10 January 2014


We're now at TheRagBlog.com
(And we're having a party!)

The Rag Blog has a new website!

We've moved to TheRagBlog.com and we're having a Launch Party this Friday in Austin! Please join us for The Underground Goes Overboard, with special guests Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, former leaders of SDS and the Weather Underground. Plus live music from the Melancholy Ramblers.

It's all happening at the 5604 Manor Community Center, 5604 Manor Drive in Austin, on Friday, January 17, 2014, from 7-10 p.m. There will be beer and snacks available. There's a $10 suggested donation that goes to support the New Journalism Project, the Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit that publishes The Rag Blog.

If you aren't in Austin and can't join us, you can still help us produce The Rag Blog and Rag Radio by donating here.

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07 January 2014

Alan Wieder : Bill Ayers' 'Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident'

This page has moved.

In his ongoing journey, and with his new memoir, 'Public Enemy,' Bill Ayers continues to bring the radical 'spark' forward.
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Image from Uprising Radio.

By Alan Wieder | The Rag Blog | January 7, 2014
Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn will speak at "Underground Goes Overboard," a launch party for TheRagBlog.com, at 7 p.m., Friday, January 17, at the 5604 Manor Community Center in Austin. They will also be Thorne Dreyer's guests on Rag Radio earlier that same day, from 2-3 p.m. on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and streamed live. Go here for other stations and times, and for podcast information.
[Public Enemy: Confessions of an American Dissident by Bill Ayers (2013: Beacon Press); Hardcover; 240 pp; $24.95.]

“They just don’t get it.” Yes, the phrase is overused, yet, all too appropriate when addressing the continuing critiques, from both the left and the right, of Bill Ayers.

The recent publication of the second phase of his memoir, Public Enemy: Confessions of An American Dissident (Beacon, 2013), was followed on the “SDS and ‘60s Leftists” page of Facebook by an unthoughtful conversation on Ayers, his comrade and wife Bernardine Dohrn, and the Weather Underground (WO).

Facilitated by George Fish and responding to a negative book review by Jon Wiener, 43 comments followed Fish’s post. Mostly sour, bitter, and ahistorical in tone, the comments provide the antithesis of Ayers’ book and life, that of learning from the past and continuing, in a human and life-affirming way, the ongoing struggle that began for Ayers in the civil rights movement, antiwar movement, Students for a Democratic Society, and then the Weather Underground.

When confronted by a radio interviewer who referred to the subtitle as snide, Ayers softly replied that the entire title was chosen for its irony. Missing both the breadth and depth of Public Enemy, the interviewer, as well as Wiener and other critics, fail to acknowledge the thoughtfulness and energy that Ayers brings to struggle, both past and present.

In this particular book, we alternate between the author’s recollections of first, his experience in the 2008 attempt to demonize Barack Obama because he “palled around with terrorists,” and, second, the years after he surfaced from underground beginning in 1980 from where Ayers left off in his previous book, Fugitive Days.

There are both multiple and complex events, issues, and ideas presented in Public Enemy. A sampling will be discussed in this review.

Recently, South African anti-apartheid struggle leader and Constitutional Court Justice (comparable to the U.S. Supreme Court) Albie Sachs spoke at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Talking about his country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Sachs emphasized the importance of acknowledgement for both personal and political healing.

Acknowledgement causes me to return to the radio interviewer’s portrayal of Confessions of An American Dissident as snide. In fact, irony aside, Ayers responded by talking about acknowledging one particular flaw during his time in WO. He asserted that neither he nor his comrades ever doubted their positions and that by not being skeptical they were arrogant and without reflection.
Doubt is discussed in Public Enemy and Ayers also talks about apologetics within a conceptual framework of an American Truth Commission.
Doubt is discussed in Public Enemy and Ayers also talks about apologetics within a conceptual framework of an American Truth Commission. In both the book and current media interviews, Ayers has continually repeated that neither he nor the WO ever killed anyone in the bombings of buildings.
Not only did I never kill or injure anyone, but in the six years of its existence, the Weather Underground never killed or injured anyone either. We crossed lines of legality to be sure, of propriety, and perhaps even of common sense, but it was restrained, and those are the simple, straightforward facts.
The correct term for Weather Underground bombings, in correspondence to the armed struggle in South Africa, is “armed propaganda.” And like Umkhonto We Sizwe underground soldiers in South Africa, Ayers would welcome the opportunity to answer queries about his WO activities at an American TRC.

In Public Enemy Ayers writes:
America, it seemed to me, was in urgent need of some kind of truth and reconciliation process… We needed a process to understand the truth of the past in order to create the possibility of a more balanced future… Everyone together would have the opportunity to tell their stories of suffering, and the victimizers would be asked why and how they created that misery. Society would have the opportunity to witness all of it in order to understand the extent and depth of the disaster as a step toward putting it behind us and moving forward. In that setting and standing with Kissinger and McCain, McNamara and Kerry, Bush and Cheney, I’d be happy to say exactly what I did, take full responsibility, and bow deeply. But without any chain of culpability whatsoever, I’ll stand on the record, or just stand aside.
While five chapters in Public Enemy present the threats and blacklisting Bill Ayers experienced during and after the 2008 presidential campaign, I will address the topic with brevity as it has already been explored in other reviews. An in-depth description and analysis is portrayed in Maya Schwenwar’s Truthout review, “Bill Ayers Weighs in on Democracy, Selfhood, and His ‘Unrepentant Terrorist’ Alter-Ego.”

Besides endless email threats and having someone actually come to his office at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Ayers was banned from talking on college campuses throughout the country. At the time my colleague at the University of South Carolina, Craig Kridel, the Curator of the Museum of Education, posted a page titled “The Bill Ayers Problem” on the Museum webpage. The page title, like Public Enemy, is ironic and at the time I wrote:
The inequality, unfairness, violence, and global greed are what Bill Ayers has fought against for many years. The fight is every bit as important today as it was during the Civil Rights Movement and the Viet Nam War. And while some people might call me insensitive because I refuse to enter a debate on Bill Ayers as a terrorist, I choose not to speak back to the cries of O’Reilly, Hannity, and Colmes and their nameless comrades because the work Bill Ayers is doing does not need defenders but, rather, supporters and allies that fight for a more just world. Finally, as an academic who works with teachers who fought against apartheid in South Africa, I can’t help but think that the same people who define Bill Ayers as a terrorist would have given that label to Nelson Mandela and his less known comrades during the struggle against the apartheid regime. We know now what history says about that – we can only hope that Bill Ayers and many other people continue their work as progressive educators and activists.
But Bill Ayers does not rail against his detractors in his writing. Rather, while he is critical in a political/personal way of their harassment and silencing and analyzes their actions, his emphasis is a celebration of people who continue the struggle. While the story of the cancellation of his talk at the University of Wyoming is politically important, from Ayers we learn more about the woman who fought for his right to speak. More accurately, she fought for her own free speech.
"I’m going to sue the university in federal court," she told me during our first conversation. "And I’m claiming that it’s my free speech that’s been violated – I have the right to speak to anyone I want to, and right now I want to speak to you." She was young and unafraid, smart and sassy, her dreams being rapidly made and used – no fear, no regret. I liked her immediately. Meg’s approach struck me as quite brilliant – students (and not I) were indeed the injured party.
The University of Wyoming student won the case and Bill Ayers spoke on democracy and education with over 1,000 people at the University. In discussing the event, he also honors his sister’s father-in-law, a retired United Church of Christ minister who drove a couple of hours to Laramie for the talk and told Bill: “‘The Lord moves in mysterious ways,’ he said with a wink and a smile gesturing with his Bible. ‘If any of the crazy Christians get out of hand, he wants me to set them straight.’”

Ayers writes of other cancellations at places throughout the country. The University of Nebraska stands out but only because he was in Tapai at the time and was woken with the news from a dean at three in the morning.

In contrast to Nebraska, there are brave academics at Millersville University and Georgia Southern University where Ayers was welcomed. At Millersville administrators explained that it was their “duty and honor” to have him speak. “It’s not about you personally, it’s about the mission and the meaning of the university.”
Honoring people throughout Bill Ayers’ journey is the stuff of Public Enemy.
Honoring people throughout Bill Ayers’ journey is the stuff of Public Enemy. One of the funniest yet potent tales is the reaction of Ayers’ comrade and friend, Michael Klonsky, when he was invited to give an education conference keynote address. The organization told Klonsky that they had intended to invite Bill Ayers but that he was “too controversial and too radical.” Klonsky scolded the inviter saying: “How dare you ask me to scab on Bill Ayers?” When Ayers thanked him, he replied: “Defending you? I wasn’t defending you, I was defending myself – I was deeply and personally offended when they said that your were too radical, and by implication that I wasn’t too radical. I’m as radical as you are, motherfucker.”

Bill Ayers’ book is about issues, ideas, actions, and people – it is not solely about Bill Ayers. Epsie Reyes was a colleague at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She supported Hillary, not Barack, in the 2008 democratic primaries, and she was one of many people who consoled Bill Ayers after Hillary Clinton first demonized him in a primary presidential debate.

Reyes sent strong emails to both Clinton and the Democratic National Committee “detailing how much money she’d donated and how many weekends she’d devoted to organizing on her behalf, explaining who I really was in her ‘humble opinion,’ and encouraging, then demanding that the campaign apologize to me personally and denounce the smears – or else she would have to rethink her commitments.”

Close friends and colleagues, of course, also came through in both 2001 and 2008. Mona and Rashid Khalidi were both supportive and insightful as were dozens of others. In 2008 there was a surprise call from Edward Said: “Of course it’s painful for you personally, but cringing and going quiet is the worst thing you could do at this moment. Your kids are watching you and your students too and a lot of others. Don’t let them down.”

Said’s message corresponds to the entirety of Public Enemy. Ayers celebrates political struggle and the people who try to sustain the fight. Two quotes come to mind, the first from a speech by Paul Potter referred to in the book. “Don’t let your life make a mockery of your values.” Margaret Meade’s words correspond to Potter’s connecting the personal to the collective. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

In addition to the 2001, 2008, and more recent stories, Public Enemy includes portraits from the time Bernardine and Bill came up from underground in 1980. Ayers writes admiringly about his childrens’ pre-school teacher at the time, BJ, whom he refers to as “an inspired early childhood educator.” “She was one of a kind, and everyone knew it.” Ayers’ portrait of BJ brought a response in Ron Jacobs’ Dissident Voice article, “Get Bill Ayers”: “Indeed, the truest hero in the book is the family’s New York child care provider, BJ.”

On Bill’s journey we meet Bernardine’s lawyers Eleanora Kennedy and Michael Kennedy and various other people including Ellie and Robby Meeropol who were Bill’s friends at the University of Michigan. Robby was the son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and he was three years old when his parents were executed.

Bernardine and Bill had just adopted Chesa Boudin whose parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, had been sentenced for murder in the Brinks Robbery in Nyack, New York. Robby explained that there was no road map and that times would be rough for Chesa – honest responses are very much a part of the many vignettes that Ayers presents throughout Public Enemy.
The real heart of the book, however, within the context of continuing struggle, is the authentic portrayal of the Dohrn/Ayers family...
The real heart of the book, however, within the context of continuing struggle, is the authentic portrayal of the Dohrn/Ayers family – Bernardine Dohrn and their sons Chesa, Malik, and Zayd. The book depicts seriousness and humor and mostly respect and admiration. There is a story from the early above ground days that I must include in this review.
Leaving swim class one day, we were swept up into a raucous women-led march heading from Broadway and Fifty-ninth Street toward Times Square. "No more porn! No more porn! No more porn!" we chanted ecstatically, fists pumping and voices rising as we entered the pornography district. It was a feisty and colorful crowd, our attendance just a happy accident, but with Zayd cheerfully perched on my shoulders we were in high spirits and quite pleased to be in cahoots. Soon we spotted a pizza stand along the route, and Zayd was famished from swimming and ready for a slice, so we settled into a booth. Zayd reflected on the parade we’d just left: "That was fun," he said. "Why don’t we want more corn?"
Ayers tells the story of all three sons advising him during 2008 and the respect appears to go both ways. Pages 129 to 131 serve as an illustration as Malik, Zayd, and Chesa join Bernardine in coaxing Bill not to speak with the media – a disposition alien to his being. Malik warns him of ambush and it recalls Mailer’s self-admonitions of never talk to the press – they control the story.
The consensus from them, in line with Bernardine’s steady and consistent basic instinct, was that whatever happened on the web or in the press, we should simply turn away. No comment, no elaboration, no clarification, no response. "Be completely quiet," they said, "and stay calm." "It’s harder then it sounds," Zayd added, looking right at me, "especially for you." True, too true: I tend to have a lot on my mind – who doesn’t? – and I’m genetically wired to speak up and speak out, and not always with considered judgment. My default position, no matter what, is to say something… "You’ll get flattened," they now said in unison.
Bill Ayers remained silent through 2008, but of course, “palling around with terrorists” quietly lives on. There is an ethos throughout Public Enemy, consistently present in the ideas, issues, actions, and people portrayed in the book, amidst everything else – this book is homage to Bernardine Dohrn.

Her strength, thoughtfulness, commitment, and humanity is the spirit of Public Enemy: Confessions of An American Dissident. Whether it is gently chiding Bill with their children or being warmly welcomed back by the judge in Chicago when she surfaced from underground – her humanity is ever present. Political commitment is obvious in Dohrn’s first above ground statement: “This is no surrender. The fight against racism and war continues, and I will spend my energy organizing to defeat the American empire.”

Ayers writes of her actions and dispositions when she was imprisoned at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York for refusing to give Grand Jury testimony on the Brinks Robbery. The emotion of being away from her kids but at the same time focused political commitment. There is also a great story of her mother passing on contraband when she visited the prison – a chocolate chip cookie!

There is much more to Public Enemy than the samples that I present. Bill Ayers critiques the Weather Underground and provides much more breadth to the ideas, issues, actions, people, and events he portrays. He also pushes his story to the present and therein lies the further message. Ayers, Dohrn, and many of their WO (and beyond) comrades continue to work for the same issues they have pursued beginning in the sixties.

For Ayers it is education and more and the latter includes working with young activists who continue the fight for the end of racism, class disparity, and imperialism. First in the civil rights movement, then SDS and WO, Ayers was part of the “spark” for a just world. His book is a partial story of continuing to keep that “spark” alive today.

This article was first published at Dissident Voice and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog by the author.

[Alan Wieder is an oral historian who lives in Portland, Oregon. His latest book, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid was published in the United States by Monthly Review Press and in South Africa by Jacana Media. Read more articles by Alan Wieder on The Rag Blog.]

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06 January 2014

Michael James : Like a Bruegel Painting, 1966

The JOIN Community Union was our effort in Uptown, Chicago, to build solidarity and create an organized force for change, especially among poor people of Southern origin.
james JOIN 5
SNCC’s Curtis Hayes (Muhammad) and SDS’s Susan Lum in Uptown, Chicago, 1966. Photos by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.

By Michael James | The Rag Blog | January 6, 2014

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about -- and inspired by -- those images. This photo will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.]

UPTOWN, Chicago in 1966. I called it “Hillbilly Harlem.” Uptown was the regional capital of poor Southern white migrants moving to the North. The migration of Southern whites began when they came north in the 1940’s for war industry work, and accelerated after WWII when factories flourished in and around Chicago.People arrived from rural and urban areas throughout the South, with the majority coming from Appalachia.

I had lived in Uptown in the summer of 1964 when I worked as a participant observer for a Notre Dame study of Southern white migrants. Daytime had found me hanging out with older guys, often drinking, rolling cigarettes, and playing the guitar under the El tracks next to Graceland Cemetery. Now I was working with others in JOIN Community Union, a community organizing project initiated by SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and its Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP).

When it first started, as a project to organize the unemployed, JOIN stood for Jobs or Income Now. But when organizing the unemployed didn’t pan out, JOIN evolved into a “community union,” uniting folks to fight around issues that affected their lives, like housing, welfare, and police brutality.

Young radicals like myself went into cities around the country trying to organize “to build an interracial movement of the poor.” JOIN was our effort to build solidarity and create an organized force for change among poor people of Southern origin and others who lived in this community on Chicago’s North Side. We intended to help our nation live up to its stated vision of equal opportunity for all.

james JOIN 2
Virginia Bowers and Little Dovie.
In Uptown, we met a lot of folks while leafleting in front of the Unemployment Compensation Office on Lawrence Avenue. The backbone of JOIN was welfare women. The leadership included Dovie Coleman and Dovie Thurman, aka Big Dovie and Little Dovie -- confident and forceful black women.

Southern white women on welfare were aware of the goings-on in the civil rights movement and looked to these black women for leadership. One was Virginia Bowers from Arkansas, who became the JOIN office manager. Key organizers included Harriet Stulman, Alice Keller, and Vivien and Richie Rothstein.

Vivien and I had worked together what had been the West Oakland Community Union Project. In future years she became an organizer in Los Angeles of Vietnamese immigrants. Richie forged links to unions and set up a JOIN School to help community people learn about the power structure, welfare, police, and housing matters.

Post-JOIN he wrote about education for The New York Times and worked on education policy at the Economic Policy Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. In his Uptown work he was serious, smart, dedicated and, as I now realize, inspirational. He didn’t always appreciate my rebellious youthful behavior.

The government’s new War on Poverty was active in Uptown, headquartered on Montrose (now a gym in the increasingly gentrified neighborhood). We believed the War on Poverty didn’t encourage community people to take action or make decisions on the big issues of jobs, housing, education, and welfare. It too often focused on superficial, harmless programs like where to plant trees.

JOIN held weekly meetings that featured speakers, theatrical skits, and singing. The group-sing was enthusiastic, if sometimes off key, and included mountain tunes, spirituals, and traditional union songs. Sometimes we altered the lyrics to reflect current conditions.

We showed films we got from UE’s (United Electrical Workers') treasure-trove of labor documentary and training films. We rented films from a distribution house, including the previously banned Salt of the Earth about striking mine workers in Silver City, New Mexico — though The Hank Williams Story turned out a larger crowd.
Regular attendees were a unique, interesting, somewhat motley crew of Uptown residents.
Regular attendees were a unique, interesting, somewhat motley crew of Uptown residents. We had our share of wino attendees, including a Greek fellow named John. Once I carried a drunk John into Cook County Hospital, when his frostbitten feet prevented him from walking.

Each week there was an increasing number of young guys from the neighborhood, hanging in the back of the room. One Southern kid named James Osborne had a job with the War on Poverty and also hung around JOIN. At a meeting in Washington, D.C., he spoke up and asked Sargent Shriver, the War on Poverty’s head man, a question that was apparently too challenging. James lost his job -- and distanced himself from JOIN.

A short time later he married a nun who worked in the neighborhood and they opened the Book Box on Lawrence (now Shake Rattle and Read) by the Green Mill. Later, in 1968, we held training sessions in its basement for a short-lived outfit called the National Organizing Committee (NOC), which recruited college students to be community organizers.

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Goodfellows and girl in a car.
While I liked to joke that the meetings reminded me of a Bruegel painting, a mass of tortured and rough-edged peasants, there were of course plenty of sharp and effective people among the ranks, including Sarah, a Russian who had participated in the Russian Revolution and by 1966 was selling papers on Argyle.

Carl, a physically challenged welfare activist, came, as did Eugene Feldman, a retired teacher and former Communist. Feldman had organized sharecroppers in the South during the 1930s and shared pamphlets from those times. We knew we were part of an ongoing, long tradition of organizing and fighting for peoples’ rights.

A highlight of many meetings was a JOIN Theater agitprop skit that focused on the likes of Mayor Daley, urban renewal (poor people removal), landlords, and welfare and police brutality. My younger sister Melody James founded this project. Melody studied drama at Carnegie Institute and San Francisco State, so I asked her to come to Uptown to organize a peoples’ theater. After her JOIN work she returned to San Francisco and became a member of the legendary San Francisco Mime Troupe.

For JOIN Melody put together a lively mix of community people and student organizer types. JOIN Theater performed on various stages around town and in an empty lot on Clifton Street. Following the City’s massive urban removal of people in that part of the neighborhood, they performed before a large crowd, calling on the city to build a Hank Williams Memorial Playground in the space where Truman College stands today.

Over the spring and summer of ‘66 young guys began coming around JOIN. Near the old Wilson Avenue pool hall where Al Capone was said to have played, Reverend Maury ran a program for young guys. As we were less concerned with life after death than a better life in this lifetime, the Reverend’s hall became fertile ground for recruiting and we quickly made inroads.

We got to know these young guys, many of whom readily shared their accounts of police harassment and brutality. By the fall of 1966 Rev. Maury closed his operation. In its stead Bob Lawson, a JOIN organizer who had played football at Berkeley, gathered a group of young Southern guys that included Ralph Thurman, Hi Thurman, Bobby Joe McGinnis, and Jack (Junebug) Boykin.

They started a new group, which was friendly to but officially independent of JOIN. They called themselves The Uptown Goodfellows and opened a hangout-clubhouse space on Wilson at Kenmore.
When the police killed a young man named Ronnie Williams, who had moved to Uptown from Kentucky, it set off activity protesting police harassment and brutality.
When the police killed a young man named Ronnie Williams, who had moved to Uptown from Kentucky, it set off activity protesting police harassment and brutality. The Goodfellows and JOIN together organized a march on the infamous Summerdale 20th District Police Station. Over 300 people marched, mostly but not only, white Southerners.

Summerdale had been implicated earlier in a stolen-goods ring. The “Summerdale Scandal” led to the hiring (and brief tenure) of a forward-thinking criminology professor from Berkeley named O. W. Wilson as Police Superintendent. Our march called for an end to all police brutality but singled out a particularly hard-ass cop named Sam Joseph.

My own interaction with Joseph was limited to a short exchange of wise-ass remarks after he shined a flashlight into my car. I was parked down at Montrose Beach with Susan Ring, who was from a progressive home in the Swedish neighborhood of Andersonville. Her mom worked for the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee) and her dad was a butcher I jokingly referred to as the “Marxist butcher.”

Susan and I were making out when Joseph and his sidekick shined the light into the car and knocked on the window. Later Susan ended up marrying Junebug Boykin, who was my main street mentor.

The Summerdale march gave people a sense of unity, direction, and power. What followed from JOIN and the community was the founding of a program called Citizens’ Alert. This was an earlier version of the Oakland Black Panther Party’s practice of following the police and observing their activities. Citizens’ Alert is still active in Chicago, calling attention to police misbehavior. Activist Mary Powers has long been its leader.

The police response to the march was more hard-hitting on young guys in the neighborhood and an attack on JOIN. My college roommate Patrix Sturgis and my sister Melody were at the JOIN office when the 20th District Chicago Police burst in, ransacked the office and arrested them, claiming to have found a small amount of pot. Though it received less media coverage, they were later acquitted, after the police were found to have lied and planted the marijuana.

Housing was another major concern of folks in the hood. Buildings had mice, rats, and roaches, repairs weren’t made, and people were locked out when rent was late. We held rent strikes and demonstrations around housing issues. A group of lawyers who helped JOIN included Irv Birnbaum and Ted Stein. They worked with organizers and tenants, often going to housing court with them.

We tried to stop evictions. I made my way into a number of basements, turning on gas or electricity after landlords or their managers had turned the utilities off, and was once arrested when I informed an officer of the tenant’s rights and the law. Tenants at a large building on Broadway near Irving Park went up against a slumlord named Gutman. On a Sunday morning Rennie Davis and I went to his apartment building on the northwest side and hung a leaflet inside his vestibule: “Your Neighbor is a Slumlord!” We also put one on every car on the street.

In short order Gutman settled with the tenants, and that particular building became part of an improved housing initative by the Kate Maremont Foundation. A prolonged rent strike with marches at the “Sampson Building” on the 4100 N. Kenmore block led to an agreement and the formation of a tenant’s council.
JOIN did welfare advocacy, demonstrated at the welfare office, and called for fair treatment by the Illinois Department of Welfare.
JOIN did welfare advocacy, demonstrated at the welfare office, and called for fair treatment by the Illinois Department of Welfare. We worked closely with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) and the Latin American Defense Organization. These demonstrations and marches exemplified the potential for building an interracial movement of the poor. Actions involving primarily black, brown, and white organizations helped lay the early groundwork for rainbow coalitions to come.

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Mechanic and Steelworker Eric Gil.
 One spring afternoon the photographer Danny Lyon gave me a ride on his Triumph motorcycle to Molly Hagen’s apartment on Hyde Park Blvd. on the South Side. Molly’s crib became a regular destination. I would head there to hang out, smoke weed, and eat. I met Curtis Hayes (now Muhammad), who had worked with Molly in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Eric Gill, from Belize, who worked on cars and had a job in the steel mill, and an assortment other characters, including a salesman for Duncan Yo Yo.

That summer I bought a 1963 Triumph 650 TR6 motorcycle from Clay Highland, who I knew from Lake Forest College. On the bike, sometimes with Molly on board, I explored Chicago and its far-flung neighborhoods, communities, and off-the-beaten-path treasures. I loved late night cruising up and down Lake Shore Drive, the green tunnel of Lower Wacker Drive, the smell of chocolate production on Kinzie, and the blast furnace at Finkl & Sons Steel on Armitage.

In addition to country music joints in Uptown, I went to hear Paul Butterfield, first in Old Town at Big John’s (where I had first seen Steve Miller), and then at the Blue Flame on Drexel Blvd at 39th Street, where he played with Howlin’ Wolf’s old band. At a meeting of activists from various projects around town I met a law student named Bernardine Dohrn.

Days later Bob Lawson and I took an exhilarating ride on my Triumph to the SDS Convention held in Clear Lake, Iowa, the place where Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper had gone down in an airplane. While there we got word that both the JOIN office and the new Movement for A Democratic Society office in Rogers Park had been busted. People were out of sorts.

Wearing a cowboy hat, I stood up and quoted Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn, organize.” This moment was my introduction to the assembled SDSers, and I left Clear Lake as part of SDS’s leadership, a member of the National Interim Committee. Before heading back to Chicago I reintroduced myself to Bernardine by sending her a post card: “Nice meeting you; how about we take a ride together on my motorcycle?”

[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago's Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is reachable by one and all at michael@heartlandcafe.com. Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.]

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Bob Feldman : A People's History of Egypt, Part 12, Section 2, 1947-1948

The movement to democratize Egypt: Except for their religious beliefs, Jews shared lifestyles with those of Muslim background.
Jewish home in Egypt. Image from BBC Watch.
By Bob Feldman | The Rag Blog | January 6, 2014

[With all the dramatic activity in Egypt, Bob Feldman's Rag Blog "people's history" series, "The Movement to Democratize Egypt," could not be more timely. Also see Feldman's "Hidden History of Texas" series on The Rag Blog.]

Prior to the Zionist movement’s establishment of the State of Israel on Palestinian land in 1948 and subsequent eviction of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from Palestine during the late 1940s, between 65,000 and 80,000 Egyptians of Jewish religious background lived in Egypt. Around 64 percent of Egyptians of Jewish background lived in Cairo and around 32 percent lived in Alexandria, according to the Egyptian census of 1947.

Before the establishment of Israel, Egyptian Jews “attained an inordinately high number of respectable positions in finance, commerce, industry and the professions” in post-World War II Egyptian society, according to Selma Botman’s The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970. As the Encyclopedia Judaica recalled:
In 1947 most Egyptian Jews (59%) were merchants, and the rest were employed in industry (18%), administration, and public services (11%). The economic situation of Egyptian Jewry was relatively good; there were several multi-millionaires, a phenomenon unusual in other Jewish communities of the Middle East…There were no restrictions on accepting Jews in government or foreign schools.
And in addition to the relatively prosperous Egyptians of Jewish religious background who lived in Cairo prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in Palestine, there were also “many poor Jews living in the Haret al-Ya Hud section of Cairo who were completely indistinguishable from their Muslim counterparts” in Egypt.

And, “with the exception of their adherence to religious belief, they ate, spoke, dressed, and lived in virtually identical ways” as the Egyptians of Islamic religious background, according to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970.
Zionism was considered an alien ideology to most Egyptian Jews.
So, not surprisingly, although only about 20 percent of the people of Jewish religious background who lived in Egypt were officially considered Egyptian citizens in 1947, “Zionism was generally an alien ideology to most Egyptian Jews,” prior to 1947, according to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970; and the Jewish League to Combat Zionism (al-Rabita al-Tsrailiyya li Muk afahat al-Sahyuniyya), founded in the mid-1940s by an Egyptian named Marcel Israel, included Egyptian “leftists and communists alike,” according to the same book.

Egypt’s mid-1940s Jewish League to Combat Zionism had the following four objectives, according to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970: 1. “working against Zionism;” 2. “strengthening ties between Egyptian Jews and the Egyptian people in the struggle for independence;” 3. “lessen[ing] the gap between Jews and Arabs in Palestine;” and 4. “solving the problem of the Wandering Jew.”

But since the Egyptian monarchical regime’s prime minister in 1947, al-Nuqrashi, was being backed by some Egyptian Jews who were sympathetic to the Zionist movement (and who also wished to discourage Egyptians of Islamic and Jewish religious backgrounds from uniting in opposition to UK special influence in Egypt), al-Nuqrashi suppressed the Jewish League to Combat Zionism in 1947.

Yet when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine -- despite the objections of most people then living in Palestine and other Arab counties and many rank-and-file members of Egypt’s Democratic Movement for National Liberation [DMNL] -- the leftist DMNL group’s leadership -- like the Soviet Union -- endorsed the partition plan.

But in its al-Jamahir party newspaper, the DMNL also clarified its late 1947 unpopular political stance on the issue of Palestine’s partition in the following way:
We do not want to take Palestine away from the Arabs and give it to the Jews but we want to take it away from imperialism and give it to the Arabs and Jews…Then will begin the long struggle for rapprochement between Arab and Jewish states…
[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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04 January 2014

Kate Braun : Waxing Crescent Moon is Time to Set New Goals

Moon Musings: The Waxing Crescent Moon -- which falls on January 4–5, 2014, is a time to set goals for positive changes in your life.
waxing crescent moon purple
Waxing crescent moon. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
By Kate Braun | The Rag Blog | January 3, 2013

Waxing moons are times to set new goals, recognize new objectives, promote new growth, and set forces in motion to help you achieve these goals, objectives, and growth. The first weekend of 2014 is an auspicious time to start working, both long- and short-term, with the goal of manifesting positive changes in your life.

On Saturday, Lady Moon is in Aquarius, the sign that foreshadows coming trends and emphases; on Sunday, Lady Moon is in Pisces, the sign that incorporates energy from all the signs of the Zodiac; either of these days will generate nicely positive energy to facilitate your intentions.

It is best to start your activities at or near sunset. Invoke your favorite goddess-as-virgin deities. They will add helpful energy to your ritualing, which should increase the likelihood that you will be successful in your endeavors during 2014. As you organize your plans for the New Year, don’t shy away from the thought that plans may need modification as they progress. Be prepared to be flexible as circumstances may dictate, while not losing sight of your ultimate objectives.

This may also be a good time to plant above-ground crops such as lettuce and spinach. Lettuce can take a light freeze and will do well in the central Texas area if seed is sowed at this time.
On Saturday, January 4, Saturn rules. His emphasis is on self-discipline, which can be helpful as you set your goals and objectives for this year in general and this moon cycle in particular.
On Saturday, January 4, Saturn rules. His emphasis is on self-discipline, which can be helpful as you set your goals and objectives for this year in general and this moon cycle in particular. Use the color black, make sure you have contact with the element Earth in some way (not necessarily barefoot and outdoors; holding a small potted plant will do just as well), and repeat your chant 3 times.

On Sunday, January 5, the Sun rules, giving emphasis to money matters, health issues, and friendships. Use the color yellow, have a candle burning for the fire element, and repeat your chant 6 times.

A suggested chant:
New beginnings, fresh objectives; I’m prepared to do my part. Plans and actions now in sight; this is when and how I start: Sowing seeds in heart and mind, planning steps both long and short, Open to unfolding options of whatever sort.
May the New Year bring us all a calmness of spirit, a joyous heart, economic stability, and delight in all things. I urge you to find something each day that prompts smiles or laughter, for they are the most basic tools we humans have to dispel gloom and keep us moving forward!

[Kate Braun was a contributor to the original Rag. Her website is www.tarotbykatebraun.com. She can be reached at kate_braun2000@yahoo.com. Read more of Kate Braun's writing on The Rag Blog.]

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27 December 2013

Alan Waldman: 'A Bit of Fry & Laurie' Was Brilliant British Sketch Series

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
This was most people’s first exposure to the highly original comic genius of English national treasures Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, who wrote and performed many classic sketches.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2013

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

I usually review foreign English-language sitcoms and mysteries here -- not sketch comedies -- but because most Americans have never seen these early TV comedy treasures, I seek to expose as many of you as possible to the 26 priceless episodes of A Bit of Fry & Laurie. You will no doubt thank me profusely after you see some of them. Here is one you can link to.

This magnificent English TV series lasted four seasons, from 1987-1995. All the episodes are on Netflix and Netflix Instant streaming and most are free on You Tube. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie wrote and performed all the sketches, sometimes with the assistance of Brit celebrity actors such as Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder), Paul Eddington (Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister); Selina Cadell (Doc Martin ), and Nigel Havers (BAFTA nomination for Chariots of Fire).

Hugh Laurie earned two Golden Globes, two Screen Actors Guild statuettes, 10 other awards and six Emmy nominations for playing the title role in House (with a flawless American accent) from 2004 to 2012. In 2011 he was deemed the highest-paid actor in an American TV drama ($409,000 per episode) and was also the most-watched TV leading man. In 2007 he received a cherished OBE award for services to drama.

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
Stephen Fry is an English institution: actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television and radio presenter, film director, and political activist. He teamed up with Laurie when both were at college in Cambridge Footlights. Two of their masterful subsequent collaborations were the hilarious series Blackadder and PBS’s Jeeves and Wooster.

Fry has won eight major awards and received 14 other nominations, was kicked out of two schools, was briefly imprisoned for credit card fraud, and had a nervous breakdown in 1995 (after the BBC tinkered with his and Hugh’s show).

A Bit of Fry & Laurie featured elaborate wordplay and innuendo, political satire, a lot of brilliant nonsense, and Laurie playing piano and singing his funny original songs. In addition, the show was punctuated with non sequitur bits where one of them, usually in weird costume or drag, made odd or droll statements, as was done in Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The show often commented on issues of the day. In one sketch a Conservative government minister is strangled while Stephen Fry screams at him "What are you doing to the television system? What are you doing to the country?" in an attack on England’s Broadcasting Act of 1990. The pair later attacked the Act's malign aftereffects in a parody of It's a Wonderful Life, evoking a world in which Rupert Murdoch had not existed.

The series made numerous jokes at the expense of Conservative prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major. One sketch depicted a televised "Young Tory of the Year" competition, in which Laurie recited a deliberately incoherent speech consisting only of nonsense political buzzwords, such as "family values" and "individual enterprise."

Several popular running sketches featured the pair as secret agents, pompous executives and talk show hosts of programs such as Trying to Borrow a Fiver Off..., Introducing My Grandfather to..., Photocopying My Genitals With..., Realizing I've Given the Wrong Directions To..., and Flying a Light Airplane Without Having Had Any Formal Instruction With....

Episodes ended with Fry mixing and describing a bizarre beverage while Laurie sang and played. A very popular song of his was "Mystery," with Hugh mimicking the vocal mannerisms of Sammy Davis Jr. and singing about the obstacles to his relationship with the object of his affection, which included the fact that she had been dead since 1973.

A few typical lines follow.

Barber: Which of sir's manifold hairs would he care to place in my professional care for the purposes of securing an encutment?

Doctor: Frank, this is called inter-oral, extra-nasal respiratory relaxant therapy. As the name implies, it is an American technique.

Stephen (as a woman): Well, I was born Mary Patterson, but then I married and naturally took my husband's name, so now I'm Neil Patterson.

Hugh: Then I was Princess Anne's assistant for a while, but I chucked that in because it was obvious they were never going to make me Princess Anne, no matter how well I did the job.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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22 December 2013

Tom Hayden : Progressive Dems See Opening for New Politics

Elizabeth Warren and the populists say 'No way!' to 'Third Way.'
Conditions ripe for a new politics:
An opening for progressive Democrats
The Democratic progressive base is making clear that Hillary Clinton must make an adjustment from her hawkish centrism towards the new populism.
By Tom Hayden / The Rag Blog / December 23, 2013

The sight of progressive Democrats shaming and exposing the Wall Street-funded "Third Way" Democrats is a sign of a powerful new opening for progressives on the American political spectrum.

The standing of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, Bill de Blasio, and many others is on the rise. The Clinton Democrats are being challenged from the populist left; the AFL-CIO is supporting a new generation of organizers; the immigrant rights movement is reviving the tradition of the student civil rights movement; the LGBT movement is learning to win.

And as long as the economy is failing for the poor, working people, and the middle class, the conditions for a new politics are ripening rapidly.

These moments come and go like the tides, which makes leadership, vision, and strategy critically important. Where do social movements fit in? Or groups like PDA (Progressive Democrats of America)? Where is the new center of gravity?

Our eyes should be on 2016, achieving as much as possible from the Obama era, and defending against a right-wing rollback in that year’s presidential election. The centrist Democratic strategy thus far has been to paint the Republicans as dangerous extremists, which is working nicely with Republican cooperation.

Because of the disastrous stumbling on Obamacare, however, Democratic prospects in the 2014 low-turnout congressional elections have stalled for now. The best that can be hoped for at this point is Democratic control of the Senate and a narrowing of the gap in the Republican House. Meanwhile, given the deep partisan divisions, at least 45 percent of American voters live under entrenched right-wing rule.

Despite the stalemate, there are multiple fronts where weird coalitions might prevail:
  • Immigration reform if the Republican establishment prevails over the Tea Party;
  • Blocking of the secret pro-corporate trade agreements which will dismantle labor and environmental protections, assuming labor-liberal Democrats coalesce with the Republican libertarians; and
  • Reform of the Big Brother/Big Data surveillance apparatus by the same liberal-libertarian coalition;
  • Prevention of unwinnable, unaffordable military adventures. Diplomatic recognition of Cuba will be a heavy lift, but the president has shown he can overcome the Republican-led Cuban Right in the House and the unpopular Sen. Menendez in the Senate.
None of these achievements will be easy, but all are doable.

Keeping the White House in 2016 is vital in order to shift the balance on the U.S. Supreme Court and to retain regulatory power over social, economic, voting rights, and environmental policies. It is also imperative to keep the Senate majority Democratic for its appointment powers and to prevent the conservative cancer from spreading from the House. It is important for the progressive Democrats in the House to fight aggressively as if they are behind enemy lines as opposed to a rational debating society.

Any efforts to cobble together weird coalitions at the congressional level may fail or be resisted by the White House. Change is more likely to be delivered from social movements in progressive states and cities, however, not from the trench warfare in D.C. Call it a trickle-up populism. California, for example, already leads the way on conservation and renewables as well as immigration reform. Vermont is implementing its right to single-payer health care. Colorado and Washington are legalizing and regulating marijuana.

New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio with family, shown at July demonstration in support of New York health care workers. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
A major challenge for progressives is whether it is possible to forge consensus on vision and program (or as consultants call it, narrative). Obama is re-emphasizing economic inequality, framed as a choice between being on your own or all in this together. That’s a start for Democrats, and a welcome echo of Occupy Wall Street. The same theme accounts for the exceptional rise of Warren and de Blasio.

But it is a fuzzy and incomplete vision, a blended blur of the New Deal ("expand Social Security") and the New Economy ("Facebook and Google will set us free"). The faulty vision reflects fault lines in the underlying coalition. Balancing the contradictions is the key to building a winning majority coalition electorally; too far in either direction can result in splits which favor the Republican strategy of divide-to-rule.

The first contradiction for Democrats, and even some progressives, is whether to be “all in” in the fight against climate change, or to take a “balanced” approach for electoral reasons by flirting with “clean coal”. The return of John Podesta to the White House is encouraging news for environmentalists in this regard.

The equally problematic contradiction for Democrats, and even some human rights groups, is whether to embrace more military intervention, secret ops, and drone tactics, in order to satisfy the “liberal interventionists," including Samantha Power, Human Rights Watch, the Feminist Majority, and AIPAC, or whether to deepen policy of avoiding unwinnable and unaffordable wars at the risk of being labeled “isolationist.”

The reality is that there are not enough discretionary funds for health care and warfare.

A third contradiction is between labor, progressives and human rights groups on one side and the corporate-leaning Democrats on issues of international investment and trade, a rift which has continued since the Seattle uprisings of 1999, where Bill Clinton both sponsored the WTO Summit and distanced himself from the shambles that followed.

While every effort should be made to reconcile such contradictions, the predictable truth is that they will be fought out in the 2016 Democratic primaries.

There are problematic contradictions on these issues in the Democratic coalition. Liberals on domestic policy frequently avoid taking stands on national security or even endorse hawkish policies.

The Democratic progressive base is making clear that Hillary Clinton must make an adjustment from her hawkish centrism towards the new populism, or lose significant support either in the 2016 primaries or the general election.

One battle Democrats, labor, and progressives can agree on is the expansion and protection of the emerging political majority from the Republican effort to diminish their voting rights, turnout potential, and representation in the Electoral College. The seemingly-insane Republican overreaction to the recent modest change in Senate filibuster rules is an indication of how greatly Republican political power rests on guarding their minority status.

The fight over media reform is another struggle between the public versus the corporate interests where progressives must gain and hold their ground. A similar unity should prevail on chipping away against Citizens United, but the party is unable to end its overall addiction to a fund-raising frenzy which empowers many of the most unsavory elements in the political culture. They cannot agree even on eliminating the business tax deduction by which special interests use taxpayers’ money to pass legislation ripping off the same taxpayers.

Every local, state and federal reform of the campaign finance system is a vital gain for democracy, and a base for progressives winning electoral seats.

[Tom Hayden is a former California state senator and leader of Sixties peace, justice, and environmental movements. He currently teaches at Pitzer College in Los Angeles. His latest book is The Long Sixties. Hayden is director of the Peace and Justice Resource center and editor of The Peace Exchange Bulletin. Read more of Tom Hayden's writing on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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Jack A. Smith : Climate Change Confab Brings Too Little Too Late

Climate change activists in Warsaw, Friday, November 22, 2013, portray, from right, French President Francois Hollande, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Obama, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo by Czarek Sokolowski, / AP.
Climate Change meeting in
Warsaw brings too little too late

Given the number of drastic reports about climate change... the accomplishments at COP19 are useful but hugely disproportionate to what is needed.
By Jack A. Smith / The Rag Blog / December 23, 2013

The sharply increasing scientific indicators of impending disastrous global climate change have failed to motivate the principal developed countries, led by the U.S., to accelerate the lackluster pace of their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This was the principal conclusion of several key environmental groups attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) November 11-23 in Warsaw, Poland. The meeting lasted a day and a half longer than scheduled to resolve a dispute about new greenhouse emission targets. About 10,000 people attended the 19th annual meeting of the so-called Conference of Parties (COP19) that drew nearly all the UN’s 193 member states.

About 800 attendees associated with environmental groups walked out of the conference November 21, protesting the lack of progress. In a joint statement on the day of the walkout, the World Wildlife Federation, OxFam, Friends of the Earth, Action Aid, and the International Trade Union Federation declared:
Organizations and movements representing people from every corner of the Earth have decided that the best use of our time is to voluntarily withdraw from the Warsaw climate talks. The conference, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing.
According to Professor Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and a leading British expert on climate change: “The actions that have been agreed are simply inadequate when compared with the scale and urgency of the risks that the world faces from rising levels of greenhouse gases.”

There were also street protests and marches in Warsaw composed largely of younger conference attendees and local youth. One slogan, referring to climate disasters, was “The Philippines, Pakistan, New Orleans: Change the System, not the climate.”

On November 18, delegates from 133 developing countries -- under the umbrella of the G77 group plus China -- walked out temporarily “because we do not see a clear-cut commitment by developed countries to reach an agreement” to financially help poor countries suffering the effects of climate change for which they are not responsible. The U.S., for instance, was reluctant to help developing countries adapt to sea level rise, droughts, powerful storms and other adverse impacts, even though it is historically the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases.

By the end of the conference, perhaps encouraged by the walkout, the world body agreed to set up a “Loss and Damage” process for “the most vulnerable countries” experiencing losses from global warming. The details remain vague.

A distressing aspect of the conference came when four major developed countries took actions in contradiction to fighting global warming.
  • Japan -- the fifth largest carbon polluter -- announced it was breaking its pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 25% of 1990 levels by the year 2020, blaming the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.
  • Canada and Australia recently declared they would not support the Green Climate Fund -- the UNCCC program to transfer money from the developed to the developing countries to assist them in dealing with climate change.
  • Conference host Poland, a major coal producer, worked with the World Coal Association to simultaneously host the International Coal and Climate Summit in Warsaw. (Greenpeace and others protested outside the coal meeting.)
COP19 was permeated with corporate lobbyists from “fossil fuels, big business groups, carbon market and financial players, agribusiness and agrofuels, as well as some of the big polluting industries,” according to the oppositional “COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying.” Corporations appeared at previous COP meetings but, witnesses say, never in such large number.

Obviously, one of the most important issues confronting the world community is reducing greenhouse carbon emissions to impede global warming. This is a perennial UNCCC goal but hardly sufficient so far to prevent substantial increases in carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere, now exceeding 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in at least 3 million years since the Pliocene era.

Greenhouse reductions hark back to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obligated developed countries to specific -- and in the main incongruously low -- emissions reduction targets while developing countries were encouraged to reduce emissions without a binding requirement.

Since 1997, despite Kyoto, emissions have increased substantially. According to a new report from research teams coordinated by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, “The gap between where emissions are and where emissions would need to be in order to keep climate targets within reach is getting bigger and bigger.”

Kyoto, which the U.S. refused to join because of its so-called “bias” toward developing countries, has in effect been extended from 2013 to 2020 when new emissions targets will go into effect. Unless these new targets are far greater than the old, CO2 ppm will jump much higher.

At issue during COP19 was a proposal by the EU, U.S., and a number of developed countries to eliminate Kyoto’s nonbinding reductions for developing countries. Under this plan, each and all countries would set specific targets over next year. These targets would then be inspected by the other countries to assure they are adequate for the mission at hand. The final targets would be published in early 2015 and presumably approved by that year’s COP, and implemented in five years.

An intense 36-hour struggle between a group of developing countries and most developed countries over this proposal went into an extra session lasting throughout Nov. 22 and into the early hours of the 23rd. Opposing removal of the distinction between developed and developing countries was a group called the “Like-Minded Developing Countries on Climate Change” (LMDC), including such countries as China, India, Venezuela, Bolivia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Thailand.

According to an account in the mass circulation Indian newspaper The Hindu:
India, China and other countries in the LMDC group take the position that the new climate agreement must not force developing countries to review their volunteered emission reduction targets. Setting themselves up in a direct confrontation with the developed countries, the LMDC opposes doing away with the current differentiation between developing and developed countries when it came to taking responsibility for climate action.
In other words, the developing countries will do what they can to reduce emissions, but the principal task by far belongs to the developed countries. They argue that developed industrial countries have been spewing fossil fuel-created greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for 100 to 200 years or more, and most of these pollutants have yet to dissipate. The carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere could warm the planet for hundreds of years.

The richer countries reject this argument, pointing to the increasing industrialization taking place in the developing world. Writing in the Guardian November 25, Graham Readfearn points out: “Rich countries are desperate to avoid taking the blame for the impacts of climate change.... The developed countries won't let any statements slip into any UN climate document that could be used against them in the future” in terms of financing mitigation, adaptation, and compensation costs.

Most developing countries are very poor and have contributed miniscule emissions, but a few of them -- China, India, and Brazil, among others -- have become major industrialized powers in relatively recent years. China, now the largest annual contributor to global warming, has been seriously industrialized for less than 30 years and also functions as a global factory for many nations, including the U.S.

These recently industrializing developing states, most of which are former exploited colonies of the rich countries, argue that the developed states became major powers based on burning fossil fuels and thus have the major responsibility to take the lead in reducing emissions.

China points out that while it has recently displaced the U.S. as leading producer of Greenhouse gas emissions, its population is three times greater. On a per capita basis, Beijing notes, the average American in 2011 produced 17.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide; the average Chinese, just 6.5 tons. (A metric ton is 205 pounds heavier than a 2,000 pound ton.) The U.S. rejects these arguments.

Climate activists in downtown Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, November 16, 2013. Photo from AP.
The developed-developing conflict over emissions was finally resolved when China and India withdrew demands for including Kyoto’s exception for developing countries, in return for which “commitments” to a specific target were changed to “contributions.” Clearly this is a vague stopgap measure that will eventually change. The important matter is the total of emissions reductions to be agreed upon in 2015.

The U.S., as the most influential developed country, has taken hardly any action at all to significantly reduce CO2 emissions when it was the number one emitter of carbon in the atmosphere or now when it is number two, tut-tutting about China’s smokestacks while President Obama boasts about expanding drilling for oil and fracking for gas.

Ironically, though China is a mass polluter today it is investing far more heavily than the U.S. in renewable resources such as solar and wind energy. This may eventually pay off, but not before an unacceptable level of CO2 continues.

Given the number of drastic reports about climate change from the scientific community in the last several months, the accomplishments at COP19 are useful but hugely disproportionate to what is needed. In addition to the agreement on contributions to lower greenhouse emissions this also happened: The countries agreed on a multi-billion dollar program to combat global deforestation. The Loss and Damage project was passed, and developed states were urged to increase levels of aid to poorer countries. A plan was hammered out to monitor emissions reductions.

A few of those recent drastic reports include these facts:
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are set to be 8-12 billion tons higher in 2020 than the level needed to keep global warming below 3.6 Fahrenheit, the UN Environment Program said. (Above 3.6 F, the world’s people will begin to experience extreme effects)...
  • According to the American Meteorological Society, there is a 90% probability that global temperatures will rise 6.3 to 13.3 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 100 years...
  • According to the Associated Press, a leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change means that “Many of the ills of the modern world -- starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease -- are likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change”...
  • The U.S. is likely to become the world’s top producer of crude oil and natural gas by the end of 2013 due to increased oil drilling and fracking for gas...
  • The U.S. is pumping 50% more methane into the atmosphere than the government has estimated, reports Science News...
  • In a new study, the team of researchers reports a global loss of 888,000 square miles of forest between 2000 and 2012 and a gain of only 309,000 square miles of new forest.
Summing up the Warsaw conference, an observer for Christian Aid, Mohamed Adow, declares:
In agreeing to establish a loss and damage mechanism, countries have accepted the reality that the world is already dealing with the extensive damage caused by climate impacts, and requires a formal process to assess and deal with it, but they seem unwilling to take concrete actions to reduce the severity of these impacts.
“We did not achieve a meaningful outcome,” said Naderev Sano, the head of the Philippines delegation who had been fasting throughout the meeting in solidarity with the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Samantha Smith, representing the World Wildlife Fund at COP19 declared:
Negotiators in Warsaw should have used this meeting to take a big and critical step towards global, just action on climate change. That didn't happen. This has placed the negotiations towards a global agreement [on emissions] at risk.
The next major UNCCC conference, COP20, will take place in Lima, Peru, in December 2014. The extremely important 2015 meeting, when the countries will decide on new emissions targets, will be in Paris.

There is positive news as well as the negative.
  • A majority of the American people now seek to limit global warming, according to a recent report from Grist Environmental News. Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick led an analysis of more than a decade’s worth of poll results for 46 states. The results show that the majority of residents of all of those states, whether red or blue, are united in their worries about the climate. At least three-quarters of residents are aware that the climate is changing. Two-thirds want the government to limit greenhouse gas emissions from businesses. At least 62% want regulations that cut carbon pollution from power plants. At least half want the U.S. to take action to fight climate change, even if other countries do not.

  • The walkout by environmental NGOs is highly significant. They are clearly “mad as hell” and presumably are “not going to take this anymore!" to evoke the famous line from the film Network. Their unprecedented action in Warsaw undoubtedly reflects the views of millions of people back in the United States who have been following the scientific reports and want Washington to finally take dramatic action.

  • At issue is mobilizing these people to take action in concert with others to force the political system to put climate sanity and ecological sustainability on the immediate national agenda. Two things are required: 1. A mass education program is called for because the broader and deeper implications of reforms must be understood and acted upon. 2. Unity in action is necessary to bring together many constituencies to fight for climate sanity and justice with a view toward protecting future generations from the excesses of the industrial era.

  • There are up to a score of major environmental organizations in the U.S. Some, like Greenpeace and 350.org are willing to offer civil disobedience; some are important education and pressure groups; and some -- far fewer -- are too cautious and compromising, such as those advocating for nuclear power or natural gas. There must be many hundreds and more small and medium size environmental groups throughout our country, with anywhere from five to 50 or even 100 local followers. And then there are the numerous progressive and left organizations that basically agree with the environmental cause. None have to give up their individual identities, but they can come together around specific global warming and ecological issues and fight the power of the 1% to 5% who essentially rule America.

  • The actions of the developing societies at COP19 were important, too, particularly their brief walkout. The majority of these countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are not only vulnerable to the consequences of climate change but rarely possess the economic wherewithal to adequately survive. They will struggle for their demands in future global conferences.

  • Despite the foot-dragging of many developed countries, all of them contain environmental and progressive/left organizations. They, too, are “mad as hell” and will grow stronger.

  • Time may not be on sanity’s side, but as the CO2 ppm rises and the hopes for significant reductions in greenhouse gases fall in the next few years, conditions will be ripe for a global climate justice uprising.
At this point it seems that only a mass mobilization of the U.S. and world’s peoples will be able to provide the strength to stand up to the fossil fuel interests, the corporations, big business, banks, financiers, and the weak or corrupt politicians who impede the way to build an equal and ecologically sustainable society including rational conservation of resources and reduction of excess consumption.

[Jack A. Smith was editor of the Guardian -- for decades the nation's preeminent leftist newsweekly -- that closed shop in 1992. Smith now edits the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter. Read more articles by Jack A. Smith on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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Lamar W. Hankins : Opportunist Narvaiz Takes On Doggett Again in Gerrymandered 35th

Congressional candidate Susan Narvaiz and friend. Image from Facebook.
Unsolicited advice, Dept.:
A Narvaiz strategy to defeat Doggett
Narvaiz is a political chameleon who says what she needs to say and does what she needs to do to protect herself from political accountability.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / December 23, 2013

SAN MARCOS, Texas -- Three years ago, when Susan Narvaiz was near the end of her last term as Mayor of San Marcos, I asked her in a public meeting for some information about the number of jobs created through the use of publicly-funded development incentives provided by the City Council. She said she had that information at her office and would get it to me. Even after a later reminder, I’m still waiting for that information. That promise and her failure to fulfill it about sums up what I expect from her in any political office.

Narvaiz is a political chameleon who says what she needs to say and does what she needs to do to protect herself from political accountability. She is also an opportunist, which may be behind her reported return to San Marcos to run again against Rep. Lloyd Doggett for Congress in District 35. In her first run against Doggett in 2012, she garnered only 32% of the vote. One oft-followed piece of political lore, which Narvaiz may have in mind, is keep running to increase your name recognition and eventually you will be elected.

The district includes parts of the San Antonio metropolitan area, including portions of Bexar County, the tiny westernmost corner of Guadalupe County, thin strips of Comal and Hays and portions of Caldwell counties, along with portions of southeastern Austin in Travis County. The largest contiguous land mass combines southeastern Travis, northeastern Hays, and southwest Caldwell counties.

The strange shape of the district reminds me a bit of the outline of Vietnam. It was ranked by the National Journal as one of the 10 most contorted congressional districts in the nation, as a result of redistricting by a Republican-controlled Texas Legislature hoping to drive Doggett out of Congress.

The population of the district is about 62% Hispanic, almost 11% Black, and 25% White. Over one-fourth of the district’s residents are below the poverty line based on income.

If Narvaiz’s history is any indication, she will cobble together supporters from the evangelical community, the Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party (very active in parts of District 35), members of the business community, and Hispanics, even though it is her husband, Mike, who is Hispanic, not Narvaiz. Mike Narvaiz, an electrician, used his political contacts among Hispanic groups to get his wife several endorsements in her past political races.

Texas Cong. Dist. 35.
When Narvaiz filed to run for Congress against Doggett about 20 months ago, she developed few positions that could be contrasted with what Doggett had fought for during his many years in pubic life. She stuck with the glittering generalities of limited government, individual rights, personal responsibility, compassion, accountability, keeping our nation strong, and maintaining our resolve. Of course, no candidate would oppose such platitudes. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree with these nostrums. Only when we get to specifics do we learn what a candidate may mean.

Last year, we never heard enough specifics to know whether Narvaiz had any positions worth supporting. This time around will likely be similar, though I’m sure she will run against the Affordable Care Act and refer to it as Obamacare. I don’t know if this will help, since Obama drew over 63% of the vote in District 35 in 2012, with Doggett drawing 64% against Narvaiz. The 2012 Democratic Party nominee for governor received 60% of the vote in District 35 and few people even remember his name.

Early this past August, Narvaiz announced that she and her husband were moving to Carlsbad, New Mexico. The announcement followed her usual evangelical style, assuring voters that this decision came directly from God. I’m sure Narvaiz is serious about her faith, but she also seriously uses that faith to promote her political ambition, a practice that diminishes her and her professed religion in the eyes of many, whether religious or non-religious.

She first visited Carlsbad to be the keynote speaker at the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in October 2012, a forum similar to those she promoted to great political advantage in San Marcos during most of her tenure as mayor. For several years, Narvaiz used funds appropriated for City Council expenses to host breakfasts for local clergy, about every other month, in city facilities. Each “Breakfast with Mayor & Clergy” began with an invocation and ended with a “closing prayer.” Unless you were a religious leader on her list, you were not invited.

The events enabled the Mayor to reach out to religious leaders for her own political purposes at public expense. The breakfasts were not sponsored by the City Council and were not official City functions authorized by any action of the City Council. Yet Narvaiz used city meeting rooms, city staff, and city resources to carry on her outreach to the religious community, especially to evangelicals, during her time as Mayor.

Narvaiz continued her outreach to the religious community through her last campaign for re-election, the slogan for which was “Forward Progress, Higher Purpose.” Her campaign website explained the meaning and significance of her slogan:
I believe that each of us exists to fulfill a specific purpose in a bigger plan, God’s plan. Each of us is called to use our gifts and talents to serve others. ...And when we do, we will change the lives of those around us for the better. We will be people of character. We will be servant leaders and we will be what God has called each of us to be. There is no higher purpose.
While many of us may share these views, we should remember that Narvaiz was not running for an ecclesiastical office; she was campaigning for a secular public office. Her personal religious views should not have been bankrolled with the taxpayers’ money, as they were during her tenure as Mayor.

She spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to support her religious outreach program, including an August 15, 2007, “Breakfast and tour with Mayor and Clergy” bus trip that included both breakfast and lunch. This was not an official city event, but was paid for with public funds.

On June 20, 2006, the Mayor called an “Emergency Clergy Meeting,” paid for with public funds to discuss parking and litter problems in the Rio Vista Dam area with clergy and religious leaders.

And during Narvaiz’s first term as Mayor of San Marcos, she started the practice of opening meetings with prayer -- mostly by Christian evangelical pastors. In a community as diverse as San Marcos, this action was an affront to the consciences of the religious and non-religious alike. But zealots like Narvaiz can see only their own truth. Everyone else is condemned to hell, and their feelings and beliefs are unimportant.

Narvaiz is returning to San Marcos to run against Doggett after losing her bid in October to become County Manager of Eddy County, New Mexico, where Carlsbad is located. Whether the loss of that job opportunity caused her return to San Marcos has not been made public, but the timing is curious. She may have been mistaken about God’s plan for her just four months ago. But she was at least as sure of the righteousness of our last president's decision to invade Iraq, as she was of her decision to move to Carlsbad.

On March 24, 2003, when Narvaiz was a San Marcos city council member, she voted in favor of a council resolution that was intended to show that preemptive war is patriotic. The resolution was really a thinly-veiled show of support for President George W. Bush as he violated the Nuremberg principles in more than one respect, particularly Principle VI: “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances.”

In March 2003, so strong was the war-induced patriotism that a Gallup poll showed that 79% of Americans supported going to war in Iraq; now, a majority believe that decision was wrong. But not one of those pro-war members of the City Council, including Narvaiz, has issued a public apology for their unconscionable support of this war, about which they had no doubts at the time. Apparently no doubts have crossed their minds since. In fairness to Narvaiz, she is probably too busy moving, running for office, and seeking new employment opportunities to apologize for that mistake made over 10 years ago.

Although we know very little about Narvaiz’s positions on national issues, other than preemptive war, we have hundreds of votes by Doggett that indicate his fitness for public office. In addition, Doggett has clear positions on national issues at his website, covering the budget, higher education, federal aid to public schools, tax fairness, bank practices reform, veteran support, and consumer protection.

In the 2012 race, Narvaiz spent about $182,000 and had a debt of almost $78,000 when the race was over. Doggett spent almost $2 million in the newly-created district in over half of which he had never been a candidate for Congress. Doggett has nearly $3 million on hand for the 2014 race. There are no figures available publicly for the amount Narvaiz has available to spend for 2014.

In 2012, Doggett received support from lawyers/law firms, retired people, health professionals, building trade unions, industrial unions, the real estate sector, transportation unions, the finance sector, and hospitals/nursing homes. Narvaiz’s main financial support came from the real estate sector, construction services, retired people, building materials and equipment suppliers, the general business community, general contractors, the sea transport sector, Republican and conservative organizations, the business services sector, and the food and beverage industry. [Source: Project Vote Smart].

Norvaiz with Cong. Paul Ryan.
These political contributions for both candidates represent support from individuals, groups, and organizations that like some or most of the political decisions each candidate has made while holding public office and the positions they have taken during their campaigns. Narvaiz’s contributions are weighted toward the interests she supported while mayor. For instance, her support for a conference center and hotel was viewed favorably by the food and beverage industry, which has now rewarded her for that support.

In the race last year, 62% of Narvaiz’s contributions came from identifiable industries, most located in the Central Texas area and Houston. Only 3% of her contributions were from out of state. For Doggett, 85% of his contributions came from identifiable industries, with 5% of total contributions from out of state.

Of the more than 167,000 votes cast in the 2012 election in District 35, Doggett carried the district’s portions of four of the six counties included in the district. He was weakest in the Comal and Guadalupe county portions of the district, and strongest in the Travis and Bexar county portions.

Unless Narvaiz can figure a way to find more votes in these Travis and Bexar county areas, she has little hope of defeating Doggett. What Narvaiz could do to enhance her chances against Doggett is move toward moderation of her views in several areas. She could start by downplaying her public religiosity. A more modest personal religious stance that keeps her religious views private would show the electorate that she is not claiming that she is God’s chosen emissary to the U.S. Congress.

Her indecisiveness about which state to live in doesn’t make for a convincing narrative that will change the minds of many voters. She should explain that she was enticed to move to New Mexico because she thought she would have a better political future in that smaller state. If her Carlsbad benefactor turned out to have less to offer than she was led to believe, she could tell that story in a way that shows she was a victim of deceit.

When it comes to dealing with her nearly complete embrace of the corporate world, she could explain that the experiences of the past decade or more, in retrospect, and after much serious analysis, have led her to conclude that banks and large corporations must be kept at arm’s length from government. Otherwise, they will rob the public treasuries at every opportunity.

After some thought and from her perspective running an employment agency, she may have learned that the jobs paid for with public taxes and other financial incentives given to developers have not resulted often in the livable wages regularly promised (or at least hinted at). She may have discovered that the studies and reports done by even the business community have shown that putting developers and their corporations on the public dole is a no-win proposition for governments at all levels. If so, running as an “I’ve learned my lesson” politician who wants to repent may be the best way to win over some moderate voters.

It might help for Narvaiz to have her husband work the voters door-to-door in the District 35 portions of Travis and Bexar counties. He can put a Hispanic face on her campaign that may draw some of those voters away from Doggett.

Narvaiz may not be able to show greater concern for veterans than Doggett has, but she could enlist the assistance of a cadre of veterans, all identified by hats, signs, and buttons as “Veterans for Narvaiz.” These folks would need to be available for pictures and videos wherever Narvaiz is campaigning, so that no picture of her appears without an identifiable “Veterans for Narvaiz” campaigner by her side or right behind her. As long as these people don’t have to say anything, Narvaiz may be able to convey the appearance of concern for veterans, which may convince a few people to vote for her.

Finally, Narvaiz may be helped by studying Doggett’s voting record carefully to find areas where she can distinguish herself. For instance, Doggett voted for Obamacare. Given the poor start to that program, Narvaiz could extoll the virtues of a program like Medicare, which has reduced the health care hassles for all seniors, and suggest that she is the sort of compassionate moderate who favors making one of life’s basic necessities available somewhere other than emergency rooms.

I’m sure that there are many other ideas that would help Narvaiz’s campaign. If I think of any others, I will pass them along.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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