Category Archives: Social Justice

Monday: Honor the Memory of Aaron Swartz

From a post I wrote on the Massachusetts Pirate Party website.

I only got to meet Aaron Swartz once.  It was a great conversation and I feel lucky to have had that brief time to talk with him.

When I heard he died nearly a year ago, like many I was shocked and saddened.  His death was not only a loss for his family and friends, but was our loss.

Yet, I feel I have a special bond with Aaron.  You see on that January day, I realized that his death was on the birthday of one of my children.  Later I discovered that his birth date was the same as that of my other child.  That realization comforted me for when I look at my kids I will always remember him.

On Monday, January 13 starting at 3pm, Pirates will join with others to honor the memory of Aaron Swartz.  We hope you will join us.

We will gather in front of the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse, One Courthouse Way in Boston.  To get there by MBTA, take the Silver line to the Courthouse Station, or the Red line to South Station and walk.

The memorial will last from 3:00pm until 7:00pm.

There is a Facebook event with more details as well as demanding Carmen Ortiz’s job.

From Huxley to Orwell

Chris Hedges over at TruthDig has a well thought out article on our transition from Huxley’s Brave New World to Orwell’s 1984.  Corporate/Governmental domination R Us.  A few exerpts:

“The façade is crumbling. And as more and more people realize that they have been used and robbed, we will move swiftly from Huxley’s “Brave New World” to Orwell’s “1984.” The public, at some point, will have to face some very unpleasant truths. The good-paying jobs are not coming back. The largest deficits in human history mean that we are trapped in a debt peonage system that will be used by the corporate state to eradicate the last vestiges of social protection for citizens, including Social Security. The state has devolved from a capitalist democracy to neo-feudalism. And when these truths become apparent, anger will replace the corporate-imposed cheerful conformity. The bleakness of our post-industrial pockets, where some 40 million Americans live in a state of poverty and tens of millions in a category called “near poverty,” coupled with the lack of credit to save families from foreclosures, bank repossessions and bankruptcy from medical bills, means that inverted totalitarianism will no longer work.

Those who do not comply with the dictates of the war on terror, a war which, as Orwell noted, is endless, are brutally silenced. The draconian security measures used to cripple protests at the G-20 gatherings in Pittsburgh and Toronto were wildly disproportionate for the level of street activity. But they sent a clear message—DO NOT TRY THIS. The FBI’s targeting of antiwar and Palestinian activists, which in late September saw agents raid homes in Minneapolis and Chicago, is a harbinger of what is to come for all who dare defy the state’s official Newspeak. The agents—our Thought Police—seized phones, computers, documents and other personal belongings. Subpoenas to appear before a grand jury have since been served on 26 people. The subpoenas cite federal law prohibiting “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” Terror, even for those who have nothing to do with terror, becomes the blunt instrument used by Big Brother to protect us from ourselves.”

On the face of it I don’t buy that high government deficits mean that the US government will be crippled.  The Fed can easily print money to pay those deficits and we could inflate our way out of our debts albeit slowly and reasonably.  A bit of inflation tends to improve the situation better than the deflation we are approaching.

That all said, the one and half parties of the wealthy will attempt to convince us otherwise, cut the deficit by imposing austerity on the poor and middle class, not the wealthy or the military.  They never willingly impose austerity on the wealthy or the military.  Chris’ suggestions of our path looks true to me.

UPDATE: A friend suggested that Chris Hedges’ article reminded her of this Barbara Ehrenreich talk, put to cartoons – Smile or Die!

Just another damn quote from a tree hugger! [Good, we need more!]

Mark Boyle over at Just for the love of it posted a useful piece on why he attempts to live a life of zero waste and simplicity.  Here is one quote:

"Because we are so disconnected from the embodied energy, embodied
suffering and embodied destruction that goes into the things we buy,
the natural ecology of the planet we share is being eroded by the
minute, factory farms and horrific slaughterhouses have become insanely
'normal', and we kill millions of people in the middle east just so
that us greedy bastards can have the luxurious, built-in-obsolescence
gadgetry that oil cheap oil affords us. I am sorry if that sounds
harsh, but the truth shouldn't be avoided for fear of offence. One of
the problems in the media and the publishing world is that everyone is
so cautious that they'll upset the reader and lose some sales, and so
the truth is rarely laid bare. We're adults though, so lets all grow
up, it's really our ego's that are making this planet inhabitable for
many species."

Helping Haiti

Haiti had its latest devastation with the earthquake they suffered two days ago.  After being hit by four hurricanes in 2008 and 100s of years of US and French occupation/meddling, the earthquake was very devastating.

With at least three million people homeless, and likely over 100,000 people dead, it would be an understatement to say that things are dire there.  Bikes Not Bombs and WBUR have sites you can go to listing organizations that can help.  Locally, Partners in Health setup a page with news and ways for people to donate.  The Red Cross has setup a way to make a $10 donation by texting "Haiti" to 90999.

With 2.8 million homes foreclosed on in 2009 (higher than in 2008) and more bad economic news to come, it can be tough to find the money to give, but if you can, please do.

UPDATE: Just found out that my employer has a part to play in the Red Cross' 90999 text message donation program.  No company on the message path charges anything, so 100% of what you give goes to the Red Cross.  Not an endorsement, just a clarification.

Avatar, District 9 & White Liberation Fantasies

[NOTE: I haven't seen Avatar, though being a fan of Aliens and some of James Cameron's other work (the less about True Lies the better), I am inclined to do so.  Still, spoiler warning if you haven't seen either Avatar or District 9.]

Annalee Newitz of Io9 hits the analysis on the head when she critiques Avatar as just the latest scifi rehash of an old white guilt fantasy.  From the previews I have seen, her take looks spot on.

She goes on to talk about white privilege and makes a good connection with the situation of Wikus in District 9:

Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be
white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but
never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it's like to
be a Na'vi because he always has the option to switch back into human
mode. Interestingly, Wikus in District 9 learns a very
different lesson. He's becoming alien and he can't go back. He has no
other choice but to live in the slums and eat catfood. And guess what?
He really hates it. He helps his alien buddy to escape Earth solely
because he's hoping the guy will come back in a few years with a "cure"
for his alienness. When whites fantasize about becoming other races,
it's only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of
being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and
nobody will let you be a leader of anything.

She concludes with:

Whites need to stop remaking the white guilt story, which is a sneaky
way of turning every story about people of color into a story about
being white. Speaking as a white person, I don't need to hear more
about my own racial experience. I'd like to watch some movies about
people of color (ahem, aliens), from the perspective of that group,
without injecting a random white (erm, human) character to explain
everything to me. Science fiction is exciting because it promises to
show the world and the universe from perspectives radically unlike what
we've seen before. But until white people stop making movies like Avatar, I fear that I'm doomed to see the same old story again and again.

Praise Be!

Just saying: two months’ Pentagon spending could end official poverty

In Doug Henwood's latest Radio Commentary, he states:

On that point, a reminder of how little it would take to end poverty
in the USA. The so-called poverty gap, the amount of money necessary to
bring everyone whose household income is below the offical poverty line
up to that line, was about $138 billion in 2008, less than 1% of GDP.
Or, to put it more bluntly, about what the Pentagon spends in two
months. Or 3% of the total income of the richest fifth of American
households. Or roughly what we spent bailing out AIG. But Wall Street
and the war machine really need the money, you see.

Of course the official poverty level is far too low, as many, including Doug, have pointed out, but it would be a start.

Eight years later, using nonviolence in Afghanistan still looks like a good choice

In March of 2002, while running for Treasurer of the Commonwealth, I did a one day tour of the Fall River/New Bedford area including speaking engagements, radio appearances and an interview with the Herald News in Fall River.  I was aided by David Dionne, a great and tireless activist for social justice, peace, and the environment.  David had setup the whole day and first on the itinerary was the interview with the Herald News.

Now March, 2002 was about five months after the US invasion of Afghanistan and one of the reporter's first questions was what would be the Green Party's alternative to invading Afghanistan.  I stated that invading the country was the wrong approach and the US would have been better off in the long-term by building a nonviolent resistance movement to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda that sought the development and liberation of all of its citizens.

With President Obama's announcement that he will send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to join the 68,000 US soldiers, 43,000 NATO-ISAF soldiers, and 68,000 Pentagon contractors, the long-term has arrived.  When all is said and done, we are easily on track to have been there for a decade or more propping up a corrupt government run by warlords who share the Taliban's desire to keep women down. 

According to CostOfWar.com, a National Priorities Project, the US has spent $232 Billion funding military related operations in Afghanistan since our invasion in 2001.  This figure represents over $8,000 per Afghan citizen, or about $1000 a year for each person.  With Afghanistan's per capita yearly GDP at about $450, this amount would represent a tripling of the income of the average Afghan.  This figure is even more striking when you consider that we haven't delivered on the $5 Billion in aid we pledged to help Afghanistan rebuild.

We could have devoted a fraction of what our military has spent occupying Afghanistan on promoting economic development, education and health as well as building a native Afghan nonviolent resistance movement.  Would we have overthrown the Taliban by now?  Possibly.  People who have enough to eat, a job with a decent income and the ability to read have much more ability to organize and use nonviolent tactics to undermine the support of their leaders.  We forget when we judge the success of a nonviolent resistance that, after eight years of violent resistance to the Taliban, there is very real prospect that they may yet reestablish themselves as the rulers of Afghanistan.

By taking a long-term nonviolent approach, one that focused on economic development, education and improving the health of all Afghans, we would have left Afghanistan a far better place than we have so far.  Even if a nonviolent resistance movement had not succeed by now, it would have a good chance of succeeding in the future.  Obama's choice to double down on the Bush strategy doesn't look like its chance of success will be any better, but the cost in lives and debt will be immensely higher.