31 August 2010

Glenn W. Smith : It's Getting Hot in Houston

Image from Dog Canyon.

Likely Arson in Houston, and
Voter suppression from the Right

By Glenn W. Smith / The Rag Blog / August 31, 2010

A mysterious fire last Friday destroys all of the voting machines in Harris County (Houston), Texas. Arson investigators have not yet issued an opinion.

Meanwhile, a well-funded right-wing group emerges in Houston and begins raising unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. A video on their website pictures only people of color when it talks of voter fraud. White people are shown talking patriotically about the need for a million vigilantes to suppress illegal votes.

In the video, an unidentified spokesman for “TrueTheVote” says, “If we lose Houston, we lose Texas. And guess what? If we lose Texas we lose the country.”

The former Mayor of Houston, Democrat Bill White, is running against secessionist Republican Gov. Rick Perry this year. White’s counting on a big turnout in his home town. The fire and the voter suppression campaign guarantee a greatly diminished turnout.

TrueTheVote’s video [see below] is well produced. Participants speak in calm and knowing tones, disguising the racist agenda behind their project. We don’t yet know where the group’s money comes from. But they have money.

As I’ve said before, right-wing voter suppression campaigns are the most under-reported political scandal of the last 50-100 years. But there’s never been anything like the criminal destruction of all the voting machines in the nation’s fourth largest city.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to suspect the machines in Houston were destroyed by an arsonist. Warehouses don’t regularly and spontaneously combust at four in the morning, especially warehouses containing all the voting tools in a pivotal city in a pivotal election.

In other details, the suppression campaigns follow a familiar pattern: raise suspicions of widespread voter fraud. Accuse “others” of stealing elections from us (read: white people). Threaten would-be voters with criminal charges. Limit polling locations in poor and minority precincts. Distribute spurious “felon lists” that disenfranchise legal voters who happen to share a name with a felon. Staff phone banks that make election calls to minority and poor voters giving incorrect polling locations and dates. Dress up vigilantes in cop clothes to intimidate would-be voters.

Huffington Post contributor Greg Mitchell wrote one of the best accounts of such a suppression and intimidation campaign in his book about the 1934 California governor’s race, The Campaign of the Century. At least since then, voter suppression has been a part of nearly every election cycle.

Voting machines go up in smoke in Houston. Photo from KRIV-TV.

There are simply no machines available to replace the loss of Houston’s machines. That means either a return to paper ballots (there may be very few scanners to count them) or a greatly reduced number of polling locations. The latter would require the emergency suspension of state law and run afoul of the Voting Rights Act. In any case, confusion will reign, and confusion reduces turnout.

What about that TrueTheVote statement, “If we lose Houston, we lose Texas. And guess what? If we lose Texas we lose the country.”? That may be the only true thing TrueTheVote has said.

For much of the country, Texas is a vast right-wing breeding ground. Actually, Democrats have nearly reached parity in the state House of Representatives. All the elected officials in Dallas are Democrats. Austin, too. Most of the judges and many of the officials in Houston are Democrats.

With a strong turnout in Houston, White could very well beat Perry. Without a national effort to counter the largest voter suppression effort in my memory, that turnout won’t happen. Even if the fire is ruled accidental, its consequences remain the same. If a great number of Houston voters are disenfranchised as a consequence of the fire and the right’s election vigilante effort, democracy loses, and so does the country.

Keep in mind that population shifts will hand Texas several new congressional seats lost in the Democratic rustbelt. This election will decide the players who will draw new lines in redistricting. The stakes are high. The question is, do Democrats have the will to do battle with right-wing forces who believe they can choose who votes and who doesn’t?

[Austin's Glenn W. Smith, according toDaily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, is a “legendary political consultant and all-around good guy.” His excellent blog on politics and culture is DogCanyon, where this article also appears.]

UPDATE: Tuesday, August 31, 2010
, 7:30 p.m.

The Houston Chronicle reported today:
Despite a fire that destroyed Harris County's voting machines last week, County Clerk Beverly Kaufman said Monday that she intends to keep all polling places open with replacement machines on Nov. 2.

Commissioners Court approved Kaufman's emergency plan Monday to spend $13.6 million to buy 2,325 electronic voting machines and supporting equipment.
Kaufman's plan includes 1.4 million paper ballots, which will be distributed to polling stations as a backup in case a shortage of machines leads to long lines.
Despite Kaufman's confident predictions of a timely and fair election, 16 Democratic state senators and representatives have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee the development of an emergency plan for voting that begins in 48 days. Their letter asks for the department's involvement to "protect the voting rights of racial and language minorities" against any plans to close some of the 739 scheduled polling places due to a lack of equipment.

"Removing neighborhood voting locations and fostering conditions for longer lines must be avoided to prevent suppression of minority voters," the legislators wrote...
Despite her apparent confidence, Kaufman urged residents to vote early to avoid long lines and said she would seek "loaner machines" from other counties.

The Chronicle reported no new information about the cause of the fire, but said that an arson investigation is under way.

'TrueTheVote' Video

The Rag Blog

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Ted McLaughlin : These Jobs Won't Cut It

We don't just need jobs;
We need good jobs

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / August 31, 2010

George Bush, with his policy of accelerated Reaganomics, made a real mess of the United States economy before he left office. It was not bad enough that he presided over a massive outsourcing of good American jobs, but his deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and deficit spending created the worst income distribution since the 1920s and kicked off a serious recession resulting in the loss of millions more jobs.

In his entire eight years in office Bush only created about a million jobs (while his predecessor, Bill Clinton, created 23 million in his eight-year stint in office), and more than lost those in his recession (which started in the last part of 2007). President Obama is already poised to have created more jobs in his first two years in office than Bush did in eight years. That is a good thing, but not as good as you might believe.

The problem resides in just what kind of jobs are being created. This is not a new problem. Even back in the Bush administration, while good jobs were being sent overseas (where wages could be cut to less than minimum wage levels), the new jobs being created were low-wage jobs that would not allow a man/woman to support a family. Unfortunately, the problem is persisting under the current administration.

The chart above is indicative of the problem. The chart shows the five fastest growing jobs in the United States. Only one of those jobs (registered nurse) is above the median wage in America. The other four (food preparation and serving, home health aide, warehouse stock clerk, medical assistant) are well below the median wage and approaching the minimum wage. The problem is even worse when you consider the median wage has been depressed for the last 20 or more years and won't buy close what it once would.

While the cost of nearly everything has climbed sharply for the last 20 years, the wages of the bottom 80% of Americans have been stagnant. This alone would have accounted for the pain being felt by middle and working class people, but it was made even worse by the millions of jobs lost by the Bush recession. Now the new jobs being created are lower-paying jobs than the ones that were lost. It's hard to rejoice in the creation of these kind of jobs.

President Obama has said he wants to give tax cuts to companies that don't outsource jobs (and hopefully bring good-paying jobs back to the United States). That would be a good start, but much more needs to be done. This recession will not be ended by the creation of minimum-wage jobs (even a lot of them). That would just continue the pain being currently felt by ordinary Americans. And it would set the country up for another, possibly worse, recession or depression.

The vast difference in both accumulated wealth and income distribution between the richest five percent of Americans and the rest of America was the real cause of this recession (while the financial mismanagement by Wall Street was just the trigger). The only real cure for our current economic woes is to find a way to more equitably distribute the nation's income.

The nation's health is not determined by how rich the richest 1-5% can get. No matter how hard they try, this small number of people just don't have the purchasing power to keep an economy as large as ours growing. While the Republicans (and the rich) don't want to admit it, America has always seen its best times when the working and middle class people have had adequate purchasing power to live a decent and comfortable life. When these people have the money to buy, everybody benefits -- even the rich and the corporate interests.

Minimum wage jobs may be fine for high school students, but they won't support a family. And they won't lift this country out of the recession.

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

The Rag Blog

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Paul Krassner : Censorship at Facebook

Unfriending the control freaks:
Censorship at Facebook

By Paul Krassner / The Rag Blog / August 31, 2010

Those control freaks who run Facebook are doing it again. This time, as you probably know, they're not allowing the image of a marijuana leaf -- because it's "illegal content" -- to appear in ads from the "Just Say Now" campaign for the legalization of pot, which is sponsored by Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. It's not the first time Facebook has indulged in chickenshit censorship. Below is my piece about it that was published in the May issue of High Times.

Mikal Gilmore, one of the best journalists covering the counterculture, is the author of Stories Done: Writings On the 1960s and Its Discontents. “For more than half of the subjects here,” he states, “including Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary and the Haight-Ashbury, psychedelics were a major factor in their lives…” But recently Gilmore himself had a bad trip, resulting from an overdose of the modern drug, Facebook.

Like so many others, his account was shut down, and they wouldn’t tell him why he was kicked off the island, so that he had no way of knowing what he did wrong or how to avoid doing it again. A Facebook friend who attempted to contact him with no success informed me that, “after numerous tries, I got this horrible warning that covered the screen screaming ‘DANGEROUS.’ Holy shit! To say it was disconcerting is an understatement.”

Gilmore explained the situation to me:

I was booted, I’m told, because of an image I posted. I was listening one night a few months ago to an early 1970s pop album by Joey Heatherton, and I was struck by her voice, how good it could be when she worked at it. I posted something to that effect, and I also posted the album cover, which I always try to do when I mention some music or music artist (or a book or movie).

This particular album has a photo of Heatherton baring her breasts. Last week, I couldn’t access my account and was told I’d been dropped for violating Facebook policy, but they couldn’t tell me what the specific offense was because, "for security reasons," they just can’t do that.

Since I'd acquired several friends at Facebook, and because my wife loves to take matters in hand, several people there raised a ruckus. I didn't ask anybody to. In fact, I thought my deactivation was just some fluke mistake, but Facebook refused to answer any of my inquiries, and also refused to answer anybody else's protests.

I was going to give up any idea of rejoining. Then, the same day I came to that conclusion, Facebook restored me, and told me they had deleted the offensive image. They never told me what the image was, but a Facebook member who has a relative at the place finally learned that it was the Heatherton album cover, and that Facebook had taken the action because another Facebook member had complained about the image.
Meanwhile, attorney Brian Cuban was fighting his own battle with Facebook, trying to get them to remove pages for Holocaust denial groups. He agreed with me that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to private companies, but he added, “I think you have to look at the way free speech is evolving in historical context. We have come into an age where, with the advent of the Internet and unchecked values out there in the blogosphere, mere words have in fact driven people to commit violent acts.”

I asked, “When you spoke to Facebook about why they don’t tell people why they were dropped, how did they justify that?”
It was a justification of cost/benefit. I think they would love to give everyone a detailed explanation of why they’ve been dropped to prove there is no conspiracy there, as many people believe. In my battle with Facebook over Holocaust denial groups, I have been hit with countless e-mails asking me to ask them why there’s a Jewish conspiracy at Facebook -- to get rid of Jewish activists and to get rid of Jews in general -- because we’re raising all this fuss about Holocaust denial. In reality, I think it’s just cost/benefit. They don’t have the intrastructure to give everyone an explanation.
Perhaps Mikal Gilmore should have covered Joey Heatherton’s nipples with swastikas.

[Paul Krassner, for decades one of the country's foremost social critics, edited The Realist, America's premier journal of cutting edge social and political satire. He was also a founder of the Yippies. And speaking of censorship, Krassner defies it by publishing the Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster. See it at paulkrassner.com.]

The Rag Blog

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Harry Targ : The Evolving Techniques of Empire

Image from ccsd.org.

Techniques of empire:
What is new and what is the same old stuff?

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / August 31, 2010

Empires past

Nations, tribes, armed members of messianic religions from time to time have engaged in conquest of others. Peoples have been slaughtered for their land, their natural resources, their mistaken beliefs. The techniques used to be simple: killing, imprisonment or enslavement, and occupation.

With the rise of capitalism as a global economic system, accumulated resources were used to create modern instruments of war -- guns, ships, pollutants, and poisons. As Marx claimed long ago, capitalism was of necessity a global system so nation-states created in the era of economic modernity were compelled to pursue exploitable labor (particularly slaves), natural resources, market opportunities, and investment sites everywhere. Mercenary armies were created to conquer people and land and fight against the mercenary armies of other capitalist countries.

The British empire (“the sun never sets on the British Empire”) was caused by and facilitated the industrial revolution. In the 1880s European imperial powers came together to divide up the African continent. After the first of two world wars in the twentieth century, wars which cost 60 million deaths, the Middle East was divided up among declining powers, Great Britain and France.

The United States joined the imperial fray in the 1890s. It took the Hawaiian Islands, fought Spain to conquer Cuba, occupied other Caribbean Islands, and crushed the independence struggle in the Philippines. Over the next 30 years the United States invaded countries in the Western Hemisphere some 25 times, often leaving U.S. Marines in place for years.

The United States and the Cold War

A variety of imperial techniques became common as the United States fought the Communist enemy during the Cold War. With the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947, the first of many “intelligence agencies” was launched to interfere with the political life of countries the U.S. regarded as strategic.

CIA money was used to shape elections in democracies such as France and Italy. Money flowed to Christian Democratic Parties created to oppose Socialist campaigns. Also money found its way into anti-Communist trade union federations. This pattern of interference was replicated in Latin America as well and later in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

The United States engaged in visible campaigns to create and support military coups; the most critical being in Guatemala and Iran in the 1950s, Brazil and Indonesia in the 1960s, and Chile in the 1970s. And of course U.S. policymakers launched long and brutal wars in Korea and Vietnam leading to four million Asian deaths and 100,000 American soldiers killed.

The pursuit of U.S. empire included some modern strategies as well as conquest and subversion. President Truman, through the Marshall Plan, instituted an expensive campaign of economic and military assistance which would become a staple of U.S. Cold War policy. From the initiation of the Marshall Plan in 1948 with a modest $14 billion aid program to anti-Communist regimes in Europe through the Carter years, $235 billion was provided to selected and strategic imperial partners: first in Europe, then Asia and the Middle East.

President Kennedy contributed to the imperial tool kit; the provision of military advisors, funding for local militaries in countries threatened by revolution (such as in Central America), and training programs for military officers such as in the old School of the Americas. Economic assistance came with strings, the promotion of market-based economies, and opposition to indigenous and Communist political forces, at least as much as local political contexts would allow.

President Reagan was an imperial innovator as well. Constrained by the “Vietnam Syndrome,” public opposition to further Vietnam-style military quagmires, he established policies based upon “low intensity conflict.” Creating and funding local counterrevolutionary armies in places as varied as Nicaragua, Angola, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Afghanistan, the U.S. role in conflicts could be kept off the front pages of newspapers.

Civil war violence stimulated by U.S. resources would not be “low intensity” in countries where it occurred but it might be considered so in the U.S. Citizens would not learn of the critical U.S. support given to Islamic fundamentalist rebels, including Osama Bin Laden, fighting a pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s until quite recently.

To insure the limited visibility of U.S. global operations, and to reward political allies with government contracts, the Reagan administration dramatically expanded programs privatizing U.S. military operations. Support for the Contra war against the Nicaraguan people involved transferring public funds to private armies and using key foreign policy advisers, such as Colonel Oliver North, as conduits and organizers of networks of private sources of funding for war.

Thus began public programs to encourage and stimulate the creation of private companies that would fight America’s wars. The American people had little way of knowing how deeply involved they were in violence around the world and the danger of sinking into new Vietnams.

Roman legions. Image from Cultural Resources.

21st century techniques of empire

The world has come a long way from the days of Roman legions slogging across land pillaging and killing. The days of nineteenth century colonial rule -- clumsy and arrogant with foreign occupants of land lording over exploited local workers -- has changed. However, it is important to reflect on the new or more developed techniques of empire, while never forgetting that there are centuries long continuities of techniques of imperial rule.

For starters, Marc Pilisuk reports in Who Benefits From Global Violence and War: Uncovering a Destructive System that the character of war has changed over the years and centuries. Wars today are not usually between nations. Casualties of wars are overwhelmingly civilians rather than soldiers. The weapons used in wars today are more likely than in the past to temporarily or permanently damage the natural habitat as well as kill people.

Wars in recent years have been likely to be fought over natural resources. Nations and groups now are more likely to be supplied with weapons produced by a handful of corporations that specialize in the production of military supplies. These weapons are provided by a small number of nations. Finally, wars fought in modern times, the last 100 years, have caused more deaths than in any other comparable period of human history.

Pilisuk reports that since World War II 250 wars have occurred causing 50 million deaths and leaving millions homeless. (The United States participated significantly in 75 military interventions.)

Recently a number of journalistic and scholarly accounts have added to our understanding of newer techniques of empire, particularly U.S. empire.
  • Global presence. Pilisuk, Chalmers Johnson (The Sorrows of Empire) and others have estimated that the United States has over 700, perhaps 800 military installations in more than 40 countries. Some years ago the Pentagon determined that huge Cold War era military bases needed to be replaced with smaller, strategically located bases for rapid mobilization to attend to “trouble-spots” in the Global South. While forward basing in South Asia and in nations formerly part of the Soviet Union has received some attention seven new U.S. bases being established in Colombia (within striking distance of hostile Venezuela) and increased naval operations in the Caribbean have not. In addition, there are some 6,000 domestic military bases, many that anchor the economies of small towns.

  • Privatization of the U.S. military. David Isenberg (“Private Military Contractors and U.S. Grand Strategy,” PRIO, Oslo, 2009) refers to “...the U.S. government’s huge and growing reliance on private contractors” which “...constitutes an attempt to circumvent or evade public skepticism about the United States’ self-appointed role as global policemen.” While PMCs provide many services, such as combat, consulting, training armies, and military support, their combat presence in the two major wars of the 21st century, Afghanistan and Iraq, has generated the most, if limited, public attention. Isenberg says that between 1950 and 1989 PMCs participated in 15 conflicts in other countries and from 1990 to 2000 another 80. PMCs were employed in civil wars such as in Angola, Sierre Leone, and the Balkans.

    A recent Washington Post investigation compiled a data base, “Top Secret America,” “that found 1,931 intelligence contracting firms” doing top secret work “for 1,271 government organizations at over 10,000 sites.” TSA indicates that 90 percent of the intelligence work is done by 110 contractors. Defense department spokespersons and legislators claim that the United States needs to continue allocating billions of dollars to private contractors to maintain military performance levels that are minimally acceptable.

The X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle. Artist's rendering from Defense Industry Daily.

  • Unmanned aerial vehicles. Nick Turse (The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives) describes the introduction of unmanned aerial weapons in the 1990s and their current weaponry of choice for the White House and others who prefer antiseptic and bloodless (on our side) technologies to eliminate enemies. New predator drones can be programmed to fly over distant lands and target enemies for unstoppable air strikes. Drones have been increasingly popular as weapons in fighting enemies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

    Connecting drone strikes to assassination teams and other war-making techniques, Shane, Mazzetti, and Worth, (“Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents,” The New York Times, August 16, 2010) refers to shadow wars against terrorist targets. “In roughly a dozen countries -- from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife -- the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.”

  • Assassinations. The United States has initiated campaigns to identify and assassinate presumed enemies. CIA operatives and private contractors join teams of army specialists under the Joint Special Operations Command (13,000 assassination commandos around the world) to kill foreigners alleged to be affiliated with terrorist groups. These targets can include U.S. citizens living abroad who have been deemed to be terrorist collaborators. In the Western Hemisphere, the United States, through Latin American military personnel trained at the School of the Americas, has long supported assassination programs that now seem to be “globalized,” that is administered everywhere.

    Fred Branfman (Alternet, August 24, 2010) starkly describes the assassination policy: “The truth that many Americans find hard to take is that mass U.S. assassination on a scale unequaled in world history lies at the heart of America’s military strategy in the Muslim world, a policy both illegal and never seriously debated by Congress or the American people.”

  • Missionary humanitarian interventions. While most techniques of empire involve the direct use of violence, public and private organizations expand the presence of empire through so-called “humanitarian assistance.” While the work of the missionary has often followed the flag, never has such activism impacted so heavily on global politics as today.

    For example, The New York Times (July 6, 2010) reported that Christian evangelical groups have transferred substantial amounts of funds to Jewish settlements in occupied territories of the West Bank. Furthermore, fundraising for settlements that stand in the way of the creation of a Palestinian state receive tax exemptions. The newspaper reports on “...at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade.”

    The newspaper correctly points out that so-called “humanitarian” and tax deductible donations to entities in other countries tied to U.S. foreign policy are not new. But, the article suggests that donations to the settler movement are special “because of the centrality of the settlement issue in the current talks and the fact that Washington has consistently refused to allow Israel to spend American government aid in the settlements. Tax breaks for the donations remain largely unchallenged, and unexamined by the American government.”

What is new about imperial policies

While the general character of imperial policies remains the same, whether the empire is Rome, Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain, or the United States, changes in technology, the state system, ideology, and tactical thinking have had their effects.

First, imperial rule has become truly global. From bases in far-off places to unmanned drones flying over literally millions of targets everywhere, empires operate with no constraints based on geography.

Second, the military has become big business. Private corporations assume a greater share of Department of Defense budgets. Private companies now clean up and cook for the troops, train foreign soldiers, assassinate assumed terrorist enemies, and fight small wars with almost no visibility to publics.

Third, the United States is moving toward fighting wars without soldiers on the ground. Enemies can be identified by computer and military technologists can then push the right buttons to kill the unfortunate targets. Killing has become antiseptic. Killers can say goodbye to the kids in the morning, drive to work, push some buttons, drive home and spend the evening with the family. Meanwhile thousands of miles away there are mourners crying over those just assassinated.

Fourth, empires, at least the U.S. empire, can kill with impunity. Targets labeled terrorist can be eliminated by unmanned space weapons, specially trained assassination teams, or average foot soldiers.

Finally, empires can expand and change the destiny of peoples through so-called “humanitarian assistance.” Local goals, good or bad, are furthered by the large financial resources that special interests can bring to other countries.

Empires have had a long and ugly history. Because of technology, economics, and ideology new techniques of empire have been added to the old. The struggle against all empires must continue.

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

The Rag Blog

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30 August 2010

Robert Jensen : Glenn Beck's Redemption Song

rial in Washington, Saturday, Aug. 28. Photo by Alex Brandon / AP / Christian Science Monitor.

'Restoring honor' in DC:
Glenn Beck’s redemption song

By Robert Jensen / The Rag Blog / August 30, 2010

About halfway through Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally on the DC mall, I realized that I was starting to like Glenn Beck.

Before any friends of mine initiate involuntary commitment proceedings, let me explain. It’s not that I really liked Beck, but more that I experienced his likeability. Whether or not he’s sincere, I came to admire his ability to project sincerity and to create coherence out of his incoherent rambling about religion, race, and redemption.

As a result, I’m more afraid for our political future than ever.

First, to be clear: Beck is the embodiment of everything I dislike about the U.S. politics and contemporary culture. As a left/feminist with anti-capitalist and anti-empire politics, I disagree with most every policy position he takes. As a journalist and professor who values intellectual standards for political discourse, I find his willful ignorance and skillful deceit to be unconscionable.

So, I’m not looking for a charismatic leader to follow and I haven’t been seduced by Beck’s televisual charm, nor have I given up on radical politics. Instead, I’m trying to understand what happened when I sat down at my computer on Saturday morning and plugged into the live stream of the event.

Expecting to see just another right-wing base-building extravaganza that would speak to a narrow audience, I planned to watch for a few minutes before getting onto other projects. I stayed glued to my chair for the three-hour event.

My conclusion: What I saw was the most rhetorically and visually sophisticated political spectacle in recent memory. Beck was able to both connect to a right-wing base while at the same time moving beyond the Republican Party and the Tea Party movement, potentially creating a new audience for his politics. It’s foolish to make a prediction based on one rally, but I think Beck’s performance marked his move from blowhard broadcaster to front man for a potentially game-changing political configuration.

My advice: Liberals, progressive, and leftists -- who may be tempted to denounce him as a demagogue and move on -- should take all this seriously and try to understand what he’s doing. Here’s my best attempt to understand it.


There’s nothing new about mixing Christianity and right-wing politics in the United States, and Beck put forward a familiar framework: America is a Christian nation that honors religious freedom. Christians lead the way in the United States, but the way is open to all who believe in God.

Anyone teaching the “lasting principles” found in all faiths is welcome, despite theological differences. “What they do agree on is God is the answer,” Beck said in his call for a central role for religious institutions, whether they be churches, synagogues, or mosques.

But for all the religious rhetoric, Beck never talked about the hot-button issues that are important to conservative Christians. No mention of abortion or gays and lesbians. Theologically based arguments against evolution and global warming were not on the table. No one bashed Islam as a devilish faith.

Instead, Beck concentrated on basics on which he could easily get consensus. God has given us the pieces -- faith, hope, and charity -- and all we have to do is put them together. Rather than arrogantly assert that God is on our side, he said, we have to be on God’s side.

Beck may eventually have to voice clear opposition to abortion and gay marriage to hold onto conservative Christian supporters, but on Saturday it was his apparent religious sincerity that mattered. I have no way to know how serious Beck’s faith in a traditional conception of God really is, but it doesn’t matter.

He sounds sincere and moves sincere; he creates a feeling of sincerity. He brings an emotional candor to public discussion of religion that is unusual for someone in his line of work. When religious people believe that someone’s profession of faith is real -- that it’s rooted in a basic decency and is deeply felt -- then differences over doctrine become less crucial.

There has been some discussion of whether Beck, a convert to Mormonism, can really connect to Protestants and Catholics, some of whom view the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a cult rather than an authentic Christian denomination. No doubt some evangelical/fundamentalist Christians will reject Beck, but his personal appeal could overcome those objections for many others.


There’s also nothing new in Beck’s analysis of race. Like most conservatives, he argues that America’s racism is mostly a thing of the past, and that racial justice means a level playing field that offers equal opportunity but does not guarantee equal outcomes.

Rather than come to terms with the way white supremacy continues to affect those outcomes through institutionalized racism and unconscious prejudices, folks like Beck prefer a simple story about personal transcendence and the end of racism.

What was different about Beck’s version of this story was the supporting cast. There were a lot of non-white people on the stage, including a significant number of African Americans. The rally went well beyond the tokenism that we are used to seeing, not only in the Republican Party but also in institutions throughout society.

Beck not only gave a featured speaking slot to Alveda King -- one of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nieces, no doubt selected to bolster his claim to be speaking in the MLK tradition -- but also paid close attention to race throughout the day. Take a look at the lineup for the presenters of the three civilian badges of merit for faith, hope, and charity: An American Indian presenting to an African-American; a white man presenting to a Dominican; and a Mexican-American presenting to a white man, with a black woman accepting on his behalf.

Is it all cynical and symbolic? For those of us who are white, do we have a right to ask that question in the presence of so much passion from the people of color on stage? These weren’t cardboard cutouts shoved in front of a camera to add color, but an eclectic mix of people, all espousing a fundamental faith that they seemed to share with Beck.

Whether a movement rooted in Beck’s approach can gain wide acceptance in non-white communities is not the only question. For white people who are struggling with how to live (or, at least, appear to live) a commitment to racial justice, this kind of space will be attractive.

Tea Party gatherings are weighed down by an overt racial ideology that limits their appeal; Beck may have a strategy that overcomes that problem, creating a movement that has a significant enough non-white component to make white people feel good about themselves without really challenging white dominance.


The key message of the “Restoring Honor” rally was redemption, personal and collective, the personal intertwined with the collective. Unlike some reactionary right-wingers, Beck spoke often about America’s mistakes -- though all of them are set safely in the past. Rather than try to downplay slavery, he highlighted it. It is one of America’s “scars,” a term he repeated over and over, to emphasize that our moral and political failures are from history, not of this moment.

“America has been both terribly good and terribly bad,” leaving us with a choice, he said. “We either let those scars crush us or redeem us.” Just as all individuals sin, so do all nations. Just as in our personal life we seek redemption, so do we as a nation. Framed that way, who would not want to choose the path of redemption?

But while on one level America has sinned, on another level it is beyond reproach. “It’s not just a country, it’s an idea, that man can rule himself,” Beck said. An idea remains pure, which means we don’t have to wonder whether there’s something about our political and economic systems that leads to failures; injustice must be the product of individuals' mistakes, not flaws in the systems in which they operate.

This is all standard conservative ideology as well. The United States is not just a nation struggling to be more democratic, but is the essence of democracy. Our wars are, by definition, wars of liberation. The wealth-concentrating capitalist system is not an impediment to freedom but is the essence of freedom.

How any of this jibes with the egalitarian and anti-imperial spirit of the Gospels is off the table, because the United States is a Christian country and the idea of the United States is beyond reproach.

But, again, the key to Beck’s success is not just the ideology but the way he puts it all together. A nation whose wealth rests on genocide, slavery, and ongoing domination of the Third World is the nation that defines faith, hope, and charity? Beck “proves” it by connecting Moses to George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. All are part of the same tradition, the same striving for freedom.

Beck is the perfect person to sing this redemption song. He talks openly of the alcohol and drug abuse that ruled his life until he discovered his faith in God. Unlike George W. Bush, Beck tells the story with conviction. Perhaps both Bush and Beck tell the truth about their experience, but Beck makes you feel it is the truth in a way Bush could never pull off.


Wait a minute, you say, none of this makes a lick of sense. Beck tosses a confused and confusing word salad that rewrites history and ignores reality. Maybe it sounds good, if you throw in enough energetic music and inspirational personal stories from veterans, ministers, philanthropists, and skillful TV personalities. But it’s really nothing but old right-wing ideology, no matter how slick and heartfelt the presentation.

What would Beck’s supporters say? Probably something like this:

So, you are one of those who wants to keep picking at the scars. Why do you lack faith, reject hope, refuse to offer charity? Why do you turn away from the values and principles that made us great? Glenn said it: “We must advance or perish. I choose, advance.” Glenn wants to help us advance, and you want us to perish.

I agree that Beck is wrong about almost everything. I agree that given his record of demagoguery and deception, he is unfit for work in the news media or political leadership. I agree that he may be one of those people incapable of sincerity, someone whose “real” personality is indistinguishable from his stage persona. I agree that he’s a scary guy.

I agree with all that, which is why I don’t really like Glenn Beck. If I ever got close to Beck I would probably like him even less. But after watching his performance on a screen over those three hours, I understand why it’s so easy to like him, at least on a screen. His convoluted mix of arrogance and humility is likable, so long as one doesn’t look too closely at the details.

More than ever, people in the United States don’t want to look at details, because the details are bleak. Beck is on the national stage at a time when we face real collapse. One need not be a Revelation-quoting end-timer to recognize that we are a nation on the way down, living on a planet that is no longer able to supply the endless bounty of our dreams. That’s a difficult reality to face, one that many clamor to deny.

The danger of Beck is not just his appeal to fellow conservatives, but rather his appeal to anyone who wants to deny reality. My fear is not that he will galvanize a conservative base and make a bid for leadership of that part of the political spectrum, but that his message will resonate with moderates, maybe even some liberals, who despair over the future.

Does worrying about Beck’s appeal beyond the far right seem far fetched? The most important rhetorical move Beck made on Saturday was to claim the rally “has nothing to do with politics.” Many people across the ideological spectrum want desperately to escape from contemporary politics, which seems to be a source of endless frustration and heartbreak.

To those people, Glenn Beck’s redemption song will be seductive.

A version of this essay appeared on the Texas Observer website.

[Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of
All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (Soft Skull Press, 2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen is also co-producer of the documentary film Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing, which chronicles the life and philosophy of the longtime radical activist. Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.]

The Rag Blog

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Life During Wartime : 'Danse Macabre'

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

The Rag Blog

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29 August 2010

Larry Ray : (Tea) Party Hats and the Great American Snake

Photo by Oliver Douliery / Abaca Press.

Nonplussed in Naples:
Party hats and the Great American Snake

By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / August 29, 2010

I talk with friends in Italy almost daily and this past year it has been challenging to try to answer their questions about political images beamed to them from America. They are mystified by the clots of angry, mostly white and mostly “mature” Americans who wear strange clown-like hats sometimes with “tanti bustini di tè” (lots of teabags) dangling from them.

Friends in Naples ask, “Who are these people and why do they dress up like that? Is it some sort of folk tradition? Do they still not like dark-skinned people? Why are they so angry?” All are valid questions, especially with the steady stream of news, photos and video being fed constantly to Italy. The loud and bizarre gets lots of play there just like it does here.

Protests have their extremes in Europe, to be sure. French farmers dumped tons of manure in front of McDonald’s outlets protesting U.S. sanctions. And in Brussels it was not blood running in the streets last year, it was milk. Part of a continuing Pan-European farm fury included the scene below, protesting government controlled milk prices. Frustrated farmers presented a clear message that was milked for all it was worth with not one funny hat, misspelled poster, or misplaced metaphor.

So, how to explain why those frustrated, not too well informed, and very noisy Americans gather to “take their country back” while all decked out in giant Red White and Blue top hats and other strange attire? I was recently asked by my friend, Guido, "Larry, why is the woman with the yellow flag with the coiled snake on it telling everyone not to step on the snake? Is she a snake worshiper?"

For years Italians have seen documentaries about Christian sects in rural America who dance wildly inside their churches while holding and even kissing live poisonous snakes. So, coiled rattlesnakes on flags at heated political gatherings suggest to Italians a reasonable association with the American snake handlers they have seen. But snakes as a national symbol of American patriotism is neither quickly nor easily explained.

You can imagine the challenge in trying to talk about the why and who and what of raucous Tea Party gatherings. I have been unable to connect Boston revolutionaries' dumping of crates of tea into their harbor over unfair taxation with today's small tea bags hanging off gaudy sequined hats. Not for my Italian friends or for myself.

The simplistic appeal of Glenn Beck’s dreck, to the people in funny hats is particularly difficult for my friends to understand. Italians who have seen him think Beck is a game show host. I just agreed with them and continued on telling about the Great American Snake.

Explaining the yellow “Gadsden flag” to my Italian friends involved starting with a satirical article written by Ben Franklin in 1751 which included a cartoon showing a timber rattlesnake chopped up into eight pieces. Each piece represented one of the eight colonies. Franklin, tongue in cheek, suggested that since the British had sent convicted criminals to America, we should send rattlesnakes to England by way of thanks.

Four years later Continental Congress Colonel Christopher Gadsden reportedly used the image of a coiled rattlesnake that had been painted on marching band snare drums of U.S. Marines interdicting British naval supply ships arriving in the new colonies to create his “Don’t Tread On Me” flag.

Col. Gadsden presented the first feisty banner to his home constituency in South Carolina. It became one of several early American flags. The flag's image is still all over the place today, even on Nike's 2010 World Cup soccer ball images, at Boy Scouts of America camp sites, and as the Tea Party's official flag.

So somehow it makes perfect sense to lots of the disgruntled and fearful here at home to see a 62 year old American woman in an out sized floppy Uncle Sam hat waving the rattlesnake flag warning you not to step on her patriotism... however she may define that. Why she can't be just as patriotic in regular street clothes puzzles a large majority of Americans as well as my Italian friends.

I will hazard a guess that she and most of the other snake flag wavers have no more idea of the flag's history than Guido. But to her she is a tightly coiled patriot fighting fascism, communism, socialism, and all the other isms that the new black American president and rabid liberals have in store for her. No real need to define or understand all those isms because "everyone knows what they are."

Benjamin Franklin's woodcut cartoon from May 9, 1754. Image from Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons.

Guido, on the other hand, can give you a clear, quick definition of Fascism and communism. His parents lived under Mussolini's Fascist rule. Italy has a Communist party which is represented in its endless postwar coalition governments, and Italy is by and large a social democracy just like a most of Europe today.

Guido asks, still trying to understand the ladies pictured at the top of the page, “That lady in the hat with the colored horns on it, is that for good luck?” In Italy, an animal horn amulet made of real gold or even red plastic wards off evil. I deftly try to say that she is wearing a standard issue Statue of Liberty party hat that has nothing to do with the evil eye or with France who gave the statue to the USA. “So the USA never sent rattlesnakes to France?” I allowed as how I just wasn't sure about that.

Sarah Palin is easier for Italians to understand since they have had their own national nutcase, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who dominates the news with his benighted bumbling and endless internationally embarrassing pronouncements.

Berlusconi is a billionaire media mogul. Sarah Louise is hard at work Twittering her way to becoming a multi-millionaire from speaking fees for her illogical, vacuous God and Country utterances. Sarah Louise has a nice figure, nice looks, and great legs, and if she married Berlusconi it would be a marriage made in heaven. And Sarah speaks in tongues. But I digress.

Trying to sum up the discontent, anger, and bizarre headgear issues, I offered a list of suggested questions Guido could toss around with his friends over a cup of tea before we have our next political chit chat. The ladies at the top of the page might take a glance at these as well.

What happens when big government gets out of your life, starts spending less, and each individual American State bears the responsibility for its citizens' welfare?

Will all the Tea Party folks turn in their Federally subsidized socialized Medicare cards and expect the state and their own private insurance to take care of their health?

When the already collapsing bridges, dams, highways, and other infrastructure finally totally crumbles away while no one has been paying any higher taxes, will the states somehow take care of all those problems within their boundaries? You think Wall Street and your local banker might step in and help you while staying out of your life as well?

And when "the government" has been purged from your lives and "returned to The People" -- except for "when Federal Government assistance is needed" -- what will the rules be that define when and how much assistance?

Finally, who will make those rules? Mad folks in funny hats who created their own brand of social democracy state bystate?

I look forward to my next chat with Guido. He wants to talk about this great nation of America and how it is made up of immigrants. His great uncle Tonino lived in Brooklyn.

[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]

The Rag Blog

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David McReynolds : Glenn Beck's Faux Dream

The great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963. Photo by Warren K. Leffler / U.S. News & World Report / Wikimedia Commons.

Remembering August 28th:
Martin Luther King had a real dream

By David McReynolds / The Rag Blog / August 29, 2010

What a difference money makes. On Saturday, the 28th of August, 2010, Glenn Beck rallied on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with all the majesty of Fox News behind him.

Day after day Fox News had trumpeted the event, organizing for it, and if Beck hadn't gotten a crowd it would have been no fault of those who own Fox News and fund Glenn Beck. (Fox News is one very good reason for an estate tax that would guarantee that no one could buy and own networks, newspapers, and control the media, the way Rupert Murdoch has done.)

I’ve never met Glenn Beck, I don’t expect to. He is -- pretty much in common with all the commentators, whether their views are left or right -- paid to air his views. I suspect that for the right price Beck would happily change those views.

(I do agree with Beck’s attacks on Woodrow Wilson, who brought segregation back to the White House, got us involved in the bloody First World War, and who jailed the Socialist Party’s leader, Eugene V. Debs, for the crime of speaking out against that war. Irony of ironies, Wilson refused to even consider a pardon for Debs -- that remained for the Republican President, Warren G. Harding, who met with Debs in the White House and pardoned him.)

Let me, as someone who has had the good luck to be a guest at history’s table, turn back more than half a century to Wednesday, August 28th, 1963, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. I was then, at 33, a young radical working for the War Resisters League, which had given Bayard Rustin leave so that he could work in the Civil Rights movement as a special aide to Martin Luther King Jr., and as the primary organizer of the August 28th events.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gives his "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The media gave the event good coverage after it happened -- Life Magazine (who can remember the days when Life Magazine, a weekly, was a major cultural force?) put Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph on its cover. But there was no advance coverage, no daily drumbeat on the networks. No commentator who could act as the organizer for it.

Nor did it take place on Saturday -- Bayard knew it had to take place in the middle of the week, when people would need to take time off from their jobs. The event was far more than a weekend outing in the nation’s capitol -- it was the largest demonstration of its kind in our history.

Much of the background feeling can be seen in the film about Bayard, Brother Outsider, which gives one a sense of how the demonstration was organized with the support of trade unions, church groups, and the civil rights movement in the South.

There was profound fear in Washington DC. John F. Kennedy had tried to get the march called off. The police were put on special alert. The shops of the city were largely closed, the streets empty, as “White Washington” braced for the flood of Blacks and the inevitable rioting.

Bayard had enlisted the support of the Guardians, the Black police officers in New York City, who came down in force to provide security.

I don’t remember how I got there -- I assume I was one of the many thousands of New Yorkers who took buses down. But I shall never forget our march toward the Lincoln Memorial, as thousands and thousands of citizens, most of them black, but many of us white, chanted “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom” with a cadence all its own. Blacks from the South who had never been in a mass demonstration with whites before. All pouring into the area around the Lincoln Memorial.

I had been to Washington many times before (and have been many times since). I had been to the “Prayer Pilgrimages" Bayard had organized, which were a kind of prelude to the great march. I was used to the endless list of speakers at these events, a speaker from each of the sponsoring groups.

Usually, after getting to a march, and making sure I’d be one of those counted by the counters, I’d take a break for a hamburger or a drink. This time I was grateful that I stayed and heard King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, breaking out over the vast assemblage. To compare the majesty of that rolling speech, with the cadence of the Black church and the infinite suffering of Black America, with the commercial hysteria of Glenn Beck is, almost, to make one ashamed of being white.

There was a scene that unfolded before King spoke, as the crowd moved into place. George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi leader (who was later assassinated by one of his followers) had set up a small stand from which to speak, and began to spew hatred of “niggers, kikes, queers, and commies."

I admired Rockwell for his courage, but he was clearly intending to spark a riot. I watched with fascination as young Black men moved in, formed a ring around Rockwell and his supporters, and locking arms, faced outward, toward any of the marchers who might be tempted to make a physical assault on Rockwell. Rockwell and his cohorts found themselves isolated -- and protected -- by a ring of young Black men.

Organizer Bayard Rustin at news briefing, August 27, 1963, before March on Washington. Photo by Warren K. Leffler / U.S. News & World Report / Wikimedia Commons.

There was no violence in Washington that day. It was a proud moment for the Civil Rights movement, though terrible things were to come -- on September 16th, racists bombed a black church in Birmingham, murdering four children. And in November of that year JFK was murdered.

August 28th was a moment of affirmation for the best in America, black and white, young and old. It did not end the struggle for civil rights for Black America -- but it was a crucial point in that struggle.

I wonder if those who follow Glenn Beck so avidly will, 10 years from now, look back to this day, this media-organized event on a Saturday when no one had to take off from work, an event funded by the multimillioniares who stand in the shadows behind Beck, and feel they were part of history, in the way those of us who were there in Washington D.C. in 1963 knew we were on the side of the best America had to offer.

[David McReynolds is retired, the former chair of War Resisters International, and the Socialist Party presidential candidate in 1980 and 2000. He lives on the Lower East Side of New York with two cats. He can be reached at dmcreynolds@nyc.rr.com.]

The Rag Blog

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28 August 2010

Jordan Flaherty : Five Years After Katrina and Still Not Home

Image from Facing South.

Displacement continues:
New Orleans five years after Katrina
More than 100,000 New Orleanians received a one-way ticket out of town and still have received no help in coming back, and these voices are left out of most stories of the city.
By Jordan Flaherty / The Rag Blog / August 28, 2010

NEW ORLEANS -- Poet Sunni Patterson is one of New Orleans’ most beloved artists. She has performed in nearly every venue in the city, toured the U.S., and frequently appears on television and radio, from Democracy Now! to Def Poetry Jam. When she performs her poems in local venues, half the crowd recites the words along with her.

But, like many who grew up here, she was forced to move away from the city she loves. She left as part of a wave of displacement that began with Katrina and still continues to this day. While hers is just one story, it is emblematic of the situation of many African Americans from New Orleans, who no longer feel welcomed in the city they were born in.

Patterson comes from New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. Her family’s house was cut in half by the floodwaters and has since been demolished. Despite the loss of her home, she was soon back in the city, living in the Treme neighborhood. She spent much of the following years traveling the country, performing poetry and trying to raise awareness about the plight of New Orleans.

But her income was not enough -- her post-Katrina rent was twice what she had paid before the storm, and she was also putting up money to help her family rebuild as well as preparing for the birth of her son Jibril. “I wound up getting evicted from my apartment because we were still working on the house,” she said. “In the midst of it, you realize that you are not generating the amount of money you need to sustain a living.”

Just as the storm revealed racial inequalities, the recovery has also been shaped by systemic racism. According to a recent survey of New Orleanians by the Kaiser Foundation, 42 percent of African Americans -- versus just 16 percent of whites -- said they still have not recovered from Katrina. Thirty-one percent of African-American residents -- versus eight percent of white respondents -- said they had trouble paying for food or housing in the last year. Housing prices in New Orleans have gone up 63 percent just since 2009.

Eleven billion federal dollars went into Louisiana’s Road Home program, which was meant to help the city rebuild. The payouts from this program went exclusively to homeowners, which cut out renters from the primary source of federal aid.

Even among homeowners, the program treated different populations in different ways. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy recently found that the program was racially discriminatory in the formula it used to disperse funds. By partially basing payouts on home values instead of on damage to homes, the program favored properties in wealthier -- often whiter -- neighborhoods. However, the same judge found that nothing in the law obligated the state to correct this discrimination for the 98 percent of applicants whose cases have been closed.

At approximately 355,000, the city’s population remains more than 100,000 lower than it’s pre-Katrina number, and many counted in the current population are among the tens of thousands who moved here post-Katrina. This puts the number of New Orleanians still displaced at well over 100,000 -- perhaps 150,000 or more. A survey by the Louisiana Family Recovery Corps found that 75 percent of African Americans who were displaced wanted to return but were being kept out. Like Patterson, most of those surveyed said economic forces kept them from returning.

New Orleans after Katrina.

A changed city

As New Orleans approaches the fifth anniversary of Katrina and begins a long recovery from the BP drilling disaster, the media has been searching for an uplifting angle. Stories of the city’s rebirth are everywhere, and there are reasons to feel good about New Orleans.

The Saints’ Super Bowl victory was a turning point for the city, and the HBO series Treme has gone a long way towards helping the story of the city’s trauma and search for recovery get out to a wider audience. Music festivals like Jazz Fest and Essence Fest, which are so central to the city’s tourism-based economy, have brought in some of their largest crowds in recent years.

But despite positive developments in the city’s recovery, more than 100,000 New Orleanians received a one-way ticket out of town and still have received no help in coming back, and these voices are left out of most stories of the city.

Many from this silenced population complain of post-Katrina decisions that placed obstacles in their paths, such as the firing of nearly 7,000 public school employees and canceling of their union contract shortly after the storm, or the tearing down of nearly 5,000 public housing units -- two post-Katrina decisions that disproportionately affected Black residents.

Advocates have also noted that among those who are not counted in the statistics on displacement are the New Orleanians who are in the city, but not home. They fall into the category that international human rights organizations call internally displaced.

The guiding principles of internal displacement, as recognized by the international community, call for more than return. UN principles number 28 and 29 call for, in part, “the full participation of internally displaced persons in the planning and management of their return or resettlement and reintegration.”

They also state that, “They shall have the right to participate fully and equally in public affairs at all levels and have equal access to public services,” as well as to have their property and possessions replaced, or receive “appropriate compensation or another form of just reparation.”
In other words, these principles call for a return that includes restoration and reparations. As civil rights attorney Tracie Washington has said, “I’m still displaced, until the conditions that caused my displacement have been alleviated. I’m still displaced as long as Charity Hospital remains closed. I’m still displaced as long as rents remain unaffordable. I’m still displaced as long as schools are in such bad shape.”

In the U.S., Katrina recovery has fallen under the Stafford Act, a law that specifically excludes many of these rights that international law guarantees.

Among those who are back in New Orleans but still displaced are members of the city’s large homeless population. In a report this week, UNITY for the Homeless estimated from 3,000 to 6,000 persons are living in the city’s abandoned buildings. Seventy-five percent of these undercounted residents are Katrina survivors, most of whom had stable housing before the storm. Eighty-seven percent are disabled, and a disproportionate share are elderly.

Sunni Patterson. Image from lifeizpeotry.

Cultural resistance

Sunni Patterson can’t remember a time when she wasn’t a poet. The words flow naturally and seemingly effortlessly from her. When she performs, it is like a divine presence speaking though her body. Her frame is small but she fills the room. Her voice conveys passion and love and pain and loss. Her words illuminate current events and history lessons -- her topics ranging from the Black Panthers in the Desire housing projects to domestic violence.

You can hear Sunni Patterson’s influence in the performances of many young poets in New Orleans. And in the work of Patterson, you can hear the history of community elders passed along, the chants of Mardi Gras Indians, and the knowledge and embrace of neighbors and family and friends.

And Patterson is part of a large and thriving community of socially conscious culture workers. Since the late ’90s, you could find spoken word poetry being performed somewhere in New Orleans almost any night of the week. And many of these poets are also teachers, activists, and community organizers.

Although Patterson’s house had been in her family for generations, her relatives had difficulty presenting the proper paperwork for the Road Home Program -- a problem shared by many New Orleanians. “We’re dealing with properties that have been passed down from generation to generation,” says Patterson. “The paperwork is not always available. A lot of elders are tired, they don’t know what to do.”

Now, like so many other former New Orleanians, she cannot afford to live in the city she loves. “I’m in Houston,” she says, seemingly stunned by her own words. “Houston. Houston. I can’t say that and make it sound right. It hurts me to my heart that my child’s birth certificate says Houston, Texas.”

One of the hardest aspects of leaving New Orleans has been the loss of her community. “In that same house that I grew up, my great grandmother and grandfather lived,” she says. “Everybody that lived around there, you knew. It was family. In New Orleans, even if you don’t know someone, you still speak and wave and say hello. In other cities, there’s something wrong with you if you speak to someone you don’t know.”

New Orleanians were displaced after the storm to 5,500 cities, spread across every US state. Although the vast majority of former New Orleanians are in nearby cities like Houston, Dallas, or Atlanta, many are still living in further locales from Utah to Maine.

While she is sad to be gone from the city, Patterson wants to see the positive in the loss. “The good part is that New Orleans energy and culture is now dispersed all over the world,” she says. “You can’t kill it. Ain’t that something? That’s what I love about it. So we still gotta give thanks, even in the midst of the atrocity, that poetry is still being created.”

[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! and appeared as a guest on CNN Morning, Anderson Cooper 360, and Keep Hope Alive with the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Haymarket Books has just released his new book, FLOODLINES: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. He can be reached at neworleans@leftturn.org.]

More information about Floodlines can be found at floodlines.org. Floodlines will also be featured on the Community and Resistance Tour this fall. For more information on the tour, see communityandresistance.wordpress.com.
Resources mentioned in this article:
Other Resources:
The Rag Blog

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27 August 2010

Gloria Feldt : Gender Disparities and Aniston-O'Reilly Spat

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly attacked Jennifer Aniston for her comments on single parenting. Photos by Sykes, AP; Lovekin / Getty. Image from New York Daily News.

Women's Equality Day:
Aniston comments on single parenting
Get O'Reilly all riled up

By Gloria Feldt / August 27, 2010

Jennifer Aniston sparked a classic Bill O'Reilly firestorm when she said a woman doesn't need a man to have children and a perfectly fine life, thank you very much.

Defending not her personal situation but the character she plays in The Switch, her hit movie about a single woman who chose to be impregnated by a sperm donor, Aniston opined, "Women are realizing... they don't have to settle with a man just to have a child." O'Reilly retorted that Aniston trivialized the role of men, saying she was "throwing out a message to 12 and 13-year-olds that, 'Hey, you don't need a dad,' and that's destructive."

It's no accident that this pregnant pop culture moment occurred near the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage, Women's Equality Day, August 26. The Aniston-O'Reilly tiff highlights both the progress women have made and how far we are from reaching parity from the bedroom to the boardroom. We might be able to make babies on our own, but according to the White House Project, only 18 percent of leadership positions across all sectors are held by women.

That includes women like Mary Cheney, either clueless or co-opted or both, who even as she endorses anti-choice, anti-gay candidates, claims her own same-sex relationship and pregnancy choice are private matters.

It includes women like my Pilates instructor, who spent her life savings on achieving a high-tech pregnancy at age 42 and told me, "If men would step up to the plate, women like me wouldn't be in this situation" of deciding solo whether or not to experience motherhood.

But the focus on these 50,000 or so exceptional conceptions overshadows the concerns and needs of the six million American women who become pregnant the old-fashioned way in any given year.

Besides, separating biology from destiny is just one of many expansions of freedoms women have aspired to as far back as 1776, when Abigail Adams urged her husband John to "remember the ladies," threatening that the women would rebel if excluded from the Constitution (Yes, the same document Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers want restored to its original state when enslaved African-American men were counted as 2/3 of persons and women were ignored completely).

The Founding Fathers did not heed Abigail's plea, the women did not rebel, and as a consequence it took until 1920 for women to achieve ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing them the right to vote.

And just as those against women's suffrage alleged it would trigger the demise of the patriarchal family, what sets off the O'Reilly Factors of the world isn't so much concern that high-tech turkey-basters will replace the penises they hold dear. It's terror that the power over others -- hegemony they've assumed as their gender's birthright -- diminishes in proportion to the rise in women's power to set the course of their own lives.

Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Power isn't a finite pie where a slice for you makes less for me. It's an abundant resource. The more it is shared, the more the pie grows, and the more everyone thrives.

But if men have not yet figured this out, neither have women decided it's time to use their power to make the rest of the changes needed to reach full equality.

A recent Harris Poll found three out of five Americans say the U.S. has a long way to go to reach gender equality. Not surprisingly, there's a gender difference: half of men feel inequality remains whereas 74 percent of women agree. But the startling finding is that both men and women across the age spectrum downplay the importance of rectifying gender inequality, saying there are more pressing issues to fix.

That kind of self-abnegation to which women are still acculturated is why AOL's electronic greeting card selections celebrated August 26 as National Toilet Paper Day as recently as 2007, yet the company had no card for Women's Equality Day. Popular culture will continue to imitate what we talk about and what we pay attention to in our daily lives.

And while it's relatively easy for a celebrity like Jennifer Aniston to get attention for any subject, it's much harder for the rest of us to shine the public spotlight on other important issues impinging upon equality.

Today's challenges to reaching a fair gender power balance are rooted not so much in legal barriers as in eliminating lingering constrictive cultural narratives, such as assuming mothers are less competent workers, thus paying them less than men or than women without children.

Women can't wait for a Jennifer Aniston to lead the charge for change, and we don't need to.

It took just one woman, unknown to the paparazzi, calling AOL's oversight to the attention of 10 of her friends, asking each to forward the message to 10 more, to start a viral protest to AOL. An avalanche of complaints ensued, and Women's Equality Day cards magically appeared.

Assuring that attention is paid by media, decision makers, and policy makers -- and by women ourselves -- to social and perceptual barriers standing in the way of a fair shake has become the women's equality issue of these early decades of the 21st century. If we can accomplish that, women's possibilities will indeed be unlimited.

O'Reilly will continue to be offended. But isn't that just another sign of progress?

[Gloria Feldt is the author of the forthcoming No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. The article was distributed by truthout.]

Source / truthout

The Rag Blog

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26 August 2010

Harvey Wasserman : Honor Dr. King and Bring the Troops Home Now

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with President Lyndon Johnson in the White House, March 1966. Photo by Yoichi Okamoto / Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

Honor Dr. Martin Luther King:
Bring the troops home NOW!

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / August 26, 2010

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream" speech is one of history’s greatest orations, as well as one of its most beautiful arias.

To truly honor him and the heartfelt genius he brought us, we must do the one thing that most hurtfully blocked his Dream: we must end the imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, at long last, bring our troops home from all over the world.

Because I use it in my U.S. history classes, I have heard Dr. King’s speech scores of times. I play it on a scratchy video whenever possible and never tire of it. It is more sung than delivered, and his sonorous voice and perfect cadence are the equal of any operatic oratorio ever written. Close your eyes and you are in the greatest of all concert halls.

But its message cuts to the core of our entire history. It contains beautiful descriptions of much of our national landscape. It references Stone Mountain, Georgia, where we suffered the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, and Lookout Mountain in Tennessee, the origin of the infamous Scottsboro Boys legal persecution.

It sings with perfect pitch of our most spiritual president, Abraham Lincoln, and the promise made to African-Americans still being given a bad check for 250 years of unrequited labor.

Over the years the speech has gained incredible strength. It was never fully written out, improvised as only a true master can as he went along. With astounding good fortune I did hear it as he gave it, at the age of 17, sitting on the left side of the reflecting pool as you face out from the monument.

In 1966 I met Dr. King as he delivered a hypnotizing sermon in a tiny church in Granada, Mississippi, surrounded by the Klan and the FBI as we marched toward Jackson following the shooting of James Meredith, who had been walking alone to demand the right of black people to vote in the South.

Much has happened since then to frustrate Dr. King’s dream of true social equality. But nothing of more significance than Lyndon Johnson’s horrific decision to escalate the war in Vietnam.

King and Johnson had met over the signing of civil rights legislation that should have revolutionized race relations here and, indeed, throughout the world. There’s no doubt the laws won in the early 1960s through the incredible sacrifices of so many in the civil rights movement have changed this nation for the better.

We now, indeed, have realized the “dream” of an African-American in the White House, something that seemed a far-distant fantasy back then. “In the next century,” we’d say, “there may even be a black man in the White House.” For the first time, it seemed actually possible.

But in the midst of an era of so much promise, the country was ripped asunder from another direction -- imperial ambition. The senseless, worthless and ultimately futile tragedy in Vietnam shattered our dreams. It polluted our soul and bankrupted our treasury for no apparent reason beyond what was forever branded “the arrogance of power” by a wise Senator from Arkansas.

This nation has never recovered from that war. Nearly a half-century later, the imperial disease still torments us. From Southeast to Southwest Asia, from the Orient to Africa to Latin America, our troops are still strewn throughout the globe. They are dying in Afghanistan.


The reasons are myriad, and unacceptable. And it was Dr. King who warned of the ultimate outcome most forcefully of all, by linking the denial of civil rights and social justice directly to the folly of empire.

Leading directly from his “Dream” speech, this is the most powerful thing he did. There are those who believe it got him killed. But it is also what has most thoroughly enshrined him.

Having stood by the side of a President of the United States, Martin Luther King had the ultimate temerity to call Lyndon Johnson on his most tragic and costly error. Had LBJ listened, our nation -- and his own life -- would have been blessed with much much happier outcomes.

King’s defiance of Johnson over his war policy horrified many of the leaders of the civil rights movement. But he was more than right to do it. In linking the movements for racial equality, social justice, and an end to war, King clarified forever the barriers we must overcome if we are to survive on this planet.

This weekend, on the anniversary of that great aria, there are those who would attempt to hijack the symbolism of that fertile time for opposing purposes. They are of little historic consequence, symptoms rather than cures for the imperial sickness that is dragging us down as surely as it did Athens, Rome, Babylon, and so many other societies that could not overcome their suicidal arrogance.

They all have one thing in common: they ignored -- and even killed -- those prophets who sing history’s most compelling Truth.

The arc of history bends inexorably toward justice, which can come only with peace.

Thank you so much, Dr. King. We love you.

[Harvey Wasserman has been involved in the struggle for peace, justice, and a green earth since the late 1960's. Harvey Wasserman's History of the United States is at www.harveywasserman.com.]

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