Lowell City Council Cancels Reception for Dictator’s Son

Following an unprecedented show of opposition from city’s Cambodian-American community, the Lowell City Council voted 8-0 to denounce the visit of Lt. General Hun Manet, son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and reject the gift of a statue the Cambodian regime wanted to place in front of Lowell City Hall. Following the cancellation of Hun Manet’s proposed appearance in the Cambodian New Year’s Parade in Long Beach, California, this represents a major public relations setback for the Hun regime, and a notable show of political force by the traumatized Cambodian refugee community in America. Hun Sen, once a military commander for the Khmer Rouge, is a career human rights violator whose crimes did not end upon his elevation to head of state following the Vietnamese defeat of the K.R. Minority groups, civil society organizations, trade unions, and political opponents have all suffered greatly under his tyranny.

Lt. General Hun Manet is Hun Sen’s 39-year-old son, and a Lt. General in the Cambodian Armed Forces. His abortive goodwill tour, meant to improve the Hun regime’s image in the United States and present it as the rightful head of a unified Cambodian population, has done precisely the opposite. It has brought the current Cambodian government’s shameful human rights record to greater public attention, laid bare the profound disgust and opposition America’s Cambodian population still feels towards a leadership lead and riddled with genocidaires, and, at least in Lowell, won them new allies in the municipal political community.

I was proud to be able to stand with the brave and passionate Cambodian residents of Lowell who organized the protests and made this formal denunciation happen. The expressions of gratitude I received from the protestors – special credit to resistance organizer Kamara Kay – have touched me deeply. When my name was announced as the next speaker and I stepped to the lectern, I was greeted by expressions of wary disbelief from the City Councilors and other officials. When I finished my remarks, I was brought nearly to tears by the reaction of my new allies. Both will stay with me for a long time.

This is my town, and these are my neighbors, and we don’t need any gifts bought with blood money to bring us together or mark the ascendancy of Lowell’s Cambodian-American population. They did that all by themselves last night.


The City of Lowell Must Not Honor General Hun Manet

My remarks to the Lowell City Council regarding the proposed reception for Lt. General Hun Manet.

Good evening Mr. Mayor, Mr. Manager, Councillors and fellow residents of Lowell. My name is Joseph Boyle and I live at 54 Lura Street. I’ve held a couple of different positions with the City, a couple of different positions in local unions and other non-government organizations, but I’m here tonight speaking only for myself. I’m just Joe Boyle, who lives in the Highlands.

I am here tonight to register my deep concern about the warm welcome this City is preparing to give General Hun Manet. General Manet is not an official in the municipal government of the City of Phnom Penh, Lowell’s Sister City. Hun Manet is a Lieutenant General in the Cambodian Armed Forces, which is commanded by his father, former Khmer Rouge commander and current Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Hun Sen is, to put it bluntly, a major violator of human rights; in particular, of the rights of workers to organize into unions and engage in activism for higher wages, better working conditions, and dignity for the working people of their country. And General Hun, as commander of a military unit trained to crush internal dissent, is his strong right arm.

For the City of Lowell to honor someone like this is profoundly troubling to me. Lowell’s history is eternally bound with the history of labor. This city is the home of Lucy Larcom and the Lowell Female Laborer Reform Association. This is the home of Benjamin Butler, who crusaded before the Civil War for the 10-hour workday. This was one of the first cities to which the Bread and Roses Strike spread. We congratulate ourselves on this history all the time. We have Lucy Larcom Park, over by the canal, behind St. Anne’s Church. It’s very pretty. General Butler has a middle school named for him, and a bust in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. You can walk into the National Park Visitors Center or the Tsongas Industrial History Center and find out about the strikes and the struggles of the mill girls, and the subsequent waves of workers in Lowell, to achieve a little piece of dignity and security and decency for themselves and their families – to not just be crushed as low-wage labor for the industrial companies selling people like us our nice shirts.

We say we honor those people, but do we mean it? Or is that just something from the old days that we show to the tourists?

The industrial workers of Cambodia have spent the past several years doing the same things the workers of Lowell did. They organize into unions, and they take to the streets to protests their low wages, their dangerous factories, and their abusive overseers – just like the workers of Lowell. And when they do, they are often met by the clubs, and the water cannons, and sometimes even the assault rifles of the Hun Sen government. Of men like Hun Manet. For this city to applaud General Manet, to tell him what a great guy he is and how much we want to be his friend, would be a betrayal of our history, our identity, and our honor.

This is not just about an intramural fight between different segments of the Cambodian-American community in Lowell. This is about who we are as a people, and what we say about the abuse of workers. I call on this Council, this administration, and on the unions and the political organizations of Lowell who purport to stand with working people, not to give General Hun that warm welcome, but to stand with these brave citizens who spoke here tonight – and they are brave. Let me tell why they’re brave. Many of these people have family back in Cambodia, and could face consequences if they were to go back and visit them because of their activism here, but here they are. Those are the stakes for them, but they came out here tonight.

Again, I urge you to stand with them, and with the garment workers of Cambodia.

Thank you.


This post is dedicated to Senator Bernie Sanders, and to Professor Erik Loomis of the University of Rhode Island. They woke me up.

In Solidarity

Kudos to the Chi-town anti-fascist protestors.

We send greetings to the persecuted and oppressed. We greet our friends in the Reich. Their steadfastness and loyalty deserve admiration. The courage with which they maintain their convictions and their unbroken confidence guarantee a brighter future.Otto Wels, German Social Democratic Party, March 23, 1933. He was the only member of the Reichstag to speak against the Nazis’ Enabling Act.

Friends, ring every bell you can get your hands on.

Martha Coakley Was an Ordinarily Bad Candidate

One of my very favorite political analysts, Scott Lemieux at the essential Lawyers, Guns, & Money blog, discusses Hillary Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses as a presidential candidate. It’s a fine, thoughtful piece; so obviously, I’m going to nitpick at the only questionable element, cuz hey…internet, right?

Referring to an earlier post by his co-blogger, Erik Loomis, Scott writes:

Clinton winning statewide election in a deep blue state by 12 and 36 points is hardly indicative of a great political talent, but it’s also something Martha Coakley failed to do not once but twice.

Now, far be it from me to exculpate Martha Coakley entirely from those twin electoral debacles – her “why would I campaign out in the cold?” line still makes me want to throw stuff – but she certainly did not enjoy the same level of advantages that Hillary Clinton does in the 2016 Democratic Presidential primary, or even when running for the New York Senate as Bill Clinton’s wife at then end of his term or as an incumbent Democrat there in the wave year of 2006.

Let’s start with the 2010 special election against Scott Brown. (Yeah, I just felt a little kick in the chest too. Deep breath.) Kindly notice the year I just typed. Martha Coakley ran as a Democrat in an election for federal office in 2010. During and just after the campaign, people did not realize just how bad a year for Democrats 2010 would be, so that factor wasn’t taken into account in the “first draft of history” about that election. In addition, let’s face it, Scott Brown was a charismatic candidate who ran a great campaign, both tactically and strategically. This is often forgotten as we look back, because he was so much worse against Elizabeth Warren in 2012, with his nasty “Indian Princess” sneering.

And then there is the election Coakley lost for Massachusetts governor in 2014. In doing so, she joined four of the previous five Democratic nominees for governor, going back to 1990 – John Silber 1990, Jim Roosevelt 1994, Scott Harshbarger, 1998 and Shannon O’Brien 2002. Only Deval Patrick, the victor in 2006 and again in 2010, broke the pattern. There are two notable factors about Deval Patrick. A., he got to run for an empty seat in the Democratic wave year of 2006. While mid-term elections are generally unfavorable for Democrats, owing to the difference between presidential and off-year voter turnout patterns, 2006 was a notable exception. And (2), he was the only nominee on the list who was not an insider in the Massachusetts Democratic Party, like Coakley, O’Brien, Harshbarger, and Roosevelt. (John Silber was a vicious, predatory alien who landed his craft on the BU campus  in the mid-1980s and seized power like General Woundwort. The less said about him the better.) Most of the time, the Democratic nominee loses the election for Massachusetts Governor.

Why is this? And why did Deval Patrick beak the pattern? Here’s my theory: Massachusetts is a one-party state. Every election, the voters go to the polls knowing that the Democratic Party, which is solidly in the grip of the Boston-based Beacon Hill political machine, will win a veto-proof majority in both chambers of the legislature. As a result, the election for governor is viewed as a low-stakes affair, and voters are mainly looking for a likable person who can be trusted to act as a check on the Democratic leadership. As a result, voters are willing to pull the lever for an apparently-unthreatening Republicans like Mitt Romney or Charlie Baker (who looks like the ineffectual, light-blue jacketed competing insurance agent in the Progressive “Flo” ads), if the  Democratic nominee is viewed as too close to the Beacon Hill machine. For a candidate like Coakley or O’Brien, with strong and readily-apparent insider status, this a big hill to overcome. Governor Patrick, prior to his campaign, had never held office in Massachusetts, having made his reputation as the head of Janet Reno’s Civil Rights Division. He was from Chicago, he wasn’t a Massachusetts Democrat, and he was (and remains, according to the best reports), African-American. All of this made him notably distinct from the Democratic nominees who came before him, and from Martha Coakley.

Anyway, believe my take about gubernatorial elections here, or not, the fact remains that four of the last five Democratic nominees have gotten their butts handed to them. Clearly, that’s not just luck; there is something structural going on. Now, those disadvantages could have been overcome by a good candidate, and Martha Coakley was not a good candidate. But as we go about evaluating just how bad she was, we should avoid falling into the trap of thinking that the communicative-performance aspects of politics are the most important part, and keep in mind that she actually did face an uphill battle owing to the terrain and her profile.


Today in Phony Non-Partisanship

Jacob Weisberg explains that Donald Trump is inspired in part by “the wacko left.”

Trump’s authoritarianism is an amalgam not of left and right but of wacko left and wacko right:

I don’t think we need to go too deeply in to the wacko-right elements of Trumpism: the violent suppression of dissent, the threats of torture, the scapegoating of minorities and foreigners. But what’s this about “the wacko left?” Weisberg provides two brief passages:

He thinks that George Bush was to blame for 9/11…He is unfriendly toward the free market

So, the sum total of Donald Trump’s leftist influence amounts to 1) promoting the absurd conspiracy theory that George Bush was President on 9/11, phrased by Weisberg to confuse that point with 9/11 Trutherism, and 2) economic politics that are, in some undefined way, “unfriendly towards the free market.” And that’s it. Really.

So, to sum up: both sides do it. Where’s my Pulitzer?

Mario Puzo’s Masterpiece

Before he decided to make some money by writing his brilliant, famous potboiler about mobsters, Mario Puzo produced two excellent novels. I just finished reading the one that he calls “the best thing I’ve ever written.” The Fortunate Pilgrim is the story of an Italian-American family – not a mob family, an actual nuclear family – on a block in New York in the 1920s-40s. It is a beautifully-crafted, sensitive, delicate, character-driven work of art, told from shifting points of view, but mostly that of the mother. Lucia Santa is one of the best-drawn characters I have ever encountered. You can tell reading the novel that Puzo bled for his art. It is a domestic novel mostly about mothers and children, with adult sons and husbands present but not dominating the scene – an artistic choice that mirrors well the subject matter. The Fortunate Pilgrim deserves to have a resurgence – or, to be more accurate, a surgence – so I’m spreading the word. Definitely worth picking up.



Barbarians Inside the Gates

The rise of Donald Trump has put a real scare into me. I realize now that I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise.

My whole adult life until very recently, I assumed that we were deeply embedded in civilization. We have culture and law, some standards. I thought barbarism was something far away, something from the past.

It’s not.

Donald Trump stands on stage and brags that he’s going to torture people. He says that he wants to use waterboarding, and “things much worse than waterboarding,” on bad guys because they deserve it. This is someone who has never gotten his hands dirty in his life, and he goes on stage and play-acts as a tough guy by promising to torture people. Bush and Cheney never even did that. They made oblique references to doing necessary things in secret that people were better off not thinking about, in order to keep them safe. Despicable, yes, but somehow also protective, as if they realized they were doing something too dangerous and awful to safely let out into the sunlight. Donald Trump makes a show of flaunting it in our faces, flashes around his eagerness for cruelty as a campaign pander – and his crowds eat it up. People like the ones who are around me every day.

Bernie Sanders spoke about growing up in Brooklyn in the post-war period, and seeing concentration camp survivors with numbers on their wrists. What that taught him, he said, is that politics is serious business. Politics has always been a preference and a pastime for me. It has been about thinking it would be good if my side and my preferences and my ideas won, and the other team’s lost. The stakes seemed high, but not all that high, at least not for me and mine. The rise of Donald Trump has opened my eyes about that.

We have to choose civilization. We have to choose it over and over again if we want to keep it. It is not our birthright, not something ordained for us. It is something we can lose if we don’t make sure to protect it. What I have come to realize is that right now, at this moment in history, if we choose wrong just one time, we will go right back to Rome.

I didn’t understand that until now, and it scares the hell out of me.