31 January 2010

Kate Braun : Candlemas Seasonal Message

Candlemas. Image from Judeness's Weblog.

We focus on Mother Earth

By Kate Braun / The Rag Blog / January 31, 2010

“Keep on the Sunny Side, always on the Sunny Side, Keep on the Sunny Side of Life...”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010, is Candlemas, also called Imbolc, Feast of Lights, and Brigit’s Day. February 2 is also Groundhog Day, when we are accustomed to search for assurances that Lord Sun is continuing to grow in strength and power, with promise of a fertile earth and survival assured for another year. Lady Moon is in her third quarter in Virgo, a quiet and passive participant in this season’s festivities.

The seasonal focus is on Mother Earth awakening, is about rebirth and fresh starts; many of the activities associated with Candlemas promote that message. Polishing all the shiny surfaces (mirrors, windows, tile, porcelains, and metal), sweeping out dust bunnies, and doing some general “spring cleaning” makes it easier to reflect the lights you display, which, in turn, strengthens Lord Sun’s emerging energies.

Tuesday is Tyr’s day. Tyr was a mighty warrior, a fierce fighter, and some systems associate him with Mars. Mars is retrograde at this time, not going direct until March 10. Do not be surprised if differences of opinion escalate into more energetic exchanges, but do what works best for you to ensure a calm and peaceful environment for your celebration. This could be as simple as using a smudge stick that includes lavender before your guests arrive.

Dress your altar, your table, and yourself in white, pink, and yellow. White for maiden, pink for matron, yellow for crone; the triple goddess is honored. White is also for milk, pink for the skin of new-born lambs, and yellow for the emerging Lord Sun who will nourish not only the lambs but also the Earth. All pastel colors may be used in this celebration, but they should accent, not replace, white, pink, and yellow.

One activity you and your guests may plan is to go through the entire house, starting at sunset, at the front door and moving clockwise as you open every door, window and drawer and shine a flashlight into the closets, bins, hampers, drawers, under beds and chairs. This symbolically welcomes Lord Sun into every nook and cranny and promises growth and prosperity for the emerging year.

As you begin your celebratory meal, be sure to drink a toast to Brigit, patron saint of Candlemas. She is also patroness of poets, artists, blacksmiths, and midwives, and is honored by shepherds and cattle herders. She is a fire goddess and a sun goddess. Feed your guests spicy foods (they add to Lord Sun’s fire) and milky foods (for the milk filling the udders of ewes) as well as seeds, meat or poultry, herb teas and wine. If you like, make a Brigit’s Wheel to use as part of your decoration.

Another activity you may enjoy is to hang a silk scarf in an open window; the breeze moving through the scarf charges it with positive energy. The scarf may then be used in rituals and spell-work throughout the year. If you have been gifted with more silk scarves than you need, consider performing this ritual using your “extras” and then give them as party favors to your guests, being sure to explain the action and intention associated with this gift.

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

The Rag Blog

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Jonah Raskin : Yippie Jerry Rubin's 'Do It!' Turns Forty

Image by rhpepsi1 / Amazon.com.

Do It! does it:
Jerry Rubin's Yippie classic makes it to 40

By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / January 31, 2010

Jerry Rubin, the youthful Yippie who turned into a middle aged Yuppie, didn’t coin the popular phrase, “Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30.” Jack Weinberg was the first to speak those words at Berkeley during one of the battles of the Free Speech Movement (FSM).

Rubin liked the idea and the phrase; he took it over and used it so often that folks in the counterculture thought it belonged to him. To give him credit, Rubin gave Weinberg credit in Do It!: Scenarios of the Revolution -- a classic about cultural revolution in America -- which was published in 1970 when he was already over the age of 30.

Rubin was born in Cincinnati to a middle class Jewish family on Bastille Day, July 14th, in 1938. He was 32 in 1970, though he doesn’t provide that information in Do It!. Indeed, he says, “I was born in the FSM in Berkeley in 1964. That makes me five years old.”

Rubin fudged the facts of his age, and many other facts in Do It! In fact, he didn’t tell a straight story about the creation of the book itself. On the title page, credit is given to his girlfriend at the time, Nancy Kurshan. The title page also says, “Yipped by Jim Retherford,” though Rubin never gave Retherford -- who now lives in Austin and works with The Rag Blog and the New Journalism Project -- the full and complete credit he rightfully deserves.

Recently, I talked to Retherford, on the phone about the genesis and evolution of Do It!, and his account was eye-opening to say the least. “I went to work for Jerry soon after I lost my job at the Peace Eye Bookstore,” he said. “I was the ghost writer for the book. That meant that I conceptualized the whole book and created a myth so that it would all hang together. I designed it so that it would look and feel like the six-o’clock news, and so it broke out of the linear mode. I was inspired by Quentin Fiore who had worked with Marshall McLuhan on The Medium is the Massage; later we brought in Fiore to be the official designer, and I worked closely with him. That was a fabulous experience, and I went on to become a graphic designer.”

Back in 1969-1970, Rubin wasn’t interested in historical accuracy, but rather in creating myths and in spinning metaphors, which made it possible for him to work with Retherford. Rubin loved to embellish and exaggerate, and so in Do It! we’re told, for example, that “Elvis Presley killed Ike Eisenhower.” “Kill your parents,” was one of Rubin’s most often shouted slogans, and if he didn’t mean it literally, that didn’t matter to him.

Still, if accurate numbers and real dates weren’t essential to Rubin, they do matter to biographers and historians, and to veterans of that era, too, who care about what happened, where it happened, and who really wrote the books. I feel a bit defensive here; I did my own share of myth-making, but it does matter when real historical change heated up in the 1960s, and when the cultural revolution began to cool down, and the society returned to at least a semblance of normalcy.

The year 1970, when Do It! was published -- and became a bestseller -- marked, of course, the start of the decade of the 1970s. If you calculate historical change by calendars on the wall, and precise dates then the 1960s were already over. But “the 1960s” weren’t over if you look at what was happening in the streets and in communes.

Scholars who are partial to early SDS and who dislike the Yippies and the Weathermen tend to ignore 1970, 1971, and 1972. Those years were a time of immense social and political ferment, and, lo and behold, it wasn’t the 1960s anymore on the calendar. There was rioting in the streets from coast-to-coast; resistance to the war in Vietnam, and soon afterward sabotage, in and out of the military, to the widening wars in Laos and Cambodia.

There was the growth of rural communes, the spread of marijuana, the rise of women’s liberation, and gay liberation, too. Nixon was in the White House; John Mitchell was the Attorney General. To radicals, it seemed as though America was becoming a fascist nation, which is why Rubin & Co. used the German spelling for America in Do It!, as in, “I am a child of Amerika,” and “Fuck Amerika.” Rubin was definitely angry -- for intensely personal as well as overtly political reasons. As a young man, he had lost his parents and felt like an orphan and lost.

Do It! – Rubin’s autobiography (or is it a biography?) about becoming a radical -- reflected the fear, paranoia, and irreverence at that particular time. Today, 40 years later, it is, if nothing else, a valuable historical document of that era when the 1960s blurred into the 1970s, and rebellion widened and intensified.

The book that broke linear rules also helped to stir up protest when it was published. In many ways, it's old-fashioned “agit-prop,” to borrow a phrase from the radicals of the 1930s, a decade when leftists used agitation and propaganda to undermine the capitalist system.

Do It!
was also what was called “agit-pop” in the 1960s. Indeed, Rubin, Retherford, and Fiore used many of the tools and much of the style of pop culture, including cartoons and graffiti lettering, and presented a cartoon-like view of America in which the good guys were easily distinguished from the bad guys.

“Subvert!!” Rubin and his assistants wrote in the next-to-the last chapter in the book. They added, “That’s the task of every young person. Spread ideas that undercut the consistent world of Amerika, and then top it off by burning her symbols -- from draft cards to flags to dollar bills.” College kids and high school kids did all those things, not only or just because Jerry told them to, of course, but Jerry definitely played a part in making protest and rebellion happen, along with Abbie Hoffman, his fellow Yippie.

Jerry Rubin at microphone with Nancy Kurshan. Behind them are the Chicago Seven defendants (not including Bobby Seale), from the Chicago conspiracy trial. Abbie Hoffman is on the far left. Photo from AP.

Rubin and Hoffman were famous as a result of the Chicago conspiracy trial that ended in 1970 with verdicts of guilty for both of them for rioting during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. They both had clout in the counterculture, and they were good for one another, a lesson I learned from lawyer William Kunstler, who pointed out that their sibling rivalry pushed each one of them to creative heights they would not have reached on their own. “Jerry and Abbie were a team,” Kunstler said. “They egged one another on.”

Hoffman, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, committed suicide in 1989; Rubin was killed while trying to cross Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1994. He was jaywalking.

I knew Jerry and Abbie personally, though I identified far more with Abbie than Jerry. In 1970, I reviewed Do It! for Liberation New Service (LNS), and didn’t hide my dislike for it. Rubin even called LNS and complained, but LNS was also partial to Abbie and no one scolded me.

Looking back at the book now, 40 years later, I can see again why it irked me. “Marijuana makes each person God.” So reads a sentence in the chapter, “Keep pot illegal.” I had seen too many stoned college dropouts to accept the view that pot had divine properties. Do It! also proclaims, “The New Left said: I protest. The hippies said: I am.” I had been a member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and a new leftist and Rubin’s style of cultural revolution was too dismissive of ideology and organization for my taste. Do It! seemed to make revolution sound inevitable and even easy.

At the very end, there’s a utopian description of the future:

“People will farm in the morning, make music in the afternoon and fuck wherever and whenever they want to. The United States of Amerika will become a tiny yippie island in a vast sea of Yippieland love.”

It was easy, of course, to laugh at and dismiss those Yippie notions, and many radicals and liberals did laugh, though in his introduction to Do It!, Eldridge Cleaver -- then a Black Panther living in exile in Algeria -- took Yippie ideas seriously, all-too seriously one might add. When Cleaver ran for President in 1968 on the Peace and Freedom Party, Rubin had been his running mate for Vice President.

In his introduction to Do It!, Cleaver admits that not all of Rubin’s ideas appealed to him, but that enough of them did for him to regard Rubin as a brother. “Right on,” Cleaver wrote. “All Power to the People.” It definitely was a time of slogans and gestures.

Jerry Rubin played dress-up when he appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1967.

Rubin had a genius for slogan, gesture and costume. He showed up at hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) dressed as a soldier in the American Revolution of 1776. One of the photos in Do It!, shows him at HUAC with his lawyer Beverly Axelrod.

Rubin may have been grandiose and even a hypocrite; he may have turned his back on Yippie ideals when he went to Wall Street to make money and become a Yuppie. But he definitely had courage when he defied HUAC, and he played no small part in helping to dismantle and discredit an institution that had done a disservice to American democracy for decades.

For that role, Rubin deserves to be remembered and lauded. When many others were afraid, he was fearless. He followed his gut instincts. He just did it, and with an exclamation mark, too!

[Jonah Raskin teaches media at Sonoma State University and is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California and The Mythology of Imperialism.]
  • Find Do It! by Jerry Rubin on Amazon.com.
The Rag Blog

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29 January 2010

Mexico's Narco Wars : Capos Bite Dust as Madness Continues

Navy special forces stand guard in Cuernavaca, Dec. 16, 2009. Drug capo Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed in a shootout with state security forces. Photo by Margarito Perez / Reuters.

Who's who in narco wars:
Top capos executed in Mexican Spy vs. Spy

By John Ross / The Rag Blog / January 30, 2010

MEXICO CITY -- Infiltration of Mexico's security apparatus by narco gangs is an old story. In the mid-'80s, the Direction of Federal Security, then the federal government's lead police agency, distributed get-out-of-jail passes to original gangsters like Rafael Caro Quintero and Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo -- the DFS was subsequently disbanded and its agents distributed to other security forces.

In the 1990s, Mexico's drug czar General Jesus Rebollo was caught with his hand in the cookie jar accepting sumptuous bribes for protecting the transportation routes of Amado Carillo AKA "The Lord of the Skies" and sentenced to 40 years in durance vile.

Since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the nation's drug cartels six days after his chaotic Dec. 1, 2006 inauguration, infiltration of Mexico's security agencies has escalated so stupendously that the U.S. military's Joint Chief of Staffs issues reports characterizing Mexico as a "potential failed state."

Among agencies infiltrated by the narcos: the military, the federal police (one jurisdiction -- the Federal Investigation Agency, a knock-off of the FBI -- became so corrupted that it was liquidated), the Attorney General's Office, the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime (SIEDO), the Mexican branch of Interpol, and dozens of state and municipal police forces. (The list is compiled from news stories reporting on-going federal prosecutions.)

Now, in a bold initiative to turn the tables on the narcos, the Mexican army is training spies to infiltrate the drug gangs and embed under deep cover. The only flaw in this innovative strategy is that the army unit from which the spies are being selected and trained, the Aero Mobile Special Forces Group or GAFES has itself been compromised by the drug cartels.

Trained at the Center for Special Forces in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, in drug war strategies in the late 1990s, dozens of GAFES deserted the military and joined the narco gangs, resurfacing in the early years of the decade as Los Zetas, dread enforcers for the Gulf Cartel who today enjoy full-blown cartel status themselves.

The cartels have not limited their reach to Mexican police agencies. U.S. Homeland Security's Border Protection and Customs Enforcement is prosecuting at least eight cases involving suspected drug cartel implants in their ranks. Mandated by Congress to boost agent numbers to 20,000 by 2010, Homeland Security launched an aggressive recruitment campaign along the border largely directed at Mexican-Americans, offering the drug gangs a golden opportunity to infiltrate their operators.

One cartel double agent on duty at a U.S. border crossing is like giving the narcos "the keys to the kingdom" an anonymous ex-FBI agent recently told the New York Times. In an effort to weed out the bad actors, Homeland Security has brought in 200 criminal investigators and tripled criminal prosecutions but the investigators are themselves vulnerable to being compromised by the cartels.

South of the border, Mexican military infiltration of the narco cartels has met with mixed success. Two undercover Navy Marines were executed last summer in the port of Acapulco when their identities were leaked by unknowns. On the other hand, the January 2008 arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva, "El Mochomo," a member of a much-feared drug clan, was attributed to information gathered by a military spy who spent two years undercover as a Beltran Leyva operator.

That's the good news. On the downside: when El Mochomo was taken into custody, he reportedly had a classified SIEDO document in his pocket that detailed federal police maneuvers against his gang.

Despite the military's long undercover investigation, Alfredo Beltran Leyva is thought to have been brought down by a "pitazo" (whistle blower) from his archrival Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman for whom the five Beltran Leyva brothers once toiled. The Beltran Leyvas' assumption that El Mochomo had been ratted out by Guzman and his associates was confirmed by the payback killing of El Chapo's youngest son soon after.

Drug lord Alfredo Beltrán Leyva was arrested in 2008, thought to have been ratted out by rival Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. Photo by Eduardo Verdugo / AP.

Both the Beltran Leyvas and the Guzmans are Sinaloa boys, natives in fact of Badiraguato, a mountain town that overlooks the fertile Culiacan valley and the birthplace of many of that Pacific coast state's legendary narcos from Caro Quintero and Felix Gallardo to Amado Carrillo to the Arellano Felixes, Gallardo's nephews, who controlled Tijuana for two decades.

Bad blood reportedly began to flow between the Beltran Leyvas and the Chapos when Guzman associate Nacho Coronel cut El Mochomo's boys out of a juicy dope deal in 2008 whereupon the Beltran Leyvas broke with Chapo's "Federation" and struck out on their own, taking big clients with them. Doing business as "La Empresa" (the Business), the Beltran Leyvas entered into an alliance of convenience with the Zetas with whom they had concluded a bloody border battle for the "plaza" of Nuevo Laredo just months before.

The new arrangement gave the five Beltran brothers who already had a strong presence in western Mexico south of Sinaloa, including the key ports of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan, Acapulco, and Manzanillo Colima, access to eastern Mexico where the Zetas called the shots and strengthened both gangs' standing against El Chapo and his principal confederates Coronel, Mayo Zambada, and the wily veteran "El Azul" Esparragoza.

El Chapo ("Shorty") Guzman is Mexico's Narco of the Decade. His fortunes escalated with the election of Vicente Fox of the right-wing PAN party in 2000 -- a month after Fox was sworn in as Mexico's first opposition president, Guzman escaped from maximum security Puente Grande prison in Jalisco and has never been touched since.

Ranked number 42 on Forbes Magazine list of the 67 most powerful potentates on the planet right behind Iran's Ali Khamenei and well ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy (#54) and #67 Hugo Chavez (Felipe Calderon did not make the list), El Chapo appears to have influential friends in Los Pinos, the Mexican White House.

El Chapo (Shorty) Guzman is Mexico's "Narco of the Decade." Photo from STR / AFP / Getty Images.

Mexico's presidents often have pet narcos who they favor by cracking down on their rivals, reasoning that it is less stressful to deal with one strong capo then a dozen hydra-headed cartels and dangerous, ambitious underlings. The Beltran Leyvas have repeatedly raged against the perceived protection of the Chapos by Calderon's Secretary of Public Security Genaro Garcia.

Edgardo Buscaglia, an expert on drug war economics at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM), agrees that the Calderon government favors Guzman: "one necessarily has to come to the conclusion that the Mexican government is applying this strategy so it can negotiate with (El Chapo) and achieve peace prior to the 2012 elections."

Morelos, a tiny state just south of the capital where Emiliano Zapata once rode, has been a sanctuary for narco barons since the late 1990s when the governor, Jorge Carrillo Olea, once jefe of national security, is said to have extended protection to Amado "Lord of the Skies" Carrillo (no relation) who earned his nickname by flying DC-6 loads of Colombian cocaine into Mexico.

Two PAN governors -- Sergio Estrada and Marco Antonio Adame -- offered similar hospitality to the Beltran Leyvas who set up shop in Cuernavaca, the state capitol. "The city of eternal spring," as it is dubbed in the tourist guides, is both close to Mexico City, the nation's key financial center, and has strategic access to Michoacan, Colima, Guerrero, and Oaxaca where "La Empresa" does plenty of business.

Spreading around canonazos (cannon shots) of cash, the Beltran Leyvas bought protection from state and municipal police -- Adame's Public Security Secretary was forced to resign after his ties to the narcos became public knowledge in 2008. Also said to be on the payroll: the 24th Military Region to whose jurisdiction Cuernavaca and surrounding Morelos state pertain.

Despite their generous tithing, the Beltran Leyvas' cover was blown December 11 when a newly-coordinated Marine unit raided a narco-fiesta at a "finca" (hacienda) in Tepotzlan Morelos, a community with many writers, artists, and Mexico City intellectuals in residence. The finca was said have been rented to "El Barbies" -- Edgar Valdez, a U.S. citizen born in Laredo, Texas, and the chief hit man for Arturo Beltran Leyva, "El Jefe de Jefes" (Boss of Bosses), the clan's leader.

Collared in the raid were 40 guests and an impressive array of pop music idols contracted to entertain the invitees, including Ramon Ayala and the Bravos del Norte, winners of four Latin Grammies; the ever-popular corridistas Los Cadetes de Linares; and El Torrente, a reggaeton band. Mexican pop idols do not eschew such gigs, conceded Paquita La de Barrio, whose "Rata de Dos Patas" ("Two-legged Rat") is an international favorite. "Narcos are our bread and butter. You never know who they are. They invite you and you sing and that's it. They are very polite and pay well," La del Barrio confessed to the left daily La Jornada. "Work is work."

Pop star Ramon Ayala, whose Bravos del Norte have won four Latin Grammies, was arrested December 11 at a narco fiesta.

The deployment of Navy Marines in the drug war is the latest wrinkle in Calderon's crusade. For years, the Navy's role has been pretty much confined to patrolling Mexico's coastlines, occasionally landing big drug hauls when tipped off by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. In 2007, Mexican Navy personnel were credited with a record 23-ton cocaine stop in Manzanillo. Last summer, the Navy took down a monkey flag tuna boat in Puerto Progresso, Yucatan, with 750 tons of blow crammed down the caws of a hold full of frozen sharks.

In 2009, residents of Mexico City's swanky Polanco district were startled when jack-booted Marines kicked down doors at the corporate offices of Grupo Penoles, a Fortune list mining conglomerate, after $41,000,000 in Yanqui dollars was found embedded in a load of industrial chemicals bound for Colombia.

The Marines' first land assault came last September when they captured a second string capo, El Gori, in Juarez Nuevo Leon. The Tepotzlan narco-fiesta came next. Now they moved in for the kill.

Longterm observers of Mexico's narco wars like Jorge Camil, a National University researcher, speculate that U.S. drug fighters, operating under enhanced powers granted by the Washington-financed Merida Initiative, requested deployment of the Mexican Navy to confront the Beltran Leyvas because the army -- in this case, the 24th Military Region -- is no longer trustworthy.

On December 16, five days after they had broken up the narco fiesta in Tepotzlan, the Marines swept through the luxury Cuernavaca sub-division "Los Altitudes" where high-rise condominiums offer a stunning view of surrounding volcanoes, and a stone's throw from the 24th Military Region. All apartments were cleared and the upscale tenants herded into the complex's state-of-the-art gymnasium. Residents seemed shocked that one of Mexico's top narco lords lived among them.

Although drug lords have big footprints -- "El Jefe de Los Jefes" always traveled in a seven-car caravan of mean-looking gunsills loaded for bear -- few of their neighbors had paid much attention. "At Los Altitudes, everyone has bodyguards," a former resident matter-of-factly told this reporter over canapés at a Christmas party.

Other big shots in residence include a PAN senator and the state president of the PANAL party, the wholly owned property of Education Workers Union czarina Elva Esther Gordillo, one of the most influential personages in Mexican politics.

Holed up in Apartment 201 of the Elbus Building, Arturo Beltran Leyva and six pistoleros went to the mattresses. A five-hour gun battle erupted with the narcos hurling fragmentation grenades in a desperate attempt to break through the Marine barricade. Under relentless Marine fire, the Boss of Bosses and his henchmen (one committed suicide) bit the dust -- three Marines were gravely wounded and one subsequently succumbed.

After 2 a.m. the next morning, representatives of the press were allowed into a bullet-pocked Apartment 201 to view the crime scene. The much-punctured cadaver of Arturo Beltran Leyva was laid out on a blood-drenched bedspread, his pants pulled down to his jockey shorts and his corpse decorated with neatly-arranged pesos and greenbacks, amulets and rosaries, apparently removed from his pockets (the dead capo reportedly was carrying $40,000 USD.)

Cameras captured this macabre scene for the nation's front pages. The desecration of the body and grotesque display of narco iconology was attributed to Cuernavaca forensic technicians under the direction of ski-masked, undercover Marines, according to eyewitness Gustavo Castillo, a Jornada reporter. The Navy denies culpability. Jorge Camil, writing in La Jornada, compared the Gran Guignol tableau to the grisly coverage of the U.S. military's execution of Saddam Hussein's two sons in 2003.

As to be anticipated, President Calderon exulted in the capture and slaughter of Beltran Leyva and his malevolent crew. Rookie U.S. ambassador Carlos Pascual toasted the Mexican president's commitment to Washington's drug war and DEA administrator Michelle Leonhart attributed the success of the operation to "cooperation with our valiant counterparts" which suggests that U.S. drug warriors may have played a more pivotal role in Beltran Leyva's demise than was acknowledged. All extolled the heroics of the dead Marine, First Corps Master Melquidet Angulo. At his funeral in Angulo's home town of Paradise Tabasco, Navy brass swore "unconditional support" for the slain Marine's family.

Three nights later, a Zeta hit squad broke into the Angulos' rural ranch and killed the dead marine's mother, two brothers, and an aunt, signaling the next round of bloodshed.

In Cuernavaca, a "narco-manta" -- bed sheets painted with messages to the authorities, a signature device of the Beltran Leyva clan -- was hung from a pedestrian overpass. "Now they have committed a grave error by messing with the Empresa," the narco-manta announced, "El Barbies (who is still at large) you have all our support to start a new war."

Since Felipe Calderon's ill-advised declaration of war on Mexico's drug cartels December 6, 2006, 16,000 plus citizens have lost their lives -- 7,000 of them, nearly half the kill list, in 2009 alone, an average of 25 a day, more than one an hour. On 40 days last year, 40 or more Mexicans were killed. On December 16, the day the Boss of Bosses went down, 64 died, a record one-day high in drug war homicides. The execution of Arturo Beltran Leyva will only accelerate this madness.

[John Ross is on the road with his latest cult classic El Monstruo -- Dread and Redemption in Mexico City ("a pulsating, gritty read" - the New York Post). The author will kick off the Monster Tour in California's Central Valley with presentations at Cal State Fresno (Feb. 4-5), the Merced Public Library (Feb. 6) and Modesto (Feb. 7) - locale TBA.]

The Rag Blog

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Ansel Herz in Haiti : U.S. Military Brings Little Relief

Marines carry cartons of bottled water from Black Hawk helicopters after landing in a rural area outside Port-au-Prince on Jan. 19. Photo by St Felix Evens / Reuters / Christian Science Monitor.

From the tent cities of Haiti:
Relief efforts frustrate neighborhood leaders

By Ansel Herz / January 29, 2010

GRAND GOAVE, Haiti -- Two gray 23-million-dollar hovercrafts sitting in the middle of a sandy tropical beach look like they are from another world. A pair of 15-foot-wide propeller fans sticks out from the back of each behemoth.

Along the narrow dirt road to this seaside town’s center, families live under blankets stretched over sticks.

A tent city occupies the town’s main square, surrounded by crumbling buildings. Joseph Jean-Pierre Salam, the mayor of Grand Goave, about 15 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince, estimated that some 70 percent of the city’s important structures fell during the 7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12.

“They have made many promises, but we don’t see the action yet,” Salam said, referring to the international community. “We have a lot of people suffering. There is an expectation that help will come.”

Little food and water has been distributed by the dozens of U.S. troops milling about the beach since the earthquake, according to local leaders.

“I went there to talk to them,” said Jean-Jacob Renee, an English teacher. “They said they are there to set up some tents for themselves, but they did not come with food or water -- anything for the people.”

He said the only aid the military brought to Grand Goave was distributed by Catholic Relief Services, an international NGO. “When they are in the town, we don’t know. We don’t have their phone number,” he said. “Nobody has helped us.”

U.S. military personnel on the beach were busy unloading construction material and heavy equipment from cargo boats. Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Krutky told IPS his disaster recovery team cleared a rockslide out of the road and worked to repair local orphanages run by evangelical missions.

The U.S. military did not respond to IPS requests for further clarification of the Navy’s role in Grand Goave.

An analysis by the Associated Press on Wednesday found that 33 cents of every dollar towards emergency aid in Haiti goes to military aid, more than three times the nine cents spent on food.

Residents of Grand Goave said there is a network of seven neighborhood leaders for each section of the city that has not been tapped in the relief effort. Friends are pooling resources to purchase rice when possible, but family after family living outside the rubble of their homes told IPS they have received no assistance.

The roof of Rinvil Jean Weldy’s modest one-story brick house is broken off, resting at an angle on top of a kitchen table covered in dust. The rear wall crumbled, spilling onto the cracked ground. His wife remains at a nearby hospital nursing an injury from the quake.

“We need a tent, we need food and water, all the normal things,” Weldy said, pointing at his sons, who were hammering together scraps of wood to build the frame of a tent. “To the U.N., I say, I need help now.”

Weldy has been expecting compensation from the U.N. since November 10, when he and numerous witnesses say part of a bullet fired by U.N. peacekeeping troops hit his shoulder. Four days before the earthquake, the U.N. said an internal investigation into the incident cleared the soldiers of any wrongdoing.

Witnesses told IPS the troops fired into the ground in an attempt to control a curious crowd, not into the air, as the U.N. maintains.

The U.N. peacekeepers are roundly dismissed by many Haitians as a source for relief in the country. “We have been living with the U.N. for many years, but now we see them very little,” Mayor Salam said matter-of-factly.

In Leogane, on the route back from Grand Goave to Port-Au-Prince, 500 families from a tent city in a field lined up in an orderly queue to receive food packages, in contrast to chaotic aid dispersals seen in Port-Au-Prince. Individuals walked into a clearing to grab a box each time a young Haitian man called out numbers through a megaphone.

“For us, it was very important to do this without military,” said Dolores Rescheleit, an aid worker with a German NGO called Arche Nova that provided the food. “Because the people in the camp are very strong. When you give the responsibility to the people in the camp, they will do it better than we will with the military.”

A committee of Haitians, with subcommittees to handle security, hygiene, and aid distribution, is governing the camp without problems, Rescheleit said. Women smiled as they walked back to their tents, balancing boxes of food on their heads.

I spoke to the New York Times Lede Blog yesterday about what I’ve seen in Haiti over the past few days -- chaotic food distributions, pros and cons of the U.S. military’s presence, and the politics surrounding the question of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return. I’m disappointed that their writers went for the most sensational angle and highlighted the first subject, leaving the others in separate, less prominent audio embeds

[Ansel Herz, a former Austin activist, is a multimedia journalist and web designer based in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. He blogs at Mediahacker. This article was distributed by IPS.]

The Rag Blog

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Book Ends : Writers Salinger and Zinn Made a Difference

"The Man in the Books," by Andre Martins de Barros / Found Shit.

Two writers who changed us:
J. D. Salinger and Howard Zinn

By Carl R. Hultberg / The Rag Blog / January 29, 2010

It is impossible to predict whose writing will become successful. For J. D. Salinger, it was the fact that his stories, especially Catcher in the Rye, were so perfectly poised between Huckleberry Finn and On the Road. Jack Kerouac safe for English class, without the profanity, drugs, homophilia. Samuel Clemens writing in a kid’s vernacular from the modern alienated age. In fact who but J.D Salinger created the niche for alienation to begin with?

(Disclaimer) I was Holden Caulfield. I was expelled from Prep School in 1966, and with no one willing to come get me, bussed back and dallied in Boston with my skis and everything. A few months later I ran off to San Franscisco, getting as far as Concord, Mass. To say that I lived and breathed The Catcher in the Rye would be another one of those big understatements. I even spend most of my remaining imaginary life trying to save mythical children from growing up. Peter Pan, Huck Finn, Dean Moriarty, Ken Kesey.... Holden Caulfield.

But J.D. Salinger gave up on fame, preferring to live in seclusion in New Hampshire. So I’m still following the leader somehow, though I confess some of Salinger’s writing, especially Franny and Zooey, was just a little too New York precious for my taste. Closer to the Woody Allen problem. J. D. Salinger lived to be 91 years old because he walked away from fame and fortune. Another lesson perhaps?

Another writer who defied the odds to become popular and -- better than that -- influential was Howard Zinn. Mr. Zinn once gave a lecture that I attended while I was at Cambridge School of Weston (after my Holden Caulfield period). The subject of the informal talk was the Vietnam War. I had never before heard an adult deliver such a scathing indictment of the American “authorities.” What a subtle rabble rouser this gentle looking Jewish man really was.

Howard Zinn worked hard to get to college and once he graduated he got a job at a black woman’s college, Spelman. He joined SNCC, the radical black civil rights group, and got fired from Spelman. At Boston University he goaded conservative president John Silber constantly. He went to Hanoi in Vietnam with Reverend Daniel Berrigan during the war. He published as an academic historian but nothing ever matched the effect he had when he put out a book for popular consumption: A People’s History of the United States, in 1980.

Basically everything the official history books left out, or glossed over, A People’s History of the United States became an unofficial textbook for radical families, radical kids and home schoolers all over the USA. Scathing in its attacks on formerly iconic figures like Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, A People’s History sold over two million copies. How valuable was this analysis of American history, unflinchingly critical of the U.S. elites, yet not obviously ideological? Ask ourselves that question nowadays while tea party clowns seem able to float any kind of fantasy accusations into the public discourse. They need to go back and read their Howard Zinn if they want to be radical and rational.

Two writers who managed to move millions. Books, minds, hearts, people. Both in their way accidental successes. Neither particularly ambitious or celebrity minded. J. D. Salinger romanticized the loneliness created by our modern society and Howard Zinn gave us the facts and concepts to reenvision American history from the point of view of it’s victims. Together they gave us the some of the wherewithal to survive the 1960s and the 1980s.

J.D. Salinger passed away in New Hampshire and Howard Zinn passed away in nearby Massachusetts just a little over a year after the passing of his wife Roslyn.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, gentlemen.

[Carl R. Hultberg's grandfather, Rudi Blesh, was a noted jazz critic and music historian, and Carl was raised in that tradition. After spending many years as a music archivist and social activist in New York's Greenwich Village, he now lives in an old abandoned foundry in Danbury, New Hampshire, where he runs the Ragtime Society.]

Also see:The Rag Blog

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28 January 2010

VERSE / Verandah Porche : CORP O RAT ION

Goya print revisited by Jake and Dinos Chapman. Image from The Guardian.


Corporation = root or panic

= orca portion = crap iron too

= poor can riot = cop or ration

= raptor coo in = crop oration

= or porno I act = o rancor I opt

= roar no topic = poor art icon

Verandah Porche / The Rag Blog
January 28, 2010

[Verandah Porche is a poet and writing partner in Guilford, Vermont. Read more of her work at verandahporche.com.]

The Rag Blog

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People's Historian : The Singular Legacy of Howard Zinn

Historian and activist Howard Zinn, 1922-2010.

How the great Howard Zinn
Made all our lives better
No American historian has had a more lasting positive impact on our understanding of the true nature of our country...
By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn was above all a gentleman of unflagging grace, humility, and compassion.

No American historian has had a more lasting positive impact on our understanding of the true nature of our country, mainly because his books reflect a soul possessed of limitless depth.

Howard’s People's History of the United States will not be surpassed. As time goes on new chapters will be written in its spirit to extend its reach.

But his timeless masterpiece broke astonishing new ground both in its point of view and its comprehensive nature. The very idea of presenting the American story from the point of view of the common citizen was itself revolutionary. That he pulled it off with such apparent ease and readability borders on the miraculous. That at least a million Americans have bought and read it means that its on-going influence is immense. It is truly a history book that has and will continue to change history for the better.

But that doesn’t begin to account for Howard’s personal influence. He was a warm, unfailingly friendly compadre. He shared a beautiful partnership with his wonderful wife Roz, a brilliant, thoroughly committed social worker about whom he once said: “You and I just talk about changing the world. She actually does it.”

But Howard was no ivory tower academic. His lectures were engaging, exciting, and inspirational. But they took on an added dimension because he was personally engaged, committed, and effective. He chose to write books and articles in ways that could impact the world in which they were published. He showed up when he was needed, and always had a sixth sense about exactly what to say, and how.

Perhaps the most meaningful tribute to pay this amazing man is to say how he affected us directly. Here are two stories I know intimately:

In 1974, my organic commune-mate Sam Lovejoy toppled a weather tower as a protest against the coming of a nuclear power plant. When Sam needed someone to testify on how this act of civil disobedience fit into the fabric of our nation’s history, Howard did not hesitate. His testimony in that Springfield, Massachusetts courtroom (see Lovejoy’s Nuclear War) remains a classic discourse on the sanctity of non-violent direct action and its place in our national soul. (Sam was acquitted, and we stopped that nuke!)

Three years earlier I sent Howard a rambling 300-page manuscript under the absurdly presumptuous title A People's History of the United States, 1860-1920. Written in a drafty communal garage in the Massachusetts hills by a long-haired 20-something graduate school dropout, the manuscript had been rejected by virtually every publisher in America, often accompanied with nasty notes to the tune of: “NEVER send us anything like this again.”

But I sent a copy to Howard, whom I had never met. He replied with a cordial note typed on a single sheet of yellow paper, which I still treasure. I showed it to Hugh Van Dusen at Harper & Row, who basically said Harper had no idea why anyone would ever read such a book, but that if Howard Zinn would write an introduction, they’d publish it (though under a more appropriate title).

He did, and they did…and my life was changed forever.

Thankfully, Hugh then had the good sense to ask Howard to write a REAL people’s history by someone -- the ONLY one -- who could handle the job. He did… and ALL our lives have been changed forever.

Howard labored long and hard on his masterpiece, always retaining that astonishing mixture of humor and humility that made him such a unique and irreplaceable treasure. No one ever wrote or spoke with a greater instinct for the True and Vital. His unfailing instinct for what is just and important never failed him -- or us. The gentle, lilting sound of his voice put it all to unforgettable music that will resonate through the ages.

A few days ago I wrote Howard asking if he’d consider working on a film about the great Socialist labor leader Eugene V. Debs, whose story Howard's books have uniquely illuminated.

Eugene V. Debs was beloved by millions of Americans who treasured not only his clarity of a shared vision for this nation, but his unshakable honesty and unquestioned integrity.

Debs ran five times for president. He conducted his last campaign from a federal prison cell in Atlanta, where he was locked up by Woodrow Wilson. He got a million votes (that we know of). “While there is a soul in prison,” he said, unforgettably, “I am not free.”

Debs had deeply shaken Wilson with his brilliant, immeasurably powerful opposition to America’s foolish and unjust entry into World War I, and his demands for a society in which all fairly shared. In the course of his magnificent decades as our preeminent labor leader, Debs established a clear vision of where this nation could and should go for a just, sustainable future. Enshrined in Howard’s histories, it remains a shining beacon of what remains to be done.

Through his decades as our preeminent people’s historian, through his activism, his clarity, and his warm genius, Howard Zinn was also an American Mahatma, a truly great soul, capable of affecting us all.

Like Eugene V. Debs, it is no cliché to say that Howard Zinn truly lives uniquely on at the core of our national soul. His People's History and the gift of his being just who he was, remains an immeasurable, irreplaceable treasure.

Thanks, Howard, for more than we can begin to say.

[Harvey Wasserman is senior editor at www.freepress.org, where this article also appears.]

The following excellent videos were posted by The Nation:

The Rag Blog

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Rumble on the Right : Teabagging for Fun and Profit

Teabaggin' dodo bird. Image from Voice of Arizona.

Trouble in paradise:
Tea-bagger convention is for-profit scam

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / January 28, 2010

Even though they've had their efforts publicized by Fox News and funded by large right-wing organizations like FreedomWorks, the teabaggers are still not a very organized group of people. They can't even agree on the best way to proceed now that they've made a name for themselves.

Some of them want to start a new teabagger third party. Others want to take over the Republican Party (which they rightly believe is owned by Wall Street). This has already happened in Florida, where establishment party leaders have been ousted and replaced by teabagger leaders.

Then there was word of a teabagger convention to be held in Nashville in February of this year. The organizer of the convention, attorney Judson Phillips, tried to pass off the convention as an effort to unify the teabaggers and provide direction for their future efforts. The fly in the ointment is that he has set his organization, Tea Party Nation, up as a for-profit organization.

In other words, if a profit is made off the convention, he's under no obligation to use those funds toward future teabagger efforts or campaigns. It would be perfectly legal (and very probable) for Phillips to just put the money in his own bank account, and congratulate himself on a successful money-making venture.

Consider the following. He is selling about 500 tickets to the convention for $560 each (and this does NOT include the cost of hotel rooms). That's a cool $280,000 right there. And don't forget that he's booked Sarah Palin for a speech, and he's selling tickets to an additional 600 people for several hundred dollars each. That pushes the take up to around half a million dollars. And that doesn't count the sponsors Phillips has lined up for the event.

He does have to pay for a convention room, but not a very large one -- it only has to have room for 500 participants (and he can easily squeeze another 600 in for just one speech). This space probably doesn't even cost as much as he's paying Sarah Palin to make her speech. And I imagine details like sound system, security, etc. are probably included in the money he'll pay for the convention space.

That leaves him with the cost of Sarah Palin. Rumor has it that she will receive $100,000 for her (probably incoherent) speech. Neither Phillips nor Palin will confirm or deny that this is what she'll be paid, but that in itself confirms the amount. As sensitive as Palin is to bad publicity, I'm sure she would make it known if she was receiving less than that.

I'm betting that Phillips will clear at least $200,000 profit off the convention (probably more). And it looks like some of the teabaggers are finally waking up to the fact that they are being scammed by an unscrupulous lawyer.

Knoxville teabagger Antonio Hinton says, "I don't begrudge people making money, but that's not what the tea party is about. That convention has nothing to do with the tea party movement, as far as I'm concerned." A Nashville-based teabagger called Tea Party Nation "dishonest" and said it is "hijacking the tea party movement."

Conservative and RedState blogger Erick Erickson thinks it "smells scammy" and says, "I think it is a great con of people making money off the passions of others... A $500+ per person fee to a for-profit organization run by people most people have never heard of is neither populist nor accessible for many tea party activists."

At least three sponsors have also withdrawn their support after learning the event is a profit-making venture for Phillips. American Majority, a training group for teabagger organizations, withdrew and said, "Who is this guy? What are his motivations? And what gives him the credibility to try to step in and insert himself as a leader of the movement?"

And now it looks like the convention may suffer the greatest insult of all. Some teabagger organizations are saying they may actually picket the convention. Can you imagine teabaggers picketing outside of a teabagger convention?

Most readers of this blog will know that I have very little respect for the teabagger movement, but I also hate to see people being taken advantage of. I'm glad they are finally waking up and realizing that this convention is nothing more than a scam to separate them from their hard-earned money.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

The Rag Blog

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27 January 2010

ACLU on Campaign Finance : Standing With the Corporate Hacks

Et tu, ACLU?
It's not the same as defending the Klan

This decision has transformed the ACLU into a conservative political organization, working to arm the ultimate enemies of democracy with unlimited monetary and political power.
By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / January 27, 2010

The Supreme Court’s atrocious Citizen’s United green light for unlimited corporate campaign spending had a willing accomplice -- the American Civil Liberties Union.


As long-time supporters, we are horrified by the ACLU’s betrayal of political reality and plain common sense.

Standing proudly with the victorious corporate hacks on the steps of the SCOTUS was none other than the legendary First Amendment crusader Floyd Abrams.

Keith Olbermann has called him a “Quisling” for aiding and abetting this catastrophic confirmation of corporate “personhood.”

The ACLU has long been the go-to stalwart of First Amendment rights. Its list of accomplishments is long, impressive and essential.

The ACLU has bravely faced divisive, expensive controversy. Long ago it defended the right of American neo-nazis to march through Skokie, a heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago.

The ACLU has also defended the right of such loathsome haters as the Ku Klux Klan to gather and speak.

In these and other such cases, the ACLU has been right, and has courageously paid a price.

But perhaps the organization has confused those valid First Amendment cases with a Citizen’s United decision perpetrated by the most virulent judicial opponents of individual speech in the history of the Court. In reference to this case the ACLU says it “has consistently taken the position that section 203 is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it permits the suppression of core political speech, and our amicus brief takes that position again.”

We respectfully -- but vehemently -- disagree. Simply put: money is not speech, corporations are not people.

Given the immense sums of cash these corporations have to spend, the Citizen’s United decision is the equivalent not of guaranteeing individual Nazis the freedom to march, but instead of granting the Party itself the right to drive tanks down the street, guns ablazing.

It’s not the same as giving individual Klan members the right to hold a rally, but rather for the organization to do public lynchings as part of a terror campaign aimed at taking tangible power.

Nowhere in the Constitution do the Founders mention the word corporation. There were six of them at the time of ratification, all strictly limited by state charter to where and what kind of business they could do. They bear scant resemblance to the multi-national behemoths we confront today. Those who wrote and ratified the First Amendment would be horrified by their very existence.

The moneyed power of these corporations and their access to the First Amendment through the myth of “personhood” has been the ultimate pox on American politics since the 1880s.

It has been reported that the ACLU Board is now considering endorsing limits on campaign spending. Abrams has been reported as arguing that “The worst thing you could do -- the absolutely worst thing you could do -- is transform a civil liberties organization into a liberal political organization.”

But this decision has transformed the ACLU into a conservative political organization, working to arm the ultimate enemies of democracy with unlimited monetary and political power.

We are confident the activist community can survive this latest assault on democracy. It will not be easy, but it can be done.

A good first step would be for the ACLU to face reality and now oppose the false claims anti-human money machines have made on our sacred Bill of Rights.

[Attorney Bob Fitrakis and historian Harvey Wasserman have co-authored four books on election protection. Bob’s "Fitrakis Files" are at www.freepress.org, where this article also appears. Harvey’s History of the United Sates is at www.harveywasserman.com.]

The Rag Blog

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26 January 2010

In the Wake of Martha Coakley : Moving Right Along

Martha Coakley: sad state of affairs. Photo from AP.

In the wake of the Coakley debacle:
A lesson to be learned?
I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition. -- Eugene Debs
By Jay D. Jurie / The Rag Blog / January 26, 2010

Much ado has been made of Martha Coakley's defeat in the race for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the late Ted Kennedy.

Ranging from Rachel Maddow describing the Democrats as a "circular firing squad," to Alexander Cockburn contending that "Obama has disappointed so many constituencies that a rebuke by the voters was inevitable," progressive commentators have already assigned blame.

There is certainly blame enough to go around. Some of the blame has focused on the complacency of the Democratic Party organization for failing to take seriously the threat posed by a politically-unknown Republican porn star (our very own Alessandra Mussolini?).

Blame has been assigned to Coakley as well, for running an unfocused, lackluster, and complacent campaign. Considerable blame has been laid at the feet of President Obama. Some of the criticism centers on the perception that Obama largely ignored the race until its final days, that he shouldn't have taken the outcome for granted, and should have personally intervened earlier.

Some of the criticism reaches farther, contending, as does Cockburn, that Coakley was largely a surrogate for Obama, and her defeat really registered voter discontent with the Obama administration. Among the most vitriolic of this type of criticism is that of David Michael Green in his Regressive Antidote blog:
The very same people who might have swallowed hard and reluctantly followed the lead of inspirational new president Obama one year ago, today will join everyone else in the world and spit in the eye of useless, feeble, washed-up Barack...
Green then blamed Obama for the "
grandest act of betrayal we’ve seen since Benedict Arnold did his thing."

Yet there is a larger lesson this blame game has overlooked.

That lesson has to do with the nature of the political system itself. Under our constitutional form of government, citizens have come to believe that in a republic, or a "representative democracy" as it is sometimes known, their responsibility is to turn out at the polls every two or four years and elect someone. In other words that, like professional wrestling on television, politics is primarily a spectator sport. Whoever is elected is supposed to represent their interests.

Close observers of the process know it doesn't typically work out that way. Those elected tend to best represent those who helped finance their campaigns or provide other means of support. This is what is meant by terms like the "revolving door" or the "iron triangle."

Republicans and Democratic elected officials alike share in the largesse, while many voters -- Republican, Democratic, and independent -- believe their interests should be served above, or at least alongside, those of the elites.

Arguably, Democratic voters are more likely to be "idealistic" and subscribe to the idea that the political process should serve the broader "public interest" rather than the "trickle-down" market forces Republicans believe is the key to prosperity for all. When rank-and-file voters observe bank bailouts and exorbitant executive compensation packages while foreclosure and unemployment rates climb, or observe benefits flowing to the insurance industry, while health care reform tanks in the Congress, they become disillusioned with the Democrats they entrusted to fix a broken system.

It is, of course, a misconception to believe the leadership of the Democratic Party, the "corporate liberals" as former SDS President Carl Oglesby once referred to them, will ever fix a broken system. What can and should be expected of the Democrats is twofold. First, that they are the "anti-Republicans."

For example, while the abuses of the former George W. Bush administration have been swept under the rug, at least the Obama administration understands many of them as an embarrassment. Some of the worst abuses may have lessened, or even possibly ended. The Obama administration may make better Supreme Court appointments, keep Roe v. Wade from being repealed, and so on.

Second, the Democrats, as Barack Obama did openly during his 2008 campaign, offer "hope." Social change, it can be argued, takes place on the basis of hope, in the belief that "a better world is possible." It does not matter so much that the hope offered by the Democrats may be largely hollow, or a sham. What is important is that it is offered at all.

It is up to progressives who understand that the Democrats will not deliver on their promises to see this as an opportunity and use it to capitalize on the expectations that they raise. A critical aspect of what must be done is to disabuse the popular notion that the Democrats, or anyone other than the people themselves, will faithfully "represent" the public interest. As Eugene Debs once said, "I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition."

Among those who already comprehend at least some aspect of this logic is Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a Princeton professor of African-American Studies and MSNBC commentator. In a recent Bill Moyers Journal episode, Professor Harris-Lacewell noted that of late Republicans have actually been more "democratic" (or at least populist-oriented) than the Democrats. This has clearly been true with the "tea-baggers," regardless of their mobilizers and their motivations.

On that same Moyers Journal episode, CUNY English professor and Nation columnist Eric Alterman commented that the Democratic Party leadership do not want their base to be fired up; that if they were, they would be difficult to control.

Progressives must sow the perception that politics in a democracy is not an occasional polling place proposition; that in a democracy civic engagement is not only important, but absolutely essential. This was dramatically underscored by the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that will allow corporate money to further dominate campaign spending and advertising.

The domestic agenda of the Obama administration has provided some excellent openings for mass public engagement and for progressive organizing: his stated priorities have included health care reform, rebuilding the economy, and environmental protection.

That progressives have failed to coalesce around a substantive push for single-payer health care is not the fault of the Obama administration, it is the fault of progressives for not taking advantage of the opportunity that has been offered them. Much can be said for the other major elements of Obama's agenda, there is not much evidence of concerted progressive effort to demand that these promises be kept, nor of effort to use these openings to push even farther.

This is the challenge for those who wish to see democracy fulfill its potential. As Harvey Wasserman tells us on The Rag Blog, "Having taken office on the sales pitch of 'Hope,' the Democrats can be counted on only for timidity and incompetence. The grassroots can do better. As always, that's where our true hope resides."

Or, as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young told us 40 years ago this spring, "We're finally on our own."

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Paradigm Shift : Texas Gov. Good Hair and the 'Anti-Choice' Brigade

Texas Gov. Rick (Good Hair) Perry gives keynote speech at anti-abortion rally in Austin, January 23, 2010. Photo by Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman

Paradigm shift in abortion debate?
Rick Perry praises 'anti-choice' crowd

By Mariann G. Wizard / The Rag Blog / January 26, 2010
"Propaganda, all is phony." -- Bob Dylan
As a sometimes-professional propagandist, I try to keep my ear to the ground, alert for paradigm shifts. But one has occurred recently, documented in the Austin American-Statesman, that really took me off-guard, and made me wonder if I am still living in the U.S. of A. -- or Texas, either one.

Back in the days before and after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the abortion debate was just beginning. Before the very late 1960s, there was no debate; abortion was illegal in the U.S. and immoral to boot, and only rich bad girls who got caught were allowed to have any.

However, the incomplete Sexual Revolution brought, in addition to more uninhibited, even public, sexual encounters, a more uninhibited public discussion of this most private and deeply personal issue.

Inevitably, politicians got involved, and then various political leeches such as myself, who attempt to mold public opinion through clever words and catch-phrases. Soon, abortion opponents took the cultural high ground, designating themselves as "Pro-Life."

Since nobody wanted to be "Anti-Life," abortion defenders soon countered by calling themselves "Pro-Choice."

And there, as far as I knew, the matter lay dormant all these years.

Oh, there was the occasional bumper sticker spotted on an SUV that proclaimed, "It's not a Choice; it's a Life!" -- but still, the sides seem to have divvied up nicely, one claiming life and the other claiming choice, and neither wishing to attack the ground on which the other stood.

However, in what strikes me as a seismic event in propaganda terms, last week's anti-abortion, formerly pro-Life demonstrators in Austin were addressed by our charismatic Governor Rick "Good Hair" Perry, and praised for their "willingness to stand in front of God with your message of anti-choice."

The demonstrators, who seem from quoted remarks to have a heavily Catholic viewpoint, apparently were not offended by Perry's remarks. Some offered to pray for pro-choice demonstrators who confronted them at the Capitol.

"Anti-Choice." The deeper theological implications of Perry's remarks are still reverberating. Is this the answer to the conundrum of Free Will? The mind reels, as it is intended to, before the assault of the un-mind.

The Rag Blog

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BOOKS / Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power

Who wants yesterday’s papers?
Today’s biographers and cultural critics!

By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / January 26, 2010

[Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power, by James McGrath Morris. Published by HarperCollins, February 2010; hardcover, 576 pp; $29.99.]

What goes up must come down. That seems to be as true of newspapers as of footballs hurled into the air by Vikings quarterback Brett Favre or Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

Indeed, these days newspapers are coming down fast and hard from coast-to-coast and in between too. Once upon a time, they were the lords of the land; now they are vassals to even more powerful lords like Google, which dares to tangle with Communist regimes in countries like China.

As newspapers fold around the country, and as circulation and ad revenue drops, the newspapers of yesterday have taken on new significance, and their editors and publishers have become more than figures of historical curiosity. “Who wants yesterday’s papers?” Mick Jagger asked rhetorically, and followed that question with a terse answer, “No one in the world.”

That’s no longer true. Yesterday’s newspapers are today’s treasure troves. They tell us how citizens were thinking and feeling, and what they were told to think and feel by press lords like Joseph Pulitzer, who ran a tight ship at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and at The New York World until he died in 1911.

Pulitzer was everything that William Randolph Hearst, the legendary newspaper tycoon, was not. Pulitzer was Jewish and an immigrant. English was his third language, after Hungarian and German, and the United States was his adopted country. But like Hearst he had a passion for print media, and like Hearst, he made newspapers his business, his religion, and his personal credo. Along with Hearst, he helped to give birth to a particular form of American journalism that shaped the ideas and the opinions of the masses, and that created a mass culture.

James McGrath Morris burrows deeply into Pulitzer's vibrant, explosive life, shakes off the cobwebs, and gives it a distinctly contemporary feeling. If the name Pulitzer rings a bell today it is probably because of the prizes that bear his name, and that are awarded to authors every year, sometimes deservedly and sometimes not. Morris’s book ought to change Pulitzer’s reputation and bring him out of the obscurity in which he now languishes.

A veteran of newsrooms, and radio stations, and an astute critic of the media, Morris is the author of two previous books about newspapers and reporters -- The Rose Man of Sing Sing and Jail House Journalism. He brings to his biography of Pulitzer a keen appreciation of the craft of reporting, and the economics and the politics of the newspaper industry. Money is a bright thread that runs through his biography, and makes it of interest at a time when newspapers are struggling to survive financially.

Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power makes use of new and original sources -- some of them rescued from a trash bin in St. Louis -- along with a long buried memoir by Pulitzer's brother, sibling rival, and nemesis, Albert, who sold his own newspaper The New York Journal to William Randolph Hearst.

In the 1890s Pulitzer and Hearst engaged in a war of words; both practiced what was called “yellow journalism.” They both urged the United States to go to war in 1898 and invade Cuba, though Morris feels that Pulitzer was not really a warmonger, and argues that on more than one occasion Pulitzer urged negotiations not gunboats or gunboat diplomacy.

Morris's book is certainly not a repeat of W. A. Swanberg's massive 1967 biography; from now on it will probably become the definitive work on the subject. Morris begins his story dramatically on Pulitzer's yacht, the Liberty, in 1909, in Havana, Cuba, shortly before his death. He goes back to the beginning -- to Hungary in 1847 -- and he follows his story through the upheavals of 19th-century America -- from the Civil War to the eve of World War I. Morris shows how the man who was born Politzer Jozsef turned himself upside down and inside out. An outsider, he became a consummate insider.

Though Morris does not defend everything about Pulitzer -- certainly not his temper or his meanness to members of his own family and associates in the newspaper business -- he tells a tale that is inspiring. The reader cheers Pulitzer as he arrives in New York, climbs his way out of the ghetto, and writes his own rags to riches story, just as the United States was beginning to flex its muscle as a military and industrial power.

The first 200 pages of the book are both entertaining and informative. They hold a reader’s interest. But from that point on, and beginning with the chapter entitled "The Great Theater," the biography catches fire, and the writing becomes poetic, as for example when Morris says that Pulitzer was "willing to dance with the devil."

Morris shows that Pulitzer played a major role in creating a provocative, perhaps almost diabolical newspaper style grounded in sensationalism. He shows, too, that he was unafraid to take on the powers-that-be, including President Theodore Roosevelt who thought he was libeled in the pages of The World.

However, even while Pulitzer attacked the wealthy and the powerful in his flagship newspaper, The New York World, he moved in elite circles and rubbed shoulders with the likes of J. P Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt. He turned his back on the masses and embraced millionaires.

Morris's biography suggests some of the ways that today's bloggers and editors might attract new audiences. Indeed, Pulitzer had a knack for publishing front-page stories that had the nation at large talking, debating, and almost battling one another. William Randolph Hearst learned from him, borrowed some of his techniques, and gave him a run for his money, as Orson Welles's biopic Citizen Kane shows.

In his time, Pulitzer was as charismatic as Hearst, and as famous, too, and reading this biography one wonders why Welles didn't make a "Citizen Pulitzer." Perhaps a bright, young director -- or even a well-established director like Martin Scorsese, for example, who knows the historical period intimately -- will do just that.

Morris's biography is ready-made for the movies, with big scenes and larger-than-life characters. It looks back to an America when the daily newspaper was an essential part of life, and it makes America itself as much of the story as Pulitzer. Morris’s biography offers hope for the future of journalism, too.

[Jonah Raskin teaches in the communication studies department at Sonoma State University. He is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California.]

  • Find Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power by James McGrath Morris on Amazon.com.
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