Archive for letters

We are not the good guys


We tortured people in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It wasn’t just “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to a newly released CIA report.

We used sleep deprivation and we broke bones. We chained people to the floor and sexually humiliated them.

We kept them standing or in stress positions, yelled at them, stripped them, dragged them across floors and beat them. We kept them in secret sites that no one but the CIA knew about.

We did things that we prosecuted the Japanese for after World War II.

We are not the good guys anymore. We are the scary bad guys.

This is not the United States I was raised to believe in. Of course, much of that was a lie, since we secretly meddled in other countries for decades before 9/11. We created Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

When our creations no longer suit our needs, we use whatever means — legal or illegal — to get rid of them. In this case, we tortured human beings.

What’s worse, the torture yielded no results. Information provided by someone who is being tortured is unreliable at best. People who are being tortured will say anything to make it stop. The most reliable and truthful information came from people who were questioned without harsh techniques.

The CIA lied to the White House, Congress and the Justice Department about its tactics.

Someone needs to go to jail for this. In fact, an entire group of people need to rot in jail for a very long time, including the psychologists the CIA hired to help develop the techniques used.

And even though the CIA lied, I think if Congress were doing its job, someone should have uncovered this mess.

We were living under an administration that said waterboarding was OK and that it yielded good information. Of course the people who wanted to torture would take that as a signal to go another step or two further.

We were “rendering” people with no trial to foreign countries and secret CIA prison sites to be interrogated by monsters of our own creation.

I am incredibly disappointed by President Obama’s reaction, which amounted to, “Oops.”

His carefully chosen words about these methods of interrogation being “inconsistent with our values as a nation” were cowardly and inappropriate. He should have been incensed, but he was disappointed.

This report should make all of us sick to our stomachs, but there already are people rushing to defend the CIA and its tactics.

If things like this are done in our name is it any wonder that we treat our own people with disdain?

If people mean nothing to us as a nation, then torture abroad and the murders of innocent, unarmed people at home become commonplace. Lives become meaningless and thus, disposable.

This is not the kind of society I want to live in. We need to work to change it. All of us.

I have to say, I’m not very proud to be an American today. Shame on us.



“This stops today!”

protest 120414

That was what Eric Garner said moments before he was killed. It also was one of the chants at last night’s demonstration in Asheville, where we shut down Biltmore Avenue for a time.

But when my friend, Noel Nickle and I wanted to sing, “We Shall Overcome,” many of the young people there didn’t know it. So she and I sang it, and a few people joined in.

To us, the singing was about building something, not just shutting something down.

Yes, racism must be shut down. The fatal flaws in out so-called justice system need to be shut down.

But then what?

It’s one thing to insist something evil be torn down, but it must be replaced with something better.

If “this stops today,” then what do we begin tomorrow?

How do we build a more just society?

That’s what we need to be thinking about.

Last night in Asheville, we chanted and sang, we shut down Biltmore Avenue and marched through downtown.

We have demonstrated our anger and frustration.

Now what?

How do we get people to respect each other as fellow human beings?

I know I live with white privilege. I don’t ever have to think about the color of my skin or whether I’m being pulled over for driving while black.

I met a young man last night who I hope will become a friend for life. We were talking about our different perspectives, and how we were able to reach the same conclusions about the injustice that’s so pervasive in our culture.

“Don’t tell me it isn’t about race when I’m 21 times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a white man my age,” he said.

Keith Knox Jr. is a senior at UNC Asheville, majoring in political science. He plans to get a master’s degree in public policy and then go to law school — a similar path to the one my late son wanted to take before he died from neglect.

As Keith and I talked about what we would like to see happen, a television reporter walked over to interview us.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation,” he said.

Why were we there? What enraged us enough to come out to protest?

I gave my usual answer: that Michael brown could have been my kid or my grandson, and that each of these fallen young men is part of my human family. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do also to me.

Keith answered the question with one of his own: “Why should I be expected to pledge allegiance to a country that won’t respect me?”

There was a lot of energy, as there has been at all of the protests across the country.

We have taken to the streets.

Now what?


It feels overwhelming


I’m having the worst time focusing today. I’m trying to sort through my thoughts as I attempt to write about my own son’s death from medical neglect and at the same time, wrap my head around the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner.

Before he died, my son insisted that I forgive the people who were responsible for his death and move on to something positive, so I began to advocate for universal access to health care.

But what are the mothers and other family members of these folks supposed to do? How do you get over the death of a 12-year-old who was playing with a toy gun at a playground?

How do you get over the brutal murder of an 18-year-old who was days away from starting college and actually had some hope of escaping a life of poverty?

How do you move beyond the choking death of a 43-year-old father of six?

Immediately, the media try to criminalize the victim. The 12-year-old should have known better than to play with a toy gun.

The 18-year-old was a “thug” who may have stolen some cigars.

The father of six was selling loose cigarettes.

It’s as though these offenses — real or imagined — warranted the death penalty.

That’s why no one is being tried, even for involuntary manslaughter, in any of these deaths.

And we the people are supposed to shrug and move on. Or perhaps we’re supposed to join hands and sing “Kumbaya.”

I believe in peaceful protest, although even that too often is met with violent militarized action by police.

Someone throws a bottle and the tanks and tear gas come out, which just makes the crowd angrier and things keep escalating.

These three and many, many more, mostly black people, die because cops can get away with acting as judge, jury and executioner.

These atrocities don’t happen in my white neighborhood, and I could “mind my own business,” I suppose.

But I can’t stand by and do nothing in the face of such injustice. I have to speak out. I will be at a protest tonight, and I will continue to protest until things begin to change.

I’ve gotten into a few discussions on Facebook about these deaths. Someone called me a racist for saying it happens too often to black men and boys.

People who want to remain comfortable in their middle-class neighborhoods don;t realize that they’re not safe from the abuses of power.

First they came for …

Go ahead and make excuses for the cops if you want. You can feel safe — for now.


Another killer cop walks free

The final moments of Eric Garner's life.

The final moments of Eric Garner’s life.

OK, I know the title sounds like nasty rhetoric, but it has happened again, and this time there’s video to prove the cop broke the law.

Last July, Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes near the ferry terminal in Staten Island, NY. Video shows police approach and wrestle him to the ground. In the video, the person behind the camera says Garner had just broken up a fight.

Whatever the reason for the police being there, Garner resists being put in handcuffs, so several officers tackle him. One officer has him in a chokehold and later has his knee on Garner’s head to keep it on the ground.

Repeatedly, you can hear Garner croak, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!”

The officer ignores his pleas and continues to keep him in the illegal chokehold.

I watched the video. It’s disturbing as hell.

The coroner ruled the death a homicide, but the Grand Jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence to indict — even though the video clearly shows the officer in violation of the law.

Garner was unarmed, by the way. The officers were never in any danger from him.

Garner had asthma and other medical problems. He weighed about 400 pounds. He was in violation of the law when he sold loose cigarettes, but he was not dangerous when police tackled him. He denied he was doing anything wrong and police just got rougher. He was obviously frightened of being put in handcuffs.

So, what happened is that Eric Garner got the death penalty for selling loose cigarettes near the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

The officer, Daniel Pantaleo, has been stripped of his badge and gun. He may lose his job. That’s hardly payment for causing the death of a human being.

Go ahead and call me racist for saying I don’t think it would have happened to a white man, but I really don’t think it would have.

New York is the home of stop and frisk and the vast majority of people who get stopped are non-white.

Now we have another unarmed black man killed, and no one will have to answer for the crime.

Let’s face it, the system is broken. This isn’t justice. Something has to change.


The brutality must stop


This is my friend, Russell Johnson (photo taken from his Facebook profile because I couldn’t find any of the ones I’ve taken of him), who volunteers for a local Internet radio station.

Russell has been to several Moral Monday and other social justice events, and I have never seen him act inappropriately. He’s always positive, and usually funny. He’s articulate and intelligent. He is a member of Veterans for Peace.

Russell went to Ferguson to report on events there, and that’s when he got into trouble.

From what I understand, he was interviewing someone and the police told him to move on. A friend reported that he did comply with the order, but he was arrested anyway.

The police beat him to the ground and then arrested him, dragging him off because he couldn’t walk.

He spent several hours in jail before he was released, and then had to undergo treatment for a separated shoulder. It will require surgery.

Right now, that’s all the details I have, but it’s enough to make my blood boil.

I’m nonviolent. I believe very strongly that violence only begets more violence. That doesn’t mean I’m never tempted to do violence to someone, and my first impulse was that I wanted to slap those cops silly.

If I had been the one interviewing, would I have been beaten senseless and dragged off to jail? I don’t think that’s likely.

Police most often direct their brutality at people of color — especially young men.

APTOPIX_Ferguson-0c203-3101APTOPIX_Ferguson-0c203-3101I’m tired of hearing Ferguson isn’t about race. It IS about race. It is all about race. We have found a new way to enslave African-Americans and it’s in our so-called “justice” system.

If this wasn’t about race, why were the National Guard not in Ferguson but stationed in white neighborhoods nearby? If the death of Michael Brown wasn’t about race and was justified, why are people the world over so upset?

If Michael Brown’s death wasn’t about privilege, why did the prosecutor have to pervert the Grand Jury process?

Even some conservatives have looked at the evidence released by the prosecutor and are incredulous that there was no indictment of the officer who shot Michael Brown.

Even if Russell didn’t stop interviewing someone when an officer told him to move on, did that officer order others to move on? I don’t know. I’m eager to talk to Russell when he gets back to Asheville.

What I do know is that a decent man was beaten senseless for no good reason. Once again, nonviolent resistance was met with brute force.

I do know that Russell would not have thrown the first punch. The cops were not reacting to a real threat.

When someone doesn’t move when ordered, the first response should never be to beat him with clubs until he can’t even walk.

Even if Russell mouthed off, the response was inappropriately violent.

I guess I should be grateful my friend wasn’t shot and killed, but I refuse to accept that kind of crumb. Russell could have been killed by their nightsticks. Would they then say he had attacked them? Would they have gotten away with murder?

I’m willing to bet they get away with assault. After all, Russell is a black man. It seems they’re justifiably threatened (in their eyes) by that mere fact.

I am furious, but I also know we can’t answer violence with violence. We have to stand in solidarity. We have to stand in peace.



“No justice, no peace!”

njnpNo justice, no peace.

The first time I heard those words, I was disturbed.

Was it a call for armed revolution? Was it an invitation to overthrow the current order?

As it turns out, it is neither.

It is a call to treat all human beings with respect.

As it is, people in this country live without hope of things ever getting better. Unless you have experienced hopelessness, you can not understand what it can do to a person.

Let’s say you live in a poor neighborhood where there are few, if any jobs. You’re told if you stay in school things will get better, but you stay in school and you’re still treated as though your life doesn’t matter.

People with authority and power treat you as though you’re worthless. They can stop and frisk you for no reason and shoot to kill if you don’t comply.

It’s completely arbitrary. You can walk through the neighborhood one day and get stopped and humiliated the next.

When you walk into a store, people assume you’re there to steal and you get followed as you browse.

These indignities add up, one by one, day after day.

Michael Brown stayed in school and was about to start college, but that didn’t give him immunity from being shot six times by a white police officer.

The prosecutor said the police officer saw that Michael Brown matched the description that had been sent out as someone who had robbed a convenience store.

First of all, it has been established already that the officer did not have the description, and that, although there was an altercation at the store, the film appears to show Michael Brown putting money on the counter.

Second, if Michael Brown did steal cigars, that should not mean he gets the death penalty.

This is what I mean about living without hope that things will ever get better.

This child’s body lay on the street for four and a half hours. Is it any wonder that residents of Ferguson believe the police were fixing “evidence” while he lay there?

How can anyone be at peace when they live with the disrespect these human beings face every day?

Meanwhile, the people with power have to protect what they have. They have to make it appear that Michael Brown deserved to die and that the officer was completely justified in using deadly force.

How can they have any sense of peace when they’re living in fear of an uprising because of the injustices they perpetrate?

When I say, “No justice, no peace,” I mean that we can’t have peace on either side as long as part of the population lives with intimidation and fear, underpaid, disrespected and with no hope of anything changing.

Had Darryl Wilson been indicted and a trial held, even if he was exonerated, at least there would have been an open debate about what happened. We might not have been happy with the results, but there would have been at least a modicum of respect for Michael Brown and his family.

Instead, he will walk away, his actions condoned. That sends a powerful message to people whose lives are affected every day by indignities and disrespect. When you remove hope from someone’s life, they have nothing to lose by lashing out in anger. Their neighborhood feels like a prison, so what do what have to lose by rioting and lighting fires?

We can’t live in peace if a minority of the population spends all its time trying to protect itself and its power and wealth by denying the rights of others to live a decent life.

Things won’t get better until we truly understand the meaning of “No justice, no peace” as a call to respect others and not as a call to rebellion and violence.

The real reason nothing’s been done on immigration


About 10 years ago, I was writing a story about construction and landscaping, and I interviewed the CEO of a fairly large construction company.

He asked that the conversation go off the record for a few minutes as we began to talk about the labor force.

“People in this business hire immigrants,” he told me. “They work hard and they do good work. No one wants to see that change, so you won’t see real immigration reform until the construction, landscaping and other industries want it to happen.”

He told me he hired only legal immigrants, but that much of the industry hires anyone with a Social Security card, and many employers don’t want to know if it’s fake.

And a whole lot of immigrants have fake documentation, which means they’re paying Social Security and other taxes, but they aren’t eligible for any government safety net programs. Even without false ID, immigrants pay sales taxes, gasoline, and through their landlords, property taxes.

Some employers knowingly hire people who aren’t here legally, knowing they can abuse them without any consequences. How many employees will choose to complain when they know it could lead to deportation and the loss of any chance to stay here?

I think my off-the-record source was right. I think big business wants this below-poverty work force to stay. Apparently, free trade isn’t enough; they want what is essentially slave labor here in the US.

According to a study in the journal, “Public Health,” at least half of all current farm workers are undocumented. That makes it easy to abuse them, to withhold pay for little or no reason, to intimidate them with threats of deportation and worse.

Little has improved for migrant farm workers since the documentary, “Harvest of Shame” aired on CBS in 1960. Housing and pay are still substandard, worker rights are pretty much nonexistent, abuse is rampant.

One farmer told CBS News, “We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.”

Here in North Carolina, we have children working in tobacco fields, and the nicotine that’s being absorbed into their bodies is enough to poison them.

Instead of having compassion for immigrants, we see them as criminals, yet we tolerate the businesses that bring them in by the truckload and abuse them.

President Obama wants to do something about the mess, but Congress refuses to help in any way. There is at lease one bipartisan bill that could pass, but House Speaker John Boehner refuses to bring it to the floor for a vote.

So when President Obama vows to make changes via executive order, the Republicans accuse him of acting like an “emperor,” despite the fact that every president since Eisenhower has taken executive action on immigration — including the precious right-wing icon, Ronald Reagan.

What we’re talking about here is human life. These are people who, like our own ancestors, are desperate for a better life, and they’re being exploited by the greed of big business.

But big business also wants us to hate the people they’re exploiting so that they can continue to exploit them. If we feel compassion, we might rise up and demand action. I’m sure that’s why several of the major networks won’t carry the president’s speech tonight. Better we all believe the lies corporate media are spoon-feeding us than any of us wake up and demand to know what the hell is going on here.


We have the Congress the non-voters deserve

These to NC State Representatives got sent home on Election Day because people came out to vote.

These two NC State Representatives got sent home on Election Day because people came out to vote. When people vote, change is possible.

To all of you who stayed home on Election Day because you felt your vote wouldn’t count, well, it damn well didn’t.

Thanks a lot.

Now we have a right wingnut Senate to go along with the right wingnut House in Washington.

Did you see the damage voter apathy caused in North Carolina these last two years? Well, get ready for it on a national scale. The Democratic-controlled Senate won’t be there to fight the right-wing agenda.

There will be attacks on the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, federal nutrition programs, education, jobs programs, Social Security — everything people who don’t make a living wage need to stay alive.

Oh, and we won’t see any increases in the minimum wage, either.

So, how did this happen?

First of all, only about one-third of eligible voters came out on Election Day. Someone who’s good at math told me the Senate changed hands with only 19 percent of the popular vote.

So, now we have the crazy legislative branch of a corrupt third-world country, and they own the judiciary.

So, why did the Democrats lose?

Well, how many did you hear stand up and say they were proud to have helped expand access to health care? How many told stories of the people whose lives are being saved every day because of the Affordable Care Act?

Most of the Dems ran away from President Obama, who has accomplished so much despite having both hands tied behind his back by an obstructionist Congress.

No one stood up and said they were proud to stand with the president who rescued a collapsed economy, saved the auto industry, ended two wars, presided over the longest period of uninterrupted job growth in history, halved the national deficit, expanded access to health care for millions of Americans, saving tens of thousands of lives a year in the process.

Instead we let the mainstream (corporate) media write the narrative, and our candidates ran away from an “unpopular” president.

We need to stop being ashamed of what we want for America and its people. We should stand proudly with this president, and let me point out that those candidates who did that won elections.

For those candidates who shied away from progressive values, let me just say you helped elect people who believe in evolution and deny science on every level. You helped elect people who see pregnancy resulting from rape as a blessing. We have elected officials in Washington who believe climate change is a hoax and who think fracking is good for the economy and the planet.

We have lawmakers who think only sluts want to use contraception.

Here in North Carolina, we sent a man to the US Senate who had just a 9 percent approval rating in his previous job.

This can NOT end well.

Let me end by saying we here in Buncombe County, NC, showed the country how to get it done this election.

Two of our three representatives in the state House of Representatives were right-wing politicians who voted not to expand Medicaid and to fast-track fracking, among other damaging laws. They both had big money behind them, and one was slated to become Speaker of the House.

But two local men, Brian Turner and John Ager, decided to oppose them. Neither took corporate money, both went door-to-door, held marathon phone banks, activated the grass roots. John Ager’s campaign made 2,000 phone calls on Election Day to remind people to get out and vote. We told the truth while big money lied, and the voters came out in force.

We turned out the vote for these two men and they won. They beat the big-money candidates by letting people know their votes could make a difference.

That’s how you get it done, and that’s how we need to get it done on a large scale.



Saying thank you


I’ve seen lawn signs recently that say, Hagan=Obamacare, and I wonder why people think that’s a bad thing. I want to erect a sign that thanks Kay Hagan for her vote, and it should dwarf the one below it.

The Affordable Care Act has the potential to save 45,000 American lives a year. It would have saved my son.

Because of “Obamacare,” my husband and I have insurance. Before the law, we would have been out in the cold because he’s had heart surgery and I have asthma. His layoff last year could have been a death sentence for both of us, since we had insurance through his job.

I got to thank Sen. Kay Hagan in person this morning for her vote for access to health care for millions of Americans. She was in Asheville at Edna’s Coffee Shop, which I love even without knowing what strong progressives its owners are.

I also got to pet Edna (the pug for whom the shop is named) and thank the owners for sponsoring the event.

I don’t agree with Sen. Hagan on everything; I’m to the left of her on a lot of things. But she stands strong in favor of access to health care for everyone. Her opponent, Thom Tillis opposes that. He also opposes any minimum wage, not to mention a living wage. He was the architect of a disastrous legislative session that, in addition to refusing to accept Medicaid expansion, took away voting rights, de-funded education to an alarming degree, slashed unemployment compensation, closed women’s health clinics and passed one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country.

So far, Democrats are coming out in droves to vote before Election Day. We need to keep that up. We need to vote. All of us. Believe me, we can’t afford to have anyone sit this one out.





It’s time to put up or shut up.

i voted

Early voting has begun here in North Carolina, and if the first day was any indication, it looks like we might have a good turnout this year.

That’s good news. In years with high turnout, the right-wing, corporate, anti-life candidates do poorly.

And this year, there’s a lot at stake, including the very existence of the Affordable Care Act, if the Republicans take the Senate. The House has voted 50 times to repeal it; if the Senate votes the same way, we’re in trouble.

I don’t know why any woman would vote for a candidate who would take away her right to make reproductive choices. This group has closed women’s health clinics across the country under the guise of being “pro-life.”  But if they’re really pro-life, why do they deny poor women cancer screenings?? Many of them are saying a business should have the right to fire a woman for taking birth control pills.

If you think this can’t become reality, think again. The Right has its Supreme Court in place. This is a court that has already said it’s OK for a boss to deny insurance coverage for birth control.

And that’s just one issue. Most of these people are bought and paid for by big business and the 1 percent. They want to abolish minimum wage. They want to abolish what’s left of our shredded safety net and our public education system.

These are the people who are trying to cut the number of people eligible to vote, and they’re attacking the people who most likely would vote against them — the poor, the elderly, people of color and college students.

Just look at the battle for keeping a polling place on the campus of Appalachian State in Boone, which has 18,000 students:

They have reduced voting hours; they have cut early voting and eliminated Sunday voting (which is when many African-Americans voted); they have closed polling places and reduced the number of voting machines in places where people traditionally voted against them.

They have eliminated straight-party voting, which means it will take a few moments longer. That will make lines longer and reduce the number of people who can vote. They have made it easier for someone to challenge your vote. Even if you still get to vote, the challenge has taken time and slowed the line.

And what’s important about slowing the line is that, no matter how long the line is when the polls close on Election Day, the doors close one hour after the stated closing time. That means if you’re in line an hour and one minute after the polls are supposed to close, you don’t get to vote.

You won’t find long lines in wealthy polling places because the people who would stifle your voice have the majority of those votes in the bag.

This is why it’s so important that you vote and vote early. There are lines for early voting, but not nearly as long as the lines will be on Election Day.

The time is over for anyone to be uninterested in politics. You must become aware of what’s happening in the world around you. You must care enough about what’s happening in this country, and you must vote to keep our Democracy alive.

In Kansas, the Right, under the “leadership” of Sam Brownback, they have destroyed the state’s economy and Sen. Mitch McConnell has said he wants to make that a national priority.

Schools are being destroyed, food banks emptied, unemployment insurance all but eliminated. If this is your idea of what a successful society looks like, then go ahead and stay home. Otherwise, get your ass to the polls. Do it early. Do it today.



a world of progress site | woven by WEBterranean