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Occupy enthusiasm overshadowed by new worries

As the Occupy movement shifts into a new stage, its effectiveness yet to be determined, I find myself losing a bit of my “Occupy high,” and succumbing to some of the same negative emotions about the current system that I’ve had in the past. I believe current nation-states and their governments are irrelevant to what needs to happen, and that in the long run they won’t withstand the tides of mass protest and economic stagnation caused by energy descent. But they can cause a lot of unnecessary damage and suffering in the short run.

Two things in the news have evoked the old anger and worry in me: provocative US and Israeli policies toward Iran and the legislation just signed by President Obama that allows the military to detain US citizens indefinitely for aiding the country’s “enemies.” The aggressive posture of the former and the totalitarian nature of the latter should be mind-boggling (parallels with Nazi Germany anyone?), but, for now anyway, it seems that people are just accepting both and going on with business as usual.

I hesitate to even mention the word “Israel,” because, supported by the US, it does so many awful things (particularly against the Palestinians) that I could go on all day. But for now, I’ll just address its apparent efforts to provoke a war with Iran. The good news, according to an Inter Press article by Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe posted on the Asia Times website yesterday, is that a “massive joint United States-Israeli military exercise” that looked like preparation for war with Iran has been postponed. Apparently, Israel’s actions and possible actions in the future on this score are or would be so egregious that, for once, the US feels the need to disassociate itself from them. “The exercise, called Austere Challenge 12, originally scheduled for April, was to have been a simulation of a joint US-Israeli effort to identify, track, and intercept incoming missiles by integrating sophisticated US radar systems with Israeli anti-missile defense systems. US participation in such an exercise, obviously geared to a scenario involving Iranian retaliation against an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, would have made the US Israel’s partner in any war following an Israeli attack on Iran. Obama and US military leaders apparently decided that the US couldn’t participate in such an exercise unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured the administration that he wouldn’t attack Iran without prior approval from Washington.”

The article shows that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey pulled Obama back from all this after the president whined to him that he had “no say” in Israel’s policy.”  In November and December, US neo-conservatives aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud Party and what is sometimes called the Israel lobby engineered legislation that forced [??] on the Obama administration a unilateral sanctions law aimed at dramatically reducing Iranian crude oil exports and ‘collapsing’ its economy. The administration’s reluctant embrace of sanctions against the oil sector and Iran’s central bank led to an Iranian threat to retaliate by closing off the Strait of Hormuz, and the risk of a naval incident exploding into actual military conflict loomed large. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak are widely believed to have hoped to provoke such conflict with a combination of aggressive sanctions, sabotaging Iranian missile and nuclear facilities, and assassinations against Iranian scientists associated with the nuclear program. Amid tensions already reaching dangerous heights, Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was assassinated in Tehran in a bombing on January 11th. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor immediately condemned the assassination and vehemently denied any US involvement in that or any other violence inside Iran.”

Israel’s Mossad (the equivalent of our CIA) has apparently assassinated other Iranian nuclear scientists prior to this, often just as negotiations on Iran’s alleged nuclear program look like they might bear peaceful fruit. The latest assassination was apparently inspired by the fact that there have been diplomatic efforts to lay the groundwork for another meeting between the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and Iran.

What else is Israel doing to provoke war? “A major investigative story published on Friday on the website quoted former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials as saying that Mossad operatives had been impersonating CIA personnel for several years in recruiting for and providing support to the Sunni terrorist organization Jundallah, which operated inside Iran.” That Israeli policy,” Porter and Lobe say, “also suggests a desire to provoke Iranian retaliation against the United States.”

In his signing of the Defense Authorization bill that includes the further elimination of our civil rights, Obama also appears to be weak and spineless, saying in his signing statements that he didn’t really wanna do it. In a recent article on Common Dreams political columnist and author Chris Hedges says he’s suing the administration over the legislation, which authorizes the military to carry out domestic policing for the first time in 200 years. Under this bill, Hedges says, “once a group is deemed to be a terrorist organization, whether it’s a Palestinian charity or an element of the Uighur independence movement, the military can pick up a U.S. citizen who supported charities associated with the group or unwittingly sent money or medical supplies to front groups” and either send them to Guantanamo or have them ‘extraordinarily renditioned’ to a country that tortures political prisoners.

Hedges says he suspects “the real purpose of the bill is to thwart internal, domestic movements [like Occupy] that threaten the corporate state. Dissent is increasingly equated with treason in this country.

The threat and reach of al-Qaeda are marginal, despite the attacks of 9/11. The terrorist group has been so disrupted and broken that it can barely function. So why, a decade after the start of the so-called war on terror, do these draconian measures need to be implemented? Why do U.S. citizens now need to be specifically singled out for military detention and denial of due process when under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force the president can apparently find the legal cover to serve as judge, jury and executioner to assassinate U.S. citizens, as he did in the killing of the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen? This law is a a huge leap forward for the corporate oligarchs who plan to continue to plunder the nation and use state and military security to cow the population into submission.”

According to Hedges, “the FBI, the CIA, the director of national intelligence, the Pentagon, and the attorney general didn’t support it. FBI Director Robert Mueller said he feared the bill would impede the bureau’s ability to investigate terrorism by making it harder to win cooperation from detainees. But it passed anyway, because the corporations, seeing the unrest in the streets, knowing that things are about to get much worse, worrying that the Occupy movement will expand, don’t trust the police to protect them. They want to be able to call in the army. And now they can.”

Solidarity beats prayers

In “Fuck Your Prayer, Show Me Solidarity,” posted 12-15 on, Kristin Rawls tells her “coming-out story in an age of predatory credit…the story of a good girl from a quiet town who prayed, studied hard, said no to drugs, and otherwise did everything she was told,” then found herself – where she remains – living in a modern debtors’ prison.

“I grew up in an evangelical home, and was an earnest “liberal-evangelical” into my early twenties,” Rawls says. “Now I think that my former religious faith – not unlike my faith in the U.S. higher education system – gave me a warped sense of optimism about the way the world works.”

Issues of debt and default, Rawls notes, are so “cloaked in shame and humiliation that many of us stay silent…Financial struggle is associated with sloth in this country.” Because of her “low credit score,” Rawls has “trouble finding stable employment,” and has to work low-paying temporary jobs and spend all her free time writing “as many freelance articles as I can convince anyone to pay me for…I am thirty-one years old. I am not a drug user. I am not an alcoholic. My crime is that I went to school, and then I got sick…

I’m among America’s brightest and best educated. If you came across me in a social setting, you might mistake me for a middle- or upper-middle-class person. This is because I ‘pass’ pretty well. However, I’m not able to get jobs that match my skills, because employers assume based on my credit score that I’m lazy and incompetent. I’ve never done anything irresponsible except having gone to school. I’m the new face of financial ruin in this country…

I’m not telling you these things to facilitate a bonding experience or to bare my soul. I’m coming to believe that refusing to be silenced by shame is the first step in fighting predatory student lenders, that the only way to decouple financial struggle from shame is to normalize it, one person at a time.”

Rawls says that, growing up, her parents and mentors all encouraged her to “follow her dreams, no matter what they cost. So I took out loans,” and went to college and graduate school in international relations. “I decided I wanted to be a professor. I loved the academy, and I was good at asking tough, big-picture questions that got to the heart of things. I was at the top of my class, and I was physically healthy. I’ve never been a big spender, and I saw no reason why I couldn’t live on the stipend of $14,000 per year I’d be receiving from the Penn State PhD program that admitted me. I knew it was risky, but I saw it as a bet on myself. My intellect had never let me down before. I don’t come from a wealthy family, and there would be no cushion if I didn’t fast-track my way to tenure, but I thought I could make it…

Not long after I began my PhD program, I was diagnosed with lupus, a life-threatening autoimmune disease. I soon found that my health insurance was designed for young, healthy people, not people who develop serious diseases in their late twenties…For over a year, I suffered through a major lupus flare, unable to lift my arms for more than a couple of seconds without excruciating pain. I had trouble getting around, and often arrived late at the morning classes I taught. I had to borrow large amounts of money from Sallie Mae and Citibank, because my insurance didn’t cover all my healthcare expenses. When your doctors say you could have ‘vital organ involvement leading to premature death,’ do you worry about the cost, or about your vital organs? I didn’t want to die, so I took out as many loans as I had to, and before long, I had to drop out of school. Now I understand why so many people who are mired in this sort of debt contemplate suicide. I’m not suicidal, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to run on rage indefinitely.”

Rawls then relates her some of her experiences with evangelical Christians – and evangelical Christian groups – professing to care about economic and social justice, while ignoring issues of class. Many of them, she says, claim to be “sympathetic” with the Occupy movement, but concerned about the 1%, because “God loves them, too.” Here’s where we get to the part I struggle with, because spiritual beliefs back up what I say and do as well, and I strive for inclusiveness, nonviolence, love, etc.

Rawls again: “Occupy Wall Street isn’t perfect, but it’s the first sustained critique of class injustice in this country in my lifetime.” The problem of poverty is structural, systemic – not just a matter of creating more jobs. There are also billions of people around the world who’ve been struggling with poverty for generations, often because of first and second world vs. third world privilege. Donating to charities isn’t going to change that either. Rawls insists that only concrete action, real societal changes, will correct unjust balances of power – justice can’t be achieved just through love, prayer, and meditation, as many spiritual people seem to believe. As she says: “Notwithstanding the fact that ‘love’ is perhaps the vaguest, most unhelpful political prescription of all time, this kind of thinking removes any analysis of power from the conversation. It falsely presumes that we all enter the conversation on equal footing. Everyone is so busy preaching ‘unity’ and ‘loving one another’ that there’s never any interrogation of privilege or power.” The message Rawls feels she’s getting is “Love your oppressors. ‘Love’ rhetoric is less pronounced in secular society, but we’re accustomed to being silenced because we have a ‘mean tone.’ We’re asked to speak more respectfully so that we can earn a hearing. We’re taught to submit to our oppressors. We’re being angry and irrational, and it’s our job to make everyone comfortable.

Rawls refuses to be pitied or objectified, saying, “I’m unlucky…not ‘downtrodden.’ I’m pissed off. I don’t want your prayers or an invitation to your church, and I’m not interested in discussing ‘the poor’ as if they’re some kind of abstract concept…If it makes you feel better, go ahead and dismiss me as ‘bitter,’ but I’m not. I’m outraged. I want ‘fellowship’ with people who are outraged with me, and who practice solidarity by showing up when it matters and advocating for real economic justice – shutting down predatory lenders like Sallie Mae and Citibank…I want to turn the shame machine back on you, and I want to invite others like me to come out and stand up against your paternalism. You’re not helping me. You don’t speak for me. I’m the new poor. I did all the right things, but now I’m part of the systematic erosion of the bourgeoisie in America that started with home foreclosures and went on to student debt. Occupy Student Debt just released a video suggesting that one in five new graduates will default. We have no bankruptcy protection, usually meaning that our credit is ruined for life. And credit is tied to everything in this country. In some states, you can actually lose your driver’s – or professional – license for student loan default. We’re talking about a large segment of my generation losing its future.

And we’re being blamed. We had so many opportunities. How could we squander them, and then turn around and blame our lenders? Without them, we never could have gone to school! And we shouldn’t have, in any case, if we couldn’t afford it. We’re thieves! We’re irresponsible! I think these kinds of insults reaffirm our certainty that these awful things could never happen to us. One of my goals here is to show you that they can. If you feel that this is solely my fault, that I should have known better, and that the predatory lenders in question bear no responsibility, I invite you to stop calling yourself my ‘friend.’ Real friendship doesn’t come in the form of paternalistic charity from the powerful to the weak. I don’t want crumbs from your share of the non-profit industrial charity complex – I want you to fight with me for a world in which I don’t need charity. So, stand up and join the class war, please, or get out of my way. Don’t expect me to be grateful for your prayers. I have survival to worry about, literally.”


No room at the inn

We’re told that when Mary and Joseph were looking for a place to spend the night in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, there was “no room at the inn.” They were forced to take refuge in a stable, where their baby, Jesus, was born, rekindling the light.  I thought of this when I read yesterday on the Democracy Now website that 1.6 million children in the United States (one in 45 kids) were homeless at some point last year. The National Center on Family Homelessness, which released this study, said the child homelessness rate has jumped 33 percent since 2007. Wow — proud to be an American.

I’m also thinking about “no room at the inn” in conjunction with our local Occupy movement, which is apparently going to be evicted from its site — on public property — any day now, after bending over backwards to accommodate the requests of the police and City Council. They went so far, in fact, that glaring spotlights are now trained all night on the camp, and police are stationed there 24-7, turning the encampment of peaceful protestors and new-culture-modelers into a prison/gulag. If the police wanted to protect the camp against crimes committed by the homeless mentally ill and substance abusers attracted to it, they could have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood, but that obviously wasn’t their purpose. They just wanted to cast the camp in a negative light, preparatory to breaking it up.

The break-up will be a breach of the hard-won agreement between camp leaders and city council a few days ago that the camp could stay in place till January 11th. No reason or explanation given.

No room at the inn for the homeless, whatever their age or numbers, or for idealists willing to offer them a place in their midst, no matter how difficult that turns out to be.

A piece on last week’s “60 Minutes” showed bulldozers in Cleveland tearing down perfectly good houses no one wants to buy in hopes that the remaining houses won’t lose any more of their value. Apparently, the vacant houses attract thieves who strip them of anything of value on the ground floor, including plumbing and siding. If banks would renegotiate mortgages according to the current, rather than the previous value of these homes, people could afford to stay in them, but they won’t, so everyone loses.

Where have all those people gone? Have they found an inn?

Instead of taking these things on the chin as individuals — blaming ourselves for our “failure” to “make it,” we need to band together and put the responsibility where it belongs: on a failed system. Then refuse to be foreclosed, have our camps broken up, and just go off and die because the system doesn’t need us anymore.

Capitalism: how’s it workin’ for ya? The ones it is workin’ for will keep crushing the ones it isn’t workin’ for as long as we let them. Let’s ignore the dog and pony show of the election, Congress, and all that, and get together on this! Nonviolently if we can.

The bottom line is the inherent right of every man, woman, and child — whoever and wherever they are, and whatever they have or haven’t done — to respect and dignity. If you don’t recognize that right, in your actions as well as your words, I suggest you take another look at yourself. The practice is difficult, but it’s what that little baby grew up to preach, and it’s still the best ideal I know of.

May the peace and brother/sisterhood of the season touch you. Pass it on…




Occupy the heart

Here’s a letter from the Eugene Weekly that I have to share with you, it hits all the points so well:


We may be the 99 percent of the U.S. population, but as American citizens, we are still the wealthy elite of the global population. We are among the 1 percent with access to a college education, highly quality health care and clean drinking water. As broken as our political system is, we still posses a great deal more political freedom than our brothers and sisters of the less “developed” nations of the world, the people whom we directly oppress through our daily support of the very same corporations we decry.

We buy shoes manufactured by abused children working in sweatshops in Asia. We use cell phones and computers containing rare and toxic elements controlled by guerrilla forces in central Africa, killing innocent civilians and endangered species in the crossfire. We eat bananas, sugar and chocolate grown on slave plantations throughout Latin America. We further desecrate and pollute our own land through resource extraction and the dumping of toxic waste.

We are collectively responsible for the resource wars being fought across the globe. We maintain our consumer lifestyle at the expense of all others. We are all conditioned by our parents, school teachers, government “representatives,” corporate media, etc. to accept this short-sighted and self-centered version of the American dream.

We could all use a bit more love and compassion from our friends and neighbors. However, if we are going to survive as a species (or evolve beyond our present circumstances), we are all going to need to make some very drastic changes in the way that we relate to one another and the more-than-human world.

The one thing I have discovered which has never failed is the willingness to listen to the heart. Through meditation and/or contemplative practices we are able to deepen our connection to a source of strength and clarity which is needed now more than ever.

Nathaniel Nordin-Tuininga, Eugene

Should we defend the Occupy sites?

This morning I direct your attention to an editorial entitled “Should the Occupiers Stay or Go?” by Rick Salutin in today’s Toronto Star. Salutin says, “The Occupy movements have largely become dramas revolving around the excellent question posed by The Clash: Should I stay or should I go? It’s become a story about a place. Some, like London (Ontario) are gone. Others, like London (England) are on notice. Occupy Wall St. is gone but it’s back, in a different form. We’ll know about Occupy Toronto, apparently, tomorrow. But it’s possible that this is the wrong question. Let me offer another view based on a recent visit to Madrid.

The 15-M movement began there last May 15th with a protest held in Puerta del Sol square over the economic crisis that became an overnight occupation. When it was dismantled by authorities, a conflict ensued over whether they would stay or go. A month later, when they finally went, it was by choice. One veteran of 15-M (there are no leaders) said: ‘It was a strategic move that led to the survival of the movement.’ Almost happenstantially they had evolved another preference: to fan out into districts of the city (and elsewhere in Spain) and conduct regular meetings with local residents. These then forwarded proposals to a weekly assembly held in the square.

If you wander around Occupy sites, like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, as I did this week, you often see signs saying, Join Us. It’s hard to imagine many of the people who pass by and warily eye the huddled tents, doing so. The Madrid option in a way is the opposite. It’s: Join Them. Go into your neighborhood, try and talk with your neighbors, different as they may be from you. Listen to them as they talk to you and each other.

This is different from a campaign to simply carry the Occupy message (99 per cent versus 1 per cent, etc.) out to ‘the people.’ Some organizers of the Occupy movements, according to the New York Times, are heading in that direction: ‘trying to broaden their influence by deepening their involvement in community groups.’ But there’s a difference between trying to make a point (the organizers quoted by the Times) and trying to engender a social phenomenon (15-M). It’s the difference between trying to win an argument, and focusing on the process of discussion itself, in the hope that something transformative might emerge. ‘We are going to create a new social category,’ says one 15-M participant, the aim of which is not to convince people to vote a certain way or embrace particular views: ‘It’s simply a widening of the political landscape.’

A new layer of political process wasn’t 15-M’s agenda at the start. It came to what you could call its democratic emphasis gradually; the stress on process emerged from the process. It was never called an Occupy movement, so it had the advantage that its very name didn’t press it to stay where it was born.”

A similar phenomenon, that some friends and I have been discussing and are putting into action, involves elements of “the people” forming affinity groups based on location, workplace or work situation, or any other common interest, which meet to talk about needs and problems, and send spokespersons to connect with other groups – at Occupy sites or elsewhere. The public space we/the Occupy movement are claiming, using, and defending doesn’t have to be specific and permanent, day after day, month after month – though it can be for those who want to try to make it so. The same or other public spaces can be used periodically to connect groups who want to communicate with each other and to provide regular focal points for community meetings. At the same time, Occupy and other websites – some yet to be created – can provide virtual meeting places, offering discussion forums, interactive maps showing community resources, and needs/offerings listings of goods and services available for gift or barter.

The important thing is having the conversations, “widening the political landscape,” considering alternatives to the current, unacceptable system, and creating a new one by using this respectful, democratic, and inclusive process. We’re learning the ways of a better world already. It’s here now. “We make the path by walking.”