Let ‘er rip! Trump’s speech deserved shredding.


Soaring Presidential rhetoric ala Trump … a selection of terms from his State of the Union speech: murder (used five times), brutal (twice), terrible (thrice!), catastrophic, gruesome, deadly (another triple winner), viciously, smashed (twice), hijacked, barbarians, bloodthirsty, horrifying, miserable, ruthless, butcher, evil, decay, scorned, brutalizes, failing (another triple), bankrupt, criminal (eight iterations!), destruction, tyranny (twice), fascism, assault (six times), vile, wicked, menace, poisonous.

The vulgarian in the Oval Office has quite the vocabulary, doesn’t he? When you’re peddling hate and division, this is the kind of language you use — coarse, crude, rife with violent images. It is the parlance of a fearmonger, the words of an authoritarian bully. George Orwell wrote that “thought corrupts language.” Trump’s savage rhetoric is a window into his corrupt mind.

We have months more of this hate speech in store for us over the coming months as Trump campaigns for a second term. All State of the Union speeches are campaign speeches to some extent. Clearly, Trump was telegraphing one of his major themes for the 2020 election. He referred to “illegal aliens” four times and “criminal aliens” three times. Showing remarkable linguistic flexibility, he also mentioned “criminal illegal aliens” and “dangerous criminal aliens.” So immigration — by which Trump means mindless hate of immigrants —  remains a top issue for Trump, not at all surprisingly.

Trump capped off his hate-fest by awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the racist, misogynist loudmouth Rush Limbaugh. This award is meant to recognize “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” In Trump’s dictionary, racial hostility is a meritorious cultural endeavor.

And then, of course, there were the lies and falsehoods, thirty-one of them according to the Washington Post’s tally. But who counts any more when every other word out of his mouth is mendacious.

Before Pelosi tore into her copy of the speech, three Democratic members of Congress walked out in disgust — Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ). Ten others boycotted the entire affair (as did I). Condemnations by Democrats who stayed through the entire ordeal were plentiful.

Pelosi’s symbolic response to three appalling years of Trump was perfect. In November, the rest of us get to have the last word.

Beyond the dream: MLK’s revolutionary analysis is still needed

A few nights ago my I attended the premiere playing of a newly discovered audio recording of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s controversial (as it turned out) “Beyond Vietnam” speech, given on April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in New York. The recording was one of six long lost tapes recently discovered in the archives of WRVR, a public radio station that was owned and operated by the Riverside Church from 1961 to 1976.

The public premiere of this recording was sponsored by Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute and held at Stanford’s impressive Memorial Church, an attempt to recreate the environment in which the speech was originally delivered.

As the country officially “celebrates” King’s birthday on this Monday holiday — with mattress sales and an extra day off — I would encourage people to take the time to listen to this pristine recording of one of King’s most important, and reviled, speeches. You can find the recording here

King’s eloquent speech was a scalding condemnation of the Vietnam War. More importantly, it was a condemnation of the power structures that made the war almost inevitable, “by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.”

King’s speech was widely criticized. The common theme of the complaints was that King was hurting his civil rights work by taking on an “unrelated” issue. In an editorial attacking the speech, The Washington Post claimed King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people”.

King had clearly anticipated this line of attack. In the speech, he explained the connections between the issues.

I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. (Read the full transcript of the speech here

I remember some of that reaction. In 1967 I was a 15-year-old who had been increasingly questioning the country’s war in Vietnam for some time. It just didn’t feel right to me, but I couldn’t quite define why I felt it was wrong. It certainly didn’t help that my entire family — from my parents and grandparents all the way through aunts and uncles and cousins — supported the war. In high school, the topic wasn’t even broached.

I recall asking my father once why we were in Vietnam. “Because they’re communists” was his entire rationale. That didn’t cut it for me, but, again, I couldn’t explain why it didn’t cut it. When the controversy over King’s Riverside Church speech hit the newspapers (which I read voraciously), I started getting the explanations I had been searching for.

None of the newspapers ran an entire transcript of the speech, of course. They opted instead to quote the most controversial sentences and then went on to condemn them.

The speech needs to be read in its entirety, because King made a carefully reasoned, piece-by-piece analysis of the war, its causes, and consequences. It wasn’t until nearly a year later, while I was volunteering for the McCarthy for President campaign, when I came across a transcript (at the McCarthy office, I believe). It was revelatory. Here, at last, was all the analysis I needed to oppose the war.

King’s reasoning about the motives that drove the US to the atrocity of Vietnam remain in full flower today. The “deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere” and the fact that “we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor”.

As happens every year, the various 2020 commemorations of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday will no doubt be accompanied by video clips from his watershed “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963. And that’s fine and as it should be. That speech was a soaring testimonial to determination, fairness and hope. And it was one of the finest speeches ever given on US soil.

It also serves today as a safe harbor. It was more aspirational than analytical. The 1963 speech looked ahead with hope. The 1967 Vietnam speech looked back at our involvement in Vietnam and did so with moral alarm.

“Beyond Vietnam” remains an essential analysis of why we need to continue to be determined. Just as racism — systemic racism — was not ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the powerful forces that drive much of US policy remain pretty much as they did fifty-three years ago …

When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, take some time to listen to or read this essential King speech. We are still confronted by the moral choices which we faced in the 1960s. This time around, let’s make an informed decision.

If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.


I’ve been saying “U.S. Out of Iraq” for nearly 30 years. Is it finally happening? Probably not. So let’s keep demanding it.

One of the many protest marches against the Iraq war that I organized over the years. That’s me on the right. Photo by PH Yang, used with permission.

I became the director of Peninsula Peace and Justice Center on August 1, 1990. The next day, Iraq invaded Kuwait. By the end of that first week, President George H. W. Bush had deployed 25,000 troops to Saudi Arabia and I had organized my first anti-war demonstration as director. 

Iraq and I go way back.

Continue reading “I’ve been saying “U.S. Out of Iraq” for nearly 30 years. Is it finally happening? Probably not. So let’s keep demanding it.”

Video: Haiti – Ten Years After the Earthquake

It was a pleasure to be able to sit down with my old friend Pierre Labossiere last night. What has happened politically in Haiti since the catastrophic earthquake is a tragedy. After the great optimism of the Aristide years — an optimism rooted in real advances in alleviating poverty and inequality — the elites have seized absolute control once again. And the repression of dissent hearkens back to the dark time of the dictatorship. And it hardly merits a word in the media. That’s why I put time and energy into alternative media.

Continue reading “Video: Haiti – Ten Years After the Earthquake”

Drone strike won’t lead to war. It is war.

Yesterday’s drone strike in Iraq by the US against a top Iranian military commander won’t lead to war. It is war. More precisely, it is an escalation of the US war on Iran that started within months of Trump’s inauguration. 

In his prepared remarks today, Trump said, “We took action last night to stop a war.  We did not take action to start a war.” That’s a lie. Last night’s action was a ramping-up of an ongoing war.

Continue reading “Drone strike won’t lead to war. It is war.”

History repeats itself. Is it tragedy or farce this time around?

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” ~ Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (Essay, 1852)

If Marx was right, then Trump’s repeat of Clinton’s infamous wag the dog tactic in the face of impeachment would be at the tragedy stage. And that’s what it certainly is. It will inevitably lead to yet more tragedy. But we’re dealing with Trump here, so there’s always an element of farce at play.

I’m working on a longer, more serious piece about this disturbing escalation of violence. Please check back in a while. Or subscribe to this blog so you’ll get the post in your email.