A Farewell to Veterans for Peace

P U L S E

Re-posted from Andy Berman: Threads of My Time, the blog of longtime antiwar activist and Veterans for Peace member Andy Berman

A Farewell to Arms: Till We Meet Again

By Andy Berman

May 11, 2016

Farewell-to-ArmsTill-We-Meet-AgainPreface:

As a longstanding member of Veterans for Peace, I often contributed to internal online VFP discussion groups over the last few years.  With Syria the bloodiest war on the planet, and thus a topic that nominally should be high on VFP’s agenda, I often wrote about developments in Syria.

My contributions frequently clashed with the self-identified “anti-imperialists” in VFP who blame the Syria conflict entirely on the United States and either defend or ignore the criminal role of Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.

While my prose was always exceedingly civil, I was relentlessly attacked by a handful of angry and disturbed VFP members using extremely vile personal diatribe against me.

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The Junius Pamphlet 2016: Attack 1.0

                                                                              “Comparisons are odorous” – Dogberry

It’s been 100 years since the publication of The Junius Pamphlet, Rosa Luxemburg’s attack on the German Social Democratic Party for supporting its own government’s entry into World War I. Rosa was in jail when it was published.

rosa

Luxemburg famously called the Second International a “stinking corpse” and called for re-building the revolutionary movement.

Now Sam Charles Hamad has called out “the left” for its support for the genocidal Bashar Al-Assad in similar terms, correctly placing the Syrian revolution at the center of world politics, making its betrayal therefore inexcusable. I agree with him in general and in detail. Of course he has not said everything. That’s why his is Attack 1.0. Others already exist but you have to start somewhere and Hamad’s piece functions well as a grounding document for me.

We should heed his voice and act accordingly.

Among other things the Syrian Revolution exposes the idiotic fragmentation of the western left and its ancient but surviving (and ruling!) divisions and incantations, once again shown to be of no value whatsoever in discerning reality or changing it.

 

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In Case You Think There’s No Real Estate Bubble…

 

Had a conversation with a rep from my mortgage holder this morning. It think it tells a story. The prologue is that for no good reason I totally forgot to pay my mortgage this past June. First I knew of it a very polite young man called from somewhere in the South and inquired if I had a date in mind for paying my mortgage, now 25 days past due. Sure enough, I checked the Bill Payer, apologized to the guy and made a double payment for June and July right then and there. End of prologue.

Just now a very polite young woman, also from the South, called to ask if I had a date in mind for paying the current month’s (July’s) payment. I say I think I paid already, let’s look. I open Bill Payer and there it is, I paid double. She checks her screen and says I get it, they applied your double payment to the principle, not to July, so I’ll reverse that and you’re good, do you have a date in mind to make August’s payment? So I go maybe the 25th or so and she says Oh you just pay a late fee every month. It takes me a minute to realize that she thinks I mean August 25 so she’s onto that script already without taking a breath.

She says this like it’s the most natural thing in the world, she’s just making sure she has it right. Obviously she deals with people with such problems all the time, people who never run a surplus so they can never catch up, they always pay late, they always pay the service fee, that’s their life. She’s very accommodating. She says they have services available, ways to make this better (for me). She is going way out of her way to convince me not to walk away from my mortgage because the software has identified me as a new loan late two payments in a row, triggering a sympathetic and information-heavy series of scripts aimed at helping the very desperate me keep those payments coming in.

This is someone servicing a tranche you don’t even want to think about. These particular guys think it is idiotic to drive debt slaves away. There is a financial instrument somewhere with an exorbitant payout because the income stream to service that payout comes from super-dodgy high-interest mortgages, car payments and so forth sold to desperate people who will soon be shamed for their prodigality. My daughter and her hubs, e.g., were about to pay 27% or so for a car loan because reasons. That’s what happens when you’re young and on your own.

Someone will always figure out how to create a cash flow by creating more and more “odious debt,” which means giving money to people you know have no chance of paying it back. They used to call it “going to the street” when you ran out of legitimate credit but big capital has muscled in on that Mafia niche with payday loans and such like.

So, in this instance, they really do care about me. Not the bank, they sold the mortgage long ago, but the current (3rd) owner would really like to help me keep those payments up.

Why would a bank make a really bad loan? Because it plans to immediately sell that loan. It will wind up the property of someone who wants bad loans, for whom all this risky business was undertaken in the first place. Or maybe just to diversify, kinda juice up a corner of a portfolio. There are legions of people who do nothing but think up stuff like this because all that wealth that used to finance schools and suchlike now lines the coffers of really bad rich people and must be put to work. We should be so lucky they would sit on it, like Smaug, but no, they pursue their crazy visions of, say, a regimen of achievement tests for elementary school students that runs to over 20 days a year with the same glee they summoned for garotting their competitors. In however bizarrely and convolutedly a manner, it was once a social decision about how to spend part of the social surplus.

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Lesser Evil Politics: Really, Noam? Hubert Humphrey?

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/07/08/lesser-evil-politics-really-noam-hubert-humphrey/

The link above is to my article published today on Counterpunch. It is a response to:

https://chomsky.info/an-eight-point-brief-for-lev-lesser-evil-voting/

I liked the title better without the Lesser Evil Politics subhead but I am often willing to let subtlety have its way when others prefer gigantic flashing arrows. Leaden is my least favorite flavor of sarcasm. Like photographs with the viewer, I see no reason why prose should not let the reader do a little of the work. Readily apprehended things can be boring while teasing stuff out is more rewarding. Presuming you have the inclination and the wattage.

 

 

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Ross Douthat: Gaping Asshole

douthat-circular-thumblarge

Here’s an amazing piece from Ross Douthat of the NY Times for Sunday’s paper. He argues: it is good that the Republican and Democratic Parties have all these patently undemocratic gotchas and are run by the rich in secret, because that’s all that stops Yahoos like you and me from hijacking the nomination (read: winning primaries) to put someone like Trump (or Bernie) into contention. This muzzling of the electorate’s wilder whims is not only necessary, it is indeed a positive good, because only the rich can save us from ourselves.

Another way to look about this: Douthat  is expressing his gratitude that there’s a poll tax. Only the poll tax is billions of dollars and if you don’t have billions of dollars your vote doesn’t count, literally. And you should be happy there’s a poll tax because that’s all that keeps you from electing people that are bad for you.

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I Become an Electrician Overnight

My withdrawal slip from the horrible forge factory

After the heady days of May 1970 things mellowed in the real world and the string of strikes fueling the Student-Worker Action Committee petered out slowly. But no matter. I was 23, recently fired from my day job at the Occidental Life Insurance Company of America (wish I could say they didn’t have a case) but rescued from penury and job-hunting by corporate greed. Occidental cheated me of a week’s severance and my intake worker — musta some kind of closet Commie — took affront and huffily denied Occidental’s challenge to my unemployment claim even though they had me dead to rights.

I got $60/wk for 26 weeks, karmically extended to 39 weeks when the economy tanked in the first of several cosmically aligned layoffs that would give me 39, 52 and even 65 weeks of state-sponsored free time to organize the revolution. You could sort of live on $60 a week in 1970, gas was about $.35 a gallon, my rent was $100 and dope was still 10 bucks a lid.

Of course SWAC as a genuine home-grown movement group of 20 some activists doing good stuff among the workers attracted all sorts of organized leftists on raiding expeditions. I have told the story of Steve Kindred and the International Socialists’ work in SWAC in my addendum to Dan LaBotz’ obituary of Kindred here. The days of free-wheeling meetings and discussions with ordinary rank-and-filers were soon to wane, 1970 being a high spot for strikes and all manner of other shenanigans, but not without a trace. $500 at 50, a pension reform group one of our Teamster wildcat buddies alerted us to hooked up with some midwestern Teamsters to form Teamster United Rank and File and that morphed over time into Teamsters for a Democratic Union which became a power in national Teamster politics and exists to this day. Once I joined an actual (self-described) revolutionary group my days were full of discussions, reading, meetings and other attempts to absorb the rich history of revolutionary thought and action, which I had hardly been aware of before. I was one of those people who always marched in antiwar demonstrations but never gave a thought to how they came about.

Some of us became convinced through our strike support work that there was nothing for it but to become workers ourselves. The IS thought this was cool, so with the recent Teamsters wildcat strike in mind and anticipating the publication of Farrell Dobb’s Teamster Rebellion (about the legendary 1934 Minneapolis General Strike), we resolved to become professional truck drivers.

The IS in those days was into penetrating the working class. What with the Teamsters wildcat strikes on a semi-national basis, a big auto strike in September, the emergence of Miners for Democracy in the UMW, a rank and file upsurge in the United Steelworkers that would find reflection in the Sadlowski campaign, it seemed like a good time to make the move.

We became Teamsters. Once we had commercial drivers’ licenses and medical cards in hand the drill was simple: show up at the Teamsters’ Hiring Hall in the City of Industry, a pretty woebegone affair, and hope for work to come our way. Different truck lines with more work than workers would call the hiring hall and ask for drivers for day work. The wage was $6.44/hr, a fortune to us college boys. After everyone with a union card went out the dispatcher would call us up, in the order we showed up that morning, and send us out.

This was an unfathomably different world. No one told you anything unless you asked and if you asked too much you would nail yourself as not even vaguely one of the guys. So you had to triage your information-gathering and hope you survived whatever driving experience came your way. On my first day delivering stuff to the downtown LA garment district I went the wrong way on a one-way street in a big-assed truck, had to carry a sewing machine up a bunch of flights of stairs because I couldn’t find the elevator and was very very late everywhere. Fortunately nobody much cared unless things went really wrong, like the day I got a truck I couldn’t get out of the high transmission range, or find anyone to show me, so I just drove it until I burned out the clutch and stranded a huge load of booze on an on-ramp to the Glendale Freeway. That resulted in a Do Not Send This Guy To Us Ever Again Letter to the Hiring Hall and a major ass-chewing from the dispatcher.

But like all worlds this became comprehensible a little at a time and in a couple of months there were a bunch of us driving around LA, getting into political conversations with other drivers at various locations — you might pick up or deliver to 20-30 businesses in a day —  and there were usually other trucks from other companies at the same dock and a tradition of bullshitting since there were no lurking bosses. We talked union politics and world politics and pretty soon we were selling our newspaper, The Torch, to all sorts of people. Five paper sales a day was a good day, not bad for a paper that called for revolution on pretty much every page.

The trajectory of our cohort that joined the revolution on May 4, 1970 (think Kent State) was from one small group to another different but smaller group, that being the character of those days, but as true believers we were betting on the come. At our narrowest, after numerous splits, we found ourselves to be 20+ people living in Detroit. We spent a year from 1976 to 1977 working our way into the Socialist Workers Party, a behemoth to us with over 2,000 members and seemingly The Big Time. Little did we know that life in the SWP would simply reproduce the small. It all worked. By the time we had fused with the SWP and dispersed to various of its branches to start finding union jobs the whole process of becoming this or that sort of worker has become pretty routine to people with our peculiar history, plus we were kids and thought we could do anything.

So when John Eisenhower of the West Side SWP branch in Chicago suggested to me that I might want to apply for a maintenance electrician job at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, where he worked, it did not seem totally insane. A stretch, yes. So I consulted with Steven Wright, an actual electrician who worked on this railroad, but he had little patience after finding out how ignorant of electricity I was and just handed me his textbook, which I gamely attempted to ingest in one night. Not successfully.

I showed up for the written test to become an electrician for the C&NW, sleep-deprived from my excursion into the 500-page textbook, and found after scanning the 40 or so questions, that there was not a single one I could answer. I was embarrassed and didn’t just want to give up instantly and leave this room full of people scribbling away with my tail between my legs. So I fidgeted, and soon discovered that the actual test paper was mystifyingly thick and bulky. Mindful of my fellow test-takers surrounding me, I discreetly investigated. I discovered that the two-sided test paper was actually three sheets bound together: two ordinary pieces of paper and a sheet of carbon paper sandwiched between them. Why? Because the correct answers to the (multiple choice) questions were indicated by little boxes printed on the reverse of one of the sheets and the carbon paper transferred one’s “x’s” to that sheet, where they fell within the box if your answer was correct and elsewhere if not. Thus the test could be “graded” by an idiot. Once I made this discovery the only remaining task was to line up my “x’s” on the front of the sheets with the positions of the boxes on the back, without giving away to anyone sitting around me, or to the bosses conducting the test, what I was up to.  Challenging, but not as challenging as conquering electrical theory in 24 hours. I left one question marked incorrectly for verisimilitude, turned in my paper and was hired within a week. That put me as a journeyman in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the old-line electricians’ union with a sorry history of red-baiting and busting United Electrical Workers organized shops.

We performed routine maintenance on locomotives used in the commuter wing of the Chicago and Northwestern’s business. Most of the work was just changing parts and I had actually very little chance of killing myself electrically plus there was a cadre of old guys who knew what they were doing who would help you out if you approached them with humor and self-deprecation. I was just another guy fucking the bosses are far as they were concerned.

Well, one thing leads to another and there is nothing like having a job when you are trying to get a job, so a little electrician’s experience went a long way. I moved to Milwaukee and got a job as a maintenance electrician in a foundry, undoubtedly the foulest work situation I have ever experienced. It lasted a month because I was just too ignorant of everything to keep the job but meanwhile I got to watch the unearthly sight of gigantic molds shaped by rare and foul earths placed on vibrating beds that would “shake” off the dust from the molded metal pieces, dust that was partially drawn off by gigantic fans and carted off every day in multiple open-topped railroad cars to God knows where. It was some grim shit. My next electrician job was in a forge and there I began to learn how to actually attempt to troubleshoot electrical troubles by looking at blueprints. Finally in Seattle I landed jobs is two steel rolling mills and in the second one ran across a book, written by engineers for untutored apprentices, that explained the craft in enough detail that, after many months of study, I could actually do the job and figure stuff out.

My withdrawal slip from the horrible forge factory

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The Long Arm of the Peace Movement

History never turns out the way you expect or want. The world powers in 1914 knew there would be winners and losers in the wars they contemplated sending other peoples’ sons to die in, but they never imagined that one-sixth of the earth’s land would be removed from their collective dinner plates for almost a century. In 1939 the same world powers (with some minor changing of sides) rolled the dice again, still not capable of conceiving that they might lose the 700 million people of China for decades.

And who would have thought the antiwar movement of 2002-2003 against the US war on Iraq would play a role in the ongoing emergence of a homeland for the 24,000,000 Kurds spread across Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq? I will attempt to draw the causal link between these events below.

It takes a lot of work, both materially and propagandistically, to prepare the US population for a war that sends hundreds of thousands of ground troops into someone else’s country. Efforts on both these fronts are a part of this tale.

Even though the Democratic Party was solidly pro-war from the outset it had a few outspoken voices who opposed the war, and they had to be isolated, their arguments refuted, and a resounding pro-war majority had to emerge. The method hit upon did not deviate from the wisdom of Goering:

“Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.”

The point of attack in 2002-3 was Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. I shall leave aside the multiple, layered, truly world-class ironies involved in a President of the United States fearing weapons of mass destruction in the hands of another. Likewise I shall pass over the question of what defines a weapon of mass destruction, simply noting that my definition is “any weapon more potent than a bolt-action rifle,” which I believe is eminently fair. WMDs, as they came to be short-handed, became the single most important argument for immediately invading Iraq, a reason to ignore the shilly-shallying United Nations and its talkathons, to get short with recalcitrant allies, to get the job done before the sky fell.

Like all good lies, it had an element of verisimilitude: Saddam Hussein had employed nerve gas against Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 and again on his own people in several well-documented occasions, and there had been facilities for producing various poisons. The existence of such weapons was solemnly affirmed by the then-most-trusted soldier in America, Colin Powell, in a televised speech watched by tens of millions that Powell’s chief of staff later admitted was a pack of lies.

There were counters to this blitz from the antiwar movement, which was not at all standing around waiting for the hammer to fall. A group in the Northeast called Traprock Peace compiled all the existing information about the Iraqi stockpiles and potential for producing WMDs, and analyzed the US’s case. It turns out that most of this information was public, just hard to get at. The reason any of it was public at all was that the Iraqi armed forces had decided that poison gases were a dead end, and had themselves initiated the riddance of the WMDs and then told the story. Their reason was straightforward: poison gases are no more and probably less effective than standard artillery at dealing death from a distance. Unlike artillery, gas can get blown around and poison your own troops, who must therefore wear (in the desert!) cumbersome  protective gear. And the propaganda hit was tremendous. So the Iraqi Army themselves began doing away with their stockpiles of WMDs and dismantling their production facilities because they were not idiots and could see trouble on the horizon.

So, then, where did the amazing figures produced by Colin Powell come from? Traprock Peace showed that what the US government did was to assume that every Iraqi WMD facility in existence produced WMDs 24/7/365 unless verified otherwise, and then computed the total. From this wholly imaginary total the US subtracted only those amounts of stockpiled WMDs which they could certify had been destroyed. Ditto for the facilities themselves. Traprock wrote a marvelous analysis of all this and hand-delivered it, along with all the data, to every member of Congress.

But still, this propaganda campaign was not enough. Mass demonstrations of surprising size began to happen everywhere. There were two in October 2002 in Seattle, where I live, that clearly drew far, far beyond the ordinary reach of the groups that organized them. Undoubtedly the same was true all over the US. Then a World Social Forum was held in Genoa that totally swamped the city and was viciously attacked by security forces. Rather than backing down, the World Social Forum forces (whoever they are) started the call for a world-wide series of demonstrations on February 15, 2003 to stop the war. Organizing on a disconnected but global scale began.

Meanwhile, as the US rulers carried out the every-day work of preparing an invasion, which involved moving an amazing amount of military shit to within pouncing distance of Iraq, a problem developed. The plan was to invade Iraq from two directions: from the south, through Kuwait, which was prepared to host the invasion host, and the northwest, through Turkey. A classic pincers attack, beloved by all invaders with enough troops to come from two directions, since it forces the defender to split his forces and his attention. But the people of Turkey demurred. When the US asked, politely, if it might send an armored division or two through Turkey, the Turkish Parliament refused to vote in support, more than once. Assuming this was just a normal ally-to-ally holdup/ransom, the US cajoled, undoubtedly offered more and then way more, but the Turkish parliament seemed unable to tell the Turkish people that their opinion didn’t matter. It seems that Turkish popular opinion, by an astounding margin of 95%, did not care to open their borders to an invading American force with a baggage train tens of miles long. Naturally the aforesaid divisions were already sailing around the Mediterranean, waiting for permission to cross Turkey. They ultimately had to turn around and steam either through the Suez Canal or around the Cape of Good Hope (I have no idea which) and then wait in line behind all the other behemoths carrying war materiel through the narrow border of Kuwait and Iraq. This presented a not small problem. Leaving aside the loss of the second front in the northwest (in what is becoming Kurdistan) it put a lot of stuff in line to go through a relatively narrow corridor.

Now is where I make an inference, for which I have no supporting facts, but only logic. You will have to decide if the inference is warranted. I believe that the US High Command balked at the loss of the second front and demanded more time to work on the Turks to find some way, any way, to allow a second front to be opened in northwest Iraq. Double the bribes. Develop some threats. Suborn some Turkish legislators. Whatever. These are not guys who like to take chances. Their concerns were overridden because the political leadership of the US was freaked out by the breadth and depth of antiwar sentiment.

Specifically, it was spooked by the largest coordinated mass action in history: demonstrations in over 600 cities on February 15, 2003, in scores of countries around the globe, estimated at 35-40,000,000 people in the streets at the same time with the same agenda: Stop the War.

Real movements spawn sub-movements, bring completely uninitiated forces into political actions, develop a cultural side and find ways to accommodate people who don’t get off on marching in the streets. Thus in Seattle the night before the Feb 15 march there were 5 or 6 separate stagings of Aristophanes’ great comedy Lysistrata, in which the women of Athens agree to withhold sex from their husbands until peace is made with Sparta. In the original, as the action progresses, various Athenian and Spartan men are depicted as having erections. In the hilarious version I watched on Capitol Hill, all the men throughout the play appeared with dildoes growing out of their heads. Undoubtedly such examples could be multiplied indefinitely from other cities and other countries.

Well, Colin Powell’s speech may have silenced the Congressional opposition, tame as it ever was, but it didn’t do a thing to stop the oldsters from tabling on 35th Avenue NE in Seattle. Every couple of blocks you could run into another table of whitehairs from the Sound Non-Violent Opponents of War in front of some business complex handing out leaflets, urging attendance at February 15th, selling buttons, and so forth.

There was no reason to think it wouldn’t get worse. Crowed estimates for Seattle for the February 15 demonstration ranged from 55,000 to 70,000, easily twice the size of any political gathering before or since. Millions marched in London. New York’s demonstration was severely attacked first by the weather and then by the police, who attempted to herd demonstrators like so many cows and somehow pulled the plug on WBAI’s efforts to simulcast the rally over the radio.

So — final inference — the US political leaders did the only thing they could to silence the protests: they started the war. Without a second front.

Sadly, it worked. Vast numbers of people succumbed to the “Save Our Boys” sentiment and although it is fair to doubt if they changed their opinions about the war, they certainly changed their willingness to protest it. The next demonstration in Seattle, in early April, about three weeks after the March 20 beginning of the war, drew about 5% of the number of participants of February 15th. The unity of antiwar forces that the impending war had forged disappeared overnight into the same old boring and contentious factions, leaving, as it were, not a rack behind.

Except in Kurdistan. There the absence of an actual invasion force coupled with the general disappearance of the Saddam Hussein state, emboldened the Kurds to step in and take over where they could. Naturally there has been a huge amount of back and forth in the last 11 years, but now, with the seeming death-blows of ISIS and the Sunni insurgency to the Iraqi state, the prospects of Kurdistan for the Kurds looms larger than ever before.

We had a part in this. What we do, matters.

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