Tribute to Gerry Conlon

Gerry Conlon released from Old Bailey in 1989

We should take a moment to honor the passing of Gerry Conlon of Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was a defendant in the Guildford Four convicted in a British court in 1975 for the bombing (in October 1974) of a pub frequented by British military personnel in Guildford, just outside London. After confessions were extracted by torture & intimidation, all four were sentenced to life in prison. They served 15 years before a defense campaign got the convictions thrown out. The bombing was in fact the work of the Provisional IRA & there wasn’t a shred of evidence presented at trial that the Guildford Four had any connections to the group because they didn’t.

What is called “one of the most high-profile miscarriage of justice cases in British legal history” does not end there. Conlon’s father, Giuseppe Conlon, a pacifist who evaded the draft during WWII, went to London after his son was arrested to render assistance. While there, he stayed with his sister-in-law, Anne Maguire & her family. He, Anne, her husband, brother, two children & a family friend, were all arrested in December 1974 for running an IRA bomb factory in northern London. They are called the Maguire Seven. They were sentenced in 1976 to 14 years in prison, served their terms, & were released–with the exception of Giuseppe, who died in prison in 1980. A 1991 appeals court nullified the convictions & they were publcly exonerated in 2005.

Another victim of this travesty is Conlon’s mother, Sarah, who worked in a scrapyard & in a hospital mopping floors & serving food to patients. She spent decades campaigning for her son & husband & lived long enough to see them both exonerated.

In his eulogy, Paul Hill, a fellow Guildford Four defendant (now living in the US), said Gerry Conlon was into music & football & “had no interest whatsoever in politics” before he was arrested. He was no outspoken champion of the people, but “an ordinary man, who suffered an incredible injustice.” But on his dramatic exit from court after his acquittal in 1989, Conlon called for the release of the Birmingham Six, another group of Irish men falsely incarcerated in England, & he continued to speak out against injustice.

In a 2009 interview, Conlon said: “Since I came out of prison, I have suffered two breakdowns, I have attempted suicide, I have been addicted to drugs & to alcohol. The ordeal has never left me. I was given no psychological help by the government that had locked me up, no counselling. Since our case there have been perhaps 200 others we have heard about of innocent people being released, Sean Hodgson being the latest, and probably a few thousand others that have not had the publicity. I would say the vast majority have almost certainly had problems with drug addiction, have been estranged from their families & disenfranchised from society – yet they have been offered little in the way of help.” Apparently exoneration can’t give you back your life or undo the damage done by injustice–especially if it isn’t accompanied by anything more substantial than a paltry “mea culpa” from the British courts.

The Guildford Four & Maguire Seven happened at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. As a personal aside, when I traveled in England & Ireland during that period, I was aghast at the overt, aggressive & public racism directed at Irish & at Blacks by both police & civilians. Regrettably, it is my strongest memory of England during that time.

The Conlon case has political caveats galore & relevance in most countries but perhaps none more so than Israel, whose prison system is a gulag for Palestinians, & the US, where the prison system is a gulag for Black & Latino youth. Thousands in both countries are warehoused in prisons for crimes they did not commit & whose only culpability is their ethnicity.

Though he was a leading character in the Daniel Day-Lewis film “In the Name of the Father,” I didn’t remember the Guildford Four case or know much about Gerry Conlon. But he should not leave this earth without our acknowledging his contributions & what we have learned from him: most importantly, that in extraordinary circumstances even the seemingly ordinary are the agents of social transformation. May he RIP.

(Photo of Gerry Conlon leaving the acquittal court in 1989 with his two sisters from

Refugees under neoliberalism number in millions

Afghanistan homeless June 22 2014

According to figures released by the UN refugee agency on World Refugee Day (June 20th), there are 16.7 million refugees, 1.2 million asylum seekers, & 33.3 million internally displaced persons in the world today. Staggering figures, but since the UN carefully parses definitions, these figures do not indicate the real number of human beings made homeless or compelled to hit the road.

Internally displaced is such a delicate expression for those millions who have been bombed out of their homes or are fleeing from war zones & military occupations. They haven’t joined the millions fleeing their countries but remain homeless right at home.

Half the world’s refugees are now children, just like they make up so many of the world’s homeless, or “internally displaced” persons. They are the offal egested by neoliberal plunder & damn it before every standard of human civilization & culture. These little ones, despite their daring & desperation, are vulnerable to every kind of violence & shyster. Obama spouts pieties about equality & children & Hillary Clinton made swag off writing “It Takes a Village” advocating child welfare. She also made a display & built quite a reputation for her association with the Children’s Defense Fund. They’re both now calling for the mass deportation of children refugees crossing the US border.

Just like ignorance of the law is no excuse for miscreants, neither is being entirely bereft of human decency or making a pitiful spectacle of the refugee problem. It’s admirable the UN refugee agency keeps abreast of the scale of the refugee problem but why can’t it bring itself to denounce the wars & barbaric plunder creating it? Pity-mongering does not constitute political action & calling for the deportation of children puts you in a special class of criminals; it also merits you a special place in hell.

This little Afghan boy hiding behind his mother’s veil is an “internally displaced” person in Kabul. We don’t need any more sob stories out of the UN; we need to demand US-NATO out of Afghanistan! US out of Iraq!

(Photo by Massoud Hossaini/AP)

Mass graves of undocumented immigrants found at Falfurrias, TX

Falfurrias graves June 21 2014

The Rio Grande river separating Texas & Mexico is just a few miles from here. The region is sub-tropical with excessive heat & frequent drought. A few years ago, I volunteered to help a family search for their 20-year-old son who had run afoul of drug traffickers & was feared dead in the dense underbrush & sugar cane fields that border the northern edge of the river. That foliage is where undocumented immigrants who cross the river undetected can hide, often for days, until they find a way past the border patrol.

Searching parties entering the sugar cane fields were given guidance & stern warnings about the density & disoriention involved & were told how to get out in the case of frequent panic attacks. We saw border patrol agents on horseback & were told they were looking for immigrants–dead or alive. I’m not squeamish & am fairly tough after working minimum wage jobs when I was laid off, but I could only comb those sugar cane fields for short periods at a time before I could hardly breathe & started to panic.

Near the search site, there are small graveyards set up by local residents with crosses on the graves of anonymous immigrants who died in the crossing. It’s a respectful tribute by those who honor human life & consider burial a duty.

Many immigrants on the run do make it through that initial hellhole on the river but if they want to continue north they must pass around a border patrol checkpoint 60 miles north on the highway at Falfurrias, Texas. Without the services of a “coyote”, this is extremely dangerous because the arrid terrain is riddled with border patrol agents & armed vigilante farmers. Dehydration from the 100-degree plus heat is the biggest threat.

Media reports today that anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis & Baylor University in Waco, TX, are exhuming 52 mass graves in Falfurrias filled with the co-mingled remains of immigrants stuffed on top of each other into shopping & garbage bags. A local funeral home paid $450 per body by the county is implicated but of course all of US immigration policy is indicted not only for the disrespect but for their deaths. The unidentified bones were once someone’s loved one: a child, a parent, a sibling.

When you see how cavalier & contemptuous they are toward the humanity of immigrants, what they’re doing to the nearly 50,000 unaccompanied minors picked up crossing the river (in just the past 7 months) all makes sense–especially stuffing them into squalid overcrowded warehouses, next stop, deportation.

It’s a marvel of cognitive dissonance that immigration rights activists continue to support the Obama regime & the Democratic Party because the Obama regime talks out of both sides of its ass on immigration. While US diplomats are issuing warnings that undocumented children will be deported, Obama sent Biden to Central America to discuss child immigration with the regimes there. Now if you want to solve a problem the smartest thing not to do is put together the parties directly involved in creating it. But treachery & deceit on immigration rights is now part & parcel of the Obama regime.

Lesser evil politics still have a stranglehold on many activists & many will not remember in 2016 that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stated in a televised town hall event last Tuesday that the US should deport undocumented children. In a moment of unvarnished sociopathy, she said “They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are.” The woman who would be president doesn’t know that many are orphaned & homeless from US military forays in their countries? That many were abandoned & are searching for parents who went north for work? That many of those parents died while migrating through Mexico? The woman who would be president should be institutionalized or prosecuted, not elected president, because responsibility for the welfare of children doesn’t have one damn thing to do with citizenship. It is a human responsibility. And the fraudulent politician who wrote “It Takes a Village” ought to have at least that straight in her numb skull.

(Photo of Falfurrias graves being exhumed from University of Indianapolis by Guy Housewright)

Israeli operation “Ethnic Cleansing”

Gaza airstrike June 21 2014

Attention is focused on Israel’s jackboot operation in the West Bank while massive Israeli bombing continues in Gaza over the two largest urban areas. We don’t know what poetic name Israel has given to the Gaza operation; they call the West Bank one “Operation Brother’s Keeper” but they’re both two phalanxes of operation ethnic cleansing.

Here a young boy walks inside the crater left by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City where over half a million people live. The Israeli military say it’s retaliation for Hamas rockets but can they explain why the entire population has to be punished with bombing?

Oppose ethnic cleansing & support Palestinian justice by boycotting all Israeli products (barcode beginning 729); supporting the cultural boycott of Israel; & demanding “No military aid to Israel!”

(Photo by Hatem Moussa/AP)

Clintons cry poor-mouth; Obamas talk trash

Burgers and Obamas June 20 2014

Recently we’ve have to stomach Hillary Clinton belly-aching about her & that ass she’s married to being “dead broke” on leaving the White House. Putting aside that if they weren’t involved in so many criminal investigations they’d have had more dough, media reports claim that since leaving office Bill Clinton has received nearly $16 million in pensions & benefits on top of the exorbitant fees he & Hillary get for making speeches & writing books. It’s not that she’s out of touch with economic realities for most working people; she’s completely indifferent to problems of the “little people.”

Not to be outdone in pity-mongering, the two Obamas claim in an interview with Parade magazine (that accompanies the Sunday papers) that they want their two daughters to “get a taste” of minimum-wage life, as they both did before they got law degrees, because it’s a “character-building experience.”

Character-building experience, my ass! Millions of people who are not one whit less intelligent & talented than the Obamas don’t find busting their ass for chump change one bit character-building. They find it demeaning, exhausting, arduous, & unrewarding; only privileged people with a patronizing sense of noblesse oblige could ever find it character-building.

But who’s kidding who!? What are the chances those two girls will ever flip hamburgers or clean bed pans or stand for eight hours on a cement floor? Will they be doing a version of slum tourism, visiting the working class ghetto to see how the other half lives? Does either Obama have even a clue how detestable their plebeian pretensions sound?

The course those two girls will take has long been charted & will follow the one taken by Chelsea Clinton: elite universities, advanced degrees, multi-million dollar sinecures, & well-remunerated consulting positions in parental foundations. Meanwhile, equally talented working kids will grow to old age still flipping burgers, always on the brink of homelessness, & retiring with no pensions.

(Photo of burgers in lieu of image of potato-head Obamas from

African immigration to Europe

Immigrants June 20 2014

Today the UN commemorates World Refugee Day. In their 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the UN laid out who does & does not qualify as a refugee. The UN definition has been parsed several times since 1951 because colonial wars & economic plunder have made such a mess of this world that millions have been uprooted & don’t fit any tidy bureaucratic schema. All they know is that where they live is a hell hole & they need to get them & their families out to survive.

The protocols exclude war criminals but all those guys have money in Swiss bank accounts & buy their way across borders. Who needs a green card when you can afford a chalet in the south of France? They also exclude “economic immigrants”–that is, millions of people displaced by neoliberal plunder & IMF-World bank austerity programs. But there are still millions of refugees who fit the UN’s narrow schema from Syria, Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Mali, Central African Republic, Congo, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan.

The UN commemorates World Refugee Day with videos of celebrities honoring the “strength & resilience” of refugees. Sentimentality aside, the brief videos show footage of the horrors refugees are fleeing & the misery of their flights. And that’s good because we need to look human suffering straight in the face in order to be part of ending it. But what the UN doesn’t do is publicize or denounce the treacheries of European Union countries in preventing refugees from entering by putting up a surveillance fortress around its borders. Thousands of those refugees & immigrants drown in the Mediterranean Sea trying to cross in rickety makeshift boats when if the EU honored the UN protocols they would be providing ferries & ships for safe passage.

In October 2013, a boat carrying hundreds of refugees, mostly from Eritrea, Somalia, & Ghana, sank off the coast of Lampedusa (near Sicily) trying to reach the immigrant processing center located on the island. 364 people drowned amidst charges by local fishermen that the Italian coast guard bungled the rescue attempt. Despite protests by Italian human rights activists, Italian residents of Lampedusa, survivors of the accident & other detainees at the Lampedusa refugee center, the Italian government moved the bodies of the drowned to Sicily & buried them in scattered, unmarked graves. Survivors were unable to attend the memorial service or hold funerals for their own loved ones.

The number of refugees & immigrants trying to reach Italy is over 40,000 so far this year, which is more than the total that arrived in 2013 & does not include those immigrating to Spain or Greece. Italy claims it “rescued” 5,200 just in the span of four days. After the Lampedusa accident & guided by those UN protocols, why isn’t the Italian coast guard providing safe passage to those people? Rather than spending millions of those euros on “rescuing” people, why don’t they use the money to provide ships?

Human rights activists don’t accept the UN distinction between refugees & immigrants. No human being is illegal. We don’t care why they’re leaving their countries; we only know they have a right to try to make a better life for themselves.

Immigration is a human right! Open the borders! Down with Fortress Europe!

(Photo of immigrants traveling from Africa to Italy on June 7th by Massimo Sestini)

Israel’s Operation Brother’s Keeper: a jackboot occupation

IDF in Hebron June 19 2014

Before I visited Belfast & Derry, Northern Ireland in 1983, then under British military occupation, I had never known such a terrifying spectacle. Taxis wouldn’t drive into the Catholic neighborhoods & there were no buses anymore; everyone going into the shopping district went through military checkpoints where belongings & bodies were searched; currency exchanges, hotels, & other businesses were surrounded by tiers of barbed wire & armed soldiers. But worst of all, there were constant caravans of armored vehicles. Some would stop & egest soldiers aiming rifles; some had soldiers with rifles mounted on turrets pointed directly at pedestrians, including women with baby strollers & small children walking to school. On one occasion, I pointed my camera at a soldier aiming at a woman & child & he pointed his rifle at me until I put the camera down.

A group of small boys agreed to guide me in Belfast to show me the murals done in tribute to the hunger strikers. Periodically they would stop to hurl stones at passing caravans of British troops. It scared the hell out of me & I observed the boyish insouciance of the pelters was only apparent; the boys were as scared as they were defiant.

This photo of an Israeli soldier in the West Bank village of Tafoh (near Hebron) during Israel’s jackboot occupation (June 15th) is worth one of Netanyahu’s ten thousand lies. Pro-Zionist media can spin the narrative anyway they like but pointing a rifle with live ammunition at unarmed women & children is no part of hostage negotiations with kidnappers. It is a brutal military occupation.

The faces of these young boys testify to Israeli terrorism; the mothers are afraid to look at the soldier lest they provoke him. Look at this photo & try to claim Israel is only trying to get the three boys back by terrorizing Palestinians.

(Photo by AFP)

Israel’s jackboot operation in the West Bank

Palestinian in Hebron June 19 2014

The Israeli military has named its jackboot operation in the West Bank “Operation Brother’s Keeper” in sync with the poetic names for all their ethnic cleansing operations in Gaza. It has a catchy lilt, but you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that something isn’t adding up in the abduction story. Even the UN issued vague misgivings saying ‘there is no concrete evidence the boys were actually abducted by Hamas terrorists’.

For a long while now, Israel has been recklessly accelerating illegal settlement projects throughout the West Bank, expropriating lands, forcibly removing thousands of Palestinian residents, using excessive, lethal violence against protesters armed only with rocks. It was so egregious & apt to negatively affect the international image of Israel that the US State Department issued little peeps of protest.

It cannot be said Palestinians have the character of leadership they deserve with the political program necessary to lead intifada to a democratic secular state including Palestinians & Jews. That is a critical problem for Palestinians to resolve. The question of their leadership, however, is of the greatest consequence to Israel & the US & they employ every treachery in the book to fracture unity between contending political forces in Palestine & to favor those most willing to betray intifada.

The recent (April) power-sharing agreement between Fatah & Hamas, the two most prominent Palestinan groups, was greeted with due skepticism, if not outright incredulity. The fault line of that so-called unity agreement is exposed only weeks after it was signed by Israel’s clumsy use of a divide & conquer strategy where they blame Hamas for the abductions & Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, walks right into the trap, berating Palestinians from a podium in Saudi Arabia for the kidnappings & pledging to work with the Israeli army to rout the culprits. Which of course means cooperating with Israel in it’s jackboot occupation of the West Bank. What about the Palestinian hunger strikers in Israel’s gulag, Mr. Abbas? Can you take even a moment to express solidarity with them, including the 220 children?

What is adding up in the story is the complete political bankruptcy of Mahmoud Abbas who is not even the elected leader in the West Bank but just keeps reappointing himself to serve as Israel’s handmaiden. In many ways, he’s only ever been the titular head of Palestinians, preferring to serve the interests of Israel & the US.

An article in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, points to an extremely alarming development within Israel accompanying the acceleration of ethnic cleansing in Gaza & the West Bank. That is the crackdown on the right of dissent & the freedom for Israelis to oppose Israeli apartheid. The writer pointed to legislation (like the Naqba law banning support for BDS), attempts to curb public protests, attempts to curtail funding to dissident groups, & crackdowns on human rights groups, labeling them traitors & “fellow travelers with terror”–all tactics straight out of the McCarthy-era handbook.

There are important dissident groups within Israel, many who have for decades stood against Israeli ethnic cleansing, & defense of Palestinian rights includes active solidarity with those organizations against the crackdown on democracy within Israel.

Photo (from June 16th) is Israeli soldiers blindfolding a Palestinian “suspected of throwing stones” in Hebron, West Bank. The young man will likely end up in Israel’s gulag.

(Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters)

History of pogroms against Muslims

CAR Muslim refugee June 18 2014

US wars in the Middle East have forced us to confront our ignorance about Arabs, Islam, & other peoples & religions of the region. US education doesn’t give an honest account of our own past (Blacks, Latinos, & Native Americans are written right out of it)–much less that of the Middle East, Asia, & Africa or even the rest of the Americas–because our entire education is Eurocentric & based in white supremacy.

It was through snooping around art museums that I learned history & learning did not begin with the Greeks. There were entire worlds exhibited which we were never told about–gallery after gallery of art & artifacts from civilizations we never knew existed. White supremacy is expressed in the way art is displayed but this cannot hide the monumental achievements of other peoples stolen & stuffed in museums by colonizers.

There’s been a lot of debate in academic circles about how to look at cultures in the Middle East, Asia, & Africa. The debates are useful in pointing out complexities of racism & colonialism & they shouldn’t be trivialized. But when all is said & done, we’re all the same human species & have more in common than not–including our social failings.

I recently decided to look at pogroms against Muslims in several countries to try to understand what’s going on. This is where one confronts not only the inadequacies of education but the problems of scholarship, which is often marinated in white supremacy. There are current or recent pogroms against Muslims in Burma, Mali, Central African Republic, India, Kashmir, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, & several other places. These are pogroms using extreme violence including genocide & don’t include the Islamophobic campaigns in Europe & the US. In just several hours of research, I learned that pogroms against Muslims number in the thousands going back a few centuries.

This cursory knowledge evokes so many questions: is there a relationship between persecution of Muslims & the development of Islamic fundamentalism? How did the sharp conflicts between Sunni & Shi’ite develop? What are those conflicts all about? How much of this is religious, cultural, political, economic, or rooted in class conflict? How is this all related to US meddling in the region–especially meddling of the covert kind? How is this all related to European & US colonialism? And to US wars?

No one wants to be glib & few can possibly study these pogroms in every very different country. But the US wars now make it quite clear that the way we’ve been taught to see the world is dead wrong, proving to be our undoing, & criminally dangerous to a good section of the human race. We don’t have to know a damn thing to stand for religious freedom, to oppose every persecution whatever it is based on. But there are news blackouts about these pogroms precisely so we cannot render political solidarity. And that’s where social media comes in. FB is proving to be an international university par excellence, using the Socratic method; it’s a place we can meet to inform each other & learn to respect each other. And that kind of entente is not something colonialism can thrive on.

Photo is 10-year-old Hamamatou Harouna, a Muslim refugee in Central African Republic who lost use of her legs to polio. She fled her village carried on the back of her 12-year-old brother, Souleymane. They spent ten days alone in the forest until they found refuge in a Catholic church in another town.

(Photo by Jerome Delay/AP)

Where is Daumier when you need him?

Feudalism June 17 2014

We can only regret that HonorĂ© Daumier, the great French caricaturist of the 19th century, is not alive today to do the Ascot Races justice. He wasn’t like modern-day French philosophers drowning us in sheer tonnage of adjectives signifying nothing. Our man preferred verbs & went straight to the point, eviscerating pretensions & pomposities in politicians & plutocrats alike. He’d have a field day with this scene of the English peerage riding escalators to the main grandstand. He’d have a field day with those bonnets.

If you compare his caricatures of the French parliament of his day to this scene, you will observe that the haughty faces of conceit don’t change very much from one century to the next. That’s because underneath that pomposity is the obsequious which is the fundamental character of inequality, including these ceremonial vestiges of feudalism & increasingly the character of neoliberal capitalism.

These hoity-toities will be betting on the ponies with Betty who never misses a horse race & they’re hoping for just a brief moment in her presence. Yippee.

(Photo by Dominic Lipinski/AP)

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