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Random Observations and Thoughts

1) I was walking along University Ave. in Berkeley and had my way blocked by a group of people. There was something odd about the scene that took a moment to comprehend. There were eight people standing in a circle, but no one was speaking. They all appeared to be in their twenties and they all had an electronic device in their hands that they were intently staring into. Seriously. I noticed a couple smiles, but was still a little weirded out by it. This habit of being transfixed by an electronic device has become an obsession. It looked like a scene in a comedy skit making fun of modern youth.

2) I was sitting on a concrete wall, engrossed in a book (by Carlos Castaneda) and witnessed a group of about 20 boys led by a few young men walk into a store that sells communication devices and “data plans” according to the huge lettering screaming from the windows. They were all wearing identical purple t-shirts. I assumed the shirts were from a school, sports team or youth organization. A while later they noisily exited the store and a few taunted a dog tethered to a post in front of the store. I was about to intervene when one of the men finally did something. This happened two more times. One man walked away from the group and held his phone in his hand while another had the boys line up in front of the store. Then the one with the phone prompted a group cheer by yelling “metro!” and snapped a photo as the boys responded with an enthusiastic “pcs!” I was confused until I noticed the name above the store window and on the t-shirts was Metro PCS. Corporate cheerleading is very creepy.

It’s disturbing that these men found it difficult to reprimand abusive behavior, but happily enforced corporate conditioning.

3) I met a weather-beaten homeless man one morning on the Embarcadero in San Francisco who held a sign that read “help out an old goat” on his lap while sitting on a bench. I gave him money and spoke with him for a while. We had a very interesting conversation and I found him to be considerably more balanced than most people I meet – people who have a home, a job, a bed and plenty of food to eat. He didn’t tell me what transpired to land him in the streets, but he did tell me that he sleeps in Golden Gate Park at night and hangs out in tourist areas to collect money and food from generous people. He smiled as we spoke, though I detected a slight feeling of defeat beneath the smile. I wondered if it was because of the fact that people look at him with revulsion despite the fact that he hurts no one, has minimized his “footprint’ on the planet and has accomplished the enviable task of surrendering to life’s circumstances. This particular day was a rough one for cash for him, but good for food. As I was leaving he asked if I was hungry and offered me food. I declined, but thanked him and was impressed by his fortitude to survive the streets as well as his gratitude for what he receives from people.

Is he humble because he lives on the streets or is he living on the streets because he’s humble?

4) I was on a bus in Las Vegas and suddenly five plainclothes cops got on. They told everyone to stay seated and explained they were going to ask the passengers questions. The interrogations were done in English and Spanish. They asked everyone the same questions:

Where did we start our journey?
To where were we heading?
How many pieces of luggage did we have?
Did we have any guns, bombs or drugs on the bus?
Would we allow our luggage to be inspected?

The final question made my skin crawl.

I heard no one object to physical inspection of our belongings and felt extremely uncomfortable about either potential answer.

Do I stand up for my rights or do I cause suspicion to be cast upon me for being the only person to object? Do I demand some semblance of democracy or do I succumb to the threat of a police state? As it turned out, I was the only passenger who requested an explanation and was given a predictably vague response (and an annoyed look in the eyes of the officer I spoke with – despite the constant smile).

Funny thing. They had a dog sniffing the luggage while they were asking for permission.

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Ordinary People

To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, the masses of modern society have been leading “lives of quiet desperation” for many years.

This “quiet desperation” is an inevitable result of being locked out of participation in the fake democracy we’ve built in the U.S. as well as the feeling that “things will never change.”

However, the quiet is giving way to loud, manic anger and the desperation, breeding with mounting fear and anxiety, is looking more like deep, intense misery. This deadening of hope has caused a wave of sporadic violence which causes a further distancing between people who desperately need to get together to eliminate the cancer of corporate control destroying life on the planet.

When does “resigning yourself to your fate” become giving up on life? At the very least, it limits your possibilities. At its worst, it can crush hope and defeat you, leaving a shrunken husk of a person. This could be likened to the carcass of a former democracy killed through apathy and complacency that we live in. Obviously, one leads to the other.

Yes, we can blame the ownership class for their relentless class warfare, but we can’t blame them for our giving up and allowing the continuation of this monstrous disaster. Some of us fall for the deep indoctrination the fear slingers weave through virtually every piece of information in corporate media.

If you work hard, don’t make waves, fly a flag to show patriotism and follow the commandments of the state-sponsored religion, you will succeed.

Yes, and an angel will drop from heaven and bless you with super powers.

Why do so many of us obey the rulers’ lap dogs who are just obeying their masters? Why don’t we see this second hand obedience for what it is?

Cowardice.

One of the reasons for the loss of hope these days is the feeling most of us have that we cannot do anything about.

“I’m just one person. What can I do?”

Well, if everyone (or a significant percentage of the population of ordinary people) does what one person can do, things will change. We need to feel inspired by courageous people around us and find our courage. We all have it. With some of us it’s merely a bit deeper under the many invisible layers of obedience that have been plastered onto us since birth.

We need to throw off the shackles of today’s slavery (obedience) and regain our humanity. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things…

Jackie Robinson (as an ex-Army soldier returning from WWII before he became a legendary baseball player)

Rosa Parks

Fred Hampton & Mark Clark

Mumia Abu-Jamal

George L. Jackson

James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner & Andrew Goodman

Rev. George Lee

Lamar Smith

Herbert Lee & Louis Allen

William Lewis Moore

Medgar Evers

Rev. Bruce Klunder

Jimmie Lee Jackson

Viola Gregg Liuzzo

Rev. James Reeb

Wharlet Jackson

Chelsea Manning

Jeremy Hammond

Deric Lostutter

Waleed Abdulkhair

Gao Zhosheng

Colin Kaepernick

Who’s next?

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A Thought About Christopher Columbus

Was Christopher Columbus an explorer or a psychopath? Or was he both?

He was a rapist, murderer and slave trader. We know that from historic documents. He received money from a powerful woman in Spain and traveled the Atlantic Ocean in search of a shorter route to India and a shortcut to wealth. To rape, kill and imprison people in pursuit of this wealth was somehow acceptable to people in certain circles in Europe in those days. Something about “taming the wild” or some such nonsense.

When the Spanish ships commanded by an Italian landed in Hispaniola in 1492, the barbaric Europeans came into contact with the Taino people. They put them to work as slaves under threat of murder to search for gold. After a year or so of searching they decided to instead load slaves onto their ships to bring back to Spain. After four decades of slavery (with the blessing of the Catholic Church) over seven million Taino were murdered. By 1535, the Taino culture was no more.

Today we actually celebrate this genocide that has continued for more than five centuries. Though isn’t taught in our schools that way, that’s basically what has happened.

Manipulative people making fortunes on war, genocide, slavery and other types of oppression have been making the rules in our society for far too long. They control information to keep everyone in formation, but we have access to evidence of what these despicable criminals in the past did (as well as what today’s professional criminals do).

Why do we continue to pretend that they “discovered” people more civilized than they themselves were? The Taino people certainly wouldn’t call what the Europeans did discovery. Why do we still allow the manipulation of facts that serve only to continue a white-washing of history and to embolden continued imperialistic tendencies? A society needs to suppress this type of insidious behavior and admit the truth of its murderous past in order to become civilized.

Some day, if we survive the willful destruction across the planet of life as we know it, we may no longer need to ask such questions. In the meantime, why don’t we change the name of this “holiday” to Indigenous Rights Day or something else more appropriate and conducive to honesty?

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And Justice For All (Who Can Afford It)

Connie Hawkins passed away yesterday. I considered writing a little something about him. I was a big fan of “The Hawk” growing up for two reasons. He was the most spectacular basketball player I’d ever seen up to that point in my young life and word on the street in New York was that he’d been unfairly treated during a basketball point-shaving scandal involving high school players from NYC. He was kicked off his college team and banned from playing in the NBA. I read his autobiography, “Foul”, in high school and enjoyed it. This guy played the game “above the rim” before the legendary “Dr. J” and changed the way professional basketball is played.

However, I saw another story that is significantly more important to talk about.

It’s about John Thompson.

No, not the famous college basketball coach who stalked the sidelines for decades at Georgetown University. This is a much different story…

On January 17, 1985, police kicked in the door of a house in Louisiana and arrested 22 year old John Thompson in front of his girlfriend, two sons and grandmother for car jacking and murder. He had a co-defendant in the murder case, a man named Kevin Freeman.

In a newspaper article, he had this to say about Freeman, who had implicated him in the murder case when questioned by police:

“A few weeks earlier he had sold me a ring and a gun. It turned out that the ring belonged to the (murder) victim and the gun was the murder weapon.”

So not only did this man involve him in the crime, he had dumped evidence in his possession.

“My picture was on the news and a man called in to report that I looked like someone who had recently tried to rob his children. Suddenly, I was accused of that crime, too. I was tried for the robbery first. My lawyers never knew there was blood evidence at the scene and I was convicted based on the victim’s identification.”

“After that, my lawyers thought it was best if I didn’t testify at the murder trial. And now that I officially had a history of violent crime because of the robbery conviction, the prosecutors used it to get the death penalty.”

He was sentenced to 49 years in prison for a car jacking he didn’t commit. Then, he was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and given the death penalty.

He spent fourteen years in a maximum security prison in Louisiana infamous for housing Black Panther Party members, Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and Robert King – the Angola Three. Woodfox spent 43 years in solitary confinement and Wallace 41. Robert King was slightly luckier. He only spent 32 years at Angola, 29 in sollitary confinement. This is not an institution known for justice or compassion. It was named for the African nation from which black men had been abducted by slave traders in order to work on a plantation on the site.

Back to John Thompson…

In 1999, a mere thirty days before he was to be executed, a private investigator hired by Mr. Thompson’s attorneys happened upon an amazing piece of evidence that would change everything. It was microfiche containing a laboratory report on the blood type of the person who had committed the car jacking. It was dated two days before the trial began.

It did not match John Thompson’s blood type.

Then it was discovered that a former assistant prosecutor on the case had admitted in a death bed confession to deliberately hiding this important evidence from the defense attorneys.

Additional tests confirmed that the perpetrator’s blood type did not match Mr. Thompson’s blood type or DNA and the car jacking conviction was overturned.

In 2002, the murder conviction was overturned as well. He was retried a year later and acquitted. It took about a half hour in deliberation for the jury to find him not guilty. He was awarded $14 million in damages by a jury in 2007 which would work out to $1 million for each year on death row. That’s fourteen years inside a barren cell with no privacy, no window, no family, no walk in the woods – nothing but fear, anger and time to thing about his impending execution.

But apparently that was too good for John Thompson.

At least that’s what five U.S. Supreme Court justices believed in 2011 when they ruled he wasn’t entitled to the money that fellow citizens believed he deserved. One of those five justices in Clarence Thomas, the former Monsanto attorney notorious for committing sexual harassment, but who made it to the highest court in the land anyway.

Justice: 1) the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness or moral rightness:
to uphold the justice of a cause.
2) rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason:
to complain with justice.
3) the moral principle determining just conduct.

Five prosecutors were complicit in violating John Thompson’s constitutional rights by withholding evidence that could clear him, but Clarence Thomas and four other conservative justices felt differently. They decided that the defense had failed to show that the prosecutor’s office demonstrated a systematic withholding of exculpatory evidence.

“I don’t care about the money,” he wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed in 2011. “I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves.

“There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.”

John Thompson died yesterday at the age of 55.

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Lynne Stewart Birthday Memorial

To all my people in NYC, show support for civil rights hero, Lynne Stewart (and for everyone else, if you don’t know who she was, look it up…)

From the Free Mumia NYC website:

Join us as we celebrate Lynne Stewart’s birthday this coming Friday:

Friday, October 6th
6:30-10:00pm ~ Doors open @ 6:00pm
The Theater @ 80 St. Mark’s Place
80 St. Mark’s Place between 1st & 2nd Avenue, Manhattan.

FILM
Flavia Fontes: Lynne Stewart Documentary

PANELS:
What is a Political Prisoner ?
Anne Lamb New York Jericho, Sekou Odinga North East Political Prisoner Contingent, Mimi Rosenberg Building Bridges: WBAI Radio, Frank Velgara ProLibertad

Getting Our Political Prisoners On the National Agenda
Sara Flounders International Action Center, Bob Lederer queer anti-imperialist, Resistance Bklyn, Daniel McGowan Certain Days Collective, Assemblyman Charles Barron P.O.W.E.R., Ralph Poynter Lynne Stewart Organization

GUEST ARTISTS
Raging Grannies
Raymond Nat Turner ~ Jazz Poet
Janine Otis & Friends
The Poynter/Stewart Grandchildren “A dramatic interpretation”
Adiallo, Professor of Hip Hop
Lanar “Barry White Interpreter”
Serafina Brown
Dale Ortega Duo

Suggested donation at the door $5~$10
(After expenses, all proceeds go to political prisoners)
No one turned away!

Refreshments will be served
Compliments of: Ellen Kirshbaum, Dolores Cox, Abu’s Bakery and Nasser Ahmed

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Obedience

This is what happens when you obey:

And this is what happens when you don’t obey:

Any questions?

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A Conversation About Dreams And Reality

A guy sat next to me on a bench one day and started complaining about not being able to “make it” in this “dog eat dog” society. He leaned on his makeshift cart full of belongings and went on about how people with money treat people without money as if they are less than human and how laws are unequal depending on how much money you have. I agreed with his assessment and asked him about his dreams. He looked at me for a moment, then smiled and meticulously regaled me about how he wanted his life to be. He told me he wanted a high-salaried job in which he told people what to do, to live in a huge house with a beautiful wife, and a butler and maid to attend to their needs and how his children would go to private school. He’d have a large, comfortable office with a beautiful view and people would treat him with respect.

“In what field would you like to work”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter. Anything, as long as I make good money and don’t have to work hard.”

“But isn’t there something you’d enjoy doing for a living, something interesting, something that stimulates your mind or gives you a feeling of accomplishment?”

“Aaahh, that’s kids stuff. Those things don’t matter anymore. It’s all about money. Either you have it or you don’t. And if you don’t, your life will be hell. Let me tell you something: life is like a shit sandwich and the more bread you got the less shit you got to eat.”

He erupted with laughter at his cleverness, then continued with his dream life.

“I’d have a bunch of expensive cars in my gigantic garage and drive whichever one I want every day. I’d eat in expensive restaurants where celebrities hang out, go to concerts and comedy shows and football and hockey games, too. And I’d buy the best seats in the house. I’d have the biggest TV they sell, a satellite system, big speakers, expensive furniture and I’d take vacations whenever I want. I’d go to Hawaii and Europe, I’d take cruises to the Caribbean and spend a week or two on a nice beach drinking cocktails. I could take care of business over the phone telling people what to do. It would be great.”

“Sounds nice. What else would you do with your money? Who would you help?”

“What are you kidding me? I’d help myself. That’s the way it is in life. It’s every man for himself. Take care of #1. No one else will take care of me. Nobody helped me, why should I help anyone else? Let them get their own job. Then they could do what they want.”

“Yeah, but isn’t that the same type of behavior you were complaining about earlier? People with money not treating others with compassion?”

“Holy shit, do you got a lot to learn. This is a cold, cruel world where everyone looks out for himself. OK? That’s just the way it is. If you don’t learn that, you lose. There are winners in life and there are losers. If you spend too much time thinking about other people you get stepped on and left behind. It’s a rat race out there. You got to keep moving or get left in the gutter like roadkill.”

His anger was palpable. I felt an undercurrent of violence that seemed as if it could bubble up and consume him. “Yeah, but in a rat race, only the rats win. Negative traits are reinforced and you lose sight of what’s important in life. We need to transcend that type of thinking to do more than just survive.”

He laughed and scratched his head  as I tried to think of a good way of continuing this line of thought. He seemed steeped in cliches so I decided to go that route. “We have to think of others. You know what they say: what goes around, comes around. If you treat other people badly you’ll be treated badly. You reap what you sow.”

“Come on, man. Get away from me with that bullshit. That’s what they want you to think. That way they can take advantage of you and leave you in the dust. Believe me, man. Take care of yourself and live life to the fullest.”

He rolled up his shirt sleeve and showed me a tattoo. “YOLO, dude. You only live once. Make the most of it. If you don’t grab it first, someone else will.”

“OK, look. Didn’t you have dreams when you were growing up – things you wanted to do with your life?

“Of course I did. Everyone does. Then they grow up. When you become a man you put away childish things. Grow up, man. That’s your problem. You act like your still a kid with dreams and you want to change the world or some shit like that. The world don’t want to change. It is what it is and if you forget that – even for a little while – you pay the price. If you want to play, you gotta pay.”

I continued a bit longer trying to explain the concept of being at peace and how growing up, as he put it, seems to me to be a type of conditioning to obey the dominant culture and behave in a certain way to please the rulers.

“The dominant culture? What the hell does that even mean? Of course you want to be the dominant one. Otherwise you get ripped to pieces. The rulers? That’s who you want to be! Look at me. I’ve been living in the streets for 3 months because I lost my job and couldn’t find a new one. If you get a good job and don’t piss anyone off, you got it made. You keep your mouth shut, tell the boss what he wants to hear, don’t talk about politics, don’t try to change the world, then you can climb the ladder and have anything you want.”

The deadliest thing the rulers have done to the masses is to create a perpetual submission to the status quo. A certain segment of the population question nothing and will always be slaves while in that state of being. They have been taught to exist in a self-limiting state that prevents them from seeing the chains that bind their minds. A long enough time in this state causes the chains to encyst their hearts as well. Inspiration dies, will disintegrates. Obedience becomes a way of life. Rulers manufacture false hope and dole it out in digestible pieces which creates an addiction. The addiction is rooted in trying to live in a fantasy cleverly designed to appear real, but as Bill Hicks brilliantly put it: it’s just a ride. This is the epitome of evil: to sever people from the interconnectedness of the universe. The saddest part of all is that so many people are busy obediently waiting in line for another trip on the ride.