30 June 2010

The Texas Greens : Making a Deal With the Dark Side

Graphic by James Retherford / The Rag Blog.

When do ends justify means?
The Republicans and the Texas Greens

By Thomas McKelvey Cleaver / The Rag Blog / June 30, 2010

One of the things I have learned the hard way in 40-plus years of working for progressive political change is this: If you use your enemy’s tactics to advance your goals, you will become your enemy; the means we use to achieve an end do in fact absolutely define what that end will be. The end does not justify the means, no matter how easy it seems. As Darth Vader said to Luke Skywalker, “The Dark Side is easier.”

I would think that anyone with the slightest knowledge of the political history of the international Left over the past century would have this basic law of political morality tattooed on their frontal lobes.

Those who laid down their lives for land, bread, and freedom in Russia, China, Spain, Cuba, or Nicaragua (to name only the most prominent) have invariably found their sacrifice stolen by those whose policies made the revolutionaries who fought for those ideals the first Enemies of the State to be liquidated once “victory” was achieved.

How we win matters.

For me, the recent disclosures about the Texas Green Party and their violation of this basic political law isn’t surprising, given the history of the Green Party in America. I wish it were otherwise. I would love to work for, support and vote for a progressive political party that campaigns on dealing with the real problems of America -- war, poverty, racism and the environment. Since I would also like to work for a party with the slightest chance of achieving its goals, I have yet to join the Greens and doubt I ever will.

Here's what's been happening.

The Texas Greens were petitioning to get on the Texas ballot, but had no money to run a petition campaign. Then they were presented with the "gift" of 80,000 signatures obtained at a cost of $200,000 from a Republican operative.

As reported in The Dallas Morning News: “The liberal Green Party's uphill battle to get on the Texas ballot this fall has been fueled by a surprising benefactor: an out-of-state Republican consultant with a history of helping conservative causes and GOP candidates.”

The “out-of-state Republican consultant” is Arizona Republican operative Tim Mooney, who set up the petition drive. Who is Tim Mooney? In 2004, he was a major player as part of Capital Strategies, a Las Vegas-based Republican-funded lobbying company that helped Ralph Nader gain ballot access in multiple states, which analysts say benefited George W. Bush by taking votes from Democrat John Kerry.

Had the “close election” in Ohio -- where Mooney’s “help” to Nader drained just enough votes to give Ohio’s electoral votes to Bush -- gone the other way, the past six years of history would be radically different. Just to be sure of who’s who, that year Mooney’s main business was a get-out-the-vote operation for the Bush-Cheney ticket in Florida.

That’s why this is important. The Enemy -- otherwise known as the Republican Party -- used left-progressives to derail the slightest possibility of anything that might even remotely slack of a left-progressive agenda ever got close to the halls of power.

This of course brings me to the issue of Ralph Nader, who ran as the “Green” candidate in 2000, on the platform (to quote George Wallace, another would-be third party spoiler) that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference” between the Republicans and the Democrats.

I beg to differ. Anyone who thinks there was no difference between what might have been with President Gore and what we experienced with eight years of President Georgie-the-Lesser needs a brain transplant.

We all know that it was Nader’s campaign in Florida that sealed the deal and gave us Georgie-the-Lesser’s invasion of Poland, the destruction of the environment from an administration that not only didn’t believe in climate change but actively hunted down those who did, and ended by nearly destroying the entire economic system of the planet with their promotion of the most extreme pathologies of Wall Street.

In the years following that election in 2000, certain facts came to light, the most important being that Nader’s campaign in Florida was financed by Republicans.

Nader’s not the only one. Jump to 2006 and the Santorum-Casey Senate race in Pennsylvania.

Everyone knew the race was going to be closer than close. Santorum -- a far-righty’s far righty -- was running slightly behind his Democratic opponent. His only chance was to siphon votes away from his opponent. All of a sudden, there was Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli, who came from nowhere, and had the ability to siphon just enough votes away from Casey to give the election to Santorum.

What were the facts there? At one point, literally every penny in Romanelli's campaign coffers -- except for the $30 he donated to himself -- came from conservatives supporting Santorum.

Paul Kiel, reporting for Talking Points Memo at the time, nailed the facts:
The Green Party listed a $1,000 check from a Bill Wickerman of Covington & Burling. There is no such person. However, a Bill Wichterman works there. He's a Republican lobbyist who has also given to Santorum this campaign.

James Holman, who in the past has supported GOP House candidate Howard Kaloogian, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), was incorrectly listed by the Greens as "James Howmen." He disclosed that he was an editor at the San Diego Reader; a James Holman is the publisher there.

The Green Party disclosed that a "Franklin Schoneman" of Pottsville, Pa. gave $5,000. A "Franklin Schoeneman" of Pottsville has given $8,000 to Santorum so far this election.
The same thing was tried nationally in 2008, with Green Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney -- a failed politician who was disowned by the voters in her congressional district for her demonstrated incompetence. When asked if she would question any large donations from people not previously associated with the Green Party to help her gain ballot access, candidate McKinney said she wouldn’t question any contribution. Fortunately, 2008 wasn’t 2000, and Cynthia McKinney wasn’t Ralph Nader.

And now in 2010 we have Texas. Rick Perry, who a year ago was advocating the secession of Texas from the Union (there are times I think “Go! Don’t let the door slap your ass, Texas!”) has been running far ahead of Houston mayor Bill White. He’s been a shoo-in for re-election.

Until last week. A poll then showed Perry holding a 9-point lead over White; this is the kind of lead that can be overcome, this far out. Even the reliably-Republican Rasmussen has Perry up by only 12 in his most recent poll. And a poll from Public Policy Polling -- likely to skew Democratic -- has the two in a dead heat. This just might be a race that Governor Haircut can lose.

Or it is if everyone who thinks Rick Perry should be swinging by a rope from a cottonwood tree votes for White. A win by White would likely be closer than close, but it could be done. The rabbit could be pulled from the hat. That is, it could be if the Greens didn’t steal the rabbit in a few crucial counties.

As Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said, “It's good news for Rick Perry, in the sense that the Green Party label draws votes away from White rather than Perry. It's likely to take a small amount from White. This is only going to have an effect if it's a very close election."

I’ve seen this happen before. In 2008, there was an initiative campaign here in California to change the “winner takes all” system of awarding our electoral votes (those 55 reliable votes mean a lot to Democrats) and change it to one in which the electoral votes were apportioned according to the winner in each congressional district. The result would be the addition of at least 20 votes to the Republican presidential candidate.

The campaign had all kinds of “progressive” buzz words about “letting the people choose” and other such astroturf nonsense. The campaign had one goal, and that was to siphon off enough votes so that, in a close election, the Democratic candidate could lose.

Who was working on this stealth campaign to wreck the progressive movement? Tim Mooney. The same Tim Mooney who gave $200,000 worth of free political work to the Texas Green Party because he believes “everyone should have their political voice.” Fortunately, progressives in California spotted this for the Trojan Horse it was, and it went down to defeat.

In 1912, Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs said “it’s better to vote for what you want, and not get it, than it is to vote for what you don’t want, and get it.” American leftists have used this ever since to promote their various (failed) third party efforts. Interestingly enough, the German Communist Party used this in 1933, as part of their decision not to work with the Social Democratic Party -- who they called “Social Fascists” -- to oppose the Nazis. Their theory was that if the Nazis attained power, things would get so bad so fast that it would bring on The Revolution.

We all know how that worked out, right?

Myself, I think we are at the American equivalent of the German elections of 1933, We absolutely cannot allow the modern Republican Party back into power. I haven’t voted for Jerry Brown for any office he’s run for since I mistakenly thought he was the good guy back in 1974. But this November, I’m going to vote for him for the first time in 36 years. The thought of Meg Whitman in the Governor’s office after seven years of Ahhh-nuld is just too awful to contemplate.

Sometimes, the lesser of two evils really isn’t evil. I hope my fellow progressive Texans, whose existence is always my best argument against those outsiders who say Texas should be expelled from the Union, will consider that idea come November.

The means by which we attain power defines the ends we achieve. The kind of “morality” shown by the Green Party across the country in the past 10 years is not the kind of political morality I have fought for all my life.

Graphic by James Retherford / The Rag Blog.

The Rag Blog

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Houston Pride : 2010 Parade is Horse of Different Color

Houston gay and lesbian community -- and friends -- stage a massive and joyous Pride Parade in the Montrose neighborhood, for the 31st straight year. Photos by Bill Maxey / The Rag Blog.

(And the cops manage to hold their horses)
Massive pride parade in the Montrose

By Bill Maxey / The Rag Blog / June 30, 2010

HOUSTON -- Every June for the past three decades Houston has put on a boisterous street party that starts with a daytime festival of performers and artists and ends in a nighttime parade of floats and marchers, celebrities and politicians.

The all-day event sponsored by the city’s well organized gay and lesbian community draws tens of thousands of Houstonians to the historic Montrose district, where my wife Kirste and I live, and testifies to the city’s reputation as a cosmopolitan oasis in a state better known for its red-necked cowboys, Lone Star beer, and Saturday-night lounge shootings.

Last weekend’s Pride Parade, like the 30 before it, was a noisy, high-spirited but peaceful procession that wound its way past the Mexican restaurants, small antique shops, and neon tattoo parlors on Westheimer, the major east-west artery that slices through Montrose. Some crowd estimates were well over 150,000. But unlike last year’s parade, clumps of two, four, five police officers stood watch on the crowd at nearly every intersection, the red lights atop their squad cars pulsating.

More barricades than last year’s number were set up by the city, the better to gently control the crowd of onlookers. And members of the Houston Police Department’s Mounted Patrol -- whose 1,200-pound gelding Kato trampled Kirste at last year’s parade, were barely seen this year.

Kirste and I own a 1920s bungalow in Montrose, recently honored as one of the country's 10 great neighborhoods. We count Annise Parker, Houston’s mayor, as a neighbor, and in previous times the late Walter Cronkite and Howard Hughes lived nearby.

So last year, we hopped on our bikes and pedaled over to Stanford street where we met our neighbors, a group of single and married couples, some with children and others without. It was to be a night of fun.

The 2009 parade began, heading east on Westheimer, and we cheered as it passed us, the crowd numbering an estimated 80,000 people. Few officers on foot were present. There were no barricades on that section of Westheimer. Kirste was busy snapping photos with her iPhone, but she soon discovered that headlights on the floats caused glare and her pictures looked better if she faced towards the east, away from the marchers. And then it happened.

A trio of Houston police officers on horseback approached from the west. Led by Officer P. Hernandez riding his mount Kato, they turned into the onlookers assembled along Westheimer and used their animals to force back the surprised spectators, many of whom were cheering as loud music blared from the floats. The police officers did not use any whistles or other sound-making devices for crowd control. So, the people were immediately confronted with two choices: either step back or be trampled. And my dear wife, facing the opposite direction, never saw what hit her.

The next day, June 28, 2009, a Houston Chronicle article reported: "Police say the officers, and the horses, were just doing their jobs. ‘The woman wasn’t kicked, stepped on or trampled,’ HPD spokeswoman Jodi Silva said.” Despite what Silva told the reporter, however, several dozen witnesses watched in horror as Kirste was repeatedly kicked and stomped by the skittish, out-of-control Kato. During the subsequent police internal affairs probe, an investigator told me that an officer on foot said she saw the horse strike Kirste in the back of her head and knock her to the ground.

An ambulance took Kirste to the emergency room that night. She suffered deep bruising on her arms, legs, and torso. Her forehead was swollen with knots the size of tennis balls as was the back of her head. And she had a hole from a deep cut to her chin that went through into her mouth.

But she survived the assault -- and for that I am thankful. And so here we are, nearly a year later, her bruises have healed and dozens of dentist visits are behind her. She still has temporary teeth, and faces multiple years of orthodontic work ahead of her, as well as reconstructive surgery to her chin.

Bill Maxey (in blue shirt) comforts wife Kirste (in purple) after she was trampled by Kato -- the brown and white paint in foreground -- ridden by officer P. Hernandez, during the 2009 Houston Pride Parade. Photo by Tony Morris.
See more pictures of the incident, Below.
It’s odd sometimes that a person in shock will focus on issues that seem inconsequential. Kirste recalls asking herself in the ambulance, “Where are my shoes? I’m supposed to usher tomorrow at Trinity Episcopal, I have to be there. I want to tell the police officer that I forgive him. I can’t leave without telling him.”

After the shock wore off, important questions remained unanswered. HPD has never explained, for instance, why the Mounted Patrol decided it was necessary to turn their horses into the peaceful crowd. Or why at first, until multiple witnesses came forward, did the police department’s public affairs office release statements to the media that the trampling never even occurred. Other questions remain unanswered by Houston officials, among them:
  • Why did no police officer offer to render first-aid to my wife, despite the fact that all HPD officers are given first-aid training? A Good Samaritan helped me pick Kirste up and carry her safely away from the agitated Mounted Patrol’s horses. Eventually the ranking officer on the scene, Lt. Randall Wallace, dismounted and watched as civilians attempted to stop the bleeding.
  • Did HPD last year use different procedures for the Pride parade than it used for other parades?
  • Why has the HPD refused to inform Kirste and me of the results of its internal affairs investigation?
Houston surely is no stranger to parades, but perhaps our city could look to the manner in which nighttime parades are managed in New Orleans, where they have been a way of life since the 1830s. Crowd control there is managed by a large police presence, primarily on foot. Yet Lt. Wallace was quoted in the Chronicle as saying that about 20 officers were scheduled to patrol last year’s Pride Parade on foot that night but they “didn’t make it.” Why not? Did the shortage of officers cause the mounted patrol to become overly aggressive?

So, in the aftermath of this year’s Pride Parade, another question arises: Did the HPD and Houston city government make any changes in parade planning or security procedures?

A couple days before the parade, Mayor Parker, who rode in the city’s first Pride Parade in 1979, made it clear to me that she had turned down my request to replace the Mounted Patrol with the department’s Bicycle Patrol at the parade. Then she said:
Mr. Maxey, I personally observed the actions of the Mounted Patrol at last year’s Pride parade, (and) don't think they were in the best interests of public safety and crowd control purposes at all times. They will be at this parade, but I hope that they will return to the professional behavior that has made them a benefit to the parade in previous years.
I must ask, would this behavior be acceptable if a small child had been trampled by a police mount at the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade?

My wife and I are both native Houstonians, and we love our city. We are fortunate to have health insurance which paid for the initial emergency room charges, and the means to pay out of pocket for the dental work. The financial costs have been considerable, and the bills will continue to amass in the months ahead. But it’s not always about the money; sometimes it’s about making sure that our public servants are doing the right thing.

Kirste feels strongly that she needs to speak out and that the HPD still needs to implement better parade policies and procedures. I agree. She and I have appeared before the Houston City Council to tell her story and ask for changes in police procedure.

As the recently concluded Pride Parade rolled past me last Saturday night, I recalled her request that the City of Houston erect more crowd barricades. It did add another block of barricades. But the line of barriers stopped 10 feet from where Kirste was attacked by Kato last year.

And the horses of the Mounted Patrol were quartered on the side street behind me; their role this year reduced to that of spectators.

[Bill Maxey and his wife, Kirste Reimers, are native Houstonians who own a 1920-era bungalow in the near-downtown Montrose district, where the annual Pride Parade takes place. Maxey owns an electronic systems integration firm, and can be reached at bmaxey2005@yahoo.com.]

Cop horses trampled Kirste Maxey, sending her to the emergency room, during 2009 Pride Parade. Photos by Tony Morris.

The Rag Blog

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Formula None : Is Austin Cruisin' For a Bruisin'?


Formula One racing: coming your way. Photo from Business Week.

Controversy brewing:
Is Formula One the right fit?

By Stefan Wray / The Rag Blog / June 30, 2010

AUSTIN -- If I told you I hated fast cars, I’d be making a liar out of myself. Powerful engines and high speeds give nearly everyone an adrenalin rush. I’m no exception. And yet while I’m not much of a car racing fan, I can see how the sport can grab people’s attention.

But this business of bringing Formula One racing to Austin has left me and an increasing number of Austinites questioning whether this is the right thing for our city. More and more of us are deciding that it is not.

For those with no clue as to what I’m talking about, Formula One is the crème de la crème of automobile racing. Today’s F1 cars race at speeds topping 220 miles per hour. With a 60-year history, the first Formula One World Championship was held in Europe in 1950.

Starting in the 1970s, Formula One’s iconic and controversial president and CEO, Bernie Ecclestone, has turned it in a multi-billion dollar business and now an elite sport for the rich and famous.

For several years, Ecclestone had been looking for a U.S. location for Formula One for the 2012 through 2021 race seasons. After first being rebuked by New Jersey, it was announced on May 25, 2010, that a deal had been struck for Austin to be this site.

Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone / LAT Photographic / Speed TV.

The story received front page news coverage when it broke and the decision has been heralded by F1 racing aficionados on blogs and racing fan web sites all over the Internet. Local and state politicians have given this much fanfare and are enthusiastic about a perceived economic benefit for the city.

I had an immediate, visceral, reaction to the announcement and quickly shot off a letter to the Mayor and City Council that was also published in the Austin Chronicle. In the letter, I argued that the City should conduct a carbon footprint and environmental impact study before situating Formula One here.

To me, it seemed incongruous that a “green” city such as Austin, with such an emphasis on pursuing renewable energy and efforts aimed at energy conservation, would be a location for Formula One. I wrote: “Future generations will laughingly look back at us and ponder why we moved forward with the construction of a car racetrack near the end of the era of the gasoline-powered combustion engine.”

Not long after that, David Kobierowski wrote a piece about Formula One that was published in the Austin Post. David’s line of thinking focused not on anything wrong, per se, with Formula One but that it is a sport better suited for perhaps Dallas or Las Vegas. He wrote: “There are some good reasons for F1 in TX like it'll bring some jobs and international flavor/tourism. But overall, this is not a wise fit for Austin.”

I just came home from the Texas Democratic Party State Convention in Corpus Christi and when I asked a few in the Austin delegation what they thought about Formula One coming to their city, there were similar reactions to David’s sentiment. People say that it just doesn’t feel like Austin.

In mid June, David and I started a Facebook group -- Concerned About Formula One (F1) Racing Coming to Austin -- where we’ve started to post information about Formula One and where we’re starting to gather other people.

At the same time, the Austin American Statesman began to dig into some of the secrecy that surrounds the deal to bring Formula One to Austin.

It turns out that this plan has been in the works for several years. It’s been largely driven by the Republican-led State Comptroller’s office. But legislation introduced by Democratic State Senator Kirk Watson in March 2009 laid the groundwork for using state money for initial funding.

It is the use of $25 million in public monies to help underwrite some of the start up costs, and the slowly revealed information about how this deal has been constructed, that has other constituencies questioning the entire affair.

Interestingly, some of what David and I have easily been able to find by simple Google searches has yet to make it into the Austin American Statesman’s reporting.

One example is the readily available reports regarding Bernie Ecclestone’s praise for Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Amazingly, in a 2009 interview, Ecclestone said that Hitler “could command a lot of people” and was “able to get things done.”

We’ve not seen anything in Austin media about the character and mindset of Ecclestone.

Just this weekend there were a couple more Austin American Statesman articles on Formula One. One dealt with how a sizable amount of generated revenue will actually leave the state and go to a California retirement fund. The Statesman writer concludes: “Time will tell whether Formula One is worth the price to Texas.”

Missing in Austin media, though, was an announcement that came out in an AP story on June 24, that the United States Formula One team had been banned from competition in Formula One. The AP story said: “The USF1 Formula One team has been fined and barred from ever competing in F1 for not taking part in the 2010 world championship.”

Why on earth would Austin want to construct a Formula One racetrack if the U.S. team is not involved?

It appears that the more we know about the effort to bring Formula One racing to Austin, the worse the idea becomes.

But, just because there is nascent public criticism and the daily paper is raising doubts, this doesn’t automatically translate into the plan being tossed out.

If you’re a Rag Blog reader and for whatever reason don’t like the idea of Formula One racing coming to Austin, then join us on our Facebook group -- and add a comment at the end of this article. We may out of necessity move beyond Facebook, but that’s where our effort is at the moment.

[Stefan Wray is a writer, environmental activist, Drupal web project manager, documentary maker, and resident of Austin’s Montopolis neighborhood.]

I submitted this piece for publication several days prior to my appearance on a Austin's 91.7 FM KOOP Radio's program "A Neighborly Conversation" hosted by David Kobierowski. Some people commenting on this piece [see comments below] are assuming I wrote it after the radio program because of what is written about a U.S. team that is now banned from competition. On the radio program this team was discussed.

In reference to what had been reported in an AP story on June 24 I wrote above that "the United States Formula One team had been banned." I should have written "a" instead of "the." This is because at present the U.S. doesn't have a national team. So, technically it is not "the" U.S. team, it is "a" U.S. team.

However, based on the wording of the AP story that appeared in Sports Illustrated, which said "The USF1 Formula One team has been fined and barred from ever competing in F1," I think it may be easy to see how one could make that minor error on first pass. But I stand corrected.

It is important to note, however, that this team -- called U.S. F1 -- was the only team from the United States that was intent on competing in Formula One and that now with its ban, the United States has no team, national or otherwise, in the competition.

In a June 30 article by Berthold Bouman in Motorsport.com, the author writes, "Although American fans still had some hope about the return of U.S. F1 in 2011, the FIA World Motor Sport Council has now made an definitive end to the aspirations of the all-American Formula One team. The U.S. F1 team had now been banned from Formula One and was fined 309,000 Euro for failing to compete in this year's championship."

It is an "all-American Formula One team," but not an officially recognized national team. According to the Motorsport.com story U.S. F1 failed because its sponsors held back their payments.

-- Stefan Wray / July 2, 2009
The Rag Blog

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Austin Benefit : Friends Support, Celebrate Marilyn Buck

Robert King, former Black Panther and member of the Angola 3, speaks in support of Marilyn Buck at June 25 benefit in Austin. Photo by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.

Lively Austin gathering benefits
Political prisoner Marilyn Buck

By Mariann G. Wizard / The Rag Blog / June 30, 2010

AUSTIN -- A community-wide benefit for former Austinite and long-time political prisoner Marilyn Buck, on Friday, June 25, was a success on all levels. The event was co-hosted by The Rag Blog/New Journalism Project and NOKOA/The Observer, along with six other community groups and businesses, and supported by a lengthy roster of contributors.

A spokesperson for Youth Emergency Service, Inc. (YES, Inc.)/The Phogg Phoundation for the Pursuit of Happiness, the tax-exempt fiscal sponsor for the event, expressed confidence Monday that, when all receipts are counted, the event will meet or exceed its fundraising goal.

The evening was also a great chance for people to interact in a relaxed, easy-going atmosphere. Building community is a common goal for all eight hosting groups.

Host committee member Tania Rivera of Ex-Pinta Support Alliance (ESA) agreed. “It was a beautiful sight to see both the younger and older generation of our community join in solidarity to support Marilyn Buck’s release from prison. As an ex-pinta [“pinta” is Spanish for “female prisoner”], I was reminded of the importance of my commitment to struggle against the oppression of those left inside the cages, and for those coming home in exile.”

Marilyn Buck, imprisoned for 25 years for politically-motivated crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s, is the daughter of the late former Episcopal priest Louis Buck, prominent in civil rights activity here in the early 1960s. Some attending the benefit were influenced by the elder Buck while they were students at UT Austin; some had participated with him in the struggle to end “Jim Crow” discrimination.

Other attendees had never met either Buck, but know of Marilyn through her acclaimed poetry, her contributions to political journals, or the sometimes exaggerated story of her days as an urban guerrilla that has evolved while she’s been behind bars.

Friday’s benefit, at a private East Austin riverfront estate, featured music by country/folk singer/songwriter Karen Abrahams and friends, activist songwriter Joe P. Carr, and the conscious hip-hop stylings of Riders Against the Storm. Poets Jorge Antonio Renaud and Henry Gonzalez read from their work, and some of Marilyn’s poems were read to the receptive crowd.

Event organizer Mariann Wizard with Akwasi Evans, editor of the progressive Austin weekly, NOKOA/The Observer. Photo by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.

Maria Elena Martinez, a shaman, medicine woman, and leader in Austin’s La Alma Mujer Council, led a healing ceremony for Marilyn, who now has a serious cancer. Under a brilliant full moon, participants held hands in a great circle, connecting to the four directions, the sky, the earth, and their own hearts, as they sent positive energy to Buck, now being treated in a prison hospital in Ft. Worth.

An art auction featuring works from several artists and collectors, including award winning documentary photographer Alan Pogue, noted painter Madelon Umlauf, co-host South Austin Popular Culture Center, and Houston “working class artist” Robert Al-Walee, drew many bids during the evening..

In addition to raising funds to help Marilyn when she is released on parole in August, and hopefully aid her recovery, organizers also honored her commitment to her ideals even while imprisoned. Without revisiting all of her decisions in an era of heavy government repression against radical groups, they cited factors that made her actions something other than criminal. The slogan for the event, “Free Marilyn Now," urges speedy consideration of a request by Buck’s attorney for accelerated compassionate release, in light of her life-threatening illness.

Al-Walee, a former member of the Black Panther Party, likens Marilyn’s actions in opposition to racial oppression to those of pre-U.S. Civil War firebrand John Brown, except that in Buck’s case, she was not in the forefront of an imminent outbreak of hostilities. “When a revolutionary succeeds, he or she is revered as a hero, but success depends on many factors. Marilyn’s actions took place when repression was in the ascendancy, so she is treated as a common criminal.”

Two policemen and a Brinks security guard died in attempted robberies in which Buck and other members of what became known as the “Resistance Conspiracy Case” took part, and public property was damaged in bombings protesting U.S. foreign interventions.

Fugitive members of the radical underground, Marilyn and her co-defendants in this complicated, lengthy, multi-layered case represented the last vestige, in 1985, of what had, 15 years earlier, been a broad-based cultural and political “revolution." While some goals of that movement had been then and still are being realized, its hopes for fundamental, systemic changes in our economic and political system remain far from realized.

The benefit also launched discussions in some quarters about the existence of political prisoners in the U.S. today, and what that means or should mean to the rest of us. Robert King, a local author and former political prisoner as one of the “Angola 3," featured speaker at the benefit, also tackled the issue in programs on KOOP Radio earlier in the week and in his remarks Friday.

Born poor and black in Louisiana in the 1940s, his eventual encounter with the criminal injustice system was almost inevitable. Convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, his increasing political awareness and membership in the Black Panther Party helped him see that he had “been in a minimum security prison” all along.

King was held on what would later be acknowledged as false charges for 29 years in solitary confinement in Angola State Penitentiary. “We are all political prisoners,” he says, “only some are held in harsher conditions than others. Marilyn Buck’s confinement has been extremely harsh, and she deserves to come home.” A BBC documentary about the Angola 3, In the Land of the Free, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, has recently been released to critical acclaim.

Some benefit guests traveled from San Antonio, San Marcos, and the Dallas-Ft. Worth area to attend. Other hosts were Ecology Action, One Love Kitchen, and Resistencia Bookstore/Red Salmon Arts.

To make a contribution to Marilyn Buck’s support, please send your check or money order to YES, Inc; PO Box 13549, Austin, TX 78711, with a note that it is for this purpose. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by applicable tax law.

[Mariann Wizard, a Sixties radical activist and contributor to The Rag, Austin's underground newspaper from the 60s and 70s, is a poet, a professional science writer specializing in natural health therapies, and a regular contributor to The Rag Blog.]
The Rag Blog's Mariann Wizard (left) with Marilyn Buck at Dublin FCI in 1996.
Marilyn Buck's bout with cancer

[The following update on Marilyn Buck's condition comes to us from Friends of Marilyn Buck.]

Marilyn has received her last chemo treatment at the hospital and is now back at the prison, receiving palliative care. She has undergone as much chemo as her body can tolerate. She feels that her medical care has been similar to what she would be getting in the free world, and that her doctors have been both competent and respectful of her. She is also receiving support from her sister-prisoners who are able to visit with her.

She's been having very good visits with her family, and continues to feel the love and support of so many people who are meditating with her, sending her cards and generally keeping her in their thoughts.

Every effort is being made by her attorney to secure an early release. Marilyn asks that people not initiate their own letter-writing or phone campaigns for her release, as these are likely to be counterproductive. Should the situation change and such a campaign be deemed helpful, we'll let everyone know right away.

In spite of the serious situation she faces, Marilyn's spirits remain incredibly strong and her energy is focused on coming home to be with the people who love her.

Singer/songwriter Karen Abrahams performs, with Mike Landschoot (left) and Richard Bowden.

Activist/songwriter Joe P. Carr at the benefit for Marilyn Buck.

Poet Jorge Antonio Renaud spoke and read from his work Photos by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.

The Rag Blog

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Life During Wartime : Our Enduring Commitment

Political cartoon by Joshua Brown / Historians Against the War / The Rag Blog

The Rag Blog

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29 June 2010

Marc Estrin : The Genius of Jean Baudrillard


By Marc Estrin / The Rag Blog / June 29, 2010

[This is the first of three parts.]

My last week's posting on The Rag Blog, Tea for Two, led to several inquiries concerning the philosopher and social critic Jean Baudrillard, who died three years ago at the age of 77.

I was a latecomer to Baudrillard. Years after academic critics had been industriously putting him down, I discovered him by accident in a catalogue called AMOK, Fourth Dispatch: A Sourcebook of the Extremes of Information in Print. Exotica, Mayhem, Neuropolitics, Scratch 'n Sniff, Sensory Deprivation, Sleaze, Tactics -- and, under "Control," Baudrillard.

In a page of Baudrillard listings, they printed a selection from Simulations about Disneyland being "presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real." The proverbial light bulb snapped on over my head: Reality! This contemporary craziness is not basically about Democrats and Republicans, hawks and doves, rich and poor, blacks and whites, women and men -- it's about different understandings of Reality! And about the various strategies of manipulating Reality.

This was a new thought for me, one that seemed hugely pregnant. I ran out and bought a copy of Simulations, figuring that Baudrillard might have the missing key to my key questions. He would explain things that seemed so weirdly inexplicable -- like how and why we've fallen into our postmodern insanity, and what we need to do about it.

I'm a good reader. Six hundred page book? No problem. Simulations is 4x6 -- large print, big margins, 150 pages. Almost a pamphlet. I'll read it in an evening. It's now 13 years later, and I'm still nibbling away at it. Not that it's so difficult. But the thinking of this "intellectual terrorist," "the Darth Vader of postmodernism," is so audacious that I can't read any more than a page at a time -- if that.

The last movement of Schoenberg's Second Quartet sets a poem by Stefan George which begins with the line, "Ich fühle Luft von anderen Planeten" -- I feel the air of other planets. That's how I feel when reading Baudrillard. Adding Baudrillard to any academic debate on postmodernism is like a scene from a Marx Brothers movie where two people are arguing, and Harpo comes in with a scissors and snips off their ties.

Although he himself denies being "serious," I think it pays to try to think with him, and to take his unseriousness seriously for where it may lead.

I'm going to quote him a lot. There's no sense paraphrasing a writer who, in a section on the energy of postmodern collapse, can write

We ...dream of harnessing this energy, but this is sheer madness. We might as well harness the energy of automobile accidents, or of dogs that have been run over...

Late, early, and middle Baudrillard

You may know that there is "early," "middle," and "late" Beethoven -- Beethoven the enthusiastic, energetic young kid ready to kick the pants off any other classical composer; Beethoven the walking tragedy, Europe's greatest composer going DEAF! -- inventing romantic music to express the deepest passions of his mighty heart; and finally, "late" Beethoven -- the stone deaf old man, a decade out of touch with any worldly sound, inventing music that had never been heard before, and would never be heard again. Well, Baudrillard underwent a similar conversion to the weird.


For our purposes here, I am going to concentrate almost entirely on the language and concepts of middle Baudrillard. Late Baudrillard flies so high and crazy that it's difficult to connect with without a thorough grounding in what preceded it, and even then makes for a major challenge. His thought revolves around the notions of "seduction" and "fatal theory" in which objects take control of the universe, surpassing all attempts to conceptualize or control them.

This "obscene" (out of the scene, nothing hidden) "ecstasy of objects" creates a catastrophe for us, the exhausted subjects, and we arrive at apathy and stupefaction. Our only hope is to imitate the strategies and ruses of objects.

Baudrillard sees other social critics as proceeding by "banal strategies," thinking themselves more clever than objects, and heading for inevitable defeat from objects' greater cynicism and shrewdness.

That much said about late Baudrillard, I leave you to try to read his mysterious words, and to study the insidious plotting of your refrigerators and vases.


Early Baudrillard is more understandable, and extremely interesting. Although he was never fully accepted into the starry, hierarchical skies of European academia, Baudrillard began his intellectual career with some extremely significant extensions of Marxism to contemporary reality, taking into account the emergence of mass culture and the technologies of mass reproduction.

Early on, Baudrillard was still a classical, highly imaginary, Marxist, assuming, with Marx, that economics was the major determining factor of human life and civilization. His insight, however, was that production was no longer as important a force as consumption, and that consumerism -- "a collective hysteria that takes the form of manic appropriation of an endless series of objects" -- made the behavior of consumers more important than the behavior of producers, the major actors on Marx's stage. The desire for objects had easily evolved into the desire for desire itself, and a positive feedback loop was well into driving a situation unimagined by the Marxian theory of mutually antagonistic forces.

But this extension of Marxism evolved into a devastating critique of Marx, and an attack on classical Marxism as a mirror of bourgeois society, a perpetuation of the idea of humanity as homo economicus, an excusing, legitimizing understanding of the current state of affairs.

In typical, flamboyant form, Baudrillard parodied the famous opening of the Communist Manifesto:
A spectre haunts the revolutionary imagination: the phantom of production. Everywhere it sustains an unbridled romanticism of productivity. The critical theory of the mode of production does not touch the principle of production.
Baudrillard accuses Marx of being in collusion with capitalism (!) in the Marxian analysis of the insidious power of its forms. He was looking for a more radical position, one which looks at the world through another lens -- the optic of "symbolic exchange." In symbolic exchange, Baudrillard posits an alternative organizing principle of modern society, harkening back to the practices of more "primitive" ones.

In escaping the logic of production and adopting the pervasive ambiance of advertising, this new condition creates a state of affairs in which the product is no longer as important as the set of meanings arbitrarily grafted on to it. The pervasive power of advanced capitalism has created an entirely new structure of meaning. The free play of signs and codes gives consumers an illusory sense of freedom and self-determination which entirely escapes their eyes and understanding.

In his books, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972/1981), The Mirror of Production (1975), and Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976), Baudrillard attempts to work out all the contradictions between commodity exchange and symbolic exchange, and their implications for the future.

But his final break with Marxism came with his new understanding of the evolution of Reality in Western culture. Here we come to a main feeding station for digesting postmodernity -- the one I find most interesting, stimulating, and profitable: middle Baudrillard, and his notions of hyperreality and simulation.


In Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard posits a definitive rupture between modern societies oriented around production and consumption, and postmodern ones "in which codes, models, and signs are the organizing principles of a new social order where simulation rules." In Simulations, he develops these ideas.

I don't think Baudrillard would like my seizing and concentrating on this stage of his work: he has gone beyond it.
"I so wish I could cast off this yoke of simulacras and simulations which, incidentally, I have never treated as the last word of history, and with which I am truly fed up. I've heard these tunes too many times." "I stopped working on simulation. I felt I was going totally nuts."
And even his readers go totally nuts. Middle Baudrillard is not logical. He rarely defines his key terms, and when he does, he will offer widely ranging anecdotal descriptions rather than definitions. So you never really know what he's talking about. The good side of this is that he stimulates the creative imagination like no other writer -- you have to fill in your own blanks.

Jean Baudrillard at his home in Paris. Photo by Eric Feferberg / Guardian, U.K.


Let me review from last week a key section in Simulations which give a reader something to hang on to. Baudrillard, you may remember, characterizes four stages in the changing function of signs. It is worth repeating.
  1. The sign is "a reflection of a basic reality" -- as is common in scientific or referential language.
  2. The sign "masks and perverts a basic reality" -- as when ideology stems from false consciousness which prevents people from seeing their true alienation or exploitation. The Frankfurt School writers have plenty to say about this.
  3. The sign "masks the absence of a basic reality" -- as when iconoclasts fear of images of deity because they may lead people to suspect the absence of deity.
  4. The sign "bears no relation to any reality whatsoever": it is its own pure simulacrum.
Here Baudrillard is thinking of the incessant contemporary production of images with no attempt to ground them in reality. Do you drive a Lexus, an Acura, an Elanta, an XL300? What does that mean??? (p11)

The transition from signs which dissimulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing, marks a decisive turning point. The era of simulation begins. (12)

We look around us today. How can we account for "the interchangeability of previously contradictory or dialectically opposed terms," the interchangeability
of the beautiful and the ugly in fashion; of the right and the left in politics; of the true and false in every media message; of the useful and the useless at the level of objects; and of nature and culture at every level of meaning?

It's easy -- because

all the great humanist criteria of value, all the values of a civilization of moral, aesthetic, and practical judgment, vanish in our system of images and signs. Everything becomes undecidable.

The age of simulation ...begins with a liquidation of all referentials -- worse: by their artificial resurrection in systems of signs, a more ductile material than meaning, in that it lends itself to all systems of equivalence,... substituting signs of the real for the real itself....(4)
On the first page of Simulations, Baudrillard cites a tale by Borges in which "the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory." (1) But these days, it is no longer a question of maps and territories. Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference between them. If there is any distinction at all, it is that it is the territory whose shards are slowly rotting across the map, and not vice versa.

So all we have now is the map, the sign, a most "ductile" environment. This is the age of simulation -- the generation by models of a "real" without origin or reality. Hyperreality. "The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth it is the map that precedes the territory." (2)

If you think it's easy to tell real from fake, Baudrillard challenges you to try staging a fake holdup.
Be sure to check that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no life is in danger....Demand ransom, and arrange it so that the operation creates the greatest commotion possible -- in brief, stay close to the "truth," so as to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulation. But you won't succeed: the web of artificial signs will be inextricably mixed up with real elements (a police officer will really shoot on sight; a bank customer will faint and die of a heart attack; they will really turn the phony ransom over to you)...(39)
And here, Baudrillard elucidates the dynamic nature of the interaction of reality and simulation:
-- In brief, you will unwittingly find yourself immediately in the real, one of whose functions is precisely to devour every attempt at simulation, to reduce everything to some reality -- that's exactly how the established order is... (39)
If reality is to seek in simulation the same order of reality, then the destiny of reality is inevitably to become simulation. This dynamic would explain the "collective hysteria" of production and overproduction, consumption and overconsumption in Western culture.
What society seeks through production, and overproduction, is the restoration of the real which escapes it. That is why contemporary "material" production is itself hyperreal. (44)
It also explains the itch for fascism that we see demonstrated in the public desire for a president to "act presidential." It doesn't matter what he does: the mere assertion of power satisfies "a collective demand for signs of power -- a holy union which forms around the disappearance of power." (45)

It further explains the movement to "end welfare as we know it," and get single mothers working, even if they cannot afford to take care of their children, and even if government solutions (short of abandonment) are bound to cost more than welfare. "There is a demand for work exactly proportional to the loss of stake in the work process." (47)

How to cope with this unholy coupling of reality and sign? The answer seems to be to assume nothing about the reality of any reality. Everything is true. All realities are exchangeable and equivalent. Baudrillard gives the example of a hot topic at the time he was writing: urban bombings (presented as leftist) terrorizing Germany and Italy, but equally applicable to many "terrorist" and false-flag attacks today.
Is any given bombing in Italy the work of leftist extremists, or of extreme right-wing provocation, or staged by centrists to bring every terrorist extreme into disrepute and to shore up its own failing power, or again, is it a police-inspired scenario in order to appeal to public security? All this is equally true, and the search for proof, indeed the objectivity of the fact does not check this vertigo of interpretation. We are in a logic of simulation which has nothing to do with the logic of facts... (31)
Baudrillard next treats us to some extended examples of living "in a logic of simulation."


I have already referred to the much-quoted section on Disneyland, (23-26), the "perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulation." (23)
Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the "real" country, all of "real" America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is not a question of a false representation of reality, but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle. (25)
Baudrillard identifies Disneyland in this regard as a third-order simulation -- the kind which "masks the absence of a basic reality." He also opines that "the Disneyland imaginary is neither true nor false; it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real." (25)

By denying the truth or falsity of Disneyland, he is underlining that it is not that Disneyland is a fake representation of America, but that there no longer is any real America. His prison reference would suffer the same logic: it is not that America is "really" a total prison from which we are distracted by literal prisons. In terms of meaning, there is no is here -- any more than there is one particular terrorist bomber -- no matter who actually did the bombing.

Can you grasp the radical, all-embracing nature of these assertions?

Baudrillard is often accused of being decadent and apolitical -- of being neutral and non-judgmental concerning these phenomena. But his section on Watergate shows that it is possible to combine these counter-intuitive views with a hard-headed understanding of power and a passionate denunciation of predatory capitalism.

Watergate is not a scandal

It is not important who did what. "Watergate above all succeeded in imposing the idea that Watergate was a scandal -- in this sense it was an extraordinary operation of intoxication." (27)
Before, the task was to dissimulate scandal; today, the task is to conceal the fact that there is none. Watergate is not a scandal: this is what must be said at all cost, for this is what everyone is concerned to conceal, this dissimulation masking a...moral panic as we approach the primal...scene of capital: its instantaneous cruelty, its incomprehensible ferocity, its fundamental immorality -- this is what is scandalous, unaccountable for in that system of moral and economic equivalence which remains the axiom of leftist thought, from Enlightenment theory to communism. Capital doesn't give a damn about the idea of the contract which is imputed to it -- it is a monstrous unprincipled undertaking, nothing more. Rather it is "enlightened" thought which seeks to control capital by imposing rules on it. And all that recrimination which replaced revolutionary thought today comes down to reproaching capital for not following the rules of the game. "Power is unjust, its justice is a class justice, capital exploits us, etc." -- as if capital were linked by a contract to the society it rules. (28-29)

Hence Watergate was only a trap set by the system to catch its adversaries, a simulation of scandal to regenerative ends. (30)
It was not a trap designed or set by anyone, but an inevitable consequence of unanchored reality desperately clinging to its unanchored self. Just as with the terrorist bombing, anyone can do the actual work. If the Left wants to expose Watergate as a scandal of the Right, all well and good.
The work of the Right is done very well, and spontaneously, by the Left on its own. Besides, it would be naive to see an embittered good conscience at work here [Deep Throat]. For the Right itself also spontaneously does the work of the Left.....Such collusions admirably knit together...The conjunction of the system and its extreme alternative like two ends of a curved mirror, the 'vicious' curvature of a political space henceforth magnetized, circularized, reversibilised from right to left, a torsion that is like the evil demon of commutation, the whole system, the infinity of capital folded back over its own surface.... (30, 34-5)

The Gulf War will not take place

Baudrillard became more infamous than ever when -- before the '91 war -- he made the above statement. After the war, when taunted with the incorrectness of his position, he simply commented, "The Gulf War did not take place." Rather than try to understand this paradoxical statement, most critics simply threw up their hands and cried, "He's a bigger asshole than I thought."

But isn't it clear that just as Disneyland is not fake, just as Watergate was not a scandal, the Gulf War was not a war, but a misdirecting sleight-of-hand to make us think that all isn't war? If this was an ideological war to oust Saddam, why was Saddam left still in power, though the west "won"? If this was a fierce contest against a hugely threatening army, why were there so few American casualties? Some on the left have refused to call it a war, but rather, "a massacre." Some have analyzed it as a taxpayer-supported demo -- PR for the benefit of U.S. arms merchants. In any case, there is a lot of truth in Baudrillard's seemingly outrageous statements. His analysis of simulated war, however, goes deeper:
Behind the armed violence, the murderous antagonism between adversaries -- which seems a matter of life and death, and which is played as such (otherwise you could never send out people to get smashed up in this kind of trouble), behind this simulacrum of a struggle to death and of ruthless global stakes, the two adversaries are fundamentally as one against that other, unnamed, never mentioned thing, whose objective outcome in war, with equal complicity between the two adversaries, is total liquidation. It is tribal, communal, pre-capitalist structures, every form of exchange, language and symbolic organization which must be abolished. Their murder is the object of war -- and in its immense spectacular contrivance of death, war is only the medium of this process of terrorist rationalization by the social -- the murder through which sociality can be founded, no matter what allegiance, communist or capitalist. The total complicity or division of labor between two adversaries...for the very purpose of remolding and domesticating social relations. (68-69)
No wonder there are no "victories" in war, at least not those of stated objectives. If the actual objective is to repress any other emerging reality, then it's good -- and understandable -- that Saddam was left in power, that the drug war is "unsuccessful," that Russia was (and is) being destroyed and humiliated in its recycled role as ally.

What no longer exists is the adversity of adversaries, the reality of antagonistic causes, the ideological seriousness of war. (70)

Instead, there is a secret alliance of all the components of the what-is. All is simulated, necessary and equal in the Political Economy of Signs. Such thinking explains a lot.

To be continued next week.

[Marc Estrin is a writer and activist, living in Burlington, Vermont. His novels,
Insect Dreams, The Half Life of Gregor Samsa, The Education of Arnold Hitler, Golem Song, and The Lamentations of Julius Marantz have won critical acclaim. His memoir, Rehearsing With Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theater (with Ron Simon, photographer) won a 2004 theater book of the year award. He is currently working on a novel about the dead Tchaikovsky.]

The Rag Blog

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28 June 2010

Dave Zirin : Why I Root for Argentina

No one can predict his devilish tricks: Argentina coach Diego Maradona. Photo by Ammar / AP.

The beautiful game:
Why I root for Argentina

By Dave Zirin / June 28, 2010

Before the start of the World Cup, I broadcast my rooting interest with the obnoxious insistence of a nuclear-powered vuvuzela: Argentina all the way.

I wanted Argentina to win because their style of soccer speaks to the full potential of the beautiful game. I wanted Argentina to win because few people in the U.S. could pick Lionel Messi out of a lineup, and he might be the most electrifying athlete on earth. I wanted Argentina to win because their coach, the walking, talking telenovela, Diego Maradona, is just too entertaining to see pushed off the stage

As Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports described Coach Maradona,
He screams and cheers. He complains and cajoles. He smiles. He prays. He blesses himself. He hugs. Actually, he hugs a lot. He even kisses his players. Pushing 50 yet wearing earrings and a salt-and-pepper goatee, he remains the biggest presence in the building -- and that includes his megastar players such as Lionel Messi and Tevez.
In his playing days, Maradona made people reconsider the sacred idea that Pele was surely the greatest player to ever patrol the pitch. He went from soccer superstar to Argentine folk hero during the 1986 World Cup, when he “avenged” the 1982 British defeat of Argentina in the Falklands War by defeating England in the quarterfinals, with a little help from the "Hand of God."

Maradona's brilliance inspired Eduardo Galeano to write
No one can predict the devilish tricks this inventor of surprises will dream up for the simple joy of throwing the computers off track, tricks he never repeats. He’s not quick, more like a short-legged bull, but he carries the ball sewn to his foot and he’s got eyes all over his body. His acrobatics light up the field... In the frigid soccer of the end of the century, which detests defeat and forbids all fun, that man was one of the few who proved that fantasy can be efficient.
Efficient fantasy is the best way to describe Argentina’s current run to the quarterfinals. In a modern world of robotic soccer strategems, they play with the wicked grace of decades past. Given that success breeds imitators, I would argue that it is in the best interests of international soccer to see Argentina take it all the way.

For those experiencing this World Cup in the throes of neutrality, there are political reasons to support Argentina as well. This has received next to no media coverage either in their native Argentina or around the world, but the team has fully embraced the courageous group of grandmothers known as Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. This organization is devoted to finding out the truth about the fate of Argentina’s desaparecidos -- the people forever imprisoned or disappeared by the military dictarorship of Jorge Rafael Videla -- during Argentina’s Dirty War of 1976-1983.

Diego Maradona hugs Abuelas president Estela de Carlotto.Photo from as.com.

At a training session in South Africa, the entire Argentine team unfurled a banner that read, "We Support the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo for the Nobel Peace Prize." The group has in fact been officially nominated for the prize and Abuelas president Estela de Carlotto, is in South Africa, meeting with Nelson Mandela and other world leaders. She has also been publicly -- and literally -- embraced by Maradona.

The critical work that Abuelas has done will only receive a greater spotlight if Argentina continues to advance. This makes all those connected with Argentina’s dirty war, who still hold tremendous power in the country, increasingly, and deliciously, apprehensive.

I can certainly understand, and have heard from numerous people, that these kinds of political concerns shouldn’t play into our rooting interests when it comes to the World Cup. It should just be about the game.

But this is like wishing a double cheeseburger didn’t have cholesterol. There is simply no sporting event on earth more entangled in politics than this brilliantly bombastic tournament. Anytime you have half the earth tuned in -- as colonies play their former colonizers and dictatorships challenge democracies -- politics follows like rainbows after rain. As long as politics is part of the mix, we might as well support a team that in addition to epitomizing “the beautiful game” stands with a beautiful cause.

Viva Argentina!

[Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love (Scribner). Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com. This article also appears in The Nation.]

The Rag Blog

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Vision of a Better World : Let the Poets Speak

Meridel Le Sueur. Photo from Working Women.

Class, race, empire, and resistance:
The vision of the poet

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / June 28, 2010
  • Oil Spills as the Gulf of Mexico is Destroyed
  • Judge with BP Stock Rules Against Government Regulation
  • Several States Contemplate Arizona-Like Laws to Install Police Repression Against People of Color
  • Millionaire Politicians Vote to Cut Off Benefits to the Jobless
  • Media Ignores Massive Detroit Mobilization Against Poverty and War
  • Media Continues to Advertise “Tea-Party” and Sarah Palin Without Ever Addressing Capitalism(fantasy headlines by the author, morning June 26)
Some of our finest poets described so well the nature of the empire in which we live and the need for resistance against it. Meridel Le Sueur, the socialist/feminist poet, novelist, and chronicler of the Great Depression and beyond wrote with power about twentieth century America in a way that could have been written this week.
None of my sons or grandsons took up guns against you.

And all the time the predators were poisoning the humus, polluting
the water, the hooves of empire passing over us all. White
hunters were aiming down the gunsights; villages wrecked,
mine and yours. Defoliated trees, gnawed earth, blasted embryos.

We also live in a captive country, in the belly of the shark.
The horrible faces of our predators, gloating, leering,
the bloody Ford and Rockefeller and Kissinger presiding over
the violation of Asia

-- Meridel Le Sueur

Langston Hughes. Photo from Arts Edge / Kennedy Center.
Langston Hughes, African American poet, captured United States history powerfully in the words of class and race
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek --
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean --
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today -- O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

-- Langston Hughes

Woody Guthrie, 1943. Photo from Rounder Records / Bluegrass Journal.
And balladeer Woody Guthrie wrote verses, often unsung, for the unofficial American anthem, “This Land is Your Land?”
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

-- Woody Guthrie

Carl Sandburg. Photo by Al Ravenna, 1955 / World Telegram / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.
Carl Sandburg, poet, biographer of Abraham Lincoln, and children’s author, reminded us of who has made history and ironically created the exploitation of the producing class.
I am the people -- the mob -- the crowd -- the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world's food and
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me
and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons
and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing.
Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out
and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes
me work and give up what I have. And I forget.

-- Carl Sandburg
Poets usually are driven by a vision of a better world. For Langston Hughes:
O, let America be America again --
The land that never has been yet --
And yet must be -- the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME --
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

-- Langston Hughes
And for Woody Guthrie:
When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

-- Woody Guthrie
And finally poets offer the hope of resistance and change:
How can we touch each other, my sisters?
How can we hear each other over the criminal space?
How can we touch each other over the agony of bloody roses?
I always feel you near, your sorrow like a wind in the
great legend of your resistance, your strong and delicate strength.

It was the bumble bee and the butterfly who survived, not the dinosaur.

-- Meridel Le Sueur

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

-- Woody Guthrie

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to
remember. Then -- I forget.

When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the
lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year,
who played me for a fool -- then there will be no speaker in all the
world say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a sneer in his
voice or any far-off smile of derision.

The mob -- the crowd -- the mass -- will arrive then.

-- Carl Sandburg

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath --
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain --
All, all the stretch of these great green states --
And make America again!

-- Langston Hughes
Selections from the following poems:
Meridel Le Sueur, "Doan Ket
Langston Hughes, "Let America Be America Again
Woody Guthrie, "This Land is Your Land?
Carl Sandburg, "I Am the People, the Mob

[Harry Tarq is a professor in American Studies who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. His blog is Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

The Rag Blog

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27 June 2010

Roger Baker : Bad News and The Wall of Denial

Breaking down the wall. Photo from Andrew Alexander / Flickr.

Shock therapy:
Breaking down the wall of denial

By Roger Baker / The Rag Blog / June 27, 2010

I think that dramatic experiences like the oil spill, or some other bad news equivalent, are absolutely inevitable under a corporat-ocracy. But they are also necessary for progress.

Why? To break down the wall of denial that prevents us from seeing that our global survival depends on abandoning the maximizing of global profit, with weak regulation, as our primary global motivator.

The maximum-expansionist policy inherent to capitalism, unregulated, and blind to the future, ultimately reinforces population overshoot, famine, and maximum disruption and destruction of nature. But the current exploitation is like slowly boiling a frog, the entrenched status quo really needs some trigger event to alert the system to danger.

This is because political consciousness is not a linear process; it is raised in stages through psychological breakthroughs, through responding to specific crises like the oil spill. I think Naomi Klein has written about how the U.S. political system practically requires shock therapy to initiate change, which is often used to advantage by the bad guys, as with 9/11. On a personal level this could be a job loss, sufficient to cause a traumatic revaluation of one's political fundamentals and outlook.

It took the hyper-inflation of the Weimar republic in Germany in the 1920s to more or less permanently make the Germans fear inflation, much more to this day than the USA. I imagine the great earthquake caused San Francisco to build stronger buildings -- more effectively than could any possible warnings by multitudes of seismologists and scientists.

On many issues -- like energy, water, global warming, food, and population increase -- we ultimately need to run into various barriers for progress to occur. We don't need band-aids to treat symptoms; we need situations that seriously interfere with our comfort, sufficient to shake up our cultural assumptions, and that cause us accept unpleasant solutions. Better a little pain today than a lot more pain later through lack of intelligent early action on predictable threats.

The public is currently fearful and angry about government due to personal pain, but this anger is not well-focused, except now almost universally against BP in the case of the oil spill. This crisis involving natural limits tends to raise both oil addiction awareness, and corporate domination awareness.

It is unpopular to say, but we do need more of certain kinds of problems that disturb our comfort enough to make it possible to take the actions that prepare us for the future. Problems that are serious enough to disturb us into appropriate action, but yet not so serious that they cause us to do crazy hysterical things, like electing hate candidates offering simple cultural and ethnic solutions.

Meanwhile, so long as the economic pain persists, but is treated symptom by symptom by an already overstressed system, I think the public will broadly demand some new political outlets in response, and the Tea Party supporters, however they might evolve, are still in the running. Whether the political result is based on a sensible long term vision, or a toxic brew of self-reinforcing political hostility similar to the current bipartisan gridlock in Congress is the real choice.

[Roger Baker is a long time transportation-oriented environmental activist, an amateur energy-oriented economist, an amateur scientist and science writer, and a founding member of and an advisor to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA. He is active in the Green Party and the ACLU, and is a director of the Save Our Springs Association and the Save Barton Creek Association. Mostly he enjoys being an irreverent policy wonk and writing irreverent wonkish articles for The Rag Blog.]

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Bob Feldman : A People's History of Afghanistan /12

Soviet troops leaving Afghanistan, 1988. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev / Wikimedia Commons.

Part 12: 1987-1992
A People’s History of Afghanistan

By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / June 21, 2010

[If you're a Rag Blog reader who wonders how the Pentagon ended up getting stuck "waist deep in the Big Muddy" in Afghanistan (to paraphrase a 1960s Pete Seeger song) -- and still can't understand, "what are we fighting for?" (to paraphrase a 1960s Country Joe McDonald song) -- this 15-part "People's History of Afghanistan" might help you debate more effectively those folks who still don't oppose the planned June 2010 U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan? The series so far can be found here.]

In 2010 more than 600 individuals were still imprisoned by the Democratic Obama Administration at its Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan, and many of these Bagram prisoners have apparently been held without access to lawyers or an opportunity to legally challenge the basis of their imprisonment for as long as six years.

Yet none of the U.S. government officials responsible for escalating the covert and overt U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan since the 1970s have ever been held legally accountable for the morally disastrous humanitarian effects their policies have had on the history of people in Afghanistan.

Yet in April 1986, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA)-Parcham faction leader who had been installed in late December 1979 by Soviet troops as the head of the PDPA regime in Afghanistan -- Babrak Karmal -- was replaced by the former head of the PDPA regime’s secret police, Dr. Mohammad Najibullah, after Najibullah was elected by the PDPA’s Central Committee to be its new general secretary.

Subsequently, on January 1, 1987, the new PDPA regime head of state attempted to bring peace to the people of Afghanistan and negotiate an end to the 1980s Afghan war by announcing a “program of `national reconciliation’ comprising three key elements: a six-month unilateral cease-fire, the formation of a government of `national unity’ and the return of over 5 million refugees from Pakistan and Iran,” according to Angelo Rasanayagam’s Afghanistan: A Modern History. The same book also recalled:
An "Extraordinary Supreme Commission for National Reconciliation" was set up and branches were opened all over the country. Their job was to make contact with refugees... in exile or fighting with resistance groups, pass on the message of peace, and distribute essential relief items for the use of returning refugees. Other inducements offered were tax concessions, the return of confiscated property and the deferment of military service.

Radio Kabul started calling the Mujahideen fighters "angry brothers" rather than "bandits." Some 4000... prisoners were released. Six months later, just before the expiring of the 6-month ceasefire, Najibullah was able to claim that 59,000 refugees had returned; tens of thousands of men were negotiating with the government; 4,000 representatives of the opposition had been included in the reconciliation committees; and coalition governments had already been formed in several villages, sub-districts, districts and provinces.”
But the alliance of seven U.S., Pakistan, and Saudi government-sponsored anti-feminist Afghan political parties apparently “turned down with disbelief and contempt” the January 1987 peace proposals of the PDPA regime in Afghanistan. As the same book explained:
The Islamic parties... claiming to represent the Mujahideen resistance had developed into vested interests that were not receptive to power-sharing arrangements. They and their Pakistani sponsors, replete with funds and weapons generously contributed by "the international community," developed their own agendas for a post-Soviet Afghanistan…The parties owed their "influence" to the fact that they served as somewhat porous conduits for the U.S. and Saudi funds and weapons channeled to the resistance fighters inside Afghanistan by Pakistan’s ISI [Inter-Service Intelligence]...
Ironically, “a survey among Afghan refugees conducted in 1987 by one of Afghanistan’s outstanding academics and intellectuals, Professor S.B. Majrooh, found that less than half a percent of those polled would choose one of the seven” Afghan Islamic political party “leaders to rule a free Afghanistan,” according to Afghanistan: A Modern History. Coincidentally, the Union of Mujahideen (a coalition of these seven unpopular Islamic parties) apparently then arranged for Professor Majrooh to be assassinated in his office in Peshawar on February 11, 1988, shortly after his survey results were made public.

Yet despite the rejection of its January 1987 peace proposals by the U.S., Pakistani and Saudi government-sponsored Islamic parties, the PDPA regime extended its unilateral January 1987 ceasefire in Afghanistan for another six months in June 1987, and it invited its right-wing Afghan political opponents to suggest changes in the draft of a proposed new Afghan constitution which it published in July 1987.

The proposed new Afghan constitution -- that set up a democratic, multiparty parliamentary political system in Afghanistan in which Islam was the state religion -- was then formally approved by the PDPA regime’s parliament (jirga) in November 1987.

On February 8, 1988, the Gorbachev regime in the Soviet Union next announced that on May 15, 1988, it would start to withdraw the 85,000 Soviet troops still in Afghanistan, and that it would have all Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan by March 15, 1989.

Parliamentary elections were then held in Afghanistan in April 1988 in which the National Fatherland Front [NFF] and other newly formed Afghan parties won more seats in the new, democratically-elected Afghan parliament than did the PDPA -- which just won 22 percent of the parliamentary seats. In addition, 25 percent of the seats in the lower house of the new Afghan parliament were left vacant for representatives of the Islamic opposition parties in Afghanistan- -- that were still unwilling to negotiate an agreement in 1988 that would finally bring peace to Afghanistan.

A peace agreement between the Pakistani government and the Afghan government -- guaranteed by both the Reagan Administration and the Gorbachev regime in the Soviet Union -- was, however, signed on April 14, 1988. But after the withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan was completed in February 1989, Pakistan’s “ISI drew up the battle plans and arranged the logistics, the intelligence and the communications,” for a March 7, 1989, attack from Pakistan by its Afghan Mujahideen units, according to Afghanistan: A Modern History.

Although the Mujahideen quickly “captured the government base of Samarkhel, 12 miles south-east of Jalalabad,” their march to the local airport “ran into heavy resistance.” As Afghanistan: A Modern History observed, “despite human wave assaults and a heavy bombardment of the city that cost over 2,000 mostly civilian lives, the Muhajideen could not advance any further. And in July 1989 the Afghan government military forces were able to easily retake its Samarkhel base, where they found that 70 captured Afghan army officers had been murdered by the ISI-organized Mujahideen.”

Without the support of any Soviet troops, the army of the Najibullah regime’s Afghan government in 1989 was also able to defend Jalalabad “against the most massive attack ever undertaken by the Mujahideen during the whole war,” according to Afghanistan: A Modern History.

And, despite a failed coup attempt by the Minister of Defense of the Afghan government regime in March 1990, Najibullah’s regime did not collapse until there was a successful 1992 Afghan military coup which, according to Dator Zayar’s October 2001 “Afghanistan: An Historical View” article, was “planned by the CIA and ISI” and “prepared the way for the capture of Kabul by the Islamic fundamentalists.”

Afghan President Najibullah then announced in early April 1992 that he would resign as part of a UN-brokered transition of power and “Kabul now became the scene for a power struggle between four main armed” Mujahadeen “groups,” according to Afghanistan: The Mirage of Peace by Chris Johnson and Jolyon Leslie.

By April 1992, the commanders of the various Mujahideen guerrilla groups were also deriving a major source of their personal income from Afghanistan’s lucrative drug trade. As Trinity College Professor and International Studies Program Director Vijay Prashad wrote in his “War Against The Planet” article that was posted on the CounterPunch website:
The opium harvest at the Pakistan-Afghan border doubled between 1982 and 1983 (575 tons), but by the end of the decade it would grow to 800 tons. On June 18, 1986, the New York Times reported that the Mujahideen "have been involved in narcotics activities as a matter of policy to finance their operations."
In his Killing Hope book, William Blum also wrote:
...Mujahideen commanders inside Afghanistan personally controlled huge fields of opium poppies, the raw material from which heroin is refined. CIA-supplied trucks and mules, which had carried arms into Afghanistan, were used to transport some of the opium to the numerous laboratories along the Afghan-Pakistan border, whence many tons of heroin were processed with the cooperation of the Pakistani military. The output provided an estimated one-third to one-half of the heroin used annually in the United States and three-quarters of that used in Western Europe...”
Next: “A People’s History of Afghanistan—13: 1992-1998"

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s.]
  • Previous installments of "A People's History of Afghanistan" by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog can be found here.
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