31 May 2011

Martha Kempner : The Patronizing Lectures of 'Private Practice' and Texas Law

The four central female characters of Private Practice: Addison, Naomi, Charlotte and Violet.

Private Practice and public law:
Reproductive rights, and the patronizing lectures that television depicts and Texas now requires.
By Martha Kempner / truthout / May 31, 2011

Last Friday afternoon, I watched an episode of Private Practice that had aired the week before and was not all that surprised when one of the story lines focused on abortion.

The show, which follows the lives of a group of doctors in Los Angeles, has dealt with the topic a number of times before. It is clear that the writers and producers don’t just support a woman’s right to choose but are willing to risk alienating some viewers in order to use the show as a platform to promote reproductive rights.

In fact, though I often find the writing predictable and overly melodramatic (the show is one of those guilty TV pleasures), I think the writers have done a great job with the abortion debate. They have given characters a chance to express both sides of the issue but in the end they always present well-reasoned, and even well-researched, arguments for why the right to “safe, legal abortions, without judgment” is so important.

Still, I was struck by one scene in this episode which reminded me of the mandatory “counseling” some states are now making women go through before they can exercise their legal right to terminate a pregnancy.

The episode, “God Bless the Child,” focused on the clashing views of two OB/GYNs, Dr. Addison Montgomery, who performs abortions (and has had one), and Dr. Naomi Bennett, who is opposed to abortion for religious reasons.

A patient, Patty, comes to Addison with uterine cramping and stomach pains about a month after having had an early abortion. It turns out the procedure was not done correctly and the woman is now 19 weeks pregnant.

Addison explains that she can still legally have an abortion but that at this stage of the pregnancy it is a more complicated procedure. Patty decides to do it, but Naomi approaches her in the waiting room and pretty blatantly tries to talk her out of terminating her pregnancy.

During the scene to which I am referring, Naomi is bouncing her one-year-old granddaughter on her knee. Patty explains that she is not ready to have a baby:
Naomi: No one is ever ready to have a baby. You just do it. My daughter was 16 when she got pregnant with Olivia here, she hadn’t even finished high school and I almost, no I tried, to force her to have an abortion and I’m so grateful that she didn’t. (She looks lovingly at the baby.)

Patty: She had you to help her. My boyfriend, Charlie, couldn’t get away fast enough.

Naomi: That just proves that he wasn’t ready to be a father.

Patty: I can’t be a mother. I have nothing. I have to work all the time.

Naomi: Being a mother isn’t about what you have. It’s about who you are.
So, basically, a wealthy, well-educated woman is trying to convince someone who has had to put off graduate school to work two jobs that being a mother will be fine despite her lack of resources. If that wasn’t bad enough, she moves on to some of the manipulative tactics common to crisis pregnancy centers.
Naomi: At 19 weeks do you know that your child can hear you? It can be startled by loud noises. Your child already has vocal chords, and finger prints, and air sacs in her lungs. She can move her arms and legs not unlike Olivia here. (She looks lovingly at the baby again.) I know you’re confused, which is why I think you need a little more time to think about it.
First of all, a 19-week-old fetus is nothing like a one-year old child. The comparison is unbelievably manipulative, as is having this conversation with a baby in the room to begin with.

Moreover, the character of Patty was not at all confused. She knew that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy. She had made a rational decision based on the circumstances of her life; she had determined that she did not have the emotional or financial resources she needed to carry the pregnancy to term or become a parent.

Suggesting she was confused just because she wasn’t making the same choice that Naomi would have made is patronizing, belittling, and insulting.

And yet, state lawmakers all over the country are doing the same thing when they impose 24-hour waiting periods, mandate ultrasounds, and require “counseling" sessions.

I don’t know if it was irony or coincidence (or totally unrelated) but while I was watching this scene and becoming infuriated -- the governor of Texas was signing a law that will force women in his state to sit through a similarly humiliating lecture before they will be able to have an abortion.

The new law, which goes into effect on September 1, says that at least 24 hours before an abortion is performed, a doctor must perform an ultrasound and then provide "in a manner understandable to a layperson, a verbal explanation of the results of the sonogram images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of external members and internal organs."

Exceptions are made for women who live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider (they only have to wait two hours between procedures) as well as for women who were raped and those who are carrying fetuses known to have “irreversible medical conditions that will cause a disability.” Most women in the state, however, will have to endure the sonogram and the lecture.

When pushing for such laws (Texas is not the first state to enact one), abortion foes argue that they are just enhancing informed consent, making sure women know what they are getting into, and protecting the life and health of the mother (and the fetus, of course).

It’s obvious to me that what they are really doing is trying to put as many roadblocks between women and legal abortions as they can while they work on other fronts to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the right to abortion altogether. What bothers me most about it, however, is how demeaning it is to women.

Most women who seek abortions are like Patty, they have made a well-informed, well-reasoned decision based on their own unique circumstances. Nonetheless, doctors are now forced to say, essentially: “Okay, but are you really sure? Before you really decide, look at this picture of your baby and listen to this description of her development. I know you think you want this, but why don’t you go home and sleep on it and come back tomorrow?”

These laws suggest -- not so subtly -- that women are not capable of making such decisions on their own. I can’t help wondering whether those who support these laws think women are capable of making any rational decisions. (And, on a slightly different note, whether anyone would ever impose a remotely similar restriction on men.)

In the end, the character of Naomi came through. When Patty affirmed her desire to go through with the procedure but admitted she was scared and lonely, Naomi came into the operating room and held her hand.

Somehow, I doubt the supporters of the Texas law will ever show women that much understanding or compassion.

[Martha Kempner is a writer, consultant, and sexual health expert. She has authored numerous publications for young people, parents, educators, and policymakers. This article was first published at RH Reality Check and was distributed by truthout.]

The Rag Blog

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BOOKS / Paul Buhle : 'Climbin' Jacob's Ladder'

Climbin' Jacob's Ladder:
The Jack O’Dell Story

By Paul Buhle / The Rag Blog / May 31, 2011

[Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder: The Freedom Movement Writings of Jack O’Dell, edited by Nikhil Pal Singh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), Hardcover; 298 pp., $34.95.]

Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder is an important document in political history, even more so in exploring the intimate political and cultural history of the left so often undiscussed, or discussed only among trusted friends.

Speaking as a teacher of social movement history (the 1960s in particular), I often advised students that the simplest primary research they could do was right there on the library shelves: the bound volumes of the preeminent African American progressive quarterly journal Freedomways (1961-85).

There hangs a tale, and not a simple one. It is very much the story of Jack O’Dell, if not by any means his whole story, because he became Freedomways' associate managing editor early on, wrote a great many of the unsigned editorials, and did much to provide its framework and its connection with the activists and political actions of the time.

A former intimate advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also a member of the Communist Party during the 1950s, O’Dell represented and also exemplified the survival of what we may call the Popular Front, actually surviving repression to fight on another day.

We need some serious backstory here. Nikhil Pal Singh, one of the outstanding younger Marxist thinkers of today’s academy and an active participant in many projects, intellectual and activist alike, is the perfect editor for this volume. His Introduction provides rare insight into O’Dell’s life and work.

We can start the story with Hunter Pitts O’Dell (his birth name), a blue-collar Detroiter and then Xavier college student, along with his new friend, future New York rent-strike leader Jesse Gray. O’Dell left college to fight fascism, joining the Coast Guard in 1943 and the racially integrated, radical-minded National Maritime Union.

On ship, he read Du Bois and learned more about the complications of colonialism, communism, and the New Deal.

Coming back from the war, O’Dell enthusiastically signed up with “Operation Dixie,” the ill-fated effort to organize Southern workers, black and white, and thus to transform the most conservative region of the country. But, in the new mood of the Cold War, most labor organizations were busily going backward, and the great hopes for the South died with the purge of the CIO’s once-powerful left.

O’Dell moved into that dangerous, volatile region and quickly demonstrated his leadership skills, earning a “Citizen of the Year” award from Miami’s African-American press for his successful mediation of a racial incident in a local grocery store, turning mob rage into an effective boycott.

He got himself invited to a conference of the still-strong Southern National Youth Congress (where he met or came indirectly into contact with some leading African American militants and intellectuals, including Angela Davis’s mother, Sallye Davis).

But it was Du Bois’s address to this 1946 meeting that really hit home with O’Dell: Reconstruction had been betrayed, and now it was time for a new Reconstruction.

These were not socialistic ideas, necessarily, but they were certainly radical, and, as late as 1946, they were vitally alive among the notions within the New Deal coalition that seemed, despite the death of Franklin Roosevelt, still very strong.

Then the tide turned suddenly, and all sorts of public figures who had been treated with respect and admiration found themselves assaulted with red-baiting and, especially in the South, with black-baiting and new anticommunist laws, as well. Lynching was not quite back in style, but Northern liberals of the Truman variety did not seriously object to FBI pursuit of civil rights activists, if they happened to be tainted with “red” records.

Many prominent liberals, including Senator Hubert Humphrey and his sometime speechwriter Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., made it clear that isolation and prosecution of anything resembling sympathy for the Soviet Union -- or even resistance to the Cold War machine -- was a prerequisite to racial progress. Only the brave or foolish would actually join the Communist Party at a time like this.

Mark O’Dell down among the brave. And not entirely reckless in his bravery. The wider following of the Popular Front -- surrounding the Communist Party but less demanding in many ways -- in the South stubbornly held on in Birmingham, Alabama, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, New Orleans, Louisiana, and a scattering of other spots. O’Dell did what civil rights organizing could be done, at a time when the Alabama legislature banned the NAACP.

The pressure from authorities was severe, and arrest could come at any time, so O’Dell lived and worked under a variety of pseudonyms, moved often, met secretly with other activists, and moved on. Snagged in 1958 by the FBI at a job with a black-owned insurance company, he used his constitutional right against self-incrimination and refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, gaining almost instant notoriety as “one of the most belligerent” witnesses ever called.

Leaving the South, he joined his old pal Jesse Gray in tenant organizing and tactically took on a new first name, Jack (his father’s name). Even as the repression got to him, the ground was shifting; the Southern work of Dr. King and others had made all-out suppression of black rights more difficult. Meanwhile, leading liberals now fretted aloud that if the United States could not bring some kind of equality to its minorities, it would face rough going in a world where the new nations were mostly nonwhite, and anticolonialism translated easily into anticapitalism.

Thus O’Dell, the formal intellectual-organizer, emerged and swiftly found himself in the lead, creating, for protest sit-ins, a benefit concert -- featuring the likes of Diahann Carroll, Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger, and Sidney Poitier.

By the time the 1960 presidential campaign opened, he was asked to coordinate get-out-the-vote efforts in the Bronx for Kennedy, and soon thereafter, joined the staff of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). That is, close to King and not far from the FBI’s vendetta against King, which intended to unseat and replace the great leader with someone more malleable.

On the verge of becoming Executive Director of the SCLC, O’Dell was instead forced out by the pressure that Kennedy administration operatives put on King.

A new life began with Freedomways: no one wrote more often, across the next 20 years, essays and unsigned editorials alike. O’Dell was hugely valuable for his contacts with activists, artists, and intellectuals. Freedomways was a truly gorgeous-looking magazine, not large in format but slick and full of illustrations, photos, and art of various kinds. A bit like the old pre-1920 Masses magazine or the New Masses at its late 1930s peak, it also resembled the magazines and newspapers of the “New Negro” in Harlem, 1910s to 1920s, saluting black achievement and style.

To say that Communists were involved was obvious to anyone knowledgeable, and looking closely at the masthead: the editor was Esther Jackson, Southern Negro Youth veteran and wife of Communist leader James Jackson. But “Communism” rarely appeared in print here, and the real topics at hand were in the freedom struggle; likewise in antiwar sentiment and mobilization; also in varieties of Pan-Africanism, from Mother Africa to the Caribbean, United Kingdom, United States, and Canada.

It was not a Black Nationalist magazine, an aspect for which it earned considerable criticism and real hostility (Harold Cruse’s polemical attacks, famous at the time, attacked the magazine for failing to credit black capitalism), but which was also the legacy of the Popular Front.

carried the dream of the New Deal 1940s resiliently, no matter what others might do or say.

O’Dell’s work was not confined to Freedomways, nor did it end with its demise in 1987. As a close advisor to Jesse Jackson and the PUSH organization, a member of U.S. delegations visiting sites across the troubled Third World, a key intellectual figure in campaigns, from discrediting South African Apartheid to advancing the Nuclear Freeze, he was especially key in the Rainbow Coalition and Jackson’s run for president in 1988. He decided to leave the United States shortly after, and continues his long-lived engagements from Vancouver, Canada.

By including a selection of his writings, Climbin’ Jacob’s Ladder saves much of O’Dell’s work from being left in libraries and forgotten. These essays were not shortened or excerpted: they are historical documents deserving to be understood in their own time and in ours. Each essay is carefully and tellingly introduced by Singh, who modestly takes on himself the task of explaining its context.

These essays are not easily summarized because the political and historical points are so numerous and so precise that readers are urged to take up particulars especially useful to themselves. Singh observes that Marxism is a major source of insight for O’Dell but by no means the only source; as someone wrote about C.L.R. James, his black Marxism is not an adjunct of Marxism but something different, closer to the overlap of two intimately related, but not identical, trends. Nor, of course, is it limited by what he learned in a decade or so of being in or around the Communist Party.

One crucial thing O’Dell did learn, in my view, more a product of the Popular Front than Marxist ideas or Communist interpretations: that current political wisdom always rests on a careful strategic and tactical assessment of the balance of forces. The Democratic Party, to take the obvious example, is never out of the picture -- or the whole of the picture.

Understanding class, racial, and cultural dynamics of social movements offers an organic approach to how things stand and may be changed. Understanding the world picture provides the widest-angle view of the possibilities and dangers.

Thus, the essays here, and Singh’s annotations as well, illuminate a long history of American racism, its connection to slavery days and to colonialism -- legacies painfully alive into the present day.

O’Dell lucidly describes the rise of the civil rights movement, and the brutal response of authorities to the late 1960s uprisings, as a second Reconstruction, and a second project to overturn the consequences of Reconstruction. Strategically, O’Dell sees the political world around the Rainbow Coalition as dangerous, but promising, territory; and the narrowing of the movement to electoral politics (worse, the seeking of foundation money to accomplish social change) as part of a downward spiral.

Is there a road back upward? In an optimistic Afterword, written in 2009, O’Dell notes the mass enthusiasm for a certain black presidential candidate. The enthusiasm was more real than the candidate, as it now appears in history’s rearview mirror. But O’Dell was shrewd enough, as always, to point to the movement of history. Things never stay the same.

[Cultural historian Paul Buhle is professor emeritus at Brown University. He publishes radical comic books and graphic novels, and is a contributor to Monthly Review, where this article was also published.]

The Rag Blog

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30 May 2011

Lamar W. Hankins : Austin-Area Funeral Homes Mislead the Public

Illustration from Third Eye Blind.

'Compassionate care':
Austin's Charles Walden and
SCI funeral chain mislead public

By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / May 31, 2011

SAN MARCOS, Texas -- Austin funeral service icon Charles Walden lent his name to a misleading open letter that appeared, apparently as a paid advertisement, in the Austin American-Statesman, page A6, on May 26, 2011.

The purpose of the letter seems to be to convince Austin area readers that the five Cook-Walden funeral service locations in the Austin area are the same now as they have been for the last 100 years. Of course, this is not the case. Cook-Walden originally had just one funeral home 40 years ago. It is now owned by Service Corporation International (SCI) -- the largest funeral and cemetery chain in the world.

According to the history of Cook-Walden funeral services published at its own website, in the late 1800s a funeral home was opened in downtown Austin by Samuel E. Rosengren. In 1920, Charles B. Cook purchased that business. In 1971, Charles Walden purchased Cook Funeral Home. The name was changed to Cook-Walden.

Shortly thereafter, Charles Walden bought two adjacent cemeteries in the Pflugerville area. In 1985, he bought Davis Funeral Home in Georgetown, then Forest Oaks funeral and cemetery in 1992. The two funeral homes at the Pflugerville cemeteries location and on Hwy. 183 at Anderson Mill were built more recently.

In 1997, Cook-Walden sold all of its operations to SCI. The recent open letter in the Statesman claims that in 1993 the Cook-Walden chain joined the Dignity Memorial® network (a registered service mark of SCI). But Cook-Walden could not have joined the Dignity Memorial® network until 2004 because that network did not exist until then, and that network is used only by SCI-owned facilities.

Since SCI’s purchase of the Cook-Walden chain in 1997, Charles Walden has continued to provide some consulting services, though the exact nature of his relationship with SCI is not clear. It is clear that SCI focuses mainly on making profits, which is the primary responsibility of all corporations.

If, as its ad claims, it can provide “compassionate care” in doing so, that is a benefit to families. However, it has a reputation for being extremely uncompassionate to its employees, even when those employees are trying to provide compassionate service to grieving families.

In various on-line forums, employees have long complained about working conditions at SCI. Here are some examples. In May 2011, SCI fired a Washington state employee because she helped transport the body of a five-year-old child to a cemetery after the girl’s family conducted its own home funeral. The employee failed to obtain a needed permit for the transportation of the child’s body, but this is merely a minor “paperwork” violation of state regulations.

Other former employees of SCI have posted notices on-line about their opinions of SCI (these are reproduced with typos intact as written):
“I am a funeral director and embalmer for SCI. It is a terrible company to work for, and I would discourage anyone from applying with them. The management is terrible, from the top all the way down the the location manager. You have no home life, you are expected to get the work done, but get in trouble for getting overtime hours. There is no such thing as christmas bonuses or raises in this company. You are not respected as a professional in your field. Bottom line, in my oppinion, this company cares about nothing but money. I got into this field to help people, not rob them without a gun.”

“This place is horrible! We got baught by SCI about 3 years ago and its been down hill from there. We've had 4 different managers. The average employee leaves within a few years. Im on my fourth year and havent even broke a dollar as far as raises. Micro-management, Micro-management. You work your ass off just to keep your job. They will suck the life out of your ability to care for grieving families. STAY AWAY!”

“I worked for this Hell Hole for 6 months.....IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY....NOT THE FAMILIES!”

“I also worked for this company. When Alderwood was bought out by SCI I thought all of these big box companies were alike. I found out how wrong I was. The families were served no longer mattered. I was expected to put in as many hours as it took to do my job, with not compensation for the overtime, and once worked 2 1/2 months without a day off. As the only director/embalmer at my location, I was responsible for every aspect of the funeral from first call to burial alone. I wasn't even allowed to hire out the night time removals and was accused by my market manager of being too lazy to get out of bed at 3 am to take a call. I don't care how much money they pay... I would never go back.”
These mostly anonymous posts may be viewed as biased or dishonest, but they are in line with the reputation of SCI that I have heard for the last 15 years. I would not suggest that all the claims made in Charles Walden’s open letter and advertising are false, but many of them are.

Given the personal experiences that I have had with SCI on behalf of my family and others, it is difficult for me to accept that SCI provides “world-class services” or offers “the best value.” Without question, the Dignity Memorial® network has not served “the Georgetown Community for 100 years” as claimed in Charles Walden’s advertisement for SCI.

I am sorry to see Charles Walden allowing himself to be used in such a dishonest way. The only time I recall having contact with him, he was courteous and forthright. He used to have a reputation that such corporate puffery belies.

Local families who need to plan a funeral would be wise to ignore SCI’s self-promotion and shop around. There are many good and fair-priced funeral services available in the Austin area. Cost comparisons are made simple by the annual survey of funeral costs published by AMBIS -- the nonprofit Funeral Consumers Alliance affiliate serving central Texas. The 2011 survey can be found online here.

Be sure to read both the narrative and the chart to understand what services are being described.

For example:
  • While some SCI funeral homes charge as much as $2800 for Direct Cremation, that identical service is available for as little as $775 by another funeral home. From personal experience, I can say the lower-cost funeral home gives just as high a quality of service as the most expensive SCI funeral home.

  • For a full-service “traditional” funeral, a family can pay some SCI funeral homes as much as $10,860, while several other funeral homes charge $2,000 to $6,000 less for the same thing.

  • Four SCI funeral homes charge $4,295 for their basic service fee (making arrangements, coordinating with others, and covering overhead costs), while some competitors charge as little as $525 for that service . Likewise, some SCI funeral homes charge $1,395 for embalming (an optional service, not required by law), while others charge as little as $425.
Families have a choice in the Austin area market. With a little research, anyone can find reasonably-priced alternatives to price-gouging. While funeral shopping at a time of grief is no fun, it can be less onerous if you know where to look for information and advice. It’s even better to make these decisions and compare costs ahead of time.

But it is seldom necessary to pay ahead of time. You can set aside funeral funds in a pay-on-death account that names a recipient who will use the money for your funeral upon your death, or you can name a beneficiary of other investments who can use the proceeds for funeral arrangements. You can beat the high cost of dying if you choose to do so.[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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Clancy Sigal : Resisting War Takes Guts

"No More War!" Art by Iván Lira /MRZine.

In our war-loving society:
Conscientious resistance takes guts, bravery

By Clancy Sigal / AlterNet / May 30, 2011
War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. -- John F. Kennedy
I lost a friend recently with whom I'd grown up. As adolescents, we'd shared enthusiasms, and death-defying leaps into Lake Michigan off the Adler Planetarium, and chased the same girls. He had a puckish sense of humor, sometimes ghoulish, the kind of stuff you laugh at only when you're 15.

He could crick his neck with a loud snap, as if being hanged from a gallows, a party trick that revolted grownups but we thought hilarious. He could pick out a tune on a banjo on first hearing and sing political parodies of pop songs. As we grew up, we shared a history, not only of our acne-scarred, ego-obsessed selves, but something broader and deeper I best call anti-fascism.

We ran wild in the streets of Chicago itching for showdowns with anyone who disagreed with us -- we were young Communist-fronters and couldn't wait to enlist or be drafted. In the middle of the second world war, it was patriotic to be a red -- "communism is 20th-century Americanism," went the slogan.

Passion, not cynicism or detachment, was our deal.

With his death, I've lost a big part of the thread, a connection to the original meaning of things. I'm not alone in this broken thread on Memorial Day.

If you're in the United States while reading this, try a little test: ask someone, anyone, what Memorial Day memorializes? I've queried several friends and none could tell me that Memorial Day, once called "Decoration Day," began in the aftermath of the civil war to honor the more than 600,000 dead Confederate and Union soldiers -- the deadliest war in U.S. history.

Once, Memorial Day was a fairly solemn occasion when local communities lowered the courthouse flag to half-mast in salute to the "fallen," with jamboree parades to follow. In the 1960s, Congress changed the date to the last Monday in May so that people might have an extra day off on the weekend. Hence the current barbecues and shopping mall mania -- and national amnesia.

Except for the boy and girl Scouts, who still place little American flags on grave sites in our veterans' cemeteries, like the one almost within sight of my house, and a few soldiers' and sailors' relatives who come to visit, the original meaning of it has fallen into dust.

Curious, this. Because the publishing industry continues to pump out torrents of civil war books to feed a niche audience with pop biographies of bearded generals and Pickett's charge-type battle studies. Historians continue to debate the core cause of the war, and movies get made like Glory, Gettysburg, Cold Mountain, and Robert Redford's recent The Conspirator.

No matter, most of us like to go on a Memorial Day shopping spree, warm up the coals, pull out the cooler and slap shrimp tacos on the broiler.

I don't care how Memorial Day is spent, whether in a relaxed holiday mood or a visit to the dead. I've walked through the military graves at my nearest military graveyard, the 114-acre national cemetery near UCLA with its huge adjacent Veterans Administration hospital and old soldiers' home, full of sick and traumatized ex-combatants, and a homeless encampment of veteranos under the 405 freeway, a grenade's throw away from cemetery where some of their buddies lie under white crosses or stars of David.

Meaning no disrespect, but on this "war heroes' weekend," isn't it time to also honor those who have "fallen" in a different battle -- against the slaughtering wars?

Over time, my attitude to conscientious objectors and deserters has shifted. Once, I held them in contempt. But the Vietnam war, when I came into contact with war resisters, changed me. I saw then, and see now, that often it takes a different kind of moral and, yes, even physical courage to resist a call to serve your country in a war you believe is a crime, when all your family, friends, teachers and the vast American majority support joining up.

When I was called to my war, I went with shining eyes and revenge in my heart and couldn't wait to get my hands on a .30-calibre machine-gun to wipe out those Nazi bastards.

But what about those "cowards," "traitors," and "slackers" who don't want to kill other people? They're an odd breed who count among their number such as Muhammad Ali, Mahatma Gandhi, Sergeant York, David Hockney, three U.S. weapon-refusing combat medics who won the medal of honor, and the 27 Israeli air force pilots who refused orders to "track and kill" civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.

I continue to be amazed at the stupendous bravery of any currently serving soldier or marine who goes out on foot patrol in Afghanistan knowing beforehand that his command -- after spending $20 billion on an "anti-IED" project -- still has no clue how to protect him from a cheap roadside bomb that causes 80% of our casualties. (On Wednesday, seven Americans on a single patrol were blown up and killed by an IED in Kandahar province.)

But what kind of guts does it take for war objectors, whether they're Quakers, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mennonites, or secular, who simply don't want to kill?

On this Memorial Day, it might be a time to think about the outcasts who refuse to take life.

[Clancy Sigal, is a screenwriter and novelist in Los Angeles. Chicago-born, he has worked precincts for Democratic candidates since his teens. He emigrated to the UK during what David Caute calls the "Great Fear" and returned to America after the 1984 miners' strike. He is a reformed Fleet Street journalist. This article was distributed by AlterNet.]

The Rag Blog

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Scott Kimball and Aaron Hughes : Ft. Hood: 'On Watch' for Traumatized Soldiers

Memorial Day:
Ft. Hood 'Watchtower' on lookout
for mistreatment of soldiers with trauma

By Scott Kimball and Aaron Hughes / The Rag Blog / May 30, 2011

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), and representatives from Under the Hood GI Outreach Center and Café, erected a three-story watchtower outside Ft. Hood’s East Gate.

“We put up this guard tower to announce that we are putting General Campbell [Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr.] on watch for mistreatment of traumatized soldiers. As Third Corps commander, he is now accountable for the treatment of all the soldiers under his command," said Malachi Muncy, Under the Hood intern and member of IVAW. “This is how we are remembering our brothers and sisters for Memorial Day, by fighting for their right to heal.”

The veterans took turns standing guard on the tower while others handed out purple ribbons to soldiers heading into the East Gate.

“We are asking people to wear the ribbons this Memorial Day in remembrance of the service members we lost to suicide as well as those who are suffering from military sexual trauma, post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury” said Sergio Kochergin, member of IVAW and Disabled American Veterans.

Operation Recovery, a campaign led by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, calls for an end to the deployment of service members who have been diagnosed with trauma. The Operation Recovery campaign has been attempting to meet with General Campbell for over a month, sending certified letters and over 600 emails from supporters urging Campbell to meet with the Operation Recovery organizers at Ft. Hood.

According to representatives from IVAW, General Campbell has not responded to these requests.

On Wednesday, May 25, members of the Operation Recovery team went to Third Corps headquarters in an attempt to meet with Campbell. The organizers were turned away and questioned by security officials about their presence on post.

“We went to Third Corps with the hope that General Campbell would meet with us so that we could hear his plans for making changes at Ft. Hood. Instead, we were denied a meeting and questioned by the MPs,” said Kyle Wesolowski, manager of Under the Hood and member of IVAW.

The team was able to hand deliver a letter that listed Operation Recovery’s specific requests to one of Campbell’s aides. In the letter, the organizers requested a meeting with Campbell as well as information regarding Ft. Hood’s treatment of soldiers with trauma. The letter states specific demands including a threefold increase in the number of healthcare providers, mirroring the same increase in suicides at Ft. Hood last year.

The Operation Recovery campaign team chose Ft. Hood as their base of operations because of its reputation as the post with the highest suicide rate. The Army’s official suicide count for Ft. Hood last year was 22, nearly twice as many suicides as any other post.

“We are now holding General Campbell accountable for each and every suicide under his watch,” said Aaron Hughes, former sergeant, Iraq veteran and the Field Organizing Team Leader for IVAW. “Furthermore, we hold him responsible for every soldier under his command who is forced to deploy with military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, or post traumatic stress disorder.”

Members of Ft. Hood’s mental health care staff are burdened with over 4,000 patients every month. The veteran organizers feel that this and other statistics support their claim that mental health care at Ft. Hood is subpar.

“The Ft. Hood command is providing inadequate care for its soldiers,” Said Scott Kimball, veteran of the Iraq War and an Operation Recovery organizer. “As of last year, there was only one counselor for all military sexual trauma cases on Ft. Hood. Current Army-wide statistics report that one in three women in the military report sexual assault.”

According to reporting from the San Antonio Express News, Ft. Hood spokesperson Chris Haug claimed that Campbell would respond when the organizers “are ready for a two way conversation.”

“We are ready and have been ready. This is what we have been asking for, an opportunity to sit down with General Campbell to help him understand the seriousness of these issues and what he can do right now to combat suicides and provide the care his soldiers deserve,” said Wesolowski.

[Scott Kimball is an organizer for Operation Recovery and Aaron Hughes is a field organizer for the Iraq Veterans Against the War. Operation Recovery is a national effort led by IVAW to stop the deployment of traumatized troops and the abuse of troops’ right to heal. For more information, go here.]

The Rag Blog

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29 May 2011

Arlene Goldbard : Remembering Gil Scott-Heron, 1949-2011

Gil Scott-Heron. Image from Electronic Village.

The revolution will not be televised:
Remembering Gil Scott-Heron

By Arlene Goldbard / The Rag Blog / May 29, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron (1949-2011) died on Friday, and that is a sad, sad sentence to write. If you are familiar with his music, then you know what I’m talking about; and if you’re not, you can begin to remedy that by following the links in this essay. (Listen to the beautiful “Rivers of My Fathers” from 1974′s Winter in America to start your journey.”)
Looking for a way
Out of this confusion
I’m looking for a sign
Carry me home
Let me lay down by a stream
And let me be miles from everything
Rivers of my Fathers
Can you carry me home
Carry me home
I’m listening right now, as I write, to the half-dozen of his songs that stick the hardest to my memory, and there is a certain irony in the word that comes to me when I hear them: Scott-Heron’s music is elegiac.

A mournful spirit permeates his work, whether a particular piece of music is bitingly funny, angry, cautionary, yearning, or -- as so much of his music was -- cinematic in its expressive storytelling and narrative sweep. What was Scott-Heron mourning all his life? So many answers rise to their feet, waving their hands to be noticed: racism, injustice, the glut of wasted lives in a society that has forgotten what is really of value...

But really, I think it was the chasm that divides what is from what could be, because Gil Scott-Heron was one of those artists who could see both so clearly, heart breaking the whole time, and make something beautiful out of the heartbreak.

Scott-Heron’s intellect and insight shone like beacons, beginning with his first recordings. His life story suggests that his promise was seen early on: a teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx used Scott-Heron’s writing to help obtain a full scholarship to The Ethical Culture Fieldston School, a politically and educationally progressive institution founded in 1878 -- where Scott-Heron was nevertheless one of five African American students out of 100 in his class.

Tons of high achievers in the arts and academia attended Fieldston, from photographer Diane Arbus to Sixties activist Staughton Lynd to poet Muriel Rukeyser, composer Stephen Sondheim, and Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg. He was a prodigy: by his early twenties, Scott-Heron had already published several books and made several albums.

His breakthrough recording was “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” in 1970 (he was 19 when he wrote it), less a song and more of what would later be called a rap, a satiric spoken-word monologue excoriating the media culture that had already taken hold of so much public space in this country:
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.
Scott-Heron’s 1974 album Winter in America, co-created like much of his earlier work with Brian Jackson, sees this nation’s demise inscribed in its origins, as the title song describes:
From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims
And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains
Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain
Looking for the rain

Just like the cities staggered on the coastline
Living in a nation that just can’t stand much more
Like the forest buried beneath the highway
Never had a chance to grow
Never had a chance to grow
In “The Bottle,” from the same album, carried along on an equally lyrical and lovely tune, the artist speaks directly of the plague of addiction that shaped much of his life and the lives of so many others.

The 1977 recording included “We Almost Lost Detroit,” Bridges about an early nuclear power accident, and was revived as part of the 1979 No Nukes Concert album.

Through the Reagan years and beyond, Scott-Heron kept recording (often other writers’ songs), but the bulk of albums released during the 90s were anthologies and collections of prior recordings. He spiraled into addiction, was jailed twice in his fifties for cocaine possession, and according to profiles in The New Yorker and other publications, he was still smoking crack, half out of his mind with drug-induced paranoia, in recent months. Photographs from the last decade show a skeletal figure, and we know from published accounts that he’d lost his teeth, his composure, and his health to addiction.

“Don’t Give Up,” from the 1994 album Spirits, gives a hint of his story in his own words:
I never really thought of myself as a complex man,
Or as someone who was really that hard to understand.
But it would hardly take a genius to realize
That I’ve always been a lot too arrogant and a little too fuckin’ wise
That was a combination that made folks feel duty bound,
To do whatever they could to try and shoot me down.
This is where the temptation rises to say something facile about the cruelty of the world and the toll it takes on those whose hearts and eyes are open and who hold their heads high.

It’s not that it wouldn’t be true, but it wouldn’t be the only truth, or even the one most worth repeating. The confounding thing about human beings is that -- given talent, heart, eyes to see both the beauty and suffering of the world, even those given circumstances that may differ very little, each from the other -- some people prosper and some succumb.

Along with the many mysteries of human resilience that station each of us in an appointed place on the spectrum of joy and pain, endurance and embrace, we have this: the artists whose great gifts for beauty and meaning add immeasurably to the texture of life, to our ability to feel it, and whose gifts cannot save them from self-destruction.

So I will just offer thanks for Gil Scott-Heron’s life and work, for his unparalleled ability to braid lovely and sinuous music with knife-sharp lyrics, for his legacy, and for the perseverance that kept him creating, against the odds, for 62 years.

Here is Scott-Heron’s truly harrowing version of Robert Johnson’s song (written in the mid-1930s), “Me and The Devil,” from the album he released last year, I’m Still Here.

[Arlene Goldbard, a writer, speaker, and social activist, is chair of the board of The Shalom Center. Her website is ArleneGoldbarb.com.]

Thanks to Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Harry Targ : Salamis, Not Bombs

Send a salami to the troops.

Memorial Day:
'Salamis, not bombs'

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / May 29, 2011

Since I live in North Central Indiana I use every opportunity I can to import bagels from Chicago. In the past I have publicly defined socialism as including “bagels for all” (particularly garlic or onion ones). Also I have written about the political economy of the bagel , arguing on good authority that during periods of intense class struggle workers have used day old bagels as weapons against the ruling class.

On a recent visit to a Chicago area bagel bakery, I came across a big sign in front that puzzled me. The sign said:
Naborhood* Bagel and Delicatessen
Join Naborhood and
the USO Sending
A Salami to the Troops
(*Fictitious name.)

My first reaction was to laugh. This sign sounded pretty funny. But on reflection I began to ask myself what it meant. I began to think of different responses to the question and, after I sent out a picture of the sign, some of my friends offered their views on the subject as well.

One interpretation, the patriotic one, suggests that the delicatessen wishes to mobilize all its customers to support our troops in Afghanistan. From a delicatessen point of view, sending salamis is a way that it could support the troops. Salamis could reflect support for the troops alone or for the troops and the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

Another, perhaps more neutral, interpretation is about selling salamis, using the patriotism in the old neighborhood to make a few extra bucks. Since the salamis they sell are really good, it could entice troops and Afghan peoples to want more salamis. Before you know it, they could be hooked on them. Who knows: bagels could be next. But this view, I think, is unfairly harsh in its evaluation of the motivations of the delicatessen; too economistic.

Finally, it can be argued, and frankly this was my first thought, that the delicatessen saw the U.S. war in Afghanistan as a mistake that had to be ended as soon as possible. The salami, from this perspective, was a metaphor for a “dud,” a smelly, greasy, and heavy food that can lead to ulcers or heartburn. The 10-year war in Afghanistan therefore was a colossal heartburn in the body politic. (One of my friends wrote that Bush and Obama already had sent Afghanistan the salami.)

This intellectual puzzle, I realized, reflects the various ways in which the sign could be interpreted. Perhaps the delicatessen owners wanted to create a mental construct that could be appreciated by every side of the issue.

That is classic American politics. I bet the Democrats and Republicans who are debating resolutions on the war in Afghanistan in Congress right now would love to come up with a metaphor like this. Maybe Congress should pass an appropriations bill, HR 111: The U.S./Afghanistan Military Nourishment and Rehabilitation Act, or the Send Salamis to Afghanistan Act.

This Memorial Day, as we reflect on the pain and suffering that our wars have caused, perhaps we would all agree that sending salamis overseas is preferable to sending drones and bombs.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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26 May 2011

Chellis Glendinning : The Way We Were

On Memorial Day, May 30, 1969, 30,000 students and Berkeley citizens marched past barricaded People's Park to protest events of recent days, including the death of James Rector, the blinding of Alan Blanchard, and the many injuries inflicted by police. Photo by Suellen Bulow / Peoples Park.

People's Park and beyond:
The way we were

By Chellis Glendinning / The Rag Blog / May 26, 2011

I plopped down onto the sidewalk in the first row of cross-legged protestors, eye-level with the shin-guards of the first row of National Guardsmen. My hair dropped down my back in a braid, and I was wearing a shirt made of an Indian-print bedspread. The blonde next to me leaned over and disclosed that she was on acid, in fact that she took acid every day.

I know all the details because a photograph of us showed up in Newsweek a few days later: me, the acid head, the dudes with their gas masks and rifles. It was snapped by photojournalist Peter Barnes, who later broke from the “objectivity” of press work, wrote a book on the oppression of soldiers, founded the progressive credit-card company Working Assets, wrote some more books -- and even later than that, by 20 years and wild providence, became lovers with the subject of his camera aim whose Indian-print shirt had long since shredded into compost.

Another photo appeared in that article about the rabble-rousers in Berkeley: a helicopter soaring between the Campanile and Sproul Hall dropping toxic CS gas into the plaza like it was Vietnam. Down at ground level people were screaming, fainting, falling down, blinded, retching, and the National Guard was advancing into the crowds cracking skulls with their batons.

My husband Bill and I somehow ratcheted our bodies away from the toxic clouds, into the cafeteria, down the spiral staircase of the kitchen, and out into the lower plaza. It was the first (and last) time I ever hurled a rock through a window, I was so appalled by the military exercise, and I wonder to this day whatever happened to the woman on acid.

On Bloody Thursday, May 29, 1969, a crowd at Dwight Way and Telegraph is despersed with teargas, a few minutes before the Alameda County deputies came down the street with their shotguns. Photo by Kathryn Bigelow / Peoples Park.

The Third World Liberation Strike demanded that we students skip classes, so I regrouped in the Victorian house that Bill and I rented on Walnut Street, turned my attention to cooking Adele Davis-style, shook my fist during protests against racism, played volleyball with my professor-pal Troy Duster and his social-science comrades... and quietly kept up with my homework.

I was taking The Sociology of the Family. At the end of the quarter, when I decided I’d hand in my paper on women in the Soviet Union and take the final so I could still graduate, the template was laid for a nightmare that plagued my dreams for decades after.

I nervously approached the lecture hall that I hadn’t stepped Swedish clog into for three months. To my terror it was empty. Abandoned, reassigned, unavailable, gone. No students. No prof. No sign redirecting the Returning Striker.

Panic emanated from The Sociology of the Family again when I sheepishly edged toward the departmental office to retrieve the paper and final exam I had somehow managed to hand in. I rifled through the pile to no avail: neither was there -- and I felt as adrift as a hippie waif on Telegraph Avenue. I finally mustered the courage to ask the secretary, and she offered that I must be “the one” who was instructed to see the prof.

He had a beard and glasses (as if I even remembered what he looked like). With a stern voice he told me to sit down, and I felt the axe about to fall. He then smiled and explained that there had been only two A’s in the whole quarter... and they were my paper and my exam. It was hardly the moment to speak of irony, as he blubbered on encouraging me to pursue graduate sociology. I had a flare for it, apparently. Somehow the news was more stultifying than if he’d announced I’d been kicked out for fraud.

The strike was a raging success, laying the ground for what then became a norm in higher education: Black, Chicano, Asian, and Native American studies. I went on to write books that sprang from such experiences as our Third World Liberation Strike -- and at least hinted that I might have kind-of taken some sociology classes.

National Guardsmen confront students at Sproul Hall on the Berkeley campus, May 20, 1969. Photo Dick Corten / Peoples Park.

I really can’t figure out how I have wrangled my way through this life, somehow doing the most out-there-outrageous things -- and at the same time being so timid.

The Café Mediterraneum was clearly the place to hang out. Michael Delacour was always there in his pea coat, earnestly talking revolution. There was Moe, with his waning hairline and cigar. Marty Schiffenbauer with his shorts, combat boots, and curly red locks flying every which-way. Old Carroll, the ghetto astrologer. Street poet Julia Vinograd in her yellow cap.

It was all I could do to go in there, I was so nervous: the place was that cool.

It was where the hot-and-heavy political strategizing took place. Where the Red Family grabbed a break from haggling about who did the dishes in the commune. Where the seekers from Shambhala Bookstore talked Krishnamurti, astrology, and Tibetan Buddhism. Where Simone de Beauvoir mixed it up with Martin Heidegger. Where the espresso machine swooshed, Vivaldi’s “Primavera” echoed, and folks sported Mao caps. Where, for Chrissake, everyone smoked... Galoise.

I went, at first ordering cappuccino dusted with chocolate and toting the de rigueur blue pack of cancer sticks, later (after I launched a brief stint with a two-hour-a-day yoga-meditation practice), the far thinner rose-hips tea.

But I always felt a tad “thin” in the cool department.

I cottoned right up to the fashion side of things, though. I mean, how many cases of scabies can be traced to the ultra-wide bell-bottoms scrounged from piles of threads on the concrete floor of the San Pablo army-navy store?

As my signature, I donned the Pirate Coat I paid $15 for at the Paris flea market. Some days I boasted a green leather jacket hinting of London Mod, purchased at the hippest of boutiques, Red Square, and my closet burst with slinky 1930s dresses.

But maybe the finest of couture happened when we dressed up in garb appropriate to the film we were seeing: tux and gowns for Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers; trench coats for noir; boxy 1940s suits and spectators for Preston Sturges; kimonos for Rashomon.

Cool threads and the National Guard, May 30, 1969. Photo by Suellen Bulow / Peoples Park.

Being in jail had its perks.
Quiet time, good food, ample bedding, exercise, books for illumination, freedom to roam -- they were not among them.

But it was a pre-feminist moment for us women to be together. I know now that we could have done things differently. There simply did not have to be that pre-midnight crescendo of panicked voices in a solitaire cell that some 100 women from the Mass Bust were now crammed into; we could have gathered into small groups to quietly discuss terror and claustrophobia. We could have been more supportive of our disparate needs. We could have meditated. Or done a ritual.

But what did we know?

We did know that the big bust was coming. Our own private rendition of Deep Throat within the police department had tipped us off, and a few had met in a living room just off campus to weigh our options. Tom Hayden was there. Wendy Schlesinger. Delacour. Bill Miller.

But somehow any planning we mustered had zero effect when the shit hit the fan and the cops cordoned off Shattuck Avenue, hemming in not just us anti-war protestors, but also innocent mailmen and shopping mothers. I was one of the Health Food 15. Guilty as all get-out, we had rushed into Goodson’s, grabbed wire shopping baskets, and pretended to be buying organic oatmeal -- but sure enough, a policeman emerged tall and angry through the back door and rounded us up for the bus ride to Santa Rita Detention Center.

Knowing it was coming, I had made my own plan for bail. It’s not a plan that -- what with post-9-11 paranoia -- would fly today, but it did back then. I had hand-penned a letter to Wells Fargo bank authorizing my commune-mate to take out $300 from my savings account, and when he showed up at the jail with papers for my release, I was never happier to see a parking lot.

The stories that came out of the men’s section were grim. While we women had had the freedom to fashion the plastic bags filled with Wonder-bread-bologna sandwiches into “volleyballs” for our nervous amusement, the men had been jammed face down in the yard and made to lie there without flinching through the night. One had his head tied to an iron pipe, and an officer had banged the pipe till blood gushed from his eyes, nose, and mouth.

In the end, the Health Food 15 got off through the efforts of our pro bono lawyer Bob Treuhaft. And in the end, the perk was seeing the system from the inside out.

Members of the Black Panther Party in their "humongous leather jackets." Image from Ancestry in Progress.

In their humongous leather jackets
, the Black Panthers came on as fierce as the police they were bucking. One day a militaristic line-up of them made the trek from downtown Oakland to hold forth at the noon rally in Sproul Plaza.

Their message was kind of confusing to those of us who had grown up on “We Shall Overcome” and sharpened our political teeth in the South during Mississippi Summer. Bristling with the radicalism of the international liberation/decolonization movements, the Black Panthers announced that the new revolutionary tack was to stand alone, Whitey not invited. At the same time, they demanded our support.

After that, a lot of interracial marriages broke apart in a frenzy of political realignment. Along with everyone else, I was reading Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, and Frantz Fanon’s notion of violence against whites as a cleansing act was flying through the halls of academia, so I wasn’t completely in the dark about rage, separatism, and self-empowerment.

Just then something began to appear in the dark, hung on a peg in the hallway of the apartment we shared with a university secretary, who was white. It was the fiercest black-leather jacket of all. Every time it was there, a heavy silence emanated from behind her closed door, and soon she began to show up in a black beret behind the card table, taking the money and handing out leaflets, at Panther events.

I could only think that she, among very few, had mastered the delicacies of white support.

Mario Savio, standing atop a police car in Sproul Plaza, Oct. 1, 1964, speaks to thousands during the Free Speech Movement. Photo courtesy Bancroft Library / Berkeley Daily Planet.

I had no idea that we activists
-- sometimes amassed in crowds of 3,000, sometimes 100,000 -- had, through the years of rampaging around campus and in the streets, developed an unspoken method: a way of forming, spreading, taking over the city, then dispersing, and finally re-congealing like a dance that was in our genes.

That is, until the neophytes arrived -- which happened the summer after People’s Park when every Tom, Dick, and Hari Krishna east of Sproul Plaza decided that Berkeley was the place to hone one’s revolutionary skills. Suddenly, up against the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department “Blue Meanies,” the streets became a place of edginess, chaos, and utter lack of method.

I said, “To Hell With It,” and retired to my commune on Vine Street. It was a good time to pull back for a spell. The obvious next step was something akin to what we’d seen in the film Battle of Algiers, and indeed many in the New Left were joining gun clubs, just as some Students for a Democratic Society radicals back East were morphing into the Weather Underground.

Bill and I hightailed it to Europe, bought a second-hand Deux Chevaux in Amsterdam, and tooled at 40 m.p.h. through Holland, Denmark, Sweden, France, Andorra, Spain, and Morocco. When we got back and retreated to a maple-sugar farm in Vermont, sure enough, the FBI tracked us down and paid a visit to see what we were up to.

Things being as they were, Bill refused to ID any of the folks in the photos and told the FBI dude to shove it.

[Chellis Glendinning is the author of five books, including My Name Is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. Her Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy and Chiva: A Village Takes on the Global Heroin Trade, both won the National Federation of Press Women book award in nonfiction, in 2000 and 2006 respectively. She lives in Marquina, Bolivia, and can be reached via www.chellisglendinning.org.]

Photo by Gil Madrid / PeoplesPark.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

VERSE / Mariann G. Wizard : Fire in the Hole

Cartoon by Dan Piraro / Bizarro.

Fire in the Hole

The powder keg is full
and the fuse is lit.

Daily before our eyes
men and women speak truth to power,
power crushes them,
they rise up again and again –

the powder keg is full
and the fuse is lit.

Daily before our eyes
spoiled executives flaunt
staggering profits while
staggering veterans beg for alms –

the powder keg is full
and the fuse is lit.

Daily before our eyes
arrogant legislators slash
funds for education while
prisons strain to contain more youths –

the powder keg is full
and the fuse is lit.

Daily before our eyes
scowling agents of morality
insert themselves into the
private cracks and crannies of our lives –

the powder keg is full
and the fuse is lit.

Daily before our eyes
decent working people,
having done the right thing all their lives,
find they have nothing to show for it –

the powder keg is full
and the fuse is lit.

The Mayan calendar ends in the year
twenty-twelve: an election year.
Some believe the world will end as well.
But if it continues, hear this:
the world of Obushma and Rottemney,
Bi(nLa)den and Palahuck,
Trumpette and Gingrinchvitis, is ending.
It ended, in fact, on Nine-One-One,
when the Twin Towers tumbled,
and the scraps of our freedom
were swapped for "security";
ended when the feds
bailed out "securities" firms that
bilked retirees' accounts;
ended when the promise of peace
became the reality of multi-war;
ended (finally?) when

before our eyes we saw
poor downtrodden camel-jockeys
stand up in the dust of centuries
and say "No more!"

Are we free people or slaves?
Will we be "Left Behind"?

The powder keg is full
and the fuse is lit.

Mariann G. Wizard
/ The Rag Blog
22 May 2011

[Mariann G. 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. Read more poetry and articles by Mariann G. Wizard on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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25 May 2011

Lamar W. Hankins : The Latest Plan for Perpetual War

"Perpetual War Machine" by Peter Passuntino / Painting Matters.

The Congress, the President, and
the latest plan for perpetual war

By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / May 25, 2011
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy? -- Gandhi
The wise men and women of the U.S. Congress are in the midst of deciding that the perpetual war desired by the military-industrial-Congressional complex (Eisenhower’s original formulation before it was edited) will soon become the law of the land.

A defense authorization bill recently passed by the House Armed Services Committee includes a provision that recognizes that we are at war “with al Queda, the Taliban, and associated forces” and gives the president war powers until “the termination of hostilities,” which could mean forever.

President Obama and his successors will be permitted to engage in war until the last terrorist is dead. There was a time -- when George W. Bush was president -- that I would have thought giving such power to the president to be among the most foolish acts of our political class. After nearly two and a half years of President Obama, I find that I harbor the same thought.

To be clear, I have seen one report that President Obama has not sought this expanded authority. It may be that he does not believe the extra authority is necessary for him to adequately fight terrorism, perhaps because he has found it easy to ignore the consultation-with-Congress requirements of our current law with respect to the bombing of Libya.

Nevertheless, a few representatives enamored with war-making are pushing to give this new unfettered discretion to the president and his replacements.

After considering the history of more than a hundred plus years since the reign of President Teddy Roosevelt, I can’t imagine a worse idea than giving one person the right to engage in war unimpeded by the wise limitations imposed upon the presidency by our founders.

Modern presidents have failed to honor the Constitutional requirement that the country not engage in war without a declaration of Congress approving war. In fact, we have had war under every president since Franklin Roosevelt, who was the last president to seek and get a declaration of war from Congress.

Of course, these violations of the Constitution are as much the fault of Congress as of the presidents who decided that war was the answer to a problem they faced. One explanation is that defense contractors supply an enormous amount of the money our politicians need to get elected. As long as contractors enjoy endless profits from war, they will keep funding politicians who keep those profits coming.

The primary author of the constitutional check on a president’s war power was James Madison, whose thinking is instructive two and a third centuries later:
Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other... War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force, of the people... No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
And Madison wrote further,
War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast, ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.
From these comments, it is clear that Madison did not anticipate that we would have a huge standing military, always available to be sent throughout the world to protect perceived American interests. He would have been sickened to contemplate 820 U.S. military bases located in 135 countries imposing U.S. hegemony throughout the world.

Congressman John Conyers, in looking at the authorization included in the proposed spending bill, concluded that it “would appear to grant the President near unfettered authority to initiate military action around the world without further congressional approval. Such authority must not be ceded to the President without careful deliberation from Congress.”

Thirty-three members of the President’s own party have requested that the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon, schedule this perpetual war-making authority provision for public hearings so that the American public can be made aware of it and have a chance to discuss it with their representatives.

The provisions which trouble Conyers and others are found in H.R. 968, the Detainee Security Act of 2011, which will likely be considered as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2012. These provisions would give any president the right to use military force anywhere in the world where terrorism suspects are believed to be present, even if no U.S. citizen has been harmed and the U.S. has not been attacked, or is not under the threat of attack.

The president would be empowered by these new provisions to use military force even within the U.S. and against American citizens. These provisions dishonor both the intent of our founders and the actual words of the Constitution, which provide that the Congress shall declare war, not the president. In our system, it is important that 535 representatives decide when and whether we should go to war, not one person, no matter how well-intentioned or how smart he or she may be.

If you are concerned about the Congress giving unchecked authority to the executive branch to use military force worldwide, there is still time to let your representatives know your views before we embark on what may be irremediable perpetual war.

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

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Marc Estrin : Up, Up, and Away

Digital montage image by T.J. Griffin.

Wings over Vermont:
Up, up, and away...

By Marc Estrin / The Rag Blog / May 25, 2011

BURLINGTON, Vermont -- Though two summers away, an invitation by the mayor to discuss inviting another Burlington air show, "Wings Over Vermont," has elicited some interesting letters to the Burlington Free Press, the state's largest paper.

For those outside of Vermont who may not have seen a similar event, such an air show consists of "a blend of high-performance military jets and much more sedate civilian aircraft, such as biplanes." As the Free Press notes without comment, "The sound impact of jets, generated by the likes of the Blue Angels and other precision flying teams, probably would fill up to two hours of the five-hour program."

In practice, the show takes place down at Lake Champlain during a crowded day with a July 4th atmosphere. For those not at the event, the cross-overs and low-altitude fly-arounds of the team of "high-performance military jets" is admittedly an auditory trial. Many people leave town while others just gripe.

The virtues or sins of the show are not my subject here. Rather, what interests me is the nature of some of the commentary from the supporters of the show addressing those against.

A most common notion among them is that American freedom to publicly express opinions has been made possible by the existence of the military.

"They are the reason why we all have the freedom to meet," wrote one. And another: "Your freedoms to express freely your 'opinions' have been protected and insured by generations of men and women who proudly served in the military." (The quotations marks around "opinions" are also interesting.)

To one letter writer, the sound of the jets is "the sound of freedom," and another asserts that true patriots are "not bothered by the sounds of the people who allow them to live their dream in freedom."

It seems to me, rather, that the freedom to form and speak our opinions and to freely assemble is not a military issue, but rather a basic gift of the U.S. constitution. If the military is functioning to protect those constitutional rights, you'd never know it as they serve to support administrations in hot pursuit of those rights, dead or alive.

For all the high- and low-tech wonders of flight (it still astounds me to see a huge plane take off), there is a disturbing leitmotif of jingoist war chants among some of the comments:

"There is no better sight in the world than one of those 'fast movers' streaking into the battle delivering their payload on top of the enemy," rhapsodizes one, the enemy, of course, being anyone upon whom a payload is dropped. "Is it noisy? You bet," writes another. "Does it burn fossil fuel? It sure as heck does. Is it patriotic? You better well believe it."

Speaking against an anti-show writer, one letter predicts that "When the bad guys from across the pond attack again, he'll be grateful for our military, but it will be too late." Concerning his probable reference, 9/11, one may note that our jets -- for reasons still unclear -- were unable to scramble that day against four errant airliners clearly bent on destruction.

(This has been a week containing a rape by a power-driven, hyper-sexual world leader, and the postponed invitation by a Savior for meeting in the skies with his elect. It is hard for me to avoid sensing a relation of themes here. But I will leave such meta-interpretations to readers so disposed.")

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of these freedom-loving comments has been the depiction of those who oppose the air show: "Moonbats," they are, "whack jobs," "tree-hugging wing nuts" (these descriptors from different letters). What to do with them? "Progressives and liberals should be MADE to watch the air show. Maybe then they will pack up and leave."

And a warning: "If you don't stand behind our troops, PLEASE feel free to stand in front of them."

The vibes are chilling.

[Marc Estrin is a writer, activist, and cellist, 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. Read more articles by Marc Estrin on The Rag Blog.]

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24 May 2011

Kate Braun : Lady Moon in Gemini for Fourth Phase

Fourth Quarter Moon. Image from illuminated Journey.

Moon Musings:
The Fourth Quarter Moon finds
Lady Moon in Gemini
(May 25 – 27, 2011)

By Kate Braun / The Rag Blog / May 24, 2011

Lady Moon is in Gemini for this moon phase. Gemini: the active, masculine, Air sign. This is not only a good moon phase in which to continue releasing the old in preparation for the new that arrives with the New Moon phase, it is also a good moon phase for communicating and dealing with the public.

You would do well to remember that Pluto is retrograde until September 16, 2011; a Pluto retrograde prompts each of us to take care of unfinished business, to finalize whatever we said we could let wait until later. With a Pluto retrograde, “later” is “now."

Use caraway seed, lavender, and spearmint in your menu; they are connected to Gemini and will facilitate your communications. Remember to eat enough to maintain energy for your rituals but not so much that you feel heavy.

If you choose to celebrate on Wednesday, May 25, incorporate the color purple into your dress and/or decorations. Lavender, whether as a color or an herb or a scent, would be a way to easily bring purple into your plan. Mixed colors are also appropriate, but purple is the most important. Call on Jupiter (the planet of expansion) energy as well as Mercury (the messenger of the gods).

If you choose to celebrate on Thursday, May 26, the appropriate color to emphasize is blue and you should also call on Jupiter energy. Blue represents Water, the passive feminine element. The color blue also represents healing, nurturing, loving, blessing energies and can lend a calming element to Jupiter’s sometimes overwhelming enthusiasm.

If you choose to celebrate on Friday, May 27, the appropriate color to emphasize is green. Call upon the planet Venus and wear copper jewelry. Green represents Earth, the active feminine element. This color also represents growth, prosperity, success, abundance, and romance (in medieval times, green was considered the color of romantic love). Drinking some spearmint tea during your celebration will easily involve the color green into your activities.

Copper is reputed to have the ability to conduct spiritual energy back and forth between individuals, crystals, auras, the mind and the spirit worlds. It is also said to ease the pain of sciatica, arthritis, and rheumatism. (Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII a copper ring to mitigate his arthritic pain.)

The folk song lyrics “Lavender’s blue, dilly-dilly, Lavender’s green” prompt the idea that sprigs of lavender would be an appropriate addition to your decor, whatever the day you choose for your celebration.

As with any ritual in the waning phases of the moon, your energies would be best used in activities relevant to: endings, resolution, final outcomes, conscious movement, clearing, releasing, harvesting, end, rebirth, preparation, rest.

Releasing the old opens the door to the new, so let’s be about it!

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

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