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Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson

Book Review by Gar Smith

It’s a good sign when the testimonials on the back of a 440-page autobiography include the likes of Noam Chomsky, Ed Asner and Martin Sheen. But that only hints at the praise directed at S. Brian Willson’s long-awaited memoir. The testimonials continue on the inside — for another seven pages — and include plaudits from Cindy Sheehan, William Blum, Kris Kristofferson, Norman Solomon, Peter Dale Scott, Cynthia McKinney and Country Joe McDonald.

This whopping epic (published by Oakland’s feisty PM Press) tells the story of a Vietnam-era soldier who entered the war as a red-blooded small-town recruit and emerged as a die-hard dissident, driven to expose and oppose not only warfare in general but also the US’ unique role in spreading military terror around the world.

Willson returned home to become a leading war resister — a man whose dogged determination to confront the war machine lead him to fast on the steps of the US capital and eventually cost him both legs — severed on September 1, 1987, when he was run over by an ammunitions-filled locomotive on the first day of a nonviolent protest on the railroad tracks leading to the Concord Weapons Station.

READ THE REST AT Berkeley Daily Planet.

Murdoch Has Blood on His Hands

Nailing Rupert Murdoch for his employees' phone tapping or bribery would be a little like bringing down Al Capone for tax fraud, or George W. Bush for torture. I'd be glad to see it happen but there'd still be something perverse about it.

I remember how outraged Americans were in 2005 learning about our government's warrantless spying, or for that matter how furious some of my compatriots become when a census form expects them to reveal how many bathrooms are in their home.

I'm entirely supportive of outrage. I just have larger crimes in mind. Specifically this:

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
"Article 20
"1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law."

The Fox News Channel is endless propaganda for war, and various other deadly policies. As Robin Beste points out,

House defund Libya war

LISTEN: Black Agenda Radio with Glen Ford and Nellie Bailey, on the Progressive Radio Network – Week of July 11, 2011

Anti-War Forces Weak in the House

David Swanson, publisher of the influential web site War Is A Crime, calls congressional efforts to halt President Obama’s war on Libya a “huge muddle.” A bid to defund the Libya operation failed by 199 to 229, and legislation to cut off money for the war in Afghanistan garnered only 97 votes.

I think you really have somewhere around 97 members of the House that are really serious about ending wars,” says Swanson. “You have 199 who will put up some kind of pretense,” but at least half of them are not really serious.

Dems and Labor: A Suicide Pact

Labor gives money and manpower to Democratic politicians, who then vote like servants of huge corporations, according to a commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce Dixon. The “murder-suicide” nature of the pact is exemplified by the National Education Association’s (NEA) early endorsement of President Obama’s reelection, despite the administration’s relentless attacks on public school teachers.

Arnie Duncan “Racist” and “Insane”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared that Detroit will have “no viable future” as a community if it doesn’t buckle under to Obama’s draconian “Race to the Top” program of high stakes testing, teacher insecurity, and forced charterization. That’s “insane,” says Tom Stephens, a Detroit lawyer and activist, adding, “I thought it was clearly a racist statement” that Duncan would have never directed against a predominantly white city.

Fear” and “Panic” Among School Teachers

Delegates to the National Education Association’s Chicago convention voted down a proposal to demand that Arne Duncan be fired. Among those on the losing side was Joyce Schon, of the Equal Opportunity Now Caucus of BAMN, By Any Means Necessary. “There was too much fear, too much panic, and too much lack of confidence in their own power and their own abilities to stand up for their own dignity and for the future of their students,” says Schon.

Victory for Affirmative Action in Michigan

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Proposition 2, the measure that outlawed affirmative action in Michigan public education, is unconstitutional. George Washington, representing the BAMN-affiliated Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, argued that Proposition 2 created “a separate and unequal system of political rights. Every group in Michigan can petition to the University of Michigan for special admission programs to benefit their members except racial minorities.” In effect, says Atty. Washington, Proposition 2 created a category of citizen with less rights than others.

It’s Race, Stupid

For more than 60 years, Black unemployment levels have been stuck at roughly twice that of whites. The grim ratio persists in good times and in bad across three generations. Andy Kroll, who wrote the article “The 60-Year Unemployment Scandal,” found that neither educational disparities nor de-industrialization nor other “race-neutral” factors explained the gap. In the end, “it comes down to discrimination in hiring and racism,” says Kroll.

The Texas chain-dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. at the hands of three white men shocked the nation, in 1998. An award-winning documentary on the victim, titled “Byrd: The Life and Tragic Death of James Byrd, Jr.” is now available on Amazon.com, says the film's creator, Eligah “Ricky” Jason. “This documentary focuses on Byrd as a person. It puts a face on the man.”

Black Agenda Radio on the Progressive Radio Network is hosted by Glen Ford and Nellie Bailey. A new edition of the program airs every Monday at 4:00pm ET on PRN. Length: One hour.

Going Neutral on Obama? Not on a Moving Train!

How often have we been told that we can't have a serious nonviolent movement resisting our government's destructive path as long as the Democrats are better than the Republicans?

How often have we been told that we can't back third-party candidates as long as the Democrats are better than the Republicans?

This week has seen an inordinate number of realizations that the Democrats are as bad as or worse than the Republicans. And what has the response been?

Activist groups are proposing not to donate money to President Barack Obama. Some have even suggested declining to volunteer for him. Most responses have been even weaker than that. Citizens have transformed themselves into pundits and announced that Obama will not be reelected.

Congresspeak: The Language of Impotence

The House of Representatives would be better off speaking Arabic. See if you can make heads or tails of this.

The House voted down a bill to end the Libya War.

At the same time, it passed a nonbinding House-only resolution that said the President "shall not" use ground troops in Libya, the war is unauthorized, and Congress could defund the war if it wanted to. The resolution requested that all kinds of information be reported to Congress by the President, much of which has not been reported by the specified deadline.

Next, the House passed an amendment blocking any funds, beginning in October, for troops or contractors on the ground in Libya.

At the same time, the House passed an amendment requiring that when the war is completed (and presumably the U.S. has control of Tripoli), the U.S. troops on the ground there must dig up the bodies of other U.S. troops buried there during a war 206 years ago.

Killing Old People Is Fiscally Responsible

"The fiscal good has to outweigh the pain," a nameless Democrat told the Washington Post regarding President Obama's latest proposal to massively cut Social Security, against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans, in order to fund a military 670% larger than the next largest in the world, keep in place tax cuts for billionaires, fail to tax corporations or estates or investments or carbon, and balance a budget that nobody gives a rat's ass about balancing when Wall Street comes asking for handouts.

We Just Stopped Congress From Giving the Power of War to Presidents

"What's the point?"  "We never win!"  "Why bother trying?"
 
This time we won.

This is the point.  Congressman Buck McKeon and Senator John McCain proposed to give Obama and all future presidents dramatically expanded powers to launch wars.  They wanted to do so as part of the same "Defense Authorization Act" in which the House was restricting Obama's warmaking in Libya. 

Activist groups like RootsAction pushed back.  A great deal of support was generated for an amendment to strip the offending language out in the House, but the amendment failed.  RootsAction, and other organizations, demanded that the Senate remove it:

Imagine a MoveOn That Doesn't Answer to Democrats

On Friday I read in the New York Times that President Obama would be happy to cut $200 billion out of Medicare in order to inflict pain on his Democratic base, part of an imagined tradeoff in which the two parties inflict pain on their imagined bases in order to reduce the deficit without imposing sensible taxes on billionaires or shrinking military spending to sane levels. Also on Friday I got an Email from True Majority asking me to celebrate Obama's defense of Medicare.

We've progressed from "I feel your pain" to "I inflict your pain," and we're being told to like it.

John Dean Does Not Know How to Get Rid of Clarence Thomas

Am I the only one who noticed that ex-Nixon lawyer John Dean's article "John Dean Knows How to Get Rid of Clarence Thomas" concludes thus: "In short, nothing is going to happen to Clarence Thomas." Talk about false advertising!

But Dean left out of consideration one strategy, the same one that five years ago he argued against pursuing with Bush and Cheney, whom many of us at that time wanted removed from office. The strategy is the one now being advanced by RootsAction: Impeach Clarence Thomas.

The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Rorschach Test

There's a great deal of disappointment, even distress, in the air as news spreads that Dominique Strauss-Kahn might not be charged with rape (or attempted rape, or sexual assault). He's guilty, the victim's character is being attacked in order to protect him, and the Culture of Rape will emerge triumphant once again -- or so I'm being told by various Emails, Tweets, etc.

On the other hand, the whole thing was a conspiracy to facilitate the pillaging of the Greek people and the replacement of DSK at the IMF by a robber baron more loyal to the Austerity Agenda. Or so I have been assured.

In addition, the entire episode illustrates the danger in recklessly charging people -- especially famous and important people -- with crimes, until they have first been proven guilty. Or so we are learning from Thoughtful pundits.

King George III Won: Happy Fourth of July!

The Declaration of Independence is best remembered as a declaration of war, a war declared on the grounds that we wanted our own flag. The sheer stupidity and anachronism of the idea serves to discourage any thoughts about why Canada didn't need a bloody war, whether the U.S. war benefitted people outside the new aristocracy to whom power was transferred, what bothered Frederick Douglas so much about a day celebrating "independence," or what the Declaration of Independence actually said.

When you read the Declaration of Independence, it turns out to be an indictment of King George III for various abuses of power. And those abuses of power look fairly similar to abuses of power we happily permit U.S. presidents to engage in today, either as regards the people of this nation or the people of territories and nations that our military occupies today in a manner uncomfortably resembling Britain's rule over the 13 colonies.

Memoirs of Torturers

On September 18, 2009, seven former heads of the CIA publicly told President Barack Obama not to prosecute CIA torturers. On April 16, 2009, Obama had already publicly told Attorney General Eric Holder not to prosecute CIA torturers. On September 18th, Holder publicly reassured the CIA.

The coast was clear. The books started flowing. George W. Bush and John Yoo put their books out in 2010, Donald Rumsfeld in 2011, and Dick Cheney's also later this summer.

Just as the torture techniques drifted down the chain of command from these dealers in death to the rank and file, so too the book contracts. The cogs in the machine are now documenting their bit parts in the past decade's torture epidemic with pride and publishing deals.

When the Public Rises, We'll Want an Ally in Congress

For the majority of people in the United States -- a majority does not vote, a majority believes the government is broken, a majority thinks our public policy is headed in the wrong direction -- the fact that we call this place a democracy is apparently outweighed by the fact that our national government almost never does what a majority of us want done. Some of the things we don't want done include the destruction of the planet's environment, the mass slaughter of war, the spreading of violence, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny aristocracy while millions at home and billions abroad suffer horrifically for lack of readily available resources.

Kucinich: Defeat the Authorization for the War

Constitution Must Not be a Doormat, Congress Must not Be a Rubber Stamp

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 24, 2011) -- Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who has led bipartisan opposition to the war in Libya, today addressed the House, urging his colleagues to take a two-step approach to ending the U.S. involvement in the war in Libya.

Congressman Kucinich will also be sending messages encouraging his colleagues to end the war with two votes. Step 1; Vote YES for H.R. 2278, which ends U.S. direct hostilities immediately, and Step 2; Vote YES for the Kucinich-Amash resolution to the FY 2012 Department of Defense Appropriations bill to end all involvement in the war by October 1, 2011.

The full text of Congressman Kucinich’s address follows:

“We have been in Afghanistan for ten years at a cost of over a half trillion dollars, in Iraq for eight years at a long term cost of at least three trillion.

Freedom Riding to Gaza

Fifty years ago, freedom riders traveled by bus into the U.S. South.  Now American freedom riders are joining their allies from around the world on a flotilla bound for Gaza.  The U.S. ship is called The Audacity of Hope.
 
The heroes on this ship have pledged to sail unarmed and to refuse to use violence. The Israeli military, which continues to illegally blockade Gaza, causing endless suffering to the Gazan people, has pledged to use violent force to prevent the ships getting through.
 
Last May, the Israeli military, in international waters, illegally boarded another ship on a similar mission, the Mavi Marmara, killing nine people, including one American, and wounding dozens. Israel claimed, in its defense, that the Mavi Marmara carried no humanitarian aid, that all such supplies were on other ships in the flotilla.
 
The 36 American passengers (plus 4 crew and 10 members of the press) on board The Audacity of Hope have publicly stated that they will carry only letters: "thousands of letters of support and friendship from people throughout the U.S. to the women, children and men of Gaza."
 
This selfless courage will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with these freedom riders. Some of the ones I know best and am deeply concerned for the safety of are Ann Wright, Ray McGovern, Kathy Kelly, Medea Benjamin, Paki Wieland. These are people who habitually take risks for others. One comes to expect it of them, but also to expect them to always be there doing it. Robert Naiman will be on this ship, and Alice Walker, and Hedy Epstein. Below are videos of 17 of these heroes explaining why they are going.
 
The Freedom Riders of 1961 asked the U.S. government to protect them. Its efforts to do so were too little too late. The Freedom Riders of 2011 have also asked the U.S. government to protect them, and thus far received no such commitment. We can ask the U.S. State Department to ask Israel (recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. weaponry every year) not to assault this flotilla, and to allow those transporting aid and letters of good will to reach the suffering people of Gaza unharmed.
 
CONTACT THE U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT

 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,

You have urged our fellow citizens not to participate in an unarmed nonviolent humanitarian mission to Gaza by sea.

But have you urged Israel not to interfere with ships in international waters?

Have you urged Israel not to harm unarmed activists engaged in an actual humanitarian mission, the very thing your government pretends its wars are?

Have you urged Israel to lift the illegal and murderous blockade of Gaza?

We encourage you to take these steps to ensure the safety of Americans on board The Audacity of Hope sailing for Gaza in the Freedom Flotilla. And we encourage you to pressure Israel in the way that only a nation providing Israel with billions of dollars worth of weapons every year can, by threatening to cut them off.

We look forward to your response.

In Peace,

 

_____________________________

 

ADD YOUR NAME TO THE PETITION WHICH WILL BE DELIVERED TO SECRETARY CLINTON

 

Videos and other resources at the same link.

2012 Presidential Candidates on Wars

The following chart is organized alphabetically by wars, and then by candidates' last names. Please add more quotations in the comments below, ideally with links to sources.

AFGHANISTAN

Herman Cain: It seems to be yet another foggy foreign policy coming from this administration. Instead of providing the American people with clarity, President Obama proposes an abrupt withdrawal of our troops that could potentially compromise the legitimate gains we have made in Afghanistan. Sadly, I fear President Obama's decision could embolden our enemy and endanger our troops.  President Obama is correct on one account: it is time for nation-building at home and high time the Afghan people take more responsibility in bringing peace and stability to their own country. -June 22, 2011.

Afghan Withdrawal: Obama Lied, Soon Many Will Have Died

The United States has about 200,000 military personnel in Afghanistan, half of them troops, half of them contractors.

President Barack Obama put over two-thirds of that number there, first with a big escalation in 2009 that everyone refuses to pay the slightest attention to, then with a second escalation in 2010.

Obama made promises he is now breaking.

"After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home … [O]ur troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended – because the nation that I'm most interested in building is our own." – President Barack Obama, 1 December 2009

Charlottesville, Va., Mayor Dave Norris Praises Antiwar Resolution

Charlottesville, Va., Mayor Dave Norris was the first mayor, after the original sponsor, to sign onto the antiwar resolution that was passed on Monday by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He signed on immediately upon being invited to. Those early names are the hardest and help encourage others to add their own.

Norris planned to hold a news conference Monday afternoon (video to come) but gave me permission to go ahead and release his statement:

How the Mayors Debated and Passed an Antiwar Resolution

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has just done something it hasn't done since Vietnam, passing a resolution that supports efforts to speed up the ending of our current wars and calls on the President and Congress to "bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs."

Here's a page that organized this: http://www.wardollarshome.org

Activist groups are already taking the opportunity to ask Congress and the President to finally listen to what has, after all, been majority public opinion for a long time.

LiveBlogging US Conference of Mayors Debate on Bring the War $ Home Resolution

Here's the resolution's key language:

"NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors supports efforts to speed up the ending of these wars; and

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. Congress to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy."

This resolution could have passed in a batch of resolutions without debate, but Mayor Pete Lewis of Auburn, WA, asked that it be pulled, resulting in a debate and vote individually on this resolution.

Lewis expressed horror that such a resolution might have been passed during Vietnam or other previous wars - What would have happened?! But the US Conference of Mayors did pass a resolution in 1971 urging that the US military get out of Vietnam.

11:15 a.m. The US Conference of Mayors is clearly incapable of running a PTA meeting. After this stunning display of incompetence, taking half the morning to do literally nothing, it may do something useful.

11:16 Now the antiwar resolution is up. Pete Lewis speaks first. "I live in a military state." As opposed to WHAT? "Making political statements in this forum about the war I do not believe is proper." He equates this with bashing Vietnam veterans, even as claiming to support the redirection of the funding.

11:18 Another mayor does not introduce himself, but points out the resolution that was passed during Vietnam. He calls this resolution "rather temperate" as it "does not call for an immediate withdrawal." He was Mayor Soglin of Madison, WI.

11:21 Mayor John Dickert of Racine WI mentions meeting with Mayor of Kabul (actual mayor of Kabul, not Karzai) and mentions horrible state of US infrastructure and its low rating. He wants troops cared for at home and resolution passed.

11:23 Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City says the whole topic [of where over half our $$ go] should be ignored and avoided, says the resolution is divisive and not appropriately bipartisan, says Congress should not be "singled out."

11:26 Mayor Randy Hayes of Pendleton SC is from a military city (as opposed to WHAT?). But he thinks the resolution is very restrained and really beyond debate and should be passed. He thinks mayors all actually agree on the substance of the resolution.

11:28 Mayor Craig Lowe of Gainesville FL says this is a resolution that supports troops by trying to bring them home, this is the only resolution anyone has urged him to vote for, and Vietnam veterans have urged him to vote for it. Vote our consciences, he says.

11:31 Mayor Robert G. Sabonjian of Waukegan, IL, says the US military is the biggest organization in the world and out of control, and could control costs if it chose. He sees nothing denigrating to troops or aiding of the enemy in this admirable resolution. The military is full of waste which needs to be called out and be attacked. This money could help fund the educations and healthcare of the families of the troops sent over there.

11:33 Mayor Joy Cooper of Hallandale Beach, FL, says all city budgets have been cut. This resolution is not against troops but in favor of proper spending of money. We need infrastructure, schools, roadways. She supports the resolution and urges others to.

11:34 Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, AZ, says the headlines in the news will be "Mayors Try to End Wars" even if the resolution is actually about the redirection of spending.

11:37 Mayor Raul Salinas of Laredo, TX, wants a "Support Our Troops Unconditionally" amendment.

11:38 Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, CA, reads the text of an amendment that was offered in committee that apparently failed in committee. What he read "supported" troops and also urged that withdrawal be done in a manner not to "destabilize".

Two whereas clauses are added by the amendment. Roughly, they are:

Whereas every member of USCM and the Americans they rep support our brave men and women in uniform and their families. [EVERY AMERICAN WHO LIVES IN A CITY??? ME???]

Whereas the drawdown of troops should be done in a measured way that does not destabilize the region and can accelerate the transfer of regional authority to local authorities.

11:41 Another mayor claims, and Villaraigosa admits he was just informed, the amendment was not offered in committee.

11:41 Mayor Brown of Knoxville TN says he is a Vietnam vet and supports the amendment.

11:42 Vicechair of committee urges passage.

11:42 Another mayor veteran backs the amendment, and with it the resolution.

11:43 Another mayor says support the troops, oppose the wars, get the money home.

11:44 Another mayor wants to add in the president, add "As soon as strategically possible", and add "to reduce the national debt." Amounting to another amendment or three.

11:45 Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia PA says nothing for a while. He wouldn't want the president telling him how to deply police. He thinks we can fund both worldwide endless wars and our cities.

11:50 The amendment adding two whereas clauses passes.

11:50 New amendment proposed and passed to change second Resolved clause to something like

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. President and Congress as soon as strategically possible to bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy, and reduce the national debt."

11:52 Whole resolution passes.

Tim Kaine Avoids Topic of Wars

Did you hear the one about the Ex Democratic Party Chairman and the peace activist walking into the coffee shop?

That was Tim Kaine and me on Saturday.

He's the former governor of Virginia, former DNC Chair, and current candidate for the US Senate.

He arrived nearly an hour late for his event here in Charlottesville at a local coffee shop. I met him outside and walked in with him to ask him a question on the way, knowing I'd have to leave before he got around to taking questions as part of the event itself.

I pointed out to him that the US Conference of Mayors was expected to vote on Monday to ask Congress to end its unpopular wars in order to direct the spending to something useful. Would you, if elected, I asked him, vote to continue funding these wars?

One possible answer, a democratic if not Democratic one, would have been this: "No."

Another would have been: "That depends . . . . "

Congress Finally Finds Its Purse

For years there was debate on Capitol Hill over whether or not Congress could end a war by cutting off the funding. Despite the Constitution's clarity, and the clarity of numerous precedents, Senator Russ Feingold was obliged to hold hearings to explain to his colleagues what the power of the purse is. That debate is over.

Those who pretended for years they didn't have the power to cut off the dollar spigot have dropped the pretense. Now it's purely about whether they have the will. The reason for this shift, of course, is that they are actually close to having the will.

On May 26th the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 416 to 5 an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act of 2012 sponsored by John Conyers and 17 other congress members that (if left in by the Senate) blocks the use of any funds in that act to put US troops or contractors on the ground in Libya.

Weaknesses of this move include:

Bloombergvilles of the Future

We're years behind Tunisia and Egypt in public understanding of how government of, by, and for the people works, but some in the United States have been inspired and begun forming a path that has real potential. In New York City, students, academics, activists, and workers have joined together to resist the global-national-local agenda of plutocracy being pushed by Mayor Bloomberg.

The numbers are small, but the alliance joining workers with students important. And the approach is exactly right. This group is attempting to interfere with the work of City Hall until City Hall comes to represent the people of New York City. And they are attempting to do this, not for an hour or a day, but until they are satisfied that the tide is turning in a better direction.

See this blog: http://bloombergvillenow.org

And this one: http://nocutsny.wordpress.com

And this one: http://www.nycisnot4sale.com

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