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by Richard Greeman
AS AMERICANS all over the land sat down to a stuffed turkey feast to celebrate our country’s founding myth — the Pilgrim Fathers welcomed by the Indians — the North Dakota National Guard, militarized local police and (unlicensed) security guards were brutalizing unarmed Standing Rock Sioux Indians gathered to protesting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on their sacred lands and water sources. The Standing Rock Sioux encampment (which included members of eighty other tribes as well as volunteer environmental and human rights activists) was invaded without provocation by Guardsmen and North Dakota law enforcement, who shot rubber bullets, launched gas-canisters at eye-level, and sprayed the people from a water-cannon in sub-zero weather. Three hundred indigenous activists and their allies were treated for injuries, several quite serious. At the same time, the authorities blocked the only bridge out of the area, preventing the embattled Native peoples from bringing in reinforcements or evacuating wounded. (It’s a wonder the U.S. government didn’t also issue them anthrax-infected blankets to keep warm!)
For seven months, our sitting Democratic President, who two years previous had actually visited with the Standing Rock Sioux, remained silent to growing protests against this latest episode of armed confiscation of Native American lands and rights. For seven months, Obama ignored his historic responsibility as the 21st century “Great White Father in Washington” to whom the Indians were appealing with their non-violent, prayerful occupation. Instead, our shameless Democratic president preferred to demonstrate his loyalty to the energy industry by going to the wall in support of a single energy corporation. Like Pontius Pilate, Barack Obama washed his hands of the affair by deciding to “let things play out.”
Today’s good news is that “things” have apparently “played out” in the interests of justice. Following the shock of the violent pre-Thanksgiving pre-dawn military raid on the sleeping Indian camp, thousands of new volunteers from across the land made their way to North Dakota in solidarity. Prominent among them, more than two thousand U.S. military veterans, many of Native American origin, who came prepared to protect the occupiers and defend their camp. One of the main organizers among the veterans was Wesley Clark, son of the four-star general; another was the grandson of a Navaho “code-talker” whose skills played a crucial role in the U.S. victory in World War II. Those two thousand-plus ex-soldiers have military training, combat experience, and mean business.
Faced with the specter of a confrontation between seasoned, dedicated U.S. vets and the Dakota National Guard, Obama quietly allowed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny the Dakota Access Corporation in easement to dig under the Missouri River, pending an environmental determination that should have been made years ago, that a leak in the pipeline would pollute the drinking water not only of the Dakota Sioux but of millions of citizens downstream. Obama deserves little credit, however; the corporation has already threatened to ignore the order, and in less than two months, Trump can cancel it.
OBAMA STILL has nearly two months left in the most powerful office in the world. He has time to right some of the wrongs for which history will hold him responsible. With the stroke of a pen he could stop providing arms, intelligence and tactical support to the Saudi Arabian air force, which is terror-bombing hospitals, schools, and funerals in Yemen. He could cancel his international program of assassination-by-drone of nameless suspected ‘terrorists’ selected (like your Amazon.com recommendations) by algorithms. He could send emergency aid to the suffering population of bankrupt Puerto Rico, crushed under the draconian conditions imposed by an appointed a commission of bankers.
And although Obama has used his Presidential pardon to free hundreds of non-violent drug offenders, the former leader of the American Indian Movement, 72-year-old Leonard Peltier, continues to rot in jail for his role in the 1975 occupation of the Pine Ridge Reservation. Indeed, according to Amnesty International, there are dozens of high profile long-term political prisoners Obama ought to pardon, many elderly, including Black Panthers and Puerto Rican activists in prison since the 1960s, often in solitary confinement.
Obama could also stop persecuting Julian Assange and could pardon our national heroes, the whistleblowers Pvt. Manning and Snowden. And that’s for openers.
But Obama won’t. Yet our Deporter-in-Chief continues to get a free pass from the liberals and the "left." Why?
A WEEK AFTER Trump's catastrophic election upset, it is clear that the entire political and media class, both right and left, is closing ranks behind the President-elect. While millions of Americans are anguished about racism, war, global warming, and increasing violent attacks on minorities, immigrants (particularly Muslims), and LTBG folks, and while demonstrators continue to chant “Not Our President,” the elites are busy normalizing the abnormal, legitimizing the illegitimate, and banalizing evil.
The Republican “big tent” now includes formerly unmentionable proto-fascist outliers, the white nationalists and the alt/right. The Republican establishment, which once lifted its nose at Donald’s racist, sexist buffoonery, now welcomes Trump and his wolf-pack like long lost brothers. A jubilant market is expressing its confidence in tax cuts and deregulation as stocks rise.
Trump has been less charitable to the broadcast media, whom he cannot forgive for belatedly drawing attention to his blatant lies (printing little bits of truth on little ribbons at the bottom of the screen). Last week Trump summoned the mainstream TV pundits and moguls to his Tower for a private audience on the condition that it would be strictly off-the-record. And of course the media lap-dogs and curs came in fawning and wagging their tails in hope of conciliation (ignoring their professional obligation to remain independent and inform the public).
Having thus humbled these faux-journalists of the airwaves by tempting them with the illusion of “access,” the boss of The Apprentice showed them the whip and brought them to heel. “They learned nothing over past 18 months of covering Trump,” tweeted Erik Wemple of The Washington Post. In any case, as long as they don’t shut down Trumps Twitter account, he doesn’t need them any more. Welcome to the post-truth era.
On the “left,” Obama and all the Democrats except good old Bernie Sanders are singing the same song: “All we are saying/ Is give Trump a chance.” And even Bernie feels obliged by decorum to join the Democratic chorus by offering to "work with Trump" on creating jobs an d rebuilding the infrastructure (while expressing his doubts).
There are even elements on the far left who seem ready to "give Trump a chance” and are overjoyed that Trump loves Putin. There are also state-socialists and neo-Keynesians whose mouths are watering at the prospect of Trump’s infrastructure promises.
As for the official labor movement, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka raced to the front of the line to congratulate Trump on his victory and pledge to work together with the new commander in chief: “The President-elect made promises in this campaign," said Trumka, "on trade, on restoring manufacturing, on reviving our communities. We will work to make many of those promises a reality.”
Yet Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan is also a scam. Instead of taking advantage of low interest rates and using government money to hire workers to repair and rebuild the bridges, tunnels, roads, schools, parks and energy sources that were originally built under the New Deal and still in use, Trump has suggested giving huge tax write-offs to private interests and allow them to keep and profit from whatever they build forever (for example to collect tolls in perpetuity). These private contractors would not be likely to undertake non-profit projects like schools, and they would be free to make any labor arrangements they choose.
“As the White House official responsible for overseeing implementation of President Obama’s massive infrastructure initiative, the 2009 Recovery Act, I’ve got a simple message for Democrats who are embracing President-elect Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan," warns Roland Klain. "Don’t do it. It’s a trap. Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors.”
Nobel-prize economist Paul Krugman concludes: “we already know enough about his infrastructure plan to suggest, strongly, that it’s basically fraudulent, that it would enrich a few well-connected people at taxpayers’ expense while doing very little to cure our investment shortfall. It’s hard to see any reason for this scheme unless the inevitable corruption is a feature, not a bug."
As I wrote here recently, “We should have no illusions about the impact of Donald Trump’s victory. It is a disaster. The prospect of a unified right-wing government, led by an authoritarian populist, represents a catastrophe for working people. Some may have hoped that Trump’s outlandish campaign threats were not meant to be taken seriously ; but the man means business, and he is not going to waste his crucial first hundred days pussyfooting around, as Obama did.”
Nor should we have any illusions about the Democratic “opposition,” the left wing of the U.S. capitalist duopoly, although as individuals many in government and the media will be moved to speak out.
As my daughter, Jenny Greeman, wrote on her Facebook page last week:
This week I'm demonstrating. Demonstrating my values. Demonstrating to other women, Jews, children/grandchildren/great grandchildren of immigrants; to African-Americans; the LGBTQI community; to refugees; to people who rely on social security and Medicaid; to artists, scientists, and ecologists; to Muslims; to Marxist-Humanists; to educators; to Indigenous peoples, that I stand with them against violence. I stand with them against bigotry, sexism, and racism. And that I stand with them against the dismantling of our public good, against unfettered capitalism and against the destruction of the whole world for one more generation of fossil fuel profits. I DEMONSTRATE.
On Thanksgiving, anguished Americans everywhere sat down top their meal wondering what to do and where to turn. Jenny was wearing a safety-pin on her lapel as a signal that she is prepared to intervene non-violently to aid and comfort any victim of bullying. I hope that catches on. At bedtime, decent folk in the U.S. government, the military, even the corporate media were probably worrying about the post-inauguration future during their post-turkey insomnia. They may be weighing the risks of speaking out against the shame of going along to get along. Count on them. As one brave official breaks ranks, so will others. Think “Snowden.”
The essential thing to not to blame each other for this catastrophe, which we are all going to have to suffer through together. Especially (you folks on the left) not to stigmatize white working people. Many of them voted first for Sanders (primaries) and then out of desperation, for Trump. They were desperate for change. Respect their dignity as people: their revolt against the elites was as much about dignity as it was about economics. When their crony-capitalist con-artist throws them to the wolves, they’ll realize they’ve been screwed and will join us in the struggle.
Meanwhile, we ourselves have to join the struggle. I mean now, today. Time to join the struggle of the embattled Indians of North Dakota who are still non-violently defending the last scraps of what was stolen from them in unfair treaties: their sacred burial grounds and their sacred river, source of their water. Their “victory” is fragile and many have decided to remain in their camps, as other go home to recuperate – ready return in January when Trump replaces Obama is their tormentor. Four years is a long time. Let’s not be “good Germans” and wait until its too late.
United we stand, divided we fall. Don’t fucking mourn: Organize!
Richard Greeman is a veteran socialist scholar and activist, best known for his translations and studies of Victor Serge (1890-1947), the Franco-Russian writer and revolutionary. Greeman divides his time between New York and Montpellier, France.