Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Another Wall, Another (Cold) War: Berlin Encounters

The interpreter warned us about getting into East Berlin. “They’ll probably hold you an hour,” he predicted. “Normally, it would be a half hour but they’re in a bad mood because of Brezhnev.”
      The Soviet leader had died just two days before and bleak predictions circulated about how the shock, along with West German Chancellor Schmidt’s fall from power, would affect East-West relations. None of this changed our minds. A meeting would be starting at an obscure church on the other side of the Berlin Wall in a little more than an hour. We didn’t have the exact address and knew only a few German phrases. But it seemed worth the risk.
      An East German journalist had mentioned it earlier that day. “You can only see the peace movement when people assemble,” he teased. The meeting was one of about 2,000 to be held during a ten-day period called the annual “Peace Decade.” All of the gatherings were taking place in churches, the unlikely hosts of a new movement.
      In response to the militarization of daily life, thousands of East Germans were mobilizing. Many had signed the Berliner Appeal, a public letter calling for an end to military training and a peace curriculum in the schools. Others wore pacifist armbands — even after they were banned by the state and replaced with government-circulated anti-NATO emblems.
      The East German government showed open disdain for the pacifist drift of the activities, according to the journalist who gave us the tip. "In the GDR," he said, "the official meaning of peace is 'peace must be armed'." Yet after the 1979 NATO decision to deploy more than 100 Pershing missiles in West Germany, both East and West Germans recognized the threat.
      On the west side of the Wall, many Berliners were quite concerned about the "tough words from the White House," reported Alex Langolios, deputy speaker of the West Berlin Parliament, during an interview. "We're nervous when we hear about winning a nuclear war," the Social Democrat said. 
      But Walter Bruckmann believed that "the best social security against a Soviet invasion is a strong military." At first paying lip service to the good intentions of peace activists, the Deputy Speaker of the Christian Democratic Party was soon criticizing their "illusions" and pointing out subversive tendencies -- things like pacifism and communism --that undermined national security. 
       In the end, he even defended the blacklisting of radicals. "We have to protect democracy against our enemies," he said.
       A generation gap haunted the country, east and west. There wasn’t much room for dialogue between eco-radicals and Christian conservatives. Not even the peace movement transcended the divide between older Germans, trapped in a fortress mentality, and a younger generation for whom power itself was part of the problem.
       Getting through customs turned out to be no problem. The East Berlin officials barely glanced at our passports before issuing temporary visas and collecting a five mark entry fee. Minutes later we were on a windy street looking for directions to Auferstehung Kirchengemeinde, the Church of the Resurrection
      Flags were at half-mast in honor of Brezhnev. Otherwise it felt like a “normal” night as we hailed a cab. For five marks the driver took us out of the neon-lit central district, past a 20-foot portrait of Lenin, to a dark street, and pointed to a barely visible building across the wide road.
      Inside, in a modest chapel, about 70 people were listening to a dialogue between a young pacifist churchman and a burly spokesman for the Christian Democratic Party – an East German satellite of the Communist Party hoping to appeal to the religious. After a while my traveling companion, Robin Lloyd, stood up to deliver a short speech in German. She offered good wishes, a peace button and a photo collection chronicling the massive disarmament march and rally in New York the previous June.
      When we explained that we couldn’t really follow the discussion, a young man volunteered to translate. Ret was a garrulous, worldly rebel, a self-described “anarchist not a terrorist,” and admirer of the guru Rajneesh. His main complaint about life under socialism was the inability to obtain books about his favorite topics.
      Chiding the speakers for speaking too long, members of the audience eventually brought up the need to incorporate an ecological perspective in the peace movement and break down “ideological blocks.” One person urged a “revolution of Christians, without weapons, a non-aggressive approach to break the circle.” In the midst of the Cold War, behind the "iron curtain," it was inspiring talk to hear.
      The churchman at the head table tried to be supportive. “There are many ways to the goal,” he said. “We must try to see every possibility. There are many faces of pacifism in this city.” But the Party spokesman objected, and played the fear card. “The situation is too dangerous," he warned. "We must work together, for there will be no weeping after a nuclear war." 
      The dialogue gradually revealed an underlying frustration with official resistance to the peace movement. Most people were in their twenties and thirties, sober-looking men and women in work clothes. Sitting across from us, however, was a young woman who looked as if she had been airlifted from downtown West Berlin. Chains and safety-pins decorated her blue jeans, going well with the orange hairdo. Her jacket featured a handmade version of the banned symbol of the pacifist peace movement, a man hammering a sword into a plowshare.
      Decked out in denim and a collection of Western buttons, she and her boyfriend were reminders of the influence of Western media. But their wardrobes were also statements of revolt that could provoke police persecution. In East Berlin, there was no acceptable "youth culture" to provide cover for their defiance.
      The party spokesman attempted to steer discussion back to what he called “objective” issues, urging mutual respect and obedience to the law. It just isn’t possible for anyone to simply make a placard and parade in the streets, he warned. This merely increased the anger building in the room. 
       Sensing that things were careening out of control, the moderator called for a ten-minute recess.
       As we headed for the door, a silent observer at the back of the chapel handed me a calling card that read: Lynn J. Turk, Second Secretary and Vice Consul, American Embassy. He said he was a diplomat, assigned to study the East German peace movement, and offered to "fill us in" before providing an escort us back across the border. I was skeptical.
       At Turk's comfortable apartment, with his South Korean wife serving drinks and listening silently, he traced the emergence of the East German peace movement to the 1979 NATO “double track” decision. The two so-called “tracks” were a) negotiations for nuclear arms reductions, or b) deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles if those negotiations fell through. After the announcement, churches had geared up to protest.
        But the movement didn't fully blossom until 1981, when about 6,000 people met across the street from a bombed out church ruin in Dresden on the anniversary of the devastating 1945 US bombing of that city. West German television recorded the event and beamed it back east. At about the same time Pastor Rainer Eppelmann initiated what became known as the Berliner Appeal.
        A radical declaration, the Appeal called for the prohibiting of military toy sales, the outlawing of military training, peace information in the schools — including the study of peaceful solutions to conflict, ecology and psychology, no retaliation against those who refused military service, and no more military demonstrations at festivals or national holidays. 
        But the campaign was being eroded by government repression, Turk said. The plowshares symbol had been banned and non-Christian activists were being pressured into exile or silence. Fortunately, the crackdown stopped at the doors of the churches. The reason for this tolerance, he theorized, was that “repression here would damage the West German peace movement, confirming the West’s view of the East.”
       Although Turk claimed to oppose "first strike" nuclear weapons, he defined the East as an existential military threat and saw East Germany as a totalitarian society whose rulers were only allowing peaceniks to gather for the most cynical of reasons. He meanwhile claimed that the Soviets had stationed tactical nuclear weapons in East Germany, a piece of likely disinformation I was unable to confirm with any government official or activist. 
       Most likely he was not really a diplomat.
       Minutes before the midnight curfew we made it to Checkpoint Charlie. From Turk’s car I could see the eight-foot corrugated fence, and beyond it the cement-covered no man’s land known as the "death strip." Rumor had it that, to make certain no one escaped, the East Germans even checked under the cars with mirrors.
       While we waited, Turk challenged us to ask officials why the Berlin Wall was still up. “They’ll say it’s an anti-fascist wall,” he predicted. But the real reason, he implied, was that most people would race across the border if given the chance. When I did question an East German bureaucrat about this, he claimed that the Wall had been erected – and was being maintained – to prevent black market destabilization of the economy, along with an exodus of East German professionals lured by higher pay on the other side. Both explanations sounded reasonable.
       A border guard finally returned our passports after 15 minutes. But he chided us for not returning by the same route we had used to enter. Then again, he barely looked inside the vehicle before lifting the metal gate to let us pass. 
      As far as I could tell, no mirrors were involved.
      A few days later, we crossed back into East Germany for a tour of Sachsenhausen, a World War II concentration camp about 30 miles outside Berlin. The trip had been arranged by the Communist government's US Friendship Committee, and our guide was a former inmate, Werner Handler, a "news editor," who recounted the horrors of Hitler fascism. He certainly had the right name for the job. 

       The camp's grounds were crowded that day with German tourists, but most weren't there to take in the museum's memorabilia. They had come instead for army induction ceremonies. Russian troops stood at attention beside German recruits in an open park where the camp's barracks once stood. Exactly the type of military show the Berliner Appeal sought to end.
      At 18-years-old, Handler recounted, he had managed to get out of this camp alive, eventually reached Britain, and joined the Communist Party. But after the war he was expelled from West Germany for his political leanings and, taking a job at the Voice of the GDR radion station, became a true believer in socialism. He'd obviously told this story many times. The subtext was obvious. When I pressed him about the government's crackdown on peace activists and the banning of the Plowshares emblem, he evaded the issue -- but offered me a ride back to town. 
      In the privacy of his car, Handler was willing to admit that the government may have been too heavy-handed. Pacifists are naive, he insisted, but argument is preferable to police action. At a public gathering just two hours later, however, he reverted to the official line: "For us this pacifist position is an opening for morally disarming education." The ideological wall was back up.
      Many East German leaders were once confined in Nazi camps, he reminded us. Then added grimly, "Such men need no pushing to work for peace. Unimaginable things CAN happen."
      About seven years later, the Berlin Wall came down. Soon after that Germany was re-united. But deep divisions festered and today the unimaginable is as likely as ever. Both another Wall and another Cold War are possible.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ecology & Security: Beyond "Managing" Nature

Security. What does the word mean? A feeling of safety or certainty, freedom from anxiety or doubt. That's what dictionaries say. And using those those definitions, does anyone feel secure these days? About the only thing that's certain is that we live in insecure times.
      Not long ago, Americans were secure about a few things. Our form of government was the best ever devised, we claimed with total confidence. Our society was the most advanced, we said, our way of life the most desirable and progressive. 
      But most of those certainties are gone now. Our political and social systems, we see, are seriously flawed; worse yet, they seem to breed corruption.
      Most societies can't even meet the most basic human needs – for shelter, food, and health care for all. And our way of life? In truth it could be the single largest factor in the violent disruption of nature all over the planet. We are no longer secure.

      Even the richest among us, the very few for whom capitalism still works, will admit that the price of our domination and wasting of nature may be too high for us to pay. We may be coming to the end of all certainty about our long-term existence on the planet. And this change dwarfs almost every event in human history. We can't avoid living with the consequences of that now. 
      We are certainly no longer secure.
      The whole idea of nature as something independent of human will, with its own rules, may become obsolete. But most of the solutions we hear don't look to the restoration of nature. What they focus on is "global management," new forms of manipulation designed to compensate for the older forms that produced the mess.
      Scientists are working hard to find way of surviving in a "Greenhouse" world. The popular approach is to "take control of the planet." In 1987, a genetically altered bacteria was released into the environment in a California strawberry field. The object was to stop crop losses due to frost damage. Many more such experiments followed. Researchers are busily creating new species, in the hope of turning very living thing on Earth to our advantage.
      For several hundred years we have believed that nature was nothing but a complex mechanism, a machine worse secrets we would one day unlock. And we humans were the "lords of nature," we thought, destined to control this cosmic factory. We extended our search into the very heart of matter, the atom, and smashed it. But we finally saw that we were wrong. Atoms are not solid after all, nature is not a machine, and the universe can't be divided and dissected without the gravest of consequences.
     The desire for endless material advancement, the basis of our addiction to growth, has made it impossible for us -- at least up until now -- to set limits, to stop dominating nature to suit ourselves. But that's what we have to do, each of us and all of us together. We must transform our way of life -- consume less, drive less, buy less. We must turn away from accumulation and toward sustainability.
      We can't shift the burden onto others, particularly onto less developed countries. They didn't create the problem, we did. And we delayed the consequences by raping the "third world" in the guise of progress. 
     The old approaches – clever management, competition, inventions, invasions, engineering – will leave us with nothing but a deadened, artificial world. If we want to save the planet, we have to turn quickly from the mechanical to the creative, from dominating nature and human beings to cooperating with both nature and one another. The time has come to decide: either we continue to adapt nature to suit ourselves, or we change ourselves.
     And even if we do all that we can, it will take decades for the climate to readjust itself. If we restrain growth and individual consumption the process will be slow. And along the way, there will always be temptations -- in the form of biotechnology, for example, and other clever plans. 
     But if we resist, if we defy the people who would "manage nature" into extinction, instead of defying nature itself, we may find a way back to harmony, cooperation and the ecological security we have lost.

These remarks were presented on October 20, 1989, at the opening of Building Ecological Security, a landmark conference held at City Hall in Burlington, VT. 


Friday, July 21, 2017

Burlington: The College and the Land Deal

The following were remarks to the Save Open Space Summit, on Jan. 21, 2015, at City Hall. A week after this talk I became a candidate for mayor, and proposed a partnership in the public interest to save Burlington College and balance development plans with preservation of open space. 
     More recently, the circumstances surrounding the college's land purchase and eventual closure have sparked an investigation that implicates Jane Sanders and appears to be aimed at her husband, Bernie Sanders, who is poised for reelection to the US Senate -- and another presidential run.

   How did we get here? These days I often ask myself that kind of thing, looking back, thinking about the past. But 40 years ago, when I was new to Burlington, I thought mostly about the future, how it could be different and better.
   About that time I joined the faculty of Burlington College. It had another name then. Vermont Institute of Community Involvement, or just VICI. And one of the ideas of founder Steward LaCasce was to get away from "bricks and mortar" -- the big, expensive, campus-based model of higher education -- and, as much as possible, develop a community-based alternative, using existing resources and spaces around town. It was a practical form of involvement and interdependence. 
   Eventually, the College did buy a building. But the idea of staying small and connected to the community persisted.
   At the time, the land we are here to save was owned by Vermont's Roman Catholic Diocese. The church purchased most of it from Burlington Free Press Publisher Henry Stacy in the 1870s. Before that it was farmland, and the city grew around it. A rolling meadow led to a bluff overlooking Lake Champlain, with a beach below, a forest of oak, red maple and pine at the southern edge, and a railroad tunnel under North Avenue. All in all, it is a special, irreplaceable piece of land.
   The church erected an imposing Victorian building, which housed orphans for a century. After World War II, the local diocese bought adjacent land and converted a cottage into a school for delinquents. After the St. Joseph Orphan Asylum and the Don Bosco School for Delinquent Boys closed, it became diocese headquarters and home for projects like Camp Holy Cross.
    So, the "school without walls" and the cloistered catholic campus near the lake. How did they get entangled? The answer begins with secrets, the first about what went on in the church -- and on that property.
   In the end dozens of former residents came forward, and revealed a dark, sordid history of physical and sexual abuse by nuns, priests and staff. Like other parts of the church, the diocese ultimately found itself under attack and in serious financial trouble. By May 2010, it had paid almost $20 million to settle 26 lawsuits. More were to follow. Selling the land was urgent to help cover up to $30 million in legal settlements for the abused.
    Developers expressed some interest, but disagreed about what the property was worth. There were also zoning restrictions, and some claimed the city was overvaluing the land. In any case, it went on the market in April 2010 for $12.5 million. The sale to BC for $10 million was announced on May 24, 2010, only a month later -- ten days after the diocese paid out $17. 65 million.  Based on about 200 housing units, a plan initially considered, a more reasonable price was probably $7 million or less.
   Why did the college pay that much? And what did its leaders expect? Like many decisions by private boards, it's mostly confidential, a shared secret. But we know the deal was promoted and brokered by Antonio Pomerleau, once known as the "godfather of Vermont shopping center development." Owner of Pomerleau Real Estate, a prominent, devoted Catholic who wanted to help the church, and a powerful, persuasive developer who for years chaired the Burlington Police Commission.
    In the early 1980s Pomerleau became an obvious target for Bernie Sanders, a capitalist mogul who wanted to rebuild the waterfront and controlled the Police Department. His $30 million waterfront redevelopment plan was derailed after Sanders' election as mayor. But the relationship changed. By the time College President Jane Sanders announced the purchase, Pomerleau was considered a family friend. In then-President Sanders' words, Pomerleau was the only man who could have made it happen. Someone to trust, who understood relationships. But it didn't hurt that he loaned the school $500,000 to close the deal. Yves Bradley, who subsequently became chair of the College's Board of Trustee, handled the 2010 transaction details for Pomerleau Real Estate.
   According to local sources, the school's leaders believed that, with connected friends like Sanders and Pomerleau, plus a Treasurer like Jonathan Leopold, handling the $10 million debt and $3 million for renovations was a reasonable expectation for a school with 200 students and revenues around $4 million a year. Big donors would come -- but they didn't. The Board also embraced another notion: that enrollment could double in five years, a goal well beyond the national average. It didn't.
    In retrospect, it sounds like magical thinking. Or just bad judgement. But somehow it made sense -- at least until September 2011, when Jane Sanders was forced to resign, mainly for not raising enough money. So began a three-year, silent slide toward insolvency...

Related Feature Story: Campus Paradise Lost 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dark Horizons: Navigating Change in Uncertain Times

By Greg Guma
      We're in uncharted territory. On some days, as the West's domination of world affairs winds down, you can feel the wheels of history turning. A multi-polar world seems to be emerging. But so far it looks as polarized, unstable and dangerous as the one it replaces.
      The Trump presidency is meanwhile turning out be even more surreal than the campaign. If you doubt that the foreign policy establishment is concerned, Richard Haass offers a comprehensive, "insider's" corrective in A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order (2017, Penguin, 352 pages). The message from Haass, who heads the Council on Foreign Relations, is that global rules and institutions that have kept the world relatively stable since World War II are at serious risk of being abandoned. 
      Written during the recent presidential race, Haass makes a convincing case for growing global instability. But he sidesteps a direct critique of Trump, calling instead for continued active engagement (defining it as a "sovereign obligation") over narrow nationalism. It's a sobering viewpoint that reflects the priorities of the internationalists who have controlled US foreign policy for most of the last 70 years.
      Unprecedented. We hear the word so often that it's become a cliche. But have we been here before? And is what we're experiencing an authoritarian surge or something else? In The Anatomy of Fascism (Vintage, 2004, 321 pages) , Robert O. Paxton illustrates the differences between the two isms, and how modern anxieties - from immigration and economic insecurity to urban "decadence" and national decline -- create conditions for mass-based, populist nationalist movements. Fortunately, not many have taken power, or lasted for long.
     Written before the recent surge of nationalist propaganda, hate crimes and "strongman" regimes in places like Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines and the US, Paxton's concise study outlines how fascists gain and exercise power. It also identifies the obvious warning signs: political deadlock in the face of domestic crisis, threatened conservatives desperate for tough allies and ready to abandon the rule of law, and charismatic leaders ready to "mobilize passions" through race-tinged demagoguery.
    On the other hand, he also advises that most real capitalists, even if they view democracy as a nuisance, would prefer an authoritarian to a fascist. The former usually wants a passive, disengaged public. But fascists, who have such contempt for people and reason that they don't bother to justify their excesses, tend to get people excited and engaged. And not just their blame-shifting supporters.   
***
      European powers ruled 84 percent of the land and 100 percent of the seas in 1914, and the US was the world's largest economy. What a difference a century has made. Now three of the four biggest economies are China, India and Japan. In Easternization: Asia's Rise and America's Decline from Obama to Trump and Beyond (Other Press, 2016, 307 pages), Gideon Rachman makes a persuasive case that China is poised to dominate the next century. But he also reveals why no "Eastern alliance" is apt to replace the crumbling "West."
    As a top financial commentator for the UK's Financial Times, Rachman has hobnobbed with ministers and business leaders worldwide, and brings some revealing encounters into his analysis and forecasts. The main issue, he explains, is whether the US and China can avoid the Thucydides Trap -- the type of rivalry between an established and rising power that can lead to war. It has happened in 12 out of 16 cases since 1500. 
     Location could be a decisive factor, explains Tim Marshall in Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything about the World (Scribner, 2015, 305 pages). For Russia, the largest country in the world, it has made power difficult to defend and provoked leaders like Putin to compensate by pushing outward. For China, in contrast, geographical features have often provided security, and now set the stage for it to become a two-ocean power (Pacific and Indian) and claim most of the South China Sea. 
      Marshall's book is well-organized, fast-paced and reads like a travelogue, observing history, politics and environmental dynamics from a high altitude. The maps in the paperback could be better and the text certainly does not explain "everything." But this is an engaging refresher and does illustrate why, despite having a great location, even America is constrained by geography's rule. 
 ***
     Long before the digital age, the US government used scientists and psychics to locate hostages and penetrate secret military bases. Sometimes it even worked. This is just one of the mind-blowing revelations in Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis (Little Brown, 2017, 527 pages). For decades, such research was publicly ridiculed as science fiction fantasy. But Annie Jacobsen has assembled the facts, from once-classified documents, former officials, and government psychics who explored this frontier.
     Did you know, for instance, that the US military used dowsers during the Vietnam War to locate Viet Cong tunnels? Or that Uri Geller, the famous psychic "spoon bender" who set the CIA's psychic research program in motion, also worked for Israeli intelligence, and later became wealthy locating ancient Middle East artifacts, oil, and minerals for mining corporations? 
     The difficulty with paranormal abilities was often reliability. Even when techniques were refined and endlessly practiced, only a few psychic warriors had the right stuff. Yet the research continues. The Office of Naval Research is currently exploring what it calls premonition or "Spidey sense," while the Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) looks into "synthetic telepathy," a brain-computer interface that may someday enable soldiers to "communicate by thought alone." 
     During the same period, with more success, various governments have also been developing cyber capabilities. As Fred Kaplan notes in his riveting new book Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War (Simon & Schuster, 2016, 342 pages), at least twenty nations are already in the game, led by Russia, China, Iran, Syria, North Korea and the US. The focus is currently on Russia's "hybrid warfare," the weaponizing of hacked documents to influence the presidential race. But keep in mind that information war began with the US-NATO campaign against Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. And the first significant cyber attack, a US-Israeli operation called Olympic Games, was directed at Iran's nuclear program. Later known as Stuxnet, it involved a cyber worm that destroyed a quarter of Iran's centrifuges and set back its nuclear program by several years. 
     The trouble with waging cyber war, warns Kaplan, is that "what we can do to them, they can someday do to us." It's a type of blowback. In an afterword written since the 2016 election, he also points beyond the Russia-Trump operation to the next threat -- denial-of-service attacks executed by thousands of household devices. It happened on October 21, 2016, when an Internet switchboard was flooded, shutting down Twitter, Spotify, Netflix and other sites. 
     "There are now about 10 billion Iot (Internet of Things) devices in the world," Kaplan concludes. "Some estimate that, by 2020, there will be 50 billion. That's a lot of bots to be enslaved for a cyber war."
-- First printed in Burlington's Peace & Justice News (July 2017)

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Making of Black Dawn

Vermont artists and activists Doreen Kraft and Robin Lloyd will screen their 1978 animated film Black Dawn at Champlain College on Wed, July 12 at 5:30 p.m, along with a discussion and showing of original Haitian paintings featured in the work. The following article is from Black Dawn: a Study Guide on Haiti by Greg Guma and Robin Lloyd
In her book, Divine Horseman, American artist and filmmaker Maya Deren described her 1947 trip to Haiti from the perspective of a passionate convert to voodoo. She had visited the Caribbean country to make a film on dance, but once there found that dance in Haiti had to be seen not as an isolated art, but as a central aspect of religious ritual. After attending many voodoo ceremonies, she was eventually "possessed" by the Goddess Erzulie, her camera dropping to her side as she responded to powerful rhythms and felt the "loa" enter her body.
       Almost 30 years later, two other filmmakers, Robin Lloyd and Doreen Kraft, followed in Maya Deren's footsteps and lived in a voodoo temple while developing their own perceptions of Haiti. They didn't experience possession, but they did fall under the spell of Haitian culture. For many of the people they met, the gods were part of everyday experience, the subject of struggle and dreams. Religion was not dogma to these Haitians, it was a lifelong initiation into "the mysteries." 
      The filmmakers also visited art galleries and filmed the painted buses that clog the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince. From this dual interest -- in art and religion -- the film Black Dawn emerged.     

       They returned the next winter with a small grant, the filmscript, and several suitcases full of paint and paper. Francine Murat, director of the Centre d'art, introduced them to artists whose styles or themes were appropriate for the film concept. Some of these artists were among the most skilled in Haiti, others were unknowns. Once the content of a scene was agreed upon, the hard work began: how to explain to artists who had never "animated" before that a number of layers of paper were required to properly animate characters. The Queen would have to move behind a bush, Toussaint would need three heads, each looking in a different direction. All of this was conveyed in French, or sometimes translated into Creole.
      One of the factors that assisted them in their task is the widespread acceptance among Haitian artists of voodoo as a cultural force. Voodoo is called animism in religion textbooks -- a belief system where inanimate objects are imbued with living souls. The word comes from the root word "anima": to breathe life into. And what is film animation but infusing the inanimate with life! The artists quickly began to share with the filmmakers a profound artistic sympathy and excitement for the film project.
      They returned to Vermont with background paintings and characters not yet assembled, just arms, legs and heads scattered across white sheets. They set up a studio and bought a custom-built animation stand modified to handle large paintings. American artists helped in creating transition scenes and special effects. Two Haitian artists obtained visas and worked in the Vermont studio. Haitian writers, musicians and a radio announcer in Montreal gave assistance during the final stages.
      Black Dawn was first screened at the Gala Exhibition of Haitian Art at the Brooklyn Museum in the fall of 1978.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

US System Failure: The Presidency Is the Problem

Continuing transfer of power to the executive branch in the United States is a largely untold story of the last half century, abetted by the cult of commander-in-chief authority, a global network of military outposts, a vast intelligence apparatus, the withholding of information on spurious grounds, and a permanent state of emergency... 
      Presidential sovereignty stems from the widely accepted (but utterly erroneous) notion that only a single executive can manage US foreign affairs. At the urging of various private interests, this has led to hundreds of US interventions around the world, often with Congress partially, wholly or willingly kept in the dark. The pattern, which began with President James Polk’s 1846 calculated provocation of war with Mexico, ultimately went public more than a century later with the exposure of a worldwide crusade to arm, train and direct various "contra" forces. It wasn’t “approved” public policy, but it nevertheless has served as a centerpiece of presidential foreign policy since the Reagan years...
       Two centuries after the US constitutional system was created, it has unraveled under the explosive force of the imperial presidency. The framers, though they could not predict the global dominance of the US, were certainly aware of the dangers of a drift toward monarchy. Unfortunately, their handiwork no longer meets the test. Even though the president needs congressional approval for expenditures and declarations of war, almost anything is permissible if the appropriate “national security” rationale can be manufactured...  
       Even impeachment won’t counter the long-term drift toward executive sovereignty, since a president can only be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” while most of the covert or “illegal” actions condoned or promoted by presidents are tried-and-true policies that Congress dare not condemn, criminal as they may be. 
      According to historian Barbara Tuchman, the office itself “has become too complex and its reach too extended to be trusted to the fallible judgment of one individual.” Thus, she and others have suggested restructuring ideas; for example, a directorate or a Council of State to which the executive would be accountable. Ironically, such ideas were discussed and rejected at the original Constitutional Convention.
      Some basic changes are obviously needed. Presidents will continue to seek expanded power until clear limits are imposed and public pressure reverses the trend. In the end, the US may need another Constitutional Convention.

The Complete Text

Monday, June 26, 2017

Campus Paradise Lost: The Fall of Burlington College

Just before classes began at Burlington College in September 2011, President Jane O’Meara Sanders offered local media a tour of the school’s new campus and her vision of the future. A few days later, she followed up with the Board of Trustees, cheerily pleased with the press coverage and the school’s mention in a Newsweek-Daily Beast poll as the number one college for “free-spirited students.” 

Finally, she wrote, “we are getting the creative message through nationally.”

One of the country’s smallest post-secondary institutions, originally launched in 1972 as a “school without walls” for non-traditional students, Burlington College was about to turn 40. In addition to a large new campus, it was adding academic majors and had ambitious plans to more than double its enrollment by the end of the decade.

Sanders, wife of Vermont's famous junior US Senator, presented a range of optimistic enrollment goals, sometimes reaching as high as 500 students within five years, double the highest figure in the school’s history.

Two weeks later, however, she unexpectedly resigned after reaching a private settlement with the Board of Trustees. A press release from the college, which had purchased buildings and property previously owned by the Catholic Diocese for $10 million less than a year before at her urging, said that Sanders would step down on Oct. 14 but gave no reason for the change.

So began a four year slide that ultimately led to the sudden announcement that Burlington College would close by the end of May 2016. 

In January, Catholic parishioners in Vermont asked the US attorney in Vermont and the inspector general of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to investigate if Ms. Sanders committed federal bank fraud by misrepresenting the college’s fundraising commitments to secure loans for the land purchase. As faculty and staff emptied the school building prior to a May 27 takeover by the People's United Bank, locks were changed, students held a public funeral, and one witness close to the administration claimed that computer hard drives had been seized by unnamed officials.

Staying Small

Had it survived, even with a 34-acre campus offering views of Lake Champlain and five times as much space for classes and offices, Burlington College would have remained one of the five smallest colleges in the country. In Vermont only two schools had fewer students. For four decades, BC's annual enrollment had fluctuated between 100 and 250.

To double that number by 2020, enrollment would have to increase by at least 12 percent a year, a goal well beyond the national average and a radical departure from the school’s track record. The $10 million purchase of the Catholic Diocese property, as well as committing to more than $3 million in renovations, had put the school under serious financial, management and academic pressure. 

During the previous decade Burlington College’s annual income had grown by about half a million, from $2.744 million in 2001 to $3.372 as of 2008, based on federal 990 tax filings. But until recently enrollment had been on the decline. Between 2001 and 2008, the number of students dropped by about 40 percent, from 250 to 156. Enrollment had risen since, reaching somewhere between 180 and 200 students attending part or full-time at the time Sanders resigned.

While the number of students had decreased during the last decade, income from tuition had increased from $1.998 to $2.912 million. The school kept pace financially through a series of tuition increases that accelerated after Sanders became president. Tuition rose over 60 percent from $13,120 in 2003, the year before she arrived, to $22,407 in 2011.

During the same period the school’s assets also increased, from under a million in 2004 to $1.454 million by 2008, or around 50 percent. Sanders’ salary went from $103,500 to more than $150,000.

Of Vermont’s 30 colleges and universities, only seven cost more – Green Mountain, Landmark, Bennington, St. Mike’s, Marlboro, Norwich and Champlain. The University of Vermont’s in-state tuition was about $6,000 a year less. Despite its attractive new campus, Burlington College was at a competitive disadvantage, especially for in-state students, and lacked sufficient discretionary funds to embark on the kind of sustained marketing it needed, especially with increased overhead.

Sanders Takes Charge 

Prior to becoming Burlington College president in 2004, Jane Sanders worked as campaign manager for her husband Bernie Sanders, then a US congressman. Her credentials also included a stint running Goddard College and almost a decade as head of youth services for Burlington, mainly during the Sanders administration.

In 2005 she said that increasing student numbers was vital because tuition dollars would help pay for the overall plan she was developing. As it turned out, tuition dollars rose but the number of students didn’t. The college was also mindful of its mission to stay small, she added. In 2006, however, she announced a $6 million expansion plan. The initial idea was to build a three-story structure next to the current building on North Avenue.

Hired at about the same salary as her predecessor, President Sanders received salary bumps for the next five years, ultimately topping $150,000 in 2009. During the same period tuition rose by more than $5,000 while enrollment dipped to 156 students.

By 2008, students and faculty were expressing frustration, especially after the dismissal of popular literature professor Genese Grill. Students, faculty and staff said that the environment at the school had become toxic and disruptive. In interviews, many blamed Sanders and decried what was described as a “crisis of leadership.”

More than two dozen faculty and staff left the school during Sanders’ tenure, according to then-Student Government President Joshua Lambert. Grill claimed she was fired for criticizing Sanders, particularly for a letter to Academic Affairs Committee Chair Bill Kelly blaming Sanders for an “atmosphere of fear and censorship” on campus. Sanders called Grill’s critique unfair but declined to discuss the details. 

The American Association of University Professors, which became aware of the dispute, noted that Burlington College lacked a grievance policy for faculty, an omission considered “quite unusual.” Robert Kreiser, program officer in AAUP’s department of academic freedom, tenure and governance, told the weekly, Seven Days, “A faculty member should have the right to speak out about actions and policies at his or her own college.” He offered to help Sanders draft a new policy but she declined.

We are leaving a 16,000 square foot building on 2 acres to a 77,000 square foot building on 34 acres. Instead of a lake view, we have lakefront.”
                                                                               – Jane O’Meara Sanders

Despite faculty resignations and student objections, the trustees continued to  back their CEO. “The board is quite confident in Jane’s leadership, and we stand by her,” said Patrick Gallivan, who was board chair In 2008.

By 2011, the Board was being chaired by Adam Dantzscher, a credit and debt consultant, and Gallivan, a vice president at St. Michael’s College, had become vice chair. Members included two local orthopedic surgeons, a psychologist and a workplace consultant, the development director of Fletcher Allen Hospital and an emeritus faculty member from UVM.

The business community was represented by David Dunn, an advisor at the Vermont Small Business Development Center; Rob Michalak, Director of Social Mission for Ben & Jerry’s; and David Grunvald, vice president of Preci Manufacturing, a leading Vermont military contractor. The Board was rounded out by peace activist Robin Lloyd, student representative Brendan Donaghey, and Jonathan Leopold, former Chief Financial Officer for the City of Burlington.

Originally appointed as city treasurer by Bernie Sanders decades earlier, Leopold had become treasurer of the Burlington College board, and chaired the crucial Finance an d Facilities Committee. He'd left city employment the previous June, as controversy erupted over his handling of Burlington Telecom financing, but continued consulting for the city under a short-term contract. His wife Roxanne was part of Burlington College’s core staff; she headed the school’s psychology and human services programs.

Buying a Campus 

When the school community gathered to honor the 34 members of its 2011 graduating class at its new campus, Sanders acknowledged that the only man who could have brokered such a deal with the Roman Catholic Diocese was real estate mogul Antonio Pomerleau. A prominent local Catholic, Pomerleau had been a prime target of Bernie Sanders’ political attacks when he first became Burlington mayor. But since then they had become family friends. 

“He understands relationships,” Jane Sanders explained at 2011 graduation ceremonies. “Not just ‘who you know,’ but an understanding that leads to a reputation, and to trust.”

As a result of more than two dozen sexual abuse lawsuits, the Catholic Diocese was on the hook for $17.65 million in settlements. The property initially went on the market for $12.5 million. Although $10 million looked like a bargain, not everyone was impressed. According to Erick Hoekstra, a developer for a local commercial development firm, City officials may have overvalued the property. Even if hundreds of housing units were eventually built on the land, a more realistic price was $5 million to $7 million, he claimed.

The college’s vision for its new land base was ambitious but expensive. The main building was already being renovated for classrooms, administration offices and labs. Eventually, the former bishop’s residence, with a view of Lake Champlain,  would provide space for public events, study rooms and visiting faculty.  For the first year $1.2 million was budgeted for renovations. But it would cost at least $2 million more to complete the transformation, including work on an enormous building previously rented by the Howard Center to provide housing for about 16 students.

“It’s fabulous,” said Sanders. “We are leaving a 16,000 square foot building on 2 acres to a 77,000 square foot building on 34 acres. Instead of a lake view, we have lakefront.”

According to Dantzscher, the strategic plan developed five years before had basically been achieved. “Now we can decide and dictate our own destiny,” he predicted.

To make this dramatic expansion work financially, the college tried to lower some of its expenses by refinancing debt and improving energy efficiency. However, Sanders acknowledged that completing the move would require still more borrowing. In addition, a $6 million capital campaign (increased from an initial $4 million) had been launched. But progress was slower than hoped.

Subsequent investigations have suggested that Sanders overstated donation amounts in a bank application for the $6.7 million loan used by the college to purchase the land. She apparently told People’s United Bank that the college had $2.6 million in pledged donations to support the purchase. But the college received only $676,000 in actual donations from 2010 through 2014, according to figures provided by the college. That’s far less than the $5 million Sanders listed as likely pledges in the loan agreement, and less than a third of the $2.14 million she told People’s Bank the college would collect in cash during the four-year period.

Two people whose pledges are listed as confirmed in the loan agreement told VTDigger that their personal financial records show their pledges were overstated. Neither were aware that the pledges were used to secure the loan. Burlington College also cited a $1 million bequest as a pledged donation that would be paid out over six years, even though the money would only be available after the donor’s death.

Evolving Academics

In its final years, the most popular academic programs at the school included film, photography, fine arts and integral psychology. As part of an expansion plan, new majors were proposed in media activism and hospitality/event management, as well as four new Bachelor of Fine Arts degree programs. It already offered study abroad opportunities, including one in Cuba with the University of Havana, and an Institute for Civic Engagement to promote an informed, active citizenry.

Most Burlington College students were under 25, a contrast with both the school’s early history and recent educational trends. Nationally, the number of older students was rising faster than enrollment for those under 25, a pattern expected to continue. The question confronting the Board of Trustees was whether a small school, even with a lovely new campus, could succeed in doubling its student body in the current academic and economic environment. 

Sanders' critics said the underlying problem was that she was more concerned with image and marketing than academic quality. As one former faculty member who asked to be kept anonymous put it, she preferred hiring “young inexperienced, but ‘hip’ people whom she hopes she can push around.”

Dynamics of Growth 

If there was a precedent for the school’s expansion hopes, it was less than a mile away at Champlain College. Founded as Burlington Collegiate Institute by G.W. Thompson in 1878, it was renamed Burlington Business College in 1884, moved to Bank Street in 1905, and relocated to Main Street in 1910.

The College took its current name in 1958 and moved to the Hill Section of Burlington. That year, it offered only associate’s degree programs, had about 60 students and no dorms. But it had grown enormously in the decades since then, launching new programs in the social services, adding a campus center in 1989, bachelor’s degree programs in 1991 and online education as early as 1993.  Today it has around 3,000 students and a sprawling campus.

In contrast, Burlington College, while expanding its core and adjunct faculty from 15 to almost 100 over the years, its staff from less than 10 to 61, and its budget from $200,000 to almost $4 million, never saw significant enrollment growth. In fact, while Champlain’s student body was exploding Burlington College’s declined.

One of the differences was that Champlain expanded its campus based on increased demand for business and technology education, while Burlington College hoped that better facilities, more majors and a larger land base would attract students. In other words, if you build them – programs and facilities, that is – they will come. However, this approach was at odds with the school’s original intent – academic freedom and self-designed studies in diverse community settings rather than on a traditional "bricks and mortar" campus. 

A larger campus created opportunities but also challenges. In the former category was space to create dorms for up to 100 students, an attractive campus for mid-career professionals in master’s programs, plus labs and a student lounge. But it made rapid growth essential. If student enrollment didn't rise consistently, it was clear that the new campus would become a burden, one that required either dramatically increased fundraising, even higher tuition costs, or somehow leveraging the school’s land base to compensate.

About four years after the purchase, faced with bankruptcy, Burlington College was forced to sell most of the property to developer Eric Farrell. At first the idea was that the school might remain, retaining some programs in a small portion of the former Catholic Diocese headquarters, with Farrell building 600 housing units on the rest of the land. For the City of Burlington, this would represent tax revenue. Like the Catholic Diocese the College was tax exempt. 

Now Burlington College is completely out of the picture, and any housing built on the land will bring in property taxes. Some of the units will even be affordable. But the questions surrounding the untimely demise of Burlington's most progressive college will haunt the community for years to come.

Much of this material was first published in 2011 by VTDigger.

Related story: Why Jane Sanders Left Burlington College

Friday, June 2, 2017

UNWITTING: Testing the Limits with MKULTRA

Chapter Five: Mastering Minds 
(The Secret War on William Pierce)

When Bill Pierce’s real troubles began he had no solid evidence that mind control projects were being actively pursued by the federal government. For years he sounded like a crank, paranoid and possibly delusional. But once the surviving MKULTRA documents were declassified in 1977 – most of them were destroyed before they could be reviewed by Congress -- his descriptions and personal experiences in the 1950s and 60s began to look uncannily close to the experiments actually being pursued by the CIA at the time.
       Even prior to MKULTRA,  considerable research had been done by the government on amnesia, hypnotic couriers and efforts to create a Manchurian Candidate – a label commonly used after the release of a 1963 conspiracy thriller with that title. The CIA’s goal was to develop “brainwashing” techniques and program subjects with a hypnotically implanted trigger, thus turning them into secret agents who wouldn’t remember what they had done. In scientific terms, the objective was to deliberately and experimentally create dissociative identity disorders, with associated amnesia barriers, and use this technique in both simulated and actual covert operations.
      MKULTRA was officially launched by the Central Intelligence Agency on April 3, 1953, and continued for a decade until it was rolled into another project, MKSEARCH, in 1964. That ran for another eight years, until CIA Director Richard Helms ordered most of the MK documents shredded in June 1972. Despite this, and redactions to most documents that did survive, they revealed that there had been hundreds of separate sub-projects.
      In an August 1963 “Report of Inspection of MKULTRA,” Deputy CIA Director Marshall Carter acknowledged a problem: “Research in the manipulation of human behavior is considered by many authorities in medicine and related fields to be professionally unethical, therefore the reputations of professional participants in the MKULTRA program are on occasion in jeopardy.” Beyond that, “the testing of MKULTRA products places the rights and interests of U.S. citizens in jeopardy.” As a result, the paper trail was being kept to a bare minimum, operational control was delegated to the Technical Services Division (TSD), and the entire project was exempted from audit.
      During the preceding ten years the “avenues to the control of human behavior” had expanded to include “radiation, electro-shock, various fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology, graphology, harassment substances, and paramilitary devices and materials.” Under a heading titled “Advanced testing of MKULTRA materials,” the 1963 CIA report asserted the “firm doctrine in TSD that testing of materials under accepted scientific procedure fails to disclose the full pattern of reactions and attributions that may occur in operational situations.” It added that TSD “initiated a program for covert testing of materials on unwitting U.S, citizens in 1955,” the same year Pierce said his own troubles began.
      The ultimate test for any drug, device or technique, argued the report, was “application to unwitting subjects in normal life settings. It was noted earlier that the capabilities of MKULTRA substances to produce disabling or discrediting effects or to increase the effectiveness of interrogation of hostile subjects cannot be established solely through testing on volunteer populations.”
      To keep the loop small and secure, “certain cleared and witting individuals in the Bureau of Narcotics” provided various drugs for testing on those “deemed desirable and feasible.” Some of the most “feasible” subjects were informers and criminals. But as the report added, “the effectiveness of the substances on individuals at all social levels, high and low, native American and foreign, is of great significance and testing has been performed on a variety of individuals within these categories.” In some cases, “the test subject has become ill for hours or days, including hospitalization in at least one case.”
      Bill Pierce was no longer teaching at Syracuse in 1962. After a year at West Virginia University, he had moved to Stillwater to teach at Oklahoma State University that September. But he was still writing letters to prominent individuals and newspapers about “right-wing extremism” and “security procedures." 
       Then suddenly, in mid-October, he was removed from his teaching duties and ordered by the university administration to undergo a psychological examination. According to Pierce, "extremists" were trying to discredit him. But some students, along with the manager of a local coffee shop, told President Oliver Willham that Pierce was the one creating disturbances. Word rapidly spread across campus that he was “psycho.” It was precisely what he feared and had been writing about. 
      In a letter by Pierce published in the Oklahoma City Times on Oct.19, 1962 the primary focus was the arrest and hospitalization of Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, whose fiery rhetoric had helped to spark a violent riot on the University of Mississippi campus. On September 30, after hundreds of people were wounded and two were killed, Walker was arrested on charges including sedition and insurrection.
      Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordered Walker held in a mental institution for 90 days of psychiatric examination. But the decision was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, who argued that psychiatry should not be a political tool. After five days Kennedy backed down and Walker was released.
      Pierce certainly didn’t agree with Walker’s politics. But he did identify with the situation. “Admittedly, Walker’s extreme views on ‘liberals’ and his alleged defiance of the government (including alleged incitement to violence) suggest mental unbalance," he wrote,  but the presumptions of enforced mental tests and/or treatment should cause us grave concern."
      “It is only a short step from psychiatric tests for rioters to psychiatric tests for victims of crime and political persecution,” Pierce warned. “A favorite technique of the latter is clever misuse of the ‘psychopath’ label; and, even worse, revolutionary devices of psychological warfare and brainwashing capable of crippling almost any human being, and in such a manner that the victim’s factual description of the attack sounds like mental illness.”
     A few days after his letter was published a police officer and sheriff’s deputy showed up at his apartment with a warrant for his arrest, apparently at the instigation of President Willham. Sheriff Charlie Fowler had never met Pierce before, yet the detention order  claimed that Fowler had “personal knowledge” that he was violent and showed the potential to injure himself or others.
     A week later, Pierce was involuntarily committed. More ominously --  and without him realizing its significance -- he had been placed in the care of Dr. Louis J. West, one of the CIA’s leading MKULTRA doctors, a cutting-edge scientist who had once killed an elephant with an overdose of LSD.

To be continued... 

Chapter One: Wrong Turn
Two: Naming Names
Three: Unwanted Voices
Four: Chung's Way