31 January 2011

Kate Braun : The Feast of Candlemas

Celebrating the feast of Candlemas. Image from The Cottage Wytch.

Strengthening of Lord Sun:
The feast of Candlemas

By Kate Braun / The Rag Blog / January 31, 2010
“You light up my life...”
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 is the feast of Candlemas. Also called Imbolc and Briget’s Day, it is a fire festival that encourages Lord Sun’s continuing strengthening. Wednesday is Odin’s Day: Odin, the highest-ranking Nordic deity who also personifies many sun qualities.

Choose from the colors white, yellow, red, pink, light green, light blue, and brown to adorn yourself and your festal area; incorporate candle wheels, sun wheels, corn dollies, and especially candles into your decorations.

Serve your guests seeds, dairy foods, spicy foods, breads, and meat. A menu including lamb curry; brown rice; and sauteed vegetables seasoned with onions, garlic, and chili peppers and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds would nicely invoke the fiery qualities of Lord Sun as well as tickle the taste buds.

A dessert of yogurt cheesecake in your favorite flavor would be an appropriate conclusion to the dinner. Including dairy foods in your menu reinforces the new life emerging on Mother Earth, as Imbolc means “in the belly” and February is when ewes bring forth their lambs and suckle them.

There is much activity associated with Candlemas that incorporates aspects of “Spring Cleaning," not the least of which is to clean all windows, mirrors, and other shiny surfaces. This cleaning and polishing helps to reflect the light of not only Lord Sun but also of the many candles you should light during the course of your celebration. The more candles lit, the greater the energy transmitted to Lord Sun and the stronger his energy will be in the first half of the year. Or so it is stated in Candlemas Lore.

Putting out and reigniting your hearth fire is symbolic of Lord Sun’s returning strength, as is shining a flashlight into every closet, cabinet, corner, and drawer. The more light brought into these areas, frequently forgotten in ritual work, the greater the positive Sun-influence will be able to interact with the home. This is the point of the celebrating done this day: to generate energy that promotes clarity, growth, strengthening, forward motion.

But do not cut or pick plants on this day; to do so would be to cut short the energy going into their growth.

[Kate Braun's website is www.tarotbykatebraun.com. She can be reached at kate_braun2000@yahoo.com.]

The Rag Blog

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Mike Giglio : Egypt's Facebook Rebel

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid / AP.

Egypt's Facebook rebel:
Organizing the historic protests

By Mike Giglio / The Daily Beast / January 31, 2011
In Egypt, a Facebook page administrator known only by the handle El Shaheeed, or Martyr, is one of the driving forces behind the historic protests. Mike Giglio tracks down the mysterious figure, who talks about his crucial role in organizing the demonstrations.
Iran’s Green Revolution had a martyr named Neda, a 26-year-old woman gunned down in the streets of Tehran. Tunisia’s was Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed university graduate who set himself ablaze outside a government building. Egypt’s is Khaled Said -- because someone has been agitating under the dead man’s name.

Said, a young businessman from Alexandria, was reportedly beaten to death by local police this summer -- well before rumblings of the country’s current unrest. But a Facebook page that bears his name has been one of the driving forces behind the upheaval that started last week .

The anonymous Facebook page administrator who goes by the handle El Shaheeed, meaning martyr, has played a crucial role in organizing the demonstrations, the largest Egypt has seen since the 1970s, that now threaten the country’s authoritarian regime.

Yet even Egypt’s most active activists have no idea who the anonymous organizer is.

Esraa Abdel Fatah, who earned the nickname “Facebook Girl” when she organized a nationwide strike through her page in 2008, said she and her activist colleagues were in constant communication with El Shaheeed as they worked to coordinate the protest push, but still didn’t know his or her identity. “No one knows” who it is, she said.

“This is very important,” said veteran activist Basem Fathy, of the anonymity. “People find this credible.”

“El Shaheeed is a dead man who everyone is rallying around,” said a U.S.-based activist in close contact with Egypt’s protesters. “But who’s doing this? There is no gender. There is no name. There is no leader. It is purely about the thought.”

In a series of interviews with Newsweek/Daily Beast that spanned from the initial Tuesday protest’s early planning stages to the hours before Cairo’s Internet was blocked in the chaos that ensued, El Shaheeed refused to reveal even the smallest personal detail. But the conversations, which were conducted over Gmail Chat, offered a window on the thoughts and fears of one of the most intriguing actors behind Egypt’s swelling democracy push.

“El Shaheeed is a dead man who everyone is rallying around.”

“I'm taking as much measures as I can to remain anonymous,” said El Shaheeed. “But of course I'm scared.”

At home in Cairo, Wael Khalil, a democracy activist since 2004, saw the post and scoffed. “Come on,” he remembers thinking. “We can’t have a Facebook revolution. Revolution has no time and hour.”

In a conversation days before that first protest, El Shaheeed said T­­unisia had given people a sense of hope -- something the activist wanted to corral, using social-media tools. “A lot of Egyptians lost that hope years ago,” El Shaheeed said. “Now people start to pay more attention to the activists, and there is a hope that we can make it.”

At the time, the page had over 375,000 followers. “The power of Facebook is that our updates reach to everyone's wall,” El Shaheeed said. “Some of the videos we publish get shared on people’s walls more than 30,000 times. That’s how powerful a virus can be... Once it’s out, it goes everywhere. It’s unstoppable.”

However, El Shaheeed also cautioned against investing too much power in social-media tools -- online calls to protests had fallen flat in the past, and, at the end of the day, people would have to leave the screens for the streets.

With that in mind, El Shaheeed stressed interaction with fans of the Facebook page -- constantly polling, corresponding, and asking for advice, and posting downloadable fliers that could be passed out in person. “My role is to motivate people, inform them, encourage them to be part of the event and not just report it,” said El Shaheeed, hoping that if enough people got into the streets, the movement would become unstoppable.

To that end, El Shaheeed also coordinated with activists on the ground, such as Khalil, who quickly signed on. For years, groups like the April 6 Student Movement and its pro-democracy brethren had laid the groundwork -- organizing logistics and having lawyers on hand to track down those arrested, who might otherwise disappear into police custody. Those groups, too, had followings on Facebook and Twitter, and in the days leading up to the protests, managed to get thousands of fliers onto the street.

On the Facebook page, El Shaheeed took pains to avoid political and religious language in the posts, wanting to bring together groups that had otherwise often competed. Stripped of ideological overtones, the page became a draw for longtime activists as well as regular people. The language was emotional but conversational and filled with slang. “It’s not someone talking to the people,” said Khalil. “It’s someone talking with the people.”

“On Tuesday, I saw you who love Egypt -- conscientious, respectful, educated youth,” said a message on the Facebook page, after the first mass protests Tuesday. “You who walked and moved to clean up streets -- because these are the streets of Egypt. Not a single act of sexual harassment. Not a single fight. Youth are dreaming, and they want the chance. And we will have our dream. I swear to God it’s very close. If only we would unite.”

Protesters hadn’t brought political banners to the demonstrations but instead carried the Egyptian flag; men and women, rich and poor, Christians and Muslims, were suddenly marching together. “I can’t believe it,” El Shaheeed said in a message a day after the protests. “No one can think what will happen next -- including Mubarak.”

With the next protest scheduled for that Friday, activists including El Shaheeed were busy coordinating their response to what they believed would be a brutal government crackdown. A Google document with a list of demands as well as instructions for the demonstrations was, at one point, viewed at the same time by more than 200 people, altered in real-time by dozens of editors.

In a harried conversation on the eve of Friday’s protests, El Shaheeed vowed to stay anonymous even if the revolution succeeded. “This is not about me,” El Shaheeed said. “This is about the people of Egypt. I want to go back to my real life. I don’t want any glory. I wasn’t seeking it to start with.”

Shortly afterward, the Egyptian government cut Internet access.

Two days later, Wael Khalil stood among thousands of other people in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the demonstrations. The protests called for Friday had continued into the next evening, seemingly tipping the balance of power.

Police stations across the country had been overrun; the National Party Headquarters had been burned to the ground; faced with tens of thousands of demonstrators, police had disappeared. On the tanks that had taken their place, protesters scribbled pro-democracy slogans without interference from the soldiers.

In a telephone call, Khalil said that he hadn’t heard from El Shaheeed since Thursday night; with the Internet still down, the Facebook page had been inactive ever since. But perhaps there was no more use for it -- it had played its role.

Fires still burned on the streets of the capital; in their flickering light, people huddled together to talk openly about revolution for the first time in many years.

Perhaps somewhere in the crowds was El Shaheeed.

[Mike Giglio is a reporter at Newsweek. This article was posted at The Daily Beast.]

The Rag Blog

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Thomas McKelvey Cleaver : We Reap What We Sow in Middle East

Gamal Abdel Nasser. Photo from ziomania.

Nasser, Egypt, and the Middle East:
We reap what we sow

By Thomas McKelvey Cleaver / The Rag Blog / January 31, 2011

Perhaps now might be a good time to realize that what is going on in Egypt is a whirlwind that we set in motion 60 years ago.

Back in 1951, there were two Middle Eastern leaders who wanted to modernize their countries. They wanted them to be strong enough to withstand the West, from whose colonialism they had only recently escaped. They wanted to control their own resources, establish popular majority democracies, and bring the middle east out of 500 years of subservience to everyone else.

Their names were Mohammed Mossadegh and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Mossadegh wanted to use his country's oil wealth to modernize it. Nasser wanted to use the revenues from the Suez Canal to modernize his country. They both ran into the declining imperialism of Britain -- and America, whose primary desire after winning the Second World War was to grab Britain's imperial scepter.

Both men politically were the Middle Eastern equivalent of members of the British Labour Party. But neither was willing to sign on to the American war against Communism, and so in 1952, both found themselves on John Foster Dulles' shit list (he was the originator of "you are either with us or against us").

By 1953, Mossadegh had been overthrown by the CIA and the Shah was returned with his secret police and a license to destroy Mossadegh's political movement.

In 1954, Nasser asked for aid in building the Aswan High Dam, which would tame the Nile and allow the peasantry of Egypt a chance at living lives that were an improvement over what they had led under the Pharoahs (a life unchanged from then through today). Dulles said no, unless Nasser would join the Cold War. The Soviet Union offered aid, and from that time until 1975. Egypt was on America's enemies list.

In both cases, had the United States stood up for what we allegedly believe in (even back when we were still a constitutional republic and not a world empire), the forces of secular modernization would have won the day in the Middle East. Instead, the only form of political protest left to the average person there was religion.

We saw the culmination of 25 years of support for the Shah in the Iranian Revolution of 1978. No wonder they think of us as the enemy.

We are seeing the culmination of 25 years of buying off the leadership of Egypt following the death of Nasser, in the streets of Cairo. I heard television commentators talking about the "$1.5 billion in aid" we give Egypt. It isn't aid! It's bribery for the ruling class and Imperial Mercantilism!

Eighty percent of that money goes to the Egyptian military. What do they do with it? They send it here to finance the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex, with orders for American military hardware. After the Pharoah and his supporters take their cut. If even half that money went to actual "aid," to actually helping the Egyptian people to move out of the 7th Century BC and into even the 18th Century AD, we would be applauded!

It is beautiful to watch the news from Cairo as the Egyptians lose their fear of the black-clad scum and the Empire's latest satrap goes down. As a couple of commentators on the Ed Show on MSNBC said (and as my Lithuanian partner who witnessed the events of 1989-90 said), this is like the overthrow of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe 22 years ago.

Personally, I hope this revolution sweeps the Middle East, and that the Legions of the Imperial American Wehrmacht are swept away in the flood. Five percent of the planet's population uses 25% of the planet's resources. Cutting us off from our ill-gotten gains may be the only way left for real change to happen here, the kind we see now in Tunisia and Egypt.

[Thomas McKelvey Cleaver is an accidental native Texan, a journalist, and a produced screenwriter. He has written successful horror movies and articles about Second World War aviation, was a major fundraiser for Obama in 2008, and has been an activist on anti-war, political reform, and environmental issues for almost 50 years.]

The Rag Blog

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30 January 2011

The Bangles : Walk Like an Egyptian

Thanks to Tom Keough / The Rag Blog

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29 January 2011

Tom Hayden : In Egypt and the Middle East, It All Falls Down

A protester burns a picture of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. Photo by Amr Abdallah Dalsh / Reuters.

Egypt and the Middle East:
It all falls down

By Tom Hayden
/ The Rag Blog / January 29, 2011

Sixty years of American foreign policy alliances in the Middle East are in collapse.

Hosni Mubarak is finished, if not literally, certainly as a viable leader of the most important country in the Arab world. Finished as well is the U.S. alliance with Mubarak’s dictatorship, one forged in the name of expediency, and resulting in torture, repression of human rights, and the abuse of a majority of the Egyptian people.

Up for reconsideration is the détente between Egypt and Israel on which the U.S. has spent over $30 billion for Cairo alone, most of it for military purposes.

The U.S. will not be able to airbrush away its past and current integration into Egypt’s repression. But President Obama carefully began that process Friday afternoon by calling on Mubarak not to use violence against the protestors and to lift Cairo’s ban on the Internet and social networks.

The U.S. and Israel are going to be shopping for some new partners in the Middle East. But with whom?

This outbreak shows that the rules of social movements apply to confrontations with dictatorships, not just democracies, across cultural and international lines. This movement is under the control of the youthful Street, and will flow according to the dynamics of the Street.

This movement was initiated by surprise, without the leadership of political parties or opposition groups. This movement is leading to the implosion of the status quo, and, whatever interim arrangements are negotiated, its youthful protagonists in formations like the “April 6 Group” are going through a rite of passage to becoming a new generation of leadership.

For now it’s a pro-democracy movement, nothing more. This was supposed to be the dream of the neo-conservatives and Bush Republicans. But now that it’s here, they're in panic full-stop.

The two organized forces who are vindicated by this uprising are Al Qaeda and Al Jazeera, for different reasons. In fact, Al Qaeda may be surprised at the spontaneous rising in the streets, at forces not led by any organized and clandestine vanguard, but embodying an alternative way to bring down Arab dictatorships. Al Qaeda may not be comfortable at the sight, but they will be credited as prophetic.

Al Jazeera deserves the credit for inventing a networked platform for the modern pro-democracy sentiment raging across the region, erupting in the Tunisian uprising of past days. While Al Jazeera is critical of Israel, the United States, and the West, it also represents an open-source organizational model fundamentally different from the Al Qaeda network.

The Al Jazeera constituency thrives in a context of far more democratic and pluralistic currents than possible for any clandestine organization. The Al Jazeera constituency is modern in consciousness and technology, not an incubator for greater Islamic fundamentalism.

And what of the American wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan? How are 150,000 American troops on the ground a “solution” to the crisis electrifying the Muslim world? What’s to keep the anger of Cairo and Tunisia from sweeping across Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan?

Yemen is convulsed by a street revolution as well, one hardly likely to enhance the U.S. strategic position. Are Kharzai, Zardari, Maliki, and Saleh different from the U.S.-backed rogues in Cairo and Tunis? Aren’t these wars “to bring democracy to the Muslim world” looking more foolish than ever?

[Tom Hayden is a former California state senator and leader of Sixties peace, justice, and environmental movements. He currently teaches at Pitzer College in Los Angeles. His latest book is The Long Sixties. This article was also posted to Tom Hayden's Peace and Justice Resource Center.]

The Rag Blog

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27 January 2011

Margarita Alarcón : All Roads Lead to Posada

Luis Posada Carriles. Photo by Delio Requeral / Cubaencuentro.

Life as a diplomat's daughter:
All roads lead to Posada

By Margarita Alarcón / The Rag Blog / January 27, 2010

The thing that made my life growing up in the U.S. quite different from that of others in my same situation was not so much that I was the daughter of an ambassador but rather that my life was subjected to slightly different constraints than those of my peers.

When most kids my age were going to school on the bus with their parents, I was being driven daily by an armed guard. As we grew older and kids became semi-adolescents allowed to take the bus and thus acquire the famous bus passes used those days in New York, I still had to be driven to school and back by a driver. No color-coded bus pass for me.

It may sound like whining now, but I can guarantee that not being able to hang out with the crowd after hours was really a drag, and for those of you who remember that far back, most of the cute guys would regularly take the bus, so I was missing out on a major part of the flirting going on.

Granted, my buddies loved the driver-driven car when we'd have sleepovers; they couldn’t get enough of not having to deal with the smelly subways and buses. But not me. In silence I wished to ride like the normal kids my age but, alas, I never got the chance.

Years later, back in Havana one night over drinks at a film festival I met the ying to my yang. She, like me, had grown up in the U.S. and her life experiences growing up were much like mine. The only difference was that I was the daughter of a Cuban diplomat and she was a Cuban who had fled the island to the U.S. with her parents. And while I was being driven around by someone, she was driving on her own -- but always checking under her car before she turned on the ignition.

We were living in the same country but in two totally different cities -- she in Miami, I in New York City -- and we were both instructed by our parents to follow the same basic security drill: check your rearview mirror for any car following you for more than 10 blocks; don’t repeat the same route to the same destination; NEVER open the mailbox; always sit with your back to the wall, facing the entrance and away from the windows. The list is endless.

We weren’t being brought up by wannabe members of the Corleones or Sopranos; we were simply being taught to protect ourselves from the possibility of a terrorist attack. These precautions had become second nature since early on.

As far back as the age of six I can remember being alone at home with my grandmother on York Avenue in Manhattan when the doorman buzzed with a package. The package contained a huge hideous dark green glass duck. As it was being set on the end table behind the couch, the phone rang. It was my father calling to warn not to accept anything and to take me to the other end of the apartment and shut the door behind us and wait for him and my mom to get home.

No, it wasn't because my father was an animal rights activist, though he does defend them; he was simply reacting to a call he had just received. Someone from the organization Alpha 66 had called to let him know that he'd do well to up his security at home because their organization had just breached every single possible security barrier we had, despite the fact we lived 10 blocks from one of the safest and ritziest neighborhoods in Manhattan.

During school rides home the driver often asked me to open the glove compartment and take out a pen and pad and jot down license plate numbers, and not to get out of the car until he’d opened the door. Other times we’d have to go a couple of blocks out of our way until there were others entering our building; the logic being that if I was going to be shot, at least let it happen in front of witnesses.

Meanwhile, my friend in Miami was checking under the hood of her car in heels, and was told to keep her drapes closed at all times. While she was learning of her dad’s place of work getting bombed every now and again, I was becoming quite an expert in the art of dodging bullets and tracking fiends.

A trip to East Hampton was abruptly interrupted when my father’s driver realized something was wrong with the brakes. We stopped at a gas station on the way and sure enough, they had been slashed. The face on the poor gas station attendant was a sight I’ll always remember. Cubans in a big black car, tall buff guys with them, a lefty good-natured “gringa,” and a hippie kid -- in a car with the breaks slashed -- is not something you encountered regularly on the Long Island Expressway.

I guess the one time I will always remember was in late September 1976. I had just gotten home and I stormed into the study where my mom was, and demanded that I be allowed to take the bus home like everyone else. My mom lifted her head from her desk and looked at me with bloodshot eyes and simply said, “You realize they murdered Orlando Letelier today? Please don’t do this to me now.” Less than a month later, on October 6, 1976, Cubana Airlines Flight 455 fell from the skies after two explosions on board the aircraft.

A car bomb took Letelier´s life in Sheridan Circle in Washington, DC. Santiago Mari Pesquera and Carlos Muñíz Varela were both shot dead in Puerto Rico, Felix Garcia was shot under the overhead pass on Queens Boulevard on a Sunday. The Cubana flight went down killing 73 passengers over the waters of the Caribbean.

Organizations like Alpha 66, Omega 7, CORU, and operation Condor were born -- all Cuban-American, all U.S.-based. They were responsible for intimidation, attacks, and the loss of countless lives through acts of terror. And all of these crimes have an unfortunate common denominator: when speaking of Cuba and acts of terror, all roads lead to Posada.

Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA agent, trained by the agency in terrorism and paramilitary activities, has operated and organized plots against almost every single nation in Latin America. He prides himself on having been one of the masterminds and executors of numerous assassination attempts against Latin American dignitaries and leaders.

He is responsible for the deaths of individuals through acts of torture in Venezuela, Chile, Guatemala, and El Salvador. As recently as January 2011 he was caught on tape saying, “We have won, but we haven’t cashed in.” He was referring to his acts against the Cuban nation. To this day Posada is still suspected of training and influencing protégés in the dirty deeds trade.

How do I know all of this? It is all over the news in Miami, because he is at large; he is currently free as a bird. Well, I exaggerate; technically he is free but under indictment. Not for terrorism though. Luis Posada Carriles is currently in the state of Texas pending trial on one count of illegal entry into the United States of America. A confessed terrorist and assassin tried on an immigration technicality: he lied on his immigration form.

Is it me, or is that utterly insane?

How much information must a man such as Posada have under his sleeve for the U.S. to allow him to run free after knowing full well that this man is dangerous and a criminal? Are the lives of Cubans and others in Latin America so worthless? Are the lives of U.S. citizens whose only crime is to be forthcoming regarding Cuba so expendable? Does it really make sense that Cuba finds itself on the list of state sponsors of terrorism of the State Department? If Cuba had such a list, I wonder who would be at the top of it?

Julian Assange may be tried because he published the truth about things that some would rather have kept in the dark; Posada Carriles will stand trial for being a liar. What is wrong with this picture?

[Margarita Alarcón Perea was born in Havana, Cuba, and raised in New York City. She studied at Karl Marx Stadt in East Germany and Havana, and is a graduate of Havana University in linguistics. She has taught English translation and North American Twentieth Century Literature, and worked in the Cuban music industry. She is currently a news analyst for Cubadebate in Havana and contributes to
The Rag Blog and The Huffington Post. Margarita's father is Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban National Assembly.]

The Rag Blog

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26 January 2011

SPORT / Dave Zirin : Those Nonprofit Packers

NFL owner? Image from Green Bay Packer Nation.

The team without an owner:
Those nonprofit Packers
It’s a beautiful story but it’s one that the N.F.L. and Commissioner Roger Goodell take great pains to hide.
By Dave Zirin / The Rag Blog / January 26, 2011

In a season where N.F.L. owners have steadily threatened to lock out the players next year unless they secure more profits in the next collective bargaining agreement, it’s poetic justice to see the Green Bay Packers, the team without an owner, make the Super Bowl. Actually, it’s not quite accurate to say the Packers are without an owner. They have a hundred and twelve thousand of them.

The Packers are owned by the fans, making them the only publicly owned, not-for-profit, major professional team in the United States. The Pack have been a fan-owned operation since the primitive pro football days of the 1920's, when N.F.L. teams could be won in card games and no one foresaw the awesome power this sport would hold over both the American imagination and the American wallet.

In 1923, the Packers were just another hardscrabble team on the brink of bankruptcy. Rather than fold they decided to sell shares to the community, with fans each throwing down a couple of dollars to keep the team afloat. That humble frozen seed has since blossomed into a situation wherein more than a hundred thousand stockholders own more than 4 million shares of a perennial playoff contender.

Those holding Packers stock are limited to no more than two hundred thousand shares, keeping any individual from gaining control over the club. Shareholders receive no dividend check and no free tickets to Lambeau Field. They don’t even get a foam cheesehead. All they get is a piece of paper that says they are part-owners of the Green Bay Packers. They don’t even get a green and gold frame for display purposes.

The shareholders elect a board of directors and a seven-member executive committee to stand in at N.F.L. owners meetings. But football decisions are made by General Manager Ted Thompson, perhaps the luckiest and happiest G.M. in sports. This structure allows Thompson to execute decisions, even unpopular ones, without an impatient, jittery billionaire breathing down his neck.

Since his hire in January 2005, Thompson has made his share of controversial moves. But unlike his G.M. brethren around the league, who carry little or no job security, Thompson has been given the space to see his moves succeed or fail on their own accord. It was Thompson who decided to jettison legendary quarterback Brett Favre in 2008 for the unproven but younger and considerably lower maintenance Aaron Rodgers. Today, Favre is officially (we hope) retired and Rodgers stands at the pinnacle of his sport.

The Packers’ unique setup has created a relationship between team and community unlike any in the N.F.L. Wisconsin fans get to enjoy the team with the confidence that their owner won’t threaten to move to Los Angeles unless the team gets a new megadome. Volunteers work concessions, with 60 percent of the proceeds going to local charities. Even the beer is cheaper than at a typical N.F.L. stadium.

Not only has home field been sold out for two decades, but during snowstorms, the team routinely puts out calls for volunteers to help shovel and is never disappointed by the response. It doesn’t matter how beloved the Cowboys are in Dallas; if Jerry Jones ever put out a call for free labor, he’d be laughed out of town.

Here are the Packers: financially solvent, competitive, and deeply connected to the hundred thousand person city of Green Bay. It’s a beautiful story but it’s one that the N.F.L. and Commissioner Roger Goodell take great pains both to hide and make sure no other locality replicates.

It’s actually written in the N.F.L. bylaws that no team can be a nonprofit, community-owned entity. The late N.F.L. commissioner Pete Rozelle had it written into the league’s constitution in 1960. Article V, Section 4 -- otherwise known as the Green Bay Rule -- states that “charitable organizations and/or corporations not organized for profit and not now a member of the league may not hold membership in the National Football League.”

I talked with Rick Chernick, a member of the Packers board of directors, about whether other communities should challenge the N.F.L. constitution and be like Green Bay. Chernick expressed doubt, saying:
I’m just not sure in today’s day and age a team could follow the Packer way. The cost of ownership is a ton today, thus being almost an impossible task without deep pockets. Green Bay is truly a special, special situation.
Chernick makes a valid point. But there is a strong counterargument as well. It may be exorbitantly expensive to run a team, but people don’t buy N.F.L. teams as a civic service. Being an N.F.L. owner is like having a license to print money. Television contracts alone run in the billions, with the 2006-2011 contracts valued at approximately $3 billion annually, $800 million more than the previous contracts. In addition, N.F.L. teams have received $6 billion in public funds to build the current crop of stadiums.

In other words, the public is already shouldering a great deal of the cost and debt for N.F.L. franchises. But these public dollars, through some sort of magic alchemy, morph into private profits that often flow away from the communities that ponied up the dough. In the United States, we socialize the debt of sports and privatize the profits. Green Bay stands as a living, breathing, and, for the owners, frightening example, that pro sports can aid our cities in tough economic times, not drain them of scarce public resources.

Fans in San Diego and Minnesota, in particular, where local N.F.L. owners are threatening to uproot the home teams and move them to Los Angeles, might look toward Green Bay and wonder whether they could do a better job than the men in the owner’s box. And if N.F.L. owners go ahead and lock the players out next season, more than a few long suffering fans might look at their long suffering franchises and ask, “Maybe we don’t need owners at all.” It has worked in Green Bay -- all the way to the Super Bowl.

[Dave Zirin is the author of Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love (Scribner). Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com. This article was also posted to The New Yorker online.]

The Rag Blog

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Felix Shafer : Mourning for Marilyn Buck, Part II

Mourning for activist, poet, and political prisoner Marilyn Buck, shown at three stages of her life.

The blue afterwards:
Mourning for Marilyn, Part II

By Felix Shafer / The Rag Blog / January 13, 2011

Part two of three

[On December 13, Marilyn Buck, U.S. anti-imperialist political prisoner, acclaimed poet, former Austinite, and former original Ragstaffer, would have been 63 years of age. Scheduled for parole last August after nearly 30 years in federal prisons, Marilyn planned to live and work in New York. She looked forward to trying her hand at photography again, taking salsa lessons, and simply being able to walk in the park and visit freely with friends.

Instead, after 20 days of freedom, Marilyn died of a virulent cancer.

In the first part of this essay, Felix Shafer wrote about the pain of losing his friend and artistic collaborator, Marilyn Buck, to cancer, and his determination to mourn her in some way appropriate to her life, accepting and experiencing grief as fully as great friendship demands.

He evoked the heady, seemingly revolutionary days of the late 1960s, and Marilyn’s simultaneous coming of age with a generation that wanted to change the world for the better and instead found itself criminalized in the councils of government and power. Buck’s experiences, and her fundamental identification with people over profits, led her increasingly to seek effective ways to oppose injustice, and, inevitably, brought her under official scrutiny.

But the 1960s proved to be a pre-revolutionary decade, and, along with others who refused to read the repressive writing on the wall, Marilyn Buck became an “internal exile”: a political prisoner of the State.

-- Mariann G. Wizard / The Rag Blog]

keywords: revolutionary. enemy of the state. Alive !

After the terms revolution, liberation, resistance, freedom were thoroughly drained of signifying power by the predatory, vampire-like cartels in advertising and Hollywood, they could be banished to the merely unfashionable passé. It's not solely a question of who "speaks" like this anymore but where in our society are these goals even considered to have meaning?

Today, enemy of the state probably sounds more like a dark shiny movie title or an album download than something serious and politically contentful. Its most likely association is to enemy combatant -- people whom U.S. state power locks up and can torture in lawless offshore dead zones like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. After 9-11 they stripped a huge layer of constitutional protection off.

Yet throughout history, empires and their regimes have singled out for attack and removal all who stood up for the disempowered to challenge the obscene "order of things." It remains a point of historical fact that Marilyn Buck was an enemy of empire and an enemy of the state. The national security state (laws, courts, prisons, police, FBI, military intelligence, and other armed/security bodies) has long treated her, and the other political prisoners, as people to be buried alive.

To get a sense of this it's instructive to look at a very abbreviated account of what the government charged and convicted her of:

1 In 1973 Marilyn was convicted in San Francisco of two counts of buying two boxes of legal ammunition while using a false ID. At that time, her sentence of 10 years in federal prison was the longest -- by far -- for this offense in U.S. history. Many people believe that this disproportionate sentence came because the government was well aware of her close support for the freedom struggle of black people in this country, particularly the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. During the early 1970's, the Black Panthers were under military, political, and media attack by the FBI's COINTELPRO, as of course was Marilyn.

Marilyn was particularly hated because she was a young radical white woman from the South who crossed the line against racial privilege and white supremacy. She was unwilling to stand on the sidelines while good people were being hunted down and destroyed by our government. She was explicitly seen as a race traitor, a "n----r lover" by the FBI/police, and the state moved to make an example of her to frighten others, especially radicalized white women, from following this path.

It was during this time that the FBI began to characterize Marilyn as the "sole white member of the Black Liberation Army (BLA)." And, in typical J. Edgar Hoover character assassination style, the bureau began saying that she had a "Joan of Arc complex."

Inside the Alderson, West Virginia, federal prison, Marilyn met the great Puerto Rican political prisoner and national (s)hero Lolita Lebron -- who along with her comrades would be pardoned in 1979 by President Carter after they'd served 25 years. (1)

Marilyn integrated herself into the community of women prisoners who did their best to support each other. She worked at staying attuned to outside events, from Watergate to the persistence of radical movements and the U.S. withdrawal in defeat from Vietnam. After serving four years of her sentence, Marilyn received a furlough in 1977 and did not return to prison. Between 1977 and 1985 we must assume that she lived and worked underground.

2 Recaptured in 1985, at the height of the Reagan era, Marilyn underwent a total of four trials, including two prosecutions for conspiracy, based on charges from the clandestine years. As a member of the "Resistance Conspiracy" case she, along with Linda Evans, Laura Whitehorn, Susan Rosenberg, Tim Blunk, and Alan Berkman, were accused of taking actions to
influence, change and protest policies and practices of the United States Government concerning various international and domestic matters through the use of violent and illegal means.
Among the alleged actions (in which no one was injured) were bombings of: the U.S. Capitol building to protest the illegal invasion of Grenada; three military installations in the D.C. area to protest U.S. backing of the Central American death squads; the apartheid-era South African consulate; the Israeli Aircraft Industries building; and the Patrolman's Benevolent Association (to protest police murders of people of color).

While underground, Marilyn was also charged with conspiracy in the successful 1979 liberation of political prisoner Assata Shakur (2) and the 1981 expropriation of a Brinks armored car in which two police officers and a security guard were killed. The government contended that the conspiracy brought together black and white North American radicals, under black leadership.

To my knowledge, this was the first time since the pre-Civil War era of John Brown that blacks and whites stood accused of joining together to conduct guerrilla activities. In this case, Marilyn was convicted of conspiracy; however, neither she nor her co-defendant Dr.Mutulu Shakur (stepfather of slain musician and actor Tupac Shakur) was convicted of any murders. Dr. Shakur was an original member of the Republic of New Afrika and a founder of the Lincoln Detox center in New York, which pioneered the use of acupuncture to help break drug addiction in the black and brown communities.

I feel a certain defensive avoidance about commenting, in shorthand, on this era's underground movements of the left, which, after all, came to their historical end many years ago. This is an essay of mourning and homage to Marilyn Buck who lived this struggle for many years; it's not an assessment of politics and strategy. Her clandestine years are held in protective secrecy by those who shared them. For her to have kept a journal would have been to put collective security in unacceptable jeopardy.

Nonetheless, at minimum, it seems to me, we ought to recognize more about these contributions than a basic recitation of her charges and convictions. But the post 9-11 "war on terror" has had a chilling effect on such conversations, despite the fact that these organizations had absolutely zero in common with Al- Q'aeda or similar terror killers.

During Marilyn's powerful memorial celebration in Oakland, California, on November 7, 2010, it was revealing to hear members of the Black Panther Party tell how her underground skills helped them survive the onslaught of COINTELPRO. Marilyn's tribute in New York was held a week later at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Center (formerly the Audubon Ballroom) in Harlem. As nearly 500 people jammed the room where Malcolm was assassinated, a moving message was read from political prisoner/POW and freedom fighter Sekou Odinga -- who was also convicted for the liberation of Assata:
She was someone who would give you her last without any thought about her own welfare. I remember one time when she shared her last few dollars with a comrade of ours, and later I was in her kitchen and opened her refrigerator to find nothing in it and almost no food in the house. I told her she had to let comrades know when she was in need, and stop giving when she didn't have it to give. But she never stopped because that's just who she was.

There have been very few actions to liberate PP/POW's and Marilyn was involved with more than one. The roles she played were critical in not only liberation of POWs, but also in making sure they remained free, never thinking about the great threat and danger to herself.
For the most part, what remains of the left today dismisses these efforts as worthless adventurism or ignores them altogether. While there's much of real value and importance in some of these critiques, the fact that empire rests on its capacity to inflict unlimited violence with impunity is rarely mentioned as something to organize against.

Isn't it frankly obscene that ex-President Bush and high officials -- obvious war criminals -- who illegally invaded Iraq under a web of lies, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, can walk free and add to their fortunes? Or that the top CIA executives who destroyed more than 90 hours of videotape (an illegal act in itself) showing their torture of suspects in contravention of International Law, won't be prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Isn't it beyond acceptable that central components of the permanent government, the CIA and Pentagon, stand exposed before the entire world as conducting an illegal, organized program of torture against prisoners, deemed "enemy combatants," yet for which no one is brought to trial? Marilyn thought so. In her last year and a half she began writing a novella, partially set in Guantanamo, about torture and imprisonment.

The many-sided crisis of global capitalism, run-away environmental damage, and the decline of the U.S. empire, makes it likely that we are entering a new age of rivalry and upheaval. Not only is the U.S. deeply at war(s) in the Muslim and Arab world, conducting or backing counterinsurgency campaigns in many more regions, but the rise of both Blackwater style mercenaries and a mass gun-glorifying, fascistically-inclined Tea Party movement means that real violent momentum is on the right.

On an immediate note, as I write this in late 2010, the news comes in that Johannes Mehserle, the white terroristic cop, whose murder of Oscar Grant, an unarmed prone and handcuffed African-American, at an Oakland BART Station on New Years 2009 was captured on video, has been sentenced to only two years in jail. Counting the 140 days he already did before making bail, he is expected to serve in the neighborhood of just six months. In contrast, the African-American football star, Michael Vick, got four years for the violent crime of organizing brutal dogfights. This isn't a post-racial society. Once more the obvious: it's open season on black and brown people.

Although I'm not aware of any formal written self-evaluation of her underground political strategy, I do know that Marilyn engaged in ongoing reflection and complex dialogues with trusted comrades about this. When possible she tried to convey lessons to today's new movements facing infiltration, grand juries, and conspiracy trials as a result of their militancy. Marilyn didn't romanticize the underground struggle and counseled activists strongly against militarist and adventurist approaches. She changed as times changed AND she stuck to her principles.

Marilyn Buck at Dublin FCI, 1994. Photo by Mariann G. Wizard / The Rag Blog.

keywords: Midlife- art and cutting through

By the end of the 1980's, while many of Marilyn's contemporaries were going through midlife crises, occasioned by our fortieth birthdays, she faced the ugly, cramped, totalitarian, arbitrary, cruel, violent, life-sucking, and repetitive regime of prison life. After all the court trials, she would be sentenced to 80 years.

What she had hoped was the bright glow of a revolutionary dawn would turn out to be the brief, fiery sunset of the passing era which had launched her.

Marilyn Buck was becoming a member of that extraordinary global minority: people who are imprisoned by the state for their political actions and beliefs. She sustained and was, in turn, sustained by this community of comrades and their strong webs of outside supporters and friends.

In the Bay Area her diverse circle grew wide, warm, and deep. The group Friends of Marilyn Buck was formed over a decade ago and is going strong today. Members of her family reconnected with her. While her physical range was totally restricted, the world came to her through amazing visitors from many continents and people's movements.

She loved and mentored the children of activists, some of whom grew up visiting her. She helped raise her godchildren, Salim, Tanya, and Gemma. Day in day out, Marilyn participated with, learned from, mentored, and hung out, suffered, and stood with women -- social prisoners and politicals -- in every prison where she lived for the past quarter century. And she is being mourned behind those walls by people who knew her and those who knew of her.(3)

When she was captured and imprisoned in 1985, I was a member of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee and spent time in Washington, DC, working as a paralegal on the Resistance Conspiracy case. Around this time, I began to bring my three year old daughter Gemma on social visits with Marilyn. Over the next 25 years, the tender alchemy of love between them grew into a strong family relation of their own.

I imagine that many people spoke with Marilyn about what, along with political solidarity, might help sustain her over the long haul. Prisons are soul-murdering places and it is a testament to human creativity and spirit that many, many prisoners refuse to give in.

From early on we shared poetry and she sent me this poem, beloved by political prisoners the world over. Written in 1949, it's by the Turkish revolutionary poet Nazim Hikmet. In its entirety:
Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison

If instead of being hanged by the neck
you're thrown inside
for not giving up hope
in the world, your country, your people,
if you do ten or fifteen years
apart from the time you have left,
you won't say,
"Better I had swung from the end of a rope
like a flag" --
You'll put your foot down and live.
It may not be a pleasure exactly,
but it's your solemn duty
to live one more day
to spite the enemy.
Part of you may live alone inside,
like a tone at the bottom of a well.
But the other part
must be so caught up
in the flurry of the world
that you shiver there inside
when outside, at forty days' distance, a leaf moves.
To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
and for spring nights,
and always remember
to eat every last piece of bread--
also, don't forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don't say it's no big thing:
it's like the snapping of a green branch
to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.

I mean, it's not that you can't pass
ten or fifteen years inside
and more --
you can,
as long as the jewel
on the left side of your chest doesn't lose it's luster!
Marilyn Buck read poetry and wrote hundreds of poems in her lifetime. She's beloved by poets both within and beyond the borders of this country.

keywords: transformation is her talent for living

The high tide movements in this country and worldwide, which so moved Marilyn to transform herself, had definitively ebbed. Not only had the political maps changed but also the rate of change accelerated. She kept abreast by reading voraciously, talking with visitors, and conducting a far ranging correspondence.

While by no means a traditional Soviet-style leftist, she watched the Berlin Wall fall in 1989 and then the consequences of the Soviet Union's collapse. The Reagan-Daddy Bush era death squads and counterrevolutionary wars, from Central America to Angola, had bathed regions in blood to blunt popular revolutionary initiatives and, with the Chinese government and party's embrace of greed, the "socialist alternative" all but disappeared. Revolutionary forces laid down their arms. Marilyn loved Cuba and followed events on this brave, unrepentant island closely. The bombs of the first Iraq war rained down.

Even from behind the wire there were bright moments. On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela walked out of a South African prison and shortly thereafter was resoundingly elected president of his country. I remember visiting Marilyn in 1990 at the Marianna, Florida, maximum-security prison with my young daughters, Ona and Gemma, and cheering his release.(4) As we slowly walked from the visiting room that day, they said, as they had many times before and would into the future, "We want her to come home with us."

By 1993, she was transferred to FCI Dublin in Pleasanton, California -- in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area -- where she would live until the last months of her life. Over the years in Dublin she was incarcerated with many political prisoners.(5) As the 21st century got under her skin, Marilyn grew increasingly into a woman of many voices, passions, and fundamental, lifelong commitments. She somehow bore bitter setbacks and crushing disappointments to the limit, with deliberation.

Tendencies towards dogmatism and rigidity softened and this, I believe, made her stronger. She had the capacity to actively turn from spells of frank despair -- which could go on for a period of time -- towards renewal, creative experimentation, and her practical stance of being of use to others. This capacity to make a small and decisive inner turn away from the soul-murdering, isolating regime of prison towards a freedom of mutuality and care was, I believe, one of her great talents..

At her New York memorial tribute former political prisoner Linda Evans spoke about Marilyn's AIDS educational work among women inside. She also told us about how Marilyn organized a benefit in the prison chapel to raise funds for black churches in the South which were being burned to the ground. This was her practice many times over.

Linked to this was her breadth of interest and penetration of thought. She read widely in natural sciences and literature. People who visited and corresponded with her know how engaged she was in thinking through the decline of revolutionary ideologies and movements over the past quarter-century and how well she knew answers for the future would not come easy.

Fluent in Spanish, she followed with great enthusiasm the new heterogeneous radicalism that has emerged in Latin America -- Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Paraguay -- over the past decade or so. When I sent her some photos taken by a friend who documented the FMLN electoral victory in March 2009, she wrote back expressing her joy. In recent times as part of her ongoing effort to grasp how the world was changing beyond prison walls, she studied political economy with a group of women on the outside who were close supporters.

Earlier, somewhere around the late 1990's, I helped Marilyn reenter college. Returning to school in midlife had been good for me and I hoped it could assist her growth in unforeseeable and surprising ways. She enrolled in New College of California where she went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Poetics with an emphasis on translation.

One of her teachers, Tom Parsons -- who coordinated her distance learning process, which involved sending tapes of classes to her so she could hear and do course work -- told me she was the most gifted student he'd seen. Two of her other teachers -- the poet David Meltzer and Latin American literature professor Graciela Trevisan -- spoke at her Bay Memorial Celebration and have played important roles in the publication of her work.

Marilyn’s interest in women and feminism, poetics, literature, science, psychology, and cultural studies began to flourish, allowing new bridges to unfold across the last 10 years of her life. Those of us fortunate enough to visit and correspond with her found ourselves growing along with her in surprising ways. Marilyn, locked down in the totally controlled penitentiary space was, paradoxically, our breath of fresh air.

More to come

[Felix Shafer became an anti-imperialist/human rights activist while in high school during the late 1960's and has worked around prisons and political prisoners for over 30 years. He is a psychotherapist in San Francisco and can be reached at felixir999@gmail.com.]

(1)Lolita Lebron, Andres Figueroa Cordero, Irvin Flores and Rafael Cancel Miranda assaulted the U.S. Congress in 1954 to bring attention to the colonial plight and harsh repression of Puerto Rico. Along with Oscar Collazo, imprisoned for an earlier attack on the residence of president Truman in 1950, they were released after serving more than 25 years in prison. Lolita Lebron died at 90 years of age on August 1, 2010 -- two days before Marilyn.

(2)Assata Shakur was freed from prison by an armed clandestine action in which no one was harmed. Granted political refugee status, she lives in Cuba. Her autobiography, Assata, is available for people who want to learn about her life in the time prior to her liberation from prison. The website assatashakur.org contains valuable information. On the day before she died, Marilyn received a tender, personal audio message from Assata deeply thanking her for her life and contributions.

(3)In the soon-to-be published (March 1, 2011) book, An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country, Susan Rosenberg, Marilyn's co-defendant, writes about daily life in the remarkable communities created by women in prison.

(4)Marilyn was imprisoned in Marianna FL with North American anti-imperialist political prisoners Laura Whitehorn, Susan Rosenberg, and Silvia Baraldini.

(5)Some of the women political prisoners she did time with in Dublin: Ida Luz Rodríguez and Alicia Rodríguez, Carmen Valentín, Dylcia Pagán, Ida Robinson McCray, Linda Evans, Laura Whitehorn, Donna Willmott, and women from the Ploughshares and environmental movements.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Robert Sheer : Hogwash, Mr. President

State of the Union: Platitudinous hogwash? Photo by Miller / New York Daily News.

State of the Union:
Hogwash, Mr. President
The speech was a distraction from what seriously ails us: an unabated mortgage crisis, stubbornly high unemployment, and a debt that spiraled out of control while the government wasted trillions making the bankers whole.
By Robert Sheer / Truthdig / January 26, 2011

What is the state of the union? You certainly couldn’t tell from that platitudinous hogwash that the president dished out Tuesday evening. I had expected Barack Obama to be his eloquent self, appealing to our better nature, but instead he was mealy-mouthed in avoiding the tough choices that a leader should delineate in a time of trouble.

He embraced clean air and a faster Internet while ignoring the depth of our economic pain and the Wall Street scoundrels who were responsible -- understandably so, since they so prominently populate the highest reaches of his administration. He had the effrontery to condemn “a parade of lobbyists” for rigging government after he appointed the top Washington representative of JPMorgan Chase to be his new chief of staff.

The speech was a distraction from what seriously ails us: an unabated mortgage crisis, stubbornly high unemployment, and a debt that spiraled out of control while the government wasted trillions making the bankers whole. Instead the president conveyed the insular optimism of his fat-cat associates: “We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”

How convenient to ignore the fact that this bubble of prosperity, which has failed the tens of millions losing their homes and jobs, was floated by enormous government indebtedness now forcing deep cuts in social services including state financial aid for those better-educated students the president claims to be so concerned about.

His references to education provided a convenient scapegoat for the failure of the economy, rather than to blame the actions of the Wall Street hustlers to whom Obama is now sucking up. Yes, it is an obvious good to have better-educated students to compete with other economies, but that is hardly the issue of the moment when all of the world’s economies are suffering grievous harm resulting from the irresponsible behavior of the best and the brightest here at home.

It wasn’t the students struggling at community colleges who came up with the financial gimmicks that produced the Great Recession, but rather the super-whiz-kid graduates of the top business and law schools.

What nonsense to insist that low public school test scores hobbled our economy when it was the highest-achieving graduates of our elite colleges who designed and sold the financial gimmicks that created this crisis. Indeed, some of the folks who once designed the phony mathematical formulas underwriting subprime mortgage-based derivatives won Nobel prizes for their effort. A pioneer in the securitization of mortgage debt, as well as exporting jobs abroad, was one Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, whom Obama recently appointed to head his new job creation panel.

That the financial meltdown at the heart of our economic crisis was “avoidable” and not the result of long-run economic problems related to education and foreign competition is detailed in a sweeping report by the Democratic majority on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to be released as a 576-page book on Thursday. In a preview reported in The New York Times, the commission concluded: “The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion, it will happen again.”

Just the warning that Obama has ignored by continually appointing the very people who engineered this crisis, mostly Clinton alums, to reverse its ongoing dire consequences. As the Times reports: “The decision in 2000 to shield the exotic financial instruments known as over-the-counter derivatives from regulation, made during the last year of President Bill Clinton’s term, is called ‘a key turning point in the march toward the financial crisis.’ ”

Obama appointed as his top economic adviser Lawrence Summers, who as Clinton’s treasury secretary was the key architect of that “turning point,” and Summers protégé Timothy Geithner as his own treasury secretary. The unanimous finding of the 10 Democrats on the commission is that Geithner, who had been president of the New York Fed before Obama appointed him, “could have clamped down” on excesses by Citigroup, the subprime mortgage leader that Geithner and the Fed bailed out along with other unworthy banking supplicants.

Profligate behavior that has hobbled the economy while running up an enormous debt that Obama now uses as an excuse for a five-year freeze on discretionary domestic spending cuts, that small part of the budget that might actually help ordinary people. Speaking of our legacy of deficit spending, Obama stated, “...in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets. But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.”

Why now? It is an absurd demarcation to freeze spending when so many remain unemployed just because corporate profits, and therefore stock market valuations, seem firm. Ours is a union divided between those who agree with Obama that “the worst of the recession is over” and the far larger number in deep pain that this president is bent on ignoring.

[Robert Scheer, editor in chief of Truthdig, has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. Sheer, who conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy Carter confessed to the lust in his heart, was editor of Ramparts and national corespondent for the Los Angeles Times. Sheer, who has written nine books, is clinical professor of communications at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

25 January 2011

Judy Gumbo Albert : Gun Show After Tucson

Checking it out at Crossroads of the West Gun Show. Image from Spirit of the Sportsman.

Tactically armed citizens:
Gun show after Tucson

By Judy Gumbo Albert / The Rag Blog / January 25, 2011

Like most Americans, I’ve been wrestling -- no, agonizing -- about guns. Then I heard about a gun show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace. So I go. To confront my inner turmoil.

Back in the late 1960's, I passionately believed the revolution had come. It was, like the Black Panthers said, time to pick up the gun. John Lennon sang sweetly in the background: "Happiness is a warm gu-hu-hun." My anti-war cohort and I went to a gun show in Contra Costa County. We bought low-end rifles, a shotgun, a handgun. We cleaned ‘em. We went to the Chabot Gun Club and shot ‘em. We cleaned ‘em again.

My cheap .22 Italian rifle against my shoulder made me feel as powerful as Superman.

Forty years later comes Tucson. Other massacres precede it. I react with horror and empathy like the rest of the world. How do I explain my past self in the present? "You’re not the Teabag Hat Lady, you have completely different moral values, an opposite worldview," I tell myself each time I see her on TV with her pals, rifles carried openly at their sides. I once loved guns. After Tucson, the duality is driving me crazy.

My first thought is: what to wear? Not my black Greek fisherman’s cap with its faux diamond peace pin that I bought in Washington, D.C., at the last gigantic pro-choice rally. Not my gorgeous rust-brown Sergeant Pepper jacket with its epaulets, bronze buttons, and pearl encrusted three-inch wide pink velvet flower pin. I settle on inconspicuous: jeans, white vest and sweater, and a black, Access Capital Strategies cap. Maybe they’ll mistake me for a capitalist. I reject the iPad, but worry that my recycled brown paper notepad with its peace dove and ECOHOPE cover might draw attention.

I park behind a Lexus. There’s a BMW to my right, a yellow Hummer to my left, a lone green Prius sits between two black pick-ups, one of which is a Toyota. Not the America First cars I was expecting. I avoid the outdoor red, white, and blue NRA tent, pay my $10, and go inside a crowded, high-ceilinged shell. American flags are omnipresent but not intrusive. “Wow, this feels familiar,” is my first reaction.

A vendor calls himself "Tactically Armed Citizen" (e-mail TGUNNUT). I stop, breathe, and then approach his stacks of two-foot long thin boxes. On top of each is a different make of rifle, most with elaborate eight-inch black scopes. The front barrel of one rests solidly on a black metal tripod. This gun could mow anything down.

A genial curly-haired white guy with wire-rimmed glasses is explaining the gun to a tall forty-something East Indian customer. Their conversation is casual, friendly, knowledgeable; I pick up no hint of prejudice or fear. The price tag is $1,750. The gun looks heavy. But not larger than life, like in the movies.

“What’s this gun for?” I ask, running my fingers down a sleek black barrel.

“Hunting. Target practice.”

Gun-packing mama? Judy Gumbo Albert, in the day.

I realize that, to work things through, my former gun-loving Judy Gumbo persona needs a voice:

“I’m looking for something for self defense.”

“Self-defense? You need a handgun.”

“No,” I reply, “I’ve never liked handguns. Too hard to aim.”

“How about a shotgun?” he suggests.

“Nahh, too much kick.” The ease with which my minimal knowledge comes back surprises me.

Gun vendors are outnumbered by people selling peripherals: green, orange, and camouflage hunters' vests; scary looking gun stocks made of lightweight black metal; high strength instant glue; carefully arranged antique and modern military medals in glass-covered display cases; multiple varieties of beef jerky. Vicious hunting knives sit alongside multicolored switchblades.

I see tables covered with sexy curved black magazine clips that, no matter how large they look, are, I’m assured, jiggered to hold California’s legal limit of 10 bullets. The ammo section is conspicuously bare of product. I’d read there’d been a run on bullets since Tucson, fear of increased restrictions.

I feel bizarrely at home in this multi-aged crowd of beer-bellied white guys, short Spanish-speaking men, young hand-holding couples, Asians, Savage Breed motorcyclists, women pushing strollers. I’m just another Grannie looking to defend herself. The t-shirt on a passerby reads: ‘If you know how many guns you have, you don’t have enough.”

I make my way past a vendor who has lethal looking sleek black military-style firearms for sale. His logo is a target. His guns are made in the USA. And Russia. Of airplane grade aluminum. One has a 10” long calibrated sight he says is accurate up to 1,000 feet.

“What’s this gun for?

“Target practice.”

“You need a guy like Castro to take over.” I overhear a longhaired fifty-something vendor trying to talk a group of Chicano men into buying Stetsons. “Make the rich leave. Give the country to the people.” This man wears a Superman t-shirt. A familiar "what else is nu?" gesture accompanies his New York salesperson prose. I wonder if I’ve found a landsman.

In addition to Stetsons, rifles, and handguns he sells hemp bags with images of Pancho Villa. He says the Mormons who run the gun show won’t let him sell his smoking paraphernalia. He tells me a friend in Kingman, Arizona, owns a gun safe that takes up an entire wall. “He comes home at night, opens it, sits in front of it and stares. He isn’t married.”

“What does he do with all those guns?”

“Target practice.”

I visualize millions of bullets whipping across American farmland, or burying themselves deep into targets at gun clubs and ask myself what violent fantasies lie beneath the meaning of the phrase: target practice.

Then I see it. A small, Judy Gumbo kind of gun. Black. Maybe one and a half feet long. Curvaceous clip. The gun calls to me like that slouchy, punky teenage boyfriend my parents hated.

“It’s an AK 47 pattern pistol,” says Mark, the young vendor with twinkling dark eyes. He’s either impossibly earnest or flirting with me.

“It looks like a rifle, but it’s a handgun. It’s sold to shoot only one bullet at a time, but you can legally convert it to semi-automatic.”

“How fast will it shoot?” I ask, lusting in my heart.

“As fast as you can pull the trigger,” he replies. Mark tells me it’s legal to own a machine gun in 33 states.

Uncle Sam Bank. Image from What's it Worth.

I pick the gun up. I nestle it into my left shoulder blade. Wrong. I’m right-handed. I change hands, balance the gun in my left hand and place my right finger on the trigger.

“Nah,” Mark says, “Hold it straight out in front of you. It shoots like a pistol.”

“How much?”


“What do you use this kind of gun for?"

“Target practice.”

“Thanks,” I tell Mark. “I need to think about it.”

On my way out, I spot an Uncle Sam Bank. It’s 11 inches tall, made of cast iron with "BANK" painted in gold on all four sides of a red base. Uncle Sam stands erect. He wears black tails, striped white pants and a blue top hat with stars. You put a coin in his metal hand, press a metal nail and ‘"fwump," the coin ends up in a red suitcase that, if it weren’t metal, could double for a carpet bag.

I disdained such items in the 1970s as patriotic artifacts of the war-mongering ruling class. In 2011, I buy it for $20. Given the financial crisis, bank bailouts, and profit-seeking patriotism of the arms industry, an Uncle Sam Bank feels like the perfect gun show souvenir.

I was 26 years old in 1968. I’d not yet experienced the death of a loved one or the birth of a child. My late husband Stew Albert and I, the late Abbie and the late Anita Hoffman, the late Jerry Rubin and Nancy Kurshan, plus a few thousand fellow Yippies, coughed our lungs out in Chicago from acrid tear gas lobbed at us for protesting the Vietnam War at the Democratic National Convention.

The following year, in that same city, Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered in their beds. This reality gave birth to my gun fantasies; yet I never used my gun against a living being. Our movement managed, without assault weapons, to end a war and help change lives of people struggling for equality and justice.

Today I wish I had a magic bullet to stop gun violence. And I worry about the big-bellied men I saw at the gun show who claim semi-automatic weapons are just for target practice. It seems obvious to me that their ultra-right-wing fantasies are closer to becoming real than my youthful Yippie romanticism ever was.

I departed the gun show at peace with my past, but very much aware it felt like Tucson never happened.

[Judy Gumbo Albert is completing Yippie Girl, an insider’s memoir of love and friendship among the Yippies and other romantic revolutionaries of the late 1960s. In addition to publishing two books, her work has appeared on CounterPunch, and The Rag Blog. Contact her on Facebook or at her website, www.yippiegirl.com.]

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Lamar W. Hankins : America's Gun Problem

Guns in America. Image from Pics Ranch.

America’s gun problem
Gun regulation is an area where special interests control the Congress, preventing effective public policies that would benefit the welfare and safety of all Americans.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / January 25, 2011

When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, a federal judge killed along with five others, and 15 other people wounded in a shooting spree in Tucson just over two weeks ago, I attributed the matter in part to the easy availability of guns that can spew death and destruction faster than eyes can blink.

Various public personalities have suggested banning such high-speed weapons; others have suggested going back to a law we had seven years ago that prohibited magazines that will hold as many as 33 bullets, limiting magazines to a size that can hold no more than 10 rounds.

This was effective policy. The Washington Post just reported that “The number of guns with high-capacity magazines seized by Virginia police dropped during a decade-long federal prohibition on assault weapons, but the rate has rebounded sharply since the ban was lifted in late 2004.”

Rep. Peter King wants to protect certain elected officials by making it unlawful to possess a firearm within a thousand feet of such officials -- a sort of “protect Peter King and other important Americans law,” to hell with the rest of us.

Though I am not in favor of banning guns, I have wondered for years why Americans are so fascinated with guns and weapons, and why we have so many gun deaths in the U.S. I’ve not been interested in hunting for at least 40 years, but I have bought or inherited several hunting rifles, a couple of shotguns, and a World War II era Walther handgun brought back from Europe in 1945 by my father, complete with an authorization for the weapon signed by his commanding officer. If it was ever shot, the trigger was pulled by that German officer from whom it was taken nearly seven decades ago.

Over the years, I’ve hunted infrequently and done some target practice a couple of times with a shotgun. When I was about 12 years old, my uncle allowed me to shoot a double-barreled 12 ga. shotgun originally owned by my maternal grandfather. The recoil knocked me on my rear. My experiences help me understand the fascination with guns so prevalent in our culture, but those experiences do not help me understand the propensity to violence that permeates our lives and leads to the killing by guns of so many each year in the United States.

A study reported in 1998 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that America accounted for 45% of the total gun-related deaths in the 36 countries studied. Between 1980 and 2006, the U.S. has had on average more than 32,000 gun deaths per year.

Like the CDC, the Harvard School of Public Health provides some dispassionate data on gun deaths. Looking at the relationship between gun availability and homicides in 26 developed countries, research reported in the Journal of Trauma in 2000 found that “Across developed countries, where guns are more available, there are more homicides. These results often hold even when the United States is excluded.”

And guns are more available in the United States than anywhere else. Forty-two per cent of U.S. households have guns. There are 90 guns per 100 persons in the U.S. The next closest country in guns per 100 persons is Yemen, with 61. Canada has 31 guns per 100 persons.

Another study in the American Journal of Public Health in 2002 that looked at gun deaths in the 50 states found that “After controlling for poverty and urbanization, for every age group, people in states with many guns have elevated rates of homicide, particularly firearm homicide.”
'States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide.'
A study reported in the journal Social Science and Medicine in 2007 found that “States with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide.”

Similar studies have found that the same sort of correlation between the availability of guns and the prevalence of homicide exists between the availability of guns and the prevalence of suicide. And a study reported in 2001 in Accident Analysis and Prevention found that “For every age group, where there are more guns there are more accidental deaths. The mortality rate was seven times higher in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns.”

Other studies have found that children and women in states with more guns are more susceptible to “elevated rates of unintentional gun deaths, suicides and homicide, particularly firearm suicides and firearm homicides.”

One of the most prevalent beliefs in American culture is that the Wild West was a dangerous and violent place dominated by gun violence and that America’s gun obsession is the legacy of that violent frontier. Certainly, there was danger for those unaccustomed to the undeveloped wilderness, devoid of resources with which they were familiar, but death by violence on the frontier has been exaggerated by movies and television dramas.

According to historian Bruce Benson, while there was little government law and order (except near military posts), disagreements were usually resolved through both formal and informal agreements. Before embarking on the perilous journey westward, wagon trains usually negotiated their own system of social behavior, enforced within the wagon train community.

Mining camps followed similar plans for maintaining law and order and avoiding the anarchy which is the stuff of legend. Benson describes the use of hired “enforcement specialists,” which included justices of the peace and arbitrators to resolve disputes over property rights and criminal behavior in the mining camps.

Other cooperative law-and-order arrangements were designed by cattlemen’s associations and land clubs, which adopted their own constitutions to regulate claims to land before the government started regulating land ownership, as described by historians Terry Anderson and P. J. Hill.

Whatever the historical cause of gun violence, the reality is that we are faced with excessive gun deaths in the United States, at least as compared with the rest of the world.

Those who study public policy have noticed that with regard to other social issues, such as reducing the harm from motor vehicles, tobacco use, and alcohol use, more positive results are obtained by modifying both the product and the environment, rather than focusing mainly on the user.

Groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) focus almost exclusively on users, promoting classes on firearm safety and use, but opposing modifications to firearms, elimination of large weapon magazines, limitations on the kinds of weapons available for purchase, restrictions on the purchase of firearms, prohibitions on the kinds of ammunition that can be purchased (such as cop-killer bullets), changes in the formulation of bullets to aid law enforcement in apprehending wrong-doers, and increases of penalties for violating laws that prevent children’s access to guns.
By a 3-to-1 margin, Americans report that they do not feel safer when more people in their community acquire guns.
By a 3-to-1 margin, Americans report that they do not feel safer when more people in their community acquire guns. And by a 5-to-1 margin, they do not feel safer when more people in their community begin to carry guns.

In spite of the common belief that concealed-carry laws reduce violent crime, no data show that such laws have had an impact on crime. Yet public policy changes aimed at reducing gun violence seldom are enacted, largely because of the powerful lobbying of the NRA and the Gun Owners of America (GOA), along with several smaller groups, which collectively spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying each year.

Groups like the NRA and the GOA use fear, antipathy toward government, appeals to rugged individualism, notions of limitless personal choices, and similar propaganda to persuade Americans and their representatives that gun issues should not be dealt with objectively, based on rational public policy considerations, but should be decided based on emotion and the personal preferences of gun owners.

They recognize no responsibility to the society as a whole to resolve social problems in ways that benefit society, rather than the narrow interests of gun owners.

I find criticisms of the NRA by groups like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) persuasive for their logic and lack of appeal to emotion. The CSGV has reproached the NRA for its "warped conception of popular sovereignty... that citizens need to arm themselves to safeguard political liberties against threats by the government."

The CSGV finds the NRA and its members in opposition to constitutional democracy because they “believe in the right to take up arms to resist government policies they consider oppressive, even when these policies have been adopted by elected officials and subjected to review by an independent judiciary." In short, the gun lobby favors using guns to oppose any law and order with which it disagrees.

Other than perhaps better protecting some public officials, in the present political environment it seems unlikely that anything positive will come from the killings and shootings in Tucson, and America’s obsession with guns and their use to kill others probably will continue to grow unabated.

Gun regulation is another area where special interests control the Congress, preventing effective public policies from being adopted that would benefit the welfare and safety of all Americans. Whenever special interests control public policy, the system has become corrupted. Until public officials can escape that corruption, they will not act to benefit the society as a whole.

This is why citizens must speak up to counteract the irrational, unscientific, self-serving, corrupting, and fear-inducing campaigns of the organized gun lobby. We need to hear the voices of more Americans, not fewer, so that we can work toward achieving less gun violence against all Americans.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins.]

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