29 December 2011

Bruce Melton : Welcome to Climate Change in Texas

Tree Kill in Central Texas, drought of 2011. Photo by Bruce Melton / The Rag Blog.

Drought and wildfires:
Welcome to climate change in Texas

By Bruce Melton / The Rag Blog / December 29, 2011
Environmental researcher and climate change activist Bruce Melton will be Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio, Friday, Dec. 30, from 2-3 p.m. (CST), on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and streamed live on the web. (The show is rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. [Eastern] on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA.) Also, listen to our Dec. 12, 2010, interview with Bruce Melton at the Internet Archive, and read more articles by Bruce Melton about global warming on The Rag Blog.
[This is the first in a three-part series.]

AUSTIN -- If this is not climate change, then this is exactly what climate change will be in as little as a decade. What has been happening in Texas, with these unprecedented (in time frames that matter) droughts and wildfires, is exactly what the climate scientists have been warning us about for over 20 years. We have been building up to this point since about the turn of the century, and now ecosystems have tipped over the edge. Climate feedbacks have kicked in hard.

The Texas Forest Services tells us that a half billion trees have died. Many more will die in the next five to 10 years from disease and insect infestation allowed by the damage that has already been done. These are the trees that have died in the drought, not the fires.

The first of this series of drought in 2005/6 was just classified as extreme. The last two have been one category worse than extreme -- the exceptional category. The last 12 months were drier than the worst 12 months of the great drought of the 1950s. This has been a $10 billion drought, with another $1 billion in damages from the fires.

Worse, it’s hotter now. This summer was 4.9 degrees warmer than average. This may not seem like a lot, but think how sick you have been in the past if you have ever had a 102.9 degree temperature. The reason that increased heat makes such a big difference is that extra heat greatly increases evaporation intensifying the effects of drought. In other words, the same drought is much worse if it is only a little hotter.

Trees started dying from the drought in 2005/6. The die-off became really bad in 2009 when broad swaths of the countryside west and east of Austin turned brown and failed to turn green again in the spring. Trees damaged from just one of these droughts can remain weak and susceptible to disease or dieback for a decade or more after the drought. The little root hairs on tree roots that soak up water take a long time to grow back.

West of Fredricksburg for 100 miles to the edge of the forest the desert has arrived. Fully half of the trees in that region are defoliated from drought (only a small amount is from oak wilt). The fate of many of these trees is sealed, but there is hope that rain will return fast enough to make a difference for some.

The total number of fires in Texas since November 2010 (through September 20, 2011) is 22,790, totaling 3,759,331 acres. This exceeds the previous record of 2.1 million acres, set in just 2005/6, by 80 percent. We almost doubled the last record, set just five years ago.

Thirty-three percent of U.S. wildland fires this year have been in Texas. The number of Texas fires this year is 61 percent greater (so far) than the 10-year national average for the entire United States. Six of the 10 largest wildfires in Texas history have occurred in 2011.

Sure, there have been bigger droughts and bigger fires in the early 1900s or the 1800s or the 1,300 hundreds or 3,000 year BC, but our complicated society did not evolve back then. We do not have the water to support our region today. This is why we have water use restriction in effect now, and last summer and every summer since the turn of the 21st century.

Do those bigger droughts in the past matter? Not one bit unless one uses that knowledge to understand the droughts and other really serious impacts allowed by drought that will happen right here, starting now. This is exactly what our climate scientists have been doing for these last 20 or 30 years that they have been warning us that these things would become the normal on a warmer planet.

In June 2009, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), founded by Ronald Reagan, published a report that tells us that by 2080, Austin will see an average of 90 to 120 days of 100 degree weather every year -- 10 times more than today’s average of 12 days per year. And this evaluation was done based on one of the middle of the road scenarios.

We are currently smack-dab in the middle of the worst-case scenario of the climate models. FYI: the Sonoran Desert Research Station in Arizona, the one with the giant Saguaro cactus, has an average of 87 days every year where the temperature tops 100 degrees.

A paper in Geophysical Research Letters in July 2010 (Diffenbaugh and Ashfaq) tells us that climate conditions will continue to rapidly worsen in the interior of North America and especially the West. The worsening will be so rapid that the decade 2020 to 2029 will include three to five droughts as bad as or worse than the worst drought that we have seen since 1951 (like what we just had).

A report out of the National Climatic Data Center in February 2011 (Dia) tells us that beginning in just 19 years (2030) Dust Bowl conditions will be the average climate condition across much of the interior of the U.S. By 2060, much of the interior of the nation will be two to three times as bad as the Dust Bowl with some areas four to five times more extreme than the Dust Bowl.

If you think I am trying to scare you, you are wrong. Projecting the second year of this current drought similar to or worse than what we have just experienced, with a growing La Nina and Lake Travis at 38 percent of capacity right now -- that’s scary.

Lake Travis was 100 percent full just 16 months ago. Travis is at its third lowest level or as low as it has been in 47 years. The only reason that it is not the lowest level ever though, is that prior to 47 years ago Lake Travis was used extensively for hydropower generation. This has not been done since that time.

What are we gonna do? Getting through the drought and fires is very important. This situation is extremely dangerous. Trim your trees, police your underbrush, move that firewood pile away from the house, get your valuables together in a “go-bag.”

The threat of suburban and even urban firestorms, as demonstrated recently in Bastrop and accidentally predicted, to the weekend -- by our State Climatologist -- is real and it is not likely to get better for another year. The future is here now. We must change the evolution of our society fast, before we run completely out of water. Prehistory tells us that these abrupt climate changes can be exceedingly violent.

This is no longer business as usual. Water use restrictions will not meet this challenge alone. We must act now to convince our leaders that this is not just another in a long string of extraordinary weather events that we cannot yet blame on climate change. If we do not immediately change our habits and lifestyles, we will run out of water. Our forests are already dying because they have run out of water.

Now: if you have read this far, you deserve a break. The bigger picture is a little more comforting than what is happening in our region today. I just finished another book by Dr. Richard Alley, one of the pivotal climate scientists of our time. Professor Alley tells us in Earth, the Operators Manual, that fixing our climate will be no more difficult or costly than creating our society’s wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure.

Cleaning up human waste took about 100 years and so will fixing our climate. It took about one percent of global GDP to install our wastewater infrastructure and this is close enough to the latest economic analyses of dealing with climate change to make the comparison valid. One percent of global GDP is almost exactly the same amount of money as the U.S. spends on its military every year, not counting wars.

But please understand that our climate scientists have been warning us for more than 20 years that if we do not act now, the costs and impacts will only become greater.

[Bruce Melton is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, writer, and front man for the band Climate Change. Information on Melton’s new book, Climate Discovery Chronicles, can be found, along with more climate change writing and outreach, critical environmental issue films, and the band’s original blues, rock, and folk music tuned to climate change lyrics at his website. Read more articles by Bruce Melton on The Rag Blog.]


A half billion trees:
Preliminary estimates show hundreds of millions of trees killed by 2011 drought, Texas Forest Service, December 19, 2011.

The Texas drought and future of drought in Texas:
Snapshot of the Texas Drought: Near-term and long-term, projections include more dry conditions in Texas, Texas Climate News, Houston Advanced Research Center, November 2011.

Drought in Texas: Status, Future, Reinsurance, Willis Re, 2011.

August 2011 Weather Summary: National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Billion dollar U.S. weather disasters 2011, National Climatic Data Center:

USGCRP, U.S. Climate Change Science Program Coastal Sensitivity to Sea Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region, U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Department of Transportation, 320 pages, November 2009.
Complete report available online: http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/saps/302

Diffenbaugh and Ashfaq, Intensification of hot extremes in the United States, Geophysical Research Letters, August 2010. http://www.stanford.edu/~omramom/Diffenbaugh_GRL_10.pdf

Dai, Drought under global warming - a review, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews - Climate Change, p 45-65, January-February 2011.

Alley, Earth: The Operators Manual, WW Norton, 2011

The Rag Blog

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Rebecca Solnit : Occupy Your Heart

Photo by Ian MacKenzie / Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy your heart:
Compassion is our new currency
Occupy arrived and, as if swept by some strange pandemic, a contagious virus of truth-telling, everyone was suddenly obliged to call things by their real names and talk about actual problems.
By Rebecca Solnit / TomDispatch / December 29, 2011

Usually at year’s end we’re supposed to look back at events just passed -- and forward, in prediction mode, to the year to come. But just look around you! This moment is so extraordinary that it has hardly registered. People in thousands of communities across the United States and elsewhere are living in public, experimenting with direct democracy, calling things by their true names, and obliging the media and politicians to do the same.

The breadth of this movement is one thing, its depth another. It has rejected not just the particulars of our economic system, but the whole set of moral and emotional assumptions on which it’s based. Take the pair shown in a photograph from Occupy Austin in Texas. The amiable-looking elderly woman is holding a sign whose computer-printed words say, “Money has stolen our vote.” The older man next to her with the baseball cap is holding a sign handwritten on cardboard that states, “We are our brothers’ keeper.”

The photo of the two of them offers just a peek into a single moment in the remarkable period we’re living through and the astonishing movement that’s drawn in... well, if not 99% of us, then a striking enough percentage: everyone from teen pop superstar Miley Cyrus with her Occupy-homage video to Alaska Yup’ik elder Esther Green ice-fishing and holding a sign that says “Yirqa Kuik” in big letters, with the translation -- “occupy the river” -- in little ones below.

The woman with the stolen-votes sign is referring to them. Her companion is talking about us, all of us, and our fundamental principles. His sign comes straight out of Genesis, a denial of what that competitive entrepreneur Cain said to God after foreclosing on his brother Abel’s life. He was not, he claimed, his brother’s keeper; we are not, he insisted, beholden to each other, but separate, isolated, each of us for ourselves.

Think of Cain as the first Social Darwinist and this Occupier in Austin as his opposite, claiming, no, our operating system should be love; we are all connected; we must take care of each other. And this movement, he’s saying, is about what the Argentinian uprising that began a decade ago, on December 19, 2001, called politica afectiva, the politics of affection.

If it’s a movement about love, it’s also about the money they so unjustly took, and continue to take, from us -- and about the fact that, right now, money and love are at war with each other. After all, in the American heartland, people are beginning to be imprisoned for debt, while the Occupy movement is arguing for debt forgiveness, renegotiation, and debt jubilees.

Sometimes love, or at least decency, wins. One morning late last month, 75-year-old Josephine Tolbert, who ran a daycare center from her modest San Francisco home, returned after dropping a child off at school only to find that she and the other children were locked out because she was behind in her mortgage payments.

True Compass LLC, who bought her place in a short sale while she thought she was still negotiating with Bank of America, would not allow her back into her home of almost four decades, even to get her medicines or diapers for the children.

We demonstrated at her home and at True Compass’s shabby offices while they hid within, and students from Occupy San Francisco State University demonstrated outside a True Compass-owned restaurant on behalf of this African-American grandmother. Thanks to this solidarity and the media attention it garnered, Tolbert has collected her keys, moved back in, and is renegotiating the terms of her mortgage.

Hundreds of other foreclosure victims are now being defended by local branches of the Occupy movement, from West Oakland to North Minneapolis. As New York writer, filmmaker, and Occupier Astra Taylor puts it,
Not only does the occupation of abandoned foreclosed homes connect the dots between Wall Street and Main Street, it can also lead to swift and tangible victories, something movements desperately need for momentum to be maintained. The banks, it seems, are softer targets than one might expect because so many cases are rife with legal irregularities and outright criminality.

With one in five homes facing foreclosure and filings showing no sign of slowing down in the next few years, the number of people touched by the mortgage crisis -- whether because they have lost their homes or because their homes are now underwater -- truly boggles the mind.
If what’s been happening locally and globally has some of the characteristics of an uprising, then there has never been one quite so pervasive -- from the scientists holding an Occupy sign in Antarctica to Occupy presences in places as far-flung as New Zealand and Australia, São Paulo, Frankfurt, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, and Reykjavik.

"Occupy the river": Eskimo elder, Esther Green. Image from Wind Turbine Syndrome.

And don’t forget the tiniest places, either. The other morning at the Oakland docks for the West Coast port shutdown demonstrations, I met three members of Occupy Amador County, a small rural area in California’s Sierra Nevada. Its largest town, Jackson, has a little over 4,000 inhabitants, which hasn’t stopped it from having regular outdoor Friday evening Occupy meetings.

A little girl in a red parka at the Oakland docks was carrying a sign with a quote from blind-deaf-and-articulate early twentieth-century role model Helen Keller that said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.”

Why quote Keller at a demonstration focused on labor and economics? The answer is clear enough: because Occupy has some of the emotional resonance of a spiritual, as well as a political, movement. Like those other upheavals it’s aligned with in Spain, Greece, Iceland (where they’re actually jailing bankers), Britain, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Chile, and most recently Russia, it wants to ask basic questions: What matters? Who matters? Who decides? On what principles?

Stop for a moment and consider just how unforeseen and unforeseeable all of this was when, on December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable vendor in Sidi Bouzid, an out-of-the-way, impoverished city, immolated himself. He was protesting the dead-end life that the 1% economy run by Tunisia’s autocratic ruler Zine Ben Ali and his corrupt family allotted him, and the police brutality that went with it, two things that have remained front and center ever since.

Above all, as his mother has since testified, he was for human dignity, for a world, that is, where the primary system of value is not money.

“Compassion is our new currency,” was the message scrawled on a pizza-box lid at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan -- held by a pensive-looking young man in Jeremy Ayers’s great photo portrait.

But what can you buy with compassion?

Quite a lot, it turns out, including a global movement, and even pizza, which can arrive at that movement’s campground as a gift of solidarity. A few days into Occupy Wall Street’s surprise success, a call for pizza went out and $2,600 in pizzas came in within an hour, just as earlier this year the occupiers of Wisconsin’s state house had been copiously supplied with pizza -- including pies paid for and dispatched by Egyptian revolutionaries.

The return of the disappeared

During the 1970s and 1980s dictatorship and death-squad era in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Central America, the term “the disappeared” came to cover those who were kidnapped, held in secret, tortured, and then often executed in secret. So many decades later, their fates are often still being deciphered.

In the United States, the disappeared also exist, not thanks to a brutal army or paramilitaries, but to a brutal economy. When you lose your job, you vanish from the workplace and sooner or later arrive at emptiness in your day, your identity, your wallet, your ability to participate in a commercial society.

When you lose your home, you disappear from familiar spaces: the block, the neighborhood, the rolls of homeowners. Often, you vanish in shame, leaving behind friends and acquaintances.

At the actions to support some of the 1,500 mostly African-American homeowners being foreclosed upon in southeastern San Francisco, several of them described how they had to overcome a powerful sense of shame simply to speak up, no less defend themselves or join this movement.

In the U.S., failure is always supposed to be individual, not systemic, and so it tends to produce a sense of personal devastation that leaves its victims feeling alone and lying low, even though they are among legions of others.

The people who destroyed our economy through their bottomless greed are, on the other hand, shameless -- as shameless as the CEOs whose compensation shot up 36% in 2010, during this deep and grinding recession. Compassion is definitely not their currency.

The word “occupy” itself speaks powerfully to the American disappeared and the very idea of disappearance. It speaks to those who have lost their occupation or the home they occupied. In its many meanings, it’s a big tent. It means to fill a space, take possession of it, employ oneself, busy oneself, fill time. (In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the verb had a meaning so sexual it fell out of common use.)

It describes the state of being present that the Occupy movement’s General Assemblies and tent camps have lived out, a space in which -- as Mohamed Bouazizi might have dreamed it -- the disappeared can reappear with dignity.

Occupy has also created a space in which people of all kinds can coexist, from the homeless to the tenured, from the inner city to the agrarian. Coexisting in public with like-minded strangers and acquaintances is one of the great foundations and experiences of democracy, which is why dictatorships ban gatherings and groups -- and why our First Amendment guarantee of the right of the people peaceably to assemble is being tested more strongly today than in any recent moment in American history.

Nearly every Occupy has at its center regular meetings of a General Assembly. These are experiments in direct democracy that have been messy, exasperating, and miraculous: arenas in which everyone is invited to be heard, to have a voice, to be a member, to shape the future. Occupy is first of all a conversation among ourselves.

To occupy also means to show up, to be present -- a radically unplugged experience for a digital generation. Today, the term is being applied to any place where one plans to be present, geographically or metaphorically: Occupy Wall Street, occupy the food system, occupy your heart.

The ad hoc invention of the people’s mic by the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, which requires everyone to listen, repeat, and amplify what’s being said, has only strengthened this sense of presence. You can’t text or half-listen if your task is to repeat everything, so that everyone hears and understands. You become the keeper of your brother’s or sister’s voice as you repeat their words.

It’s a triumph of the here and now -- and it’s everywhere: the Regents of the University of California are mic-checked, politicians are mic-checked, the Durban Climate Conference in South Africa had occupiers and mic-check moments. Activism had long been in dire need of new modes of doing things, and this year it got them.

Image from Democratic Underground.

A mouthful of truth

Before the Occupy movement arrived on the scene, political dialogue and media chatter in this country seemed to be arriving from a warped parallel universe. Tiny government expenditures were denounced, while the vortex sucking our economy dry was rarely addressed; hard-working immigrants were portrayed as deadbeats; people who did nothing were anointed as “job creators”; the trashed economy and massive suffering were overlooked, while politicians jousted over (and pundits pontificated about) the deficit; class war was only called class war when someone other than the ruling class waged it.

It’s as though we were trying to navigate Las Vegas with a tattered map of medieval Byzantium -- via, that is, a broken language in which everything and everyone got lost.

Then Occupy arrived and, as if swept by some strange pandemic, a contagious virus of truth-telling, everyone was suddenly obliged to call things by their real names and talk about actual problems. The blather about the deficit was replaced by acknowledgments of grotesque economic inequality. Greed was called greed, and once it had its true name, it became intolerable, as had racism when the Civil Rights Movement named it and made it evident to those who weren’t suffering from it directly.

The vast scale of suffering around student debt and tuition hikes, foreclosures, unemployment, wage stagnation, medical costs, and the other afflictions of the normal American suddenly moved to the top of the news, and once exposed to the light, these, too, became intolerable.

If the solutions to the nightmares being named are neither near nor easy, naming things, describing reality with some accuracy, is at least a crucial first step. Informing ourselves as citizens is another. Aspects of our not-quite-democracy that were once almost invisible are now on the table for discussion -- and for opposition, notably corporate personhood, the legal status that gives corporations the rights, but not the obligations and vulnerabilities, of citizens.

(One oft-repeated Occupier sign says, “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas puts one to death.”)

The Los Angeles City Council passed a measure calling for an end to corporate personhood, the first big city to join the Move to Amend campaign against corporate personhood and against the 2009 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling that gave corporations unlimited ability to insert their cash in our political campaigns.

Occupy actions across the country are planned for January 20th, the second anniversary of Citizens United. Vermont’s independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who’s been speaking the truth alone for a long time, introduced a constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United and limit corporate power in the Senate, while Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced a similar measure in the House.

Only a few years ago, hardly anyone knew what corporate personhood was. Now, signs denouncing it are common. Similarly, at Occupy events, people make it clear that they know about the New Deal-era financial reform measure known as the Glass-Steagall Act, which was partially repealed in 1999, removing the wall between commercial and investment banks; that they know about the proposed financial transfer tax, nicknamed the Robin Hood Tax, that would raise billions with a tiny levy on every financial transaction; that they understand many of the means by which the 1% were enriched and the rest of us robbed.

This represents a striking learning curve. A new language of truth, debate about what actually matters, an informed citizenry: that’s no small thing. But we need more.

Occupy the environment? Image from LUMES Channel.

We are the 99.999%

I was myself so caught up in the Occupy movement that I stopped paying my usual attention to the war over the climate -- until I was brought up short by the catastrophic failure of the climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa. There, earlier this month, the most powerful and carbon-polluting countries managed to avoid taking any timely and substantial measures to keep the climate from heating up and the Earth from slipping into unstoppable chaotic change.

It’s our nature to be more compelled by immediate human suffering than by remote systemic problems. Only this problem isn’t anywhere near as remote as many Americans imagine. It’s already creating human suffering on a large scale and will create far more.

Many of the food crises of the past decade are tied to climate change, and in Africa thousands are dying of climate-related chaos. The floods, fires, storms, and heat waves of the past few years are climate change coming to call earlier than expected in the U.S.

In the most immediate sense, Occupy may have weakened the climate movement by focusing many of us on the urgent suffering of our brothers, our neighbors, our democracy. In the end, however, it could strengthen that movement with its new tactics, alliances, spirit, and language of truth.

After all, why have we been unable to make the major changes required to limit greenhouse gases in the atmosphere? The answer is a word suddenly in wide circulation: greed. Responding adequately to this crisis would benefit every living thing. When it comes to climate change, after all, we are the 99.999%.

But the international .001% who profit immeasurably from the carbon economy -- the oil and coal tycoons, industrialists, and politicians whose strings they pull -- are against this change. For decades, they’ve managed to propagandize many Americans, in and out of government, into climate denial, spreading lies about the science and economics of climate change, and undermining any possible legislation and international negotiations to ameliorate it.

And if you think the eviction of elderly homeowners is brutal, think of it as a tiny foreshadowing of the displacement and disappearance of people, communities, nations, species, habitats. Climate change threatens to foreclose on all of us.

The groups working on climate change now, notably 350.org and Tar Sands Action, have done astonishing things already. Most recently, with the help of native Canadians, local activists, and alternative media, they very nearly managed to kill the single scariest and biggest North American threat to the climate: the tar sands pipeline that would go from Canada to Texas. It’s been a remarkable show of organizing power and popular will. Occupy the Climate may need to come next.

Maybe Occupy Wall Street and its thousands of spin-offs have built the foundation for it. But perhaps the greatest gift that it and the other movements of 2011 have given us is a sharpening of our perceptions -- and our conflicts. So much more is out in the open now, including the greed, the brutality with which entities from the Egyptian army to the Oakland police impose the will of rulers, and most of all the deep generosity of spirit that is behind, within, and around these insurgencies and their activists.

None of these movements is perfect, and individuals within them are not always the greatest keepers of their brothers and sisters. But one thing couldn’t be clearer: compassion is our new currency.

Nothing has been more moving to me than this desire, realized imperfectly but repeatedly, to connect across differences, to be a community, to make a better world, to embrace each other. This desire is what lies behind those messy camps, those raucous demonstrations, those cardboard signs and long conversations. Young activists have spoken to me about the extraordinary richness of their experiences at Occupy, and they call it love.

In the spirit of calling things by their true names, let me summon up the description that Ella Baker and Martin Luther King used for the great communities of activists who stood up for civil rights half a century ago: the beloved community. Many who were active then never forgot the deep bonds and deep meaning they found in that struggle.

We -- and the word “we” encompasses more of us than ever before -- have found those things, too, and this year we have come close to something unprecedented, a beloved community that circles the globe.

[Rebecca Solnit, a regular contributor to TomDispatch, continues occupying the public library, the sidewalks, her deepest hopes, and the armchair in which she writes, supports 350.org, and joins Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland in their general assemblies and actions. This article was originally published at TomDispatch. Copyright 2011 Rebecca Solnit.]

The Rag Blog

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28 December 2011

Bob Feldman : Reconstruction in Texas/2

African-Americans voting in 1867. Image from the Texas Liberal.

The hidden history of Texas
Part VII: Reconstruction in Texas, 1865-1876/2
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / December 26, 2011

[This is the second section of Part 7 of Bob Feldman's Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas.]

According to Alwyn Barr’s Black Texans, after the Civil War “the vast majority of ex-slaves” in Texas “settled down to become sharecroppers or tenant farmers" by 1870, and only “a few had saved enough to buy their own farms.” Yet by 1870 a significant proportion of the residents in urban Texas cities like Galveston, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin were also now African-American.

Between 1860 and 1870, the percentage of Galveston residents who were of African descent increased from 16 to 22 percent, while the percentage of San Antonio's African-American population increased from 7 to 16 percent. In addition, the percentage of African-Americans in Houston also increased from 22 to 39 percent between 1860 and 1870.

And, as David Humphrey’s Austin: An Illustrated History observed, “while the number of whites in Austin increased by only 12 percent during the 1860s, the number of blacks grew more than 60 percent as hundreds of former slaves migrated to town in search of opportunity;” and by 1870 “three out of eight Austinites were black.”

According to Black Texans, by 1870 in San Antonio, “63 percent of the black males worked as unskilled laborers, porters, and servants,” 10 percent worked as “teamsters, hack drivers, cart drivers, and hostlers,” 23 percent worked as “skilled artisans,” only 4 percent worked as professionals, and “only 14 percent of the black males in San Antonio owned property.”

The same book also noted that in San Antonio in 1870, 90 percent of Mexican-American males earned their living as either unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled workers, while only 68 percent of the male immigrants from Europe who lived there were unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled workers. Although 96 percent of the male workers of African-American descent in 1870 San Antonio were either unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled workers, only 56 percent of the non-immigrant native white Anglo workers who then lived in Texas were unskilled, semi-skilled, or skilled workers.

According to F.Ray Marshall’s Labor in the South, “the first Texas longshoremen’s union was formed in 1866 and received a state charter of incorporation as the Galveston Screwman’s Benevolent Association [GSBA].” Its membership was “about one-third German, one-third Irish, and one-third native whites...” “It had 60 members shortly after its formation,” and by 1875, “the organization was strong enough to enforce the closed shop” on the docks.

But, “in 1869 the organization adopted a resolution not to work for anyone `who shall employ to work on shipboard persons of color.'” In response to the racism of the GSBA (which excluded black longshoremen), in 1870 the African-American longshoremen organized themselves into the Negro Longshoremen’s Benevolent Association, which “restricted its activities to the docks, while the GSBA worked aboard ship,” according to the same book.

A few months before, in December 1869, according to Black Texans, African-American workers in Texas had also sent delegates to the National Labor Convention of Colored Men, and in 1871, the National Labor Union (Colored) established a branch in Houston.

Although “the Laborers Union Association of the State of Texas invited white and black workers to its meeting at Houston in June 1871,” according to Black Texans, “only a few integrated or black unions could be counted among the limited number of weak unions which existed in Texas during Reconstruction.”

The same book also recalled that “as a result of Freedmen’s Bureau schools of the late 1860’s and the public school system instituted by the Republicans in the early 1870s” in Texas, the percentage of former slaves over 10 years of age who were illiterate decreased from 95 to 75 percent between 1865 and 1880. And, “to allow themselves greater control of local political, economic and social life away from constant white domination,” African-Americans in Texas during the late 1860s and the 1870s also began to create “at least 39 separate communities in 15 Texas counties at different times.”

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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Lamar W. Hankins : What Have We Learned From the Iraq War?

President Obama shown speaking to troops at Fort Bragg, N.C. Photo by Gerry Broome / AP.

Lessons we should have learned from the Iraq War
After all the phony reasons for war in Iraq were found wanting, Bush and his neoconservative advisers resorted to saying that the venture was a humanitarian mission to free the Iraqis.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / December 28, 2011

By one measure -- the announcement by President Obama that the War in Iraq is over -- that war has finally come to an end. But it remains to be seen how long that country will be destabilized, dysfunctional, and at war with itself, after the phony, deceptive, and precipitous actions the George W. Bush administration took nearly nine years ago when it introduced “shock and awe” as a simple war, a virtual cakewalk for the mighty U.S.

In light of what we know now (and should have known then), it is difficult to see that war as the “success” President Obama called it.

At least 2 million Iraqis have been displaced within their own country, and another 3 million elsewhere -- a total of 20% of the country. Some reputable demographers have estimated that over a million Iraqi civilians were killed during the war, along with over 4,400 U.S. servicemen and women.

Inexplicably, the U.S. will maintain an embassy in Iraq, the largest in the world, with 15,000 people in it; pay nearly 10,000 mercenaries to continue operating in Iraq; and maintain an unknown number of drones, which will fly out of Iraq to wherever they are deemed useful to U.S. control in the region.

And we have not yet fully accounted for the atrocities our military committed, nor have those Americans responsible for authorizing torture been brought to justice.

The lead-up to the war (which I opposed vigorously beginning in the late summer of 2002, as Bush and his neoconservative cronies started their fear-based propaganda offensive to soften up the American public) followed a familiar plan to sell the war. It was a plan explained in an interview over 60 years ago by Hermann Goering, Hitler’s understudy:
Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.

But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, 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 peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
If anything, Goering overestimated the difficulty of convincing the American people to go to war. On March 24, 2003, the entire San Marcos City Council, under the leadership of then Mayor Robert Habingreither, and including our now newly-minted Congressional candidate Susan Narvaiz, Bill Taylor, Jacob Montoya, Ed Mihalkanin, Paul Mayhew, and Martha Castex Tatum, adopted a resolution that was intended to show that war is patriotic.

So strong was the war-induced patriotism that only a few people opposed the resolution and the war. But not one of these pro-war people or any other San Marcos supporter of the War in Iraq has issued a public apology for their muddleheaded mistake in supporting this war, about which they had no doubts. Apparently none have crossed their minds since.

By way of disclosure, I had a personal reason, as well as political and humane reasons, for opposing the war. My son-in-law, who was then in Special Forces, was sent into Iraq with the first wave of U.S. fighters. To see his life risked for the phony, illegal, and unconstitutional excuses of the Bush administration was almost more than I could bear.

One of the problems with having a volunteer military is that many people see those servicemen and women as disposable, to be used for whatever purpose the President has in mind. After all, they volunteered for military service. Such a view is, of course, callous and indifferent to human life, and stands in stark contrast to the view of Karen U. Kwiatkowski, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, who said, “If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America, you are helping certain policy-makers fulfill an imperialist agenda.”

To read a confirmation of this view by a U.S. Marine who fought in the second siege of Fallujah, go here.

Historian Andrew Bacevich provided recently a slightly different view: “...a Churchillian verdict on the war might read thusly: Seldom in the course of human history have so many sacrificed so dearly to achieve so little.”

The people of the United States have become, in large part, adherents of both imperialism and a view of exceptionalism which holds that the U.S. has the right to tell the world what to do in the name of furthering democracy and American interests. What this view actually furthers is economic dominance through military might.

Many in the U.S. give lip service to supporting the troops, but this sentiment is largely a cover to allow people to feel good about using our servicemen and women as pawns in a giant reality-based, death-inducing chess game. Few of these war supporters have been as passionate about fully funding veterans health care (including mental health care) and rehabilitation as they have been about sending our service members to war.

In a recent statement, the Iraq Veterans Against the War wrote,
Our fight in Iraq has cost the nation nearly 4,500 American lives and left about 32,000 physically wounded plus tens of thousands more suffering from psychological trauma. Every 36 hours, an American soldier commits suicide, and a staggering 18 veterans take their own lives every day. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are attempting to transition into civilian life during one of the worst economies in our nation's history... The challenges facing our veterans and service members are just beginning...
Military Families Speak Out, of which I am a member, recently wrote, “Over $800 billion was wasted on this war that never should have started while our legislators squabble over budget cuts to the Veterans Administration, Social Security, education, and other necessary social services.”

While a majority of the American public may have come to realize the futility, if not the madness, of the War in Iraq, along with its unspeakable violence, there is no evidence that most of our citizens have understood that we are just a few weeks or months away from another manipulation by our “leaders” to involve us in another war (in Iran), while we still have not extricated ourselves from Afghanistan, a war that is over 10 years old.

There is no evidence that we now understand -- better than we did nine years ago -- that our elected officials, both in Washington and at City Hall, do not possess any special wisdom, in spite of their intelligence, that should guide us in such endeavors.

After all the phony reasons for war in Iraq were found wanting, Bush and his neoconservative advisers and supporters resorted to saying that the venture was a humanitarian mission to free the Iraqis.

It is now obvious instead that it became a humanitarian nightmare, mainly because in the throes of American arrogance, our “leaders” never understood much about the culture of Iraq, the schism between the two main Islamic groups, the geopolitical relations between the Sunnis and the Saudis and between the Shiites and the Iranians, the desires of the Kurds for autonomy, the nationalism felt by most Iraqis, the hatred engendered toward the U.S.by years of sanctions and killings in the north and south no-fly zones, and the complete folly of occupation of others by a foreign and hostile army.

From his perspective as an Army career officer and historian focused on international relations, Andrew Bacevich has concluded about the War in Iraq,
The disastrous legacy of the Iraq War extends beyond treasure squandered and lives lost or shattered. Central to that legacy has been Washington's decisive and seemingly irrevocable abandonment of any semblance of self-restraint regarding the use of violence as an instrument of statecraft.

With all remaining prudential, normative, and constitutional barriers to the use of force having now been set aside, war has become a normal condition, something that the great majority of Americans accept without complaint. War is US.
It is time for the American people to find and follow our own moral compasses and say that we will never again be led down the path of grotesque violence that creates its own kind of terror for both those we kill and those we pay to do the killing.

But I fear that most Americans will not find their moral compasses. It is too convenient to ignore morality and legality when what we want most is to win and show the world who is boss.

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

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Ulysses : The Hip Hop Revolution of the Arab Spring

El Général performing at the first meeting of Tunisia's main PDP opposition party on Jan. 29, 2011 in Tunis. Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP / Getty.

The hip hop revolution
of the Arab Spring

By Ulysses / openDemocracy / December 28, 2011
See videos of Arabic hip hop artists, Below.
[In the midst of the Arab Spring there is a group of dedicated young hip hop artists who are using their medium to disseminate revolutionary ideas. This piece documents how hip hop has impacted the way young people interact with the revolution in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere.]

Hip hop is a fundamentally subversive genre. It has become a universal medium of social and political expression for young, dissident, and marginalized people everywhere. What Arabic hip hop has given the Arab world is a widely-accessible and unfiltered medium for disseminating revolutionary ideas.

It's important not to overstate the influence of Arabic hip hop on the Arab uprisings, though. Arabic hip hop is an underground phenomenon. Since there's no real Arabic hip hop industry to speak of, Arabic-language rap artists must distribute their music online or sign with western labels.

Despite this, the genre's popularity and influence are growing remarkably fast because Arabic hip hop powerfully speaks to our desire for dignity, human rights, and a brighter future.

The Internet and the revolution

Social media and expanded internet access weren't the cause of the Arab uprisings, but they were crucial to their success.

In 2008, massive protests erupted in the southern Tunisian mining town of Redeyef. For six months, 3,000 police besieged this city of 25,000 people while its citizens bravely demonstrated against corruption and chronic unemployment. Because of the state's violent repression and its stranglehold on media outlets, the protests failed to spread or gain much attention.

Without developed social networks, the thousands of Redeyef's citizens who obtained protest footage on CDs or computers had no way to let most Tunisians see it. Fahem Boukaddous, a Tunisian journalist who covered the protests, said, "In 2008, Facebook wasn't at all well-known, especially in poor cities like here."

In fact, fewer than 30,000 Tunisians were on Facebook when Redeyef exploded in early 2008.

By the end of 2010, Tunisia's Internet landscape had been transformed. A January 2011 survey found that Tunisia, a country of 10 million, had 1.97 million Facebook users -- 18.6% of Tunisia's entire population and 54.73% of its online population. By this time, Facebook, along with YouTube and sites such as ReverbNation.com, had become the primary medium for distributing Arabic hip hop.

The Internet's great gift was that it allowed Tunisians and Arabs, for the first time, to effortlessly share their testimony with each other and with the world.

The aura of hip hop

You can legally download almost any revolutionary Arabic hip hop song for free online -- that's exactly what the artists want. As Mark Levine argues, the uncommodified, do-it-yourself character of this hip hop gives it “the aura” that pre-modernity artistic expression enjoyed. This aura, which "previously had given art such aesthetic, and thus social power by highlighting its singularity, irreplaceable and incommensurable value, was for all practical purposes lost" because of the commercialization of the music industry in the twentieth century.

That's a really complicated way of saying, "Arabic rap is awesome because its rappers aren't sell-outs." Commercialization inevitably leads artists to compromise their politics and their message because every music industry is run by rich, powerful people with a huge investment in the status quo.

The Arabic music industry is especially reactionary and patriarchal. "A lot of the music that comes from here, from the region, is pop," El Général told Lauren Bohn. "It's all the same and it isn't art. They're making harmful inroads into the arts, actually. There's no engagement. And music without engagement isn't art."

Many Arab artists, including El Deeb and Arabian Knightz, have lamented how foreign media supports and promotes Arabic hip hop more than Arabic media does. The reason is simple. Arabic hip hop scares Arab elites because it's profoundly subversive, while western elites like Arabic hip hop because it makes the revolutions seem non-radical and friendly to the west.

To understand Arabic hip hop, though, you need to approach it on its own terms, not on yours.

El Général and the Tunisian Revolution

On November 7, 2010, Hamada Ben-Amor, a young rapper from Sfax known as "El Général," posted this jeremiad against the regime of Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on Youtube and Facebook. (Full lyrics here.)

"Rais Lebled" became an immediate underground sensation. The secret police bugged El Général's phone, blocked his Facebook page, and tailed him wherever he went.

On December 17, Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation sparked pro-democracy demonstrations across Tunisia. The world media hardly noticed. Then, on January 6, state security, allegedly acting on the orders of the president himself, arrested El Général. The arrest brought Tunisia far more international attention than it had witnessed on any single day since the trouble began.

For a few days, the voice of a 21 year-old rapper from Sfax was more powerful than the voice of the dictator of Tunisia. The regime released El Général a few days later. It didn't matter. On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after the Tunisian military refused to guarantee his safety. In his place, a caretaker government promising a transition to full democracy came to power.

There's a delicious irony in Tunisian rap music's role in the events that led to Ben Ali's overthrow. In 2006, the Tunisian and French governments sponsored a (bad) film that promotes hip hop as a counter to jihadi ideology . Much as it used "state feminism" to co-opt women's movements, the regime appropriated Tunisian hip hop for its own ends.

The government controlled song lyrics, concert licenses, CD distribution, and all TV and radio access. Tunisia's rappers had a choice: make apolitical, commercial rap and have the chance to earn a livelihood or go underground, rap freely, and face poverty, imprisonment, torture, and death. Most Tunisian rappers chose the first option.

Before the revolution, El Général wasn't well-known even within Tunisia's small underground community. Now, he's an international celebrity and hip hop enjoys wide respect throughout Tunisian society. Even al-Nahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi enjoys it.

El Général was interviewed on Al-Jazeera and named one of TIME's 100 most influential people in the world. Demonstrators in Cairo's Tahrir Square and Bahrain's capital of 
Manama chanted "Rais lebled" in the street. Today, the only person who's a bigger icon of the Tunisian Revolution is Mohamed Bouazizi himself. As El Général told Lauren Bohn, "Arab rap is finally on the map, and we're blowing up the world."

(For more on El Général, click here.)

Algeria and Morocco: the cradle of Arabic hip hop

Francophone hip-hop's influence helped make Morocco and Algeria the first real Arabic hip hop scenes in the early 1990s. Lotfi Double Kanon, Arabic hop hop's most influential MC, hails from Algeria. Born in 1974 into a modest family from Annaba, Lotfi started his rap career while earning his Master's in engineering in the late 1990s during the height of Algeria's horrific civil war.

His music attacks le pouvoir ("the elite") and speaks for the voiceless youth of his dispossessed generation. The Algerian government hates him, of course, but it generally leaves him unhindered. (Full lyrics here.)

The Moroccan rap scene's size, longevity, commercial sophistication, and Arabic dialect set it apart from other Arab rap scenes to a certain degree. Moroccan hip hop is deeply commercialized and closely integrated into the Arabic music industry, which reflects both the genuine success of Moroccan hip hop and the compromises with power that it's made.

Moroccan hip hop gets numbers of hits on YouTube -- as many as several million per video -- that dwarf those of other Arabic hip hop scenes. Yet, as Zahir Rahman pointed out on Twitter, "The problem with Moroccan hip hop is that the big namers get co-opted by the government."

Fnaire's "Mat9drsh bladi" was used as a national unity theme song by the Moroccan government. Don Bigg is a reactionary who performed at the outlandish, government-sponsored Mawazine festival that outraged February 20 activists.

At the same time, Morocco has some of the bravest revolutionary hip hop anywhere. The pro-February 20 rapper L7a9ed (Haked) has been imprisoned by the government on trumped-up assault charges. Soultana, a young MC from Rabat, is an incredibly brave woman -- just check out her video "Sawt Nssa" and you'll see what I mean.

Malikah: Revolutionary Arabic hip hop ventures into the mainstream

Lebanese hip hop started taking shape in the mid-1990s. Artists such as Rayess Bek, Fareeq el Atrach, and Malikah 961 make up a vibrant Lebanese scene today. Malikah is an absolutely fearless MC who vies with Palestine's Shadia Mansour for the title of "The First Lady of Arabic Hip Hop." Like Soultana, Malikah infuses her music with revolutionary themes and powerful advocacy for Arab women. Here's "Ya imra2a" ("O woman!") (Full lyrics here.)

The Saudi rapper Qusai, the first host of MTV's Hip HopNa, makes some conscious hip hop but nonetheless fully represents the Arab music industry and the powerful more generally (he made a video for, of all things, Mastercard). Fredwreck, the other host, is an American who produces for Snoop Dogg and other stalwarts of the American music industry.

By working with people like them, Malikah has become successful and famous. The industry, however, will use every tool it has to dilute the politically and socially revolutionary message of her music. In the rap game, materialism is the enemy of the subversive. Malikah needs to be very careful about this.

In this video, she shows AFP her new Mercedes and says, "This is my car. I've dreamed of buying a car for years. You understand? It must have class because I am Malikah and Malikah must have the car she deserves."

Malikah is a true revolutionary, but she will always have to fight the industry ferociously to maintain her authenticity and her artistic freedom. She's such a strong woman, though, that I think she's up to the challenge.

Ibn Thabit and the Libyan Revolution

Although he's largely unknown in the western press, Ibn Thabit, Libya's leading rapper, enjoys almost universal recognition among the Libyan diaspora and a huge fan base in Libya itself. His pseudonym comes from Hassan Ibn Thabit, the favorite poet of the Prophet Muhammad.

Over the past four years, Ibn Thabit routinely took astonishing risks by releasing his music while moving between living abroad and in Libya itself. His obsession with toppling Gaddafi and his indifference towards fame, money, or other topics give his music as pure a revolutionary ethos as you'll find anywhere. This song came out just days before the Libyan Revolution began. (Full lyrics here.)

Ibn Thabit's music ranges all the way from love songs (Tripoli is Calling, Libya: A Love Song) to diss (Shukrun, Shayateen Al Ins) to celebration (Misrata, Mabruk el Horria, Benghazi, Ms. Revolution) to mourning (Martyrs, Shohada2na) to Arabic (Western Mountains) to R&B (Tassa 7amra, La Shek) to gangsta (Temla, Lookin for Freedom) to whimsical (Hallucination Pills, Warrior Song).

His songs tear down Gaddafi's regime, celebrate Libya's society, culture, and people, and explore how to build a new, free Libya. He promotes reconciliation by giving shout-outs to all elements of Libyan society and by arguing that vigilantism and revenge killing have no place in the new Libya.

A few weeks ago, Ibn Thabit shocked his fans by announcing his retirement from hip hop (video here). Now, he says, he wants to help build a new Libya in a new way.

[For more on Ibn Thabit, click here.]

Egypt and January 25

In Mubarak's Egypt, unlike Libya, Syria, or Bahrain (check out "Athletes of Bahrain"), artists could manage to attach their real names to revolutionary forms of expression while keeping themselves out of jail. Artists such as El Deeb, Ramy Donjewan, Zap Tharwat, MC Amin, Revolutionary Records), and Ismailia Soldiers created a vibrant revolutionary underground scene in the years preceding the revolution. Arabian Knightz even managed to get a little play on Egyptian satellite channels.

By being a direct forum for revolutionary expression, Egyptian Hip hop played a small but key role in the decade-long buildup of the movements, organizational infrastructure, and political consciousness that led to the January 25 Revolution. Now, as the massive recent anti-SCAF protests demonstrate, hip hop is an established part of Egypt's political discourse. (Full lyrics here.)

[Ulysses examines social and political change in the Middle East and North Africa through the lens of Arabic hip hop. Ulysses blogs at Revolutionary Arab Rap. This article was published by openDemocracy under a Creative Commons License. It was distributed by Portside. Go to the original posting for dozens of source and background links and links to additional videos.]

The Rag Blog

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27 December 2011

FILM / Gregg Barrios : 'Melancholia' Is von Trier's Final Refrain

Von Trier's final refrain

By Gregg Barrios / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2011

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine. – REM
A crescendo of superlatives: Lars von Trier’s Melancholia opens with the most incredible cinematic prelude since Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The eight-minute scene encapsulates the film succinctly and symbolically: Birds’ fall from the sky, electric sparks fly from a woman’s hands. Horses melt into the landscape, and a planet once hidden behind the sun heads stealthily toward Earth as Wagner’s majestic Tristan und Isolde soars on the film’s soundtrack.

Cinema’s bad boy has returned. Two years ago, his controversial Antichrist, with its graphic scenes of sex and mutilation, created a scandal at the Cannes Film Festival. How could he not be invited back?

Melancholia is divided into two parts, each titled after the two sisters the film centers on: Justine (an amazing Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Part one begins with a newly married Justine and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) arriving late for their wedding reception at the country villa of Claire and her husband, John (Kiefer Sutherland). The party is in full swing as friends, family, and employers are introduced through conversations, toasts, and erratic behavior.

But we quickly glean things are not what they seem from Justine and Claire’s divorced parents -- Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) and Dexter (John Hurt) -- each a piece of work. When John informs Gaby that her daughter is about to cut the cake, she retorts: “When Justine took her first poop, I wasn't there. When she had sex for the first time, I wasn't there, either. So, please, spare me your fucking rituals.”

A zany Hurt entertains two young women with his drunken antics, pretending to steal spoons from the banquet table. Incensed, John asks Claire, “Is everyone in your family stark raving mad?”

And is it any wonder that Gaby and Dexter's daughter Justine is just as eccentric? She takes a nude moonlight stroll and has sex with a complete stranger on the villa’s golf course before the wedding cake has been cut. We learn that Justine is a manic-depressive and unable to cope with her demons or control her behavior. Dunst is amazingly good in this role that won her the best actress award at Cannes this year. (Gainsbourg won for Antichrist in 2009).

When the groom protests, “It didn’t turn out like I thought it would,” Justine taunts: “What did you expect?” All this is played out with a comic wink and a nod to Luis Buñuel’s dinner party in The Exterminating Angel and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut Christmas party.

Part two, "Claire," is set several months later. In the interim, the now visible planet has veered closer to Earth than expected. Or has it? Claire, John, and their son Leo (Cameron Spurr) react differently to the suspense. John, an overbearing dilettante and amateur astrologer, is convinced the Melancholia will miss earth, but will provide a grand spectacle of immense beauty as it passes by. Still, he has gone into the village for emergency provisions and medication in case the unthinkable occurs.

Claire Googles doomsday scenarios. Their son has created a wire gauge to measure if the planet is approaching or retreating. Cut off from civilization in their isolated villa, replete with all the inspiration and reassurance the arts (Millais' Ophelia and Breugel’s The Land of Cockaigne are referenced) and science can offer, these will nonetheless provide little solace as the rogue planet enters its collision course with Earth.

It is to the villa that Justine returns in a near catatonic state, unable to care for herself. But the impending event has a profound effect on her. She begins to regain her strength and spout warnings like a latter-day Cassandra: “Life is only on Earth… and not for long.” She teaches her sister and her nephew to accept the cataclysmic event.

Melancholia is part science fiction, part meditation on our final days on earth. There are no generic newscasts or newspaper alerts of the impending disaster (think M. Night Shyamalan's The Village); this is a fable, not a docudrama. It isn’t so much about outer space as it is inner space. This is an apocalyptic movie without the trappings we come to expect of the genre. Instead, Von Trier gives us genuine human emotion and strength in the eye of annihilation.

[Gregg Barrios is a journalist, playwright, and poet living in San Antonio. Gregg, who wrote for The Rag in Sixties Austin, is on the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle. This article was first published at Plaza de Armas. Contact Gregg at gregg.barrios@gmail.com. Read more articles by Gregg Barrios on The Rag Blog.]

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CARTOON / Charlie Loving : Rick Perry on Foreign Oil!

Political cartoon by Charlie Loving / The Rag Blog.

The Rag Blog

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Harry Targ : Korea and the U.S. Policy of Perpetual War

"War Street," by Sue Coe / Revista Amauta.

Let's be frank:
The United States has been
in perpetual war
With the onset of the Korean War, the politics of fear converged with the politics of empire.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2011

Liberal cable commentators have been waxing eloquent about the withdrawal of the United States military from Iraq while ridiculing and scorning the recently deceased dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il. They fail to see the historic connections between the onset of war along the Korean peninsula in 1950 and the Iraq war of our own day.

If pundits reflected on the causes of the Korean War and the consequences following it they might see the culpability of the United States in launching a 60-year war system that has cost the lives of millions of people all across the Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American landscape.

To use the language of our own day, we need to “Occupy Our Minds,” or “Occupy Our History.” We need to understand where the North Korea of Kim Jong Il came from and why the United States created a dictator in Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and then destroyed him, his country, and hundreds of thousands of his people. This revisiting of the American past is painful but necessary.

Consider the Korean peninsula. It was a colony of expansionist Japan from the dawn of the twentieth century until the end of World War II. After that war, Korea was “temporarily” split at the 38th parallel by the United States and the former Soviet Union for “administrative purposes.” As the war ended, the Korean people fully expected to create their own independent state. “People’s Assemblies” were held throughout the peninsula to serve this purpose.

In the South, under U.S. control the assemblies were ignored. Over the next five years, using the new United Nations as the stamp of legitimacy the United States created an unpopular regime in the South led by Syngman Rhee. Rhee, tied to western anti-communist interests and domestic wealth very much like Chiang Kai Shek in China and later Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, established a brutal dictatorship. The Soviets, in the north, established a Communist regime led by Kim Il Sung.

In 1950 powerful foreign policy interests promoted a global U.S. foreign policy that would benefit from war. General Douglas McArthur, overseer of post-war Japan; John Foster Dulles, anti-communist foreign policy spokesperson of the Republican Party; and Rhee, on the verge of losing his power in South Korea, met in Tokyo in May. Conversation ensued that likely included making war on North Korea.

Back in Washington, Dean Acheson, Secretary of State, and his key aide, Paul Nitze, were lobbying for a new bold military policy, proclaimed in the secret National Security Document 68. It called for military spending to be the number one priority of each American administration. The reason, the document claimed, was the world-wide threat to civilization represented by international communism.

George Kennan’s “containment” policy, beefing up U.S. and allied forces to protect against any aggressive attack from a prospective enemy, was not enough. By 1954, the document predicted, the former Soviet Union would be as powerful as the United States.

As Acheson himself admitted in his memoirs, he felt the need to exaggerate the threat to United States security to gain support for a more global U.S. foreign policy. In other words, support for empire required lying to the American people. In the Korean case, an artificial division of the Korean peninsula, contestation between competing political forces, and a North Korean military attack on the South was reframed as a worldwide war on freedom and democracy. The Korean War institutionalized the big lie.

Then the Truman Administration, the Defense Department, big corporations, the major media, and many religious institutions launched a campaign of fear based on a fantasy of a dangerous communist subversion. Who could question a dramatic military response to a nation under siege.

With the onset of the Korean War, the politics of fear converged with the politics of empire. In sum, the United States redefined a civil war between Koreans, north and south of the 38th parallel, into a struggle between the “free world” and “international communism.”

The Korean War led to the deaths of 4 million Koreans and 54,000 U.S. soldiers. Between 1950 and 1995, the United States continued to develop the largest military force in the world, with hundreds of bases in 30 or more countries, dozens of covert military operations, and support for countless dictators in countries of the Global South. In wars in which the United States had a role during these 45 years, some 10 million people died, most of them civilians.

Fifty-three years after the onset of the Korean War, the United States launched a war on Iraq based on lies. The American people were told of the dangers the Iraqi regime posed for United States security. The threat was no longer communism but terrorists. And Saddam Hussein was framed as a supporter of terrorism against the West who possessed weapons of mass destruction.

These were lies based on significant historical distortions of the politics of the region. The details were different but the arguments for war on North Korea and the war on Iraq were both based on lies. The same case can be made for most U.S. interventions and wars from Korea to Iraq.

The policies of fear, empire, and military operations continued in the 21st century. The war in Afghanistan, begun in 2001, still goes on. We now celebrate the ostensible end of the Iraq war after nine years. About 10 thousand U.S. soldiers and probably a million Afghan and Iraqi people have died in these two wars. Economists predict that the Iraq war alone will have cost the U.S. government 3 trillion dollars by 2030, a total similar to U.S. military expenditures between 1945 and 1990.

So when pundits ridicule the dictatorship in North Korea and make grandiose statements about the millions imprisoned, killed, or starved, no mention is made about why the Korean War was launched, whose interests it served on the United States side, and how U.S. aggressiveness was used by North Korean political elites to justify dictatorship there.

And, the failures of the North Korean economy are presented as solely the result of their socialist economy, not the 60-year war and economic embargo on that country perpetrated by the world’s most powerful country.

Ironically, while media pundits condemn poor North Korea for constructing deliverable nuclear weapons, they fail to point out that countries defined as enemies of the United States, such as Iraq and Libya, were subject to U.S. military attack because they did not have such weapons to deter military assault.

The death of the current dictator of North Korea and the end of U.S. military operations in Iraq should encourage a frank and serious discussion about the United States foreign policy of perpetual war that has been a central feature of the U.S. role in the world since Korea. As masses of Americans mobilize in parks, reoccupy foreclosed homes, and in other ways petition government to change its ways, elimination of the system of constantly preparing for and engaging in war must be included in demands for change.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his new book which can be found at Lulu.com. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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22 December 2011

Jim Rigby : Christmas Cancelled as Security Measure!

Three wise men arrested for illegal possession of “frankincense” and “myrrh.” Art from Dare to Create.

Christmas is no time to
talk about war and peace
When the angels sang, 'peace on earth good will to all,' they were expressing the song written in every heart. But, that song calls us out of empire and into our entire human family.
By Jim Rigby / The Rag Blog / December 22, 2011

When I heard the President speak to returning troops last week, my mind flashed back to an article I once wrote for our local newspaper. Each week a different member of the local clergy would write a column, and I had been asked to write the piece for Christmas.

That year all I could hear was the drumbeat leading toward a war with Iraq. I racked my brain trying to think of a way to put faces on the people we were about to bomb. Looking at a nativity scene I thought, “the people we are about to kill look like that.” Maybe a reframed Christmas story could help Americans stop hating Saddam long enough to care about the people who will pay the real cost of this invasion.

I submitted the following article, covering the Christmas story the way the U.S. press was covering the build-up to the Iraq war. Looking back, I should have known what was about to happen.
Christmas Cancelled as a Security Measure

ELLIS ISLAND -- The three wise men were arrested today attempting to enter the country. The Iraqi nationals were carrying massive amounts of flammable substances known as “frankincense” and “myrrh.” While not explosives themselves, experts revealed that these two substances could be used as a fuse to detonate a larger bomb. The three alleged terrorists were also carrying gold, presumably to finance the rest of their mission.

Also implicated in the plot were two Palestinians named Joseph and Mary. An anonymous source close to the family overheard Mary bragging that her son would “bring down the mighty from their thrones and lift up the lowly.” In what appears to be a call to anarchy, the couple claims their son will someday “help prisoners escape captivity.” “These people match our terrorist profile perfectly,” an official source reported.

All of the suspects claimed they heard angels singing of a new era of hope for the afflicted and poor. As one Wall Street official put it, “These one world wackos are talking about overturning the entire economic and political hierarchy that holds the civilized world together. I don’t care what some angel sang; God wants the status quo -- by definition.”

A somber White House press secretary announced that it might be prudent to cancel Christmas until others in the plot are rounded up. “I assure you that this measure is temporary. The President loves Christmas as much as anyone. People can still shop and give expensive gifts, but we’re asking them not to think about world peace until after we have rid the world of evil people. For Americans to sing, ‘peace on earth, good will to all’, is just the wrong message to send to our enemies at this time.”

The strongest opponents of the Christmas ban were the representatives of retail stores, movie chains and makers of porcelain Christmas figurines. “This is a tempest in a teapot,” fumed one unnamed business owner. “No one thinks of the political meaning of Christmas any more. Christmas isn’t about a savior who will bring hope to the outcasts of the world; it’s about nativity scenes and beautiful lights. History has shown that mature people are perfectly capable of singing hymns about world peace while still supporting whatever war our leaders deem necessary. People long ago stopped tying religion to the real events in the world.”

There has been no word on where the suspects are being kept, or when their trial might be held. Authorities are asking citizens who see other foreigners resembling nativity scene figures to contact the Office of Homeland Security.
A few days after submitting that piece, I received a nervous call from an editor. “We love your story. It’s very funny.”

“Thank you,” I said waiting for the other shoe to fall.

“The thing is, we want to take out the part about Iraq and Palestine.”

After a horrified pause, I explained that had been the whole point of writing the story -- to humanize the people who were about to be killed. When I refused to gut the story, he told me they would have to drop it all together.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Clergy who want to talk about real events in the world are seen as too political for the religious section, and too religious for the political section. Of course, if a minister gets in the pulpit and waves the flag and prays for the troops, that’s not called “political," but if a minister questions any war, then it is considered mixing religion and politics. The resulting pablum in most clergy columns validates their strategic placement somewhere between the obituaries and the comics.

What have we learned as a result of the war? That was answered by Obama’s words to the returning troops:
Because of you -- because you sacrificed so much for a people that you had never met -- Iraqis have a chance to forge their own destiny. That’s part of what makes us special as Americans. Unlike the old empires, we don’t make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it’s right. There can be no fuller expression of America’s support for self-determination than our leaving Iraq to its people. That says something about who we are.
Looking back at my earlier Christmas article, I feel pain not pride at what the President said. His speech to returning troops could have been taken from any leader, of any nation, from any period of history, simply by changing the names and places. It is the kind of speech every leader has given since the emperors: brave and noble words, written in someone else’s blood.

This President who ran, in part, against this war, has come to repeat the party line. This President, who once spoke of respect for all people of the world, has now deported more immigrants than Bush.

Hearing another speech expressing our nation’s narcissistic delusion made me physically ill. I could not help but think of the bloody wake such rhetoric leaves behind when put into action. The fact that we are leaving Iraq at this point says nothing about the purity of our initial motives. Even bank robbers don’t stay around after the crime has been committed.

I appreciate trying to make our young soldiers not feel like they were pawns in someone else’s parlor game, but for the sake of future generations we must painfully remember and affirm, that is exactly what happened.

We, from the United States, are not like the people in our nativity scenes. We are like the Romans looming ominously in the background of the story. Christmas is about the little people of the world who find joy and meaning while living under someone else’s boot. We from the United States can only celebrate Christmas by ending our cultural narcissism, renouncing empire, and making room for the poor and the weak of the world like Joseph and Mary.

Christmas is not a fact of history, but Christianity’s particular symbol of every human being’s hope for world peace and universal happiness. When the angels sang, “peace on earth good will to all,” they were expressing the song written in every heart. But, that song calls us out of empire and into our entire human family.

Maybe stopping the frenzy of Christmas long enough to really hear the song the angels sang to the wretched of the earth, would give us the humanity to stop hanging our Christmas lights until we no longer kill our brothers and sisters for the fuel to illumine them.
O ye beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.
[Rev. Jim Rigby, a human rights activist, is pastor of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at jrigby0000@aol.com., and videos of his sermons are available online here. Read more articles by Jim Rigby on The Rag Blog.]

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