31 July 2010

Sarito Carol Neiman : Hill Country Environment Threatened by 'Green Energy' Transmission

Lattice towers like this one will carry high-voltage electrical power lines from West Texas wind farms through the Texas Hill Country.

Proposed high-voltage power lines
Endanger unique Hill Country habitat

By Sarito Carol Neiman / The Rag Blog / July 31, 2010

When I came back to New York City a couple of years ago after a year’s “sabbatical” in my native Texas, I signed up for wind as the source of my electricity to be delivered by ConEd.

Being a “green” kind of person, I felt somewhat virtuous about this, despite the patent ridiculousness of the very idea that my personal kilowatts would now magically come from a windmill somewhere upstate, while those of my heedless neighbor in the next apartment would still be generated by planet-heating coal.

Then the news came from the folks back home, and the bigger picture was suddenly thrust before my city-dwelling, can’t-see-past-the-next-corner eyes.

On July 29th, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) submitted its revised “Certificate of Convenience and Necessity” (CCN) to the Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for the construction of high-voltage electric transmission infrastructure across the Texas Hill Country.

After months of hearing from the public about the potential irreversible damage to the environment, the economy, and the livelihoods of those affected by the proposed lines, the revisions looked very much like the original proposals, only just more complicated and with a clearer effort to do a better PR job than the first time around.

Here’s what I posted to my Facebook page as soon as I got the latest, updated aerial photo of the patch of ground in that affected region closest to my heart.

See the three yellow boxes just above and to the left of the words "Llano River." That's the family farm. See the white dots... numbered 66 & 67. Those are where I have enjoyed some of the best meals and most loving gatherings I've ever experienced in my life, with family and friends. See the big red lines. That's where the "preferred route" is located for sending West Texas wind energy to the I-35 corridor to light up and air condition urban landscapes where you can't see the stars or smell the breeze blowing out of the hills. See the big red spot. That's where one of those big, 14-story made-in-Mexico steel lattice towers will be planted to hold up the lines (those lines where you can stand underneath and hold a fluorescent bulb in your hand and it will light up on its own).

Meantime the bro' in his Kerrville TV station interview the other day took the lady's question about his personal property situation and turned it round immediately to the question even closer to his heart, which is about preserving one of the most amazingly ecologically diverse open spaces left in the state of Texas, and among the top 20 in the world. I am not so generous as he is. I am really, really pissed. Because my brother and his family -- my family -- are the connection of this old city-dweller and rootless vagabond to my roots, and to the land.

Run, Spot, run. Or else I am coming after your head on a platter.
If, like me, you’re a city dweller who wants to support green energy, here are some links to the bigger picture. Between now and the end of August there is an opportunity for more public input -- and I’m sure those who live in the Hill Country and will be directly impacted by this very un-green infrastructure would appreciate support from some of the intended consumers living at the end of the line along the I-35 corridor.

[Carol Neiman, a founding editor of the original Rag in Austin, coauthored A Disrupted History: The New Left and the New Capitalism, and has written or edited a number of other books. She lives in New York City but wishes she were back on a front porch in Texas, drinking a margarita.]

The Rag Blog

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29 July 2010

John Ross : Lopez Obrador's Mexico City Love Fest

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador:
Massive love fest kicks of presidential run

By John Ross / The Rag Blog / July 29, 2010

MEXICO CITY -- On a damp Sunday morning four years from the month in which the presidency of Mexico was stolen from him in the fraud-marred elections of 2006 and two years before the next presidential race kicks in, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) convoked tens of thousands of supporters to the great Zocalo plaza in the heart of the city of which he was once a wildly popular mayor, to make it abundantly clear that he will again be the candidate of the Left on the 2012 ballot.

The humongous July 25th rally during which AMLO presented what he labeled "an alternative project for the nation" unfolded right under the City Hall windows of Lopez Obrador's successor as mayor of this monster megalopolis, Marcelo Ebrard, his chief rival to head a coalition of left parties in the 2012 "presidenciales."

Under the astute guidance of his political Padrino, Manuel Camacho Solis, himself a former mayor of Mexico City, Ebrard has been assiduously positioning himself to lead the left ticket with the connivance of Lopez Obrador's archrivals, bonded together under the collective logo of "Los Chuchus" (slang for both the Christian savior and mongrel dogs) and headed by the Big Chuchu himself, Jesus Ortega, a PRD senator prone to cutting deals with right-wing President Felipe Calderon's PAN.

AMLO amassed 17 million votes in the 2006 balloting as the presidential candidate of the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and two smaller left parties but despite widespread allegations of fraud committed by the ruling PAN party, Calderon was awarded the election by .057% of the total vote when the nation's Supreme Electoral Tribunal denied a re-count.

A year after Andres Manuel garnered more votes than any other left candidate in Mexican political history, Ortega and his Chuchus took over the structure of the PRD in internal party elections that proved as bogus as the presidential vote-taking. Ballot boxes were swiped and others never counted. Precincts in which no one voted ran up massive tallies for New Left, the Chuchu faction. After several years of internal strife that left the left party badly bruised, Ortega's group finally consolidated control of the PRD structure if not the base, which still tilts towards AMLO.

Lopez Obrador, who continues to have one leg inside the party of which he was once president, is sharply critical of Ortega's prolonged game of footsy with Calderon's PAN. This past July 4th, the Chuchus linked arms with the right-wingers to assemble a coalition that won the governorships of Sinaloa, Puebla, and Oaxaca. The alliance was brokered by Manuel Camacho Solis, Marcelo Ebrard's guru.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador AKA "El Peje" (a gar-like fish from his native Tabasco) has been running for high office ever since he declared himself "the legitimate President of Mexico" in the aftermath of tumultuous protests that followed the 2006 flimflam. He reaffirmed his intentions on July 7th in an exclusive interview with the left daily La Jornada, a longtime champion of his cause and the July 25th convocation in the Zocalo signified the unofficial inauguration of his presidential campaign -- according to Mexican electoral law, pre-candidates for party nominations cannot legally launch their campaigns until six months before the actual election.

In presenting his "New Alternative Project for the Nation" to a delirious throng that never ceased to chant "AMLO Presidente!" Lopez Obrador called upon the people to rescue the state from a "mafia" of oligarchs and place it at the service of the majority of Mexicans: "Only the people can save the people."

El Peje also advocated for the democratization of the nation's mass media. The corporate press has attacked AMLO with hateful vitriol since he was elected Mexico City mayor in 2000. One recent example: when one of his sons was spotted sporting $80 USD sneakers, Televisa and TV Azteca, the two-headed television monopoly, ran this earth-shaking item at the top of the news during a week when drug war massacres and killer floods were devastating the north of the nation. "If in 2006, they lied that my campaign was funded by Hugo Chavez, a man I've never met, then in 2012 they will say that I am Bin Laden's brother," Lopez Obrador joked to La Jornada.

Also included in the leftist's alternative project for the nation that is guaranteed to be dissed by the oligarchs: the abolishment of fiscal privilege -- El Peje promises to tax profits on the Mexican stock market and to force national and transnational mega-corporations that now pay minimal taxes, to cough up their fair share. Lopez Obrador, who, in 2008 built a popular movement that slammed shut the door on a Calderon-inspired privatization of the state-run petroleum monopoly PEMEX, demands a strengthening of the energy sector with sharp diminishment of U.S.-bound exports so that Mexico can use its own oil to fuel national development.

Marcelo Ebrard.

AMLO also pledges to strive for nutritional sovereignty to prevent the nation's increasing dependency on food imports, i.e. eight to 10 million tons of cheap U.S. and Canadian corn that have wrecked Mexican agriculture and driven millions of farmers to seek survival in El Norte. As in 2006, Lopez Obrador seeks the renegotiation of NAFTA.

But what surprised many in AMLO's flock in the Zocalo was his insistence on incorporating in his presidential platform an emphatic defense of the moral and cultural values of Mexico, urging his followers not to be trapped by materialism and consumerism but rather to cultivate solidarity and nourish family and social relations.

"Kisses harvest kisses," he preached, encouraging the crowd to hug those around them as at the end of Catholic Mass. This mellowing of the once-crusty Peje may flow from his recent marriage and the birth of a new son who made his debut at the July 25th AMLOVE fest, as some leftish wags have dubbed it.

Aside from this surprising twist, Lopez Obrador emphasized many of the same points in his new project for the nation that he did in 2006. AMLO's crusades always accompany the underclass -- "the poor first" was his 2006 battle cry and race and class distinctions -- brown vs. white, poor vs. rich -- will again be the subtext of his 2012 campaign.

The upcoming presidential race may not be as lovey-dovey as Lopez Obrador would like. Although AMLO has built a broad-based social movement from the bottom, he tends to put all his eggs in the electoral basket rejecting more militant forms of struggle. Commited to Gandhianesque non-violent civil resistance, AMLO is critical of armed guerrilla movements and his 2006 presidential campaign was seriously bad-mouthed by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation's Subcomandante Marcos, who has since dropped out of sight. Nonetheless, armed rebellion is always on the agenda here, particularly in 2010, the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution.

With the economy in chaos, unemployment at record levels, and out-of-control drug war raging throughout the north of the republic (25,000 dead since Calderon took office), the 2012 presidenciales are expected to be the most violent in the nation's history. This July's gubernatorial elections, the last major round of balloting before 2012, were jarred by the open intervention of the drug cartels which in some states used violence to vet candidates, most prominently the assassination of the PRI party front-runner for governor of Tamaulipas.

Crowd estimates for AMLO's July 25th campaign opener varied wildly from 30,000 to a quarter of a million -- the crowd filled the Zocalo floor and spilled out into surrounding streets which suggests the higher numbers. But whatever the real totals are. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador remains the only politico in the land who can drum out the masses -- four years ago on July 30th, at the zenith of post-electoral protest, AMLO drew 2,000,000 citizens to a rally, the largest political demonstration in Mexican history.

This July 25th, tens of thousands of throats never tired of taunting Felipe Calderon's own feeble powers of convocation: "These are the people of Lopez Obrador/ Where are yours, fucking Calderon?"

Attendance at the huge rally was not confined to Mexico City where Andres Manuel continues to have a deep base. Many thousands of supporters traveled the length and breadth of the country to be on hand for the campaign opener. Since early 2007, Lopez Obrador has visited all 2,400 municipalities or county seats throughout Mexico, relentlessly working his way from border to border and sea to sea "to keep the flame of hope alive" (AMLO) and learn what the "pueblo" is thinking.

Traveling through heartland and outback from Thursdays to Sundays of each week, he held three to five meetings daily, drawing dozens or thousands depending on the size of the venue, signing up 2.2 million citizens as representatives of his legitimate government, and building a network that now includes 9,000 territorial committees stretching from Chihuahua to Chiapas.

At the July 25th rally in the Zocalo, delegates from all 31 states, half of them women, presented an accounting of their achievements, among them the distribution of 35 million copies of the movement's monthly newspaper, Regeneration, named for a broadsheet edited by Ricardo Flores Magon that sparked the Mexican Revolution, the centennial of which is being celebrated this year.

Lopez Obrador's protracted journey through Mexico clocked 150,000 kilometers on paved highways and another 25,000 on dirt roads, mostly during 2009 when he visited 570 municipalities in the state of Oaxaca, 418 of them autonomous indigenous counties that have rarely if ever hosted a presidential candidate.

No Mexican politician has embarked upon such an odyssey since Lazaro Cardenas in 1933 before assuming the presidency of the country. Cardenas's extended travels sensitized him to the devastation of the underclass and infused his administration with a dedication to social justice.

Like Cardenas, Lopez Obrador took copious notes while on the road that have become the core of his ninth book, The Mafia That Has Taken Over Mexic0. Since his presentation of the new book that had thousands hanging from the rafters at the Metropolitan Theater in downtown Mexico City -- the literary event of the year -- Lopez Obrador has taken the book tour on the road in the provinces to spread the word.

The Mafia That Has Taken Over Mexico is a who's who of who holds power, listing 30 "potentates" as AMLO labels them as if Mexicans were living in Ali Baba land -- 16 oligarchs, including Carlos Slim, the world's richest tycoon, and "El Chapo" Guzman, reportedly Calderon's preferred narco-lord; a dozen politicos, leaders of the PAN and the once-ruling PRI (but no Chuchus); and a pair of bankers. At the top of the Mafia pyramid is the Capo de Tutti Capos ex-president Carlos Salinas who El Peje is convinced is responsible for the neo-liberal mutilation of Mexico.

Felipe Calderon.

AMLO's journey through what sociologist Guillermo Bonfils once termed "Mexico Profundo" shocked him. The ecological destruction of the country weighed heavily on Lopez Obrador as he traveled through this mosaic of poverty:
In Chihuahua, we traveled for five hours through the mountains on terrible dirt roads to reach the gold mine at Tayotita -- the Canadian transnational that now runs the mine takes the gold out by air. All over Mexico, these foreign corporations are ripping up the land and stealing the wealth of our country...
How Calderon's futile drug war has impacted Mexico also stunned AMLO:
...so many have died and yet the worst is the corruption of Mexican values. Materialism is degrading the nation. In Sinaloa, the cradle of narco culture, consumerism contaminates daily life: big trucks ("La Troca") Hummers, gold jewelry, designer clothes, expensive homes, cheap luxuries and runaway individualism while others live in shacks made of cardboard...
In Cochoapa in the Montana de Guerrero, the most impoverished region in Mexico,
I was startled by the silence of the Indians. They received me with a traditional band but the music was so sad that I couldn't stop crying...

I still have inscribed on my memory the image of an old woman in San Miguel Huautla in the Mixteca of Oaxaca. She showed me her painfully arthritic hands and with the scrupulous serenity of those who live in profound poverty told me they were dead because she had spent her whole life weaving sombreros for five pesos a day.
AMLO's travels give him an advantage in building a national movement from the grassroots that his rival for the left nomination for president Marcelo Ebrard, cooped up as he is in Mexico City City Hall juggling the megalopolis's multiple problems, does not enjoy. Although, like Lopez Obrador, Marcelo has initiated Pharonic public infrastructure projects that put people to work (jobs are votes), he is not universally worshipped by his constituents, as Andres Manuel was when he was mayor.

The "Supervia," a luxury toll road running from upscale Santa Fe in the west of the city angers an underclass whose homes and colonies have been expropriated and bulldozed for the project as does Metro subway construction in Tlahuac, one of the few rural delegations (boroughs) left in the city.

Yet despite his gaffes, Ebrard should split the capital vote with Lopez Obrador if there is a run-off between the two for the left nomination -- Mexico City accounts for a fifth of the nation's voters. But judging by AMLO's growing support outside of the city, Camacho Solis and the Chuchus will once again have to resort to fraud to wrest the countryside from El Peje.

Ebrard and Lopez Obrador profess to be friends and claim they have reached a gentleman's agreement that whoever is "better positioned" to run for the presidency at the end of 2011 will get the nod. How this will be determined verges on vagueness. A party primary run by the Chuchus will not be acceptable to Lopez Obrador. "Will they have a wrestling match in the Zocalo?" jabs Carlos Diaz, proprietor of the La Blanca Café in the city's old quarter, "and if so, who will get to wear the mask?"

AMLO's ties to the PRD are shaky at best. He broadcasts weekly on television utilizing time allocated to the Party of Labor or PT, a party instigated by Lopez Obrador's personal Moriarity, Carlos Salinas, to siphon votes from the PRD in the 1994 presidential elections, and if Marcelo is successful in stealing the PRD nomination, AMLO is liable to channel his campaign through the PT, a strategy that will surely bury the electoral Left in 2012. Some supporters suggest that El Peje should abandon the party system altogether and fight for a constitutional reform that will allow him to run as a candidate of a social movement.

Should the prognosis for his candidacy look bright at the end of next year, Ebrard will no doubt take a leave of absence as mayor of the capitol to campaign nationally. His likely replacement will be Dr. Juan Ramon de la Fuente, a former health secretary under Ernesto Zedillo but not a member of the PRI. De la Fuente, who has a strong base at the National Autonomous University (UNAM), is also mentioned as a compromise left candidate if Lopez Obrador and Marcelo Ebrard cannot sort out their differences.

Meanwhile, Mayor Marcelo uses City Hall as a bully pulpit to enhance his political fortunes. The Mayor, who has excellent posture but little charisma, has taken to promulgating emergency proclamations of late. With a mammoth rainstorm brewing over the city on the weekend of AMLO's July 25th love-in, the Mayor admonished his constituents not to make unnecessary trips -- at least not to the Zocalo for El Peje's campaign opener.

[John Ross is at home in the old quarter of Make Sicko City. His latest opus El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City is available at your neighborhood independent bookstore. You can direct all queries, kvetches, and faint praise to johnross@igc.org.]

The Rag Blog

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Jordan Flaherty : A Movement Rises in Arizona

Protest agains Arizona's new immigration law April 25, 2010, in Phoenix. Photo from Getty Images.

Widespread struggle offers human rights vision:
A movement rises in Arizona

By Jordan Flaherty / The Rag Blog / July 29, 2010

PHOENIX -- Three months ago, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law the notorious SB 1070, a bill that put her state at the forefront of a movement to intensify the criminalization of undocumented immigrants.

Since then activists have responded through legal challenges, political lobbying, grassroots organizing, and mass mobilizations. More than 100,000 people from across Arizona marched on the state capitol on May 29. Today, hundreds more have pledged to risk arrest through nonviolent direct action. These are the public manifestations of an inspiring and widespread struggle happening in this state. The organizations leading this fight offer a vision for people around the U.S. concerned with human rights.

A rogue state

Yesterday, Federal District Court Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction against sections of Arizona law SB 1070, which is scheduled to go into effect today. The judge put a hold on some of the most outrageous parts of the bill, such as language that mandates racial profiling by officers. However, Judge Bolton left much of the rest of the law intact, including sections that specifically target day laborers.

For Arizona activists, the legal ruling represents -- at best -- a small respite. “It’s not a victory, it’s a relief,” says Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). “We’re putting a band-aid on a wound.”

Alvarado and the organizers with NDLON are part of a broad network of national organizations and volunteers who have joined with local organizers to fight not just against this unjust law, but also against a general climate of anti-immigrant hatred. “Arizona is a rogue state,” says Alvarado. “We’re going to use every single means that we have at our disposal to fight back.”

Puente Arizona, a Phoenix-based organization that describes itself as a human rights movement working to “resurrect our humanity,” has formed Barrio Defense Committees in neighborhoods across the city. Emulating the structure of groups founded by popular movements in El Salvador, the community-based structure work to both serve basic needs, and also build consciousness and help bring people together.

According to Puente activist Diana Perez Ramirez, the committees host regular “know your rights” trainings and ESL classes, and are organizing “Copwatch” projects. “We ask the community to unite and organize themselves,” says Ramirez. “And we are just there to support that.” More than 1,000 people have joined these neighborhood organizations so far, with more joining every day.

Puente has made use of volunteers from across the U.S., utilizing national support to help with local organizing, and initiating direct action with the support of out of town allies like the Ruckus Society, Catalyst Project, and various chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They have issued calls to action including a Human Rights Summer (modeled after the civil rights movements’ Freedom Summer) and “30 Days for Human Rights,” a month of actions culminating today, the day SB 1070 will become law.

Just after midnight, as the law took effect, the first protest of the day began, as nearly 80 people blocked the intersection at the entrance to the town of Guadalupe, a small (one square mile) Native American and Hispanic community just outside of Phoenix. The town has a long history of struggle against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been one of the main public faces of SB 1070, and most of the protesters (and all of the organizers) were from the community.

Holding signs declaring their opposition to the new law and leading chants against police brutality, activists declared that Arpaio’s officers are not welcome in their town. The stand off against police lasted more than an hour, before protest leaders in consultation with the town’s mayor decided to open the intersection. Several more actions are planned for today.

Working proactively

The Repeal Coalition, a Flagstaff- and Phoenix-based grassroots immigrants-rights organization, was formed in 2007. The group came together because they saw a vacuum in the immigrants’ rights movement in Arizona. “Some of the left here were not being very audacious,” explains Luis Fernandez of the Repeal Coalition. “The positions in the public debate ranged from ‘kick them all out,’ to ‘get their labor and then kick them out.’”

The Repeal Coalition has staked out a position of calling for the elimination of all anti-immigration laws, declaring, “We fight for the right for people to live, love, and work wherever they please.” With this call, says Fernandez, “Now we have a real debate.”

When the coalition was founded, organizers brought in labor activists to advise them on how to build an organization along similar models to those that have built strong unions, utilizing house calls, neighborhood mapping, and group meetings. Although they are an all-volunteer group with little to no funding, they have developed a structure that has initiated large protests and provided direct service, and they are now strategizing more ways to take direct action in the post SB 1070 era.

Fernandez says that this struggle is ultimately about overcoming fear and moving from reaction to proactive action. “We’ve been in a crisis in Arizona for a long time,” he explains. “Even if SB 1070 weren’t implemented, it wouldn’t matter. The political crisis would continue.”

To address this crisis, Fernandez believes organizations must build unity across race and class. “Traditionally in America, when the working class starts suffering, instead of connecting together and looking upwards at the cause of the problem, they look sideways or downwards for who to blame.” Most important, he believes activists must take action to seize the initiative.

In this vision, he has been inspired by young organizers working on the federal DREAM ACT, a federal law that creates a path to citizenship for undocumented youth. “They came to Arizona and said, ‘we’re undocumented and we’re going to commit acts of civil disobedience.’” At first, Repeal Coalition members tried to talk them out of this action, but the youth explained, “We are going to lose our fear because it is the fear of being arrested or the fear of being deported that fuels the inability of political action.”

The bravery and vision of these youth has inspired Fernandez to continue to search for new and bold ways to take action, rather than just continually respond to right wing attacks. “We need to set the agenda,” explains Fernandez. “We have to say, ‘No, you’re going to react to us.’”

Despite a range of tactics and philosophies, one thing organizers here have in common is a dedication to exporting the lessons of their struggle. While Arizona’s law is the first and most draconian, similar laws are pending across the country. And during this current national economic crisis, more and more politicians have found that they can score political points by demonizing immigrants.

“The last two months we’ve had a lot of people calling us asking what they can do to help Arizona,” says Fernandez. “We say, organize in your own town. You don’t have to come to Arizona because Arizona is coming to you.”

[Jordan Flaherty is a journalist, an editor of Left Turn Magazine, and a staffer with the Louisiana Justice Institute. He was the first writer to bring the story of the Jena Six to a national audience, and his award-winning reporting from the Gulf Coast has been featured in a range of outlets including The New York Times, Mother Jones, and Argentina's Clarin newspaper. He has produced news segments for Al-Jazeera, TeleSur, and Democracy Now!. Haymarket Books has released his new book, FLOODLINES: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. He can be reached at neworleans@leftturn.org.]Organizations Mentioned in this Article:The Rag Blog

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28 July 2010

Paul Buhle : Pekar and Kupferberg were Oblique Jewish Intellectuals

Harvey Pekar (left) in 2003, and Tuli Kupferberg in 1968. Photos from Getty Images / Forward.

Harvey Pekar and Tuli Kupferberg:
They looked at the world from an oblique angle

By Paul Buhle / The Rag Blog / July 28, 2010
See "On the grumpy but sweet Harvey Pekar," Below.
Harvey Pekar and Tuli Kupferberg died on the same day, July 12, and shared much, including peacenik politics, a strong sense of humor, and a passion to carve art out of the fragments of popular culture. But they were almost an American Jewish generation apart, a detail that now seems difficult to grasp entirely, but is still crucial.

Kupferberg, born in 1923, was a real bohemian of the pre-beatnik era, a hipster whose leap off a New York bridge in an attempted suicide famously appeared, without his name, in Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem “Howl.” He once told me that he had become an anarchist in the mini-boom of postwar anti-bomb, anti-government sentiment among intellectuals and artists on both coasts.

He recalled being a young man bitterly opposed, from the left, to Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party candidate of 1948. Meanwhile, Pekar, then 9, was following his mother’s lead, passing out Wallace leaflets in his Cleveland Jewish neighborhood. He shared his Bialystok-raised parents’ joy at the birth of Israel.

The two future artists were both shaped by the Depression and by Franklin Roosevelt, two key influences upon practically any American Jew of those years. But Kupferberg had briefly become a Trotskyist even before Roosevelt died, while Harvey remained, till the end of his life, at one with his family memory that the great leader had saved them all personally, as well as the country, from disaster.

Kupferberg and Pekar were both college dropouts -- but with a difference. Bright and focused, born on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Kupferberg graduated cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1944 (psychology and English), and hit the wall only as he began working on an advanced degree in sociology, at The New School. After that, as he recalled, he faced with equanimity a long and productive life as a luftmensch, a person who makes his living, as it were, “from the air.”

By contrast, in one of Pekar’s several autobiographical comic art books, “The Quitter,” he bitterly regrets dropping out of college after only two semesters in his native Cleveland. He couldn’t get his head around schoolwork, and slipped into bohemianism almost by accident. The two were evidently major jokesters as schoolchildren, which may have marked them out as a particular Jewish type, prepared to look at the world from an oblique angle when offered the possibility of getting friendly laughs.

Despite these differences, Kupferberg and Pekar were deeply interested intellectually, and even more deeply involved personally, in urbanism, the decay and sometime revival of the neighborhood for good or ill. Through his life’s work there, Kupferberg made himself into an iconic figure of the Lower East Side, latterly fighting gentrification, just as Pekar was forever in Cleveland, actually moving to one neighborhood from another across several decades, ahead of the bulldozers and the urban renewal that never renewed much of anything.

Their work -- in Kupferberg’s case, words, drawings and music -- was full of neighborhood people, all types, storefronts, crowds, friends (in Harvey’s case, his own first two wives, who were often not so friendly) and a sensibility all their own.

They hit upon art forms whose uniqueness will remain, long after their deaths, the signature of a time and place, hinting always, but in highly curious ways, at something larger.

Drawing by Tuli Kupferberg.

Kupferberg began writing poetry early and, if he had agreed to the definition, would be rightly classified as a Beat Poet in what might be called the Ferlinghetti or City Lights school: humane, free form, and uncensored, above all raging against the madness of the Cold War arms race. In 1958, with his future wife, Sylvia Topp, he brought out Birth, a literary magazine that would publish the likes of LeRoi Jones and Diane di Prima, among others. Living off B Street, selling 1001 Ways To Live Without Working, a beatnik humor book of his own, on the street, he ran into another poet, Ed Sanders.

The two of them opened the Peace Eye Bookstore in 1964, and were the most famous of The Fugs, one of the delightfully outrageous rock groups of the coming era. The Fugs performed endlessly at peace demonstrations and other venues. Paul McCartney foiled autograph hounds by signing himself “Tuli Kupferberg.” The Fugs wore themselves out by 1970, but Kupferberg went on and on, performing in many ways, often as inauspiciously as sending out packets of his photocopied cartoons to friends (I was one of them). Peace and resistance never failed as themes.

Pekar famously met cartoonist R. Crumb in the early 1960s, and gradually came to the conclusion that anything, even the Russian novels he loved so much, could be done in comic form. His long-running series of comics, “American Splendor,” was launched in 1976 (he, too, began as a self-publisher) and continued on almost until his death, in one format or another.

Pekar went through dozens of artists, giving them dialogue and precise directions (in the form of comic panels with stick figures). He couldn’t pay them much: Making his own living never ceased to be a struggle. But the award-winning, 2003 film American Splendor rendered him a public personality, especially on campus, where lecture fees and book sales finally gave him a modicum of financial security. It was long overdue.

One of Kupferberg’s own favorite strips (I received it several times) showed a grandmother with Kupferberg as a child. In one panel he is whistling; in the next, Granny warns, “Yidishe kinder fayfn nit!” [“Jewish children don’t whistle!”] It was obviously a fond, oddball memory of another time. Pekar also had his connection to the culture of the mameloshn, or mother tongue.

In the months before his death, Pekar was working (with me and a handful of artists) on “Yiddishland,” a book that begins with him and his Yiddish-speaking grandfather in Cleveland around 1944. He still wanted to tell his vanished relatives that he had become a Yidishe shrayber, a continuator of Yiddishkeit, and he had, in his own way, reached that goal before the end came. Neither of these deeply Jewish artists is likely to be forgotten soon.

[Cultural historian Paul Buhle is professor emeritus at Brown University. He edited several comics in collaboration with Harvey Pekar, including The Beats. They collaborated on Yiddishland, to be published next Spring by Abrams ComicArts. Contact Paul Buhle at feedback@forward.com. This article was also published in the Jewish weekly Forward.]

Above, from the American Splendor series, cover art by R Crumb. Below, Harvey Pekar by Jeff Smith / The Pekar Project.
On the grumpy but sweet Harvey Pekar

[Paul Buhle and Harvey Pekar collaborated on five books. Karen Winkler of The Chronicle of Higher Education asked Buhle about working with Pekar.]

You worked with Harvey Pekar on several projects, including books on the Beats, SDS, the Wobblies, and the New Deal. How did your collaboration come about?

I was working on my second historical comic, about the Students for a Democratic Society, and I could gather (in some cases writing about my own life) local stories that worked as scripts, but the big narrative was terribly difficult for me, probably because the collapse of SDS was such a huge disappointment in my younger life. Harvey happened to call me and he needed money. I offered him my advance if he would write the narrative. We started there and went on til the end.

Pekar was known for his sometimes irascible commentary. What was it like to work with him?

He pretended to be grumpy. He was grumpy about making very little money for his work, and also about the rightward drift of America after his earliest years, in a family that admired FDR and hoped for a more egalitarian society. But he was truly sweet, generous, and supportive of young artists.

How was his viewpoint on life reflected in his work?

Harvey was able to conceive of his work as his life and vice versa. He may have borrowed the idea from his 1960s close friend, Robert Crumb, but he took it in a different direction, to deeply ethnic, blue collar Cleveland. Many of his early stories were about his own personal relationships but also about his neighborhoods, his job (work at the VA hospital for 36 years) and his interests, such as jazz.

You're a historian. How did Pekar's perspective inform your interpretation of history?

I like to think that I broadened his vistas in his published work, in the sense that in our five books, he read very widely about large historical questions and developed scripts that tell the story differently from a scholarly study, but just as well and in many cases, much better. You didn't need to agree with Harvey's take on SDS or the Beat Generation, for instance, to see that he had strong opinions and a distinct aesthetic.

He was deeply interested in history, as he was in literature and art. If I were describing some Cleveland setting, I would start with demography. He would start by describing a local Serbian restaurant he liked whose owner was actually a Croat, and so on: that was his way of explaining and exploring history.

What do you think will be his legacy in the world of comics and graphic novels?

There were not many artists and writers (he never drew comics, but he gave artists very specific directions, along with dialogue) in the U.S. whose work, before the turn of the new century, shaped the emergence of comics as an accepted, serious art form. Along with Harvey, I count Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Ben Katchor, and Alison Bechdel. These were also practically the only artists of "alternative comics" who made a living.

He expanded what comics can do. When I worked with him on the adaptation of Studs Terkel's Working, I realized -- as an oral historian and teacher of oral history -- that he was also to comics what Studs was to the interview. He knew how to listen to people. He raised the level of comic art.

Did you have another project in the works with him?

Yiddishkayt or Yiddishland (we are still debating the title) will, I hope, appear next year. It meant a lot to Harvey, a native Yiddish speaker. It's the story of secular Jewish-Americans who carried on the centuries-old legacy of Yiddishkayt, and did wonderful things with the language and culture until time ran out. His scripts for this book, to be published by Abrams ComicArt, are more than masterful, and he knew it.
Also see:The Rag Blog

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Jim Turpin : The Endless War and American Society

Image from Thomas Paine's Corner.

Is endless war the American way?
Why militarism permeates our society

By Jim Turpin / The Rag Blog / July 28, 2010

Orwell would be proud. The United States is about to begin its tenth year in Afghanistan in an attempt to prove that “endless war” is not only possible, but the accepted norm in American society.

But why has militarism become such an integral part of our political and social lives in this country?

I see three main areas of influence on why we accept the present state of aggressive militarism in this country:
  1. The state’s use of messaging on “war” and “terrorism.”
  2. The media’s servitude towards aggressive militaristic policy.
  3. The social and cultural reinforcement of militarism.

Messaging on war and terrorism, or

Why my brain is always scared

G.M. Gilbert, an American psychologist who interviewed Herman Goering at Nuremberg in his Nuremberg Diary quoted Goering as saying:
...the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
The human brain is well constructed to deal with danger and fear on an automated and highly developed level. The amygdala is responsible for both fear conditioning and memory consolidation. These combined are the neurological area of the brain to condition and retain fear memories.

In other words, a sweet spot to frighten at will and control the masses.

The use of the phrase “war on terror” is at best a disingenuous means of simultaneously stimulating the fear response and the use of metaphors that have no real meaning.

The words “terror” and “terrorism” are the most politically manipulated words of our time and may be applied to any country, group or individual you wish to bomb, torture, or indefinitely detain.

It may also be used by the United States to nimbly point out those who are “state sponsors of terrorism," which presently include Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Never mind that we sponsored El Salvadoran death squads or backed the likes of Marcos, Mobutu, Pinochet, or the Shah for decades that led to the torture and death of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions.

The cowardly MSM or
How to be a poster child for cognitive dissonance

Does the mainstream media (MSM) really ignore what is happening or change reality to fit government policy?

As Glenn Greenwald, in a recent Salon article, so succinctly put it:
A newly released study from students at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government provides the latest evidence of how thoroughly devoted the American establishment media is to amplifying and serving (rather than checking) government officials. This new study examines how waterboarding has been discussed by America's four largest newspapers over the past 100 years, and finds that the technique, almost invariably, was unequivocally referred to as "torture" -- until the U.S. Government began openly using it and insisting that it was not torture... Similarly, American newspapers are highly inclined to refer to waterboarding as "torture" when practiced by other nations, but will suddenly refuse to use the term when it's the U.S. employing that technique.
Greenwald also points out that such MSM outlets as “the NYT, The Washington Post and NPR explicitly adopted policies to ban the use of the word "torture" for techniques the U.S. Government had authorized, once government officials announced they should not be called "torture."

So torture is now “harsh interrogation techniques”?

Is this the terminology used in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment?

This is the document the United States signed in 1988 and reaffirmed in 1994 that defines torture in Article 1.1 as:
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Article 2.2 states:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
Orwell was again right: “...the object of torture is torture... the object of power is power.”

Cultural and societal acceptance of war
Or, 'That’s Militainment!'

“Militainment” or entertainment with military themes is ubiquitous in music, television, movies and video games.

It is even everywhere in clothing. Just look around the next time you walk down the street or go to a clothing store. Desert-style camo wear is EVERYWHERE. Women have camo shorts, men wear camo hats, and even babies have camo bibs and jumpers.

Sears ran a line of clothing in 2008 that “signed a deal with the U.S. Army to launch the All American Army Brand's First Infantry Division clothing collection. It marks the first time the U.S. Army has officially licensed its marks and insignias; licensing fees will be used to support military programs for troops and their families.

The president of Sears Apparel said the brand will be prominently featured during the retailer's Fall Forward fashion. The line will also be included in future marketing campaigns, including those slated for the holiday season.

"Over the years, military-inspired clothing has played a distinct role in shaping fashion trends," Mr. Israel said. "We are now able to exclusively offer a line that is pure to the origins of that inspiration." (Military.com 9/3/08)

Recent war video games are international best sellers (Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, and God of War) and are excellent training for future military recruits. At the least, they can be considered realistic “war porn."

The Army recently had to close a $12 million recruiting station in Philadelphia with interactive video exhibits, nearly 80 video-gaming stations, a replica command-and-control center, conference rooms, and Black Hawk helicopter and Humvee combat simulators.

It was repeatedly targeted for protests by those who said the Army's use of first-person-shooter video games desensitized visitors to violence and enticed teens into the military. Anyone over 13 could play games, though the most graphic ones were restricted to those 18 and older.

War movies and TV specials are making a comeback with The Hurt Locker (2009), Inglorious Basterds (2009), and the HBO special The Pacific (2010) which all sell war as the “Band of Brothers” myth to perpetuate heroism and nationalism.

Music sells war, especially the country genre including Toby Keith’s lyrics:
Justice will be served/ And the battle will rage/ This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage/ And you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A./ 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass/ It's the American Way.
Endless war… It is indeed the “American way."

[Jim Turpin is a native Austinite and member of CodePink Austin. He also volunteers for the GI coffeehouse Under the Hood Cafe at Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas.]

The Rag Blog

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27 July 2010

Rag Blog Bash : Editor Dreyer Hits the Big Six-Five

If you can't join us in Austin, you can still be part of the party.
Click here to make a birthday donation to The Rag Blog:

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow : Sherrod, Obama, and Preemptive Surrender

Waving the white flag.

Shirley Sherrod, Barack Obama,
And the policy of preemptive surrender

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / July 27, 2010

In one week of the Sherrod Saga, America recapitulated the whole history of racism since the Civil War. Even more than that, the whole story was another episode in a broader practice of the Obama Administration: repeated preemptive surrenders to the Big Powers of American corporate institutions. And the policy of preemptive surrender is rooted partly in a mistaken wandering of the President himself from what began as a deep spiritual search for how to unify his Kansas and his Kenya.

The saga began with a Black family that was uppity. It began organizing Black farmers and then white farmers too, just as Black folk freed from slavery had done during Reconstruction. Then came the lynching -- this time, through words and firing, rather than nooses and burnings. At first -- just as when the Ku Klux Klan broke up Black efforts to end Jim Crow and win the right to vote -- America applauded the Klan. (Compare the public response to the pro-Klan film, The Birth of a Nation.)

But then, as there was in the '60s, there was a reawakening of decency and truth. Late in the week, most of the country recognized that the TV lynching by a white-collar Klansman was unjust, untruthful, indecent. And so the institutions– -- the media, the White House, apologized.

Many commentators have explored how the rotting but unburied corpse of racism came to zombie life during that week. But there was more than racism involved. The whole episode -- the way in which the Department of Agriculture and the White House joined in the lynching -- echoed a pattern of behavior of the Obama Administration that includes issues that are not issues of race.

The pattern is preemptive surrender. Preemptive surrender to Fox News. Preemptive surrender to Big Pharma and Big Health Insurance in the run-up to the Health Care bill, when in secret conferences in the White House they were promised there would be no public option, even before the Congress began to debate it.

Preemptive surrender to Big Oil, when the president tried to buy its support for a weak climate bill by opening the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to more oil well drilling. Even when the catastrophic oil gusher produced by BP's arrogance and greed began to poison an entire region of America -- not even then did the president decide to forbid all new offshore drilling. It took a month of tragedy before even a temporary moratorium was placed upon such outrageous raping of Mother Earth.

Preemptive surrender to Wall Street, not only by focusing the great bailout on the biggest banks and ignoring small community banks and credit unions, but also by refusing to use the federal government's new ownership stake in the Wall Street banks to force massive changes in their lending practices or in their bonuses to chief executives.

Preemptive surrender to the auto companies, where the president went out of his way to say that the federal government's role in saving them would not be used to insist that they move into producing massive numbers of green autos, or into a great shift toward public transportation like the great shift the government demanded from automobiles to tanks at the start of World War II.

Preemptive surrender to Big Army, when the president gave in to generals who insisted they could rebuild Afghan society at the point of bayonets and the trajectory of Predator drones -- rather than paying attention to the history of imperial failures in the Afghan hills for the last two millennia, or even paying attention to wise counsel from Vice President Biden and Ambassador/General Eikenberry to restrict the U.S. military to the narrow task of counter-terrorism. In the guise of refusing to "surrender" to the Taliban, surrendering to clever stupidity -- to the top-down, brass-heavy, brain-dead pieces of the military. To ignoring all the needs of a civilian society that is being eaten alive by the cancer of a militarized empire.

In every case, the President and his Administration kowtowed to the biggest, greediest, and most incompetent institutions in the American economy. Instead of going day after day, week after week, to the American people as Franklin Roosevelt did in the crisis of 1933, the president begged permission from these arrogant institutions to make weak changes in American policy.

So what happened to Shirley Sherrod, as it happened before to Van Jones, is not unique, is no surprise. In this case, Fox News played the same role as Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking, the Army. And the Obama administration played the same role in response: preemptive surrender.

Why has this been the Obama administration's habitual response? The political reasons are obvious; the Bigs have Big power, and fighting them is hard. But there are also personal reasons.

At the personal level, Mr. Obama is meeting a deep personal need that grows from a great spiritual seeking. He is himself, as he has often said, the product of both Kansas and Kenya. Throughout his life, he has sought to reconcile these two polarities within himself.

At one level, these two sources of his beginning indeed seem to be polar opposites: conventional middle-class white America, symbolically the heartland of America in time and space -- as opposed to a desperately poor third world country that symbolically represents the other half of the human race.

So Mr. Obama seems to be constantly seeking to reconcile and connect these two realities. A praiseworthy path.

But in office, he has kept reaching to reconcile his liberal and progressive base -- the labor unions, the Black community, and the compassionate women who seek to heal poverty and despair in America and the world -- with Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Banking, Big Army.

But Big Coal is not Kansas, and it is not Kenya. Big Banking is not Kansas, and it is not Kenya. Big Oil is not Kansas, and it is not Kenya. Wall Street is not Kansas, and it is not Kenya. The military-industrial complex is not Kansas, and it is not Kenya.

For Kansas and Kenya share one profound alikeness: they are both at the grassroots of their very different aspects of the world. Bringing the two of them into a synthesis, a coalition, a unity means meeting the needs of the grassroots of the world.

But Big Coal, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Wall Street, Big Army, are not the grassroots of the world. Mr. Obama's valid spiritual search for unity has carried him off on the wrong path.

The Sherrod fiasco shows how wrong that path can be. Shirley Sherrod and her husband Rev. Charles Sherrod really are the synthesis of Kansas and Kenya, though they were both born, grew up, and have all their lives worked and struggled in the American South.

I met Charles Sherrod in 1963. Nobody called him Charles, or Charlie or Chuck: he was always simply "Sherrod.” He was one of the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, on the front lines of the civil rights struggle in the South.

Like several other SNCC activists, he came for several months to the Institute for Policy Studies, then a very new Washington center for progressive thought and action where I was a Fellow. They came to us for time to breathe, share, and reflect, after months or years of intense and harrowing work in the South.

We arranged a seminar for Members of Congress to meet Sherrod and learn from him what was happening in the South -- specifically in the town of Albany (pronounced "All-Benny") in southwest Georgia, where he had been working. About a dozen Members of Congress came.

Sherrod began by telling the story of Albany almost like an observer, a reporter. Then, as he began explaining the role of the Black church there, his tone slowly shifted and he morphed into the Black minister that he was, giving a passionate sermon in the Black church in Albany.

The sermon was hair-raising. Transformative.

The members of Congress had never heard anything like it. I had never heard anything like it. They and I went from that seminar shaken to our core. I think it was one of the subterranean moments that prepared me for 1968, when Passover came shortly after the murder of Dr. King, to become a serious and impassioned Jew. It was one of the moments that moved Members of Congress toward much stronger support for much stronger civil-rights action.

Unlike almost all of the other SNCC activists, Sherrod stayed in the very same community where he was organizing -- stayed in Southwest Georgia, committed to the very same people and the very same region. He has been there ever since.

Later in the 1960s (as Freedom Summer activist Barbara Bloomfield has recalled), he and Shirley were involved in creating a cooperative of Black farmers in Georgia. At one time, the co-op owned 6,000 acres of land, and sustained itself by selling produce and livestock. Like all small farming operations, it needed assistance at the start of the season, and since the Depression, the US Department of Agriculture has allotted money to help small farmers -- but its agents actively, intentionally, maliciously failed to help Black farmers.

The co-op that the Sherrods were involved in, New Communities, died because of that discrimination. The land was lost and is now a suburban tract.

It took two decades longer -- till the victorious Pigford lawsuit in the 1990s -- for the Sherrods and others to prove a systematic pattern of USDA discrimination against Black farmers in the South. A settlement of millions of dollars with the USDA was reached in the late 1990s and then was augmented after the Obama administration took office.

Both Sherrods are rooted in the deepest kind of religious faith. The work she has for years been doing -- to empower and strengthen the Black farmers of Southwest Georgia -- and, it turns out, to empower white farmers too -- is rooted in the best and deepest nonviolent traditions of SNCC.

So it was utterly predictable -- and commensurately disgusting-- that some right-wing TV version of a Klansman would attempt to smear and ruin her.

It is horrifying -- much less predictable -- that the leadership of the NAACP would let themselves, as they themselves named it, be "snookered” by a right-wing broadcaster from Fox News. What on earth possessed their national leadership to react -- especially knowing what they must know about Fox News -- without even calling her or the local Georgia chapter where she gave the speech that was so brutally distorted?

And it is equally horrifying -- though unfortunately somewhat more predictable -- that the Obama administration would react as it did, with a preemptive surrender to Fox News.

Beneath the issue of racism resurrected like a zombie, beneath the issue of preemptive surrender to powerful right-wing forces, beneath the issue of craven "liberal" journalists racing to catch up and parrot the latest right-wing smear, beneath the issue of Obama's spiritual search turned sour -- is the issue of simple decency.

No broadcaster with one hand on a microphone should be slandering someone without checking the facts. without even bothering to call her and ask for comment.

No official, no boss, should be firing a worker on the basis of brutal accusations without once speaking to her.

No "leader of the free world" or his close cabal of sycophants should be conniving in such a machination.

Yes, we can take some heart from the fact that the Department of Agriculture, the White House, the NAACP, and even Fox News have apologized. Their apologies this past week recapitulated what the American President and Congress seemed to do in 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, when he ended his speech to Congress by saying "We shall overcome!" and when the Congress did pass the law. Their apologies this past week recapitulated what the American people seemed to do to "apologize" for more than three centuries of slavery and racism by electing Obama.

But were those old apologies real? Are the new set of apologies serious? Do they go beyond offering Sherrod a job, to reexamining the whole practice of preemptive surrender to the right-wing power centers? The Sherrods and the others who brought their bodies and minds and souls to move American beyond racism have been called the "veterans of hope." Do the apologies to Shirley Sherrod mean that the new activists of hope in the present, not the past, the ones scattered all across American trying to renew democracy against the depredations of the various Bigs -- will they be heard, supported, encouraged?

For the whole series of events last week makes clear that the spirit of SNCC and New Communities ought not be dead in the land, that the work that both Sherrods have done in their extraordinary lives is not yet finished.

[Rabbi Arthur Waskow is the director of The Shalom Center, and the author of twenty-some books on religious thought and action and on American public policy, including From Race Riot to Sit-in and Godwrestling -- Round 2.]

The Rag Blog

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Bob Feldman : A People's Folk Music History

Folksinger/activist Phil Ochs. Image from Child of the Sixties.

A people’s folk music
History of the United States

By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / July 27, 2010

If you’re a Rag Blog reader who’s into either urban protest folk music or anti-corporate country music, you might be interested in listening for free to “A People’s Folk Music History of the United States” by clicking on the music links for the following public domain folk songs:
  1. Living On Stolen Goods” is a protest folk song from the early 1970s that summarizes the history of U.S. settler-colonialism and U.S. imperialism.

  2. Big Bill Haywood” tells the story of the IWW (“Wobbly”) leader.

  3. Remember Sacco and Vanzetti” recalls the Sacco and Vanzetti Case of the 1920s.

  4. Upton Sinclair” is a folk song about the muckraking author of the novel, The Jungle. novel.

  5. Wobbly Big Bill Haywood. Image from Salt Lake City Weekly.

  6. They Drove Woody Guthrie,” “The Hollywood Ten,”Source,” “They Killed The Rosenbergs,” and “Ben Davis” are folk songs about political repression during the late 1940s and 1950s McCarthy Era.

  7. Kerouac and Cassady” is a folk song about the Beat Generation.

  8. The People’s Folksinger” is about 1960s protest folk singer Phil Ochs.

  9. Richard Farina Is Gone” is a eulogistic folk song about the author of the 1960s book Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me.

  10. Bloody Minds” is a folk song that protested against Columbia University’s Institute for Defense Analyses [IDA] institutional affiliation and Columbia’s collaboration with the Pentagon during the 1960s.

  11. Ted Gold’s Wisdom” is a folk song about former Columbia SDS Vice-Chairman Ted Gold.

  12. Enemy Number One” is a folk song about the Weather fugitives from the 1970s.

  13. Dhoruba” is about the case of a former Panther 21 political prisoner.

  14. At Age 42” is a folk song about the negative effects of the celebrity star system in the corporate music industry.

  15. Ballad of Harvey Milk” is a folk song about the San Francisco activist and elected official who was slain in the 1970s.

  16. Their Armored Brink’s Truck” is an outlaw folk song about the 1981 incident in Nyack, New York.

  17. Prisoner In Auburn” is a folk song from the 1980s about U.S. political prisoner David Gilbert.

  18. The Marines Have Captured Grenada” is about the Pentagon’s 1983 invasion of that island.

  19. Free Leonard Peltier!” is a 1990s folk song about the Leonard Peltier Case.

  20. Marilyn Buck” is a 21st-century folk song from a few years ago about a recently released U.S. political prisoner.

  21. Die To Defend Exxon” is an anti-war and anti-recruitment folk song from the early 1980s.

  22. Let Me Tell You About 9-11” raises some questions about the Big Media’s official version of what happened on September 11, 2001

  23. San Francisco's Harvey Milk. Image from collider.com.

  24. Destroyed By A Rising Flood” is about the 2005 Katrina disaster in New Orleans.

  25. Let the Big Banks Fail” is a folk song that protests against the use of public funds to bail out the Wall Street big banks in 2008

  26. High Technology Homeless” is a folk song from the 1980s that looks at how high technology has affected the quality of life of some folks in the USA.
[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s.]

The Rag Blog

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Stefan Wray : Austin Formula One is Shrouded in Secrecy

Formula One's Tavo Hellmund is shown pulling the strings on State Comptroller Susan Combs and State Senator Kirk Watson. Graphic by Ted Wilson / The Rag Blog.

Formula One:
Shrouded in secrecy
With no public involvement

By Stefan Wray / The Rag Blog / July 27, 2010

AUSTIN -- The announcement of the proposed Formula One racetrack location in Austin does not erase the fact that much remains shrouded in secrecy and the project continues to move forward without any real public input or involvement in the process.

Tavo Hellmund, Austin’s Formula One promoter, has done a fantastic job of keeping the project out of public view and away from any opportunity for genuine community engagement and input in decision-making.

Mr. Hellmund kept the project under wraps for at least three years before news broke in May 2010 that he had struck a deal with the don of Formula One, Bernie Ecclestone. In the intervening two months information about the project has come out in fits and starts leaving proponents, detractors, and the media all wondering about the next move.

Even though we have a better idea of where the racetrack will be, there are still a lot of unknowns. The unwillingness on the part of Texas government leaders, such as Governor Rick Perry, Comptroller Susan Combs, and State Senator Kirk Watson, to reveal details of their dealings with Mr. Hellmund exemplifies the lack of transparency with Austin’s Formula One plan.

What is possible to know must be gleaned from media accounts and the public record of the Texas State Legislature. Part of the back story of how Texas, and more so Austin, entered the spotlight of the international racing community -- and raised the ire of a spectrum of Austinites -- is summarized in a July 21 ESPN F1 profile of Mr. Hellmund called “Grand Ambition.”
In 2004 the government in Texas passed a bill to make available a fund to attract major events, such as the Superbowl, World Cup and Olympics to the state. Hellmund noticed that although it wasn't an applicable event, F1 was the only global motorsport which would fit into this category. Hellmund says that he met with his local senator two and a half years ago and applied for F1 to be included. He got what he wanted and this made available up to $25m for every year of Hellmund's contract.
The international readership of the ESPN F1 story probably doesn’t care about the “local senator” that Mr. Hellmund met with two and a half years ago -- in early 2008. But it is obvious to anyone from Central Texas that this article is referring to Austin’s State Senator Kirk Watson.

Yet we still know little else about Mr. Hellmund’s meeting with Sen. Watson or other state leaders over the past years. The Austin American Statesman’s Eric Dexheimer wrote about the unwillingness of Texas officials to disclose information about their efforts to bring Formula One to Austin. Dexheimer said legislative staff “invoked the deliberative process exemption to shield F1-related documents from the office of state Sen. Kirk Watson.” Gov. Perry’s and Comptroller Combs’ staff similarly refused to grant some of the Statesman’s public information requests.

We are, however, not completely in the dark. Much of the record of the Texas State Legislature is available online where it is possible to read the daily record of the House and Senate, as well as committee agendas and minutes, and even watch archival video.

A careful study of the legislative process in 2009 that brought SB 1515 and its companion bill HB 2437 to fruition -- the legislation that allows Mr. Hellmund his annual entitlement of $25 million for 10 years from the major event trust fund administered through the Comptroller’s Office -- is actually rather disappointing.

The review reveals that throughout the entire process the words “Formula One” were verbally mentioned only two times on the record. And in the respective committees in the Senate and House where the bills were discussed only two people from Austin ever testified.

The two who signed up as witnesses and testified were Robert Wood and Don Hoyt. Both are associated with the Comptroller’s Office. Mr. Wood is the current Director of Local Government Assistance and Economic Development at the Comptroller’s Office, while Mr. Hoyt is a retired Comptroller’s Office employee.

Neither Mr. Wood nor Mr. Hoyt ever mentioned Formula One in their testimony.
They were at the hearings to more broadly support the Comptroller’s Office driven bills and to answer questions. They weren’t asked about Formula One.

The the words “Formula One” were only uttered twice: when Sen. Watson introduced his SB 1515 to the Senate Committee on Economic Development and when Rep. Brian McCall introduced his HB 2437 to the House Committee on Technology, Economic Development & Workforce.

These committee hearings could have been opportunities to discuss the value, or lack thereof, of encouraging and helping to fund with public money an event that contributes to air pollution and focuses on carbon-burning machines, unlike the other sports events that have genuine athletes. Other environmental, social, or cultural questions could have been raised. But nothing like this transpired.

When Sen. Watson introduced his bill to the Senate committee on March 23, 2009, all he said was,
It expands the list of eligible major events, which already includes things like the Super Bowl and Final Four, to include Formula One auto races. But let me emphasize that this bill in no way assures that Texas would win or even be involved in a bid to host a Formula One race, but it would allow for that.
Mr. Wood appeared as a resource witness at that March 23rd hearing. He only answered a few general questions from the chair about the initial revenue source and how the fund would be used. Other witnesses that signed up in favor of the bill, but who did not testify, were from Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

The same Senate committee held another public hearing on March 30, 2009. This time it was a routine matter of approving a committee substitute for SB 1515 and passing it out of committee on a vote of 3-1 to the full Senate. Again, Mr. Wood was a resource witness, but this time he did not testify.

HB 2437 was introduced on April 6, 2009, before the House Committee on Technology, Economic Development and Workforce where Austin’s Representative Mark Strama was the chair and Representative Eddie Rodriguez a member. The house version also had Austin’s Representative Dawnna Dukes as a co-author.

Again, at that hearing, Formula One was glossed over and mentioned once in passing. Rep. McCall laid out his bill and said,
It makes some technical changes in how the programs will be administered. It changes the names of the events. It opens the length of time over which the Comptroller gauges the incremental tax increases. It expands the list of eligible major events, which already include events like the Super Bowl and the Final Four, to include things like Formula One auto racing.
This committee spent 22 minutes on the bill. There were only a few witnesses testifying in favor, including, once again, Mr. Wood and Mr. Hoyt from Austin. Rep. Strama spent a considerable amount of time asking questions to better understand how the major events trust fund would actually work. He had questions about how to measure the economic impact and about the incremental tax increase. Neither Rep. Strama, nor Rep. Rodriguez asked any questions about Formula One.

The House committee met again on April 16, 2009 and passed a committee substitute for HB 2437 with a vote of 8-0, sending the bill to the full House. Austin’s Strama and Rodriguez were two of the eight.

From that point on, SB 1515 and HB 2437 sailed through the Texas legislature. The only actual objection noted in the Senate record was a procedural one from Sen. Wentworth when Sen. Watson asked to suspend the rules and go directly from second reading to third reading of the bill.

Wentworth said in the Senate:
I cast a "No" vote on the procedural motion to suspend the Constitutional Rule requiring that bills be read on three several days in order to take up and consider CSSBi1515, because in my judgment no circumstance exists in this case to justify the extraordinary act of suspending a requirement of the Texas Constitution.
In the end, the Texas Senate passed SB 1515 by a vote of 26-4 on April 15, 2009. The House version passed a month later on May 20, 2009 with 119 Yeas, 16 Nays, and one Present, not voting.

So that’s it. That’s the extent of the treatment of Formula One in the 2009 Texas Legislature. By no stretch of the imagination can anyone argue that there was deliberation of whether to include Formula One in the bills. On the record the words “Formula One” were uttered twice. And the only two people from Austin who appeared before the hearings were there on behalf of the State of Texas, not on behalf of Austin.

It is important to drive home the fact that these legislative hearings last year have been the only moments so far when Formula One was a matter, scant that it was, before any type of governmental or deliberative body. To date the question of Formula One has not been taken up by Austin’s City Council, by any Council subcommittee, by any board, or commission, or any other governmental entity.

We, the people of Austin, have had zero input in any of the decisions surrounding this Formula One racetrack deal. This is wrong. For a project of this magnitude dependent on such a large amount of public money, there should be a public process.

By most accounts, Comptroller Susan Combs, a Republican, is the elected state official who has been the most aggressive about pushing Mr. Hellmund’s agenda of bringing Formula One to Austin.

Austin Democrats, however, are partly to blame for our situation. They let Formula One slide through without a fight and without alerting their constituents that it was even happening. It was Sen. Watson’s bill in the Senate and Rep. Strama’s committee in the House along with committee member Rep. Rodriguez, plus the co-authorship from Rep. Dukes that together helped get this legislation passed.

In retrospect, if the Austin legislative delegation had been aware of some of the questions now being raised, such as the environmental issues put forth by Austin Sierra Club Chair Chris Lehman, then Formula One’s inclusion in the major events fund might not have slid through so easily.

It is not too late to make amends. Austin Democrats should look for a solution. Maybe it is time for Austin’s legislative leaders, in cooperation with local governmental leaders, to step forward and open a public process in order to conduct a serious inquiry into the question of whether a Formula One racetrack is something Austin really needs.

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

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