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Watch Out for ReclaimNewYork-- 'alt-right' prowling your neighborhood

June 12, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

What is RECLAIM NY Up To?   March 15/17    by Joyce St George, New Kingston, NY

There is currently a debate in this area about the appearance of Reclaim NY’s full-page ads in several local newspapers. Reclaim NY is an organization established by Steve Bannon, the current Senior White House Counselor and former publisher of Breitbart News, and Rebekah Mercer, a billionaire who donated heavily to the Trump campaign and served in his transition team. The goal of Reclaim, according to their website, is to make governments in NYS more transparent, and to hold government more accountable for financial waste and corruption.

The organization has already requested all financial documents from more than 250 schools, villages, towns and cities in Orange, Westchester, Putnam and other counties in New York state. Nearly 200 of these entities have provided requested information under the Freedom of Information Act. But several of those, including Peekskill School District and the town of Chester were sued by Reclaim for not being forthcoming or transparent enough for Reclaim’s interest. The school district, town, and others around the state, have had to spend money on legal fees and extra clerk hours to accommodate Reclaim’s requests. They also had to face articles in the local papers with interviews by Reclaim leaders alleging lack of transparency and corruption.

Reclaim NY is now in Delaware County, not only with full-page ads, but with the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce inviting their leaders to speak at an upcoming breakfast meeting in Hancock. After researching the organization, several concerns have emerged.

First, the Reclaim organization is reported to be a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization. However, it does have a heavily “right” leaning leadership and perspective on government. With Steve Bannon, Rebecca Mercer and other conservative leaders formulating the organization and its mission and strategies, it is hard pressed to believe that it is non-partisan. And while it is perfectly appropriate for conservative organizations to have a say in the state, it is not appropriate to hide its political leanings. Shielding itself from its own political perspective creates an insidious, covert shadow to the organization, which seems antithetical to its goal of transparency in governments.

Secondly, there is little said in its website about the purpose of this collection of financial data from schools, villages, cities and towns in NYS. The website indicates that reports will be produced by Reclaim that helps New Yorkers better understand why taxes are so high and living is so costly in NYS. While it is appreciated that an outside organization would care so much about the cost of living in this state, Reclaim does not explicitly say what it will do with those reports. Will they work with the local governments to improve financial management? Will they assist schools struggling to pay teachers adequate salaries? There is simply no way of knowing what Reclaim will do.

Third, transparency is one quality that small towns, cities, villages and schools seem to pride themselves on. The town boards of Middletown, Roxbury and Andes have monthly meetings as do the villages of Margaretville, Fleischmanns. Budgets are openly discussed at these meetings and community input supported. Local public schools open their financial books to the community as well. There are no mysteries to where our taxes going or how our money is being spent. The problem is not transparency, but poverty, infrastructure and limited resources. Reclaim does not address any of those issues impacting communities of NYS today.

I will go to the Chamber of Commerce meeting in which a Reclaim representative will speak, and I will listen. And yes, I do have a bias because of the articles I read from Peekskill and other areas that were sued by Reclaim. If the organization can truly help our rural areas improve conditions, I would support them wholeheartedly. But I haven’t read one article about them that would encourage me in that direction. I hope others will attend the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce meeting on April 7 in Hancock as I will, to learn, and I hope others in our area will do their research on Reclaim to learn what the organization is doing to our state.

See report on ReclaimNY's Hancock, NY presentation-- Catskill Mountain News

Also BN Aziz'  “My View” in The River Reporter (Narrowsburg, NY) Mar 23-28/2017

ReclaimNY sounds innocuous; it might be a movement you’d want to support. To some, it may suggest something that can help improve our lives in Upstate NY. Certainly we all want to hear from anyone who can stem corruption and save us money. Indeed various local Chambers of Commerce and other civic groups seem open to consider what benefits ReclaimNY is offering.

But beware. This is not an organization with an aim to help regular citizens like you and me.

A few watchful residents have revealed that Steve Bannon is behind this movement. In fact he’s its co-founder; the same Steve Bannon lurking in the White House, rumored to have an enormous influence on our president; the same Steve Bannon behind Breitbart News, the powerful media corporation unknown to many of us until its extreme social agenda was revealed just weeks before the election; the same Steve Bannon determined to remove so many of Americans’ social benefits and environmental protections, and scrap the Affordable Care Act—for a start. Take note that co-founder of Reclaim NY is a major Trump campaign donor, billionaire Rebekah Mercer. (Under pressure to eliminate conflicts of interest, Bannon resigned from the board last year.)

We may believe this kind of far-right group prevails in the Midwest or Louisiana. But it’s right here in our own backyard. ReclaimNY’s organizers have been at work in the Hudson Valley and are now planning programs in Delaware County: in Hobart, Delhi, Hancock and Binghamton (in Broome County, for example).

Some alert citizens of Delaware County, NY were able to inform a private business in their area about Reclaim New York’s background. It then decided to remove its sponsorship of a planned meeting, although the Chamber of Commerce hosting the event has not cancelled the program, not yet.

The group seems to be focusing on Delaware County northwest of Sullivan County at present. It has already moved forward with its agenda in other parts of the state: Orange, Westchester, and Putnam for example. In order to gather information to carry out its ‘reclamation’, Reclaim NY requests financial information from schools, villages, towns—they can do this under the Freedom of Information Act. And when those public entities refuse to comply, the group proceeds with law suits against them. Peekskill is a town that had to spend tax income to defend itself from Reclaim’s charges. 

A perusal of the Reclaim New York’s website (www.reclaimnewyork.org ) does not make clear its background and agenda. One finds no mention of Bannon or Mercer—only bios of a number of educated young men and a woman, many in finance and law. The words “Republican Party” do not appear either, or the name of its leader Donald J. Trump; indeed it presents itself as non-partisan, and is a registered 501(c) 3 organization. One finds nothing about why it seeks financial information about our schools and other public institutions. That very agenda is odd given that towns and schools annually present their budgets and financial records to the public.

Slowly—too slowly—the public is learning the unsettling truth about the backgrounds of our elected and non-elected leaders. We are at a time in our history when every citizen needs to be more active than ever in uncovering the forces swirling around us, forces that could take us back decades in our struggle to establish and hold American ideals we once thought were unassailable.

by Barbara Nimri Aziz, PhD

 

 

 

[ Watch Out for ReclaimNewYork-- 'alt-right' prowling your neighborhood ]

Shamless in America

May 30, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian newspaper writes what some may consider a virtuous and urgent charge. In his newspaper’s May 12th edition 

Opining that the US president is shameless, Freedland may be correct. But I disagree with his suggestion that Donald Trump’s behavior is particularly unique and that this shamelessness is immoral. While Trump is acting and speaking in a shocking manner, he is, in fact, giving voice to (a hitherto whispered, backroom) an American tradition.

When will Americans who enjoy huge benefits of citizenship in the world’s strongest economy and in the globe’s pre-eminent cultural, political, and military power realize that its glorious ‘empire’ is itself a shameless beast? Empire is largely effectively above morality. Moreover, isn’t this an integral part of what is called exceptionalism?  

Whether we like (to admit) it or not USA is an empire. As such it can be shameless. Just as it can be arrogant; just as it can police the whole world; just as it demands others adhere to its declared standard of human rights; just as its military cannot be criminally responsible for excesses and atrocities abroad; just as its negotiators can coerce weaker nations to follow its dictate.

Several American presidents in living memory (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Carter, Clinton, and Obama) provided a veneer of morality with their grace and political intelligence. Trump does not follow that script. In his bumbling, ungracious way, he is the ugly face of empire, exhibiting all the righteousness of what Americans --only Americans-- boast is the ‘most powerful person on earth’. The president, like the empire, is almost above law: he can disregard convention; he can fire the head of intelligence; he can sign edicts to wipe out years of development and progress; he can refuse to submit his tax returns; he can retain his businesses while serving in office; and his flippant tweets can hurl personal insults and instigate political chaos.

American foreign policy flaunts norms in the international arena; why not the head of state in regards to domestic issues? Not unreasonably, if a nation is shameless, its leader too can behave without shame. Donald Trump is shameless enough to challenge the norm. (Although in his arrogance he may inadvertently overstep some solid and sacred law, and be assured that hoards of opposition lawyers are closely following his every step to clutch a tangible legal breach.)

                Perhaps what so disturbs our distraught liberal class who Freedland speaks for is that Trump is directing this arrogance onto domestic issues and the privileges of Americans. As long as US bullying is focused outside, whether towards friends or enemies, it’s ignored or tolerated. Take the spurious principle of ‘mutual respect’ and the verbiage about members’ ‘equality’ within the United Nations. In its embargo wars against Cuba, Iran, Iraq and Vietnam, Washington successfully coerces and threatens others to comply. Even the U.N. cannot withstand US intimidation. A cursory review of reports emerging from infinite U.N. committee meetings around the globe would either shock you or make you ask if anything noble is ever accomplished there, anything except what’s determined by Washington.

(One recent climate change meeting offers an example of what can be accessed by Third World Network.) These daily displays of American prowess are buried in hard-to-comprehend reports laden with mysterious acronyms and a maze of subcommittee reviews. Their itineraries are so imponderable; easier to browse multi-pages of our esteemed press with their doctrines on Kurdish factions, sectarian strife in Muslim lands, or the drama of a dismissed FBI chief than to study how America bullies and obstructs the agendas of others, whether powers like India, or weak or impoverished nations, or respectable European friends.  

                True, not every American leader acts as boldly or as oafishly as Donald Trump does. Certainly his immediate predecessor behaved differently…most of the time. But recall one of President Obama’s foreign speeches—in Havana a year ago— and the former Cuba leader’s knowing response. Fidel Castro’s reply notwithstanding, the American’s imperial message, albeit proffered in a handsome velvet cloak, is clear. Barack Obama, like many American leaders (whether trade negotiators, press aides, human rights advocates, or military officers) may speak and act more discreetly than his successor. It’s just that Trump openly exhibits his nation’s arrogance. Combined with his personal tactlessness, mixed with a degree of bald ignorance, it’s, well, embarrassing.

But Freedland and doubtless many others in our liberal class, symbolized by the self righteous New York Times, do not dare admit America’s own long history of shamelessness and how Mr. Trump merely epitomizes this.

In today’s comments by US historians on how the 45th president compares so unfavorably with past occupants of the White House, there is a highly selective process underway. Since the November election and US intellectual’s misjudgment of its outcome, liberals have jumped onto the moral high ground with their remaking of Mr. Obama’s tenure. As if the last administration were free of responsibility for destabilizing other nations, of gross, illegal surveillance, of unlawful bombings and runaway profiteering by banks.   

Trump’s behavior is ‘difficult’ no doubt. Perhaps it’s because when a leader lies, he reminds us all of the national lies, of the shame (or sham) that American democracy has become, at least of its weaknesses. How can US negotiators and diplomats force human rights standards on others; how can the US insist on democratic principles in countries whose polities are at odds with Washington?

Today Mr. Trump is bullying the hallowed institutions of America. That’s what is insufferable. This is where we recognize shame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[ Shamless in America ]

Americans Should Be Embarrassed, But Not About President Trump

May 04, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

A month before the US presidential election, my sister from Canada called asking: “Aren’t Americans embarrassed?” She was referring in particular to the character of the leading Republican candidate, now living in Washington-- in the White House.

Even today few Americans actually say they’re embarrassed by Trump, whether it’s his tweets or his declarations of policy or his interactions with foreign leaders. Many dismayed Americans express anger; others moderate their feelings with ridicule, recounting his missteps and inelegance, surrounding themselves with likeminded associates to stoke their spirits. Certainly the president’s cabinet appointments and threats of policy changes create fear which in turn has motivated the widespread but calm and calculated street protests. Journalists have never been so busy muckraking over presidential appointees, tracking the leader’s ramblings, and fact checking the deluge of data on all sides.

Meanwhile, we (on the left) are indeed embarrassed, very embarrassed. Here’s what I mean.

It’s not the president’s amateurish utterances and his threats that embarrass. It’s about us: we’re embarrassed for ourselves. We—that is, the liberal American community who have such high regard for our sophistication, our grasp of issues, our education, our trendiness, and our facility with social media—couldn’t read our own country. We could not control the democratic process; we could not speak for the country; we could not use our multi-media savvy to effectively inform and communicate; we relied on barely two print sources and no more than two TV news channels who are, we now realize, biased.

There’s the feminists’ embarrassment too. Not only were we-- this land of dynamic, daring, accomplished women-- incapable of lifting a woman candidate over the top. We could not ‘read’ the whole of America’s women, (nor its youth, nor all its minorities). How embarrassing to admit to ourselves that not only does the U.S. lag behind African, Asian and South American nations in our inability to find a acceptable woman president. Fifty-three percent of white American women voted for what appeared to be a grossly misogynist Republican candidate! Hard to admit, but we, the knock-down-barriers know-it-alls, failed. Moreover, however many popular votes went to Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic Party—our self-declared champion of women and minorities-- also failed to read and to touch the pulse of the country. Not only was that boorish fellow installed the White House; 32 state legislatures went to the Republicans and 33 state governors are Republican.

It’s this embarrassment that’s now driving the weekly marches, the protests outside congressmembers’ offices, the plethora of new local committees and get-to-know-our-neighbors gatherings across the country. It’s this embarrassment that is sending reporters and camera crews into towns in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Louisiana and Kansas. Forget about Alabama, the Inner City and the metropolitan suburb. National Public Radio and BBC correspondents are descending on farms, mom-and-pop stores, and hamlets across the county to reveal the ‘real’ marginalized American:-- the less educated, the poorer, the underemployed, and the chronic opioid user.

We are newly interested in rural American wisdom. Today’s journalists are like anthropologists sent out to the dark corners of the hostile empire to study the natives for future conquest. University courses will be created to read newly written monographs on this forgotten, discovered America.

If embarrassment has a positive side, it’s self discovery. Although this doesn’t guarantee an easy overthrow of the current regime.  END

[ Americans Should Be Embarrassed, But Not About President Trump ]

The Legacy of Lynne Stewart: The People's Lawyer

April 26, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“Well, sometimes the impossible takes a little longer”, remarked Lynne Stewart, December 31, 2014, on her arrival in New York, released from federal prison in Texas, after a vigorous family and internationally driven campaign on her behalf. (She was suffering from advanced cancer.)

Stewart lived three more years, nearby her family, always with a smile for visitors. This was the woman who dared this mild rebuke to her sentencing judge: “I do not intend to go gentle into that good night” she told him. 

Last Saturday, almost 500 friends and admirers of the brave lawyer who had the courage to challenge U.S. Homeland’s chief John Ashcroft fifteen years ago, gathered to celebrate a remarkable and honorable life.

April 22nd, the same day when tens of thousands were gathering in cities across the country to support our scientific community under threat by Trump administration budget cuts, one is struck by the contrast with those memorializing this “people’s lawyer”.

That modest assembly in a quiet corner of New York, the city where she grew up and where Stewart worked all her life, represented a revolutionary era whose very place in U.S. history is dangerously marginal. Moreover, that history is barely recognized by the rather belated post-November 8th arousal—the new liberal movement-- now gathering with its multitude of committees, mass parades and lefty celebrity speeches: part of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution. Fine. But a far cry from what Lynne Stewart’s celebrants represent.

                Unarguably America needs organized massive resistance to threats posed by the current administration; push back is essential on all fronts: healthcare, the arts, environmental protections, bank regulation, civic rights, and on and on. One hopes that the thousands of communities mobilizing nationwide, from villages to city centers and suburbs will-- after the committees are settled, the speeches made, the funds raised, the petitions signed-- act. They have organizing tools unavailable in past revolutions. Digital platforms flowing into every hand can inform with virtual velocity; Google maps assure you that your small effort is fed into a nationwide net of tens of thousands; you are not alone. Leaders can materialize in weeks with Twitter and Facebook skills at their command, cameras everywhere recording their emergence. Film celebrities join in, drawing even greater numbers to the effort. These are essentially what we have, and they may indeed be what are appropriate at a time when representatives of our police state are more numerous and more heavily armed, endowed with more authority and less tolerance.

                Those gathered to remember Lynne Stewart last week were authentic, tried revolutionaries: poets Nat Turner and Amina Baraka; former political prisoners, attorneys who had stepped forward to defend unpopular characters, teachers, organizers in solidarity with Cuba and Palestinian statehood from the 1960s to today; Vietnam war veterans and the unjustly imprisoned; defiant elected representatives from New Jersey and Brooklyn; the journalist and theologian Chris Hedges who refuses to join the liberal voice that claims it is the rightful alternative to the Republican party.

Each woman and man reminded us what makes a revolution. Each invoked the grass roots experience of Stewart, a librarian and teacher who turned to law in order to fight injustices she witnessed in the lives of her students. Eventually she took on the case of Muslims wrongly accused in the early 1990s when the government was using secret evidence to illegally charge and convict. Where other attorneys shied away from representing terror suspects, Lynne Stewart remained committed. There was some success when the government was eventually prevented from further use of secret evidence.

Then came the 9/11 attacks, and everything changed. Stewart insisted on defending attorney-client privilege (a right the government suspended). She had to be stopped. And they put Stewart, at the age of 73, in jail to do so.

As Brooklyn assemblyman Charles Barron reminded us on Saturday, “Lynne was a sweet person.” Even as she presented her cases and spoke to the media, she was always mild and respectful, always witty and bright-eyed. It’s not simply that she’s missed. We need to believe others as courageous and well equipped as Stewart was can come to our aid today.  END

Barbara Nimri Aziz is an anthropologist and radio producer in New York. She is a longtime associate of Lynne Stewart, interviewing her during her fight against government use of secret evidence against her clients during the 1990s, then during Stewart’s fight against the department of justice attack on lawyer-client privacy rights, and finally in the campaign led by her husband and comrade, Ralph Poynter, for Stewart’s release from prison on health grounds.

[ The Legacy of Lynne Stewart: The People's Lawyer ]

Veteran Killers in Our American Streets

April 14, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Why do we allow veterans of recent wars to keep their weapons at home? Sometimes I think I’m alone in noticing a troubling American social pattern. When I mention how it keeps coming up again, others admit that they too noticed it. That’s all. It’s not the sort of thing one can easily follow.

Because media ignores it, the aggravation seems to disappear. Then it returns, as it did with the latest school killings—this time at the school in San Bernardino, California, this week.

I expect mine will be a highly unpopular opinion---it’s a hard one for Americans to swallow. But it has to be pointed out that when our military teaches our men and women to kill, legally, there is a terrifying and common spillover here at home, namely: they go on killing.

I have never been privy to the way military authorities pump up soldiers to kill, to revenge their fallen comrades, to hunt what are presented as savage animals who would take away ‘our freedoms’. But I‘ve heard enough to know that military training really hardens men, subjecting them racist and violent language to motivate them on the battlefield. Soldiers also learn to feel comfortable with weapons; they become highly attached to their guns.

We have to own up to it. As much as our presidents celebrate “these gallant men and women who put themselves in harms way”, U.S. veterans are increasingly among the killers in our own neighborhoods. They are among the gun-lovers and gun owners killing us and our children-- in our streets, in airports, in their homes and in our schools. When will we disarm these men who we celebrate for killing Iraqis, Afghanis, Syrians, Yemenis, Somalis?

In the case of Marine Chris Kyle of “Sniper” fame, the six dead in the baggage hall of Ft. Lauderdale airport, and this week’s San Bernardino’s North Park Elementary School killings, focus is on the victims. Yes, teacher Karen Elaine Smith deserves to be known and mourned nationally. So too, 8-year old Jonathan Martinez. That this teacher was dedicated to working with special-needs children, and the dead child himself suffered from an illness, makes the violence against them all the more despicable.

But news reports in this massacre’s aftermath, and likely in the weeks ahead will, according to common practice, fail to adequately investigate implications of the killer being a U.S. veteran who served in American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

                In the case of the famous Iraq ‘war hero’ Chris Kyle, films and memorials celebrated this soldier’s killing power—160 kills, was it?—his victims may also have been teachers, perhaps among them, fathers, and brothers of boys like Jonathan Martinez. When Kyle was later murdered, it was by a fellow Iraq veteran. Eddie Routh was invited by Kyle and his colleague Chad Littlefield for an afternoon’s entertainment at a local shooting range. In the course of their sport, Routh shot dead both of his colleagues.

That event received wide press coverage because of the celebrity of Kyle, where again his prowess as a killer of Iraqis was applauded. Coverage included some history of Kyle’s killer with the spotlight on his mental problems.

There were others—too many. Remember Esteban Santiago-Ruiz? He is the mass murderer of 5 (with 8 injured) at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport last January. He too was a soldier, noted for receiving 10 awards during his time in the military.

Now we have Cedric Anderson, this month’s San Bernardino school killer. While investigations of his background highlight violence against women, he was also held (charges were dropped) for acts involving weapons. (There’s only cursory reference to Anderson’s 8 years in the U.S. navy.)

I recall reading about a man who murdered himself and his two daughters in their home-- a nice home on a nice American street—about a year ago. He too, I recall, was a military veteran. News of that massacre focused on his two unfortunate girls.

                Yes, we know about PTSD. We know these boys have seen their buddies killed and wounded. We know the Department of Veterans Affairs could do better. But what about these men holding on to weapons when back in civilian life? What about the way they are trained in violence and hatred?

What about gathering data countrywide on how many killers in the U.S. over the past 25 years are veterans of recent wars? And how do U.S veterans who kill and maim, once discharged, compare with others across the globe, and in earlier U.S. wars? This epidemic needs urgent attention because we have more than two million of these young men among us. END

 

[ Veteran Killers in Our American Streets ]


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