Posted by Paul Buhle - January 30, 2010 | Obituary


Howard Zinn
(Photo: Wikipedia)

A Personal Note on Howard Zinn, by Paul Buhle

Whoever wants to know more about Howard Zinn’s life and accomplishments can find the details easily upon the web. I only want to add my own little bit, how I misunderstood and underestimated his popular histories for years, how I grew to admire him as I came to understand their importance, and how I was lucky enough to work with him on the comic art version of his story, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF AMERICAN EMPIRE.

Howard was always a bit larger than life and perhaps for that reason a bit distant to the New Left historians coming of age in the later 1960s and early 1970s. He had a legendary life already, from the Depression to the Second World War to the civil rights movement to the antiwar movement. In Boston especially, but far beyond, he was a speaker everyone wanted to hear, in an era when really appealing white radical speakers were not all that numerous (and they had this in common, most of them: the burden of what could be called guilt but would be better understood as TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for the civilization that prided itself so much, but took little responsibility for its effects upon others, or even the unfortunate at home). There was always something about Howard: if a speaker like Noam Chomsky was best in the Q-and-A, answering point for point and elaborating, Howard had an aura, the proverbial pin could drop as an audience small or large listened for his words. Sometimes, like CLR James, he would start a little quiet as he built up his physical delivery. Then, look out: he overwhelmed with eloquence. It was easy to get a catch in the throat while listening to him.

But I kept my distance unintentionally, publishing a new left radical magazine, creating oral history projects among radical oldtimers, writing social history and so on. He once told me that he was surprised his PEOPLE’S HISTORY was so popular, it might not even have been his best book. But it went to the heart of the issues of US history, and proved to be exactly what young people and many not-so-young needed to understand. My generation was great at finding and elaborating details. Howard was better at explaining them, incredibly better.

So it was my not-so-brilliant idea, after the creation of WOBBLIES! (a comic about the history of the IWW, produced on the centenary), to create a book that encompassed his classic and, in a sense or two, went a bit beyond it. Why beyond? Because when it comes to Empire, the American Empire, William Appleman Williams was the master radical history of the 1950s-60s. He didn’t grasp race and he hardly grasped class, but Williams had Empire down cold. So his work became a supplement of sort, an amendment, to the guiding ideas in Zinn’s work.

I did one more thing that was useful: insisting that Zinn’s own life be part of the story. The children of impoverished immigrants with a brother dead from an ailment that middle class families might have had healed, the working class guy who took part in 1930s radical demonstrations, worked at a defense plant, went into the war, and got the upward mobility of the GI Bill, he had been through it all by the time he went South as a teacher in the 1950s. His life, this life, was embedded in everything he did. Being able to see it on paper a comic art—thanks to scriptwriter Dave Wagner and artist Mike Konopacki-was one of the great pleasures of my intellectual life. I KNEW that we had created something that would find an audience and set an example for what comic art can do to offer simple but necessary truths.

That was my Zinn Moment. Since then, Dave Wagner and I have pondered how to understand and explain Empire as being a bipartisan operation at the center of American political life. The disillusioning developments of the past twelve months offer more to consider, no matter that we learn what we did not want to learn. We know that Howard, to the very end, was delivering the essential message. We will be hearing him, in one form or another, so long as the quest for imperial power, imperial dominance of the planet, is the deep logic of our rulers. It is not a message about Evil Americans, but about those who assumed too much about their own mostly good fortune and those in power, and who now must come to understand the dilemma that we all face together as humans: empire or survival, empire or species self-realization.

Posted by Tom Keough - | Comics

Posted by Fran Korotzer - | News


New Yorkers are continuing the struggle for health care…in the streets
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On January 19th, at Beth Israel Hospital in NYC, Physicians for a National Health Program held a meeting to evaluate the movement for health care reform and to decide where to go from here. The lecture hall was packed to capacity with about 150 veterans of the health care reform struggle. Dr. Carmelita Blake from NYU was the moderator. The panel was made up of Christopher Blair, Katie Robbins, and Len Rodberg, all health care reform activists, and Donna Smith who spoke to the group by phone. She might be remembered as the person in “Sicko”, Michael Moore’s film, who, along with her husband, had to move into her daughter’s basement after she was financially wiped-out by medical expenses. Ms Smith is now a dynamic organizer for single payer – Medicare for all – Everybody in, Nobody out health care reform. She is part of the California Nurses Association which, having merged with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, represents 150,000 nurses. She said that thanks to the recent campaign everyone knows what single payer means. Assuming that the current bill under discussion passes it is now the job of the movement to clearly explain why they are so opposed to parts of the legislation. Since it won’t take effect for about 4 years there is time to try to improve it. If it doesn’t pass, she added, our job is not very different. She noted that the Democrats took a beating at the polls in Massachusetts because they squandered political capital. They didn’t stand strong on the issue, they handled it very foolishly. We relied on them and they failed us.

Smith said that the job of the movement now is to fight for single payer state by state. California passed it twice but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. But he won’t be there forever.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The movement should also work to elect single payer candidates. Put all the energy into 1 or 2 races. As for the politicians that said they would support the single payer fight but did not do so, efforts should be made to see that they are not reelected.

Evaluating the movement, Smith said that it did an excellent job. It included many doctors and nurses and had energized the population. She added, “we are in a marathon, not a sprint.” We will keep going, encouraging each other, bringing divergent groups together, celebrating the different contributions – both quiet advocacy and civil disobedience. Doctors should continue to show courage within the medical community by pushing for single payer. She concluded, “I’m sure we will have Medicare for all in our time – within 15 years.”


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Then the panel spoke with Katie Robbins of Healthcare Now being the first. She said that Healthcare Now voted unanimously to oppose the current bill because it “is not universal and without barriers.” As a result of our struggle the NY Times now runs a single payer blog. She added that community hospitals all over are closing and the single payer proponents should be reaching out to work with people opposing the closings of community hospitals.


Katie Robbins at Beth Israel
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Len Rodberg was the next speaker, He said that if something passes we won’t see changes for 4 years because there are no savings in the current bills, and congress has to raise the money to pay for them. The only way to save money will be to have Medicare for all. Health care costs are rising – the current bills won’t change that. The new plans are full of holes and will cost people between 15% and 20% of their income. The penalty for not buying insurance will be 1% to 2% of a person’s income. Rodberg believes that many will opt to pay the penalty rather than buy inferior insurance. It is estimated that the prices paid to coops will rise 6% a year, at twice the rate of inflation. By the time the bill takes effect (4 years) the cost will be 24% higher than it is now. The crisis that led to the debate will continue. The only thing that can resolve the problem is single payer because it will save money.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Christopher Blair said that the problem is not big government but big insurance. We are just funneling money through useless middlemen.

During the question and answer period, which included Donna Smith, several important points were raised. Establishing single payer in 1 state could serve as a shining example to the rest of the country. Many states may welcome it because they are having financial problems. There should be a branding campaign using the Medicare for All slogan. People like and respect Medicare. Adding young people would be a major money saver because the young are usually healthier and, therefore, will not be costing the plan a lot of money. At the AFL-CIO convention, representing 11 million workers, Resolution 33 passed – the union will work for single payer for all.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Several people complained about “the total sell out of the Democrats.” Another spoke of there being no social solidarity in the country. It was said that the health care reform movement must not allow itself to be isolated – it should build bridges to other progressive movements like jobs and housing. The fight for decent health care should be linked to the fight against Wall Street. People could be convinced to hate big insurance more than they hate big government. Finally, the lack of health care should be tied to the billions being spent on wars. The dots should be connected by health care reform advocates by pointing out to the public that if our government has money to kill people, then they have to have money to cure people.

Moveon.org has just announced a rally for health care reform at Senator Gillibrand’s office this week. The struggle continues.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

View Photos From The Struggle For Health Care Reform…

Posted by Fran Korotzer - | News


“Solitary Confinement Is A Form Of Torture”
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

"When the Nazis came for the communists
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.
 
When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.
 
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.
 
When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.
 
When they came for me,
There was no one left to speak out."
               Rev. Martin Niemoller
               1892 - 1984

NEW YORK — On Martin Luther King Day, January 18th, about 200 people gathered outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) at 150 Park Row in Manhattan for the 12th vigil for Syed Fahad Hashmi. It marked his 1,322 day in detention and his 812th day under the Special Administrative Measures (SAMs). There were people there from the CUNY Law School, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, the Muslim Justice Initiative, Brooklyn for Peace, and the Hashmi family and friends. Syed Fahad Hashmi is an American citizen of Muslim descent. He came to this country with his family, from Pakistan, when he was 3 years old and became a naturalized citizen when he was 11. He is being held at the MCC while awaiting trial for 2 counts of providing and conspiring to give material support to Al Qaida and 2 counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods and services to Al Qaida. The goods in question are waterproof sox and ponchos which Hashmi claims he knew nothing about. He is facing 70 years in prison.

Under the SAMs, imposed by the Attorney General, Hashmi is in extreme solitary confinement. He sees no other prisoners, he is monitored by camera constantly (including when showering or using the toilet), he can see a member of his immediate family for an hour twice a month and these visits are frequently cancelled by the prison. This extreme sensory deprivation is recognized as psychological torture because it destroys people mentally and emotionally. He has no access to news. He also cannot know what the case against him consists of, making it impossible to participate in his own defense. His lawyer, Sean Mahr, has some of the information but he is not allowed to discuss it with Hashmi.

Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author, Chris Hedges wrote (Truthdig 12/28/09):

…his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process. Hashmi would be a better person to tell you this but he is not allowed to speak.

This corruption of our legal system, if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements – who are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism – have discovered that his fate is their fate.

The vigil began with a dramatic presentation by members of Theaters Against War (THAW) performing in an original skit illustrating the history of civil rights and liberties in the US. This was followed by a speech by Prof. Jeanne Theoharis, a scholar of the civil rights movement, who taught Hashmi at Brooklyn College. She said that it was very appropriate that we were meeting on King’s birthday outside the MCC because this is where civil rights violations are happening today. King did not shrink from unpopular causes. In 1967 he spoke at Riverside Church in NYC opposing the Vietnam war. Before doing so he was warned by his allies that he would lose friends and access to politicians – including the President. He said he had to speak because fundamental rights were at stake. The day after the speech he was condemned in the press and he was never invited to the White House again. Prof. Theoharis ended by leading the group in a chant using Dr. King’s words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The next speaker was Chris Hedges. He said that the current presentation of King is frozen in 1963. In the last year of his life he spoke more like Malcolm X, saying that many people carry within them an “unconscious racism”. This has led to a stripping of civil liberties because we see others as less than human. And it will not stop there. There is likely to be another terrorist attack because there are people in the Middle East who hate us because we are killing them. Stand up now because if you don’t you may not be able to do so later.

Tony award winning actor, Bill Irwin, who has appeared at several vigils, also read from King’s 1967 Riverside Church speech. King states that he was saddened by his associates questioning him about the wisdom of being on the path of both peace and civil rights – saddened that they did not see the connection.


Cindy Sheehan
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Then peace activist and Nobel prize nominee Cindy Sheehan spoke. She was wearing an “Arrest Bush” shirt and pointed out that King made that speech exactly a year before he was assassinated, and on the same date, years later, that her son Casey was killed in Iraq. She reminded everyone that in the same speech King called the US the “biggest purveyor of violence” in the world. She said that the “Patriot Act and the US Constitution cannot simultaneously exist” and we need, what King called, “a revolution of values”. She came to NY from Washington, DC where she protested the use of drones which are killing civilians in the Middle East. She added that things will not change until we recognize that other people’s lives are as important as ours and we all have the same existential right to exist.

The MC, Brian Pickett, then introduced Mohammad Siddiqui, the brother of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently on trial in NY for attempting to kill FBI agents while being held in a prison in Afghanistan. He said that she is not being held on terror charges, she is accused of wrestling 15 men for a gun which doesn’t have her finger prints on it. The trial is an orchestrated drama, he added. They are not speaking of her March ’03 5 year abduction which included her 3 children, 2 of which are still missing. She is the symbol of a nation (Pakistan). He asked people to come and observe the trial.

The next speaker said that his uncle and cousin are both in prison on terror charges – one at Guantanamo and one at a supermax prison in the US. His uncle, he said, was badly tortured. He hoped that people would look into their case.


Dar Williams
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Folksinger Dar Williams then sang. She said that major movements can grow from small groups and she quoted Norman Mailer, “Democracy is fragile”.

The vigil ended with everyone spontaneously singing “We Shall Overcome”. The vigils will continue every other Monday night from 6 to 7 PM. The next one will be on February 8th, outside the MCC at 150 Park Row.

In discussing the case against Syed Fahad Hashmi, Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights said (Truthdig 12/28/09):

“The prosecutions case against Hashmi, an outspoken activist within the Muslim community, abridges his First Amendment rights and threatens the First Amendment rights of others. While Hashmi’s political and religious beliefs, speech and associations are constitutionally protected, the government has been given wide latitude by the court to use them as evidence of his frame of mind and, by extension, intent. The material support charges against him depend on criminalization of association. This could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of others, particularly in activist and Muslim communities.”

View Photos/Videos From The Event…

Posted by Fran Korotzer - | News


Speaking Out For Gaza
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK –Within the past week there have been 2 reports from people that participated in the Gaza Freedom March that took place, so to speak, in Cairo a month ago. The first took place on January 14th and was sponsored by Brooklyn for Peace, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Peace and Social Action Committee of the Brooklyn Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and took place at their Meeting House. The purpose of the Gaza Freedom March was to bring Israel’s siege of Gaza, which is killing the people there, to the attention of the world, and in so doing, try to end it. It was also to be a show of solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Ted Auerbach from Brooklyn for Peace was the first speaker and he also presented a slide show. He said that all arrangements had been made to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza well in advance of the march. However, 3 days before Egypt announced that they wouldn’t allow them to pass through – the crossing was being closed. When the 1,460 marchers arrived in Cairo they spent the first few days trying to get Egypt to change their policy. When it became clear that Egypt would not relent, the people there dealt with the new situation with creativity, solidarity, and courage. Demonstrations are forbidden in Egypt but the participants, determined to make the world aware of the siege, braved the riot police and demonstrated all over Cairo. They were joined by brave Egyptians who faced arrest or worse. Hedy Epstein, an 85 year old holocaust survivor, went on a hunger strike along with 30 others. Several French delegates climbed up a pyramid and unfurled a huge Palestinian flag. When Egyptian security chased after them they escaped by climb up over the top escaping down the other side.

The second speaker, David Letwin, also from Brooklyn for Peace, gave an excellent report on the Cairo Declaration – the political document that was a product of the events in Cairo. The South African delegation sent out a call for people to gather and, by consensus and collaboration, came up with a political plan for the immediate future.

The Declaration first lists the grievances and injustices the Palestinians suffer at the hands of Israel: collective punishment, illegal occupation, the apartheid wall, the deep wall being constructed between Gaza and Egypt, war crimes, discrimination and repression against Palestinian citizens within Israel, and the exile of millions of Palestinian refugees. The repressive acts are, it says, based on the Zionist ideology. The Declaration then reaffirms a commitment to Palestinian self-determination, ending the occupation, equal rights for all within historic Palestine, and the full right of return for Palestinian refugees. To that end, the declaration calls for a global mass democratic anti apartheid movement to work in consultation with Palestinian civil society to implement the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This will include visits and speeches from South African and Palestinian trade unionists to unions all over the world. Participation in Israeli Apartheid Week (March 2010), a systemic unified approach to the boycott of Israeli products, developing the Academic, Cultural, and Sports boycott, and campaigns to encourage divestment of trade unions and pension funds from companies directly implicated in the occupation or in the Israeli military industries. There would be legal actions targeting the external recruitment of soldiers to serve in the Israeli military, and the prosecution of Israeli war criminals, coordination of Citizen’s Arrest Bureaus, support for the Goldstone Report, and campaigns against the charitable status of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Individuals and organizations are invited to sign the declaration at http://cairodeclaration.org/lang/en-us/sign/

Letwin quoted Bishop Tutu saying, “We don’t want the crumbs from the table, we want the whole menu.” Letwin added, the civil rights movement in the US was not about getting a seat in the front of the bus. It was about ending white supremacy in the south. Operation Cast Lead was a result of the people of Gaza refusing to accept Israeli supremacy. The Cairo Declaration reflects what the Palestinian people want and is being highly praised by Palestinian civil leaders.

Letwin ended his report by saying that all movements start out with a small group sticking to their beliefs and turning it, in time, into a mass movement. He noted that truth goes through 3 phases: ridicule, attack, and self evident.

The final speaker was Adam Shapiro from the Free Gaza Movement. He announced that they will send several boats, at least 6, including a cargo ship, full of building supplies to Gaza from Cyprus in March. They are challenging the siege by sea. Israel must be directly confronted. He said that more people are getting involved than ever before and Free Gaza needs help and support from all of us. The ships will constitute a nonviolent confrontation. He praised the Gaza Freedom Marchers and the Cairo Declaration because it presented a plan for sustained direct action and it moves the plan away from peace and towards justice. He concluded by suggesting that when activists discuss the Palestinian/Israel issue with others they stick with the principles of human rights and international law.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The 2nd report was on January 21st at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. The huge space was filled beyond capacity. It was estimated that over 400 people were there. Much that was said there had already been reported at the meeting in Brooklyn. Jenna Bitar, from Hunter College High School, was in Cairo with her family. She learned a lot and was very excited by the international solidarity, and by being able to bring attention to the siege.

Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights was also there with his family. When they saw that they wouldn’t be allowed into Gaza they remained in Cairo for a few days participating in the intense demonstrations and then they flew into Israel to spend some time in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank. While in East Jerusalem, Section C, they saw how Palestinians are being evicted from their homes there and are living on the streets while Jews take over their houses. There is no legal justification for these evictions, he said. One elderly Palestinian man pointed to his former home and told Ratner that he was made a refugee twice. He was one of those evicted in Israel’s early history and again now. The Ratner family joined a march of Jewish Israelis opposing the evictions. Apples and water were thrown at them in West Jerusalem but they were welcomed in East Jerusalem. He said that there are very few Israeli Jews opposing the actions of their government – their numbers are small and are shrinking. When passing the Eretz crossing they saw 2 huge 15 foot photos of Shalit, the young soldier captured by Palestinians (and being held waiting for a prisoner exchange). At one point the Ratners were able to look across a valley on the West Bank. On the top of a hill they could see a settlement (colony) for 50,000 Jews. The scene made the “noxious architecture of apartheid” very clear. Visible was the dual system of roads, walls surrounding little Palestinian villages, or bantustans, olive trees uprooted, the open stealing of land. The Jewish colony was all lush and green, 400 year old olive trees were planted everywhere, and there was a huge swimming pool. Ratner said that his children were also stunned by the sight and asked how this could be going on and nobody is doing anything about it. They also visited a Palestinian family in Hebron. While on the roof of their house they were pelted by stones thrown by Jewish settlement children and were surprised by how empowered the children felt to throw the stones. The Ratners left the area with a sense that a terrible crime was going on and that changing the situation was in the hands of militant activists everywhere.

The final speaker was Ali Abunimeh, a Palestinian American, and co-founder of Electronic Intifada. Primarily he discussed the current situation in Gaza calling the 1.5 million people there “political prisoners.” They have no way of changing their situation. They are defenseless. He said that “terrorism is defined as violence against civilians to create change by non-state actors.” If the words ‘non-state’ were taken out it would describe what Israel was doing to Gaza. But the world is coming to see that the blockade of Gaza, and the attack on the area, targets the children there. Half the schools were bombed during Operation Cast Lead and 20% of the children suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with 90% of them having at least one criteria of PTSD. Israel is no longer able to present the image of itself as a liberal democracy. There is a severe and systemic repression against non-violent Palestinian protesters, and yet they continue to protest. Israel is not renewing visas held by international solidarity workers, in fact they are deporting them. Yet the worldwide movement against Israel’s policies keeps growing – rapidly. Abunimeh expressed optimism that the opposition shown by the Gaza Freedom Marchers in Cairo will grow and spread.

When the meeting concluded representatives of the many organizations opposing Israel’s policies came forward and introduced themselves and their organizations. They included AdalahNY, Brooklyn for Peace, CodePink, Jews Say No, Jewish Voice for Peace, Gaza Freedom March, Free Gaza, Wespac, Al-AwdaNY, Committee for an open Discussion of Zionism, Women in Black, and Middle East Crisis Response. Contact information was collected from all people attending the event and it will be used if there is another attack on the Palestinian people.

View Photos/Videos From The Event…


Mike McMahon hears from a constituent
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — January 23, 2010. A crowd of 75 demonstrators demanding “health care for all” drew Rep. Mike McMahon out of his office to discuss the issue but it was legendary photographer Jim Romano, himself a progressive Democrat, who got off the most memorable comment: “It’s good to see so many people here — and nobody had to be subpoenaed.”


Fran Powers holds up his “McMahon = Traitor!” sign
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Flanked by cops from the NYPD’s Staten Island Task Force, a group of 75 demonstrators lined New Dorp Lane, across the street from Congressman Mike McMahon’s (D, NY-13) district office, on Saturday, January 23. Half an hour into the protest, McMahon emerged from his office and crossed the street to speak to with his constituents, many of whom were angry that the congressman had been slow to take a position on the health care reform issue — and voted against the House bill (HR 3962) in November.

One protester carried a sign that read, “McMahon = Traitor! Stop The Paranoia And Selfishness. Health Care For All.”

In the 2008 election that put McMahon in the Congress, a 47-year-old carpenter and punk rock musician was an also-ran. Francis M. “Fran” Powers, ran against Democrat McMahon — and his father too: Francis H. Powers, the GOP candidate. Francis senior died during the campaign but Fran carried on, attempting to secure the Libertarian Party endorsement. Ultimately Fran did not get the Libertarian nod and McMahon was nominated by the Richmond County Democratic Party in a convention that was marred by irregularities. McMahon went on to easily beat Republican Bob Straniere.

Fran Powers, who carried the handmade “McMahon = Traitor!” sign on Saturday, told NLN that:

It was great to see so many Staten Islanders at the protest today but I am a bit sorry we needed Manhattanites to fill out the crowd. What we need is people who are directly affected by lack of health care, and lack of politicians who give a toss, to show their passion about the process as much as these so-called “tea baggers”. Until the party leaders AND the general public know that the majority of people really do want health care for all nothing will happen. I am truly ashamed that civil workers, union members, congressmen and women, MTA workers and millions of others who have hit the insurance “jackpot” would say to everyone else “I got mine, it’s too bad you don’t have yours.” What happened to the compassion of the American people? All you have to do is go to any hospital emergency room in any city of America, in districts black and white, Hispanic, Asian, poor and wealthy, and all across the board, to see the outrageousness of the system we now have in place. I don’t know how these people can show their faces in their churches and synagogues, etc., and say they live a moral life with these actions.

Mr. McMahon responded to a protester about healthcare reform by saying “These things are hard.” Are you kidding me? We could have elected any idiot to say that. Is he telling me he has no clue and can’t even think of ONE thing to make this bill better instead of just voting no, no, no!!! What the heck has he been doing for the last year except for making sure his back is covered on the local political scene? I personally feel as I’ve been duped and I will do whatever I can to get him out including running for his office again.

***


Waiting for health care
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

McMahon is known for his reluctance to take a stand on controversial issues. His decision to vote against health care reform came only after he hosted two town hall meetings on the issue — and was announced just prior to the vote.

Some protesters, frustrated by the congressman’s hesitancy to take a leadership role in the process of initiating health care reform, had a chance to speak with him about it on Saturday.

One constituent asked McMahon, “And what about the moral issue?”

“There’s no question that we need to get health care for everybody, that is a moral issue. But if it’s a package that hurts the system more than helps it then that’s not a good idea either,” McMahon said.

The constituent carried on, determined to get a commitment.


75 protesters turned out – including some from Manhattan
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“What about the fact that it can be tweaked, along the way? That you can pass a bill – because, if we lose this, how long is it going to take us, for another bill, how long?” she asked.

Apparently misunderstanding the question McMahon responded by saying that “It’s a bad bill, no question about it…I mean I can’t predict that but I’m not sure what this is right now, we’re waiting to see what the President says, and working with the leadership on both sides, trying to come up with a compromise.”

The constituent pressed McMahon on the issue, implying that he only cared about how the bill might affect the bottom line for large hospitals.

“So your entire issue is Richmond Hospital?” she asked.

“It’s what you call a dis-reimbursement payments, and the elimination of Medicare Advantage, that’s a problem too. Forty percent of seniors in this district have Medicare Advantage, do you want me to tell the seniors that they’ve lost their coverage? I’m not quite sure.”

“That’s not my understanding of the bill — my understanding…” the frustrated constituent said.

“Well, that’s the beauty of our country, that great minds can think differently,” McMahon replied as he walked away.

***

Responding to another constituent who asked about the arcane congressional process, McMahon said, “I don’t want to be a wonk but…”

The congressman went on to say that rules about cloture, reconciliation — and other arcane congressional procedures — might prevent him from being as effective as he would like to be.


Kathleen Kelly meets face to face with her representative
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Kathleen Kelly, a MoveOn organizer who has met with McMahon several times to urge the congressman to support health care for all, told NLN that McMahon’s concern that seniors may lose their Medicare Advantage coverage is not a good reason to oppose reform.

“The Medicare Advantage policies, being run by insurance companies as a for-profit business, have higher premiums and provide less services than “straight” Medicare. That only only stands to reason because the broker fees, administration cost , marketing costs, and profit motive drive the cost up and the services down. Seniors will have better coverage, which will cost less money, under reform with government run Medicare,” Ms. Kelly said.

Regarding McMahon’s notion that “these things are hard” and arcane rules prevent him from promoting real reform, Kelly disagreed.

“Many discussions, and revisions of bills, have taken place prior to cloture — on several issues. Reconciliation is a majority vote. Rep. McMahon has participated in the conversations in Congress, more actively in the committees of which he is a part, and voted on the bills before the House. I don’t see how McMahon can argue that the processes used in Congress are a reason he is ineffective. As a mere constituent who has been involved in discussions about national issues, I feel that I have been effective,” Kelly said.

***


McMahon poses with his constituents
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

There was some comic relief during McMahon’s occasionally heated discussions with constituents. Renowned tabloid photographer Jim Romano, a progressive Democrat in his eighties who continues to shoot for a Brooklyn newspaper, showed up and immediately began demanding that McMahon and his constituents halt their discussion. Romano insisted that his subjects take the harsh winter lighting into account – and reposition themselves. The lighting was, after all, interfering with his shots. McMahon’s aid could not help laughing, and in the end, Romano prevailed and McMahon agreed to pose for a group shot with his constituents. Including Fran Powers who held up his “McMahon = Traitor!” sign.


Legendary tabloid photographer – and standup comedian – Jim Romano
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

After the group shot the crowd began to slowly drift away and McMahon returned to his office. Romano turned to this reporter and said, “It’s good to see so many people here — and nobody had to be subpoenaed! On a Saturday! Unbelievable! We have a lot of things to do here.”

View Photos/Videos From The Event…

Posted by Diane Krauthamer and Thomas Good - January 20, 2010 | News


A Wobbly picket outside Starbucks on MLK Day
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

NEW YORK — “To show solidarity with our fellow workers and send a clear message to the bosses that we stand united against all forms of slavery,” the New York City branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) held its third annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally at the Union Square East Starbucks on January 18.

The union, joined by dozens of workers, community members and labor allies, called on the multibillion dollar company to commemorate Dr. King on this federal holiday by paying a holiday premium of time-and-a-half pay to baristas, just as the Seattle-based chain does for its baristas on five other federal holidays.

To press their demands for recognition of MLK Day, the “Wobblies” and their supporters gathered outside the Union Square East Starbucks at Noon as the sun began to break through the cloud cover.


Organizer Vance Hinton speaking outside the Union Square East Starbucks
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

A tall man with a booming voice stepped up and addressed his sisters and brothers.

“My name is Vance Hinton. I am an organizer,” he said.

“I’m glad to see all of you here today…I want to tell you that if you’re not in the IWW, then you’re missing something very important. I joined about a year and a half ago and I can’t tell you the friends and colleagues that I’ve made as a result of being in this union,” he added.

“If you’re here and you’ve never been to any of our functions before you’re going to have a great time today,” Hinton said with a grin.

Announcing that it was time to chant, Hinton issued lyrics sheets to the crowd, now 50 in number. As they chanted, the crowd formed a walking picket, under the watchful eye of an NYPD detective.

During the picket a Department of Sanitation garbage truck pulled up and two workers got out. The men were about to enter the coffee shop when they realized that they were crossing a picket line. They abruptly turned around and walked back to their truck — as the Wobblies cheered. The DSNY workers gave the Wobs a thumbs up and drove off.


The Rude Mechanical Orchestra added a festive feel to the rally
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

As the Wobs picketed, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra arrived and began to play. Wobblies chanted, “No union — No latte!” as the RMO provided a marching backbeat. Snare and bass drums, accompanied by a horn section, added a festive feel to the rally.

After the chanting, organizer Daniel Gross addressed the crowd.


Daniel Gross said 500 Starbucks workers have joined the union
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“Starbucks is a poverty wage employer,” Gross said.

He went on to describe the insurmountable obstacle Starbucks workers face when trying to budget their money — the company does not provide consistent hours from week to week. With no set schedule, workers have no way to anticipate how much income they will take in. Because of the company’s labor practices the union has had considerable success in its organizing drive, begun in 2004, and Gross reported that Wobblies are actively organizing the coffee chain’s stores in New York, the Twin Cities, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Fort Worth, Texas.

“Over 500 workers at this company now march under the IWW banner,” Gross said.


Barista Liberte Locke is struggling for respect on the job
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Barista Liberte Locke also spoke — in front of the very store she works in.

“Happy Martin Luther King Junior Day,” Locke said, telling the crowd that it was her favorite holiday. “I’ve never to this day, worked on Martin Luther King Day but if I get time and a half next year — I will,” she added.

Locke described the goals of the campaign she is a part of: “For better wages, more consistent scheduling, better working conditions and especially more respect on the job.”

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra performed a spirited rendition of “We Shall Overcome” — playing the civil rights anthem with trombone and trumpet solos set to a marching beat — as the Wobblies prepared to march to the second rally of the day.


The Wobblies marched from Starbucks to Kmart
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Leaving Starbucks to digest their message, the Wobblies and their supporters marched down Broadway to the Kmart in Astor Place, where the union is demanding that the Sears Holding owned company drop Media Planning Group (MPG) as their media planning and buying agency and instead chose a socially responsible ad agency.

In April 2009, MPG cut 11 percent of its staff, or 50 workers, from its offices in New York, Boston and Chicago. The multimillion-dollar advertising giant only gave these workers a four-week severance package. In order to receive their severance pay, MPG required that the laid-off workers sign an “Agreement of Separation and Release,” which included the stipulation that the former employees would not “in any way denigrate any aspect of the company,” yet the company made no commitment not to denigrate its former employees.

The sacked employees are now demanding the severance pay they feel they are owed, and the IWW is asking Kmart to stop advertising with MPG until the ad agency negotiates a severance agreement that is acceptable to both sides.

As the winter sun warmed hearts and hands, the rally ended — and the Wobblies returned to their families, to their jobs, and to their organizing.

For more information on the IWW and its various organizing drives, please visit: www.wobblycity.org and www.iww.org.

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Posted by TAG - January 19, 2010 | News


Moses T. Jensen — and a few of his closest friends
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Moses T. Jensen would have us believe that he is a strict disciplinarian — but his students’ faces reveal that there is more to the story.


The IIC offers local kids access to the internet
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Liberian-born Moses T. Jensen is the president of the Immigrants’ Information Center, a nonprofit organization that offers resources to West African and other refugees who are seeking to become U.S. citizens. I met Jensen recently, at a meeting of the editorial board of Citizens Magazine. After the meeting he invited me to visit his new learning center in the Clifton section of Staten Island. The IIC facility is located on the ground floor of the Park Hill projects, at 320 Vanderbilt Avenue. It is a combination after school program for neighborhood kids and an adult literacy program. Jensen said that the facility was started by and for Liberians but is open to all in need.

I visited the center on Friday and came away impressed — with the facilities, the students, and their taskmaster.


Mr. Jensen points proudly to a newspaper article about the center
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Inside the bright yellow center is a computer room with a library in formation (donations accepted), tables for students looking to get some reading and writing done, a chalk board and what Jensen calls the “internet wall” — ten brand new computer workstations running Windows 7, a couple of laser printers and a scanner. Each computer workstation sits in its own cubicle, granting the user a degree of privacy and an opportunity to study. A young student told me that “We do our school work on the computers – math and English.”


The Immigrants’ Information Center boasts an “internet wall”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Outside the computer room is an area where younger kids can play, use coloring books, and occasionally, hug Mr. Jensen.


Learning is fun-damental at the IIC
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Jensen told me that he believes discipline is essential to learning and the kids are taught to be serious about their studies. And there is no doubt he is determined to see that his charges succeed in school. But he couldn’t hold back a grin when the kids grabbed him for a group hug, their faces beaming.

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Posted by TAG - January 18, 2010 | News


(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — January 14, 2010. Reading his leather-bound prayer book by candlelight, Monsignor James Dorney offered an invocation on the steps of Staten Island’s Borough Hall. Dorney’s prayer kicked off Thursday’s boistrous rally for immigration reform. Attending the event were members of Staten Island’s diverse immigrant community — Albanians, Arabs, Latinos, Poles and West Africans — all demanding an immigration policy that keeps families intact.


(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Javier Valdes, executive director of Make the Road New York, and Gonazalo Mercado, director of El Centro Del Inmigrante, shared master of ceremonies duties at the rally — part of a national campaign organized by the Reform Immigration For America Campaign.

Valdes and Mercado introduced an array of speakers, starting with Reverend Terry Troia, director of Project Hospitality, a local homeless shelter. Troia asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence for the people of Haiti.

Troia urged attendees to remember the victims of the recent catastrophic earthquake that devastated the impoverished island, including “All the children who lost their parents, and all the parents who lost their children, and the whole families that have disappeared from the Earth.”

Troia asked people to be generous in their donations to relief organizations, “Regardless of their position on immigration reform or immigrants.”


(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

The candlelight rally drew 200 people and a large number of organizations, including: The Arab American Association, African Refuge, The Albanian Cultural Center, Eye Openers Against Violence, The Ghanaian Civic Association, Our Lady Of Good Council Catholic Church, The Pakistan USA Freedom Forum (PUFF), Project Hospitality, The Staten Island Council of Churches, The Staten Island Clergy Leadership, The Staten Island Immigrants Council, The Staten Island Liberian Community Association, The Staten Island Muslim Alliance, and, The Staten Island Nigerian American Community Association.

Also present was Maria Morales, a small business owner from Port Richmond whose store was vandalized in a 2008 hate crime attack.

“Being immigrants on Staten Island, we contribute positively to this economy as well as support the community,” she said.

The desire to keep immigrant families together was the central theme of the rally.

Sam Owusu-Sekyere, secretary of the Ghanaian Civic Association, said “We want our families united.”

“We are the backbone of the economy on Staten Island,” he added.

Many of those present had already become U.S. citizens — and were engaged in the democratic process.

Olu A. Ajayi, of the Nigerian American Community Association said “When election time comes around we will remember people who are there for us.”


(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Linda Sarsour, director of Brooklyn’s Arab American Association, had a message for one elected official in particular.

“My message is to Congressman Michael McMahon,” Sarsour said.

“If you don’t come out publicly in support of immigration you’re going to find yourself in a lot of trouble when it comes to re-election,” she said. Pointing out that the Arab American community has been in Brooklyn for three generations, Sarsour said, “We helped McMahon get into office and we can help McMahon get out of office.”

Imam Tahir Kukiai, of the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, a mosque on Staten Island’s North Shore, regards the campaign for immigration reform as an initiative for basic human rights.

“We don’t want more than anybody else but we want to be treated like anybody else,” he said.

Commenting on the remarkable diversity embodied in the rally, Ronald Speight, President of Eye Openers, a youth group promoting non-violence, said, “It’s about time that we finally stood together, that we finally showed what Staten Island really looks like.”


(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

“This is Staten Island,” he said.

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GRANNIES’ SIXTH-YEAR ROCKEFELLER CENTER VIGIL COMMEMORATION PREEMPTED BY THE TABLOID FOUR — CONAN, JAY, TIGER AND HARRY
by Joan Wile, author, “Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace” (Citadel Press 2008)

Good God, are our country’s priorities mixed up! Imagine! The number one story recently prior to the Haiti earthquake in what is laughably called The News was about two super-rich show biz boys of arrested development whining like toddlers over their million dollar late-night toys. In addition, the other prominent stories in print and on the air waves which claim to deliver us vital coverage, diddled around about a golfer’s sex life and a Senator’s time-warped political remark, whipping the unfortunate but not ill-intentioned comment into the politically incorrect gaffe of the decade. Where is the sense of the media functioning as the truth-telling chroniclers of the people’s business, I ask you?

One could easily despair of having one’s message communicated to the public. Despite that, New York City peace granny groups — Grandmothers Against the War, the Granny Peace Brigade, and the Raging Grannies — held an historic event on Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center Wednesday, Jan. 13, commemorating SIX years of their weekly peace vigil there begun on Jan. 14, 2004. Approximately 30 people stood in the bitter cold on Fifth Avenue to mark the long dedication of the vigilers.


6-year commemoration of peace vigil at Rockefeller Center
(Photo: Phyllis Cunningham / NLN)

Every effort was made to induce the media to cover the occasion, but no one showed up except for a journalist from Afghanistan radio and press. Perhaps this was attributable to the Haiti disaster, not just the sensation-seeking bent of today’s reportage, but nevertheless one would hope there were a few journalists left to cover other substantial stories. The grannies were naturally disappointed at the press and media inattention but welcomed the chance, as they do every week, of showing passers-by, most of whom are tourists from around the globe, that at least some Americans have not succumbed to the apathy of the masses and are passionately struggling to end the terrible and immoral wars.

New York State Sen. Bill Perkins spoke of the importance of the grannies’ weekly protest of the Iraq and Afghan wars, and remarked about the appropriateness of the occasion because of its conjunction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday this coming Friday, Jan. 15. He suggested that the vigil attendees sing “We Shall Overcome,” The group formed a circle and sang the stirring hymn out there on the sidewalks of New York, twice.


State Sen Bill Perkins (second from right) singing “We Shall Overcome”
(Photo: Phyllis Cunningham / NLN)

Names of the dead in Afghanistan, both our American military and Afghan civilians, were solemnly read, each name accompanied by the mournful sound of a muffled bell.


Barbara Walker reading names of the dead in Afghanistan
(Photo: Eva-Lee Baird / NLN)

Among those marking the end of six years was a contingent of Veterans for Peace, who have stood with the grannies “On the Avenue” for almost the entire six-year watch. One of them, Chaplain Hugh Bruce, a Vietnam vet, spoke movingly at the vigil, noting that it we weren’t pouring billions into these destructive and unjust wars we could ensure health care for everyone. Jenny Heinz, one of the original vigil stalwarts. also spoke to the group. “It’s very sad to still be here at the beginning of the seventh year,” Jenny said, “and to recognize that things are worse, not better — policies that we thought were limited to the Bush administration now seem to have become institutionalized.”

Said 94-year-old Lillian Pollak, a regular at the vigils, “It is imperative that our presence be known to the public. Mostly, the American people are oblivious to the fact that our young soldiers are dying and being grievously wounded more and more as the Afghanistan occupation is escalated. Also, people need to be made aware that we have continuing casualties in Iraq. This is to say nothing of the many, many innocent civilians who’ve become victims to our unethical bombs and drones. We grannies have tried in vain to stop these wars, but have to face the fact that we may not be able to do so in our lifetimes. We feel a duty to keep on keeping on as long as we are able and hope the American people will carry on our struggle after we are no longer here.”

Barbara Walker, the Associate Director of Grandmothers Against the War, which initiated the vigil in 2004, and a co-founder of the Granny Peace Brigade, made a point of noting that the vigil has been held every single week all six years no matter what the elements throw at it — rain, sleet, heat or cold. The only time the grandmothers were unable to hold a vigil was recently before Christmas on tree-lighting day when the vigil site was blocked from access. “That’s a pretty good record for us old ladies, some in our 90’s,” she said proudly. One would have to agree, observing several of the women standing for the entire hour hanging on to walkers and canes.

Makes one marvel at the sterner stuff of these elder women of conscience, doesn’t it? Let’s hope they are not a dying breed.