New Year’s Resolution… Wake Up and Fight!

I posted this on New Year’s Eve half a dozen years ago now. As it seems even more appropriate today, I thought that I’d share it again…

I’m not much of one for New Year’s resolutions, but I really like number 33 on this list compiled by Woody Guthrie in 1942… “Wake Up and Fight.” There are a lot of great ideas on the list, but that’s the one that really resonates with me… to the point that I’m almost inclined to say that it’s tattoo-worthy.

If you know of a better resolution, I’d love to hear it.

[This scan comes courtesy of Boing Boing.]

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Dear Mr. Trump: Will You Advance a Moral Agenda?


Tomorrow night, as people around the world gather to celebrate the coming of 2017, Reverend Dr. William Barber II, along with several other leaders of the American faith community, will be congregating at the historic Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC for what they’re calling a National Watch Night service. The purpose of the gathering, according to the event’s organizers, is to launch a national movement intended to “resist extremism” and “advance state-based moral public policy agendas.” And, it was with this in mind, that Barber just posted an open letter to Donald Trump, requesting a meeting. Here’s the letter in its entirety. [If, after you read it, you’d like to join me in signing the letter, you can do so by following that last link.]

As you prepare to take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution, we write with deep concern and prophetic hope for our nation and world. This letter is to share a commitment to meet with you in a house of worship prior to your inauguration, if you desire to hear our voice of counsel and challenge.

At the heart of our religious traditions, the moral values of love, justice and mercy compel us to seek the common good in society. When you place your hand on the Bible and promise to fulfill the duties of the office to which you have been elected, you will assume leadership of a government that exists to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our children.”

Why is this important?

Pursuing a more perfect union is serious work for any human being. We want to pray for you because we know this is an especially difficult task today.

In the prophetic tradition, we want to exhort and challenge you because you cannot do this work alone. Our sacred text honored by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike declares we must do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God. America’s Constitution begins “We the people…” because it points toward a form of government that requires a broad and engaged coalition of citizens in order to thrive. We want to pray and point towards these essential goals.

Mr. Trump, we hope it is your desire to be successful. Success is measured by how we welcome the stranger, care for the sick, care for the poor, and care for the hungry in practice and in policy. In order to be successful in the eyesight of God, leaders must repent when they are wrong, and they must be committed to promote that which is rooted in justice and good will. As clergy dedicated to the care of souls, we know you can neither succeed in a way that pleases God nor fulfill the duties of your office unless you repent. All of us, even persons who hold powerful positions, are called to repent when we violate the deep principles of love, justice, and mercy towards all, especially the least of these.

Since your election, our communities have been fractured by harassment and intimidation. People of color and religious minorities are afraid. Poor working people who you appealed to in your campaign are disappointed that you have attacked their union leaders while appointing Wall Street elites who use them to your Cabinet.

We are deeply concerned by the policy vision that your Cabinet selections suggest. After inviting Steve Bannon’s white nationalism into the Oval Office, you nominated Jeff Sessions to head the Justice Department—a man who did not receive Senate approval for a federal judgeship in 1986 because of his long history of racial discrimination in Alabama. If he maintains his past positions on civil rights and voting rights, he could overturn and undermine years of victories and protections secured and signed in the blood of the martyrs. Equally insulting to African-Americans is your nomination of Ben Carson, a black man with no experience in government or housing, to head HUD.

But race can never be separated from class in America. We are equally concerned about Andy Puzder’s resistance to the movement for a living wage, which impacts over 60 million Americans and 54% of all African-Americans. We are concerned about Tom Price’s expressed commitment to repeal the ACA and take away healthcare from people with preexisting conditions, veterans, and nearly 30 million Americans. We are troubled that you have chosen several people to lead federal agencies that they have publicly attacked in the past.

Both this nation and the rest of the world desperately need your heart to grow into a source of courage, so you might work with all people of goodwill to uphold the most sacred moral principles of our faith and constitutional values, which are:

1. Protecting and expanding voting rights and ending voter suppression and unconstitutional gerrymandering. We must also pursue women’s rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, labor rights, religious freedom rights, all with a commitment to the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law.

2. Pro-labor, anti-poverty, anti-racist policies that build up economic democracy through employment, living wages, the alleviation of disparate unemployment, a just transition away from fossil fuels, labor rights, affordable housing, direct cash transfers and other support for all families struggling to get by, and fair policies for immigrants; and by critiquing policies around warmongering that undermine our moral standing and ability to address domestic issues;

3. Equality in education by ensuring every child receives a high quality, well-funded, constitutionally diverse public education, as well as access to community colleges and universities and by securing equitable funding for minority colleges and universities;

4. Healthcare for all by expanding Medicaid in every state, ensuring access to Medicare and Social Security, moving decisively towards a universal, transparent, and equitable healthcare system, and by providing environmental protection and protecting women’s health;

5. Fairness in the criminal justice system by addressing the continuing inequalities in the system for black, brown and poor white people and fighting the proliferation of guns;

We do not believe that these are left or right issues. They are right or wrong issues. And while we know no human being is perfect, we wish to speak with you about these moral issues because far too much is at stake for you to succumb to your worst demons while in public office.

Our faith calls us to love all people but this love can never refuse to tell the truth and stand against hate, systemic racism, and economic inequality. We cannot simply congratulate you on your victory and say, “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. We are bound by our vows to tell the truth in love and stand together for justice, love and truth.

As this tumultuous year draws to a close, we will hold a National Watch Night service on December 31st at the historic Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC. We will gather to remember the enslaved people who came together to celebrate the possibility of a more perfect union of the eve of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Like them, we will also enlist free women and men to fight for freedom and justice for all people in 2017 and beyond.

[If you’ don’t already have plans for New Year’s Eve, and you don’t feel up to traveling to DC to join Reverend Barber in person, you can participate in National Watch Night online.]

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Barber, who founded the Forward Together moral movement in North Carolina, I’ve written about him here a few times in the past. Most recently, as you may recall, we discussed his response to the legislative coup which just took place in North Carolina, stripping the incoming Democratic Governor of almost all of his powers. And, before that, I shared video of a speech I’d seen Barber deliver in Detroit on his efforts to build a majority coalition around issues of social justice. It’s all good stuff, and I encourage you to spend some time getting to know him, as he’s definitely one of those people that I think we should be paying attention to closely during the Trump years.

[note: The quote from the image at the top of this post comes from a story about Barber’s campaign in today’s Washington Post.]

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Racist vs. “Racist”

Following up on my post from a week or so ago about how the mainstream press has been struggling to cover the news in post-Trump America, I have a question. I was just reading an article on the NBC News website about Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, the co-chair of Donald Trump’s campaign in New York, and some racist comments he recently made about Michelle Obama, and I’m curious as to why the editors chose to put the word racist in quotation marks… And, for what it’s worth, I’m not asking that in some kind of backhanded way, just to set myself up for a post about how, by doing this, the editors at NBC News are somehow cutting Paladino a break, and thereby further contributing toward the normalization of racist attitudes in America. The truth is, I really don’t know, and I’m curious… Before we get into it, though, here’s some of what Paladino, an elected school board member in Buffalo, had to say to the editors of the weekly publication Artvoice, when asked what he would most like to see go in the coming year.

“Michelle Obama,” Paladino responded. “I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”

I think a reasonable person would find that to be racist, right? So, if that’s the case, why is racist in quotation marks, as if to imply that it’s somehow up for interpretation? Is it because Paladino put out a statement shortly afterward, saying that his comments had “nothing to do with race“? Can a news entity not use the word racist, minus the quotation marks, unless someone owns up to it and says, “Yeah, what I said really was racist?” Do they run the risk of being sued for libel otherwise? Or is it just that news agencies aren’t in the practice of using pejoratives when discussing those individuals they cover, no matter how appropriate? And, if that’s the case, is it time to reconsider that rule?

Is this as serious as news agencies still choosing to refer to white nationalist organizations as the more friendly sounding “alt right”? No. But I do find it fascinating.

Here, for those of you who won’t follow the link, is the NBC News headline.


For what it’s worth, Paladino implied that we could expect more “humor” like this in the future. “It’s about a little deprecating humor which America lost for a long time,” Paladino said of his comments. “Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don’t like my answer.”

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Ten ideas for the Trump inauguration

I should preface this post by telling you that, having just been diagnosed with bronchitis, I’m writing this from bed, where, about twenty minutes ago, I took a big swig of prescription cough medicine, which, according to the bottle, is likely to do strange things to my mind. So, with that said, I’d like to offer the following list of suggestions to the Trump Inauguration Committee, who, as I understand it, are struggling to find any performers that aren’t named either Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, or Wayne Newton to play for President Trump on his big day… Here are my top ten ideas, many of which don’t involve human beings at all, which I think could help considerably.


1. Instead of a headline performer, like an Elton John, just lower an industrial chicken processing machine from the ceiling, and let it run for ten minutes – stunning, killing, plucking and eviscerating poultry – beneath a patriotic, red, white and blue light show. [Purdue might even pay to have it be one of their machines.]

2. Have Mitt Romney recite a long list of reasons why Trump is a better man than he is, while being lowered into a thrashing tank of lampreys.

3. Convince the Tupac hologram to come out of retirement and perform a Sonny and Cher-like routine with Victoria Jackson.

4. Somehow figure out a way to amplify the sounds made by deep sea scale worms when sucking meat from their tiny, razor-sharp teeth. [That’s a deep sea scale worm you see above.]

5. Look for talent outside of America, where people might not have heard of Trump… If you can’t convince the likes of Nickleback, maybe you could get Joey Jeremiah, Wheels and Snake to reform the Zit Remedy for the night.

6. Lie to a blind performer, like Stevie Wonder or José Feliciano.

7. Hire a team of professionals to help Ann Coulter reach her full potential as a Cher impersonator. [Get this guy to help.]

8. Have Trump settle the lawsuit with the the USA Freedom Kids and trot them out on stage again to sing about Dear Leader’s courage, strength and wisdom.

9. Offer Diamanda Galás the money you were going to give Elton John, and ask her to perform I Put a Spell on You and Sono L’Antichristo.

10. Create a super band from musically-inclined inmates currently serving time in prison. It would be kind of like the plot of The Dirty Dozen, only instead of these criminals being offered their freedom in exchange for going on a suicide mission to kill Nazi officers, they’d be writing and performing songs for Trump. I’d have to believe that, between Phil Spector, Gary Glitter, Tim Lambasts, and Charles Manson, they could come up with something both appropriate and compelling.

I’m sure better ideas exist, but these are the best that I could come up with before the codeine knocks me out. If you have suggestions of your own, just leave a comment.

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Will the assassination of Andrew Karlov in Ankara bring about World War III?


Earlier today, just as our Electors were casting their votes for Donald Trump, paving the way for the controversial reality television personality to become the 45th President of the United States, Andrew Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, was shot dead in Ankara by a young policeman who can be heard on video shouting “We die in Aleppo, you die here.” [Mevlut Altintas, the policeman who murdered Karlov, apparently served in counter-terrorism unit of the Ankara police force.]

Well, when I went to pick my daughter up from school this evening, the first thing she said to me, after getting into the car and asking whether or not I’d brought her a snack, was, “Dad, is this how World War III begins?” [I think a story about the assassination was on the radio at the time.] It would appear that word of the assassination had made its way through the 7th grade, and that someone had made the connection to the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which most historians seem to agree was the precipitating event that led us to World War I. [Ferdinand was shot dead in Sarajevo, leading to Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia, which in turn led to allied nations joining the fight on both sides.] So, after assuring her that no one wanted a war with the United Sates, as it would be “bad for business,” I told her what I knew about the assassination, the situation in Aleppo, and why I didn’t think that what had happened in Turkey would lead to war. I should caution you that what follows may not be 100% accurate, as I’m not an expert on European history, but my hope is that some of you can step in and correct me where necessary… So, with that said, here’s what I told my daughter.

How the Syrian civil war started… In 2011, as part of the so-called Arab Spring, a number of pro-democracy Syrian protestors took to the streets to call for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Government security forces responded by opening fire on demonstrators, killing several, and driving even more protestors into the streets. By July 2011, with several hundred thousand people in the streets, demanding that he step down, Bashar al-Assad was facing a rebellion. And that rebellion grew and evolved over the following years into a civil war, with people taking up arms against the Syrian state and waging coordinated campaigns for take cities.

The following background comes by way of the BBC.

Violence escalated and the country descended into civil war as rebel brigades were formed to battle government forces for control of cities, towns and the countryside. Fighting reached the capital Damascus and second city of Aleppo in 2012.

By June 2013, the UN said 90,000 people had been killed in the conflict. By August 2015, that figure had climbed to 250,000, according to activists and the UN.

The conflict is now more than just a battle between those for or against Mr Assad. It has acquired sectarian overtones, pitching the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect, and drawn in regional and world powers. The rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has added a further dimension.

And, it’s probably worth noting that, in the opinion of some, the situation in Syria was made worse by both global climate change and our war in Iraq. Prior to the Arab Spring, not only had 1.5 million refugees fled Iraq, but thousands of farmers had fled the Syrian countryside due to the worst draught in recorded history. As a result, between 2002 and 2010, the population of Syrian cities had grown by approximately 50%, leading to an unstable lives of unemployment, illegal settlements and gross inequality. The government, however, did very little to stop things from getting worse. “Corruption didn’t help,” according to a report in Wired, “nor did the fact that the hardest-hit areas were populated by Kurdish minorities, who have long been discriminated against and ignored.” So the Syrian cities had essentially become tinder boxes by the time the Arab Spring came.

And, now, as a result of all of this, over 4.8 million refugees have fled Syria, and many of those who remain have joined armed groups to right against the al-Assad government. These groups, according to Wikipedia, include: Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) who often co-operate with the Sunni rebels, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The Russian involvement… So, in September, 20215, with the Syrian government refusing to negotiate with what they describe as armed terrorist groups, and millions fleeing the war-torn nation, the Russians became involved. They did this, according to Foreign Policy magazine, to “prevent the military defeat of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and to shore him up in the long term,” as the region, in their opinion, would grow even more unstable otherwise… Here’s more from Foreign Policy.

But (Russia’s) decision to significantly boost its military, political, and moral support to Damascus did nothing less than rescue depleted Syrian forces from collapse on significant front lines under grinding pressure from an array of opposition forces…

Russian officials often say their intervention “stopped the black flags” of so-called Islamic State (IS) from being raised in the Syrian capital. The threat posed by Islamic extremists is very real. But strengthening President Assad was a winning move for Moscow on many fronts. It transformed Russia from a minor actor on the Syrian stage to the lead player which continues to resonate across the region…

Russia’s assets in Syria centre on its port at Tartus, its only seaport along the Mediterranean, as well as its newly established Khmeimim air base in the north-west, its only airfield in the Middle East.

In October, Russia’s parliament ratified an open-ended agreement to approve the base which revealed what had been a secret pact a year earlier to give Russia carte blanche to move personnel and cargo in and out of Syria, without inspection or interruption by Syrian authorities.

Over the past year more troops and considerable firepower, including advanced missile systems, have been moved onto the battlefield. Russian media have also reported the presence of Russian special forces as well as thousands of Russians working for military companies.

Russia and its Syrian ally cast their alliance as the winning team in the fight against IS. The capture of the ancient city of Palmyra last March – where Russia has now established a military post – is proof of that…

For Russia, this new projection of military power is about more than just Syria. It’s one axis in a broader geopolitical battle to take what it sees as its rightful place at the world’s top tables, on equal par with the power and prestige of the United States…

So, where does Trump fit in… Russia’s activities in Syria had been lessening as of late, perhaps in response to pressure from the West, which has wanted to establish a ceasefire and no-fly zone in Syria. [There have also been allegations of Russian war crimes.] But, on November 16, just a week after Trump was elected President, Russia launched a major new assault on Aleppo and other “terrorist” targets inside Syria.

Would this new campaign have begun if Trump hadn’t been elected? It’s impossible to know. What we do know, however, is that Trump, despite his claims to the contrary, has has extensive ties to Russia, and a long, well-documented history of pro-Russian bias. And, of course, we also know that it’s the opinion of both the FBI and CIA that the Russian government interfered in our election in order to give Donald Trump an advantage over Hillary Clinton, both by hacking the email accounts of here associates and sharing the contents, and by disseminating fake news meant to undermine the Clinton campaign. [And, yes, all 17 of our U.S. intelligence agencies agree that it was Russia behind the DNC hacks.]

And, where does that leave us… I don’t know. Clearly Russia is flexing its muscles, happy to, once again, be a significant player on the world stage. They just helped pull off an electoral upset in the United States, installing Donald Trump, who, if not a legitimate agent of their nation, is at least unusually predisposed toward it, as President. And Putin has started to test the NATO alliance, deploying Su-30SM fighters and building what appears to be a new missile base in Kaliningrad, Russia’s closest military installation to the United Kingdom. [As you’ll recall, Trump hinted from the campaign trail that, as President, he might not honor our commitment to NATO member nations.] And, word from the Ukraine is that Russian proxies are attacking.

So, to answer my daughter’s question, yes, this very well might be World War III – it certainly looks as though things are shaping up for one last, big war for resources before global climate change brings humanity to an end – but I don’t get the sense that, when it comes, it’ll have anything to do with the assassination of Andrew Karlov in Turkey. The sad truth is, a lot of people get assassinated, but very few of those lead to war. While Karlov’s killing will definitely result it more forceful attacks against those groups aligned in the fight against the government of al-Assad, and thus the interests of Russia, it won’t result in a declaration of war against any one country, as the assassination of Franz Ferdinand did a little over 100 years ago… Things are just more complex now the they were back then… But you can be certain that big things are on the horizon now that Russia, once again, seems to be a dominant force in the world. And all of this was happening prior to today’s assassination. [Did you read that Swedish towns have been told to “make preparations regarding the threat of war and conflict” with Russia?]

Now that you’ve had your fill of amateur analysis, here’s a little something from University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole about why today’s assassination likely took place.

…The fake news industry in Turkey is blaming the assassination on the American Central Intelligence Agency and on the Turkish political and religious cult, the Gulen movement. I think it is unlikely either was involved.

At this very early moment after the attack, my guess is that Altintas was taking revenge on Karlov for the defeat of the Nusra Front in East Aleppo (About a fourth of the fighters there were al-Qaeda-affiliated). The Turkish government has been accused of supporting the Nusra Front or at least its close allies.

But as of about July 15, the date of the failed coup attempt, Turkey’s policy radically changed. Turkish President Erdogan appears to have decided that his main challenges were domestic and that little could be gained, under conditions of political instability at home, from further intervention in Syria. Erdogan believes that Kurdish separatism and Gulen cultism are his two biggest enemies. The US has annoyed him by supporting the leftist YPG Kurds of northeast Syria, which Erdogan sees a nothing more than PKK terrorist separatists. There is only circumstantial evidence, but it appears that Russia promised to withhold support from the YPG if Erdogan would let them and the al-Assad regime have East Aleppo.

So Erdogan created the perfect circumstances for blowback, the intelligence term of art for a covert operation that comes back around to bite you in the ass.

Altintas and other Turkish police were told in private that their government supports the guerrillas in Syria on grounds of Muslim fellow-feeling. But then the Turkish government hung the guerrillas out to dry and let Russia have its way with them. Hence, some Turkish security personnel could not accept this about-face, and needed to take revenge on a Russian official…

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