31 March 2009

Justifying Afghanistan: Obama's Got It Wrong

President Obama announces a new comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Friday. Behind him, from left, are policy advisor Bruce Riedel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, National Security Advisor James Jones, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. AP Photo/Ron Edmonds.

Obama's domino theory
By Juan Cole / March 30, 2009

The president sounds like he's channeling Cheney or McCain -- or a Cold War hawk afraid of international communism -- when he talks about the war in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama may or may not be doing the right thing in Afghanistan, but the rationale he gave for it on Friday is almost certainly wrong. Obama has presented us with a 21st century version of the domino theory. The U.S. is not, contrary to what the president said, mainly fighting "al-Qaida" in Afghanistan. In blaming everything on al-Qaida, Obama broke with his pledge of straight talk to the public and fell back on Bush-style boogeymen and implausible conspiracy theories.

Obama realizes that after seven years, Afghanistan war fatigue has begun to set in with the American people. Some 51 percent of Americans now oppose the Afghanistan war, and 64 percent of Democrats do. The president is therefore escalating in the teeth of substantial domestic opposition, especially from his own party, as voters worry about spending billions more dollars abroad while the U.S. economy is in serious trouble.

He acknowledged that we deserve a "straightforward answer" as to why the U.S. and NATO are still fighting there. "So let me be clear," he said, "Al-Qaida and its allies -- the terrorists who planned and supported the 9/11 attacks -- are in Pakistan and Afghanistan." But his characterization of what is going on now in Afghanistan, almost eight years after 9/11, was simply not true, and was, indeed, positively misleading. "And if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban," he said, "or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged -- that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."

Obama described the same sort of domino effect that Washington elites used to ascribe to international communism. In the updated, al-Qaida version, the Taliban might take Kunar Province, and then all of Afghanistan, and might again host al-Qaida, and might then threaten the shores of the United States. He even managed to add an analog to Cambodia to the scenario, saying, "The future of Afghanistan is inextricably linked to the future of its neighbor, Pakistan," and warned, "Make no mistake: Al-Qaida and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within."

This latter-day domino theory of al-Qaida takeovers in South Asia is just as implausible as its earlier iteration in Southeast Asia (ask Thailand or the Philippines). Most of the allegations are not true or are vastly exaggerated. There are very few al-Qaida fighters based in Afghanistan proper. What is being called the "Taliban" is mostly not Taliban at all (in the sense of seminary graduates loyal to Mullah Omar). The groups being branded "Taliban" only have substantial influence in 8 to 10 percent of Afghanistan, and only 4 percent of Afghans say they support them. Some 58 percent of Afghans say that a return of the Taliban is the biggest threat to their country, but almost no one expects it to happen. Moreover, with regard to Pakistan, there is no danger of militants based in the remote Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) taking over that country or "killing" it.

The Kabul government is not on the verge of falling to the Taliban. The Afghan government has 80,000 troops, who benefit from close U.S. air support, and the total number of Taliban fighters in the Pashtun provinces is estimated at 10,000 to 15,000. Kabul is in danger of losing control of some villages in the provinces to dissident Pashtun warlords styled "Taliban," though it is not clear why the new Afghan army could not expel them if they did so. A smaller, poorly equipped Northern Alliance army defeated 60,000 Taliban with U.S. air support in 2001. And there is no prospect of "al-Qaida" reestablishing bases in Afghanistan from which it could attack the United States. If al-Qaida did come back to Afghanistan, it could simply be bombed and would be attacked by the new Afghan army.

While the emergence of "Pakistani Taliban" in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas is a blow to Pakistan's security, they have just been defeated in one of the seven major tribal agencies, Bajaur, by a concerted and months-long campaign of the highly professional and well-equipped Pakistani army. United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates replied last summer to the idea that al-Qaida is regrouping in Pakistan and forms a new and vital threat to the West: "Actually, I don't agree with that assessment, because when al-Qaida was in Afghanistan, they had the partnership of a government. They had ready access to international communications, ready access to travel, and so on. Their circumstances in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and on the Pakistani side of the border are much more primitive. And it's much more difficult for them to move around, much more difficult for them to communicate."

As for a threat to Pakistan, the FATA areas are smaller than Connecticut, with a total population of a little over 3 million, while Pakistan itself is bigger than Texas, with a population more than half that of the entire United States. A few thousand Pashtun tribesmen cannot take over Pakistan, nor can they "kill" it. The Pakistani public just forced a military dictator out of office and forced the reinstatement of the Supreme Court, which oversees secular law. Over three-quarters of Pakistanis said in a poll last summer that they had an unfavorable view of the Taliban, and a recent poll found that 90 percent of them worried about terrorism. To be sure, Pakistanis are on the whole highly opposed to the U.S. military presence in the region, and most outside the tribal areas object to U.S. Predator drone strikes on Pakistani territory. The danger is that the U.S. strikes may make the radicals seem victims of Western imperialism and so sympathetic to the Pakistani public.

Obama's dark vision of the overthrow of the Afghanistan government by al-Qaida-linked Taliban or the "killing" of Pakistan by small tribal groups differs little from the equally apocalyptic and implausible warnings issued by John McCain and Dick Cheney about an "al-Qaida" victory in Iraq. Ominously, the president's views are contradicted by those of his own secretary of defense. Pashtun tribes in northwestern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan have a long history of dissidence, feuding and rebellion, which is now being branded Talibanism and configured as a dire menace to the Western way of life. Obama has added yet another domino theory to the history of Washington's justifications for massive military interventions in Asia. When a policymaker gets the rationale for action wrong, he is at particular risk of falling into mission creep and stubborn commitment to a doomed and unnecessary enterprise.

Source / Salon

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Ric Sternberg Video : Million Musician March for Peace

"Bionic Ric" Sternberg played in the band and also filmed the Million Musicians March -- led by Grand Marshal Wavy Gravy -- on March 21, 2009, in Austin, Texas. Photo by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.

The Million Musician March:
Just Keepin' Austin Weird

By Ric Sternberg / The Rag Blog / March 31, 2009

On March 21, 2009, Instruments for Peace staged its annual Million Musician March for Peace. OK, so maybe there weren't a million, but hundreds of Austin's musicians and supporters marched from the Texas Capital building down to the City Hall. The parade snaked through Austin's live music district and many participants and attendees of the South by Southwest Music Festival hit the streets to cheer the marchers on. This is Part 1 of my coverage of the event: excerpts from the pre-march rally and concert on the Capital steps.

Next is Part 2 of my coverage of the event: excerpts from the march and an exciting melding as the parade reaches City Hall and Carolyn Wonderland, Guy Forsythe and Shelley King join that marching band in a jumping version of "Down by the Riverside." (Part 3 is still to come.)

See related coverage on The Rag Blog:The Rag Blog

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The Last Slow Dance : Texas' Angry Prophet of Climate Change

Illustration by Chuck Kerr / San Antonio Current.
Climate-changing events are happening on a much larger scale, and much sooner, than we had earlier thought possible.
By The Rag Blog / March 31, 2009
See 'Last chance for a slow dance? All the world fiddles as we near global warming’s point of no return,' by Greg Harman, Below.
I recommend the following article from the San Antonio Current, about the efforts of Texas environmental activist Jere Locke -- to all those who may sometimes find themselves wondering whether the truth on climate change is to be found in the middle ground between those sounding increasingly loud alarms and those saying it's all an exaggeration. Not.

Locke makes clear that the nature and quality of human existence on this planet is pregnant with change. And that there's still no such thing as a little bit pregnant.

In the 6+ years I've been allowing this topic to occupy a larger and larger portion of my horizon -- and adjusting my lifestyle in response -- there has been only one consistent pattern among the ever-quickening drumbeat of reports on the topic from reputable scientists. Invariably that pattern prefaces every new report, and always it sounds like this: "Um, folks, climate-changing events are happening on a much larger scale, and much sooner, than we had earlier thought possible." Bigger. Sooner. Sooner. Bigger. Bigger. Sooner.

At first, the warnings seemed to be all about what our civilization might experience sometime in the distant future if we humans didn't change our energy consumption patterns at some point before then. Early projections, Locke notes, were that the seas might rise 50 to 60 centimeters or more. Of course, most Americans weren't all that worried about something that might happen in centimeters and in the distant, ambiguously-dated future. What is a centimeter, anyway? When is the Twenty-second Century? Still a ways off, no?

Then, about four years ago, Chief NASA Climatologist James Hansen -- whom Bush tried to silence but failed -- warned that re-calculated rates of ice melt and new data and models suggested the seas could rise by as much as 80 feet, wiping out major coastal cities around the globe and forcing huge inland migrations. Those changes could in fact "be well underway by the time today's children reach middle-age," Hansen noted. The Earth would effectively become "practically a different planet," he warned, if the trend of ever-more greenhouse gas releases were not changed quite soon.

Two years ago, a new UN scientists' report put into the grave the idea humans weren't likely the main cause of dangerously increased rates of global warming.

And these days, more and more climate scientists' time is spent explaining what is happening right now, and what's expected in the very near future. And how close we may be to a "tipping point" during which the cumulative weight of many past and ongoing interrelated events -- melting ice, changing patterns of rainfall and ocean currents, all triggered by higher overall global temperatures -- take us beyond a point of no return to normal, changing what we take for granted about life on Earth: which portions of the planet can support human life and which ones can't; where on the planet water is available and not available; where deserts begin and end; and where refugees from radical climate change are coming from and where they are headed.

Locke's correct too, in concluding that so far, among individuals, corporations, and governments, only a tiny -- truly tiny -- portion of people have yet made much more than symbolic changes in their own lifestyles that would indicate a real desire to become part of the solution more than part of the problem.

That observation -- which any of us, really can make as we toodle down IH 35 -- and the absolute necessity of serious change soon if humans are to survive in anything resembling real civilization -- are what highlight the absurdity of the idea that markets will solve all social problems. And point to the role of protecting human life that is without question the legitimate responsibility that governments quite legitimately take on when they act to limit the actions -- and inactions -- of entities that would put their own short-term material gain above even the survival of a civilization in which to spend it.
Jere Locke of Texas Climate Emergency.

Last chance for a slow dance?
All the world fiddles as we near global warming’s point of no return

By Greg Harman / March 25, 2009

No one was advertising for an angry prophet when Jere Locke returned to Texas last year. But thanks to mainstream environmentalism’s aversion to the gloomiest — and, unfortunately, more accurate — messages from the climate frontier, the position was open.

It wouldn’t pay much. In fact, Locke would have to fund it himself. That was fine. The son of a wealthy Houston cotton trader, Locke didn’t need a high-figure salary. Most importantly, he believed.

Locke was living in Thailand in 2006 when Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth was released in the United States. Bilingual and politically connected, Locke was tapped to help edit a version for Asian audiences. After repeated viewings, the film became just troubling enough to inspire the 64-year-old to start looking for more information. As it turned out, the United Nations was prepping the streets of Bali for a highly charged international climate congress. “Sixteen months ago, I didn’t know squat,” Locke says. “I just kind of wandered into Bali, essentially.”

In December 2007, he joined other activists camped outside the United Nations Climate Change Conference to witness an exercise in futility. With signs of warming now undeniable, the European Union was anxious to meet the recommendations of the International Panel on Climate Change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 3o percent before 2020. Cutting global emissions that quickly should keep the planet under a 3.6-degree temperature increase over pre-industrial averages, the level at which a majority of climate scientists believe global warming may become unforgivably destructive.

Though the Bush Administration had been forced to admit the reality of global warming after years of suppressing, censoring, and misrepresenting science, the United States’ representative wanted … nothing. No caps on carbon. No mandate.

Nothing — or something very close to it — won out. The rich agreed to help the poor acquire cleaner technologies, but specific greenhouse-gas reductions for developed nations were not included in the final Bali “Roadmap.”

On Locke’s last day in Indonesia, a small group of non-profit negotiators walked over to brief their fellow agitators. Locke remembers asking an obviously exhausted Filipino woman from the Third World Network if she at least saw a glimmer of light down the road, any reason for hope. The woman just stared at Locke and then began rattling off — again — all the problems still facing negotiators.

“She couldn’t even hear what I had just said,” said Locke. “That’s when I went home, and I just started reading, and I read everything I could get my hands on.”

Soon, the ex-pat cotton-trader’s son became the crazy guy at the teahouse who wouldn’t shut up about carbon emissions and melting glaciers, tipping points and coal.

“Eventually I settled down as I integrated all this new, very disturbing information,” he said.

Metaphorically, the current crisis is not unlike the story of dancing Shiva.

Long before Michael Flatley became the Lord of the Dance, there was a Lord of Dancers. Without question, the Hindu deity Shiva has performed his “Dance of Bliss” more times than the Riverdancers have overwhelmed an unexpecting stage.

Shiva, however, is not the undisputed dance master. Kali, the goddess of destruction, makes regular attempts at the crown. During one such contest, Kali went wild with lust for blood, and her rage threatened to consume the world. Thankfully, Shiva stepped in and brought her back into step for a creation dance instead.

Globally, we are at a similar point of negotiation — choosing, amidst the chaotic pulse of collapsing banks and coughing industry, the way forward. Literally choosing between creation and destruction.

When he reemerged from his conversion experience, Locke began to lobby the board of his family trust, the Texas Harambe Foundation, to give its remaining money — about $900,000 — to groups fighting climate change.

After winning out, he returned to Texas to preach the Gospel of Doom just as scientists were discovering that the world has been warming a lot faster than expected. Some were beginning to suggest that the potential for so-called “runaway” global warming with catastrophic results was becoming a likely result of our collective inaction.

As a prominent energy state, Texas plays a pivotal role in the drama.

Considered as a “whole other country,” as the tourism motto goes, the Lone Star State is the seventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet. Led by a cabal of politicians downright feisty about keeping it that way, the state has made little progress toward slowing or reversing the distinction. One activist tells me that even the explosion of wind power and more recent energy-efficiency programs in the state has barely slowed the growth of greenhouse gases billowing out of Texas.

But it is not just the Lone Star State’s leadership Locke and many other climate activists are targeting. In the next few days, U.S. Representative Henry Waxman is expected to release a draft “cap-and-trade” bill in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee. While a similar effort died a miserable death during the twilight of the Bush Administration, the political environment has changed dramatically since then. Obama campaigned on a platform that not only recognized the serious portents of global warming, but expected to capitalize on the explosion of renewable energy technologies needed to address it. Which is not to say there aren’t still critics.

Texas Republican Representative Joe Barton, a committee member, welcomed news of the carbon-reduction effort by mocking its European forerunner in cap-and-trade as a failure at reducing carbon dioxide and suggesting any “cockamamie climate change bill” would only reinforce our current economic depression.

Barton’s noises echo Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, perhaps the most venerated hub of misinformation for the remnant of rabid climate-change deniers. Inhofe warned that the earlier Lieberman-Warner effort, the Climate Security Act of 2007 — finally debated and subsequently laid to rest last summer — would raise energy prices by 65 percent and cost Americans “millions” of jobs. Of course, back when the U.S. was swamped in $4-a-gallon gas such boogeymen found fertile ground. The bill was killed before it ever reached the House.

None of the climate-related bills filed since even attempt to meet the IPCC’s recommendations to stop the continuing rise of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2015 and reduce them dramatically by 2020.

It’s been two years since the IPCC released its last report on global warming, which elevated the link between human industry and our global climate breakdown from “likely” to “very likely.” From a probability perspective, we’re talking about leaping from around a 60-percent likelihood to 90-percent certainty.

In that report, the panel considered several models of global greenhouse-gas emissions and what they would mean in terms of environmental outcomes, some of the worst of which are being realized now. As the emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide have accelerated faster than the IPCC predicted, so has the pace of melting sea ice and glaciers, locking in startling rises in sea levels this century. Recent reports also suggest that a huge swath of the hemisphere — from the Southwestern United States all the way to Colombia — will be entering a state of “perpetual” drought in the near future.

Last summer, just a couple of weeks after Congressional Republicans succeeded in killing the Climate Security Act, Thomas Fingar, Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In terms even the most gung-ho interventionists could understand, Finger explained that the anticipated global humanitarian disasters linked to climate change — wars over increasingly scarce resources, and displaced coastal and island residents that some say could number in the billions this century — would severely challenge the American military.

“The demands of these potential humanitarian responses may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations,” Fingar said.

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program, consolidating a range of recent research, found that severe drought in the Western and Central United States — so-called “megadrought” conditions that may last for hundreds of years — is probably underway.

Oregon State University professor Peter Clark, lead author of Abrupt Climate Change, told Science Daily at the time, “If the models are accurate, it appears this has already begun.”

Richard Seager, a Doherty Senior Research Scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, told the Current he will release new analysis in a few months that will show whether the drought now gripping San Antonio and much of the West is the beginning of what will simply become known as “the new climate.”

Thanks to these dramatic new understandings of climate science, expect the national debate to soon include not only how best to ramp down our emissions, but how to relocate coastal residents, reinforce or abandon threatened highways and bridges, and revolutionize our water-treatment and delivery network across the West. “Adaptation” will become the new global-warming buzzword.

After a brief stint working with Environment Texas, Locke formed his own non-profit, the Texas Climate Emergency. He doesn’t take members on guided hikes or birding trips. He likely doesn’t know which washing machines are anointed by the U.S. EPA’s Energy Star program or the details of the latest travesty involving aerial gunners and land-locked wildlife. He will, however, tell you without hesitation that everything we know and enjoy about this planet, our gracious host, is in jeopardy unless we get our greenhouse-gas emissions under control ASAP.

It’s been a hard few weeks for Locke. He’s groggy when I reach him on the phone. He admits he has been up since 3 a.m. thinking. “People don’t understand the scope of the problem, at all,” he says, sounding defeated.

The past years’ drumbeat of daunting scientific findings motivated scientists gathered the week before at a three-day conference at the University of Copenhagen to issue a stream of nightmarish warnings. The lab coats were foregoing their normally tempered language to issue clarion calls to an anxious international media.

Perhaps the newest information shared was about sea levels. Two years ago, IPCC scientists didn’t know enough about what was happening at the glaciers, so they bid low, saying that the sea wouldn’t rise more than 59 centimeters this century. But Australian scientist John Church told Copenhagen crowds that ocean levels could leap as much as two meters by 2100, while the pace of devastating flooding increases dramatically.

Whispers among some attending scientists, as related by UK Guardian columnist George Monbiot, are suggesting that it may already be too late to keep the warming to a survivable level. The activists and organizers watching the world’s window of opportunity close are pushing especially hard now to get a tough climate bill out of the U.S. Congress and hopefully keep the world beneath the magic target of 3.6 degrees of warming.

Of course, to do that will require the rest of the world.

With the Kyoto Protocol limping toward oblivion in 2012, the details of its successor are supposed to be finalized in Copenhagen this December. However, Obama has already lowered his emissions aim, offering to commit the United States only to reaching 1990 levels of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020, falling far short of IPCC’s recommendations.

To hit the IPCC’s target, the U.S. would need to nearly halve its current releases for a 50-50 shot at stopping runaway warming.

Since 1990, U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions have climbed more than 17 percent, from 6,085 million metric tons to 7,125 million metric tons in 2007, the most recent year for which numbers are available from the EPA. Still, after years of delay, the domestic debate too often morphs notions of scientific necessity into questions of political advisability.

Environmental activists engage in a similar struggle. Organizers constantly wrestle with how best to deliver the message of global warming while increasing their message reach and membership. After all, it is these members who will, at least theoretically, keep the heat on lawmakers to enact change. But has anyone bothered to tell these fledgling converts the jig is just about up?

Do environmentalists soft-sell climate change?

Sure, says Public Citizen’s campaign veteran Smitty Smith, director of the pro-consumer group’s Texas office. For a reason. “When you’re an organizer … you’ve got to be able to pull the center as fast and as far as you can. Oftentimes the center has not begun to understand just how great the crisis is.”

Strategically, it pays to lead with other issues, says Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas,

“We know from all the polling it’s better to lead with clean energy than to start with a global-warming frame,” Metzger said.

Energy policy ranks sixth in voter priorities, he explains. Global warming is at the bottom of the list in slot 20, according to the Pew Research Center. “Thankfully, they are, of course, inextricably linked, and Obama has been talking about them in that way for years now,” Metzger said.

Unfortunately, global warming’s poor showing also means in many cases the true scope of the problem is not being driven home by those who know it best.

In Texas, it’s propelled Locke even farther into the fringe. It’s an isolating post.

“I really feel like we’re out there all by ourselves most of the time. It’s just lonely,” Locke says. “No one is telling people it isn’t just that you’re going to lose the barrier islands. You’re gonna lose Houston and Corpus and all the cities along the coast over time. And this isn’t a drought of a few years we’re talking about. We’re talking about permanent drought.”

While Locke has challenged the established environmental community in Austin, no one is challenging him on the facts.

“Jere is out there pushing the edge and saying, ‘This is what the most recent science is showing about how severe things are and how fast we’ve got to make changes,’” Smith said. “While oftentimes the rest of the environmental community is not being quite as outspoken because they’re afraid they will lose some of the people that they’re just beginning to engage in this discussion.”

Even though Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth has conquered the suburbs with the science of climate change, Republican opponents of climate action are correct on one key point. Cap-and-trade will make energy more expensive. That is the point.

The burning of coal and petroleum products is the leading contributor to global warming through the release of long-lived carbon dioxide, which acts as a blanket in the upper atmosphere, trapping an increasing amount of the sun’s heat. In the last 100 years, global land temperatures have increased by about 1.3 degrees, with most of that warming occurring in the past 50 years. Many researchers are worried that as greenhouse emissions and temperatures continue to increase, the planet may hit one of several possible “tipping points” that would accelerate global warming, resulting in more rapid and irreversible changes.

If we hit 3.6 degrees, it is likely major systems would collapse — that the Amazon Rainforest would wither, for instance, becoming a major emitter of greenhouse gas rather than a reliable “sink” that absorbs them —and propel us even further into the abyss. From this perspective, coal may be the most expensive energy choice we could possibly make. Still, we can’t seem to shake it.

In San Antonio, city-owned CPS Energy is preparing to bring what perhaps should be one of the nation’s last coal plants online next year. “Spruce Two” began construction in 2005, long after the dangers of carbon emissions were well understood and studies were beginning to suggest that energy efficiency could make such power plants unnecessary.

To protect its investment and fulfill its mandate to provide the city with “low-cost” power, CPS joined the Climate Policy Group, a lobbying organization that advocates suicidally against capping carbon emissions at coal plants until “commercially available control technologies” are available. Unfortunately, it is expected to take decades before a new generation of coal plants with the ability to trap and bury their carbon emissions could be operational. Worse yet, we don’t know if we will be able to store CO2 so that it does not release back into the environment.

After many failed attempts to regulate greenhouse gases in the United States, another flurry of craziness is near. The first climate bill of the 111th Congress was filed Monday by Representative Lloyd Doggett, describing how an auction board would be governed to lead carbon cap-and-trade reductions.

Complementary regulation is expected to roil the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce in the next few days. Karen Lightfoot, a spokesperson for Representative Henry Waxman, said her boss will release a draft climate bill before the end of March.

That has focused the attention of Texas activists — perhaps especially Metzger’s Environment Texas — on committee member Congressman Charlie Gonzalez.

Environment Texas helped organize a panel discussion in San Antonio last month that included Representative Gonzalez. But many were disheartened afterward that Gonzalez “failed to take the opportunity to clearly declare his support for a strong, science-based cap on global warming pollution,” according to Metzger.

Gonzalez has become a focal point for a lot of climate activists. They see him not as an automatic ally, but as liberal enough to be swayed over with popular pressure — particularly now that there is a Democratic administration at the helm.

Under Bush, Gonzalez became somewhat of a sore spot for progressives observing the Texas delegation. The League of Conservation Voters ranks Gonzalez fairly low on green issues (63 percent favorable), in part due to his support for lifting the offshore drilling ban. He got black marks from the climate community last year when he refused to endorse Waxman’s letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi laying out the terms for strong global-warming legislation.

“More than 150 members of Congress, including three Texans, signed on to that letter. However, Congressman Gonzalez did not,” Metzger told the Current. “When asked about this, Congressman Gonzalez again took a pass on endorsing strong action on global warming.”

The Current provided a list of questions to Gonzalez in an attempt to gauge his attitudes about global warming and cap-and-trade. Would he support Waxman’s bill? Would he work to convince his colleagues to support it? Would he fight to make sure it lived up to IPCC recommendations on greenhouse-gas reduction goals?

Gonzalez’s office pledged to have the Congressman call us back, or at least provide written responses to our questions, but failed to do so.

There is a sense that Waxman’s committee may not be strong enough to deliver good global-warming legislation on its own. Some activists expect folks like Doggett at the House Ways and Means committee to provide the legislation that would tack on additional carbon costs in a more direct way. A Frankenbill would then be cobbled together on the floor of the House through a series of legislative maneuvers under Pelosi’s leadership.

What if Congress doesn’t pass legislation this year? What if Copenhagen in December is just a replay of Bali in 2007? How much time do we have?

It’s one thing to observe possible futures through an academic lens and muse over seven, eight, nine degrees in temperature rise. It’s quite another to consider the question in terms of human experience.

At what point do we cross the line where it becomes impossible to retain a planet that for millions of years has provided a hospitable place for our evolution and for tens of thousands of years has virtually swaddled us with prime habitat? When does the close grip of a lover’s tango disintegrate into the maniacal stomp of Kali?

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” Locke says. “It’s dire. The years are really precious right now.”

That old conservative IPCC estimate is that global greenhouse emissions must plateau by 2015 to keep temperatures from rising no more than 4.3 degrees. We still get the meter-or-more of sea-level rise and a permanent drought across the Southwest, but we would, theoretically at least, avoid the truly catastrophic impacts of Hollywood’s worst narratives.

“It’s IPCC, so it’s conservative. Chances are it’s going to be before 2015, this date. So you don’t want to start playing with dates at this point,” Locke adds.

A motivating report released last year by researchers at the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and published by the Royal Society blames political inaction for a likely 7.2-degree temperature rise this century — about double the level the international community has been semantically struggling to meet, double the so-called “safe” upper limit of 3.6 degrees.

While most climate scientists agree the world must at least keep atmospheric greenhouse gases below 450 parts per million, prominent NASA climatologist and political lightning rod James Hansen recently co-authored a paper which found that the planet was better off not exceeding 350 parts per million. The current level of carbon dioxide stored in the atmosphere is about 387 parts per million (ppm) and growing by roughly 2 ppm per year. For most of human history — until industrialization began in the late 1800s — the level of CO2 has been fairly constant at 275 ppm.

The Tyndall report’s authors write that unless the world’s governments start reducing greenhouse emissions by more than six percent per year “it is difficult to envisage anything other than a planned economic recession” keeping the atmosphere at or below 650 ppm.

Just our luck. A recent study of power-plant emissions in the Northeastern United States found greenhouse-gas releases dropped nine percent last year. With the current economic recession gripping the planet, the soonest full-bore industrial production — and the resulting carbon emissions — are expected to roar back to life is 2011. By that time, the United States could join the international community with an aggressive new climate policy in place and a “new Kyoto” could foreseeably slide out of Copenhagen. With market uncertainties removed, new green-tech businesses would finally be primed to blossom, rehabbing or supplanting those carbon-heavy industries that got us into this mess in the first place.

Perhaps then we’ll be thanking the profiteers and politicians behind our current global economic malaise, which has thrown the brakes, even if just temporarily, on our carbon output. It may be that greed and incompetence provided us this last chance — an opportunity to adjust to the unpleasant, but not ultimately fatal, climatic changes we have unwittingly created.

When Kali had her tantrum that imperiled the world, Shiva used the power of illusion to transform himself into a crying baby. A maternal impulse overwhelmed the dark goddess. She pulled back from the brink and began to suckle Lord Shiva.

An illusion like that would come in handy right now as we choose our way forward. Anything to move us beyond our short-term dreams and personal ambitions. To see those in need around us. Gauging by the numbers, this may be our last chance for a slow dance. Our last opportunity to keep Kali pacified, dancing the dance of creation.•

Source / San Antonio Current
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30 March 2009

'Rednecks' and Greens Beat Big Coal in Appalachia

A mountaintop removal coal mining operation near Blair, West Virginia. Photo by The National Memorial for the Mountains.

Mountaintop removal receives major setback:
Blair Mountain in West Virginia named to National Register of Historic Places

By Jeff Biggers / March 30, 2009

After 500 mountains in Appalachia have been blown to bits by mountaintop removal, one peak was most likely saved today: Blair Mountain in West Virginia, the site of the largest armed insurrection in the United States since the Civil War, was officially approved by the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places to be placed on the National Register.

This is a huge victory, as the tide continues to turn in the movement to stop mountaintop removal in Appalachia.

Some consider it the Bunker Hill of the labor movement. But the great battle in 1921, when thousands of union coal miners and World War I veterans donned their uniforms and took up arms to liberate and unionize the last coal camps in southwestern West Virginia held hostage to ruthless outside coal companies, has emerged as one of the great symbols of Appalachia's fate today. Over the past several years, the Friends of Blair Mountain--an organization of community and labor activists, historians and environmentalists--have led an even more epic battle to save the sacred mountain site from a plan by coal companies to strip mine and destroy Blair Mountain through mountaintop removal operations.

The mountaintop removal war might soon be over. The Rednecks won. According to the National Registry Federal Program regulations:

"If a property contains surface coal resources and is listed in the National Register, certain provisions of the Surface Mining and Control Act of 1977 require consideration of a property's historic values in the determination on issuance of a surface coal mining permit."

"Redneck" was the name given to the progressive miners, as William Blizzard recalled in his wonderful memoir, When Miners March, as they wore red bandannas around their necks to distinguish themselves from others. As the battle raged, and even bombs dropped, President Warren Harding was forced to intervene with military troops.

President Barack Obama needs to intervene against mountaintop removal today. As three million pounds of ammonium nitrate fuel oil are detonated daily in an assault on Appalachia today, raining toxic dust on the inhabitants and devastating watersheds as part of the brutal mountaintop removal operations, it's time for the federal government to stop this egregious violation of human rights in the mountains.

Cecil Roberts, the president of the United Mine Workers of America, and a great West Virginia coal mining native, should take note of the haunting parallels in history: While over 500 mountains have been destroyed, the once strong union movement has been gutted by highly mechanized strip mining operations, and now only 500-700 United Mine Worker members are employed on mountaintop removal sites in West Virginia.

Let's repeat that: There are roughly 700 UMWA members employed at mountaintop removal sites in West Virginia today.

It's time for Cecil Roberts and the United Mine Workers to stand up for the mountains, the historic Appalachian communities, and the economy, and demand an end to mountaintop removal, and a return to more responsible mining.

Ken Ward at the Coal Tattoo blog recently looked at Roberts and mountaintop removal.

And to learn about other endangered American mountains, go here.

Denise Giardina, the nationally acclaimed novelist from the coalfields of West Virginia, and author of the epic novel, Storming Heaven, once wrote:

"In the hundred odd years since the coal industry came to this part of West Virginia, land has been taken, miners have been worked to death, streams have been polluted, piles of waste have accumulated, children have grown up in poverty. But throughout all the hardships, the hunger, the black lung disease and other illness, and the scarring of the land, the mountains have essentially remained. They were symbols of permanence, strength, hope. No more. Nothing worse can be taken from mountain people than mountains. The resulting loss is destroying the soul of the people.

The destruction of the central Appalachian Mountains robs the region of topsoil, timber, of indigenous plants, of streams, and leaves behind floods, toxic brews of sludge laced with mercury, and flattened plains of inedible grass. But worst of all is the loss of the mountain landscape, those rugged crags that lift the spirits and touch the sky.

If one mountain were to be spared, one peak to bear mute witness to the devastation that has gone on all around, it might be thought that Blair Mountain would be such a summit. Blair Mountain, after all, has been the most dramatic witness to the struggle of legions of coal miners to be free."

If only William Blizzard, the author of When Miners March, were alive today to take part in this celebration. His father, Bill Blizzard, the hero of Blair Mountain, was tried and acquitted for treason. For more information, see: http://www.whenminersmarch.com/reviews.htm

Filmmaker Sasha Waters did a great documentary on the importance of Blair Mountain in her film, Razing Appalachia:

Source / The Huffington Post

Thanks to Carl Davidson / The Rag Blog

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Another Almost Forgotten Story of a Silent Hero

Alice Coy cries for help as she holds her hand over the head wound of British peace activist Thomas Hurndall, who had been shot in the head moments earlier in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, April 11, 2003. Thomas Hurndall, age 21, from Manchester, England, had been standing between Israeli troops and Palestinian children when Israeli soldiers opened fire. Photo: AP Photo/Khalil Hamra.

A brave man who stood alone. If only the world had listened to him
By Robert Fisk / March 28, 2009

I wish I had met Tom Hurndall, a remarkable man of remarkable principle

I don't know if I met Tom Hurndall. He was one of a bunch of "human shields" who turned up in Baghdad just before the Anglo-American invasion in 2003, the kind of folk we professional reporters make fun of. Tree huggers, that kind of thing. Now I wish I had met him because – looking back over the history of that terrible war – Hurndall's journals (soon to be published) show a remarkable man of remarkable principle. "I may not be a human shield," he wrote at 10.26 on 17 March from his Amman hotel. "And I may not adhere to the beliefs of those I have travelled with, but the way Britain and America plan to take Iraq is unnecessary and puts soldiers' lives above those of civilians. For that I hope that Bush and Blair stand trial for war crimes."

Hurndall got it about right, didn't he? It wasn't so simple as war/no war, black and white, he wrote. "Things I've heard and seen over the last few weeks proves what I already knew; neither the Iraqi regime, nor the American or British, are clean. Maybe Saddam needs to go but ... the air war that's proposed is largely unnecessary and doesn't discriminate between civilians and armed soldiers. Tens of thousands will die, maybe hundreds of thousands, just to save thousands of American soldiers having to fight honestly, hand to hand. It is wrong." Oh, how many of my professional colleagues wrote like this on the eve of war? Not many.

We pooh-poohed the Hurndalls and their friends as groupies even when they did briefly enter the South Baghdad electricity station and met one engineer, Attiah Bakir, who had been horrifyingly wounded 11 years earlier when an American bomb blew a fragment of metal into his brain. "You can see now where it struck," Hurndall wrote in an email from Baghdad, "caving in the central third of his forehead and removing the bone totally. Above the bridge of his broken nose, there is only a cavity with scarred skin covering the prominent gap..."

A picture of Attiah Bakir stares out of the book, a distinguished, brave man who refused to leave his place of work as the next war approached. He was silenced only when one of Hurndall's friends made the mistake of asking what he thought of Saddam's government. I cringed for the poor man. "Minders" were everywhere in those early days. Talking to any civilian was almost criminally foolish. Iraqis were forbidden from talking to foreigners. Hence all those bloody "minders" (many of whom, of course, ended up working for Baghdad journalists after Saddam's overthrow).

Hurndall had a dispassionate eye. "Nowhere in the world have I ever seen so many stars as now in the western deserts of Iraq," he wrote on 22 February. "How can somewhere so beautiful be so wrought with terror and war as it is soon to be?" In answer to the questions asked of them by the BBC, ITV, WBO, CNN, al-Jazeera and others, Hurndall had no single reply. "I don't think there could be one, two or 100 responses," he wrote. "To each of us our own, but not one of us wants to die." Prophetic words for Tom to have written.

You can see him smiling selflessly in several snapshots. He went to cover the refugee complex at Al-Rowaishid and moved inexorably towards Gaza where he was confronted by the massive tragedy of the Palestinians. "I woke up at about eight in my bed in Jerusalem and lay in until 9.30," he wrote. "We left at 10.00... Since then, I have been shot at, gassed, chased by soldiers, had sound grenades thrown within metres of me, been hit by falling debris..."

Hurndall was trying to save Palestinian homes and infrastructure but frequently came under Israeli fire and seemed to have lost his fear of death. "While approaching the area, they (the Israelis) continually fired one- to two-second bursts from what I could see was a Bradley fighting vehicle... It was strange that as we approached and the guns were firing, it sent shivers down my spine, but nothing more than that. We walked down the middle of the street, wearing bright orange, and one of us shouted through a loudspeaker, 'We are International volunteers. Don't shoot!' That was followed by another volley of fire, though I can't be sure where from..."

Tom Hurndall had stayed in Rafah. He was only 21 where – in his mother's words – he lost his life through a single, selfless, human act. "Tom was shot in the head as he carried a single Palestinian child out of the range of an Israeli army sniper." Mrs Hurndall asked me to write a preface to Tom's book and this article is his preface, for a brave man who stood alone and showed more courage than most if us dreamed of. Forget tree huggers. Hurndall was one good man and true.

Source / The Independent

If you are interested in the book, you can find it here.

The Rag Blog

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BOOKS / Jonah Raskin on Mark Rudd : Underground, Again

Underground, Again
Mark Rudd’s 'Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen'

A charismatic individual with very little sustained radical organizing, he came out of nowhere at a crucial moment in the 1960s and was instantly catapulted into the national spotlight.
By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / March 30, 2009

[Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen, by Mark Rudd, published by William Morrow, March 24, 2009.]

In the beginning was the underground. Indeed, the “underground” as a form of resistance to established power is a thread that runs through the centuries. Specific, historical undergrounds have existed whenever and wherever “the state” has existed. If there are police, prisons and judges, there will be undergrounds – oppositions that are clandestine, and invisible. It’s in the nature of human beings the world over to form secret organizations, and networks aimed at sabotaging the structures of society: the military, the work place, the church, and the family.

Ironically, the 1960s was an era in which the concept and the practice of the underground thrived, even as a generation of hippies, freaks, misfits, Yippies, feminists, Black Panthers, radicals, and non-conformists came into the open, took to the streets, and went naked both literally and figuratively. It wasn’t until the 1970s, which, one might argue is when “the 1960s” really happened, that political undergrounds – such as the Weather Underground, and the Symbionese Liberation Army – were born. About those two groups there has been almost uninterrupted fascination. There have been dozens of books and movies about them: Patty Hearst, Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, and the SLA members.

In the 1960s and 1970s, I wrote for underground newspapers, like The Seed and The Liberated Guardian, and worked for Liberation News Service. I was also affiliated with the Weather Underground; my wife, Eleanor Raskin, was part of the underground. I wrote most of “New Morning,” a communiqué from the Weather Underground, and I also aided and abetted -- to use the legal terminology -- Abbie Hoffman when he was underground in the 1970s. My own parents had been clandestine members of the Communist Party of the U.S.A. from 1932 to 1948, when they resigned. I grew up with the assumption that going underground was a necessary part of any political movement, and knew that one day I’d go underground, too.

A new book by Mark Rudd entitled Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen, takes yet another look at the underground phenomenon. Mark Rudd was underground for seven years in the 1970s. Previously, he had been a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), then a leader of Weatherman, the SDS faction that advocated rioting in the streets, and committing acts of violence, including the detonation of bombs. Though Rudd was underground from 1970 to 1977, and though he had contact with the Weather Underground, he was not a member of the organization, neither as a leader -- there was a central committee -- nor a follower. The title of the book is ambiguous; a casual reader might look at it and assume that it’s about the Weather Underground. In fact it isn’t.

Like Abbie Hoffman, Mark Rudd wasn’t suited for the underground life – he needed attention, and attention is, of course, the last thing that any fugitive wants. Unless of course, he or she really wants to be caught, and to receive attention.

The Townhouse Explosion of March 1970 which resulted in the deaths of three members of the fledgling Weather Underground so profoundly shook Rudd that he could not be connected to former friends who were now making bombs. He calls them “comrades” but it’s a word that sounds odd coming out of his mouth. True enough, he wants “comrades” but he also wants to be the # One Comrade, which isn’t in the spirit of comradeship at all.

I saw Rudd twice when he was underground and a fugitive wanted by the FBI. The first time, he expressed genuine regret and remorse for the explosion and the death of Ted Gold, Diana Oughton and Terry Robbins. He made it clear to me at that time, in 1970, that he did not believe in the use of violence by revolutionaries in order to achieve political goals. The second time I saw him, in New Haven, Connecticut, he was a silent, anonymous bystander during the demonstrations to protest the trial of Bobby Seale, the founder of the Black Panther Party. In a sense, he was a father of those demonstrations. Protesters were doing what he had been urging students to do for years. But now, he couldn’t take part.

I have seen Rudd several times since he surrendered to the authorities, in New York and in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he lives. He is also in Sam Green’s documentary film, The Weather Underground, which offers far more fiction than fact about the organization. Green’s film has made Rudd’s name and face familiar to today’s radicals. The fact that he was not in fact a member of the Weather Underground makes no difference to them. He’s in the movie, and the movie has replaced the historical record. In the popular mind, Rudd and Weatherman have become nearly synonymous. This book will likely solidify that impression, so ironically the more he insists on his distance from the underground the more he’s linked to it, which enabled him to have all the glamour associated with the underground and to have clean hands at the same time.

Underground: My Life with SDS and Weathermen reflects Rudd’s curious relationship with SDS, Weatherman and the U. S. mass media. A charismatic individual with very little sustained radical organizing, he came out of nowhere at a crucial moment in the 1960s and was instantly catapulted into the national spotlight. In that sense, he is a representative figure of that time when unknown, minor actors on the stage of history briefly became major heroes of the revolution. In 1968 and 1969, Rudd became a spokesperson for the New Left. More accurately, one might say that the news media selected him as to be a spokesperson -- and a symbol of youthful rebellion. He went along for the ride, and he tells a lot of that story here.

Rudd did not have a long involvement with 1960s activism. Unlike Tom Hayden and Mario Savio of the Free Speech Movement he did not participate in the Civil Rights Movement in the South, nor did he push SDS to become the anti-imperialist organization it became in the mid-1960s. He wrote no significant political manifesto, such as the Port Huron Statement, and he did not forge any new organization -- like the Yippies and the White Panthers. Nor did he create a significant alliance –- like the Venceremos Brigades that brought young Americans to Cuba, though he did go to Cuba in 1968.

Rudd was in the public eye for a brief moment that peaked with the student protests at Columbia in New York in the spring of 1968. From then on he was assured fame, infamy and notoriety. In 1968 and 1969, he was defiant, outrageous, and confrontational. He had Chutzpah. He said “Shit” and “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker” and he shocked his Ivy League teachers at Columbia. Once the media got hold of him it did not let him go; when he turned himself into law enforcement in 1977 the media descended on him once again, as they had in 1968 and fed him up to the nation.

I read a draft of Rudd’s memoir several years ago, and made suggestions to him, including an idea for the title. I urged him to call his book “Che and Me.” That title seemed to reflect accurately his own sense of grandiosity, and indeed one of the chapters in the early manuscript was entitled “Che and Me.” It is not in this book, alas. Years ago, Rudd also posted essays about himself on his website, and I read them there, too. They were written, he told me, for today’s teenagers, and indeed the language seemed simplified and the ideas rendered cartoon-like.

His new book, Underground, does not sound like the previous iterations of his life. This new account reads as though it was carefully massaged by an editor to make Rudd seem more palatable to readers today. It is written for adults, not children: for aging radicals, not young, irreverent protestors. Rudd also seems to want to make himself appear to be likeable, adorable, and cute. All that time in the 1960s, he now says, when he called people “shithead,” and urged students to smash the state, he was really afraid. Then, he didn’t care who he offended. Now, he says nice things about almost everyone -- even Bernardine Dohrn, the leader of the Weather Underground, with whom he has had a running feud -- as much personal as political -- since 1970.

If this book were to be faithfully adapted for the movies, it would be a long close up of Rudd, with other characters, like his parents, appearing on screen briefly. Rudd would be the star of the show. When it was first published, I didn’t like Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism perhaps because I was too close to the New Left and to the kinds of New Left people -- like Kathy Boudin of the Weather Underground -- he thought were examples of American narcissism. Now, Rudd strikes me as narcissistic. Lasch was insightful. Underground shows that he’s in love with himself, and with his own image. He has little self-awareness, probably because he’s so caught up in himself and with his image.

In this memoir he tells the story about the time that he and SDS members barged into the offices of Grayson Kirk, the President of Columbia, and made themselves at home there. Kirk had gone home for the day. Rudd describes himself picking up Kirk’s telephone and calling his middle class, apolitical Jewish parents in New Jersey. He wonders now why he did it, and though he offers suggestions, he doesn’t see the obvious -- that he was rebelling against his parents -- and that he wanted them to know. Lots of us were in rebellion against our parents, including the children of the Old Left. That’s why we spoke of the generation gap.

In this book, Rudd is glib about that telephone call, glib about his parents, and glib about his relationship to them. He wants to be not only Che but Lenny Bruce, too, so he writes of that phone call, “Maybe it was simply that Jewish boys call home, it’s that deeply ingrained.” Maybe it’s this and maybe it’s that. Mark Rudd has that Jewish-American habit of shrugging his shoulders ambiguously and leaving it at that. It could mean this and it could mean that.

Some of the passages from the old manuscript haven’t made it into the new book. Some of the ideas Rudd shared me with, and said he wanted to include, aren’t here, either, like the time his father called him a “schmuck.” Rudd can also be an astute literary critic of the novels of Philip Roth -- that other Jewish boy from New Jersey who wanted attention -- but his reflections on Roth aren’t here either.

In 1980, when Abbie Hoffman turned himself in to the authorities in New York, I had a conversation with Rudd about Abbie, and Abbie’s need for media attention. I said then that I thought that there’s a basic human need for attention and recognition. Some of us, like Abbie, need it, or think we need it, more than others. Some hardly seem to need it or want it at all. Underground suggests, implies, and shows that Rudd is up there, along with Abbie, near the top of the list of 1960s radicals who wanted attention, and who received far more attention than they needed. Media attention is a dangerous thing. It undid Abbie, and it also helped to undo Rudd. It remains to be seen whether the attention he will receive from the publication of, and from the publicity surrounding, this book about his underground life will undo him once again.

[Jonah Raskin is a prominent author, poet, educator and political activist. His most recent book is The Radical Jack London: Writings on War and Revolution.]

Find Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen by Mark Rudd at amazon.com.

Also see Thomas Good : An Interview With Mark Rudd by Thomas Good / The Rag Blog / March 30, 2009

The Rag Blog

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Thomas Good : An Interview With Mark Rudd

Mark Rudd speaks at the West End Bar in New York last week. Photo by Thomas Good / NLN.
Beneath the gray beard and the wrinkles I could clearly see the boyish face of the 20-year-old SDS leader.
By Thomas Good / The Rag Blog / March 30, 2009
See Thomas Good's interview with Mark Rudd, Below.
[Thomas Good is the editor of Next Left Notes, where this interview also appears.]

I first photographed Mark Rudd in 2006, at Drew University. I was struck immediately by something trapped in the lens of my camera: the 60-year-old face of Rudd contained a hidden image. Beneath the gray beard and the wrinkles I could clearly see the boyish face of the 20-year-old SDS leader. When I mentioned this to Mark he agreed immediately -- Rudd’s boyish enthusiasm had not dissipated with age.

Over the next three years I photographed Rudd a number of times. I filmed an MDS Public Service Announcement with him. I witnessed an interesting exchange as Rudd and Tom Hayden traded wisecracks. And I argued with Rudd on a variety of topics. In every instance, I found Mark to be very generous and very gracious, a bit smug and undeniably a smartass. Conversations with Rudd reveal a very charming arrogance -- and this is not a negative assessment. Mark has worked diligently to redefine himself and in the process has been his own harshest critic. The self-conscious metamorphosis transformed a 20-year-old advocating armed struggle into a nonviolent 61-year-old activist committed to calm, patient organizing -- and a Lefty with a sense of humor, a rare commodity. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to disagree with Mark on a regular basis -- he embodies Murray Bookchin’s ideal of democratic debate and discourse.

After SDS and Weather, Mark moved to New Mexico where he taught algebra at the college level. As someone who barely survived algebra in college, I needed help when my teenage son was struggling with the A-word. I contacted Mark. He responded immediately and offered useful suggestions. Typical Rudd.

In 2008, Mark asked if he could use one of my photographs [the Drew University shot] in his new book. I said of course -- Mark had previously mentioned that he had decided to spend some time finishing his memoir and I was glad to be involved in a minor way.

Underground: My Life In SDS And The Weathermen was released on March 23, 2009, and there were two signings in New York that week. I caught the second and videotaped some of the event. The book signing was held at Rudd’s old hangout, the West End Bar. A number of Columbia SDS veterans showed up -- as did former Weather Underground activist Cathy Wilkerson who released her memoir last year. Wilkerson, an impressive speaker in her own right, thanked Mark for his generosity and told the crowd that Rudd had made the transition back from a militant, tough-talking activist into what he always was, beneath the bluster: “a really nice guy”.

Right on, Cathy.

Tom Good: What do you think of Obama so far?

Mark Rudd: I think he’s acted in an extremely predictable way, knowing what we already know about him. He’s cautious and strategic. He knows that there is no mandate yet for abrupt shifts to the left. I think he’s trying to work toward improvement on the economy, healthcare, education, and Israel. On Afghanistan, no. He knows that the biggest internal enemy is the military-industrial-security complex, and he’s not going to give them the excuse to organize to defeat him (as they defeated Kennedy). I know that the official left position is that JFK was a cold-warrior, no different from any others, but I’ve been reading “Brothers,” by David Talbot, a good journalist who makes a compelling case for the fact that the military and CIA loathed Kennedy and conspired to kill him. Since Obama isn’t a leftist (thank God), he’s not hampered by our prejudices. I’m sure he believes that Kennedy was killed by the military and CIA. JFK had zero control over both. They rarely carried out his orders.

TG: What do you make of his appointments?

MR: All terrible at the top level, except maybe Hillary Clinton, whom I’m expecting to win a Nobel prize for forcing the Israelis to accept a settlement. Who but the nation’s #1 shiksa, a certified lover of Israel, would the rightwing accept to force the settlement? That was a strategic appointment. All the others are strategic in the same way–giving the right the top positions. The trick is to look at the next level, where Podesta put center-leftists, predominantly. He learned from Cheney. Actually, the director of CIA, Minetta, a center-leftist, probably gave them conniptions.

TG: What is your view of the Ayers bashing that started with the election and is ongoing?

MR: Obama has almost no chinks in his armor. The right has very few ways in, and they’re so stupid that they don’t realize that the Ayers business has zero traction outside their own circles. Don’t ever underestimate the far right’s utter stupidity.

TG: You often say that Columbia SDS represented some great organizing - what in particular is noteworthy and/or useful to young activists?

MR: That’s why I spent so much time on it in my book. The chapter was run by red-diaper babies who knew nothing but old-style traditional organizing–patient, long term, base-building, coalition-building, involving engagement between people you’re trying to win over. Lots of study,analysis, research. The Praxis Axis was right! Of course the irony was that Ted Gold and David Gilbert got seduced by the apparent success of “militancy” at Columbia.

TG: Can you tell me about any organizing you are doing now in your community?

MR: My wife and I are organizing around environmental justice and health issues in our neighborhood, a working-class chicano/mexicano neighborhood. We have a bilingual “Neighborhood Association,” involving rich and poor, brown and white, immigrants and US citizens. It’s NOT ideological: we rarely push our left analysis, though people know who I am. Many republicans among us.

Also, I’m working with a small group called “Another Jewish Voice” to create a pro-peace in the middle east lobby in New Mexico. We’ve had some good luck with the congressional delegation, primarily because my wife and I are involved heavily in electoral politics.

Marla is the chair of New Mexico Conservation Voters. They’ve achieved almost a green majority in the state legislature. Both of us work on local Demo electoral campaigns, and have had some success electing progressives lately (after years and years of losing). We’re both on the central committee of the county Demo party !!

TG: Why should NLN readers buy your book - and can they get signed copies?

MR: It’s a great story, that’s why I hope people read it. I tried to be accurate and honest. I’m not pushing left heroism. I’m just this kid from the suburbs who got involved in the movement. It’s a story of good organizing followed by bad (Weatherman).

You know, I don’t believe in signed copies. What are they good for? I do it because people want them. Go to Morningside Bookshop at the corner of Broadway and West 114th St and you’ll find all the signed copies you might want. Readers can check out my “Book Tour” page on my website, http://www.markrudd.com/ www.markrudd.com to meet me and I’ll sign their copies.

TG: What do you have to say to Radosh’s comment that you haven’t grown up (and abandoned your Lefty beliefs)?

MR: Poor Ronald Radosh is a right-winger. His assuption is that anything left is childish. What more is there to say, except see my comment above on rightists’ intelligence.

TG: Do you support BDS [ Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions ] as a means of ending apartheid in Israel?

MR: Absolutely. My group is attempting to get a campaign going in New Mexico.

TG: How is your mother doing? Is she pleased about the new book?

MR: My mother is lucid less than 50% of the time. She’s thrilled about the book, though she seems fixated on the question of how I make money off it. Since I have no idea how the money works, I can’t explain it to her or anyone else. That confuses her even more, because she can’t understand why I’m so ignorant.

TG: Is there any hope I’ll ever learn algebra?

MR: Yes! Come out to New Mexico, hang with me a week or so, and I’ll help you figure it out. The trick to algebra is the ability to pay attention, and I know you have that. You’re just defeated by your own self-conception as a person who can’t learn algebra. It’s simple. I use geometry drawings to explain it.

Also see Jonah Raskin on Mark Rudd : Underground, Again by Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / March 30, 2009

The Rag Blog

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29 March 2009

Agriculture’s Ponzi Scheme


Cookies or Fish?
By Janet Gilles / The Rag Blog / March 29, 2009

After World War II, starvation was a real danger, and calories were in short supply. The United States Dept of Agriculture put in place subsidies to grow calories, which have evolved to this day to a system exactly contrary to what is needed.



The United States Department of Agriculture itself says that Americans consume only 11 % of the fruits and vegetables needed for good health, while consuming way too many calories in the form of fats and sugars.

Yet this same USDA gives massive subsidies to the calories, following its historic mandate back from WW II, while less than one percent goes to fruit and vegetable farmers.

Many people make their grocery choices based on price, and the subsidized empty calories, fried foods, processed foods are the best buy.

Most of these subsidies go to farmers in the Mississippi River basin, the source of seventy five percent of the nitrate pollution that is killing the Gulf of Mexico.

So to make MacDonalds burgers and fries and Cokes cheap, we are sacrificing our greatest fishery, the shrimp, oysters, crabs and fish of the Gulf of Mexico. The Dead Zone gets bigger and bigger every year, and soon we will cross the point of no return and the fish just won’t come back. Besides killing the Gulf of Mexico, this same process of Government subsidized nitrate, herbicide, pesticide cultivation is killing fisheries around the world. The United Nations Environmental Group says that nitrates are the biggest threat to our oceans, ahead even of over fishing. Millions of people in the United States drink water with unsafe levels of nitrates, herbicides, and pesticides, a major cause of our cancer epidemic.

Our agriculture is constantly touted as “efficient”, but the measure Big Ag likes to use is how many bushels are produced per acre, ignoring the lack of nutrients and corresponding epidemic rise in chronic disease of our population. This subsidized food is itself one cause of our cancer epidemic, according to the President’s Cancer Panel. With Lance Armstrong on the panel, their report states that “we heavily subsidize the growth of foods (e.g., corn, soy) that in their processed forms (e.g., high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated corn and soybean oils, grain-fed cattle) are known contributors to obesity and associated chronic diseases, including cancer.”

The so called “efficiency” of our chemical agriculture also ignores the massive amount of water wasted (many cities along the Mississippi don’t have safe drinking water), as well as the sacrifice of our best fisheries. It ignores the green house gases caused by giant tractors plowing the earth and removing the mulch, which sequesters the CO2 in the ground. And it ignores the loss of our farmers and farming communities, as farmers who use sustainable methods such as crop rotation, or who grow food for the table rather than for the factories, do not get the subsidies and cannot compete against those who do.

This is the major cause of the unprecedented immigration from South America to the United States, and from Africa to Europe.

What is the alternative?

We could take the entire $50 Billion dollar subsidy that now goes to mega corporate junk food agriculture and divide it up locally.

Instead of depending on nitrates from the Middle East, we could use the sun. In a city of one million people, dividing the $50 billion dollars annually by 300 million people, that would be $166 a person, so $166 million dollars A YEAR to subsidize a local agriculture. Fresh fruits and vegetables that the government says we need to be eating to be healthy would suddenly be cheap and plentiful. Local agriculture would be cost effective. New Jersey could once again be the garden state. Pastures will lock the green house gases in the earth where they belong, and the fats from pastured animals are the ones we need for health, as opposed to the “bad” fats created by feeding corn to animals intended for lives led in the grassy fields.

By the simple matter of transferring the agricultural subsidy to a fruit, vegetable, pasture and orchard based agriculture, we can reverse the modern epidemics of diabetes and heart disease, reverse global warming, save our drinking water and our oceans, and stop the massive unprecedented immigration caused by driving small farmers off their land. This type of thinking is underway with new Obama appointee Vilsack at the USDA who proposes giving farmers carbon credits where deserved. This would bring us back around to a sustainable and wholesome agriculture.

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Children of Inmates: A Problem Needing a Solution

Children of inmates play during a party for the children inside Santa Monica women's prison in Lima, September 25, 2008. The prison allows children of the inmates to stay with their mothers till they are three years old. There are currently 50 children in the prison. Photo: Reuters Pictures.

Julia Steiny: Zero-tolerance policies wreak havoc on children’s education
By Julia Steiny / March 29, 2009

There are children who matter so little that no government agency even bothers to count or keep statistical track of them. They are the children of prisoners. Nationally, the justice systems have no interest in how children or families are affected by an offending parent’s imprisonment. The state ensures that the sins of the father are visited upon the son.

The number-one predictor of a child going to prison is having had a parent in prison.

The number-one drag on a child’s academic success is family chaos of any kind. And nothing is as chaotic as having a parent yanked out of their lives and branded as a convict.

Sen. Leo Blais, D-Coventry, has submitted Bill S0320 to the General Assembly, to reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a fine of $100. Excellent. Hopefully this bill will pass. Hopefully it will start a trend of rethinking all of the state’s morally-righteous but destructive laws that don’t take families into account.

The 1990s surge of harsh zero-tolerance laws stuffed the U.S. prisons to the point where we lock up a higher percentage of our own people than any other country in the world. Some unlucky inmates got caught with an ounce or less of marijuana. In Rhode Island, 89 percent of the marijuana arrests are for possession. Is passing a joint among friends that much more pernicious than sharing a bottle of wine?

Well, some would say marijuana is the gateway to more serious drug use.

Sol Roderiquez, director of the Family Life Center in South Providence, would say, “Incarceration itself leads to worse drugs, often worse crimes. And with a prison record, it’s so hard for an ex-offender to get a job, crime is one of the few options left.” And so the cycle continues.

The Family Life Center helps ex-cons piece their shattered lives back together so they can live in the mainstream again.

According to the 2007 Pew prison report, Rhode Island spends $44,860 a year per inmate — the highest in the country. And that doesn’t include the court costs.

But neighboring Massachusetts passed a law similar to Blais’ that will save their taxpayers almost $30 million a year in arrests, bookings, and basic court costs alone. Eleven other states have also passed such laws. Vermont is considering one now.

Blais’ bill is not legalization of marijuana, but decriminalization. The mom, dad, uncle, or sister caught with a joint won’t have a criminal conviction on their record that makes supporting a family with legitimate work nigh impossible.

According to a survey done by RI Kids Count, as of Sept. 30, 2007, roughly two-thirds of the 3,081 inmate responders had children — 4,520 children, to be exact. When the parent goes to jail, many children go into foster or residential care, or stay with relatives who resent the unasked-for burden and cost. Families split up. Children act out. The stress is intense.

Roderiquez says, “When the state imposes such a severe punishment, it should take the whole family into account. Prison has huge consequences for the whole family. But we’ve dehumanized this population. They don’t have feelings or respond emotionally. No one pays attention to the fact that we’re pushing the families into falling apart.”

Roderiquez and her colleague Nick Horton, policy researcher at the center, have seen it all, and rattled off story after story.

There was the family with three daughters. When the husband and breadwinner went to prison, the mother went on welfare. In time, the youngest child had to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the oldest became a classically enraged young adolescent, getting involved in serious escapist bad habits. All three girls’ grades at school have tanked. Roderiquez and Horton add that children’s grades always suffer. Always. “It’s the first thing to go,” said Roderiquez.

Then there was the single father responsible for two children. When he went to prison, one dropped out of school immediately, and the other ran away.

I’ll gladly stipulate that smoking dope could be an indicator of growing or potentially dangerous social behavior. But wouldn’t it be more effective in the long run, more healing for everyone, to send a family-services worker to the home to help those families who are in fact dangerously drug-involved? The City of Providence has a nationally recognized “go-team” of family-service workers whom the police call to crime scenes when children are present or a family is traumatized. Use them for marijuana busts. If you must punish the offender, revoke a bit of the family’s privacy by investigating whether a family has unhealthy stresses driving the drug use. If we’re serious about “corrections,” the only real way to correct misbehavior is to get to the root cause, which prison does not.

When the best solution to a social problem is treatment, provide treatment. It’s cheaper than courts and prisons, healthier, and more long-lasting. For my money, the state should look at all their laws with an eye to the collateral damage that harsh penalties cause to an offender’s extended community. Is the damage worth it? Sometimes prison is necessary, but often it’s just vindictive.

And for heaven’s sake, start collecting data on the inmates’ children. Bring those children to light. They are our responsibility.

[Julia Steiny, a former member of the Providence School Board, consults for government agencies and schools; she is codirector of Information Works!, Rhode Island’s school-accountability project. She can be reached at juliasteiny@gmail.com, or c/o EdWatch, The Providence Journal, 75 Fountain St., Providence, RI 02902.]

Source / Providence Journal

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28 March 2009

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