1990s. Now the powerful truth was finally starting to come out.

And that’s how I first encountered “Dark Alliance”, one of the most important news stories in decades: not from the big U.S. corporate press companies (which were mostly ignoring the story at that early stage), but by Black news media across the U.S., which were all over “Dark Alliance” from the beginning. It was really due to them that I had come across this story at all.

Today, 18 August, and the next two days, arrive exactly 20 years on the calendar since Gary Webb’s three-part “Dark Alliance” series was published in the
San Jose Mercury News, leaving its indelible mark on the world. Many things have happened since then, and at this point in time it seems appropriate to stop and reflect on all the events of two decades ago, and to share a few insights from my own humble place in the broader “Dark Alliance” saga.

I’ve gone on to write quite a lot about “Dark Alliance” and Gary Webb over the years, but this time, in commemorating both the story and the journalist at the 20-year mark, I’d like do something I’ve never done before and write about it more from the personal side: the impressions, thoughts, feelings I had about covering “the story about the story”, what it all meant to me personally and professionally, and why it remains so relevant to me and a lot of other people all these years later.

Getting on the Case

Once my family and I returned from our vacation to Japan later in September 1996, I kept my eye out for any word in the news about that story, “Dark Alliance”, and its author, Gary Webb. Not a thing about it appeared in the press here in Japan.

Then, a couple of months or so after we got back home, a door opened. I was asked by a Japanese photojournalist friend of mine, who was then working for a television production company in Tokyo, to join in the making of a planned TV documentary about the “drug scourge” in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. The documentary was to be broadcast on TV Tokyo, one of the major television networks in Japan, during prime time. I jumped at the chance, and knew right away what story I would push for as part of that documentary: the “Dark Alliance” investigation that I remembered reading about in front of Spike Lee’s store back in L.A only a few months earlier.

I then contacted Scott Gorman, an independent journalist based in Anacortes, Washington state, to be the Man Friday — the person on the ground back in the U.S. who would help us put it all together. I had recalled briefly meeting Gorman a couple years earlier in Osaka, Japan, when he was visiting on some kind of foundation-sponsored trip, and sent him an e-mail. In my pitch to him about the planned Japanese TV documentary project, I wrote:

One off-the-wall idea…is interviewing Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News, the intrepid reporter who recently exposed the CIA-contra-crack connection, to get his version of the sordid tale. My reasoning is that since politics and narcotics are so hard to separate these days, it is essential for a serious documentary on drugs to cover a government’s role in such a mess.

Luckily, Gorman took the bait, and we now had a team — and a lot of work to be done under demanding conditions. I thought of it as one of those situations that was almost destined to happen. The stars seemed perfectly aligned. All the connections and chance occurrences of the past few months and years seemed to be falling right into place. After 10 years of working for newspapers in the U.S. and Japan, I had recently quit the corporate news business and was now ready to prove myself as a journalistic free agent. The Japanese TV documentary project came along at the best possible moment, and I was passionate from the outset about getting coverage of “Dark Alliance” into our video report.

So, we started the gears moving on the project and soon were ready to begin our 10 days of traveling and filming in several U.S. cities, both on the east and west coasts, in early February 1997. The night before I was to catch my flight from Tokyo to New York, I got my first-ever view of something called a “website” on the computer of my Japanese photojournalist friend, the only person I knew in Japan who even owned a personal computer equipped with such high-tech functions at the time.

I gave him a website address I had jotted down, and soon saw for the first time what it was that had been causing all the uproar over the CIA and crack cocaine back in the USA. Slowly, as the image rolled down the pitch-black screen from top to bottom, there in all its glory was the stark image of a man smoking crack cocaine behind the official seal of the CIA. “
Dark Alliance — The Story Behind the Crack Explosion” read the dark-red letters in typewriter font. And there was the reporter’s name, Gary Webb, the guy I had read about in that newspaper article in front of that store in L.A. some months before.

I sat there in front of the computer transfixed, as much by the advanced technology of these new things called the “World Wide Web” and the “Internet” as by the realization that I was witnessing the future of journalism right before my eyes. And all the way on the flight from Tokyo to New York, all I could think about was us getting to California in a few more days to interview that newspaper reporter and get his “Dark Alliance” story on tape so that TV audiences in Japan too could be exposed to the latest U.S. government connections to the underworld of international drug trafficking. I took it as something of a personal mission of mine to help get the “Dark Alliance” story out to the Japanese public.

But if I had bothered to look out at the vast night sky on that long overseas flight, I might have noticed just one or two stars that were not quite aligned. Fate, as they say, sometimes makes its own calls despite the best of well-laid plans.

(continued in part 2)

The Presidential Election Cycle Morning-After Blues

It was a rough and wild ride, one you knew you’d never forget, and you drowsily awake in a state of lingering bliss as the sun rises on a Friday morning in late January 2017. It’s a brand-new day. You nudge your partner. “Hey sleepyhead, you awake?”

Your partner groans and stretches, then rolls over to face you, with the covers pulled up to her chin. It’s none other Hillary Rodham Clinton, or more intimately “H
”, as you always liked to call her in your many illicit love notes to her. Her bleached-blonde hair still perfectly coiffed, she smiles sheepishly back at you.

“So, how does it feel, Madame President?” you ask. “Madame President — what a nice ring that has. Well, anyway, we did it!”


“Yeah, all of us. You know, the voters. We got the first woman president elected to the White House: the dyed-in-the-wool Democrats, the dump-Trump Republicans and even the never-Hillary Sanders supporters. We all came together as a nation, put aside our differences, and got you elected as leader of the free world.”

“So,” you seductively ask, “was it…good for you too?”

“You mean last night?” wonders H

“I mean, the last year. The campaigning, the TV debates, the primaries, the big party convention with all the balloons. We gave you our heart and soul. Now, our hearts are yours to take into the White House with you. It’s about time to show the men what a woman can do in the nation’s highest office.”

“Sounds good to me, honey,” H

“The Obamas were such nice people, so friendly and down-to-earth, and Barack had that real human touch. It was so refreshing to have a president in the White House who could talk, sing, dance, laugh — even cry, just like everyone else. That’s gonna be a hard act to follow, especially with your cool, calculated image. But let me give you some pointers. May I?” you inquire. H

“First of all, you need a family in your new residence, just like Barack had. That’s a must. The White House is a family-friendly facility now. We suggest you bring Chelsea back in, and her family too. You know, kinda show Chelsea the ropes of your job, just in case. And that serial philanderer of a husband, Bill, you can keep in a suitcase. Joking! But seriously, we’re expecting a lot of things from you, so don’t let us down.”

raises an eyebrow. “Expecting things? Like what?”

“Oh, like gay rights. You need to soften up on that. Gay rights are so important to so many people. If Barack can embrace it, so can you. Maybe make your chief of staff a prominently known gay person. Fill your administration with them, and you’ll be a true heroine.”

You continue. “Then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Bernie Sanders made you distance yourself from the TPP, Trump was always against it — in fact, most people around the world are against it. And you need to remain against it too. American corporations are way too fat and greedy as it is. It’s time for you and your VP, Tim Kain, to rein in Wall Street and lay down the law: American domestic needs come first and last.”

raises the other eyebrow, and you go on. “Foreign policy: New change of direction. You’re gonna show that a woman commander-in-chief doesn’t need to be a warmonger, like the men. Women are the life-bringers, men are the life-takers. Ain’t that the truth? So, what we want you to do is bring this so-called ‘war on terrorism’ to a close. Bush started it, Barack extended it, now Hillary’s gonna end it. Ha! That’ll make the Pentagon dudes shake in their macho boots!”

scoots up in the bed and faces you. You’ve got her attention now. “And then there’s Israel,” you continue. “You tell them you no longer need their dirty lobby-group money. Tell them to stop killing the Palestinians and start negotiating with them. If we didn’t put up with apartheid in South Africa, we’re sure not gonna tolerate it in the Middle East. If Israel refuses to follow your orders, you cut off their billions of dollars in U.S. military aid. Simple as that. Same goes for Saudi Arabia, with all its oil and human rights abuses.”

A feeling of hope for the future wells up within you. “And the global environment? You’re gonna own that issue. ‘The Climate Change President’ — how’s that for a brand image? You’re gonna go much farther on that than Barack ever did. We can’t let the faux-Frenchies up north in Canada beat us on this one. Dealing with climate change once and for all will be America’s most important policy priority, and you’re the one who’s gonna make history and make it happen.”

You’re on a roll now. “And speaking of apartheid, Black lives
do matter here in the USA, and we want you to reach out to the younger generation of African American citizens who have much to say. Put your foot down firmly: no more police violence against our Black brothers and sisters of this nation. Apologize for that racist ‘super predator’ remark you made about Black American kids, back when your hubby was prez. Really reach out to the African American community now — after all, they helped put both you and Billy-boy in the White House, remember?”

By now there’s a palpable feeling of tension in the bedroom. H
is scowling.

“And don’t get me started on Henry Kissinger, the old playboy of the West Wing,” you add. “Huh. That relic from the Vietnam war days can’t even travel overseas these days for fear of getting subpoenaed by other countries and thrown in jail for one past war crime or another. True! And you want to snuggle up to him as a respected elder statesman now? Forget it. Tell him to take his bloated male ego and stick it—”


The sudden outburst by H
fills the room and shocks you into silence. She’s beet-red in the face and trying to catch her breath. A few strands of hair slide down her forehead. You pull the bedcovers up to your eyes in fear.

“I’ll have none of that,” H
scolds you. “Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m an old hand in these matters. Cut off money from Wall Street? Flush TPP down the toilet? Give Israel the finger? Climate change president? Coddle Black voters? Are you out of your mind?

“But what about all those nice promises you made during the election campaign?” you say, defending yourself from her wrath.

“You naïve nitwit. Don’t you know how the game is played by now? The campaign is the campaign. All the candidates make promises and break them as soon as they get into the White House. Barack sure did. What happened to all that ‘change’ stuff he promised? And you want
me to suddenly come out as Ms. Nice and Clean? You people amaze me.”

“You people?”

“Yeah. Voters. Of both parties. First thing you want to do when we get into office is start telling us what you expect, what you want from us. Well, I’ll tell you what you’re
going to get from me: You’re going to get a government of national consensus. It’s time to heal the wounds of the past, let bygones be bygones, and move on. America has a whole planet to conquer, and it’s time for all of us to join together and do it. I’m the president of all Americans now, not just the liberal ones.”

You see where she is going with this. “Oh, no. Tell me you’re not gonna do it.”

“Yes indeed,” H
says. “Top of my list: reach out to Donald Trump and his millions of disgruntled white voters. I need them on my side now. We’re too divided as a nation. The country needs to unite. Want to know which position I’ve got lined up for Trump?”

“Spare me the pain,” you say, your eyes filling with tears. “That scumbag! After all he said about you? After all the disrespect he’s shown women everywhere? How insulting. I can’t believe it. Just can’t believe it…”

“Oh, come off it, honey,” H
says, wagging a finger in your face. “Get with the program. Quit acting like some childish Don Quixote tilting at windmills. I’ve got a nation to run, and you’re sniffing about respect? It’s a mean, dirty world out there and you need men to help run it. Well, I’m all for sharing power with the dumber sex, and yes, even with right-wing chauvinistic pigs like Trump, if I have to. But I will get the job done — and you will support me in this.”

You gasp. The person lying next to you in bed, the person you thought you knew so well these past many months, seems like a cold-hearted stranger to you now.

You muster up some courage, look at her long and hard, and before you can stop yourself, the words fly out of your mouth: “You know, the people put you in power. And the people can kick you out again. If you take us for granted, we can take you down.”

laughs hysterically. “You’ll do no such thing. Your money didn’t get me elected in the first place. You don’t have that kind of money, honey. Save your little piggy bank for your favorite charity. In the big leagues, only the big money counts. No one gets to the White House unbought and unsold. No one. You play, you pay.”


“You’re starting to drool, honey. Spit it out. What are you trying to say?”

BUT I VOTED FOR YOU!!” And you sob uncontrollably into your bedsheets.

This emotional scene is all too much for H
, who gets out of bed and starts getting dressed. The minutes pass, and she stands in front of a full-length mirror in a brand-new, perfectly creased, navy blue pant suit. “Well, honey,” she says, holding out her arms, “how do I look?”

“Like a million bucks,” you say, “and I hate you for it. And stop calling me ‘honey’. It makes me feel so cheap.”

“Well, I’ve got a presidential inauguration to get to this afternoon, so we’ll say goodbye here. Thanks for all the support and love along the way, and let me know how I’m doing from time to time. OK?”

“So, that’s it?” you ask, hurt. “I screw you, and then you walk out of my life forever — just like that?”

“Oh, nothing is forever. I’ll be back again in four years. We’ll find another big, bad Republican demon to scare you to death, and you’ll vote me right back into office again. That’s the way the crooked old game is played in this great country of ours.”

gets to the bedroom door, opens it, and just before she exits, turns around and addresses you one last time with the knowing smirk of a lover: “Besides, honey,” she winks, “just who screwed who?”

Moral of the Story:
Vote only for someone you can face waking up to the next morning.

A Pardon for Peltier


The Honorable Barack H. Obama II
President, United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500, USA

Dear President Obama:

You have many important domestic and international and issues before you at the moment that require your time and attention, and the fate of a 71-year-old man in failing health who has been in prison on U.S. soil for more than 40 years for a crime that, by all credible accounts, he did not commit is probably not among your highest priorities.

But I am writing you as a United States citizen living overseas — as one voice currently among many thousands of people around the world — to ask you to make this imprisoned man’s life your priority before your term as president ends in just a few more months. I ask you to grant executive clemency to Leonard Peltier.

As a constitutional law scholar, you are probably familiar by now with Mr. Peltier’s name and his case. As a descendant of the Anishinabe and Lakota indigenous nations of North America, Mr. Peltier was active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) of the 1960s and 1970s in standing up for his people’s rights and holding the USA accountable for broken treaties made with First Nations peoples in the past.

Mr. Peltier was with other AIM activists at a spiritual camp on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota — one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the United States — one day in June 1975, when two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) appeared suddenly on the scene without warning. A shootout ensued, and the two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, as well as a Native American member of AIM, Joseph Stuntz, were killed in the exchange of gunfire.

The FBI put the full weight of its investigative powers into hunting Peltier down and later getting him extradited from Canada, where he had fled following the shootout at Pine Ridge. He has been behind bars ever since in various U.S. prisons; currently he is imprisoned at maximum-security U.S. Penitentiary Coleman I in the state of Florida, serving the remainder of two life sentences.

But from the start, the FBI’s case against Mr. Peltier was flawed, to put it mildly.

Ballistics tests by the FBI have never conclusively linked Mr. Peltier to the killing of the two FBI agents. Tainted evidence and false testimony by alleged witnesses who were pressured by the FBI were used to get Mr. Peltier convicted. Even the U.S. government’s lead prosecutor, Lynn Crooks, admitted in a court session in the 1990s that nobody really knows who shot and killed those FBI agents that day on Pine Ridge back in 1975. A former judge who had presided over Mr. Peltier’s early court cases,
the late Gerald Heaney, went on to insist that Mr. Peltier deserved clemency.

Mr. Peltier, for his part, has confirmed that he was there at the Pine Ridge shootout that day, but has always maintained his innocence in the unfortunate deaths of the two FBI agents.

Among the
many persons around the globe who have called for Leonard Peltier’s release from prison in the USA over the years are two people you deeply respect, President Obama: the late Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, also of South Africa. Mr. Mandela served 27 years for a crime he did not commit; by comparison, Mr. Peltier is now in his fourth decade of incarceration in the USA for a crime that he too did not commit. Archbishop Tutu has called for Peltier to be granted parole and released due to a “failed” U.S. justice system.

Mr. Peltier’s health is also failing him. He has not received the medical attention he desperately needs, and the prison authorities seem to be in no hurry to allow him to get well soon. His time is running out, and he and his family and supporters are appealing one last time for Mr. Peltier to be released before his health takes a turn for the worse and it becomes too late.

Mr. Peltier
shared these sentiments in a letter he released earlier this year on June 26, which marked 41 years to the day since the shootout at Pine Ridge that later led to his imprisonment: “As the last remaining months of President Obama’s term pass by, my anxiety increases. I believe that this president is my last hope for freedom, and I will surely die here if I am not released by January 20, 2017.”

For First Nations peoples throughout the U.S., Mr. Peltier’s treatment at the hands of the authorities over these past four decades has represented one travesty of justice in a long line of injustices over the past few centuries. President Obama, you have some credibility among Native American communities in the U.S. — please use that credibility and do the right thing. Release Leonard Peltier to his family and his people right away. Let the healing begin to take place that needs to take place.

As you may recall, the last time that a U.S. president grappled with the decision to grant executive clemency to Leonard Peltier was back in late 2000, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. President Clinton eventually decided to leave Mr. Peltier behind in prison and, instead,
granted a pardon to one of the president’s own wealthy supporters, a billionaire who was then hiding out overseas to escape prosecution for the U.S. federal crime of tax evasion. President Obama, please do not make the same mistake that your predecessor in the White House, Mr. Clinton, did: Release Mr. Peltier unconditionally with a full pardon. Forty years is long enough for anyone to have to wait for justice in the USA. You now have the political authority and the opportunity to make sure that justice is finally done in the case of Mr. Peltier, and by extension, to all of his people.

No doubt you would be roundly condemned by the FBI for daring to call for Mr. Peltier’s release — just as many of Mr. Peltier’s supporters, at home and abroad, have been criticized over the years for daring to stand up and demand that justice be done in the case of Mr. Peltier. But it is a call you must make, President Obama, and soon, before Mr. Peltier’s time truly does run out. In any case, you can rest assured that you would have the support of many, many more people around the world, should you decide that Mr. Peltier is to receive a presidential pardon. History would certainly be on your side for doing the right thing at the end of your presidency.

Let justice take its well-deserved course, and let the long-overdue closure begin with Leonard Peltier’s first steps outside of a prison cell, which he should never have been sent to in the first place. Let Mr. Peltier, now a respected elder, live out the remainder of his days in the care and comfort of his family and community, serving society in ways he sees fit.

Mr. President, I cannot urge you strongly enough to grant a pardon to Native American political prisoner Leonard Peltier before you leave office. Please make his release from prison after 40 years a top priority in the months to come.

Respectfully yours,

Brian Ohkubo Covert
Kawanishi, Japan

For further reference:
International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee
Prison Writings: My Life is My Sun Dance (excerpts, 2000) by Leonard Peltier
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse (excerpts, 1992 updated edition) by Peter Matthiessen
Warrior — The Life of Leonard Peltier documentary film (1992)
Incident at Oglala documentary film (1992)

Sisters for Hillary, Unite!

A recently published New York Times article reported on how the campaign message this year of a U.S. presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is apparently not being embraced by younger generations of women and feminists in the USA.

Two icons of American female success quoted in the story — Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright — in particular caused a bit of an uproar. While it seems that my progressive sisters on social media and elsewhere have this matter well under control and are putting everything into proper perspective for the press, for what it’s worth I offer a few independent observations of my own. After all, if Steinem and Albright are the type of people who are waving the banner for Hillary Clinton, then it’s important that we know all about them.

So, let us look a bit more closely at the two prominent women quoted in that story. And to deal with any lingering doubts or questions that may remain, a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” is provided for the benefit of readers at this end of this blog column.

Secret Agent Woman

In a
recent television interview, Gloria Steinem, when confronted with the issue of why younger generations of women are today supporting presidential candidate Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, responded: “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie or wherever,” implying that hormones, not intellect, are the primary factor for young women in deciding which political candidate to support.

She also mentioned something that made a whole lot of sense to me: “Women get more radical as we get older. It’s the opposite of men. Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, and women get more radical because they lose power as they age.”

It made sense to me because it helped explain why Steinem, at such an “unradical” young age in the late 1950s and 1960s, decided she would work as an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as
this New York Times story from 1967 recalls.

Author and professor Hugh Wilford, in his book
The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Harvard University Press, 2008), details how Gloria Steinem, a young, politically idealistic person, knowingly joined a CIA media front company (the Independent Research Service) to essentially help sabotage youth festivals in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s that were believed to be under communist influence.

When the whole thing came to light in 1967 as part of an exposé by the San Francisco-based muckraking magazine
Ramparts, Steinem, to her credit, did not deny her four-year service to the CIA, as this television interview at the time shows. On the contrary, she was pleasantly surprised at how “liberal” the CIA really was: “…I had the conventional liberal’s view as a right-wing incendiary group, and I was amazed to discover that this was far from the case — that they [the CIA] were enlightened, liberal, nonpartisan activists of the sort who characterized the Kennedy administration, for instance.”

Just to put it all into proper perspective: This was at a time when the U.S. war on Vietnam was raging with full CIA participation, and in an age when the “enlightened, liberal” CIA that Steinem worked for was waging secret wars around the world, and overthrowing democratic governments and installing puppet leaders more amenable to the whims of Washington and Wall Street.

In the years and decades that followed, as Steinem came to be increasingly respected as a symbol of American feminism, she never denied her earlier CIA ties — but never renounced them either. To get a more complete picture of Gloria Steinem’s importance to feminism and woman’s rights, though, you are encouraged to
visit her website and spend some time looking around. You’ll find much to be impressed by there (except, of course, anything having to do with the CIA).

The Bureaucratic Butcher of Baghdad

At a campaign rally recently, Madeleine Albright, a respected U.S. diplomat and politician, said in support of Hillary Clinton: “Just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” as the crowd roared and Mrs. Clinton laughed heartily. Albright assured Clinton that she was “not only going to the White House, but to that other place” as well, and pointed upward to heaven (as opposed to hell), earning a warm hug from the candidate.

But have we forgotten so soon who Madeleine Albright was and what helped her to earn her esteemed place in history? During the presidency of U.S. president Bill Clinton, Albright served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She later served as secretary of state in the Clinton administration, the first woman in U.S. history ever to do so. Impressive credentials, to be sure.

Yet it was in Albright’s capacity as U.N. representative that she had pushed hard for severe U.N. economic sanctions to remain in place as a punishment for Iraqi military dictator Saddam Hussein thumbing his nose at the mighty USA. In 1996, the CBS News program
60 Minutes, in a rare show of sympathy for victims of U.S. imperialism, aired a segment filmed in Iraq that showed the real victims of those U.S.-led sanctions — the civilian population of Iraq, and especially Iraqi children.

Reporter Lesley Stahl asked Albright, in her role as ambassador to the U.N., in an interview if the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children were worth the moral price of keeping those sanctions in place. Albright’s infamous reply: “I think this is a very hard choice. But the price — we think the price is worth it. It is a moral question, but the moral question is even a larger one: Don’t we owe to the American people and to the American military — and to the other countries in the region — that this man [Saddam Hussein] not be a threat?”

This shocking statement was reported widely in news media of the Arab world at the time, but
almost unreported in the domestic U.S. press. With those words, Albright was justifying the past deaths of an estimated half a million Iraqi children, and many more Iraqi people in the years to come. And notice the “we” in that statement, representing the consensus of the Democratic administration of then-president Bill Clinton and undoubtedly the support of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Albright was in a position to exert some moral authority and call for the lifting of economic sanctions on the Iraqi people, but she would not and did not do it. She had sold her human soul by then.

It is true that Saddam Hussein (who the CIA originally helped put in power back in 1963) was a tyrant who did unspeakably horrible things to political dissidents in his country. But one thing he never did was condemn half a million or more of his own nation’s children to death. Madeleine Albright, on the other hand, had no qualms about doing just such a thing. If Saddam Hussein had earned the heinous title “The Butcher of Baghdad” in his lifetime, would it be going too far to say, then, that Madeleine Albright is “The Bureaucratic Butcher of Baghdad”? I don’t think it goes too far, and that’s exactly how I see her. And I know I’m not the only one in the world who thinks so.

And the Middle East is not the only place where Albright is an unpopular U.S. governmental figure, either. Witness the
scene at a bookstore in Czechoslovakia (where Albright is originally from) just a few years ago: Some pro-Serbian activists approached her and criticized her role in the American-led 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, calling her a “war criminal”. Albright responded with an ethnic slur: “Disgusting Serbs! Get out!”

This is the eminent person chosen to help rally for Hillary Clinton in her current election campaign — an eminent person who literally condemned to death not only Iraqi children but also directed to purgatory any women in the U.S. who do not support Clinton as U.S. president. No wonder many young women activists are now taking Albright (and Clinton and Gloria Steinem) to task. They know the score, and are more in touch with what feminism means today than those three icons will ever be.


Question-1: All right, Mr. Smarty Pants — who are you going to vote for in the upcoming presidential election, a man or a woman? A liberal or a conservative?

Answer-1: It’s none of your business; that's what we have private balloting for. But I can tell you who I did vote for in the recent past for U.S. president: Dr. Cynthia McKinney. She would have made a damn fine U.S. president — not because she’s a woman or because she’s African American, but because of her stated policies of the massive redistribution of wealth in the United States and her commitment to human rights and environmental protection. I’m all for that.

Did she ever have a chance at getting elected U.S. president? Well, she would have, if more people had joined me in voting for her. And I sure don’t remember any icons of American feminism coming anywhere near McKinney’s campaign at the time. One thing is for sure: Cynthia McKinney would have shaken up the White male-dominated worlds of Washington and Wall Street in ways that Hillary Clinton (and Barack Obama too, for that matter) would never dare to do.

Q-2: What have you, a typical male, ever done about advancing the cause of womanhood?

A-2: Well, there’s always more that can be done on behalf of our sisters and getting them elected and placed in important decision-making positions, and we should always be committed to doing that. And what have I personally ever done for women? Well, I started out young in childhood: When my drunken, alcoholic father would be beating my mother to a pulp in the middle of the night, I would be the only one of three young boys to bother with protecting or defending her. In fact, it was I who eventually threw that chauvinistic pig of a husband/father out of our lives forever, thereby bringing some measure of peace and stability to the family. I was also put to work at a young age (in violation of labor union rules and child labor laws) so as to help my single mother pay the bills.

Many years later, when I was working at my first newspaper reporting job at the
Tahoe Daily Tribune in South Lake Tahoe, California, I once wrote up a nice story on a prominent woman politician in our city. At that point, my boss (a female managing editor) promptly killed the story, saying that the prominent local woman who I chose to interview happened to be a political enemy of our newspaper publisher (a fat, obnoxious, middle-aged Republican White male). So, my news story was censored and never ran, teaching me a valuable lesson about how women’s issues really work in the USA, especially in the media. I could go on with more examples, but you get the picture.

Q-3: How dare you equate the honorable Madeleine Albright with a cold-blooded killer! Where is your sense of shame?

A-3: Probably back there somewhere in the 1990s with all the Iraqi mothers who had to lose their innocent children to starvation, malnourishment and lack of medical attention — all so that Washington and the United Nations could make a geopolitical point in the Middle East region.

And the same goes for all the mothers of Afghanistan and Iraq who lost their loved ones during the unlawful U.S. military invasions of their countries, respectively, in 2001 and 2003 — invasions that were fully supported at the time by Hillary Clinton and other “liberal” members of the Democratic Party, both male and female. I’ll stand on the side of Afghan and Iraqi women any day of the week; they know what it really means to take the brunt of war policies carried out by powerful, well-connected U.S. women like Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton.

Q-4: What do you suggest we do, let the Republicans come back into the White House again? That would be a total disaster. What can’t people like you just get behind the Democrats now and support Hillary Clinton?

A-4: Sure, right. As if the drastic escalation of the so-called “war on terror” by President Obama, a Democrat, hasn’t been a disaster in itself for the U.S. and the world these past eight years. Sister (and I’m assuming you’re a woman here), you should know your American history better than that by now. The U.S. presidential election is little more than “The Great American Ping-Pong Game” staged with great fanfare and obscene amounts of money every few years, with the two players being the Republican and Democratic party elites — and the ping-pong ball they swat back and forth being us, the voters.

It’s all about money and power, and who holds it and who doesn’t. Like many other people, I stopped voting Democrat (and started voting progressive) years ago and have never regretted it for a moment. It’s time for many more of us to opt out of the ping-pong game, overturn that playing table, change the rules, and make it a more honest and equitable game for all — not just for the wealthy, privileged few.

And if supporting Hillary Clinton and her ilk is absolutely your thing, then go for it. I guess all I can really say to you in that case is: Sisters for Hillary, Unite! All Power to the (Wealthy White Female) People! Unoccupy Wall Street! Chelsea Clinton for President in 2024!

Q-5: Self-hating women can be just as obstructive as men when it comes to moving women’s rights forward. Why don’t you understand that?

A-5: Oh, I get that part, all right. What I don’t understand is how you can have people of strained credibility like Secret Agent Woman (Gloria Steinem) and The Bureaucratic Butcher of Baghdad (Madeleine Albright) as your supporters, and then condemn to purgatory, as Albright literally did the other day, other feminists and women activists who don’t “get with the program” of voting for an elitist politician like Hillary Clinton.

The “self-hating _________
(fill in the blank)” is a very useful tool for shaming people: There are the so-called self-hating Jews and Muslims, the self-hating Blacks/Latinos/Asians/Natives/Whites, the self-hating Christians and Protestants, the self-hating Republicans and Democrats, the self-hating Progressives, even the self-hating yuppies. (Wait a minute, scratch that last one.) Where does it all end? Stop the harmful accusations and the negative labeling, for starters. Maybe then we can get somewhere and start changing things for real.

We are Sandra Bland

During the worst years of apartheid in South Africa, it was not uncommon for a person, usually Black and poor, to be arrested by police and then just disappear — never to be heard from or seen again. Suicide while in police custody, especially by hanging, was often listed as the official cause of such deaths.

Not even the well-known Black Consciousness Movement leader
Steve Biko was exempt from police abuse. Biko, South African police said, had died of a “hunger strike” at age 30 while in jail in September 1977; it came out much later that he had died after being tortured by the country’s notorious security police and then refused the proper medical treatment. A cover-up of Biko’s death had taken place all the way to the top of the South African government. Biko’s crime? Being caught out of his designated “banning area” after curfew one night.

In the case of Ms. Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African-American citizen, the “crime” was a much simpler and thus more insidious one: a very minor traffic violation in Texas in July that led to her being arrested on a major felony charge. She was found to have killed herself by hanging in her jail cell three days later. Bland’s surviving family members do not believe the official ruling that she took her own life while behind bars, and neither do I. Looking closely at all the facts in the case, it's not hard to come to the conclusion that an official police cover-up of some kind was (and still is) in place.

The family has recently
filed a lawsuit seeking justice in the case, and I hope they get it. Her death did not need to happen; indeed, she should have never been cited for any traffic violation at all, let alone violently threatened, manhandled and arrested by a white police officer. But in apartheid USA, as in the apartheid state of South Africa, that is the reality that people of color are facing today.

My blood boils whenever I read about or see videos of American police officers abusing otherwise innocent U.S. citizens at gunpoint, especially African-American citizens, often killing them on the spot regardless of whether or not they obey the police officer’s barked commands. And how many fathers among us do not seethe in rage when we see scenes of Black children being pushed, shoved, grabbed at, cursed at or even shot and killed at point-blank range by a white public servant in a police uniform? Any one of those abused kids could be our own kids, and if we are not angry about that fact alone, then there something is wrong with us.

The case of Sandra Bland, as sad and unnecessary as it was, is reportedly only part of a
larger trend of rising suicide rates in U.S. jails in recent years. Do those rising rates reflect actual prisoner suicides while in detention — or deaths that were successfully covered up as “suicide” by police? Either way, we can see it as part of a much bigger societal problem that seems vastly underreported by the U.S. corporate-owned news media.

Other countries’ media seem to be doing a better job of putting all the U.S. police violence in the proper context of a growing American military-police state.
The Guardian newspaper of Britain, for one, has been chronicling all deaths at the hands of police in the U.S. this year in an interactive database titled “The Counted”. If you want to see what apartheid America really looks like in these early decades of the 21st century, this is a good place to start.

If it can happen in South Africa, it can happen in the United States of America: police harassment, unnecessary or illegal arrests, deaths in detention, “suicide” of prisoners while behind bars, tainted investigations. And it’s going to keep on happening until people, in great numbers in the United States, look this bureaucratic beast in the eye and come together to stop it before one more innocent Black life is taken.

U.S. leaders, President Barack Obama included, have been too busy in the past wagging their finger at the other “naughty” nations of the world about their human rights records to do anything at home about the corruption that is endemic to police agencies nationwide in the USA. But the countries that make up the United Nations have no such illusion or hesitation. The UN Human Rights Council
recently released a scathing report condemning the U.S. for its violence at home and abroad, for racial discrimination and for police violence against Black men.

Change only happens when people band together in very large numbers to raise hell and say “Enough is enough”. History has shown us that countless times. Sandra Bland, from what little we do know about her tragic case, at least did not go down quietly. And we shouldn’t either. We are all Sandra Bland — I am, and you are too — and when we get to that point where we can connect the circumstances surrounding her precious life and heartbreaking death to our own existence, then this corrupt system we call “America” may possibly be changed for the better.

But if we just sit back and watch like some helpless spectators at a Roman lion’s den, then the suspicious suicides while in police custody will continue on and on. If a minor traffic violation in apartheid USA is all it takes nowadays to “disappear” into the jail system and never be seen alive again, as it was with Sandra Bland, then watch out: The next traffic ticket that any one of us, whether U.S. or foreign citizen, receives from some so-called peace officer in the U.S. could easily be our last.

Apartheid, American-Style

I wondered aloud in a recent blog post how young people in the USA get their hands on high-caliber weapons, often with tragic consequences of innocent people getting killed. But I could just as well ask the same thing about police forces throughout the United States.

Ferguson, Missouri immediately comes to mind, of course, and the shooting death by police of 18-year-old Michael Brown. But contrary to what the apologists might say, we have seen this tragic scenario play out many times over the years in the United States of America, and it goes something like this:

White police officers shoot and kill an unarmed Black man. Police contend they were being violently attacked and acted purely in self-defense. Family demands an investigation. Community anger erupts. A respected national Black “civil rights” leader is called in to help calm things down. An independent investigation is promised. The investigation (if there is one) absolves police of homicide. Witnesses to the killing are ignored or have their credibility attacked. Media editorials defend and praise the actions of police for having done their job from the beginning. A family and a community are left to grieve over the loss of an innocent life. End of story...until the very same kind of incident happens in some other American city with equally tragic results again and again and again.

What will it take to stop this cycle of racist police violence and legal injustice against African American men and women in the United States? I do not claim to have all the answers. But at the very least, we need major changes in The System from top to bottom, for this problem is not merely a series of isolated incidents of police brutality. The problem is systemic, and the system is corrupt to the core.

It is not too much of a reach, given the course of U.S. history, to call the policing of American streets and the legal justice system of the USA as something akin to the apartheid system formerly found in South Africa. People of color in the U.S. may not have to carry a passbook that controls their every movement, as was the case in South Africa, but that does not stop African American citizens in their own communities from being singled out, questioned, detained, arrested, beaten or even killed in police custody for no other crime than being Black.

In South Africa, all politico-economic power over Black communities rested with institutions of White authority, just as if you were living in an occupied territory within your own country. Today, we see this same kind of system in more than a few cities throughout the United States. (A
decent story here on the how that kind of authority came to exist in the case of Ferguson, Missouri)

But while South Africa, in its transition to a democratic system 20 years ago, has made substantial efforts in dealing with those problems of racial division, American-style apartheid is very much still with us.

And it’s no longer a matter of what we used to call a “police state” in Black communities across the U.S. Now we see police forces in Ferguson and elsewhere armed to the teeth with military-grade equipment (courtesy of the Pentagon) and viewing themselves as standing on the frontlines of the so-called “war on terrorism”. What used to be a police state has now become the combined weight of a police-military-national security state that is falling on Black communities and other communities of color and economic deprivation.

More civilian control over police forces can be one answer to American apartheid, as some propose, but that won’t solve it all. More monitoring cameras attached to police cars and to police uniforms themselves may help, but such digital recordings can also be manipulated. Having the news media and activist groups such as Amnesty International converge on the scene of social unrest (
as they did in Ferguson) is fine, but what happens when all those outside witnesses decide to leave?

Protests and demonstrations against police abuse of power are surely needed to call attention to a specific killing at the hands of some racist police officer(s), but sooner or later we will have to deal with the American apartheid system as the root cause rather than as just a symptom.

The police killing in Ferguson, Missouri can happen, and does happen, in any American city at any time. And it will continue to happen until we shake up The System from top to bottom, at all levels of the courts and law enforcement and public policy. Just as in South Africa under apartheid, resistance and constant vigilance under American-style apartheid is needed — from all sides and at all levels, from the local to the national to the international level. People must keep on speaking up, standing up and acting up in the name of greater change.

Corrupt systems are never changed overnight, and they never voluntarily change themselves. Apartheid in South Africa has shown us that much. Yet if South Africa can substantially come to terms with its own brand of racial oppression, then so must the country that proclaims itself to be the bastion of liberty and democracy in the world. That’s you, America.
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