Standing Rock and Veterans Stand

New Orleans      Standing Rock seems like yesterday though it was the fall and winter of 2016, when the Standing Rock Sioux were joined by representatives of tribes from throughout the nation and thousands of supporters in an encampment that tried to stop the completion of the Dakota Pipeline.  The fight inspired deep support.  A truck with clothing and supplies was loaded around our coffeehouse in New Orleans.  Appeals were wide spread and many counted their participation as a milestone in their lives.  I interviewed an organizer-participant on the top of a hillside overlooking the camp where he was able to get cell service and spoke with me on KABF’s Wade’s World for 30 minutes finally admitting that he was standing the whole time in freezing rain.  This was a serious fight.

One of the tactical surprises in the later stages of the resistance when the encampment was being threatened by the sheriff and others was the sudden announcement that a group of veterans being spearheaded by Wesley Clark, Jr., a former solider and son of General Wesley Clark a one-time presidential contender originally from Arkansas, was issuing a call for thousands of veterans to come stand in solidarity with the water keepers.  The fact that they had a GoFundMe site was widely publicized and the publicity helped the site blow up with donations that eventually, with various GoFundMe efforts, totaled more than $1.4 million dollars reportedly.  The notion that so many veterans might rally in this cause was very, very interesting and could have been strategically critical it seemed from an organizing perspective.  When the day came though the numbers were less than expected and the number of veterans reported was in the two-hundred range even as their organizers continue to claim that thousands were on the way but stranded by weather and logistics.  The story drifted as the courts moved increasingly against the tribe and the North Dakota winter became characteristically harsh and bitter for participants.

An amazingly well-reported story in the High Country News by Paige Blankenbuehler entitled “Cashing in on Standing Rock:  How Veterans Stand squandered $1.4 million raised around the #NoDAPL protests” fills in the blanks, and it makes a Dakota winter seem mild.  This is a story that freezes the soul.

The reporter is confused about charities and nonprofits, but she gets right the fact that for inexplicable and suspect reasons the GoFundMe donations were deposited in the personal account of one of the organizers, Michael Wood.  His handling, or rather mishandling, of the money is the lingering issue, but the total disorganization of everything else was the hot mess that meant the numbers at the action were weak, promised reimbursements were late to nonexistent, and logistics on the ground were virtually nonexistent for many veterans trying to support the indigenous efforts.

That’s a tragedy for all of us that no accounting or auditing can cure.  Wood is in a California condo paid for by these contributions. His take-the-money-and-run attitude about Veterans Stand is appalling, and his claim that these were personal donations is scandalous, but the real heartbreak underlying this story is the richness of an alliance between protestors and veterans that has been crippled by this Standing Rock scam and could shut the door on any a future alliance that mobilizes veterans for social justice for years, if not forever.


Please enjoy this unreleased version of Nothing Compares 2 U by Prince.

Thanks to KABF.


Veterans Might be Caught in the Slipstream of Trump Turmoil

Little Rock   The latest news flash is that current Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and former four-star Marine general, John Kelly, has been named the chief of staff at the White House, busting out another 6-month wonder. The hope is that he will bring discipline, order, and stability to the White House, but it’s a long stretch to believe that. Just imagine Ivanka, Jared, the boys, and President Trump as Marines for even a moment, and you know it’s just a picture that doesn’t fit. Trump is calling in Kelly to be recess monitor for a wild bunch running and yelling constantly. I just don’t see this working out well, but we’ll hope for the best.

Speaking of turmoil and the Trump’s generals, I would also argue that the state and protection of the health and welfare of our veterans is worth a bunch of worry as well. In almost a footnote, Congress recently was unable to pass the “popular” Choice bill for veterans health care. Seems that rather than increase the appropriation as needed, they simply tried to reappropriate money within the Veterans Administration budget and move it around to fund Choice while cutting back elsewhere. This is a department where most observers already felt it was unfunded in looking after 22 million veterans in the United States now, 9 million of whom use the VA for their primary and ongoing healthcare. If veterans healthcare isn’t protected, you know the rest of us are in deep, deep trouble.

Not that the Choice bill is anything to necessarily celebrate. Recently we spoke at some length with Suzanne Gordon, an expert in this area, who wrote a recent book about the strengths and weaknesses of the VA healthcare system, with her recommendations excerpted in the current issue of Social Policy. Choice is basically a system that allows a qualified veteran to chose a private doctor outside of the VA system and have it reimbursed by the federal government. There are certainly situations in which this is necessary. Obviously, there can’t be a VA hospital or clinic everywhere, especially given the ratio of military veterans to rural parts of America, but the real deal, according to Gordon and most anyone who has looked at the matter, is that this is a huge stalking horse for privatization of the system. That’s a problem!

Gordon was effusive on the many strengths of the VA system, especially in the areas of mental health and response to the drug crisis sweeping large parts of the country. All VA personnel are trained on mental health cues and signs of depression and suicide prevention, though ironically one of the programs threatened by the funding situation is in fact the suicide crisis line. No private facility can beat that record. So, yes, she acknowledges, there have been issues around waiting lines and other matters, but that still does not argue that the VA system currently continues to be best-in-class.

So, why the privatization push by some representatives? The VA is a public institution, and private hospitals, clinics and doctors are just that, private. They can make contributions to political campaigns. I rest my case. This is not about care, but campaigns.

General Kelly is no liberal. His performance at Homeland Security has been frightening. We can’t expect miracles, but at least a general might make sure his former soldiers are taken care of better.