31 January 2012

Leah Wilson and Alexis Stoumbelis : El Salvador's Funes Apologizes for El Mozote Massacre

Memorial to the massacre of the people of El Mozote, El Salvador. Image from No Fixed Address.

‘Removing the veil’:
El Salvador apologizes for State violence
on 20th anniversary of Peace Accords

By Leah Wilson and Alexis Stoumbelis / The Rag Blog / January 31, 2012

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- On Monday morning, January 16, crowds gathered in the small community of El Mozote to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords that ended El Salvador´s 12-year-long civil war.

El Mozote, in the rural department of Morazán, is the site of a 1981 massacre of more than 1,000 civilians, primarily children, carried out by the Salvadoran Armed Forces. At the solemn event, El Salvador’s first leftist president, Mauricio Funes, named the military officers implicated in the horrific massacre, stating, we must “remove the veil that has blinded us for three decades.”

Funes asked for forgiveness from the victims and the Salvadoran people on behalf of the State and then announced a series of reparations for the victims and their families. In addition to physical and mental health services and an economic development plan for El Mozote, the government has promised to declare the community a protected historic site and has committed to updating public school curricula as well as police and military training materials to acknowledge the history of human rights violations by the armed forces.

Funes is the first president in Salvadoran history who has acknowledged the crimes against humanity committed by the government during the civil war that resulted in 75,000 deaths, in their majority civilians. However, the prosecution of the responsible actors is prohibited by an amnesty law approved in 1994 by the right-wing parties five days after the release of the U.N. Truth Commission report, which attributed 85% of civilian deaths to the armed forces and 5% to the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

The Peace Accords, the result of negotiations between the Salvadoran government and the leadership of the FMLN guerrilla army, were signed in 1992 in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Castle. The accords ended the war, allowed the FMLN to become a formal political party, and included a series of agreements to address the social, political, and economic causes of the Civil War.

To commemorate the historic date, the FMLN held a massive Festival for Peace with tens of thousands of supporters in San Salvador. President Funes participated in a summit with ex-guerrilla combatants, where he unveiled a new government program to ensure that veterans of both the FMLN and the armed forces receive the benefits that correspond to them -- one of the agreements of the Peace Accords that was largely sidelined by the right-wing administrations that held power from 1994 to 2009.

Funes’s announcement of reparations for the families of victims and ex-combatants is one of several steps being taken by the new government to fulfill outstanding commitments of the Peace Accords. Addressing the crowds at the FMLN’s commemoration march, Vice-President and long-time FMLN leader Salvador Sánchez-Cerén, who is one of the signers of the Peace Accords, explained that the FMLN’s guiding objectives in its first period of government (2009-2014) were “the consolidation of the democratic transition initiated during the Peace Accords and the construction of a new economic and social model.”

Perhaps the most popularly recognized victories of the Peace Accords include the end of over 60 years of military dictatorship and the opportunity to create a viable democracy.

“The Peace Accords created a new political process, one in which all would have a chance to participate,” said FMLN member Jose Nuñez during a community celebration in Washington, DC. The presidential victory of the FMLN in 2009, and the fact that the FMLN currently holds the largest number of seats in the Legislative Assembly, is a testament to the effective implementation of this pillar of the Peace Accords.

Many major agreements were successfully implemented in the days, months, and years following January 16, 1992. The sprawling Salvadoran armed forces were dramatically reduced and several of its most repressive wings, including the National Guard and the Treasury Police, were disbanded completely. The role of the armed forces was strictly limited to the defense of national territory and sovereignty.

According to the Accords, the “broader concept” of security, including “economic, political and social aspects which go beyond the constitutional sphere of competence of the armed forces,” became the “responsibility of other sectors of society and of the State." To this end, the Peace Accords created a new institution, the National Civilian Police (PNC), to be composed of former soldiers, demobilized FMLN combatants, and civilians.

However, in the past five years, the strict lines between the armed forces and public security have started to blur. Former president Antonio Saca (2004–09) was the first president to send soldiers to the streets to assist the PNC, a protocol that Funes has continued. Recent changes in Funes’s security cabinet threaten to undermine the ideological separation between the military and the police, as does the influence of increasing U.S. security aid to Central America.

Mauricio Fumes, President of El Salvador. Image from Todanoticia.com.

In November, David Mungía Payés, a recently retired military general who had previously served as Funes’s Minister of Defense, replaced Manuel Melgar, a former FMLN commander, as Minister of Public Security. This is the first time that a military officer will hold this position. Funes’s defense of his decision underscored the very concerns raised by the FMLN and many in the population.

“The designation of David Munguía Payés doesn’t constitute any violation of the spirit of the Peace Accords, nor a step backwards in the consolidation of the democratic process, much less a violation of constitutional order,” he said.

At the end of December, Eduardo Linares was removed from his position as head of the State Intelligence Agency, thus effectively removing the FMLN leadership from the security cabinet in less than two months. Many have speculated that the cabinet shakeup was influenced by the United States in light of two new agreements: the Partnership for Growth and the Central America Regional Security Initiative, an expansion of the Mérida Initiative to which the United States has designated $260 million.

High-ranking members of the Ministry of Public Security told the online newspaper El Faro that Melgar’s removal was a U.S. condition for implementing the Partnership for Growth, a series of economic and security agreements, which was signed by both countries just four days prior to his resignation. The FMLN has expressed concern that the partnership may “be inclined toward increased military participation."

Military influence seems to be re-emerging in those Central American countries where the United States has concentrated its security aid under the banner of the “War on Drugs,” namely El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

In December, Honduran president Porfirio Lobo presented a constitutional amendment to the Honduran Congress to grant police power to the armed forces at the same level of authority and independence as the National Police. On January 14, former general Otto Pérez Molina, who has been accused of genocide due to his participation in “scorched earth” operations in the 1980s, was inaugurated as President in Guatemala, the first military officer to be elected since the end of the civil war.

“It’s no coincidence that Guatemala’s new president is a general accused of genocide, El Salvador’s new minister of security is a former general, and a military officer who masterminded the coup d´état [Romeo Vásquez] is running for president in Honduras,” said Adalberto Elias, FMLN Youth Coordinator for El Salvador’s capital city of San Salvador.

Beyond the challenges of organized crime and impunity, the new government in El Salvador must contend with abiding social and economic inequality, ironically, the very conditions which led to the popular struggle in the 1970s that resulted in the war. The economic agreements of the Peace Accords, by far the most limited, were effectively ignored over the last 20 years. Though Funes and the FMLN have taken several steps to fulfill these long-overdue commitments -- for example, legalizing the transfer of over 17,000 land titles to campesinos -- only recently has the new government been able to initiate any structural economic change.

In December, the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly approved the FMLN’s proposed tax reform, which will eliminate income taxes on those earning less than $500 per month, increase taxes on high-earning individuals and business, and close loopholes that currently contribute to nearly $600 million per year in corporate tax evasion. The progressive reform is arguably the first action to redistribute wealth since land reform acts were signed during the war.

The upcoming March legislative and municipal elections in March will in part determine the possibility for passing more expansive legislation and, as Vice-President Sánchez-Cerén explained during the commemoration, the country’s ability “to realize the people’s hope to build a better and more dignified life.”

[Austin native Leah Wilson is a journalist and CISPES volunteer based in San Salvador. Her work has previously appeared in Z Magazine, Labor Notes, and The Rag Blog. Alexis Stoumbelis is the Executive Director of CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. This article was first published at NACLA: Knowledge Beyond Borders. Find more articles by Leah Wilson on The Rag Blog.]The Rag Blog

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Michael Grabell : How the Stimulus Revived the Electric Car

Rodney Smith cleans a new Think electric car at the Magnum Drive plant in Elkhart, Ind. Photo by J. Tyler Klassen / The Elkhart Truth / AP / Pro Publica.

How the stimulus revived the electric car
Although electric cars would not make up for the generation-long loss of manufacturing jobs, at least not yet, it was novel to see companies creating jobs in the Rust Belt instead of outsourcing them.
By Michael Grabell / ProPublica / January 31, 2012

A common criticism of President Obama's $800 billion stimulus package has been that it failed to produce anything -- that while the New Deal built bridges and dams, all the stimulus did was fill some potholes and create temporary jobs.

Don't tell that to Annette Herrera. She was 50 when the auto supplier she worked for in Westland, Michigan, closed its factory and moved the work to Mexico. Then, after being unemployed for two and a half years, she got a job in October 2010 with A123 Systems, which had received $250 million in stimulus money to help open a new lithium-ion battery plant in nearby Romulus, Michigan.

"The first thing I did was call my husband and tell him, 'You're never going to guess! I got a job!'" Herrera recalled. "And then it was like celebration time."

One success the Obama administration can duly claim is the rebirth of the electric-car industry in the United States. Automakers have unveiled a number of mass-market electric cars, which have seen small but rising sales. Battery and parts manufacturers are building 30 factories, creating thousands of new jobs. A123 has hired 700 workers at Herrera's plant and a second one in nearby Livonia, and plans to hire a couple thousand more people over the next few years.

If it wasn't for the stimulus, the companies say, they would have built these plants overseas.

It was all part of an effort to promote "green" manufacturing and put a million electric cars on the road by 2015.

The question is: Will it last?

Elkhart, Indiana, once believed it would. It saw electric vehicles as its salvation after watching its unemployment rate hit 20 percent. Eager to seed a new industry, the county witnessed electric-vehicle ventures sprout out of nowhere as the stimulus took off in 2009.

But by late summer 2011, what had sprouted were weeds. The parking lot of the Think electric-car plant was full of them, some more than a foot high growing from the cracks. Out front were two pickups and a motorcycle.

Hundreds of laid-off factory workers were supposed to have found jobs churning out the Norwegian company's bug-like, plastic-bodied cars, which ran solely on electricity.

Today the Elkhart factory employs two. Its parent company filed for bankruptcy in June. Its largest shareholder and battery maker, Ener1, which received $118 million in stimulus money, did the same last week.

A second life

Electric cars began appearing on California roads in the mid-1990s after state regulators mandated that a certain percentage of automakers' fleets include zero-emissions vehicles.

But within a few years, they were deemed a failure by car companies, which stopped making them and took back those they had leased.

Much had changed in the eight years leading up to the stimulus package. The lead-acid and nickel-metal hydride batteries that weighed as much as 1,200 pounds were replaced with lithium-ion batteries that weighed as little as 400 pounds.

In the early 2000s, gas hadn't even passed $2 a gallon. Less than a decade later, it was twice that. Toyota had proven the demand with its long waiting list for the Prius hybrid.

Government policy had changed, too, with a 2007 energy bill that increased fuel-efficiency standards and provided $25 billion in loans for automakers to upgrade their plants.

But until the economic stimulus package was passed in 2009, the manufacture of electric cars and their batteries in the United States was nearly nonexistent.

The United States had only two factories manufacturing less than 2 percent of the world's advanced batteries. Most were made in Korea and Japan. In America, only Tesla manufactured an electric car -- which sold for a cool $100,000. Across the entire country, there were a mere 500 electric charging stations.

But as the stimulus kicked in, there was suddenly no better environment for the electric car to thrive.

With more than $2 billion in federal grants, matched by another $2 billion in private investment, the Obama administration was supporting electric cars from the mine to the garage.

Chemetall Foote Corp., which operates the only U.S. lithium mine, received $28 million to boost production at its plants in Nevada and North Carolina. Honeywell received $27 million to become the first domestic supplier of a conductive salt for lithium batteries. More than $1 billion was spent to open and expand battery factories, many of them in hard-luck towns across Michigan. Through a separate federal program, automakers received loans to retool their assembly lines.

Customers could receive a $7,500 tax credit for buying an electric car. The stimulus provided funding for 20,000 electric charging stations by 2013. In many cities, drivers could get a home charger for free.

Although electric cars would not make up for the generation-long loss of manufacturing jobs, at least not yet, it was novel to see companies creating jobs in the Rust Belt instead of outsourcing them.

In July, Johnson Controls opened the first U.S. factory to produce complete lithium-ion battery cells for electric vehicles. Compact Power is building a $300 million factory in Holland, Michigan, to produce batteries for the Chevy Volt and the electric Ford Focus. A123 now supplies the luxury electric carmaker Fisker Automotive and the manufacturers of electric delivery trucks used by FedEx and Frito-Lay. "Quite simply, if we didn't get that grant, we wouldn't have built [the factory] in the U.S.," A123 spokesman Dan Borgasano said.

The battery grants have created and saved more than 1,800 jobs for assembly workers, toolmakers, and engineers, according to a ProPublica analysis of stimulus project reports filed by the companies. That number doesn't include the workers who constructed the plants or those hired by the matching private investment the companies had to make to get the grants.

Killed again?

The problem: Consumers have been slow to embrace the electric car.

The price of the battery is still too high, and the price of gas is still too low, the Government Accountability Office warned in June 2009 before the grants were awarded. The starting price for the all-electric Nissan Leaf is $33,000, while the hybrid Volt sells for about $40,000 before tax credits -- far more than many middle-class families can afford.

About 40 percent of drivers didn't have access to an outlet where they park their vehicles, the GAO noted.

"Although a mile driven on electricity is cheaper than one driven on gasoline," the National Research Council reported, "it will likely take several decades before the upfront costs decline enough to be offset by lifetime fuel savings."

Perhaps the biggest obstacle, though, was what the automobile represents in the American psyche: the freedom of the open road. While most people drive less than 40 miles per day, consumers want cars that they can also take on summer vacations -- and they don't want to have to constantly worry about looking for a charging station.

The Leaf's range is just 73 miles, according to the official government rating, well below the much-advertised 100 miles.

By the end of 2011, fewer than 18,000 Leafs and Volts had been sold in the United States.

A report by congressional researchers last year concluded that the cost of batteries, anxiety over mileage range, and more efficient internal combustion engines could make it difficult to achieve Obama's goal of a million electric vehicles by 2015. Even many in the industry say the target is unreachable.

While the $2.4 billion in stimulus money has increased battery manufacturing, the congressional report noted that the United States might not be able to keep up in the long run. South Korea and China have announced plans to invest more than five times that amount over the next decade. Even A123 had to lay off 125 workers in November -- though Borgasano says the company plans to rehire them all by June -- because Fisker reduced orders.

Dick Moore, the mayor of Elkhart, had hoped the area known for its recreational-vehicle factories would one day be not just the "RV Capital of the World" but the "EV Capital of the World" as well.

Navistar International had received $39 million in stimulus money to build 400 electric delivery trucks in the first year. But by early 2011, it had hired about 40 employees and assembled only 78 vehicles.

Think had rallied into 2011 with plans to start production in Elkhart earlier than expected. But in April, assembly work suddenly stopped as the plant awaited parts from Europe.

In June, Think's parent company filed for bankruptcy. The decision left the Elkhart plant slouching toward extinction until the American subsidiary was purchased by a Russian entrepreneur who promised to restart production in early 2012.

But on Thursday, its battery maker, Ener1, also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, reporting that the demand for electric vehicles "did not develop as quickly as anticipated."

Elkhart's dream of becoming the EV capital?

Moore put it this way: "The fact that this hasn't moved very quickly, that doesn't bode well for that idea."

The future

The fate of the electric car depends greatly on whether sales take off soon.

There are other factors, such as the price of gas and whether Congress approves proposed standards requiring automakers to raise the average fuel economy of their vehicles to 55 miles per gallon by 2025.

The electric car has always struggled with a chicken-and-egg dilemma: Automakers have been reluctant to build electric cars without consumer demand. But consumers won't buy them until automakers develop cheaper, longer-range batteries.

One of the goals of the ongoing stimulus spending is to solve this problem. By 2015, the 30 battery and component factories will be able to produce 40 percent of the world's batteries, according to the administration.

The investments would help manufacturers increase the batteries' life from four years to 14 and cut their cost from $33,000 to $10,000, the administration said in a report on innovation. That would make the electric car more competitive.

Herrera noted that many people at the A123 factory believe they will never be able to afford the cars powered by the batteries they make. But, she says, "you never know."

"When the flat-screen TVs first came out, they were way expensive, and now they're reasonably priced," she said. "I think that's going to be the same thing with electric automobiles. This is a new product. It's going to take time."

[Michael Grabell has been a reporter at ProPublica since 2008, producing stories for USA Today, Salon, NPR, MSNBC.com, and the CBS Evening News. Before joining ProPublica, he was a reporter at The Dallas Morning News. He has twice been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. This story was published at and distributed by ProPublica It was adapted from Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History which will be published Tuesday, February 6, by PublicAffairs.]

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IDEAS / Bill Meacham : Birth Control and the 'Goodness' Paradigm

Image from Dippity.

'Goodness' Vs. 'Rightness':
The ethics of birth control
There is a systematic way to find out what the benefits and harms are: observe reality carefully.
By Bill Meacham / The Rag Blog / January 31, 2012

A current New York Times article describes controversy over birth control pills at Roman Catholic colleges.(1) The difference between two ways of thinking about ethics, the Goodness paradigm and the Rightness paradigm, could not be illustrated more starkly.

The U.S. Health Care Reform legislation mandates that employer-funded insurance plans cover birth control for employees, including students at Catholic colleges, according to a recent ruling from the Obama administration. Catholic institutions are howling in protest, claiming that to do so would force them to violate their religious beliefs.

The ruling is based on recommendations of the Institute of Medicine, an independent group of doctors and researchers that concluded that birth control is not just a convenience but is medically necessary to ensure women’s health and well-being.

Providing birth control would likely lower both pregnancy and abortion rates. And women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to be depressed and to smoke, drink, and delay or skip prenatal care, potentially harming fetuses and putting babies at increased risk of being born prematurely and having low birth weight.(2)

In other words, providing birth control provides unmistakable benefits to women and avoids harm to infants. This way of thinking is the hallmark of the Goodness paradigm, evaluating choices on the basis of the benefits and harms expected from the various alternatives.

If you allow birth control, you increase the chances for women’s health and reduce the chances for the depressing consequences of unintended pregnancy. If you forbid it, you do the opposite. In the former case, more good ensues; in the latter, more harm.

Opposed to this is the Rightness paradigm, evaluating choices on the basis of moral rules regardless of consequences. The Catholic Church considers it morally wrong to prevent conception by any artificial means, including condoms, IUDs, birth control pills, and sterilization. So Catholic college administrators don’t want to prescribe birth control pills even though according to Catholic doctrine itself abortion is a graver sin than contraception, and banning contraceptives would most likely increase abortions.

So how should we adjudicate this? I am thoroughly in the Goodness camp here. There is no systematic way to find out what the moral rules are. In the case of the Catholic church, all it can do is appeal to authority. But there is a systematic way to find out what the benefits and harms are: observe reality carefully. So I find the Goodness paradigm far preferable. for this and several other reasons outlined in my paper on the subject, “The Good and the Right.”(3)

The Catholic Church is being obstructionist. The law already exempts churches and other religious institutions from having to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees.(4) The issue here is Catholic schools. You can make the case that if someone joins the church they are agreeing that the church’s moral rules apply to them. But you can’t make the same case for someone who merely attends a church college.

A lot of philosophical controversy is rightly regarded as abstruse, theoretical, and of little practical import. But not this one. Where you come down on the Goodness vs. Rightness question has profound consequences not only for your own actions but for societal policies that impact millions of people.

[Bill Meacham is an independent scholar in philosophy. A former staffer at Austin's 60s underground paper, The Rag, Bill received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. Meacham spent many years working as a computer programmer, systems analyst, and project manager. He posts at Philosophy for Real Life, where this article also appears. Read more articles by Bill Meacham on The Rag Blog.]


(1) Grady, Denise, “Ruling on Contraception Draws Battle Lines at Catholic Colleges.” New York Times, 29 January 2012. On-line publication, URL = http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/health/policy/law-fuels-contraception-controversy-on-catholic-campuses.html.

(2) “Excerpts From a Report on Women’s Health.” New York Times, 29 January 2012. On-line publication, URL = http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/30/health/policy/excerpts-from-a-report-on-womens-health.html.

(3) Meacham, Bill. “The Good and the Right.” On-line publication, URL = http://www.bmeacham.com/whatswhat/GoodAndRight.html.

(4) “A New Battle Over Contraception.” New York Times, 5 November 2011. On-line publication, URL = http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/opinion/sunday/a-new-battle-over-contraception.html as of 29 January 2012.

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30 January 2012

Harry Targ : Indiana's 'Super Bowl' of Anti-Worker Legislation

David Johnson, an organizer for the Sheet Metal Worker's International Association, carries a sign during demonstration at the Indiana Statehouse. Image from NUVO.

Right to Work (for less) in Indiana:
The Super Bowl of anti-worker legislation

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / January 30, 2012
“The heart of the Super Bowl action will be in downtown Indianapolis at the three-block interactive fan environment known as Super Bowl Village. AFC and NFC fans, families, visitors and locals alike can enjoy this ultimate, free fan zone that spans from Bankers Life Fieldhouse all the way to the NFL Experience at the Indiana Convention Center via the newly redesigned Georgia Street.

In addition to endless entertainment, interactive games, Tailgate Town, live concerts on two different stages, bars and other attractions, fans can also fly over Super Bowl Village with four zip lines that traverse Capitol Avenue.” -- VisitIndy.com
WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana -- One hundred passionate activists from labor and occupy groups around the state of Indiana assembled at the State House on Saturday, January 28, to continue opposition to the pending “Right-to-Work-for-Less” bill which appears to be close to final endorsement by the legislature and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

Ironically, Alcoa Corporation just announced the expansion of plant facilities in Lafayette, Indiana, prior to the passage of the odious anti-worker bill that Governor Daniels has claimed will bring more jobs to Indiana. A plant in Iowa, a Right-to-Work State, lost its bid for the Alcoa plant expansion to Indiana, not yet such a state.

Workers in the Lafayette plant are represented by United Steel Workers of America Local 115.

The Indiana House of Representatives last week voted 54-44 to endorse a Right-To-Work bill (several Republicans voted “no” with their Democratic colleagues). Now the bill returns to the Indiana Senate for discussion of amendments to the bill and final passage before it goes to the desk of the Governor for his signature. Despite the fact that he had promised labor in the past that he would not support such a bill, the Governor made it his top priority item in the 2012 legislative session.

The intense political battle over RTW has occurred in the context of enormous celebration of the impending arrival of 150,000 NFL fans to the Super Bowl which will be played in Indianapolis on Sunday, February 5. Indianapolis big money interests have been lobbying for this event for years, hoping to put the city on the map for hosting huge money-making events such as the football classic.

Two buses of RTW protesters traveled from Lafayette, Indiana, and Purdue University, 65 miles away, to the rally. After spirited speeches, including remarks from three state legislators, representatives from building trades unions, students, and professors, rally organizers led a march through the Super Bowl village in downtown Indianapolis. Marchers were seen by thousands of Super Bowl celebrants who were roaming around the village spending money in dozens of food and entertainment venues.

Demonstrators encountered some hostile reactions, including physical jostling, but also numerous thumbs up and clenched fists in support of protestors carrying placards demanding “Kill the Bill,” “Workers United Will Prevail,” and “Occupy Purdue.”

Opposition to Right-to-Work has a decade-long history around the state since the governorship and the Indiana House of Representatives has shifted from Republican to Democrat and then Republican control. The Republicans, for their part, are committed to destroying the labor movement not only to reduce labor costs but also to end political opposition to their domination of state government.

Among the responses has been the Indiana Coalition for Worker Rights initiated by the Northwest Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, in 2006, “to educate and mobilize workers to demand and defend worker rights.” It pledged itself to:
  1. educate union members and the public about the negative consequences of “Right-to-Work (for Less)” legislation;
  2. challenge the general shift toward privatization of public institutions such as schools, libraries, and health care delivery systems;
  3. mobilize citizens to support a living wage for all workers, affordable health care and education, and greater worker rights to participate in the workplace and the political system;
  4. and work with others to create a coalition of informed citizens “who believe that the protection of workers’ rights is the bedrock of our democratic society.”
In the summer of 2011, a coalition representing various progressive groups in the Greater Lafayette community formed to work on reproductive health care, civil liberties, peace, and labor rights. The new organization, the Indiana Rebuild the American Dream Coalition, held jobs and justice rallies in downtown Lafayette in November.

Parallel to these developments the Tippecanoe Building and Construction Trades AFL-CIO and Occupy Purdue and Occupy Lafayette have mobilized around Right to Work and a whole range of issues that concern the 99 per cent.

It is clear from the experiences of small communities such as those in Tippecanoe County (Lafayette and West Lafayette are the population centers) and various other communities all across Indiana that so-called “outside” and “inside” strategies are needed to fight back against the draconian efforts to destroy worker rights, to promote acceptable living conditions for all, and to begin to create a better world.

Outside strategies include mass mobilizations, protests, educational forums, and dramatic public displays of peoples’ views in venues such as the Super Bowl celebrations.

Jim Ogden, Lafayette, union electrician from IBEW Local 668, articulated a strategy of how best to connect the mass mobilizations to electoral work, a so-called "inside strategy":
We realize that at this point where it’s at in the legislation. We probably will not stop this.

At this point, I think we’re looking at this as a kickoff for the elections in November. And trying to do whatever we can to get the Republicans that had voted for this, to get them out of office. (Journal and Courier, January 29, 2012)
It is clear that the electoral process cannot alone defend workers rights. However, in the context of the immediate needs of the 99 percent, elections, in conjunction with massive public expressions of protest, must constitute a critical component of the work of progressives in the months ahead.

[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.]

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Lamar W. Hankins : The American Values of Saul Alinsky

Community organizer Saul Alinksy. Image from Addicting Info.

Saul Alinsky’s American values
'The Radical... is that person to whom the common good is the greatest personal value. He is that person who genuinely and completely believes in mankind.' -- Saul Alinsky
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / January 30, 2012

These days, I don’t often think of Saul Alinsky, but now that Alinsky’s name has been used to slur President Obama in frequent speeches by self-promoting historian Newt Gingrich, it’s time to look at who Alinsky was and the values he stood for.

Gingrich obviously knows little about Alinsky, who died almost 40 years ago. Certainly, the only two things Barack Obama and Saul Alinsky have in common is that both lived in Chicago and Obama did some work as a community organizer, but he was hardly the sort of community organizer Alinsky was.

At recent campaign stops in Florida, Gingrich said,
We need somebody who is a conservative and who can stand up to him (Obama) and debate and who can clearly draw the contrast between the Declaration of Independence and the writings of Saul Alinsky... The centerpiece of this campaign, I believe, is American exceptionalism versus the radicalism of Saul Alinsky... President Obama believes in Saul Alinsky's radicalism [and] a lot of strange ideas he learned at Columbia and Harvard.
Unfortunately, this is the exact opposite of reality.

In 1970, I was able to participate in a small community organizing training session in Austin conducted by Alinsky. Although I never worked full time as a community organizer, I found his ideas profoundly democratic, egalitarian, compassionate, realistic, and in keeping with every enlightened attitude expressed in this nation’s founding documents.

Without doubt, Alinsky saw himself as a radical, but not in the revolutionary or pejorative sense of that word. Alinsky wanted to get at the root of societal problems, not overturn our democratic system of government. In fact, Alinsky believed in and practiced democracy more fervently than any candidate now in the race for president.

Alinsky had the same vision and love of America found in Walt Whitman’s poetry. What Whitman was to poetry, Alinsky was to making democratic institutions serve the interests of the 99%. In the first chapter of his seminal book, Reveille for Radicals, published in 1945, Alinsky warmly identified with the diverse masses of the American people. He wrote that “During Jefferson’s lifetime the words Democrat and Radical were synonymous.”

Democrats and radicals were the few “who really liked people, loved people -- all people,” no matter their race, ethnicity, religion -- and were proud to be branded “radicals.”
They were the human torches setting aflame the hearts of men so that they passionately fought for the rights of their fellow men, all men... They fought for the right of men to govern themselves, for the right of men to walk erect as free men and not grovel before kings, for the Bill of Rights, for the abolition of slavery, for public education, and for everything decent and worth while. They loved men and fought for them. Their neighbor’s misery was their misery. They acted as they believed.
(Using the vernacular of the time, “men” meant humankind and was not intended to omit women.)

Alinsky identified America’s radicals as Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, Tom Paine, John Brown, Thaddeus Stevens, Horace Mann, Wendell Phillips,, Peter Cooper, Walt Whitman, Henry George, Edward Bellamy, John P. Altgeld, Henry D. Lloyd, Lincoln Steffans, Upton Sinclair, Bishop Bernard Sheil, and many others who stood with the masses of people fighting for the general welfare of all:
What is the American Radical? The Radical is that unique person who actually believes what he says. He is that person to whom the common good is the greatest personal value. He is that person who genuinely and completely believes in mankind. The Radical is so completely identified with mankind that he personally shares the pain, the injustices, and the suffering of all his fellow men. He completely understands and accepts to the last letter those immortal words of John Donne (that "no man is an island")...

[The Radical] wants a world in which the worth of the individual is recognized. He wants the creation of a kind of society where all of man’s potentialities could be realized; a world where man could live in dignity, security, happiness and peace -- a world based on a morality of mankind.
Alinsky dedicated his life to working for a society that would eradicate “all those evils which anchor mankind in the mire of war, fears, misery, and demoralization.” He fought for economic welfare; for the freedom of the mind; for political and social freedom; for “a high standard of food, housing and health” for all; for placing human rights “far above property rights”; for “universal, free public education,” which he saw “as fundamental to the democratic way of life”; for social planning that came from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.

Alinsky believed that jobs should be both economically rewarding and personally satisfying to the creative spirit, what he called “a job for the heart as well as the hand.”

Most of all, Alinsky fought against privilege and power “whether it be inherited or acquired by any small group, whether it be political or financial or [from] organized creed.” To Alinsky, the American Radical “will fight any concentration of power hostile to a broad, popular democracy, whether he finds it in financial circles or in politics.”

Alinsky disdained both conservatives and liberals. Liberals he saw as mostly hypocritical people who espoused his values, but did not live according to them. Liberals paralyze themselves into immobility by their inability to take a stand for political and economic justice based on true democracy. For Alinsky, it was essential to be partisan for the people; otherwise, for whom are you partisan?

Alinsky did not try to explain conservatives. He thought they were not worth explaining because they did not accept the American values he saw as essential for democracy. For Alinsky, only the Radical got it right: “The Radical does not sit frozen by cold objectivity. He sees injustice and strikes at it with hot passion. He is a man of decision and action.”

He described liberals as people who “fear power or its applications”:
They labor in confusion over the significance of power and fail to recognize that only through the achievement and constructive use of power can people better themselves. They talk glibly of a people lifting themselves by their own bootstraps but fail to realize that nothing can be lifted or moved except through power.
Now conservatives are the ones who talk this way.

Alinsky spent most of his life helping organize together the existing organizations in a community to find the power to change the lives of the people in that community. But during World War II, Alinsky’s disdain for fascism took him away from domestic organizing for a time. He described his war role in a Playboy Magazine interview shortly before his death:
I divided my time between a half-dozen slum communities we were organizing, but then we entered World War Two, and the menace of fascism was the overpowering issue at that point, so I felt Hitler's defeat took temporary precedence over domestic issues. I worked on special assignment for the Treasury and Labor Departments; my job was to increase industrial production in conjunction with the C.I.O. [Congress of Industrial Organizations] and also to organize mass war-bond drives across the country.

It was relatively tame work for me, but I was consoled by the thought I was having some impact on the war effort, however small... The Assistant Secretary of State blocked [direct military service for me] because he felt I could make a better contribution in labor affairs, ensuring high production, resolving worker-management disputes, that sort of thing.
Alinsky’s first community organizing effort started with the Back of the Yards area of Chicago -- the area where the meatpacking industry was located. My friend the late Paul Gorton Blanton, in his unpublished work The Outside Agitator, adapted from his doctoral dissertation, described the Back of the Yards area when Alinsky started organizing there in 1938:
Even for this late stage of the depression, unemployment was high. Street gangs ran wild. Racketeers were regarded by many as folk heroes. Police protection was rare. The filth of the neighborhood’s broken streets and alleys added to the environment of decay and despair. Garbage was commonly tossed into the alleys, and was later collected by a man with a shovel, a wagon, and a team of horses.

Neighborhood banks often failed during these depressed thirties, resulting in the loss of savings by many poor families. Mortgage foreclosures were frequent. Health care was grossly inadequate, particularly for children and the elderly. The inevitable cycles of poverty and disease brought about a neighborhood mood of hopelessness.
Alinsky organized disparate groups, even those who saw themselves as natural enemies, such as the C.I.O.’s Packinghouse Workers union and the Catholic Church, into an organization of organizations that identified the community’s most pressing problems and devised ways to eliminate them.

According to Blanton, “Clusters of families, groups, clubs, businesses, and economic enterprises, through which individuals in the community found their own identity” became, together, The Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council. Over several years, the Council took on and solved problems in health care, unemployment, education, nutrition, sanitation, fire safety, juvenile delinquency, and other matters.

The creation of a credit union that offered 1% loans drove most loan sharks and small finance companies out of the neighborhood. As a result of health services introduced by the Council, in just over one year infant mortality dropped from 10% to 1.5%, a free chest x-ray program was established to fight tuberculosis, a free dental program was developed, and water fluoridation was achieved.

Through other efforts, 2400 new jobs were created for neighborhood residents. Later, a free lunch program was created. Over the years, the Council lobbied successfully in both the Illinois state capital and before Congress for school-based food programs, including a free or reduced-price milk program that Congress instituted in 1955.

Part of Alinsky’s success was his brilliance at devising strategies and tactics that moved the power elites to respond to the demands of the people. He was able to analyze those in power and take advantage of their vulnerabilities, often by exposing their hypocrisy and corruption, and by using ridicule.

Once, when the first Mayor Daley who ran Chicago calculated that he could back out of some agreements he had made with another organization Alinsky had created in Chicago -- The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) -- Alinsky devised a strategy to embarrass Daley by creating havoc in Daley’s pride and joy -- the O’Hare Airport.

Some TWO members researched the number of toilets and urinals at O’Hare and determined they could recruit 2,500 people to occupy all the toilets and line up four or five people at each urinal, and then rotate from urinal to urinal, making it impossible for most passengers just arriving at O’Hare to use a restroom.

When the word of this plan leaked to Daley, he had visions of vast numbers of travelers, desperate to relieve themselves, urinating in his pot plants at the airport. Daley capitulated instantly and TWO never again had problems with getting him to fulfill his promises to them.

Alinsky and his acolytes organized similar groups in many locations throughout the country. Their organizational efforts and tactics weren’t always successful, but most of them were.

Whatever Obama may have learned about organizing has not manifested itself in the partisan politics he has pursued since the time he worked in Chicago as a community organizer. Nothing in his manner or actions leads me to think that he is a follower of Saul Alinsky. Obama was still nine years old when Alinsky died. There is no evidence that he ever met Alinsky or was influenced by him.

I devoutly wish that Obama had Alinsky’s mindset, values, instinct, and creativity, and would use those characteristics against those who want the government to fail in its stated goal of securing the blessings of liberty for all the American people. But Obama has failed to be the sort of person I once thought he was. Still, there is no one else in the running for president who will come close to doing better.

Once again, Newt Gingrich has proven his ignorance about a historic figure that he claims to understand and about whom he likes to pontificate. Ironically, one group that is proving to be a strong supporter of both Gingrich and Ron Paul has also heaped praise on Alinsky. The Tea Partiers are studying Alinsky’s second book, Rules for Radicals, as they attempt to influence the political system to do their bidding.

They have had minimal success following Alinsky’s example, probably because they lack Alinsky’s aplomb and creativity, but mostly because they don’t share Alinsky’s values. This irony further exposes Gingrich as a faux historian who invents narratives to advance his political ambitions. He will never understand that Alinsky’s values can be traced directly back to the spirit of 1776.

[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.]

The Rag Blog

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26 January 2012

Thorne Webb Dreyer : Peace and Justice Activist Tom Hayden on Rag Radio

As Port Huron turns 50:
Peace and justice activist
Tom Hayden on Rag Radio

By Thorne Webb Dreyer / The Rag Blog / January 26, 2012

Peace and justice activist Tom Hayden, a driving force in SDS and the Sixties New Left, was our guest on Rag Radio on January 6 and January 20, 2012. On the two hour-long programs we discussed the legacy of SDS and Sixties activism, as well as contemporary American society, foreign policy, and progressive politics.

The shows can be heard here and here.

Progressive Activist and SDS Pioneer Tom Hayden
on Rag Radio with Thorne Dreyer, Jan. 6, 2012:

Progressive Activist Tom Hayden on Current Issues
on Rag Radio with Thorne Dreyer, Jan. 20, 2012:

Rag Radio, which has been aired since September 2009 on KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively-run all-volunteer community radio station in Austin, Texas, features hour-long in-depth interviews and discussion about issues of progressive politics, culture, and history. It is hosted by Rag Blog editor and SDS veteran Thorne Dreyer.

Tom Hayden was the primary author of the Port Huron Statement, SDS’ 1962 “Agenda for a Generation,” the legendary SDS manifesto that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with events at UCLA, UC-Santa Barbara, NYU, MIT, and the University of Michigan, and at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. Historian James Miller called the Port Huron Statement “one of the pivotal documents in post-war American history.”

Ken Handel, writing in The Rag Blog on July 19, 2011, said that, “The 59 SDS members who assembled in the small Michigan town of Port Huron in June 1962 could not accept a status quo that tolerated the possibility of nuclear annihilation, state-sanctioned racism, and a nation suffering from extensive poverty amidst affluence.”

The Port Huron Statement -- which brought the term “participatory democracy” into the common parlance -- begins in words familiar to most anyone who was active in the era. “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit.” It concludes: “If we appear to seek the unattainable, as it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.”

In the Rag Radio interviews, Hayden compared the era in which the Port Huron Statement was written with the world today: “The Cold War is gone, but not the threat of nuclear weapons, and I think the Cold War has been replaced as a template by the global war on terrorism, which requires secrecy, excessive military spending, and the shrinking of civil liberties.”

“So many of the issues that plagued us as young people then, plague students today,” Hayden said, “but I think the big difference is the economic recession and the gloom.” We are moving, he said, into a “whole new period of conflict and threats involving the possible use of force with China, and that’s going to be the next generation’s issue.”

Reflecting on Port Huron, Hayden said that "these crazy, inspired, visionary documents often come from the young and liberated and innocent. Most of us who wrote it were 21 years old and it remains to be seen whether such a document materializes again..." But, he added, "It’s a little uncanny how the words of the Port Huron Statement echo today, as it’s used in classes and a lot of the students can’t tell when it was written."

According to Nicholas Lemann of The Atlantic, “Tom Hayden changed America.” Hayden was a Freedom Rider in the deep South, a community organizer in Newark, N.J., and one of the most visible and articulate opponents of the War in Vietnam. He was one of the Chicago Seven, arrested during demonstrations at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Richard Goodwin, an advisor to presidents Kennedy and Johnson, said Hayden "created the blueprint for the Great Society programs."

Hayden later organized the grassroots Campaign for Economic Democracy in California, and served for 18 years in the California State Assembly and Senate. At that time, The Sacramento Bee called Hayden “the conscience of the Senate.”

Tom has recently taught at Scripps College and Pitzer College, Occidental College, and Harvard University’s Institute of Politics; and is currently teaching a class at UCLA on protest movements from Port Huron to the present.

Hayden, who is the author or editor of 19 books and serves on the editorial board of The Nation, is a leading progressive activist and an outspoken critic of the Pentagon's “Long War.” He was an initiator of Progressives for Obama, a group that offered critical support for Barack Obama during his initial campaign for the presidency. Hayden is director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Culver City, California, edits the Peace Exchange Bulletin, and organizes anti-war activities for the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).

On Rag Radio, Tom Hayden discussed his work with the Peace and Justice Resource Center, explaining that its mission is to provide “original research and reporting and networking principally around the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the ‘Long War’ doctrine behind them, and the war on the border that we share with California, Texas, and Mexico where 47,000 people have died since 2006.”

He said it’s important that we realize that Obama’s ending the war in Iraq was a victory for the anti-war movement, and he expresses serious concern over the possibility of war with Iran, even though he doesn’t believe such a war would be in the United States’ “imperial interests.” Hayden recently wrote that “rational self interest is not always enough to prevent what Barbara Tuchman has called the ‘march to folly.’”

He fears things could be getting out of control “because it’s an election year in America.” Obama “doesn’t exactly need a war in the election year because it will drive up oil prices,” he said. “He’s looking at the Democratic Party and they’re pretty limp… the doves in the Democratic Party are not exactly flapping.”

“You see the right wing Israeli government of Netanyahu very intertwined with Romney and Gingrich. And they’re pounding on Obama to do something,” he says.

“It’s sort of stunning. I didn’t know until last year that Romney was in business with Netanyahu. They were business partners in a consulting firm… And Gingrich. The guy that bailed him out, Adelson, the casino billionaire, is very, very close to Netanyahu. Adelson owns newspapers in Israel that support Netanyahu. And both of them [Romney and Gingrich] are for a war with Iran, if need be, or forcing Iran to essentially submit to regime change.”

Hayden said that Obama was responding to pressure from environmentalists in postponing the Keystone Pipeline. “Bill McKibben, whose credentials as an environmental fighter go unchallenged, actually said on Pacifica… that he thought that the president’s decision was bold and brave.”

Looking to the 2012 elections, Hayden said, “My philosophy is that there’s no one prescription for the vast diversity of protesters, progressives, and radicals, and movement activists in this country..."

He believes we should take a "pluralistic approach where we should look to the federal government to protect certain basic standards but also allow cities and states to take more progressive steps where they can, so that we’re not bound by the lowest possible standard."

"You could start with state initiatives, the way California has done for decades, on energy efficiency, on solar power, anti-Nuke, and fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. And linking up with other states, they begin to create a powerful political and economic force for an alternative," he said. "I think we win by building progressive power in certain areas of the country and then eventually the federal government is forced to go along."

Hayden suggests "we should study more how our victories are won and how our defeats are suffered, and learn more about the interaction between social movements and electoral politics and this president... We’ve had a couple of years to see what works and what doesn’t and we need to move forward…"

He also says we should "focus more on Citizens United and taking down the infernal power of finance capital and the corporations over the campaign contributions.”

Hayden believes we need to reelect Obama, “hopefully elect Elizabeth Warren as a symbolic crusader against Wall Street in Massachusetts… [and] at all costs, do not lose the presidency and the Senate and the House to the Republicans, unless you’re ready for a juggernaut backed by a crazy right-wing U.S. Supreme Court.”

As far as Obama’s performance: “Do I think that he has performed less well than I would have hoped? Yes, absolutely. But it’s an experiment, it’s a learning enterprise… he’s always going to be a disappointment as a centrist because he needs to have a left against him in order to counterbalance the right.”

Hayden believes that Wisconsin has been the site of “the single most important political and economic struggle in the country… [Wisconsin] was the spearpoint of the Tea Party governors who wanted to destroy labor -- public sector unions -- and the spear got broken by the Wisconsin opposition.”

“If we ever mark a time when the Tea Party started to be repelled and pushed back, I think it started in Wisconsin.”

Hayden notes that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker offered the police and the firefighters a deal “to exempt them from his attack on public sector workers, because he wanted to go after the teachers’ unions and so forth -- and they said no.”

“If you go out there to Wisconsin to this day you’ll find the fife and drum corps of the firefighters, dressed in kilts, playing their instruments and leading the crowds into the state capitol, where they take the place over for an hour a day and sing all these very lively, energized radical labor songs.”

Hayden's not sure how powerful the Occupy movement is. “They had a surprising beginning, amazing acceleration and spread, they had tremendous media impact on the income equality issues, but they don’t have the Tea Party’s resource base or political base.”

But, “as long as we have our economic misery and Wall Street is out there as a big fat plutocratic target, I think Occupy will keep coming back in different forms.”

“These movements always come like the wind, they come out of nowhere, they come by surprise. It’s very hopeful, and it’s become a universal consensus that they’ve changed the dialogue to income inequality and poverty.”

And, “If you read the manifesto of Occupy Wall Street, the very first principle in their statement of principles is a transparent 'participatory democracy.'" The Occupy movement is clearly “carrying on the participatory democracy tradition.”

Port Huron lives. Fifty years and counting.

Rag Radio -- hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer -- is broadcast every Friday from 2-3 p.m. (CST) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, and streamed live on the web. After broadcast, all episodes are posted as podcasts and can be downloaded at the Internet Archive. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

Rag Radio is also rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (EST) on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA. Rag Radio is produced in the KOOP studios, in association with The Rag Blog, a progressive internet newsmagazine, and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

[Thorne Dreyer was a prominent Sixties activist and underground journalist. Active with SDS in Austin and nationally, Dreyer was a founding editor of The Rag in Austin and Space City! in Houston, was on the editorial collective of Liberation News Service (LNS) in New York, and was manager of Pacifica Radio's KPFT-FM in Houston. He now edits The Rag Blog, hosts Rag Radio on KOOP 91-7-FM in Austin, and is a director of the New Journalism Project. Read more articles by and about Thorne Dreyer on The Rag Blog.]

Coming up on Rag Radio:

Jan. 27, 2012: Authors Kim Simpson and Jan Reid discuss the American radio revolution of the '60s and '70s.
Feb. 3, 2012: Historian and political economist Gar Alperovitz, author of
America Beyond Capitalism.

The Rag Blog

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25 January 2012

BOOKS / Bob Simmons : Two on the American Radio Revolution

Dead Air and Early '70s Radio:
The formatting revolution
in American radio

By Bob Simmons / The Rag Blog / January 26, 2012

Kim Simpson, author of Early '70s Radio, and Jan Reid, editor of Bill Young's Dead Air, will be Thorne Dreyer's guests on Rag Radio, Friday, January 27, 2012, 2-3 p.m. (CST), on KOOP 91-7-FM in Austin and streamed live to the world. They will discuss the American radio revolution of the '60s and '70s. Rag Radio is rebroadcast on WFTE-FM in Scranton and Mt. Cobb, PA, Sunday at 10 a.m. (EST).
Dead Air: The rise and demise of music radio, by Bill Young, edited by Jan Reid. (CreateSpace, 2011); Paperback, 302 pp., $19.95.

Early '70s Radio: The American Format Revolution, by Kim Simpson (New York: Continuum, 2011); Paperback, 288 pp., $32.95.

Two books about media, radio in particular, have recently been released for the public's consideration: Kim Simpson's Early 70's Radio The American Format Revolution and Bill Young's Dead Air: The rise and demise of music radio, edited by Jan Reid.

Both books cover roughly the same era of American radio broadcasting: the turbulent late 60's and the decade of the 1970's. Early 70's Radio is more of a weighty cultural criticism full of well-researched information from those decades. Dead Air, on the other hand, is a personal memoir and first-hand tale from someone who fought in the trenches of the media war and lived.

If you're a student of American media or cultural analysis of the period, then these books may be worth your time to explore.

For those too young to remember, or who need to be reminded, the 60's and 70's were times of tectonic shifts in American culture and society. You know, assassinations, Vietnam, black power, feminism, energy crises, impeachments, etc. It was a rockin' time for sure. In the middle of it all, jockeying for position, or just to stay alive like Eliza on the Ice, was the medium of radio, trying to lead, hoping to follow, and to continue to be or become a key part of its listener's lives.

In those days radio wanted to be, and perhaps was, a “social network” -- before there was any concept of such a thing. Radio sought to be more than just a medium, radio wished to mediate the culture around it.

In the 60's and 70's, radio went wherever we went -- in our cars, in our homes, at our work. Our little buddy was there, talking to us, playing the tunes that defined our hearts, blabbing about the navel lint of our lives, shocking us, informing us, and cajoling us to buy some product that likely as not we were better off without. Waterbeds! Hot tubs! A Mercury Montego!

That box was more than just another media choice. We didn't have 500 channels of TV, we didn't have the Internet. We didn't have PDA's and cell phones. We only had... that little radio and some guy sitting on top of an Astrodome or flagpole telling us what it was like. We could take it with us, in our car, to the beach, to the mountains, in our bedrooms at our most intimate moments. Radio could be there, defining us, refining us, and perhaps keeping us from the loneliness of just being alive in our skins.

A stupid disk jockey might irk us, please us, or maybe clue us in about an event that simply should not be missed. We could dial up our tastes -- country, rock ‘n roll, hit music, the marischino strings, music and news from dusk till dawn -- helping to release endorphins in our brain.

Mood elevators? Who needed Miltown or Prozac? We had K-Lite or K-Life or K-Whatthehell to keep us in the corral. Let it snow, let it snow I've got my radio to keep me warm. Radio made us feel like we belonged to something. It wasn't a country club, it wasn't a sorority or fraternity, but dammit, we belonged to... something. Good morning, sunshine... we're here to getcha' goin'. Looks like it's gonna be breezy so wear a slip, OK?

Talk about pressure! As they used to say in Creem magazine: Boy Howdy!

Imagine what it must have been like to be the guy in charge of remaining relevant to an audience of some 20,000 people at any given moment, to do something to maintain your "cume" (your listening audience's total numbers) of one or two hundred thousand people a week. Do you think you might feel a little, um, squeezed, a little apprehensive?

Pity the poor PD (Program Director) of a major city radio station. His DJ's hate him, his manager beats him like a rented mule, the sales department thinks he is a tyrant and a stubborn jerk for not allowing some manufacturer of specialty latex products to be advertised on the air.

The league of decency is on the phone, the record promo men are in the hall with the latest directive and LP from Columbia’s Clive Davis. Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun says play this, or we break your legs. What is your weakness pal? You like girls? You like drugs? Money? As PD, you are the key to all their locks, and they are going to find a way to pick you.

Out there in the street are listeners who depend on you. They don't know it, but they do. You're the gatekeeper, you are the chef, you are the culture cop protecting them from inferior or bogus goods. You are the juggler trying to keep six things in the air: a chocolate cake, a running chainsaw, a medicine ball, your kid's birthday, your wife's anniversary.

David Bowie once sang, “It ain't easy to go ahead when you're goin' down.” On top of all that was the fact that your audience was shifting and changing more than a woman looking at her closet before church.

Gordon McLendon on the air at KLIF in Dallas, 1948 / History of KLIF.

Top 40 or “All hit Radio” was the invention of a couple of guys, mainly one Todd Storz, who had noticed back in Omaha in 1955 or so, that people would put quarters in jukeboxes and play the same song over and over. People didn't get tired of the song and move on. Listeners were getting some kind of rush from the repetition.

Storz had the revelation that most people don't listen for more than an hour or two at a time. A radio station could repeat itself as much as it wanted. In fact, repetition was good, not bad, as had been thought before. People liked knowing what they were going to hear.

Hit radio was born and prospered like an army base hooker. This of course led to competition. But for years Storz and his buddy, Gordon McClendon, made millions on that simple idea.

Dead Air: The rise and demise of music radio is about Bill Young's experience from inside that radio circus -- from its rosy innocence in 1955 to the days of deepening cynical market research in the late 70's and beyond. Young worked the wheelhouse of a couple of Gordon McClendon's flagship stations in Dallas and Houston, leading them to top ratings and helping to maintain McClendon's fortunes, until the day the music, or more accurately, the music machine, began to cough, sputter, and spit parts out on the highway.

Call it a challenge? I think so.

Once the format was discovered in 1955, radio operators had it pretty easy until the late 60's and early 70's when Americans began to evolve into walled off cells of opinion, class, and age. Marketers who kept their fingers on the pulse of the tastes and desires of the public noted with great interest the erosion of our “one nation indivisible under God” into increasingly distinct demographic and psychographic profiles. Market consultants and psychiatrists started testing “consumers” from behind one-way glass to try to figure it out.

The teenagers were coming of age. That wise guy Bugs Bunny was growing a beard, smoking pot, and singing, “I ain't marching any more.” The kids that had liked Mickey were now on a C-131 headed for Nam. Black guys who had watched the news from Birmingham in the 60's were wearing berets and saying things like, “By any means necessary.”

Pity the poor radio stations trying to figure out where their audiences were going. Again, “Boy howdy.”

By the late 70's it was estimated that over 100 different radio “formats” had evolved. It had Bill Young scratching his head along with several hundred other radio programmers and tipsters around the country. What the hell should I play? To whom am I playing it? Teens, young adults, housewives?

Dead Air is a self-published work edited by historian, novelist, journalist Jan Reid, and is the story of Bill Young's relationship with hit radio in Texas at Houston's KILT, Dallas' KLIF, Waco's WACO, etc., and the myriad of people with whom he came in contact. Personal saga time.

You know the plot line. Youthful yearning hick shows up on doorstep of local East Texas radio station, and uses wits and pluck to work his way up to... Waco. And from then on folks, it's all history. Bright lights, big city. Houston, Dallas, um, Tyler.

This is not to denigrate those accomplishments, given that succeeding in popular radio, whether in Mid-America or on the more sophisticated East or West Coasts, was akin to scaling icy mountains or driving in a Grand Prix race where all the cars were driven by psychotics who would just as soon run into you as win the race. Becoming a success in Top 40 was not easy for the men at the top, middle, or bottom.

Bill Young gives us a taste of what that long-gone world was like, a whiff from the inside of the glass-windowed rooms where the mics were live and the air had better not be “dead.” Young was behind the mic in Dallas the day they killed the President, he was on stage when the Rolling Stones wondered if they should flip their cigarette butts at the audience before they started playing. He crawled atop the Astrodome as his deejay pal finished his 400th hour living up there.

It might be said that Dead Air's virtues are also its limitations. As a personal memoir it is a success; as an inside history of the game, it works too; but as a book for the reader who is trying to understand media and its relationship to the broader culture, well, don't look for much of that here, folks.

A lot of Dead Air is a list of names who are only familiar to people from within "the industry" whose careers were important to trade publications like Billboard, Cashbox, and Advertising Age. Sure, some were hometown hero DJ's to teenaged listeners. But the other names like Bill Drake, Buzz Bennett, Bill Stewart, Don Keyes, Claude Hall? Who they?

Radio cognoscenti know them; most people though, didn't then, and still don't. Fame is so fickle, especially in the world of pop music and radio. Who remembers Jobriath, David Blue, Frankie Ford, Nervous Norvus? One of these days no one will know who Howard Stern was. Praise Jesus!

KILT disc jockeys. Bill Young is second from left.

It was said by someone somewhen, that radio was/is the bottom rung of the show business ladder, and one wishes in a way that Dead Air covered a bit more of the “up-close-and-personal” of what it was like to be a deejay at the time. You know, the “cleaning up after the elephants” stuff.

Maybe Bill Young should have included some vignettes of what it was like to “work in the window,” with the DJ on display as listeners drove past the studios, where DJ's might be threatened with a stick of dynamite, or had to worry about someone taking a pot shot at them?

A portrait here and there of the radio guy who lived with a U-haul trailer on reserve for the day when he would be transferred to another city or be fired and forced to move from Oklahoma City to Detroit inside of two weeks. DJ's? Born to be fired. (Radio bums!)

Or maybe a story about the vicious RKO Radio program director who installed sun lamps in the studio so that when an announcer wasn't up to snuff he could turn the lamps on remotely to make him sweat. At the end of the week, the DJ with the best tan was on the shitlist.

Or saddest of all, maybe something about all the losers who forewent college to be in the “entertainment business” and found themselves burned out and tossed out of media at the ripe old age of 40 with a taste for the fast life and no skills to back it up? Being a deejay might have offered brief fame, but for many it was a one way ticket to Palookaville. Mama told you not to join the circus.

Young talks a bit about the development of innovations like hot clocks, stop sets, day-parting of music, limited rotation, “jingle packages,” etc., which may be of some interest to media junkies, but in the long run were only about how thick or thin to slice the baloney and still make people think they were getting a sandwich. Just how many ways could one devise to play the same 30 records anyway?

Flagpole sitting DJs might promote the call letters of the station so their station would be remembered in the listener surveys and make a strong showing in Pulse or the Arbitron ratings, but they made the real rubber meet the road by simply playing the artists who were the rage of the moment.

Picking hits with a tip sheet and sales charts? Could Donald Duck have done it as well? Who knows? But when it came to self-promotion and log rolling, the guys mentioned in Young's world were tops. And that programmer who came up with a new innovation about how to arrange a limited play list of 30 hits and a hundred oldies in some new manner? He was the “genius” of the month… Ok, ok, of the year?

Big bucks would be dangled by one of several radio group owners. Gordon McClendon, Todd Storz, Don Burden, and the others would hire this “programmer of the year” or subscribe to the tip sheet that seemed to offer insight into which way the ever-skittish crowd would respond to certain sounds.

Advertising fortunes rode on being right. Pimple cream merchants and Ford dealers waited for the ratings to offer the big payoff to the stations that could pick the ponies. “I want men, 18-34 goddammit. I want housewives who like those Saturday sales. We've rented balloons and searchlights, some people better show up or it's your ass.”

But Young does make a good argument that the showcase for the music counted for something. The frame around the picture made the music more important, and since this was his world, one should not expect that he would not emphasize that.

And a wild bunch some of those handmaids to the music were. What a gang of cut-ups! Setting each other's news copy on fire while on the air! Ha ha. And consorting with record promo men who wanted to (gasp!) give them money to play records! Never mind that Nixon was being impeached, or that Jimmy Smith from down the street just got his ass shot off in Veetnam.

One can't help but notice from the blurbs on the back of the book that the same cast of mutual backslappers is still at it. Kent Burkhart, Chuck Blore, Ron Alexenburg, Sonny Melendrez all have comments about this book “written by a radio legend.” These guys could promote a dust bunny from under your bed. Of course it would have to be a “good” dust bunny. In fact a dust bunny with legs! “This dust bunny is breaking wide at 18 with a bullet. Got your finger on my trigger, now pull it.” Those guys are going to be promoting each other's coffins.

Always lurking in the background of Young's story is the doppelganger image of Herb Tarlek -- with his plaid jacket and white tasseled shoes -- from WKRP in Cincinnati, anxious to promote turkey giveaways dropped from helicopters like bombs in a parking lot at the A and Poo Feed Store. But admit it, if you liked WKRP, you liked Herb Tarlek (played by Frank Bonner.) “I swear, I thought turkeys could fly!”

Herb Tarlek of WKRP in Cincinnati, played by Frank Bonner.

While reading Young, the older reader's mind wanders back to the time of the dreaded teenagers to whom the radio dial had been abandoned while mom and dad watched the glowing tube in the main rooms of the house. Junior and Missy retired to their rooms to listen to Danny and the Juniors, Earth Angel, and Connie Francis, germinating their own world that would eventually lead to the fragmenting of both the culture and the audiences into worlds that not even the most statistically minded sociologists could predict. (Think Married With Children.)

England? The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan? What would those voices mean to someone who was playing the music of Leslie Gore, “It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to?”

But Bill Young was there, caught in the middle of it, “too cool for the room, too square to be rare,” helming one of Gordon McClendon's ships-of-the-line through the stormy media waters. “You may fire when ready, Gridley. Damn the torpedos.” Don't worry about that FM program director Tom Donahue declaring in Rolling Stone that, “Top 40 is dead and its rotting corpse is stinking up the airways.”

And it did take another five years to die and for the culture to morph into Disco, Contemporary Hit Radio, Middle of the Road, AOR, Urban, Country, and News/Talkers, and all their subgenres. It also took an assassination of a president, his brother, and a civil rights giant, a horrible and unjust war, the popularization and mass use of drugs (both legal and illegal), the rise of FM radio, LP records, and cable television to split the listenerships into microsegments that became an advertiser's nightmare of demographics, psychographics, and statistical weighting.

Bill Young was there and lived to tell the tale for students of mid-America, mid-century, and media-as-a-message. If that stuff interests you, then dig right in.

Working the same fields, but plowing much more refined furrows, is the book by Kim Simpson, Early 70's Radio The American Format Revolution.

Simpson, also a musician and a host of folk music shows on Austin's KUT and KOOP, is from a different generation than Bill Young, and approaches the period as a historian and studious cultural critic. Born in 1969, Simpson experiences the 70's mainly as research first begun in his dad's stashed archives of old Billboards, Cash Boxes, and Record Worlds. Curiosity led him further.

He was fascinated by the genesis of the idea of “formatting” -- that is, the process of trying to design a medium to fit the perceived preferences of a preselected “target audience.” It was an idea that was in its complete infancy in the early 70's, and Simpson thought that he could follow its development and demonstrate that a study of “hit radio formats” could provide a unique and useful means for examining and understanding the period and the culture as a whole.

In Simpson's words:
Radio historians, having recognized the early 70's as a watershed in the medium's history, refer to the era as the "format explosion," the "crossover explosion" or the “FM revolution,” among similar descriptions. These all fit the bill -- if commercial radio's format offerings numbered in the single digits at the beginning of the decade, they had multiplied, according to a Broadcasting magazine tally, to an industry-wide cornucopia of 133 formats by the end of the decade, all but six of which could be classified as “Popular music" in one sense or another.

[….] the radio business's formatting efforts were a cultural phenomenon that mirrored the identity issues with which the nation as a whole, had been grappling. It was no mere coincidence that this change in the radio landscape toward audience segmentation occurred in a period rife with heated politics, identity anxiety, and social fragmentation amid a steady stream of large scale disappointments and chronically insoluble social problems (Vietnam, OPEC, Inflation, and Watergate to name just a few).

In this light, commercial music radio formats, however industry driven, served two cultural functions, both of which appear as recurring themes throughout this book: (1) they provided a means whereby radio listeners could reimagine and renegotiate identity be it their own or another's; and (2) the formats acted as coping mechanisms. For example, they could serve as escape hatches through which radio listeners might opt out of the social turmoil and anxieties of the day, while functioning for others as well-defined identity headquarters that offered meaning and resolve in equal measures to their corresponding demographics.
“Boy Howdy!” Once again, you just said a mouthful.

Well, is/was it true? Is that what music radio formatting was/is all about? Bubblegum, heavy metal, folk-rock, singer-songwriters, jazz, country, light-country, mellow, elevator music, classical, AOR, AAOR, MOR, Urban, Quiet Storms, Indie/College, Bluegrass, and so on through the spectrum of bins at your local music store? What the hell does all that mean? What do those tea leaves mean, Gypsy woman?

Well bless Mr. Simpson, he tries to make heads or tails of this ball of confusion of cultural demarcation. Genre's, sub-genre's, incongruent glops of cross-referential music emerging from the variety of eras and socioeconomic partitions, divided by race, culture, age, background, geography, and whatever other cultural identifiers offered for a lost people to grasp to find a sense of themselves.

Once, in Bill Young's day -- what Simpson (and others) call the days of “Unformatted Innocence” -- radio and other media were broadcast out over the broad waters of the American landscape as though there was one body with one set of ears.

In the early 70's, right about the same time people started recognizing the significance of Marshall McCluhan's Understanding Media, the advertising world and the broadcasting world, moving in lockstep, recognized that the stuff they used to do was hopelessly naive and ineffective in reaching the people they wanted to motivate to do the things they wanted them to do. And what they wanted was for people to buy products, not to mention to buy the products that were luring them to buy more products.

(One of the great ironies of music radio was that probably the most salient merchandise that they were selling was not the “products” they were advertising with the “commercial spots,” but was the very program material they were playing on the air. The recordings from the major and minor labels were ads for themselves! This hasn't changed a bit and continues to this day unabated.)

No wonder the major record companies vied so heavily for airplay. Their “product” was being used to advertise itself. The promo men from Atlantic, CBS, Warner Brothers, and from Hi, and Sarg, London, and from the local one-stop distributor lined up at the radio programmer’s door. “Pleeeze, play my record.”

And if the product was good, and was played in the right way, to the right audience, then listeners would tune in, and the station could sell more actual advertising to local merchants and manufacturers of goods and services. Maybe it was as the Marquis de Sade who once said, “All of them engaged in happy mutual robbery.”

Pity the poor programmer who had to negotiate among all these competing interests. (Wait, is that a spot or a song? Are they selling “Lady Came from Baltimore” or Lady Schick Razors? How do you know? Is the DJ talking to me, or selling me something?)

And pity the poor cultural critic who has to parse this into its constituent pieces. Boy howdy!

Progressive radio pioneer Tom Donahue. Image from Bay Area Radio.

So there goes Kim Simpson with his fine book, to make his contribution to the understanding of media and of pop culture. Watching Scotty Grow, Soul Crisis and Crossover, MOR and Soft Rock, Casey Kasem, Robert Plant, Country Music, oh hell, it's all here.

I am here to warn you, this book is not light reading. It is deeply researched, it is thoughtful, it is rich with facts and insights of both Simpson's and of the ideas from the source material.

Since he is doing his work from archives, from studies, and from interviews with the personalities of the times, he occasionally makes an error. He talks about the original FM revolution which ostensibly started in San Francisco, where he gives credit to Tom Donahue for “owning” the first “underground” FM station, KMPX. Simpson missed the fact that Donahue owned nothing and went on strike with his staff against the station owner who refused to share in the new gold mine that Tom and his rag-tag staff were creating.

But Simpson bravely wades into the fray. He covers every aspect of the culture -- feminism, religious broadcasting, news, racism in media -- from Olivia Newton-John to Frank Zappa, Black Sabbath to Merle Haggard. He studies all of the musical genres that are covered by bellwether artists and tries to give context and meaning about how they fit into the wider culture. It is a staggeringly difficult thing to do, but somehow he seems to pull it off.

And what does he predict from all this? More of the same of course. (Satellite radio, mood oriented. Terrestial radio, demographic oriented -- but radio still needed, ostensibly for its “communal listening experience.”) But in further fragments and segments, maybe even a segment that goes back to the unformatted innocence of music that is incongruously served up as a bunch of this and that. Only in a highly segmented spectrum could an unsegmented format be included. It's full circle time.

And all of it exists and continues to morph because of the wild multiplication of technical media delivery systems. Cable, Internet, over-the-air FM and AM, TV carriers and sub-carriers, satellite radio like Sirius, ad infinitum. Anyone need an all-Dolly Parton station? Technical change allows, nay, demands cultural change. Napster becomes Pandora, Pandora becomes Spotify. Next please! Everybody into the ditch!

So, Dead Air, and Early 70's Radio. Both recommended for people who like this kind of stuff. But as they said about the Magic Theatre in Steppenwolf: “Not for Everybody.”

[Bob Simmons has been a radio producer and personality, oil biz entrepreneur, video maker, voice talent, construction worker, newspaper publisher, writer, and sports editor. Simmons has a storied career in radio, where he was a pioneer in the underground format, and has been a producer and personality at legendary stations -- including KUT, KPFA, KSAN, KKSN, and KFAT -- in places like San Francisco, Austin, and Portland. Read more articles by Bob Simmons on The Rag Blog.]

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