Archive for politics

Casualties of Media Warfare

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 5, 2011 by brucepoinsette

A recurring theme in my talks with Occupy Portland participants has been the “media war”. Consider Jason Parker collateral damage.

Parker was arrested a couple of weeks ago at the encampment for allegedly pulling a gun on protesters during an argument. According to the news reports, he pulled the gun after protesters challenged him for taking unauthorized video. One of the less emphasized elements of the news stories was that some of the protesters called him a racial slur.

In discussions with my editor, we both agreed something didn’t add up about the story. Why would someone pull a gun after he was told not to take video? For that matter, since when did a people’s protest make such a fuss about unauthorized video? Isn’t that what characterized the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and so many other countries?

The Skanner News Group decided to make an inquiry and the police report produced a much more disturbing account.

According to the police report, some protesters began arguing with Parker for taking video. They called him a racial slur and then pulled knives on him. In response, Parker, who is a concealed weapons holder, lifted his shirt to show them he was armed. Instead of arresting the protesters who threatened him, the police put Parker into custody.

He was released the next day and no charges were filed. However, his mugshot was posted online and the incident put a blemish on his otherwise, clean record.

In the midst of this “media war”, this incident was brushed under the rug by many on the left. Conversely, some right wing pundits used it as a way to prove the left is racist.

It is not the fault of Occupy Portland that this unfortunate incident happened or that there are some unsavory elements among the protesters. However, the refusal to fight for a black man who was the victim of injustice will leave a permanent stain on the movement.

Many have complained that occupiers aren’t giving enough attention to issues that face communities of color, even though they profess to be fighting for the “99 percent”. The Jason Parker incident validates the concerns and skepticism among communities of color and helps to explain why there is very little diversity at Occupy Portland.

While unity is an honorable goal, it has to go beyond words.

Communities of color will never accept the rhetoric of unity if well intentioned people choose to defend racists who threaten our people, all for the sake of winning a public relations battle.

The “99 percent” may be getting oppressed by the same powers that be but there are a number of divisions between us that can’t be patched up by words from unofficial spokespeople.

Asking communities of color to accept the racist elements while not challenging these racist elements to do the same and defending their flagrant violations of human decency is neither building unity nor upholding the fight for the world’s oppressed.

In the time I’ve spent at the Occupy Portland camp and my talks with occupiers, I’ve found that the vast majority are committed to making real positive change and standing up to power. They really believe in the power of unity and justice.

Thus, I urge occupiers to not let the wrong done to Jason Parker, or anyone else at Occupy Portland, to go by the wayside. True enemies of the movement would love nothing more than to use this incident to stop Occupy Portland and further their malicious agendas.

At the heart of standing up to power is the need to tell the truth.

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New Article: Supporters Want Occupy Movement to Address Racial Issues

Posted in Journalism, News Wire with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Check out the new article.

Supporters Want Occupy Movement to Address Racial Issues.

Unreleased: Assassination and We Cheered

Posted in Musings, News Wire with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Author’s note: I originally wrote this following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Since, we’ve seen the assassinations of many others, including Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16 year old son and most recently Muammar Gaddafi. I find it interesting that so many in the US cheered on the images of Gaddafi’s bloody corpse not even a week after the dedication of a monument to Martin Luther King Jr., one of history’s greatest nonviolent advocates. However, judging by what I observed following the bin Laden killing, I can’t say any of this is a surprise.

                              Assassination and We Cheered

“USA is at it again, number one in the rankings of Killing Championships. Stealing the Gold in the Murder Olympics, and the crowd goes wild!”
-Chuck D via Twitter

The days following the killing of Osama bin Laden have been a microcosm of everything wrong with the US. President Obama announced US Special Forces assassinated bin Laden and people celebrated as if it was the Super Bowl. Anyone who dared ask questions was labeled a conspiracy nut while the corporate media fanned the flames of already tense relations between the US and Pakistan and asserted that torture deserved praise for the victory.

As I watched the celebrations I couldn’t help but notice something didn’t feel right.

My worries were confirmed by an Al Arabiya report, which said bin Laden’s daughter confirmed his death and said the SEALS captured him alive before shooting him in front of his family. Furthermore, according to the report, witnesses say no one in the house fired at the soldiers, challenging the US military’s account that there was a firefight.

This should set off a few red flags when we consider the “official” story delivered by the White House.

Obama said that following the killing, bin Laden was wrapped in a shroud, prayed over and thrown into the sea, in order to adhere to Muslim tradition. There’s one problem. This wasn’t exactly a Muslim tradition nor was it appropriate for bin Laden’s circumstances.

In fact, when do you remember the US treating the bodies of any combatants in the War on Terror with such respect?

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that bin Laden was unarmed but “resisted” when he was shot in the eye. The following day, Obama said he would not release photos of the body as to not inflame tensions.

As a black man, it’s hard for me not to be skeptical when I hear an unarmed man was shot for “resisting arrest” because police throughout the country shoot unarmed black men every week.

According to the White House, this was a “capture or kill” mission. Why Navy SEALS couldn’t capture a 53-year-old unarmed man with kidney problems certainly raises some concerns. Furthermore, the hastiness in which the soldiers disposed of the body and the lie told to justify it make you wonder what the administration is trying to hide.

The allegations that releasing a picture of the body would allow followers to build a shrine or would inflame tensions among militants are dubious to say the least. Shrines can be built regardless and a gruesome picture of bin Laden’s corpse can’t be any more offensive than the photographs of the Afghanistan “Kill Team” released in Rolling Stone earlier this year or the illegal detentions, torture, raids and bombings of innocent civilians in the US’s wars and proxy wars in Muslim countries.

Government sponsored assassinations are illegal according to international law and the body certainly would have provided some evidence to what happened in the compound. As of now, the US news is only voicing the side of the US and Pakistan, which has agreed to a deal allowing the US military free reign over the country while the government publicly denies any knowledge.

In addition to evidence from the assassination, the public’s acceptance and celebration has created a frightening precedent for the abuse of presidential power.

Obama has also ordered the assassination of other militant figures like US born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in the past.

If a president is allowed to order hits on civilians then it opens the door for the White House to target anyone who opposes its policies.

People, even those as despicable as Osama bin Laden, deserve a fair trial where they can be held accountable for their crimes in a court of law. The only testimony we have from bin Laden is a set of videos whose validity has been called into question. Many of these grainy videos have bin Laden curiously operating right handed even though he’s a documented left-hander. This may be enough to satisfy the court of public opinion but it’s far from enough to hold up in a court of law.

Besides adhering to international law, this would also yield much more valuable intelligence. Since we killed him we’ll never know what motives and leads bin Laden could have personally divulged.

Public approval of the assassination has meshed with a corporate media all too willing to squash dissent and intimidate citizens from asking questions. Everyone from the White House to the cable news networks to liberal icon John Stewart have demonized, dismissed and labeled anyone asking questions as a conspiracy theorist.

As a journalist, I’ve been taught to ask questions and seek evidence regardless of the source. Thus, asking legitimate questions as to why we can’t see the body or why the SEALS chose to kill and not capture bin Laden shouldn’t be controversial. The US government has not exactly established enough credibility to have its word taken at face value.

During a debate I had earlier this week, someone went as far as to tell me Obama wouldn’t get on TV at 10:30 at night and lie to us.

Part of me cringed thinking back to the press conference where George W. Bush announced Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Posing tough questions is not necessarily asserting that bin Laden has been dead for years, as speculated since before 9/11, or that he is still alive. It’s an effort to seek evidence from an illegal operation.

Since the body was thrown in the sea there is no evidence of how or if bin Laden “resisted” despite being unarmed. All we have is the account of the SEALS vs. the recollection of witnesses.

While the media has given little time to critical thought, it has chosen to embrace two potentially harmful narratives: the untrustworthy nature of Pakistan and the effectiveness of torture in getting the intelligence that led to the killing of bin Laden.

The US has been conducting drone strikes in Pakistan for years and a 2009 Brookings Institute study found that they kill nine civilians for every insurgent. This and the murder of two Pakistani intelligence agents by CIA operative Raymond Davis, has caused serious tension between the two governments.

Despite the tensions, the US recently gave Pakistan 85 “Raven” drones, according to an Al-Jazeera report.

Keeping in mind that bin Laden came on the scene when the Carter and Reagan administrations chose to arm and train him as well as the rest of the muhajideen to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the late 70s and early 80s, this decision to give weapons to a potential enemy sets the table for history to repeat itself. This is all while debates persist over whether to arm rebels in Libya, another group of people who could potentially hold anti-American sentiments.

Reports say that bin Laden’s compound was housed near the Pakistani military academy, which has created more animosity amongst media personalities towards Pakistan for denying any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts.

According to a report in The Nation, Pakistani President “Musharraf’s comments are ironic given that he personally made a deal with Gen. McChrystal to allow US Special Ops Forces to cross into Pakistan from Afghanistan to target bin Laden or other al Qaeda leaders. The so-called ‘hot pursuit’ agreement was predicated on Pakistan’s ability to deny it had given the US forces permission to enter Pakistan.”

The notion that the countries have any irreconcilable hostilities is overblown considering their mutual agreement, which has allowed for numerous civilian deaths and billions of dollars of US aid. Nonetheless, sowing the seeds for more tension doesn’t help the prospects of changing history.

Another disturbing development following the assassination has been conservatives’ praise of torture. Claims that torture led to the tips on bin Laden’s compound are unfounded and in fact, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad was reported to have only begun divulging information after the CIA decided to stop waterboarding him.

Torture in overseas prisons like Guantanamo Bay and Bagram gains mostly faulty intelligence because soldiers have imprisoned mostly innocent civilians, who will say anything when the pain gets to be too much.

For example, in Andy Worthington’s “The Guantanamo Files,” Muhmoud al-Muhajid, a Yemeni detainee says, “I never knew Osama bin Laden. When the interrogators kept bothering me with this question, I told them, ‘I saw him five times, three on al-Jazeera, and twice on Yemeni news.’ After this they kept after me really hard. I told them, ‘Ok, I know him, whatever you want. Just give me a break.’ ”

In addition to this, citizens were given incentive to falsely accuse others and sell them to Americans for the price of $5,000 to $10,000, according to Worthington.

To say that this system is efficient and is justified for whatever unfounded proof that it led to the killing of bin Laden is inherently irresponsible and cause for worry anywhere US soldiers are stationed. Such blatant war crimes are never justified and only cause more hostility among those oppressed by the powerful US military.

Amidst all these attempts to capitalize on the killing and the media’s persistence in shaping the narrative, we can’t overlook that the US continues its policy of murder with little discretion. Hundreds of thousands have died since the beginning of the War on Terror. It has bled over a trillion dollars from the US economy that will never go to schools or social services. Abroad, the war has created a system of secret prisons and a climate of fear and resistance. The rights of global citizens have been slowly eroded in the name of vengeance and there’s no end in sight.

Osama bin Laden’s death doesn’t mark the end of an era but the continuance of US blood lust. Our primal urge for revenge was on full display as few questioned the official story or the legality of the killing.

When Americans readily unify around murder one has to ask if we are any better than our supposed enemies. Have we really learned anything?

Currency as Religion

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2011 by brucepoinsette

One image that stuck with me from Occupy Portland was a man burning a dollar bill. There couldn’t be a more apt protest technique than destroying the tool which allows bankers to control the people.

It says “In God We Trust” on the dollar (The phrase has been on coins since 1864 and paper money since 1957), which is appropriate since the people who control our currency try to play God.

They use pieces of paper with no real value to dictate our lives. We have no choice but to worship this money because it has given wealthy bankers a monopoly on trade. These people can pick and choose what they want to fund, usually for their own benefit, and tell the majority of people how they should act because they control how our money is spent.

Our monetary system works like a religion in many ways. Both are based on faith. In the case of religion, a person’s acts can be exchanged for faith that he/she will receive God’s grace. This faith based currency has been used to justify everything from charity to war.

Likewise, US currency is based on faith. Once upon a time we used to use the gold standard, which backed our money with something tangible in the form of gold. Now we print money out of thin air. We continue to borrow from countries like China with the understanding that we can be trusted to pay our bills. Although this causes inflation in the global market and makes the dollar virtually worthless in other countries, Americans depend on it.

Our deficit pays for schools, health care and social services. It also pays for our wars and subsidizes things like oil and farms.

As a result, we must continue to believe in the dollar.

Even if you strive to be self made you need sponsorships to fund your business. However, you can only get sponsorships if sponsors approve of your business.

Likewise, if you want to start a community based program you’ll need a grant. The only way you can get a grant is by competing with other programs, resulting in many important initiatives not getting the funding they need.

In a perfect world, our government would use it’s ability to print money out of thin air to fund all the programs that could empower communities, but like most religions, there is a hierarchy that manipulates the image of God to their advantage.

Our currency is controlled by the Federal Reserve, whose largest shareholders are private banks.

They have made a killing during the current economic crisis. When the economy collapsed, they bailed themselves out with taxpayer dollars. Since, they’ve done nothing to alleviate the pain of the people they victimized with schemes like subprime lending.

Judging by history, they have no reason to. The same thing happened during the Great Depression.

Uncertainty is good for stock traders, which is good for bankers. It’s also good for big business because it allows the wealthiest to buy struggling companies for pennies on the dollar.

Thus, the deficit has taken on prominence during the Obama Presidency even though we barely heard about it while Bush was in office. The same self appointed gods who gambled away our money are asking us to practice austerity.

Bankers and big business are using their control of the wealth to push for decreased funding for social services when people need them most.

Just like religion, they use the threat of a judgement day. We are threatened with the idea that countries like China will demand us to pay them back in full even though lending countries depend on our debt just as much as we depend on being able to borrow from them.

The politicians who bankers and big business use to push this message are well aware that a little research can dispel their myths. Thus, they use their money to broadcast their message through the media at a frequency that makes your common sense a victim of blunt force trauma.

We’re taught to acquire wealth so we have the power to fight against these forces on a more level playing field. However, as long as we trade in the bankers’ currency they’ve got us. No matter how much money we attain, the bankers will always have more and most likely we’ll depend on them to build our fortune in the first place.

There’s no way one percent should control the majority of the wealth and resources of the other 99 percent but control of currency allows just that to happen.

The solution is unclear because trading in different currency is not an option for most people. Most can’t go back to a time where we literally worked for food and shelter, rather than money to buy food and shelter.

However, if people were to unify and protest by trading in an alternative, tangible currency it would not just shake Wall Street, it would negate its only advantage over the masses.

In the meantime, we must educate people by destroying the illusion that causes so many to buy into this system.

This is what happened when one protester at Occupy Portland burned a false god for all to see.

The War vs. Us All

Posted in Music for Thought with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Andy Rooney left “60 Minutes” this past Sunday. The nation is in need of a seasoned journalist to provide a weekly dose of context.

What an opportune time to free award winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, the most famous death row inmate in the world.

Abu-Jamal symbolizes the struggle of the under served in this country. His voice is representative of the changing demographics of the US and his wide range of knowledge provides much needed forethought to policy decisions we often overlook.

Abu-Jamal was a member of the Philadelphia Black Panthers and a radio journalist who became the President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

In 1981 he was convicted (by a jury of not of his peers and a well known racist judge) of the murder of a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death.

His death sentence was vacated and remanded for a new hearing in 2008. This decision was upheld in April of this year.

After watching the lynching of Troy Davis play out on live television, the fight to end the death penalty has become as urgent as ever. Freeing Abu-Jamal and giving him the opportunity to share his knowledge with the American public would be symbolic of the US beginning to make amends with its racism. It would be a defiant gesture against the death penalty as well as a rare vindication of a black person wronged by the criminal justice system.

As the US gets more diverse and the incarceration rate expands, Abu-Jamal provides a face that the public can relate to.

He was stripped of his human rights not so coincidentally after establishing himself as a prominent activist. His questionable murder case is eerily similar to ones faced by other Panthers including Huey P. Newton and Assata Shakur. All claimed they were shot by police officers and survived, only to be charged with the murder of another officer at the scene.

Many Americans have been affected in some way by the injustice of the prison industrial complex and would be more receptive to Abu-Jamal than people of the past that were conned by COINTELPRO influences in the media.

Instead of dismissing him, these people might appreciate the knowledge he’s been sharing from behind bars.

Although he’s been locked up for nearly three decades, Abu-Jamal has released weekly podcasts providing wisdom and incite on American politics, social movements and influential figures in society. He combines an activist spirit with several libraries worth of knowledge (everything from Nietzsche to Fanon to old English plays).

Abu-Jamal’s ability to synthesize current events and add context from the past serves to both provide forethought and make academia engaging.

His uncanny ability to predict the outcome of government initiatives and policies shows the importance of extensive reading and critical thinking.

For example, on “The War vs. Us All” Abu-Jamal expresses his thoughts on the War in Iraq:

“It is ultimately a War on us all. That’s because the billions and billions that are being spent on this War–the cost of tanks, rocketry, bullets and yes even salaries for the 125,000 plus troops–is money that will never be spent on education, on healthcare, on the reconstruction of crumbling public housing or to train and place the millions of workers who have lost manufacturing jobs in the past three years alone. The War in Iraq is in reality a war against the nations’ workers and the poor, who are getting less and less, while the big Defense industries are making a killing literally.”

With drones in six countries in Africa and the Middle East and so many people out of work here, it’s hard to say he got it wrong.

The American public has an obsession with celebrities so who better to speak to it than a celebrity of the global struggle against imperialism? Abu-Jamal has seen it all and has already proven he can inspire many despite being held in the most repressive conditions.

In a country that loves symbolism, nothing would be more fitting than freeing a black political prisoner and letting him convince the public not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

An Open Letter to B-Murder

Posted in Musings, News Wire with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2011 by brucepoinsette

Dear President Obama,

I am concerned that your disregard for civil liberties and due process is putting US citizens in danger.

Yesterday you finally succeeded in the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen. You authorized his assassination without charges or concrete evidence. Although al-Awlaki made incendiary Youtube videos and had contact with people who have carried out terrorist attacks or attempted to, you have yet to prove he had any operational role in those terrorist incidents.

It is my understanding that the First Amendment doesn’t permit speech that incites violence. In no way do I condone al-Awlaki’s messages but I also recognize that the Fifth Amendment says no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Considering that al-Awlaki was a US citizen and had no proven operational role in Al-Qaeda, there is no reason he couldn’t have been charged and put on trial.

Your policy of killing him, or anyone else on the list, at first sight is troubling because it doesn’t give the alleged terrorists a chance to turn themselves in. Perhaps these people have valuable intelligence to share that might end this “war” (I use that term loosely). Maybe they have just been misunderstood. In al-Awlaki’s case, we’ll never know because you had him killed before we could get any semblance of the other side of the story.

Also, when you kill a person you just create more enemies amongst his friends and family. Someone will step into al-Awlaki’s alleged role in Al-Qaeda and the violence will continue (Was there any peace after we assassinated Osama bin Laden?) so what did you accomplish besides creating more enemies and justification for more war?

This is also troubling because it bears an eery resemblance to COINTELPRO, which combined a media smear campaign, illegal surveillance and assassination to target dissenting groups within the US such as the Black Panthers and the American Indian Movement.

Some infamous COINTELPRO incidents include the murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in his sleep by police and the slaying of California Panthers “Bunchy” Carter and John Huggins by informants within the United Slaves organization.

Public approval played a major role in these killings because the media (with help from FBI informants in its ranks) portrayed the Panthers as terrorists.

I noticed you pulled a similar tactic with al-Awlaki. Last year CNN broadcast a special about him called “The New bin Laden”.  Although al-Awlaki’s biggest threat was his use of propaganda, the reports managed to scare the public into believing killing him on sight was a rational and legal response.

If you can get the public to cosign anything you do as long as you say, “terrorist,” then what is stopping you or future Presidents from assassinating anyone that publicly disagrees with your policies?

You’ve already normalized government assassination through the use of drones (There were more drone strikes in your first two years than Bush authorized in eight) as well as continued Bush’s policies of detention without due process and entrapment of US citizens.

What gives us the moral authority to invade other countries and displace their leaders for the same offenses you are authorizing against the global community and now, your own people?

Do you honestly believe these measures will end terrorism or decrease violence?

Perpetual violence is not moving this country forward. Nor is sewing the seeds of distrust amongst its citizens. Murder only begets more murder.

Mr. President, before you continue to ramp up your assassination program, I pray you consider what kind of precedent you’re setting for your predecessors as well as the American people.

Sincerely,

Bruce Poinsette

Obi Wan Obama You’re Not Our Only Hope

Posted in Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2011 by brucepoinsette

I’ve had a number of elderly black people whom I have the utmost respect for ask me why I, or people like me, criticize Barack Obama. “This may be the only chance we get” or “Why don’t you support the guy you voted for?,” are common arguments I hear.

With all due respect to the ancestors and the elders, I have a hard time believing they fought so hard so we could be passive political participants. People like my cousin Septima Poinsette Clark dedicated their lives to securing voting rights for my people. Was the goal really to have a black President follow the script of white Presidents (puppets really, but I digress) before him while black people continue shutting up so we don’t get in trouble?

How can you tell young people voting is so important and then tell them they’re wrong when they try to hold the person they voted for accountable?

Everyone else is lobbying Obama. Why should black people be left out?

When it came to immigration reform and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, the Latino and LGBT communities were out protesting and letting Obama know he wasn’t going to simply inherit their vote. The result was a change in immigration policy (Obama has been harsher than Bush) and a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. No one accused these communities of being Obama haters for fighting for their interests.

Conversely, I was forwarded an email not too long ago blaming Tavis Smiley and Cornel West for MSNBC pundit Mark Halperin calling Obama “kind of a dick” on TV. It said the two men set the tone for such behavior because of their vocal disagreement with the President’s policies, specifically him not fighting hard enough for poor and working class people.

Perhaps I missed this time where no one was saying ridiculous and disparaging things about the President until black people did it.

Difference of opinion is both natural and healthy. It helps ferret out bad ideas and strengthen good ones.

I’m very familiar with Willie Lynch and his divide and conquer strategies to condition slaves but disagreeing with Obama is not pitting us against each other. Just because the media plays up disagreements between Obama and black critics as the rebirth of the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop beef doesn’t mean we have to buy into it.

For example, I don’t agree with the war in Libya. I don’t support bombing civilians (How do you protect civilians by taking sides in a civil war?) for oil we’re securing for our allies (70 percent of the oil is going to Spain, Germany, France and Italy) as a favor for helping us in Iraq. Neither do I support staking out a strategic position in West Africa as a precursor to invading other countries for their resources.

Does that make me an Uncle Tom (Just one of the many terms used to slander Smiley and West)?

In fact, doesn’t putting one black man on a pedestal at the expense of everyone else and condemning all of his black critics sound like divide and conquer to you?

We are not a monolithic people. No race is. There’s a place in the discussion for everyone who is fighting for the betterment of the people. I may not agree with conservatives like Herman Cain or Allen West, but if they’re offering ideas in the name of black empowerment then they have every right to contribute to the discussion.

Obama may be facing more unnecessary heat than any other President from not-so-subtly racist pundits but that doesn’t mean we have to blindly follow him. What reasonable person really cares what Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh thinks?

We cripple our President when we don’t challenge him to make his policies better. Obama, just like any other leader, can’t do it alone.

Even if we unified and gave him the support to be the black crusader many of us wish he would be, chances are the powers that be would just kill him. Then we’d be running around like chickens with our heads cut off for the umpteenth time in history.

It’s never wrong to criticize as long as you keep your eyes on the prize.