29 March 2012

The Rag Blog : 'Old Skool' Will Be in Session on April Fool's Day

Famed Austin surrealist graphic artist Jim Franklin designed a special commemorative poster for the event.

‘Feed Your Head’ on April Fool’s Day:
Legendary Austin Bands at Rag Blog Bash

A Rag Blog Benefit Bash with
Shiva's Headband, Greezy Wheels & Jesse Sublett
Jovita's, 1619 S. First St., Austin
Sunday, April 1, 2012, 6-9 p.m.
$10 Suggested Donation
“Old Skool” will be in session on April Fool’s Day at Jovita’s in Austin, when The Rag Blog invites you to “Feed Your Head.” A big slice of Austin music and countercultural history will be on display at the event, which will feature performances by Shiva’s Headband, Greezy Wheels, and Jesse Sublett. Austin surrealist artist Jim Franklin will sign a commemorative poster he designed for the occasion.

The event, scheduled for 6-9 p.m., Sunday, April 1, at Jovita’s, 1619 S. First St. in Austin, will benefit The Rag Blog, an Austin-based progressive Internet news magazine published by the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

The Rag Blog traces its roots to Austin’s legendary underground newspaper, The Rag, which was published from 1966-1977. Also with ties to the original Rag is Rag Radio, a weekly public affairs program broadcast on Austin’s KOOP 91.7-FM and hosted by Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer.

The bands

Psychedelic rockers Shiva's Headband, founded in 1967 by Spencer Perskin, a classically trained violinist, served as the house band at Austin’s Vulcan Gas Company, and was the first group to perform at Austin’s iconic Armadillo World Headquarters. The Shiva’s Headband album, Take Me to the Mountains, was the first nationally released album by an Austin rock band.

Pioneers of the “progressive country” movement in the 1970s, Greezy Wheels was for years the unofficial house band at the Armadillo. Guitarist and writer Cleve Hattersley and “fiddler extraordinaire” Mary Hattersley, led the group that, according to the Austin Chronicle’s Margaret Moser, “owned Austin” in the mid-70s.

Bassist Jesse Sublett -- also an Austin-based mystery writer and visual artist -- founded the legendary alt-punk band, The Skunks, which debuted at Austin’s Raul’s in 1978, and Sublett continued to be a mainstay on the Austin music scene.

Jim Franklin's poster

Austin surrealist artist Jim Franklin has designed a limited edition poster which he will sign at the Rag Blog event. Franklin, as house artist at the Armadillo World Headquarters, helped turn the lowly armadillo into an internationally recognized symbol for the Texas counterculture. His artwork graced the landmark Shiva’s Headband album, Take Me to the Mountains, and his surrealist armadillos appeared on several covers of the original Rag.

Graphic designer James Retherford has designed a new Rag Blog t-shirt, which will also be unveiled at the Jovita's event.

Proceeds from "Feed Your Head" benefit the New Journalism Project, the nonprofit corporation that publishes The Rag Blog. Suggested donation is $10. Jovita’s has a full bar and food menu. There is a Facebook event page for the Rag Blog benefit.

The Rag and The Rag Blog

The Rag Blog, founded in 2006 after a lively reunion of staffers from the original Rag, features commentary on news, politics, and cultural affairs. The Rag Blog, which has developed a worldwide following and has become an influential force in the progressive blogosphere, has received a million and a half unique visits in its short lifetime. Many of The Rag Blog's contributors are veterans of The Rag and of the Sixties underground press.

Rag Radio features hour-long in-depth interviews with newsmakers, artists, and leading thinkers from Austin and around the country, and its archived podcasts are creating a significant oral history library -- much of it previously undocumented -- that includes unique profiles from Austin's countercultural history. Broadcast Fridays from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on Austin's KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively run all-volunteer community radio station, Rag Radio also streams live to a widespread Internet audience, and is rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (Eastern) by WFTE-FM in Mt. Cobb and Scranton, PA.

Rag Blog editor and Rag Radio host Thorne Dreyer was a pioneering Sixties underground journalist and New Left activist who was a founding editor of The Rag in Austin and Space City! in Houston. Dreyer was also an editor at Liberation News Service (LNS) in New York, was general manager of KPFT, Houston's Pacifica radio station, and worked with the early Texas Monthly magazine.

Where it all started

The Rag, called "one of the few legendary undergrounds" by historian Laurence Leamer, first hit the streets in Austin on October 6, 1966. The Rag was one of the earliest of the Sixties underground papers, was the first underground paper in the South, and was a model for many papers that followed it.

According to author John McMillian, whose definitive work on the Sixties underground press, Smoking Typewriters, was published in 2011 by Oxford University Press, The Rag "was a spirited, quirky, and humorous paper, whose founders pushed the New Left's political agenda even as they embraced the counterculture's zeal for rock music, psychedelics, and personal liberation." According to historian McMillian, the underground tabloid was regarded by the Austin community as "a beautiful and precious thing."

Austin -- and especially the University of Texas campus -- played a major role in the development of the Sixties counterculture in the United States. Austin was a center for civil rights, anti-war, student power, and New Left activity, and was a major player in the early "psychedelic" music scene -- incubating talents like Janis Joplin and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators -- and in the underground comix and poster art movements -- with Franklin's armadillos and Gilbert Shelton's "Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" gaining iconic status.

The Rag Blog

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Carl Davidson : Trayvon Martin, Newt Gingrich, and the 'Race Card'

Demonstrators call for justice for Trayvon Martin. Image from AllVoices.

Tragedies, crimes, and Trayvon Martin:
How Newt Gingrich played the 'race card'

By Carl Davidson / The Rag Blog / March 29, 2012

Every so often an outrage happens that lights up the sky, like when lighting strikes at night, and all of a sudden everything previously hidden in darkness and shadow stands out in sharp, bright relief.

The murder of Trayvon Martin was such an event, even though it took a while for the rolling thunder of its full impact to spread across the country. Slowly at first, and then in greater leaps, the news media, after being nudged, picked it up.

I have one quarrel with most of the reports and statements. This was not so much a tragedy as a crime. It was an old-fashioned lynching dressed up with modern-day "gun rights" being exercised in today’s gated communities.

But put that to the side. Most everyone now has dutifully called it a tragedy, called for an impartial investigation to "get to the bottom" of it and see that "justice is served." Even President Obama finally spoke up, with the proper caveats against prejudging “current investigations," but adding that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, a point he made to show empathy with the Martin family.

Then we have our former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who, after deploring the tragedy, came up with this attack on Obama in an interview with Sean Hannity:

"It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background,” Gingrich said. “Is the President suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be OK because it didn’t look like him?”

“That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot,” Gingrich continued on Hannity’s show.

"It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian-American of if he’d been a Native American. At some point we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”

Newt, I have news for you. There’s something truly appalling here; in fact it stinks to high heaven. But it’s not Obama, and if you want to see the source of it, look in the mirror.

Gingrich fancies himself an historian, even something of an expert of the Civil War and its aftermath. He should then know something about lynching. If so, he would know that when the Reconstruction governments were overthrown, the KKK terror started in South Carolina by lynching nearly as many poor whites as Black Freedmen.

The aim was to deeply drive home the wedge of the original "Southern Strategy" aimed at dividing the working class in the South and elsewhere. But as lynching rolled on over the decades, tens of thousands of Blacks bore the brunt of it. Anti-lynching laws, also for decades, were promoted mainly by Blacks and a few radical allies, while white reactionaries blocked them.

There is nothing colorblind about lynching. It never ceases to amaze me when Republicans claim to be color-blind lovers of Dr. King, while being "appalled" at what they consider the main racists in high places, who are the African Americans supposedly "playing the race card."

The trade union movement over the years has paid some high tuition to learn that mutual respect among nationalities is not rooted in being "blind" to each other’s distinctiveness. Solidarity with a white top and a Black bottom simply doesn’t get the job done.

But the race card is indeed being played against us. It’s been constantly played by those who would keep us under their thumbs, from Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 up to a "gated community" in Stanford, Florida.

If you want to see it in action, for starters, watch Fox News or the GOP campaign any day of the week -- then to oppose it, gather up some friends to attend a "Justice for Trayvon" rally and work to defeat every candidate and incumbent of the party of the Southern Strategy in November.

[Carl Davidson is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a national board member of Solidarity Economy Network, a writer for Beaver County Blue, the website of PA’s 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America, and a member of Steelworkers Associates. He is the author of several books, including New Paths to Socialism, available online. In the 1960s, he was a national leader of SDS and a writer and editor for the Guardian newsweekly. This article was first published at the United Steelworkers' blog. Read more articles by Carl Davidson on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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28 March 2012

Harry Targ : U.S. Imperialism and Our 'Special Relationship' With Iran

An artist's take on U.S. imperialism. Cartoon from Iran Review.

Targets of U.S. imperialism
and the danger of war with Iran
Given the troubled history of U.S./Iranian relations spanning at least 60 years, the current threats of war expressed by both Israel and the United States are not surprising.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / March 28, 2012

U.S. Imperialism in the beginning

Modern imperialism is intimately connected to the globalization of capitalism, the quest for enhanced military capabilities, geopolitical thinking, and ideologies of national and racial superiority.

The rise of the United States empire occurred as the industrial revolution spread to North America after the civil war. Farmers began to produce agricultural surpluses requiring overseas customers, factories were built to produce iron, steel, textiles, and food products, railroads were constructed to traverse the North American continent, and financiers created large banks, trusts, and holding companies to parley agricultural and manufacturing profits into huge concentrations of cash.

Perhaps the benchmark of the U.S. emergence as an imperial power was the Spanish/Cuban/American war. The U.S. established its hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, replacing the Spanish and challenging the British, and became an Asian power, crushing rebellion and planting its military in the Philippines. The empire has grown, despite resistance, to this day.

While U.S. expansion occurs wherever a vacuum of power exists, and an opportunity to formally or informally control a regime and/or territory, particular countries have had enduring salience for the U.S. Iran is such a country.

Scale of significance for U.S. imperialism

To help understand the attention U.S. policy-makers give some countries, it is possible to reflect on what is called here the Scale of Significance for U.S. Imperialism (SSUSI). The SSUSI has three interconnected dimensions that relate to the relative importance policymakers give to some countries compared to others.

First, as an original motivation for expansion, economic interests are primary. Historically, United States policy has been driven by the need to secure customers for U.S. products, outlets for manufacturing investment opportunities, opportunities for financial speculation, and vital natural resources.

Second, geopolitics and military hegemony matter. Empires require ready access to regions and trouble spots all around the world. When Teddy Roosevelt, as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Vice President, and President of the United States, articulated the first warning of the need for global power he spoke of the development of a “two-ocean” navy.

The U.S., he said, must become an Atlantic and a Pacific power, thus prioritizing the projection of military power in the Western Hemisphere and Asia. If the achievement of global power was dependent upon resources drawn from everywhere, military and political hegemony in the Persian Gulf, the Middle East, and parts of Africa also required attention.

Third, as the imperial project grows, certain political regimes and cultures take on particular importance for policymakers and the American people. Foreign policy elites claim that the U.S. has a special responsibility for them. If these roles are rejected by the targeted country, the experience burns itself into the consciousness of the people.

For example, Cuba was seen by U.S. rulers as far back as Thomas Jefferson as soon to be part of the United States. Cuba’s rejection of this presumption of U.S. tutelage has been a scar on the U.S. sense of itself ever since the spread of revolutionary ferment on the island.

The danger of war with Iran today

Reflecting on the SSUSI adds to the discussion about current United States foreign policy toward Iran. The history of U.S./Iranian relations has been long and painful. Before the dramatic United States involvement in that country, Iran’s vital oil resource had been under control of the weakening British empire. In 1901 the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now British Petroleum) consolidated control of much of the production, refining, and export of Iranian oil. Local oligarchs received only 16 percent of the oil revenue from the global sale of the oil.

After World War II, with a young monarch Mohammad Reza Shah serving as the Iranian ruler and Iranian masses living in poverty, Iranian nationalists mobilized to seize control of their valuable resource. Upper class nationalist Mohammed Mossadegh became Prime Minister and asserted the power of the parliament over the monarchy. The parliament voted to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

The British government enlisted the United States in 1953 to overthrow the Mossadegh regime using covert operations directed by the CIA. After Mossadegh was imprisoned and the Shah given full power to impose his will on an angry population, a new oil consortium agreement was established in 1954 which allowed five U.S. oil companies to gain a 40 percent share of Iranian oil. Anglo-Iranian would retain another 40 percent, and the rest would be given to rich Iranians.

Over the years, the Shah’s regime became the bulwark of U.S. power in the increasingly vital Persian Gulf region. In the Nixon period, Iran was defined as a key “gendarme” state, which would serve as a surrogate western police power to oversee the region. Presumably Iran would protect the flow of Gulf oil to the United States, Europe, and Japan. By the 1970s, the Shah’s military was the fifth largest in the world.

To the great surprise of left critics of the Shah’s dictatorship, the CIA, and the Carter administration, the Shah’s regime began to crumble in the summer of 1978 as large strikes were organized by oil workers against the regime. In January, 1979 secretly organized massive street protests led by the religious community doomed the regime.

As Iranian soldiers refused to fire upon street demonstrators, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, urged the president to send troops to Iran to save the U.S. regional policeman, the Shah, from overthrow. That proposal was rejected by Carter.

After jockeying for power in the post-revolutionary period, religious leaders consolidated their power over the political system. To add embarrassment to loss of economic and geopolitical control over the vital Persian Gulf region, Iranian students took 52 U.S. diplomats and military attaches hostage and held them for 444 days.

In 1980 Carter authorized a military rescue effort that failed. The bungled military operation further damaged the image of infallibility that American foreign policy elites, and the public, held about the nation’s power and destiny.

In the 1980s, to challenge Iran’s potential for becoming the hegemonic power in the Gulf, the Reagan administration sided with Iraq in the brutal war between it and Iran. In 1988, shortly before the end of the Iraq/Iran war, U.S. planes shot down a civilian Iranian airliner killing 290 people aboard.

Subsequent to the ignoble history of U.S. support for the Shah’s dictatorship, militarization, the overthrow of Mossadegh, the embarrassment of the hostage taking, funding Iraq in the brutal Gulf war of the 1980s, the United States has maintained hostility to Iran despite occasional signals from the latter of a desire to establish better relations.

U.S. policy has included an economic embargo, efforts to create region-wide opposition to the regime, expressions of support for a large and justifiable internal movement for democracy and secularization in the country, and encouragement, more or less, for growing Israeli threats against Iran.

Given this troubled history of U.S./Iranian relations spanning at least 60 years, the current threats of war expressed by both Israel and the United States are not surprising.

Returning to SSUSI and Iranian relations

As an emerging global power, United States needs for natural resources, customers for consumer and military products, investment opportunities, and outlets for energy companies grew throughout the twentieth century. One of the significant historical junctures in the transfer of economic and geopolitical power in the world from the declining British empire and the rising U.S. empire was the agreement to redistribute control of Iranian oil in 1954. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was obliged to share Iranian oil with the then five U.S. oil giants.

As U.S. oil needs and those of its friends in Europe increased, control of the Persian Gulf region and access to its oil became more vital. Furthermore, since a hostile Iran could control the Strait of Hormuz, the Iranian revolution of 1979 posed an increasing geopolitical problem for American dominance.

The impulse in 1979 to send U.S. troops to save the Shah’s regime was driven by both economics and geopolitics. It was only because other Carter advisers disagreed with the National Security Advisor on the possibility of saving the Shah that a U.S. intervention stalled in 1979. But in 1980 an Iraq/Iran war provided an opportunity, it was hoped, to weaken Iran’s potential control of the region.

Finally, the U.S. decision-makers since 1953 saw a special relationship between this country and Iran. The U.S. put the Shah in power, plied him with enormous military power, encouraged and facilitated significant cultural exchanges, and defined his regime as a junior partner in policing the region.

The rapidity of the Shah’s overthrow and the anger expressed by the Iranian people about its historic relationship to the American people communicated to the world declining U.S. power. Consequently, U.S. hostility to Iran in subsequent decades using a variety of issues including processing uranium is not surprising.

[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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27 March 2012

Larry Ray : America's Gas Pains

Gasoline pump, Naples Italy, March 11, 2012 Photo from la Republica. Graphic by Larry Ray / The Rag Blog.

Reality check:
America's gas pains?
Most Americans have not lived anywhere other than in America, and many still live not too far from the gas pumps in the towns where they were raised.
By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / March 27, 2012

GULFPORT, Mississippi -- A March 11, 2012, front page story in the Italian daily, la Republica, detailed a new record high for gasoline prices in Naples, Italy. While drivers were wailing about gasoline being $3.58 a gallon here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Neapolitans were upset over regular gasoline being priced at what would be $9.58 per U.S. gallon.

Gasoline in Italy is priced per liter. A liter, for those not metrically inclined, is a little less than 34 ounces or 1.1 quart. The pump in the photo above shows a price of 1.917 Euros per liter, or close to U.S. $2.53 a quart, at the conversion rate on March 11, 2012. Try to picture filling your family or business vehicle a quart at a time at $2.53 a quart.

I looked up the cost of a gallon of gas across Europe in March 11, 2012 when Naples hit the $9.58 a gallon record:
  1. Belgium 1.68 euros per liter - $9.08 USD/gal.
  2. Florence, Italy, 1.55 euros per liter - $8.38 USD/gal.
  3. Luzerne, Switzerland 1.97 franc per liter- $8.86 USD/gal.
  4. Netherlands 1.42 euro per liter - $7.68 USD/gal.
  5. Fountain Bleu, France 1.62 euro per liter - $8.75 USD/gal
  6. Munich, Germany 1.64 per liter - $8.86 USD/gal.
Gasoline has always been more expensive in Europe for a number of reasons. But the specter of $4 a gallon gasoline in the USA has caused a real uproar with cable news talking heads threatening the unimaginable possibility of four-buck gasoline before the end of this year. They are even calling for opening our strategic emergency oil reserves with the threat of four-buck gas. Breaking news folks today rarely consult even recent history.

We had $4 a gallon gas back in June of 2008 as speculators pushed up the price of crude oil just like we are seeing today. But by the end of December 2008, the bubble popped and crude oil prices plummeted to less than $37 a barrel. The U.S. average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline fell to an amazing 5-year low of $1.61.

That we were paying only two-fifty something a gallon here on the Gulf Coast just a few months ago is an interesting historical benchmark. Consider that in May of 2005 they were paying U.S. $5.96 a gallon in bella Napoli. Their good old days. It will be interesting to see how far gasoline prices fall after the current 2012 bubble pops. And it will... after November.

Gasoline prices in the USA have gone up in the past few months just as in 2008 almost completely as a result of unregulated Wall Street futures traders and speculators artificially forcing up the cost of a barrel of oil. Today they are using worries about economic and political instability in Europe and the Middle East and the unreality of a presidential election year to inflate their bubble. A bubble that is forcing drivers already facing tough economic times to pay for this uncontrolled speculation which had a barrel of oil up to $112.61 last month.

America actually has a surplus of refined petroleum products in the USA today because of more fuel efficient cars and a serious change in driving habits here after similar gasoline price spikes in 2008. U.S. refineries are actually exporting refined gasoline abroad. Refinery inventory figures indicate no gasoline shortage in the USA.

However, never one to miss a play in fantasy politics, as gasoline prices have moved upwards in recent months, Newt Gingrich trotted out a new campaign promise to bring Americans gasoline for $2.50 a gallon "when he is elected." And there are many, many voters who cling to that same fantasy.

Most Americans have not lived anywhere other than in America, and many still live not too far from the gas pumps in the towns where they were raised. Folks my age still remember gas for 25 cents a gallon when we were kids. This older generation, soon retiring or already retired, will always want gasoline to be a couple or three bucks a gallon.

The present administration is being ridiculously blamed by strident GOP critics for the annual increase in gasoline prices which we have seen many times before, under many U.S. administrations in years past. Here's a quick reality check:

Filling up that 25 gallon tank on a big tricked-out Ford F150 8 cyl 4WD pickup that gets 13MPG, or any other vehicle for that matter, at Naples gas prices it would be around $240 U.S. for a fill-up.

Filling up that same 25 gallon tank in the U.S. even with $4.00 a gallon gasoline would be $100. And don't look for gas to come back to a couple of bucks a gallon this time.

Reality Check over.
Conversion to the price per U.S. gallon:
As of March 11, 2012 the 1.917 Euros / liter = $2.53 U.S. Dollars / liter
One U.S. Gallon = 3.7854118 liters
$2.53 X 3.7854118 = $9.57709185 or $9.58 a gallon
[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor who now lives in Gulfport, Mississippi. He also posts at The iHandbill. Read more articles by Larry Ray on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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26 March 2012

BOOKS / Lamar W. Hankins : 'The Fox Effect' Poisons Public Discourse

The Fox Effect:
Disinformation that poisons public discourse

By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / March 26, 2012

[The Fox Effect, by David Brock, Ari Rabin-Havt, and Media Matters for America (2012: Anchor); Paperback; 336 pp; $15.]

Sometimes education is not the answer, at least if the question is one that involves politics. A 2008 Pew report supports this proposition. What one believes about political issues is determined more by one’s view of the world than by facts.

There is more emotion involved with political beliefs than reasoning says the Pew study and another study by Dan Kahan at Yale University. Researcher and author George Lakoff suggests that people with authoritarian and individualistic orientations are less likely than others are to accept facts that are contrary to their emotional state.

More education does not fix this disconnect. Other researchers from Dartmouth and George Washington University have found that better-educated Republicans are more resistant to facts that aren’t emotionally satisfying than are their less well-educated compatriots.

Examples of this include the widespread (and false) belief among conservatives that the 2010 healthcare bill included “death panels,” the ridiculous proposition that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and the widespread right-wing fabrication that Obama is not a U.S. citizen. We’ll get to global warming in a minute.

Now, we have a new book that argues that the deliberate misrepresentation of facts by Fox News strengthens the conservative views of Republicans and poisons our political discourse.

The title of the new book by Ari Rabin-Hayt, David Brock, and their colleagues at Media Matters for America explains clearly its premise: “The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine.” In case you were wondering whether these authors are nothing but a bunch of lefties and Democrats, the personal journey of David Brock might convince you otherwise.

Brock has worked for The Washington Times and The American Spectator, and he was one of the key people financed by Richard Mellon Scaife to look for heinous crimes committed by Bill and Hillary Clinton in Arkansas in an attempt to destroy Clinton’s presidency. He termed Clarence Thomas’s accuser during Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination hearings, Anita Hill, “a little bit nutty, a little bit slutty” in a book he wrote touching on Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment of her by Thomas.

Before Clinton’s presidency was over, Brock had his own Damascus Road experience and denounced his right-wing colleagues and himself for their sewer antics and dishonesty. Since that time, he has devoted himself to exposing conservative disinformation and misinformation, and was a founder of Media Matters for America.

Brock and Rabin-Hayt’s new book draws from memos leaked by disaffected Fox News employees to show that Fox is not just another news organization, but a propaganda mill whose purpose is to change the Republican Party into a political institution that satisfies the basest instincts of the neoconservatives who embody Fox News.

The Fox News Channel is in a real sense the alter ego of its president, Roger Ailes, who began his political career working for Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush, for whom he produced the misleading, but politically brilliant, Willie Horton ad that shut down any chance Michael Dukakis may have had to become President.

To understand how close Fox News and Roger Ailes are to Republican Party politics, consider that in the week leading up to the first Tea Party events, Fox ran 100 promotional spots, all free. This largess fits in with Ailes’s desire to turn the party over to anti-government, libertarian, neoconservative forces. What Fox supports and promotes influences Republicans’ political beliefs more than the facts do. A clear example of this is the debate about global warming.

A University of Maryland poll shows that Fox News viewers believe overwhelmingly that there is no scientific consensus that we are experiencing man-made climate change. Notice that this proposition is not focused on what the viewers believe about man-made climate change, but on what they believe about the scientific consensus on that matter.

Their views have been so shaped by disinformation and propaganda broadcast by Fox News that they think there is no scientific consensus about climate change, a demonstrably untrue assertion. Now, the scientific consensus could be wrong, but there can be no doubt that such a consensus exists. Only dishonest reporters claim otherwise.

Fox viewers also believe that their taxes have increased under Barack Obama’s presidency, another position easily refuted, but one repeated so often on Fox that its viewers accept it as true. As Ari Rabin-Hayt says, all they need do is look at their own tax returns and they will see this proposition is false.

In a very real sense, Fox News is like the older brother of a friend of mine. When they argued as they were growing up, the older brother would make up facts so that he could win the argument. It didn’t matter to him that what he said was pure make-believe. He insisted that it was true, that he had read it somewhere, or that someone in authority provided the information -- so he could win the argument.

The authors of The Fox Effect acknowledge that Roger Ailes is brilliant as a producer of Fox News. But he has devoted his brilliance to harming the world by poisoning the arena where much public discourse occurs today -- the air waves of cable television.

Fox’s productions are excellent largely because Ailes insists on having high production values, utilizing great graphics and sets. Rabin-Hayt says that Fox News is more visually and auditorily appealing than other cable outlets.

Fox was the originator of the now-ubiquitous crawl -- the news ticker that appears at the bottom of television screens during shows. Ailes created the crawl in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy when the news was coming in too fast to cover in only one way.

According to the authors of The Fox Effect, Fox News presenters and commentators don’t present false information by accident. They do so intentionally. The head of Fox’s news division in Washington, Bill Sammon, has acknowledged that five days before the 2008 election, he went on air and called Obama a socialist even though he knew it wasn’t true.

This false allegation was repeated on 30 Fox segments just before the election. If the essence of good journalism is presenting the truth, what can you say about someone who has acknowledged in writing that he lied for political purposes on a news show?

The authors of The Fox Effect believe that the fundamental problem with Fox News is that it destroys our national debate because its commentators and producers refuse to stipulate what the known facts are.

For instance, we can’t debate about whether the cost of fixing climate change will be worth the expense of transforming our economy in fundamental ways, if that would be necessary to correct the problem of global warming, because Fox (and its adherents) will not stipulate the scientific consensus about the fact that we have man-made climate change.

Whether we should move our economy, for instance, away from carbon-based energy can’t be discussed because Fox will not acknowledge the core facts that would lead to that discussion.

According to the authors, Fox doesn’t necessarily create lies -- like the one about death panels during the health care debate -- but it amplifies and gives a forum to such lies. In Rabin-Hayt’s view, Fox "launders" the lies.

Because Fox’s lies have been exposed, Fox now has as much credibility as a political party has; that is, it is suspect. Fox has been the key propaganda arm of the Republican Party for many years and gave the Tea Party element of the Republicans more cachet than the Tea Party would ever have mustered on its own.

As a letter-writer to The New York Times put it:

"By passing off conservative jihadism as 'fair and balanced' reporting, Ailes and Fox have diminished the journalistic enterprise itself, contributing mightily to a communications universe in which research, facts and dialogue are seen as soft, boring and ineffectual compared with fear-mongering, Bible-thumping and race-baiting. Honest debate becomes impossible, and the entire marketplace of ideas on which a functioning democratic society depends is put at risk."

Just the point made by The Fox Effect.

This is why I have jokingly said that “friends don’t let friends watch Fox News,” at least not without adult supervision.

[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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Steve Russell : Questions of Law in the Shooting of Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin's parents Tracy Martin, left, and Sybrina Fulton, at the Million Hoodie March in Union Square, New York, Wednesday, March 21, 2012. Photo from AP / Shakesville.

From a lifetime in criminal justice:
Questions of law raised by
the shooting of Trayvon Martin

By Steve Russell / The Rag Blog / March 26, 2012

The biggest question the Trayvon Martin case has raised for me, and I have yet to see discussed by the public, particularly in light of the conversation Trayvon Martin was alleged to have had with his girlfriend during the confrontation, in which she or they reached the conclusion he should run: what happened to Trayvon Martin's statutory and common law right to self defense?

One colleague of mine admitted that, depending on what he was thinking as the unidentified truck chased him, Martin might have had a privilege to use deadly force, had he been armed.

I was thinking that if he was a white guy chased by a black guy in a truck, he would CERTAINLY have a privilege to use deadly force. It's obvious from the discussion how much race adds to what belief is "reasonable."

Then my colleague added that, of course, Martin was too young to have a pistol permit.

Well, this causes me to think, if deadly force was justified, then, a fortiori, a simple assault was justified.

But could Zimmerman not, like a plainclothes police officer, verbally announce his lawful purpose? Wave some official ID?

No, because he had neither lawful purpose nor official ID.

It was lawful for him to engage Martin in conversation, no reasonable suspicion needed, but not if Martin did not care to be engaged in conversation... say, because being stalked made him nervous.

Suppose the facts turn out to be that Zimmerman confronted Martin with his gun and then got the gun taken from him or thought that was about to happen? Was he to allow himself to be shot?

In legal terms, yes. Having provoked the difficulty and then gotten the worse of it, he has forfeited his life in the sense that Martin can take it without criminal or civil liability. His choices are to be shot or, if Martin intends to take him into custody rather than pull the trigger, go to jail later. These are the consequences of his misjudgment.

Most people would choose to go to jail later, which is what is supposed to happen to someone who kills after creating the situation that made killing appear to be necessary. In other words, Zimmerman's immediate decision to shoot may have been understandable without being justifiable. That's why we have police investigations.

Or, in this case, not.

The police inaction is puzzling, and it got more so when the Chief, announcing his intention to step down temporarily, bragged about his experience investigating homicides.

Really, Chief?

Do you normally fail to run ballistics on a civilian weapon used in a homicide?

Do you normally run a toxicology screen on the shot but not on the shooter?

Do you normally make a public statement that a criminal record is "spotless" when it has blemishes? In my jurisdiction, the police are proud of having inflicted blemishes on the record of somebody who later kills.

Do you normally ask leading questions of witnesses?

Can't imagine what people are so upset about. The kid was obviously high on Skittles and therefore posed a danger to us all.

[Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, lives in Sun City, Texas, near Austin. He is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. Steve was an activist in Austin in the Sixties and Seventies, and wrote for Austin’s underground paper, The Rag. Steve, who belongs to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is also a columnist for Indian Country Today. He can be reached at swrussel@indiana.edu. Read more articles by Steve Russell on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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22 March 2012

Jay D. Jurie : Trayvon Martin's Fatal Shortcut

Travon Martin, 17, played for his high school football team.

Walking while black:
Trayvon Martin's fatal shortcut

By Jay D. Jurie / The Rag Blog / March 22, 2012

SANFORD, Florida -- During the intermission of the NBA All-Star Game on February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin of Miami, who was staying at the condominium of his father's fiance in Sanford's Retreat at Twin Lakes gated community, decided to visit the nearby 7-11.

Shortly after 7 p.m., 28-year-old self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman called the Sanford Police Department on a non-emergency line to report a "suspicious person" who "looked like he was up to no good" in the neighborhood.

Shortly thereafter, several residents called 911 to report a disturbance and gunfire. After police were dispatched at 7:17 p.m., they arrived to find Martin face-down on the ground, with a gunshot wound to the chest, and apart from a pack of Skittles candy and a can of Arizona ice tea he'd purchased at the convenience store, he was unarmed. Martin was pronounced dead at 7:30 p.m.

That he was African-American, wearing a hoodie, and walking after dark in a neighborhood where he had every right to be constitutes the only evidence Martin was a "suspicious person." A junior in high school, math was his favorite subject, and he earned A's and B's. He played on the high school football team, was studying to be an engineer, was interested in flying, and attended flying school part time. Martin had no criminal record nor any history of violence.

Police found Zimmerman standing nearby with a 9mm handgun in his waistband, a bloody nose, blood on the back of his head, and grass on the back of his shirt. Zimmerman admitted at the scene that he had shot Martin.

Although Zimmerman, a Hispanic of stocky build, had no extensive criminal record, he did have previous run-ins with the law. In 2005 he was involved in a bar incident that included the use of profanity and was charged with resisting arrest. Entering a pre-trial diversion program, he avoided conviction.

That same year, domestic abuse injunctions were cross-filed by Zimmerman and his then-girlfriend. In 2008, he was involved in a court dispute that involved non-payment of credit card debt. Since that time, Zimmerman had enrolled in community college criminal justice classes, and had expressed an interest in becoming a police officer. At the time of the Feb. 26 shooting, Zimmerman's occupation was unknown

He possessed a concealed weapons permit and was "patrolling" the neighborhood in an SUV when he spotted Martin.

According to the National Neighborhood Watch Manual (2010), "[Neighborhood] patrol members should be trained by law enforcement. It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers and they shall not carry weapons... Members should never confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous."

There is no evidence that Zimmerman had ever received any training that might qualify him to serve as an effective neighborhood watch volunteer and he explicitly disregarded the imperatives not to carry a weapon and not to confront persons.

Self-appointed Sanford neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman is seen in a 2005 police mug shot provided by the Orange County, Fla., Jail.

Several news outlets have reported that Zimmerman had contacted Sanford Police 46 times within the past 15 months. In a previous encounter, Zimmerman alleged that someone had spat at him. After he called police on February 26 and disclosed that he was following Martin, the tape reveals the dispatcher told him "you don't need to be doing that."

Zimmerman is also clearly heard on that tape saying "these assholes, they always get away." Allegations have been raised that after saying "they always get away" barely audibly he said "fucking coons," but there is dispute as to whether he said that, or if -- in versions of the tape publicly released by Sanford Police -- that had been erased

Zimmerman disregarded the dispatcher's admonition and continued following Martin. At some point Zimmerman exited his SUV. Why he did so is unknown, and remains one of the key mysteries of this case. Then occurred what a police spokesperson described as an "altercation." Other details of what transpired remain sketchy and in dispute.

According to an Orlando Sentinel report, one partial eyewitness, 13-year-old Austin McLendon who was walking his dog, heard screaming and cries of "help me." He saw one man wearing a red shirt, later identified as Zimmerman, on the ground. When the boy's dog escaped, he turned to catch it and didn't see what happened next, but heard a gunshot. McLendon was quoted as saying he heard no more screaming after the shot.

Another witness, Mary Cutcher, initially related that there was no punching, hitting, or wrestling, and the shooting was not self-defense, as Zimmerman insisted. She contended that police ignored her statement. After it aired on WFTV, the local ABC affiliate, police challenged the coverage and twice tried to contact her. On their third contact, it was reported that she changed what she had said and signed a sworn statement that corroborated Zimmerman's version of events.

According to a story filed on the blog of Orlando Sentinel TV critic Hal Boedecker, Cutcher told a CNN interviewer "I don't know this family [the Martins], I'm only trying to help, and I think that they [the Sanford Police Department] are trying to cover up something -- that they made a mistake -- and honestly, I feel like they're taking the light off of them and trying to discredit my statements."

According to Sela Mora Lamilla, a second witness quoted in the Boedecker story, "we were just telling the truth."

Others in the surrounding area heard the altercation and called police. Screaming and the calls for help can be heard on the audio tapes. On one tape the sound of the gunshot is heard, after which the calls for help and screaming immediately stop. A key issue that remains in dispute is who was screaming; Zimmerman has claimed it was him.

Under mounting public pressure, police released the tapes more than two weeks after the shooting. After listening to the tapes, Martin's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, claimed it was their son, not Zimmerman, who was screaming and calling for help.

When police arrived on the scene, Zimmerman was initially handcuffed, but was then released after he told police he'd acted in self-defense. Contrary to standard police homicide investigation procedure, Zimmerman was not alcohol- or drug-tested. More than three weeks after this incident, Zimmerman had still not been arrested or charged with any crime.

Sanford Police claimed there was "no probable cause" to make an arrest. Martin's parents secured the services of attorneys Benjamin Crump and Natalie Jackson to seek recourse for their son's death. On March 20, Crump disclosed to the media that Martin had been speaking to his girlfriend on his cellphone immediately prior to the shooting.

This information has been verified by cell phone call records. According to the statement released by the yet-unidentified girlfriend, Martin tells her that an unidentified person is right behind him, again. She tells Martin to run, and he says he's going to walk fast. He asked the unknown person "why are you following me?" and she hears another voice reply "what are you doing around here?" after which the call ended.

As questions surrounding the police investigation and their decision not to arrest Zimmerman began to grow, the Police Department referred the case to the State Attorney's Office.

Shortly after the Orlando Sentinel editorialized that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) needed to be brought in to investigate the situation, Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, Jr., issued an invitation to the FDLE. He issued a similar invitation to the U.S. Department of Justice.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) met with Sanford city officials and also solicited Justice Department involvement. Brown, Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett, and Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte, Jr., flew to Washington, DC and met with Justice Department representatives on March 20.

Darryl E. Owens of the Orlando Sentinel, in his column of March 17, observed that Florida has a long history of racism, including a 1920 white riot against blacks that culminated in a lynching, and the 1923 burning of the black town of Rosewood.

He alluded to the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi as a reason that African-Americans today remain mistrustful, and noted that "...another young black kid's death has revived the suspicion that a black life doesn't have all that much value..." and that "black folk... all too well know the deep, abiding sense that, in a country where segregation, Jim Crow, and prejudice have created unequal footing, African-Americans also too often endure separate but unequal justice."

Sanford residents attend a town hall meeting with civil rights leaders to discuss the death of Trayvon Martin. Image from Global Grind.

Like Florida, Sanford has a long history of racism, and not all of it in the distant past. A city of approximately 50,000, Sanford has roots as an agricultural community. At one time it was referred to as the "Celery City." When agriculture began to decline in the post-World War II era, former agricultural workers were left stranded with little in the way of employment, resources, and educational opportunities. Pockets of African-American poverty spanning several generations remained -- within and in close proximity to Sanford.

On Christmas Day, 1951, a bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan blew up the home of African-American civil rights pioneers Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore. Harry Moore died on the way to the hospital in Sanford and Harriette Moore died there nine days later. Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the City filled in the swimming pool in Sanford's downtown park, rather than integrate it.

More recently, in 2005, another young African-American man, Traveres McGill, was shot and killed by two white security guards in an apartment complex parking lot. One guard was a volunteer Sanford Police officer, and the other was the son of a former officer.

They claimed McGill was attempting to run them down with his car, and argued they shot him in the back in self-defense. Though one was initially charged with manslaughter and the other with firing into an occupied vehicle, a judge later dismissed both charges for lack of evidence.

In January 2011 homeless African-American Sherman Ware was standing outside a Sanford bar when for no apparent reason he was cold-cocked and knocked unconscious by Justin Collison, a white 21-year-old. Collison, the son of a Sanford Police lieutenant, was not arrested until nearly two months later, after the incident was publicized on YouTube. He was eventually convicted of battery and placed on probation.

Then-Sanford Police Chief Brian Tooley, on the verge of retirement, was forced out of office early due to this case. Present Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, Jr., was hired with a commitment to restore damaged race relations. Upon acceptance of the job, his pronouncements to that effect were encouraging.

However, this perception has now soured. On March 14, the Sanford Herald ran a banner headline that read: "Chief Lee: Arrest of Martin's Shooter Would be Violation of Civil Rights." The civil rights that Lee was concerned about were those of the shooter, George Zimmerman, not those of the deceased shooting victim, Trayvon Martin.

Lee based his statement, and his department's decision not to arrest Zimmerman, largely on Florida Statutes Chapter 776.012, also known as the "stand your ground" law. This statute authorizes any person, virtually anywhere, any time, to engage in "the use of deadly force" if the person "reasonably believes... such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself..."

This statute further states that if deadly force is "justified," then the person using it "does not have a duty to retreat."

Florida was the first among 21 states, mostly in the South and West, to adopt some version of the National Rifle Association-inspired "stand your ground" law. When it was briefly part of the public debate before enactment in 2005, some expressed concern that it would produce unnecessary deadly consequences, such as "road rage" encounters escalating into killings. Those concerns have proven prophetic. While there have been other examples of what has gone wrong with this law, unfortunately, Trayvon Martin's death is among the most tragic.

Adding further injury to the loss suffered by Martin's family, Florida's "stand your ground" statute provides not only immunity from criminal prosecution for a person using deadly force, but from civil liability as well. In other words, if the protective cover that has been afforded Zimmerman continues to be upheld, Martin's parents cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit against him for killing their son.

When asked why Zimmerman was not arrested -- since the police dispatcher had told him to quit following Martin -- Lee replied that it was only advisory, not a police order. In combination with "stand your ground," and Zimmerman's concealed weapons permit, these appear to be the major factors upon which the Sanford Police "no probable cause" to arrest decision was based.

Lee has also asserted that there are additional factors that weigh in favor of Zimmerman's claim of self-defense. Initially, these additional factors included the now-released tapes, which though inconclusive, do not appear to support Zimmerman.

At a March 19 protest rally at the Seminole County Courthouse, organized by law students from around the state and the Florida Civil Rights Association, representatives of the Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) Black Law Student Association (BLSA) related that they had met with a representative of the State Attorney's office to insist upon transparency and demanded the immediate release of all other information pertaining to the case.

The BLSA representatives stated that such transparency was the only way to dispel the impression that the Sanford Police Department and the investigative process were functioning as George Zimmerman's defense counsel. The students were informed that the tapes will be voice-tested to determine who was screaming and calling for help.

Given what is known to date, aside from the testimony of Zimmerman, the sole survivor of the encounter, it cannot be said with any certainty that it was Zimmerman who stood his ground. As indicated by the statement of his girlfriend, Martin entered the neighborhood where he was staying, with his candy and tea, and noticed a "suspicious person" following him slowly in an SUV. He might have seen this person get out of this car and approach him.

Not knowing this person, or his intentions, indications are that he sought to "retreat." Or finally, when accosted -- as would have been his right under Florida law -- to have stood his ground. Indications are that Martin was killed trying either to get away from, or to defend himself, from Zimmerman.

Unless further information paints a more complete and accurate picture of what occurred, we'll never know. What we do know for sure is that Zimmerman had a chip on his shoulder against "assholes," whoever he imagined those "assholes" might be; that contrary to neighborhood watch instructions he was carrying a weapon; that he continued to pursue Martin after he was dissuaded from doing so; and that for reasons known only to him, he got out of his SUV, apparently to confront Martin on foot.

All this strongly suggests that, if not overtly racist, Zimmerman was an overzealous "wannabe" on a power trip. Or, as a participant at the March 19 rally put it, a "bully." These factors alone may make whatever other information the police and prosecutors might have, and selectively release, difficult to overcome.

Meanwhile, protests are ongoing and new developments continue to crop up. On March 18, hundreds marched in Titusville, the County Seat of neighboring Brevard County. Both Seminole and Brevard Counties are in Florida's 18th Judicial Circuit.

State Attorney Norman Wolfinger, of that Circuit, announced on March 20th that he was empaneling a grand jury on April 10 to hear the matter. This announcement was immediately denounced by critics of the investigation, who continued to insist on an immediate arrest of Zimmerman. They contend Wolfinger is trying to take the heat off himself and buy time to stall the growing protests.

As law students rallied on March 19 at the Seminole County Courthouse, other FAMU students rallied at the State Capitol, calling upon Gov. Rick Scott to direct the FDLE to conduct an independent investigation.

Following the meeting with Sanford officials, the Justice Department on March 20 announced that it would be investigating the death of Martin and looking at any possible violations of his civil rights and whether what occurred might be considered a hate crime. An investigation team would be sent to Sanford.

Later in the evening on March 20, the NAACP held a mass meeting at Sanford's Allen Chapel AME Church. Inside, a press conference was held with NAACP President Ben Jealous, other members of the NAACP, invited guests, including Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett, and the media. There were about 250 people outside who took over the street and engaged in an impromptu demonstration with signs and chanting.

Before he entered the Church, Jealous mingled and spoke with members of the crowd out front. One man in the street carried a large wooden sign that read "Honk if Sanford PD Suck" and that obviously received great popular approval. Most media outlets in the country had reporters on the scene, including a local correspondent writing an article for People's World. A media helicopter annoyingly hovered over head the entire time.

The thrust of the NAACP meeting was to call for the firing of Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, Jr., for his department's failure to arrest Zimmerman. After demonstrating for about an hour, a large group splintered off for a march to the police station, only about two blocks away from the church.

On March 21, a delegation from the Florida Civil Rights Association demonstrated in Orlando, and called for the revocation of Zimmerman's concealed weapons permit. Congresswoman Brown had previously pointed out that since he has not been charged with any crime, Zimmerman is still legally entitled to carry a firearm.

She has stated that if this was a police shooting, the officers involved would be required to turn in their weapons and accept desk duty until an investigation was complete, provisions that do not apply to members of the public, such as Zimmerman. State firearms officials have already responded that the only grounds they have to revoke a permit would be a felony conviction.

On March 21, the Sanford City Commission held an emergency meeting to consider the meeting location for their regular meeting scheduled for March 26. They voted to move that meeting to the Sanford Civic Center to accommodate the anticipated overflow crowd. By a vote of 3-2 they also voted "no confidence" in Police Chief Bill Lee, Jr.

Those voting in favor included Mayor Jeff Triplett and City Commissioner Velma Williams, who had traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with representatives of the Justice Department. The no confidence vote is only a recommendation; it goes to City Manager Norton Bonaparte, Jr., for action, and he's said he'll "take it under advisement."

A mass meeting featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton and others is slated for March 22 in Sanford.

A call has been issued for a March 31 march from a local school to Sanford Police headquarters to demand the removal of Police Chief Lee.

An online petition calling for "Justice for Trayvon" has reportedly received more than 985,000 signatures at our press time.

Members of the New Black Panther Party have already demonstrated outside Sanford Police Headquarters and said they may return. Members of the New Black Liberation Militia have threatened to make a citizens' arrest of Zimmerman.

Beyond these immediate steps, a fresh look needs to be taken at Florida's concealed weapons permitting process. Like the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona showed, laws such as this may too easily put guns into the wrong hands, and the provisions to suspend or revoke a permit are inadequate.

Sanford City Commissioner Velma Williams has already proposed a "Trayvon Martin Law" that would amend or curtail Florida's "stand your ground" law.

If Florida legislators want to do something constructive, they might codify provisions from the National Neighborhood Watch Manual into state law, stipulating a need for training, instituting a "do not confront rule," and specifying that while on neighborhood watch patrol it is unlawful to be armed.

During the 1960s the U.S. Justice Department was compelled to act in the Deep South when local law enforcement and the justice system failed to adequately and equally protect all citizens. That sort of intervention is necessitated in Sanford today. It may well turn out that possible violation of Trayvon Martin's civil rights will have to be adjudicated under federal law.

Given its inability to reform itself, the Sanford Police Department may need to be placed in some form of federal receivership, as when the Sanford Housing Authority was placed in receivership under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development due to extreme fiscal and other mismanagement.

Above all, Sanford's residents need to stay involved, and continue to demand greater responsibility, accountability, openness, and transparency over the long haul.

For one example of citizen involvement, see the YouTube video of Matt Diaz, Sr., calling the State Attorney's office, seeking answers about the killing of Trayvon Martin.

[Jay D. Jurie, a veteran of SDS at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is a resident of Sanford, Florida, where he teaches public administration and urban planning. Read more articles by Jay D. Jurie on The Rag Blog.]


Audio of Trayvon Martin Shooting 911 Tape Calls: http://www.wftv.com/videos/news/teen-shooting-911-calls-1-3/vGZnj/
Boedecker, Hal, "Trayvon Martin: Thank God for the Media," Orlando Sentinel Entertainment Blog, March 16, 2012. http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment_tv_tvblog/2012/03/trayvon-martin-thank-god-for-the-media.html
Delinski, Rachel, "Chief Lee: Arrest of Martin's Shooter Would be a Violation of Civil Rights," Sanford Herald, March 14, 2012. www.mysanfordherald.com
Herald Staff, "Chief Bill Lee Answers Questions about Investigation Into Shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Sanford Herald, March 17, 2012. http://mysanfordherald.com/view/full_story/17920337/article-Chief-Bill-Lee-answers-questions-about-investigation-into-shooting-of-17-year-old-Trayvon-Martin?instance=home_news_2nd_left
Lee, Trymaine, "Trayvon Martin Case Salts Old Wounds and Racial Tension," Huffington Post, March, 14, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/trayvon-martin-sanford-florida_n_1345868.html?flv=1#s766198
Lee, Trymaine, "Trayvon Martin Case Recasts Century-old Battle Lines for Local Activist," Huffington Post, March 18, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/16/trayvon-martin-george-zimmerman_n_1352874.html?ref=topbar
Owens, Darryl, E., "Here's Why People Are So Angry Over Trayvon's Death," Orlando Sentinel, March 17, 2012. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/seminole/os-trayvon-martin-shooting-darryl-owens-031712-20120316,0,3856677.column
Robles, Frances, "Shooter of Trayvon Martin a Habitual Caller to Cops," Miami Herald, March 17, 2012. http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/17/2700249/shooter-of-trayvon-martin-a-habitual.html
Stutzman, Rene, "George Zimmerman's Father: My Son Is Not a Racist," Orlando Sentinel, March 15, 2012. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/os-trayvon-martin-shooting-zimmerman-letter-20120315,0,1716605.story
Stutzman, Rene, "Shooter's Father: Son Didn't Start Encounter," Orlando Sentinel, March 16, 2012. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/os-trayvon-martin-shooting-zimmerman-letter-20120315,0,1716605.story
Stutzman, Rene, and Prieto, Bianca, "Trayvon Martin Shooting: Police to Release 911 Calls," Orlando Sentinel, March 16, 2012. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-03-16/news/os-trayvon-martin-shooting-911-call-20120316_1_shooting-police-department-investigator-chris-serino

The Rag Blog

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Roger Baker : How High Gas Prices Are Putting the Hurt on Average Drivers

Cartoon from The Smoking Jacket.

How high gas prices are hurting
average drivers (and voters)

By Roger Baker / The Rag Blog / March 22, 2012

[This is the first of a two-part series.]

High gasoline prices are probably hitting the average driver and voter harder than most people think. The numbers indicate that typical adult wage earners, meaning average voters, are already being hit hard by a combination of a depressed economy and stagnant pay, while having little choice but to pay higher gas prices.

Income distribution and trends

The wage trends here show that average U.S. earned wages (with the average being distorted upwards by the high income end) have been almost stagnant since 2007. This means that if the bottom half of wage earners were hurting in 2008, they are probably still hurting about as much now.

Most people who own their homes have seen their homes, as their major investment, decline in value. Also most other savings and investments have not prospered, with interest rates on banked savings remaining at near zero. "Core inflation" is said to be only a few percent, but inflation is being officially underreported with non-discretionary prices, which are a bigger part of low income household budgets, rising faster than discretionary costs.

We see here that the median 2010 household income in the United States was about $50,000, with half of household total earnings less. We can also see a big household income bulge at the low income end, with the largest percentage of household incomes centered on about $20,000 total per household.

This shows how many must be struggling to drive when the cost of driving is considered. If we assume two adult wage earners in many households, this would mean that each would be earning or receiving through benefits only $10,000 on average. Perhaps this is due to the unemployment of one, or part time or minimum wage jobs, or relying on social security or pensions as their primary income.

If the household consists of a single mother with an income of $20,000 and a child or two, there are the added costs of raising children. Whatever the reason, car ownership is increasingly dependent on income for a large portion of U.S. households.

In 2008, the Brookings Institution provided further evidence that the lowest income third of the population in particular seems to be struggling to drive at all. See the chart showing the highly significant correlation between income and car ownership.

These numbers, although a few years old, indicate the degree that low income households live in an economic twilight zone, an income level where a major lifestyle barrier determines whether or not they can afford to own and maintain a car.

How does income compare with what it costs to drive?

Here we see that the typical cost of owning and driving a family car was nearly $8,800 in April 2011.
The average annual cost to own and operate a sedan in the USA, based on 15,000 miles of driving, rose 1.9 cents per mile to 58.5 cents per mile, or $8,776, says AAA’s 2011 “Your Driving Costs” study. The increased costs to own and operate a vehicle were driven mainly by large increases in fuel prices, depreciation costs and tire prices, says John Nielsen, AAA national director of auto repair, buying and consumer programs.
Below is an expanded five year chart of aggregate U.S. urban transportation costs, a Saint Louis Federal Reserve FRED chart. Transportation costs in U.S. urban areas, where most folks live, have now exceeded mid-2008 costs and are crowding out other living costs at the lower earnings end of the wage spectrum. We see the total cost of getting around in U.S. cities by all means (which means predominantly cars) rose rapidly to end 2011 at a new record high level.

This series is charted monthly, but stops in December 2011. Looking at fuel price increases since then, and judging from the impact of fuel prices in recent years, it appears that the current cost index would probably be nearly 230, assuming the graph were continued to show the effect on driving costs of the big fuel price increases in the first few months of 2012.

In other words, since April 2011 of last year, the cost of owning and driving a car has increased roughly by a ratio of 205 to 230, or about 12%. That means that if the total driving cost was almost $8,800 a year ago, the urban travel cost consisting mostly of cars would now have risen to roughly $10,000 on average.

A recipe for frustration

For the many households with about $20,000 in total income, there is likely at least one adult who would want to own a car and drive, much as adults in the wealthier households do. However, even if a wage earner earns $20,000 a year, the $10,000 cost of car ownership and maintenance would now require about half their income.

There is no way to avoid the conclusion that many wage earners at the lower end are struggling hard to pay for food and rent and still drive a car to work, and that higher driving costs are forcing them to shed cars. This probably accounts for the current political focus on gasoline prices.

Among people in the lower 50% of household income level, many of whom can manage to afford to drive, fuel price increases must necessarily involve difficult choices, with a strong tendency for fuel costs to crowd out and depress other spending. Once discretionary spending -- like eating out and entertainment -- has been eliminated, life becomes a matter of balancing frustrating choices.

For many, the cost of the fuel needed to commute to work in aging cars (who can afford a new electric car, as opposed to keeping the old one running as long as possible?) has become a symbolic high-profile political issue.

For lower income residents in particular, it is easy to see why fuel price increases have become a source of anger; a red flag for so many average voters. (Part 2 of this series will look at what the public opinion polls are saying, and how and why rising fuel prices are becoming such a hot topic for the upcoming presidential race).

A large part of the new residential housing in recent decades has been suburban in nature, assuming a lifestyle that almost demands the use of the private automobile. Suburban sprawl development on the fringe of U.S. cities has tended to be low density, non-mixed-use development. Such development is intrinsically hard to serve with transit when compared to the denser core city, which generates many more trips per mile of service.

This means that the end of cheap oil is bound to have a major impact on U.S. land use, and its habitation potential. (See "The End of Suburbia.") Whereas poverty was previously concentrated in the core city while the suburbs were more affluent, the suburbs have now gotten poorer; most poverty is now in the suburbs.

In some areas, there are entire suburban neighborhoods full of abandoned homes. Many of the newer jobs have also moved out toward the suburbs. This means that getting to work increasingly requires commuting between suburbs to get from home to work, a type of travel which transit, by its nature, is ill-suited to handle very effectively.

Transit to the rescue? Yes, but not very fast, since it has been lacking significant new investment in recent decades. U.S. transit ridership peaked in 2008 and has since recovered modestly -- but it has still not yet reached this previous peak.

Looking at the graph to the left at this link, it appears that the poor economy largely led to the 2009 ridership decline, while increasing fuel prices are now helping to lead to a modest U.S. transit rider recovery. 2011 transit ridership is now up about 2.3% over 2010. However in some areas harder hit by high gas prices and and a poor economy -- like San Diego -- transit use is up a lot more.

The trend of mass transit growing more and more "in" with the public can be seen all over the country. The American Public Transportation Association reports that Americans took 10.4 billion public transportation trips in 2011, the second-highest total since 1957. That figure is bettered only by 2008's total, when gas prices soared to over $4 a gallon.

Transit faces several challenges, including a class-image problem, with so much U.S. suburban development being car-addictive by nature. In urban areas, those who use transit -- and who are willing to trade the convenience of driving for the time savings benefit of public transit -- are often identified as being among the poor. This often makes transit a hard sell politically.

The other problem is that transit -- like roads -- is unprofitable and requires a lot of public money up-front, especially for rail. Government money is increasingly in short supply these days. By the time the politics swings in favor of transit, as a result of peak oil and soaring fuel prices, transit might well be unaffordable.

Those left stranded in the suburbs can try to carpool, telecommute, combine or eliminate trips, or drive slower to save on gas. If all else fails, they can move to less gasoline-intensive locations. By last year a distinct home-buyer avoidance of suburbs with long commutes could be seen.

The other transportation option that appears to hold promise for preserving the habits of suburban commuters, struggling on a limited budget to drive, would appear to be the widespread acceptance of smaller personal vehicles like bicycles, electric bikes, motorbikes, and motorcycles, especially for commuting -- and despite the risks that come with their use. There is good evidence that public support for downsized travel alternatives is steadily increasing, even electric motorcycles.

However, most suburban highways are not designed to safely accommodate slower or smaller vehicles. For example, TxDOT builds wide shoulders on its high-speed highways, supposedly for the benefit of bikes -- despite the fact that the large speed differential makes bikes sharing lanes with cars unsafe when the cars are going more than 30 MPH. The evidence indicates that many drivers try to shift to motorcycles to save on fuel costs with sometimes deadly results.
Our findings suggest that people increasingly rely on motorcycles to reduce their fuel costs in response to rising gasoline prices. We estimate that use of motorcycles and scooters instead of 4-wheeled vehicles results in over 1,500 additional motorcycle fatalities annually for each dollar increase in gas prices. Motorcycle safety should receive more attention as a leading public health issue.
[Roger Baker is a long time transportation-oriented environmental activist, an amateur energy-oriented economist, an amateur scientist and science writer, and a founding member of and an advisor to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA. He is active in the Green Party and the ACLU, and is a director of the Save Our Springs Association and the Save Barton Creek Association in Austin. Mostly he enjoys being an irreverent policy wonk and writing irreverent wonkish articles for The Rag Blog. Read more articles by Roger Baker on The Rag Blog.]

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