Category Archives: John Mason

The Mason Missile, November 24, 2014

by John Mason

Greetings! Yes, I was disappointed at the Republican takeover of the Senate and the retention of the “House of Representatives”–some members being wholly-owned subsidiaries of corporate interests.

From what I understand, though, this would be a false victory for the Republican right-wing tea-party element; the reality is seeping in about gerrymandering of congressional districts, voter ID suppression efforts, and voter apathy.

We have to understand that this IS the only government we have, it DOES run our country and DOES affect our quality of life. The libertarian fantasy of being by yourself and the corporations running everything is an illusion; we don’t live by ourselves, we ARE indeed dependent on each other.

One of the favorite conservative propaganda lines is “You can’t have the government do everything for you.” That’s not the point; the point is, WHO is the government working for? What government functions are the conservatives objecting to?

From the actions of the Reagan administration to today, the targets for “cutting waste in government spending” and “fighting excessive regulation” have been food stamps, occupational safety and health (OSHA), environmental protection (EPA), civil rights, health insurance, school lunches, to name a few. But military spending and the police state? No problem there.

The aforementioned programs came not from the generosity of the federal government, but after long and hard struggles by dedicated activists, working from the neighborhoods and streets, to have the federal government listen to the people, listen to the plight of workers, farmers, women, and distressed minorities, and not to be owned by the corporations…

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Same-sex marriage, civil rights

by John Oliver Mason, The Mason Missile, July 4, 2014

Greetings! At last! Pennsylvania has joined the roster of states legalizing same-sex marriage. Originally, the plan was to have the court, and thereby the state, recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states. The federal court, however, took it to the next level.

Bans on same sex marriage are also being challenged in Texas and Utah, traditionally conservative states. There has been the fear raised about how same-sex marriage would change the definition of marriage, that it would lead to marrying farm animals (ridiculous!). But HAS the definition of marriage ALWAYS been one-man, one-women, till death they do part?

In the Torah, we have Abraham marrying Sarah and holding Hagar as a concubine-servant; Jacob conned into marrying Leah, and marrying Rachel after seven more years of work with Laban; Jacob’s wives and concubines together giving birth to Jacob’s sons; David marrying Machal, then lusting after Bathsheba; Solomon with a thousand wives and concubines to seal alliances with neighboring tribes and kingdoms. So, you can’t say “religious values” as a reason for why marriage is a one-man-one-woman thing.

One book that discusses this is Sex At Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, which chronicles marriage practices among indigenous tribes in Central and South America and in the Pacific; in many tribes marriage and divorce is as simple as leaving and entering the other person’s hut, usually on the initiative of the female; many of these tribes are matriarchal, with much decision-making by the women. In more patriarchal societies, marriage has nothing to do with who loves who, but it is a matter of transferring property and sealing alliances.

Echoes of this is in the new conservative Christian phenomenon of “purity balls,” featured on ABC News; the fathers pledge to protect the sexual “purity” of their daughters and vet any men that go near them. At the “purity ball,” the fathers sign a pledge to watch over the purity of their daughters “as high priest of the home.” The fathers sign it, and it resembles a marriage vow, and they conclude with a “father-daughter” dance. As far as I know, there is no similar ritual that fathers take towards guarding the “purity” of their sons; the sexuality of the young women is thus the property of the father, and it is transferred, via marriage, to the husband.

All this takes place in the anniversary of the Stonewall riot of June 1969, when young Gay men, drag queens, and lesbians sat in a crummy, mob-owned bar and the police came to raid the place and arrest everyone; but, this time, instead of taking the harassment and abuse from the cops, the patrons fought the riot cops for several days, thus starting the current LGBT rights movement.

There was, previous to the Stonewall riot, underground organizing of Gay men and Lesbians; there was the Mattachine Society, called a “homophile” organization, founded in 1950 by Harry Hay, who was a veteran organizer for the Community Party and the CIO; and the lesbian Daughters of Bilitis, founded in 1955 by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. These groups were organized in the 1950s, the time of the Red Scare, the time when “homosexuals” were considered security risks. All this could be seen in the wonderful documentary film Before Stonewall, go rent the DVD; it shows the enormous historical and political “prep work” that went on before the Stonewall incident.

Really, equality doesn’t need the permission of others to happen. But still it has been fought for, usually with blood. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the murder of three young Civil Rights activists–James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman–in June 1964 in Philadelphia, Mississippi, during the “Freedom Summer” campaign to register Black people to vote. They investigated the arson fire at a Black church, were later arrested by the police for “speeding,” and then were handed over to the Ku Klux Klan to be killed.

Later that year, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in schools, housing, and other facilities. (Voting rights were not included in the bill; it was covered by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.) But–The Republican party has taken over the tactic of code-worded race-baiting. Not for nothing did Ronald Reagan start his presidential campaign in 1980 in a town near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were murdered, and he included the phrase “I believe in states’ rights,” the old war cry of the pre-Civil war-south, as their mantra for enslaving African-Americans.

It is a tribute to the Civil Rights movement–and to the young activists who risked their lives against official and freelance terror in the South–that blatant, public, in-your-face racial slurs are not acceptable in public discourse (which is the basis of the right-wing whine about–I HATE this term–”political correctness,” as if they would fight to the death for the right to scream racial and ethnic slurs). The tactic from then on was exemplified in the “Southern Strategy” of the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon in 1968, to play on racially-motivated fears of “urban crime’ and “welfare loafers.”

After the re-election of Nixon in 1972, it was as if the country had amnesia–all the discussion about Civil Rights and reducing poverty was reduced to cutting needless government spending and kicking the lazy welfare bums off the rolls, and in general reducing the size of so-called “big government”–and including liberating corporations from the burden of regulatory agencies, while consciously not discussing the problems of air and water pollution, occupational safety and health, product safety, financial fraud, to name a few, and trusting in the “free enterprise system” to handle everything, trusting the corporate geniuses (such as Bernie Madoff) running our corporations (such as Enron) to handle everything.

Remember, it was NOT the federal government deciding all of a sudden to implement from on high financial regulation, Civil Rights enforcement, occupational safety laws, consumer safety, etc.; it came from the work of dedicated activists, people like those you go to school and the job with, who worked hard at campaigning for these things-people like Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, and the other young brave Civil Rights activists of the Freedom Summer of 1964. We may not have to face fire hoses, mean police dogs, even meaner cops, or homicidal Klansmen, but ever time we make a stand, people will join us, and we set an example for future campaigns for freedom-and believe me, the campaign for freedom never ends.

Enjoy your Fourth-bye!

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Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist

The Mason Missile, The E-Newsletter of John Oliver Mason, December 29, 2013

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Greetings!

I honor the life and work of Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years during the fight against the Apartheid regime in South Africa; then, after his release from prison and his election to the Presidency of his country, worked to reconcile the racial groups of South Africa-Black, White, Colored (mixed-race) and Asian-into a “rainbow nation.” Much work still needs to be done; there is still a great economic gap in that country (like here is the US of A) between a wealthy elite and workers and other low-income people, due to a reliance on the “free market” , along with a grave crime rate, also like here.

Still the fact that the Apartheid system has been overturned is amazing, due to the perseverance of brave and dedicated activists. I have been impressed by the mile-long lines of people of all races getting ready to vote in the first multiracial election in 1994.

Alas–Our own government has done whatever it could to prop up the Apartheid state. There is evidence that the CIA helped the South African police to capture Mandela and other ANC activists. The Reagan administration’s policy of “constructive engagement” meant that there would be no pressure on the Apartheid state to change or end the system, or to release Mandela and other ANC leaders.

Conservative journalists and activists in this country worked to make excuses for the regime, acting like the only alternative to the Apartheid system would be a Communist takeover. Plus there was the attitude, sounding like Tarzan movies and Donald Duck comics, that the Africans were not ready for democratic self-government-as if the regime would allow them to be! The government and the conservative movement in this country refused to take seriously the horrors of Apartheid, with a “What’’s the big deal?” attitude.

Thus, with the fall of the Apartheid system, conservatives have been, once more, on the wrong side of history, siding with a regime that did nothing but hold off the inevitable. William F. Buckley described a conservative as “a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop! ‘“ Well, conservatives have proven to be no more than speed bumps, slowing down the advance of freedom for downtrodden people (maybe), but the conservatives get run over anyway.

Case in point-so far 18 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. This is almost a decade after the 2004 election, and the strategy of George W. Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove to have ballot initiatives in certain states concerning gay marriage, which brought out the religious conservatives to vote against them and for Bush, thereby “proving” that the US of A is a “conservative” nation where people are only motivated to vote on “moral” issues. Still, same-sex marriage is now being acknowledged as a civil and human right, with even conservative states like Idaho, Utah, and New Mexico legalizing them.

However in Utah, it has been a federal court that struck down Utah’s laws against gay marriage, and the conservative argument has been to have the public, rather than the courts, decide the issue; but do people really need other people’s permission to have equal access to public facilities, education, housing, veterans’ benefits, health care, etc.? How is the existence of a gay-lesbian-transgender-bisexual-whatever-else person working with you, or shopping at your local store, a danger to you?

Once again I performed at PhillyCAM, on the show “Conversations Across Time”; this time I portrayed George C. Wallace, the legendary segregationist Governor of Alabama. From my reading of his career, as a judge he was “moderate” on racial issues, speaking respectfully to African-American attorneys; but after losing election as Governor to a hard-core segregationist, Wallace vowed, “I’ll never be out n—-red” again!”

It was out of political opportunism that Wallace became the symbol of racial animus he is remembered as now, with the image of him standing at the entrance of the University of Alabama to prevent Black students from attending-which was a big show, since he had no power to stop them. Still, his fame as a segregationist hero grew, and in 1968 he ran for President under the American Independent Party, and there was the possibility that his candidacy would put the election into the House of Representatives, since he could have had some Electoral College votes.

But after the attempt on his life in 1972, which put him in a wheelchair and in great pain for the rest of his life, he had a change of heart, becoming moderate again and even appointing Blacks to his cabinet. Still, the damage was done to our politics; Richard Nixon saw Wallace’s appeal to racist whites, and played into those sentiments during the 1972 election.

How it affected the running of government, and to whose benefit, it didn’t matter to Nixon or Wallace; instead of trying to govern for the benefit of all the people, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, whatever, the idea was to rile up one group against another, not using racial slurs-they could not even do that, which in itself was a victory for liberals-but the tactic was to use such phrases as “welfare bums,” “crime in the streets,” “excessive government spending,” while knowing their core constituents would, in their minds, associate minorities with these things. (At this writing, I recall how Newt Gingrich referred to President Obama as a “fried chicken” President and a “Food Stamp” President.)

I believe the tide is turning in progressives’ favor; rolling over and playing dead, or even trying to meet the Republicans half way or trying to reason with them, is no longer an option. In this new year, I myself will continue the good fight, and I know you will too.

Happy New Year!

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The Mason Missile, July 2013

The E-newsletter of John Oliver Mason, 7/28/13

The first week of July commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee fought Union forces under General George G. Meade, which ended in defeat for the Confederates and was the turning point of the Civil War.

The period 2009 to today has been the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and I was afraid the event would start nostalgia for the “lost cause,” especially after the election of our first African-American President. From the end of the Civil War, the history of the event was altered to be a war among brothers, and the Confederacy was recast as a “noble cause,” a conflict for “states rights” against an oppressive federal government− and slavery had nothing to do with it. The Civil War, among southerners, was called the “War of Northern Aggression,” and the term was used as early as last year by Jim Porter, President of the National Rifle Association.

Slavery had nothing to do with secession? Here is an excerpt from the Texas Ordinance of Secession, ratified by the Secession Convention in February 2, 1861:

…She (Texas) was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy….

The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretenses and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding States….

Here is the Secession Ordinance of Georgia, January 29, 1861:

…For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic….

The ordinance complained about the new Republican party as

admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state…. While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen….

Finally, here is the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, issued in December 24, 1860:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that ‘Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,’ and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction….

So, this is the “noble cause,” the right to own and keep other human beings as slaves, livestock. This has been the basis of “states’ rights,” the code word for maintaining supposed privileges based on skin color.

This went on after the Civil War; Andrew Johnson, who became President after the murder of Lincoln, had a reputation of hating the planter aristocracy that led the South into secession; but he hated Black people even worse, and he allowed the former Confederate states to implement “Black Codes” to control the newly freed slaves, who, although physically liberated from slavery, had no economic base to protect themselves, no land of their own to build farms on. The Black Codes of South Carolina, for instance, prohibited Blacks from possessing firearms, making and selling liquor, entering the state without possessing a bond of “good behavior,” and selling farm products without the permission of the white employer. The codes used “vagrancy laws” as an excuse for sheriffs to imprison Blacks and send them into hard labor, and to “hire them out” to private employers−-slavery in another form. Is this what the South is commemorating?

(You can read about Andrew Johnson, ranked by historians of the US Presidency as among the worst Presidents, in the biography Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon-Reed. Gordon-Reed writes of the time, during Lincoln’s second inauguration, when Johnson comes across Frederick Douglass, the great African-American abolitionist:

…”The first expression that came to his face,” Gordon-Reed quotes Douglass writing, “and which I think was the true index of his heart, was one of bitter contempt and aversion. Seeing that I observed him, he tried to assume a more friendly appearance, but it was too late; it was useless to close the door when all within has been seen.”

Douglass came to the conclusion that “Whatever Andrew Johnson may be, he is not friend of our race.”

These issues haunt us through to this day, even after the Civil Rights movement of the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties. African-Americans were elected to positions of power in this country, including the South, but the racist feelings did not remain dormant; they were given new code words like “welfare queen,” “urban crime,” “racial quotas,” and “war on drugs.” Nixon, Reagan, and lesser Republican politicians afterwards utilized these subliminal, racially-triggering phrases. Read the posters at Tea Party rallies, with insulting racist images of Obama on them; look at the efforts in state legislatures to pass “voter ID” laws, that target students, minorities, and seniors, constituencies that mainly vote Democratic.

Such efforts to limit voting by unacceptable persons gained momentum after the US Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, voided Section Four of the Voting Rights Act, implemented to protect the right to vote for minorities. The purpose of the act was for the federal government to approve or veto changes in voting laws that would discriminate against minorities. After that, Texas, North Carolina, and other states reintroduced voter ID bills in their legislatures.

In its ruling, the Court noted, “Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, ‘(v)oter turnout and registration rates’ in covered jurisdictions now approach parity. Blatant discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office in unprecedented levels…. The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years.

The Court acts like racial discrimination and prejudice no longer exist. But it does, as I pointed out earlier.

The voter ID laws are the brainchild of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization of state legislators and corporations formed to promote bills in legislatures that benefit corporations, such as “tort reform” bills to protect corporations from lawsuits; anti-immigrant bills that would incarcerate undocumented persons in privately-owned prisons, such as those owned by ALEC donor Corrections Corporation of America (CA); bills that would inhibit a state government’s ability to tax or regulate corporations, in the name of the “free market,” thereby forcing state and municipal governments to lay off employees; “right to work” (for less) bills that would limit unions’ ability to organize and support favorable candidates for office; and the “stand your ground” law, like the one in Florida, which George Zimmerman invoked after killing Trayvon Martin.

Let us take up the case of Marissa Alexander, an African-American Florida woman who fired a warning shot at her abusive husband. She invoked the “stand you ground” defense, but the judge sentenced her to 20 years in prison. Laws like “stand your ground” were designed to be discriminatory, and the Justice Department has begun to look into this. Let us do what we can for Ms. Alexander’s defense, and take these laws off the books.

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