27 December 2013

Alan Waldman: 'A Bit of Fry & Laurie' Was Brilliant British Sketch Series

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
This was most people’s first exposure to the highly original comic genius of English national treasures Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, who wrote and performed many classic sketches.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / December 27, 2013

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

I usually review foreign English-language sitcoms and mysteries here -- not sketch comedies -- but because most Americans have never seen these early TV comedy treasures, I seek to expose as many of you as possible to the 26 priceless episodes of A Bit of Fry & Laurie. You will no doubt thank me profusely after you see some of them. Here is one you can link to.

This magnificent English TV series lasted four seasons, from 1987-1995. All the episodes are on Netflix and Netflix Instant streaming and most are free on You Tube. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie wrote and performed all the sketches, sometimes with the assistance of Brit celebrity actors such as Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder), Paul Eddington (Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister); Selina Cadell (Doc Martin ), and Nigel Havers (BAFTA nomination for Chariots of Fire).

Hugh Laurie earned two Golden Globes, two Screen Actors Guild statuettes, 10 other awards and six Emmy nominations for playing the title role in House (with a flawless American accent) from 2004 to 2012. In 2011 he was deemed the highest-paid actor in an American TV drama ($409,000 per episode) and was also the most-watched TV leading man. In 2007 he received a cherished OBE award for services to drama.

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
Stephen Fry is an English institution: actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television and radio presenter, film director, and political activist. He teamed up with Laurie when both were at college in Cambridge Footlights. Two of their masterful subsequent collaborations were the hilarious series Blackadder and PBS’s Jeeves and Wooster.

Fry has won eight major awards and received 14 other nominations, was kicked out of two schools, was briefly imprisoned for credit card fraud, and had a nervous breakdown in 1995 (after the BBC tinkered with his and Hugh’s show).

A Bit of Fry & Laurie featured elaborate wordplay and innuendo, political satire, a lot of brilliant nonsense, and Laurie playing piano and singing his funny original songs. In addition, the show was punctuated with non sequitur bits where one of them, usually in weird costume or drag, made odd or droll statements, as was done in Monty Python's Flying Circus.

The show often commented on issues of the day. In one sketch a Conservative government minister is strangled while Stephen Fry screams at him "What are you doing to the television system? What are you doing to the country?" in an attack on England’s Broadcasting Act of 1990. The pair later attacked the Act's malign aftereffects in a parody of It's a Wonderful Life, evoking a world in which Rupert Murdoch had not existed.

The series made numerous jokes at the expense of Conservative prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major. One sketch depicted a televised "Young Tory of the Year" competition, in which Laurie recited a deliberately incoherent speech consisting only of nonsense political buzzwords, such as "family values" and "individual enterprise."

Several popular running sketches featured the pair as secret agents, pompous executives and talk show hosts of programs such as Trying to Borrow a Fiver Off..., Introducing My Grandfather to..., Photocopying My Genitals With..., Realizing I've Given the Wrong Directions To..., and Flying a Light Airplane Without Having Had Any Formal Instruction With....

Episodes ended with Fry mixing and describing a bizarre beverage while Laurie sang and played. A very popular song of his was "Mystery," with Hugh mimicking the vocal mannerisms of Sammy Davis Jr. and singing about the obstacles to his relationship with the object of his affection, which included the fact that she had been dead since 1973.

A few typical lines follow.

Barber: Which of sir's manifold hairs would he care to place in my professional care for the purposes of securing an encutment?

Doctor: Frank, this is called inter-oral, extra-nasal respiratory relaxant therapy. As the name implies, it is an American technique.

Stephen (as a woman): Well, I was born Mary Patterson, but then I married and naturally took my husband's name, so now I'm Neil Patterson.

Hugh: Then I was Princess Anne's assistant for a while, but I chucked that in because it was obvious they were never going to make me Princess Anne, no matter how well I did the job.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

22 December 2013

Tom Hayden : Progressive Dems See Opening for New Politics

Elizabeth Warren and the populists say 'No way!' to 'Third Way.'
Conditions ripe for a new politics:
An opening for progressive Democrats
The Democratic progressive base is making clear that Hillary Clinton must make an adjustment from her hawkish centrism towards the new populism.
By Tom Hayden / The Rag Blog / December 23, 2013

The sight of progressive Democrats shaming and exposing the Wall Street-funded "Third Way" Democrats is a sign of a powerful new opening for progressives on the American political spectrum.

The standing of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, Bill de Blasio, and many others is on the rise. The Clinton Democrats are being challenged from the populist left; the AFL-CIO is supporting a new generation of organizers; the immigrant rights movement is reviving the tradition of the student civil rights movement; the LGBT movement is learning to win.

And as long as the economy is failing for the poor, working people, and the middle class, the conditions for a new politics are ripening rapidly.

These moments come and go like the tides, which makes leadership, vision, and strategy critically important. Where do social movements fit in? Or groups like PDA (Progressive Democrats of America)? Where is the new center of gravity?

Our eyes should be on 2016, achieving as much as possible from the Obama era, and defending against a right-wing rollback in that year’s presidential election. The centrist Democratic strategy thus far has been to paint the Republicans as dangerous extremists, which is working nicely with Republican cooperation.

Because of the disastrous stumbling on Obamacare, however, Democratic prospects in the 2014 low-turnout congressional elections have stalled for now. The best that can be hoped for at this point is Democratic control of the Senate and a narrowing of the gap in the Republican House. Meanwhile, given the deep partisan divisions, at least 45 percent of American voters live under entrenched right-wing rule.

Despite the stalemate, there are multiple fronts where weird coalitions might prevail:
  • Immigration reform if the Republican establishment prevails over the Tea Party;
  • Blocking of the secret pro-corporate trade agreements which will dismantle labor and environmental protections, assuming labor-liberal Democrats coalesce with the Republican libertarians; and
  • Reform of the Big Brother/Big Data surveillance apparatus by the same liberal-libertarian coalition;
  • Prevention of unwinnable, unaffordable military adventures. Diplomatic recognition of Cuba will be a heavy lift, but the president has shown he can overcome the Republican-led Cuban Right in the House and the unpopular Sen. Menendez in the Senate.
None of these achievements will be easy, but all are doable.

Keeping the White House in 2016 is vital in order to shift the balance on the U.S. Supreme Court and to retain regulatory power over social, economic, voting rights, and environmental policies. It is also imperative to keep the Senate majority Democratic for its appointment powers and to prevent the conservative cancer from spreading from the House. It is important for the progressive Democrats in the House to fight aggressively as if they are behind enemy lines as opposed to a rational debating society.

Any efforts to cobble together weird coalitions at the congressional level may fail or be resisted by the White House. Change is more likely to be delivered from social movements in progressive states and cities, however, not from the trench warfare in D.C. Call it a trickle-up populism. California, for example, already leads the way on conservation and renewables as well as immigration reform. Vermont is implementing its right to single-payer health care. Colorado and Washington are legalizing and regulating marijuana.

New York Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio with family, shown at July demonstration in support of New York health care workers. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
A major challenge for progressives is whether it is possible to forge consensus on vision and program (or as consultants call it, narrative). Obama is re-emphasizing economic inequality, framed as a choice between being on your own or all in this together. That’s a start for Democrats, and a welcome echo of Occupy Wall Street. The same theme accounts for the exceptional rise of Warren and de Blasio.

But it is a fuzzy and incomplete vision, a blended blur of the New Deal ("expand Social Security") and the New Economy ("Facebook and Google will set us free"). The faulty vision reflects fault lines in the underlying coalition. Balancing the contradictions is the key to building a winning majority coalition electorally; too far in either direction can result in splits which favor the Republican strategy of divide-to-rule.

The first contradiction for Democrats, and even some progressives, is whether to be “all in” in the fight against climate change, or to take a “balanced” approach for electoral reasons by flirting with “clean coal”. The return of John Podesta to the White House is encouraging news for environmentalists in this regard.

The equally problematic contradiction for Democrats, and even some human rights groups, is whether to embrace more military intervention, secret ops, and drone tactics, in order to satisfy the “liberal interventionists," including Samantha Power, Human Rights Watch, the Feminist Majority, and AIPAC, or whether to deepen policy of avoiding unwinnable and unaffordable wars at the risk of being labeled “isolationist.”

The reality is that there are not enough discretionary funds for health care and warfare.

A third contradiction is between labor, progressives and human rights groups on one side and the corporate-leaning Democrats on issues of international investment and trade, a rift which has continued since the Seattle uprisings of 1999, where Bill Clinton both sponsored the WTO Summit and distanced himself from the shambles that followed.

While every effort should be made to reconcile such contradictions, the predictable truth is that they will be fought out in the 2016 Democratic primaries.

There are problematic contradictions on these issues in the Democratic coalition. Liberals on domestic policy frequently avoid taking stands on national security or even endorse hawkish policies.

The Democratic progressive base is making clear that Hillary Clinton must make an adjustment from her hawkish centrism towards the new populism, or lose significant support either in the 2016 primaries or the general election.

One battle Democrats, labor, and progressives can agree on is the expansion and protection of the emerging political majority from the Republican effort to diminish their voting rights, turnout potential, and representation in the Electoral College. The seemingly-insane Republican overreaction to the recent modest change in Senate filibuster rules is an indication of how greatly Republican political power rests on guarding their minority status.

The fight over media reform is another struggle between the public versus the corporate interests where progressives must gain and hold their ground. A similar unity should prevail on chipping away against Citizens United, but the party is unable to end its overall addiction to a fund-raising frenzy which empowers many of the most unsavory elements in the political culture. They cannot agree even on eliminating the business tax deduction by which special interests use taxpayers’ money to pass legislation ripping off the same taxpayers.

Every local, state and federal reform of the campaign finance system is a vital gain for democracy, and a base for progressives winning electoral seats.

[Tom Hayden is a former California state senator and leader of Sixties peace, justice, and environmental movements. He currently teaches at Pitzer College in Los Angeles. His latest book is The Long Sixties. Hayden is director of the Peace and Justice Resource center and editor of The Peace Exchange Bulletin. Read more of Tom Hayden's writing on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Jack A. Smith : Climate Change Confab Brings Too Little Too Late

Climate change activists in Warsaw, Friday, November 22, 2013, portray, from right, French President Francois Hollande, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Obama, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo by Czarek Sokolowski, / AP.
Climate Change meeting in
Warsaw brings too little too late

Given the number of drastic reports about climate change... the accomplishments at COP19 are useful but hugely disproportionate to what is needed.
By Jack A. Smith / The Rag Blog / December 23, 2013

The sharply increasing scientific indicators of impending disastrous global climate change have failed to motivate the principal developed countries, led by the U.S., to accelerate the lackluster pace of their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This was the principal conclusion of several key environmental groups attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC) November 11-23 in Warsaw, Poland. The meeting lasted a day and a half longer than scheduled to resolve a dispute about new greenhouse emission targets. About 10,000 people attended the 19th annual meeting of the so-called Conference of Parties (COP19) that drew nearly all the UN’s 193 member states.

About 800 attendees associated with environmental groups walked out of the conference November 21, protesting the lack of progress. In a joint statement on the day of the walkout, the World Wildlife Federation, OxFam, Friends of the Earth, Action Aid, and the International Trade Union Federation declared:
Organizations and movements representing people from every corner of the Earth have decided that the best use of our time is to voluntarily withdraw from the Warsaw climate talks. The conference, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing.
According to Professor Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and a leading British expert on climate change: “The actions that have been agreed are simply inadequate when compared with the scale and urgency of the risks that the world faces from rising levels of greenhouse gases.”

There were also street protests and marches in Warsaw composed largely of younger conference attendees and local youth. One slogan, referring to climate disasters, was “The Philippines, Pakistan, New Orleans: Change the System, not the climate.”

On November 18, delegates from 133 developing countries -- under the umbrella of the G77 group plus China -- walked out temporarily “because we do not see a clear-cut commitment by developed countries to reach an agreement” to financially help poor countries suffering the effects of climate change for which they are not responsible. The U.S., for instance, was reluctant to help developing countries adapt to sea level rise, droughts, powerful storms and other adverse impacts, even though it is historically the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases.

By the end of the conference, perhaps encouraged by the walkout, the world body agreed to set up a “Loss and Damage” process for “the most vulnerable countries” experiencing losses from global warming. The details remain vague.

A distressing aspect of the conference came when four major developed countries took actions in contradiction to fighting global warming.
  • Japan -- the fifth largest carbon polluter -- announced it was breaking its pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 25% of 1990 levels by the year 2020, blaming the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.
  • Canada and Australia recently declared they would not support the Green Climate Fund -- the UNCCC program to transfer money from the developed to the developing countries to assist them in dealing with climate change.
  • Conference host Poland, a major coal producer, worked with the World Coal Association to simultaneously host the International Coal and Climate Summit in Warsaw. (Greenpeace and others protested outside the coal meeting.)
COP19 was permeated with corporate lobbyists from “fossil fuels, big business groups, carbon market and financial players, agribusiness and agrofuels, as well as some of the big polluting industries,” according to the oppositional “COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying.” Corporations appeared at previous COP meetings but, witnesses say, never in such large number.

Obviously, one of the most important issues confronting the world community is reducing greenhouse carbon emissions to impede global warming. This is a perennial UNCCC goal but hardly sufficient so far to prevent substantial increases in carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere, now exceeding 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in at least 3 million years since the Pliocene era.

Greenhouse reductions hark back to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which obligated developed countries to specific -- and in the main incongruously low -- emissions reduction targets while developing countries were encouraged to reduce emissions without a binding requirement.

Since 1997, despite Kyoto, emissions have increased substantially. According to a new report from research teams coordinated by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, “The gap between where emissions are and where emissions would need to be in order to keep climate targets within reach is getting bigger and bigger.”

Kyoto, which the U.S. refused to join because of its so-called “bias” toward developing countries, has in effect been extended from 2013 to 2020 when new emissions targets will go into effect. Unless these new targets are far greater than the old, CO2 ppm will jump much higher.

At issue during COP19 was a proposal by the EU, U.S., and a number of developed countries to eliminate Kyoto’s nonbinding reductions for developing countries. Under this plan, each and all countries would set specific targets over next year. These targets would then be inspected by the other countries to assure they are adequate for the mission at hand. The final targets would be published in early 2015 and presumably approved by that year’s COP, and implemented in five years.

An intense 36-hour struggle between a group of developing countries and most developed countries over this proposal went into an extra session lasting throughout Nov. 22 and into the early hours of the 23rd. Opposing removal of the distinction between developed and developing countries was a group called the “Like-Minded Developing Countries on Climate Change” (LMDC), including such countries as China, India, Venezuela, Bolivia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Thailand.

According to an account in the mass circulation Indian newspaper The Hindu:
India, China and other countries in the LMDC group take the position that the new climate agreement must not force developing countries to review their volunteered emission reduction targets. Setting themselves up in a direct confrontation with the developed countries, the LMDC opposes doing away with the current differentiation between developing and developed countries when it came to taking responsibility for climate action.
In other words, the developing countries will do what they can to reduce emissions, but the principal task by far belongs to the developed countries. They argue that developed industrial countries have been spewing fossil fuel-created greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for 100 to 200 years or more, and most of these pollutants have yet to dissipate. The carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere could warm the planet for hundreds of years.

The richer countries reject this argument, pointing to the increasing industrialization taking place in the developing world. Writing in the Guardian November 25, Graham Readfearn points out: “Rich countries are desperate to avoid taking the blame for the impacts of climate change.... The developed countries won't let any statements slip into any UN climate document that could be used against them in the future” in terms of financing mitigation, adaptation, and compensation costs.

Most developing countries are very poor and have contributed miniscule emissions, but a few of them -- China, India, and Brazil, among others -- have become major industrialized powers in relatively recent years. China, now the largest annual contributor to global warming, has been seriously industrialized for less than 30 years and also functions as a global factory for many nations, including the U.S.

These recently industrializing developing states, most of which are former exploited colonies of the rich countries, argue that the developed states became major powers based on burning fossil fuels and thus have the major responsibility to take the lead in reducing emissions.

China points out that while it has recently displaced the U.S. as leading producer of Greenhouse gas emissions, its population is three times greater. On a per capita basis, Beijing notes, the average American in 2011 produced 17.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide; the average Chinese, just 6.5 tons. (A metric ton is 205 pounds heavier than a 2,000 pound ton.) The U.S. rejects these arguments.

Climate activists in downtown Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, November 16, 2013. Photo from AP.
The developed-developing conflict over emissions was finally resolved when China and India withdrew demands for including Kyoto’s exception for developing countries, in return for which “commitments” to a specific target were changed to “contributions.” Clearly this is a vague stopgap measure that will eventually change. The important matter is the total of emissions reductions to be agreed upon in 2015.

The U.S., as the most influential developed country, has taken hardly any action at all to significantly reduce CO2 emissions when it was the number one emitter of carbon in the atmosphere or now when it is number two, tut-tutting about China’s smokestacks while President Obama boasts about expanding drilling for oil and fracking for gas.

Ironically, though China is a mass polluter today it is investing far more heavily than the U.S. in renewable resources such as solar and wind energy. This may eventually pay off, but not before an unacceptable level of CO2 continues.

Given the number of drastic reports about climate change from the scientific community in the last several months, the accomplishments at COP19 are useful but hugely disproportionate to what is needed. In addition to the agreement on contributions to lower greenhouse emissions this also happened: The countries agreed on a multi-billion dollar program to combat global deforestation. The Loss and Damage project was passed, and developed states were urged to increase levels of aid to poorer countries. A plan was hammered out to monitor emissions reductions.

A few of those recent drastic reports include these facts:
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are set to be 8-12 billion tons higher in 2020 than the level needed to keep global warming below 3.6 Fahrenheit, the UN Environment Program said. (Above 3.6 F, the world’s people will begin to experience extreme effects)...
  • According to the American Meteorological Society, there is a 90% probability that global temperatures will rise 6.3 to 13.3 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 100 years...
  • According to the Associated Press, a leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change means that “Many of the ills of the modern world -- starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease -- are likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change”...
  • The U.S. is likely to become the world’s top producer of crude oil and natural gas by the end of 2013 due to increased oil drilling and fracking for gas...
  • The U.S. is pumping 50% more methane into the atmosphere than the government has estimated, reports Science News...
  • In a new study, the team of researchers reports a global loss of 888,000 square miles of forest between 2000 and 2012 and a gain of only 309,000 square miles of new forest.
Summing up the Warsaw conference, an observer for Christian Aid, Mohamed Adow, declares:
In agreeing to establish a loss and damage mechanism, countries have accepted the reality that the world is already dealing with the extensive damage caused by climate impacts, and requires a formal process to assess and deal with it, but they seem unwilling to take concrete actions to reduce the severity of these impacts.
“We did not achieve a meaningful outcome,” said Naderev Sano, the head of the Philippines delegation who had been fasting throughout the meeting in solidarity with the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

Samantha Smith, representing the World Wildlife Fund at COP19 declared:
Negotiators in Warsaw should have used this meeting to take a big and critical step towards global, just action on climate change. That didn't happen. This has placed the negotiations towards a global agreement [on emissions] at risk.
The next major UNCCC conference, COP20, will take place in Lima, Peru, in December 2014. The extremely important 2015 meeting, when the countries will decide on new emissions targets, will be in Paris.

There is positive news as well as the negative.
  • A majority of the American people now seek to limit global warming, according to a recent report from Grist Environmental News. Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick led an analysis of more than a decade’s worth of poll results for 46 states. The results show that the majority of residents of all of those states, whether red or blue, are united in their worries about the climate. At least three-quarters of residents are aware that the climate is changing. Two-thirds want the government to limit greenhouse gas emissions from businesses. At least 62% want regulations that cut carbon pollution from power plants. At least half want the U.S. to take action to fight climate change, even if other countries do not.

  • The walkout by environmental NGOs is highly significant. They are clearly “mad as hell” and presumably are “not going to take this anymore!" to evoke the famous line from the film Network. Their unprecedented action in Warsaw undoubtedly reflects the views of millions of people back in the United States who have been following the scientific reports and want Washington to finally take dramatic action.

  • At issue is mobilizing these people to take action in concert with others to force the political system to put climate sanity and ecological sustainability on the immediate national agenda. Two things are required: 1. A mass education program is called for because the broader and deeper implications of reforms must be understood and acted upon. 2. Unity in action is necessary to bring together many constituencies to fight for climate sanity and justice with a view toward protecting future generations from the excesses of the industrial era.

  • There are up to a score of major environmental organizations in the U.S. Some, like Greenpeace and 350.org are willing to offer civil disobedience; some are important education and pressure groups; and some -- far fewer -- are too cautious and compromising, such as those advocating for nuclear power or natural gas. There must be many hundreds and more small and medium size environmental groups throughout our country, with anywhere from five to 50 or even 100 local followers. And then there are the numerous progressive and left organizations that basically agree with the environmental cause. None have to give up their individual identities, but they can come together around specific global warming and ecological issues and fight the power of the 1% to 5% who essentially rule America.

  • The actions of the developing societies at COP19 were important, too, particularly their brief walkout. The majority of these countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are not only vulnerable to the consequences of climate change but rarely possess the economic wherewithal to adequately survive. They will struggle for their demands in future global conferences.

  • Despite the foot-dragging of many developed countries, all of them contain environmental and progressive/left organizations. They, too, are “mad as hell” and will grow stronger.

  • Time may not be on sanity’s side, but as the CO2 ppm rises and the hopes for significant reductions in greenhouse gases fall in the next few years, conditions will be ripe for a global climate justice uprising.
At this point it seems that only a mass mobilization of the U.S. and world’s peoples will be able to provide the strength to stand up to the fossil fuel interests, the corporations, big business, banks, financiers, and the weak or corrupt politicians who impede the way to build an equal and ecologically sustainable society including rational conservation of resources and reduction of excess consumption.

[Jack A. Smith was editor of the Guardian -- for decades the nation's preeminent leftist newsweekly -- that closed shop in 1992. Smith now edits the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter. Read more articles by Jack A. Smith on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Lamar W. Hankins : Opportunist Narvaiz Takes On Doggett Again in Gerrymandered 35th

Congressional candidate Susan Narvaiz and friend. Image from Facebook.
Unsolicited advice, Dept.:
A Narvaiz strategy to defeat Doggett
Narvaiz is a political chameleon who says what she needs to say and does what she needs to do to protect herself from political accountability.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / December 23, 2013

SAN MARCOS, Texas -- Three years ago, when Susan Narvaiz was near the end of her last term as Mayor of San Marcos, I asked her in a public meeting for some information about the number of jobs created through the use of publicly-funded development incentives provided by the City Council. She said she had that information at her office and would get it to me. Even after a later reminder, I’m still waiting for that information. That promise and her failure to fulfill it about sums up what I expect from her in any political office.

Narvaiz is a political chameleon who says what she needs to say and does what she needs to do to protect herself from political accountability. She is also an opportunist, which may be behind her reported return to San Marcos to run again against Rep. Lloyd Doggett for Congress in District 35. In her first run against Doggett in 2012, she garnered only 32% of the vote. One oft-followed piece of political lore, which Narvaiz may have in mind, is keep running to increase your name recognition and eventually you will be elected.

The district includes parts of the San Antonio metropolitan area, including portions of Bexar County, the tiny westernmost corner of Guadalupe County, thin strips of Comal and Hays and portions of Caldwell counties, along with portions of southeastern Austin in Travis County. The largest contiguous land mass combines southeastern Travis, northeastern Hays, and southwest Caldwell counties.

The strange shape of the district reminds me a bit of the outline of Vietnam. It was ranked by the National Journal as one of the 10 most contorted congressional districts in the nation, as a result of redistricting by a Republican-controlled Texas Legislature hoping to drive Doggett out of Congress.

The population of the district is about 62% Hispanic, almost 11% Black, and 25% White. Over one-fourth of the district’s residents are below the poverty line based on income.

If Narvaiz’s history is any indication, she will cobble together supporters from the evangelical community, the Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party (very active in parts of District 35), members of the business community, and Hispanics, even though it is her husband, Mike, who is Hispanic, not Narvaiz. Mike Narvaiz, an electrician, used his political contacts among Hispanic groups to get his wife several endorsements in her past political races.

Texas Cong. Dist. 35.
When Narvaiz filed to run for Congress against Doggett about 20 months ago, she developed few positions that could be contrasted with what Doggett had fought for during his many years in pubic life. She stuck with the glittering generalities of limited government, individual rights, personal responsibility, compassion, accountability, keeping our nation strong, and maintaining our resolve. Of course, no candidate would oppose such platitudes. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree with these nostrums. Only when we get to specifics do we learn what a candidate may mean.

Last year, we never heard enough specifics to know whether Narvaiz had any positions worth supporting. This time around will likely be similar, though I’m sure she will run against the Affordable Care Act and refer to it as Obamacare. I don’t know if this will help, since Obama drew over 63% of the vote in District 35 in 2012, with Doggett drawing 64% against Narvaiz. The 2012 Democratic Party nominee for governor received 60% of the vote in District 35 and few people even remember his name.

Early this past August, Narvaiz announced that she and her husband were moving to Carlsbad, New Mexico. The announcement followed her usual evangelical style, assuring voters that this decision came directly from God. I’m sure Narvaiz is serious about her faith, but she also seriously uses that faith to promote her political ambition, a practice that diminishes her and her professed religion in the eyes of many, whether religious or non-religious.

She first visited Carlsbad to be the keynote speaker at the annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast in October 2012, a forum similar to those she promoted to great political advantage in San Marcos during most of her tenure as mayor. For several years, Narvaiz used funds appropriated for City Council expenses to host breakfasts for local clergy, about every other month, in city facilities. Each “Breakfast with Mayor & Clergy” began with an invocation and ended with a “closing prayer.” Unless you were a religious leader on her list, you were not invited.

The events enabled the Mayor to reach out to religious leaders for her own political purposes at public expense. The breakfasts were not sponsored by the City Council and were not official City functions authorized by any action of the City Council. Yet Narvaiz used city meeting rooms, city staff, and city resources to carry on her outreach to the religious community, especially to evangelicals, during her time as Mayor.

Narvaiz continued her outreach to the religious community through her last campaign for re-election, the slogan for which was “Forward Progress, Higher Purpose.” Her campaign website explained the meaning and significance of her slogan:
I believe that each of us exists to fulfill a specific purpose in a bigger plan, God’s plan. Each of us is called to use our gifts and talents to serve others. ...And when we do, we will change the lives of those around us for the better. We will be people of character. We will be servant leaders and we will be what God has called each of us to be. There is no higher purpose.
While many of us may share these views, we should remember that Narvaiz was not running for an ecclesiastical office; she was campaigning for a secular public office. Her personal religious views should not have been bankrolled with the taxpayers’ money, as they were during her tenure as Mayor.

She spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to support her religious outreach program, including an August 15, 2007, “Breakfast and tour with Mayor and Clergy” bus trip that included both breakfast and lunch. This was not an official city event, but was paid for with public funds.

On June 20, 2006, the Mayor called an “Emergency Clergy Meeting,” paid for with public funds to discuss parking and litter problems in the Rio Vista Dam area with clergy and religious leaders.

And during Narvaiz’s first term as Mayor of San Marcos, she started the practice of opening meetings with prayer -- mostly by Christian evangelical pastors. In a community as diverse as San Marcos, this action was an affront to the consciences of the religious and non-religious alike. But zealots like Narvaiz can see only their own truth. Everyone else is condemned to hell, and their feelings and beliefs are unimportant.

Narvaiz is returning to San Marcos to run against Doggett after losing her bid in October to become County Manager of Eddy County, New Mexico, where Carlsbad is located. Whether the loss of that job opportunity caused her return to San Marcos has not been made public, but the timing is curious. She may have been mistaken about God’s plan for her just four months ago. But she was at least as sure of the righteousness of our last president's decision to invade Iraq, as she was of her decision to move to Carlsbad.

On March 24, 2003, when Narvaiz was a San Marcos city council member, she voted in favor of a council resolution that was intended to show that preemptive war is patriotic. The resolution was really a thinly-veiled show of support for President George W. Bush as he violated the Nuremberg principles in more than one respect, particularly Principle VI: “Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances.”

In March 2003, so strong was the war-induced patriotism that a Gallup poll showed that 79% of Americans supported going to war in Iraq; now, a majority believe that decision was wrong. But not one of those pro-war members of the City Council, including Narvaiz, has issued a public apology for their unconscionable support of this war, about which they had no doubts at the time. Apparently no doubts have crossed their minds since. In fairness to Narvaiz, she is probably too busy moving, running for office, and seeking new employment opportunities to apologize for that mistake made over 10 years ago.

Although we know very little about Narvaiz’s positions on national issues, other than preemptive war, we have hundreds of votes by Doggett that indicate his fitness for public office. In addition, Doggett has clear positions on national issues at his website, covering the budget, higher education, federal aid to public schools, tax fairness, bank practices reform, veteran support, and consumer protection.

In the 2012 race, Narvaiz spent about $182,000 and had a debt of almost $78,000 when the race was over. Doggett spent almost $2 million in the newly-created district in over half of which he had never been a candidate for Congress. Doggett has nearly $3 million on hand for the 2014 race. There are no figures available publicly for the amount Narvaiz has available to spend for 2014.

In 2012, Doggett received support from lawyers/law firms, retired people, health professionals, building trade unions, industrial unions, the real estate sector, transportation unions, the finance sector, and hospitals/nursing homes. Narvaiz’s main financial support came from the real estate sector, construction services, retired people, building materials and equipment suppliers, the general business community, general contractors, the sea transport sector, Republican and conservative organizations, the business services sector, and the food and beverage industry. [Source: Project Vote Smart].

Norvaiz with Cong. Paul Ryan.
These political contributions for both candidates represent support from individuals, groups, and organizations that like some or most of the political decisions each candidate has made while holding public office and the positions they have taken during their campaigns. Narvaiz’s contributions are weighted toward the interests she supported while mayor. For instance, her support for a conference center and hotel was viewed favorably by the food and beverage industry, which has now rewarded her for that support.

In the race last year, 62% of Narvaiz’s contributions came from identifiable industries, most located in the Central Texas area and Houston. Only 3% of her contributions were from out of state. For Doggett, 85% of his contributions came from identifiable industries, with 5% of total contributions from out of state.

Of the more than 167,000 votes cast in the 2012 election in District 35, Doggett carried the district’s portions of four of the six counties included in the district. He was weakest in the Comal and Guadalupe county portions of the district, and strongest in the Travis and Bexar county portions.

Unless Narvaiz can figure a way to find more votes in these Travis and Bexar county areas, she has little hope of defeating Doggett. What Narvaiz could do to enhance her chances against Doggett is move toward moderation of her views in several areas. She could start by downplaying her public religiosity. A more modest personal religious stance that keeps her religious views private would show the electorate that she is not claiming that she is God’s chosen emissary to the U.S. Congress.

Her indecisiveness about which state to live in doesn’t make for a convincing narrative that will change the minds of many voters. She should explain that she was enticed to move to New Mexico because she thought she would have a better political future in that smaller state. If her Carlsbad benefactor turned out to have less to offer than she was led to believe, she could tell that story in a way that shows she was a victim of deceit.

When it comes to dealing with her nearly complete embrace of the corporate world, she could explain that the experiences of the past decade or more, in retrospect, and after much serious analysis, have led her to conclude that banks and large corporations must be kept at arm’s length from government. Otherwise, they will rob the public treasuries at every opportunity.

After some thought and from her perspective running an employment agency, she may have learned that the jobs paid for with public taxes and other financial incentives given to developers have not resulted often in the livable wages regularly promised (or at least hinted at). She may have discovered that the studies and reports done by even the business community have shown that putting developers and their corporations on the public dole is a no-win proposition for governments at all levels. If so, running as an “I’ve learned my lesson” politician who wants to repent may be the best way to win over some moderate voters.

It might help for Narvaiz to have her husband work the voters door-to-door in the District 35 portions of Travis and Bexar counties. He can put a Hispanic face on her campaign that may draw some of those voters away from Doggett.

Narvaiz may not be able to show greater concern for veterans than Doggett has, but she could enlist the assistance of a cadre of veterans, all identified by hats, signs, and buttons as “Veterans for Narvaiz.” These folks would need to be available for pictures and videos wherever Narvaiz is campaigning, so that no picture of her appears without an identifiable “Veterans for Narvaiz” campaigner by her side or right behind her. As long as these people don’t have to say anything, Narvaiz may be able to convey the appearance of concern for veterans, which may convince a few people to vote for her.

Finally, Narvaiz may be helped by studying Doggett’s voting record carefully to find areas where she can distinguish herself. For instance, Doggett voted for Obamacare. Given the poor start to that program, Narvaiz could extoll the virtues of a program like Medicare, which has reduced the health care hassles for all seniors, and suggest that she is the sort of compassionate moderate who favors making one of life’s basic necessities available somewhere other than emergency rooms.

I’m sure that there are many other ideas that would help Narvaiz’s campaign. If I think of any others, I will pass them along.

[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

[+/-]

Steve Horn : Keystone XL's Houston 'Fork in the Road'

Houston's refinery row. Image from Gulf Restoration Network / DaSmogBlog.
Keystone XL fork in the road:
TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline
Houston's LyondellBasell refinery is retooling itself for the looming feast of tar sands crude and fracked oil bounty that awaits the Houston Lateral's completion.
By Steve Horn / DeSmogBlog / December 23, 2013

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open for commercial operations on January 22.

And there's a fork in that half of the pipeline that's largely flown under the radar: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL's route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the "Gulf Coast Pipeline" by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern half of Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta's tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a "sacrifice zone" by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That's where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, Texas, rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston's refinery row.

"The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace," TransCanada's website explains. "Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System."

Boon for Houston's refinery row

Houston's LyondellBasell refinery is retooling itself for the looming feast of tar sands crude and fracked oil bounty that awaits the Houston Lateral's completion.

"The company is spending $50 million to nearly triple its capacity to run heavy Canadian crude at the Houston refinery, to 175,000 bpd from 60,000 bpd," explained a March article in Reuters.

LyondellBasell admits TransCanada's Houston Lateral project is a lifeline ensuring its Houston refinery remains a profitable asset.

"Over time, heavy Canadian oil is going to be extremely important to this refinery," the company's spokesman David Harpole said in a February interview with Bloomberg. "It’s not all getting down there today but as time goes on, that will become more and more powerful to an asset like we have."

But LyondellBasell's not the only company with skin in the game. Valero -- whose refining capacity is currently overflowing with fracked Eagle Ford shale oil -- is also considering expanding its capacity to refine more tar sands crude.

Not 'what if,' but 'right now'

A financially lucrative asset to refining companies like LyondellBasell and Valero, Houston's refineries are an issue of life or death for those living within the vicinity.

"In a December 2010 report, the Sierra Club linked tar sands refinery emissions to prenatal brain damage, asthma and emphysema," a March Huffington Post article explained. "A recent Houston-area study found a 56 percent increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia among children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel, compared with children living more than 10 miles from the channel."

Like Port Arthur, Houston -- the headquarters for some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world -- is a major "sacrifice zone" , for front-line communitieswith many people suffering health impacts from the city's four petrochemical refineries.

"Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands," DeSmogBlog contributor Caroline Selle wrote in a May 2013 article. "Left out, however, are those in the United States who are guaranteed to feel the impacts of increased tar sands usage. Spill or no spill, anyone living near a tar sands refinery will bear the burden of the refining process."

With Keystone XL's southern half currently being injected with oil and with TransCanada counting down the weeks until it opens for commercial operations, those living in front-line refinery neighborhoods face a daunting "survival of the fittest" task ahead.

"With toxic chemical exposure nearly certain, it is unclear what the next step will be for residents [living in refinery neighborhoods]," Selle wrote in her May article. "[T]his is a life or death struggle more immediate than the 'what-if' of a pipeline spill. And it’s not a 'what-if, [but rather] the fight is 'right now.'"

This article was originally published at DeSmogBlog and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog by the author.

[Steve Horn is a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog. He previously was reporter and researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy, and interned in Washington, DC with former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

19 December 2013

RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : November Guests Include Spiritual Counselor, Citizens' Advocate, Singer-Songwriter

Rev. Bob Breihan, Methodist minister and longtime social activist, on Rag Radio, November 29, 2013. Photo by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.
Rag Radio podcasts:
Thorne Dreyer interviews Rev. Bob Breihan,
Sam Daley-Harris, Doyle Niemann & Mariann
Wizard, Susan D. Carle, and Slaid Cleaves
Our November guests were a Methodist minister and longtime social activist, a noted citizens' advocate, two staffers from the original Rag, the author of a book about the 'movement that started the civil rights movement,' and an acclaimed singer-songwriter.
By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / December 20, 2013

Thorne Dreyer's guests on Rag Radio in November 2013 included Methodist minister and longtime social activist, Rev. Bob Briehan; citizens' activist and author Sam Daley Harris; progressive Maryland legislator Doyle Neiman with poet-activist Mariann G. Wizard, both staffers of the original Rag in the '60s; Susan D. Carle, author of a groundbreaking study of nineteenth century social and legal activism; and noted Austin-based singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves.

Rag Radio is a weekly syndicated radio program produced and hosted by long-time alternative journalist Dreyer and recorded at the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively-run all-volunteer community radio station in Austin, Texas.

Rev. Bob Breihan

Listen to or download the podcast of our November 29 Rag Radio interview with longtime social activist and spiritual counselor Bob Breihan here:

Rev. Bob Breihan, a United Methodist minister, was state director of the Texas Methodist Student Movement in the 1950s and directed the Methodist Student Center at the University of Texas at Austin from 1960 to 1980. In 1986 he founded the New Life Institute, a non-profit training organization that provides emotional and spiritual counseling to those in need, regardless of ability to pay. Rev. Breihan is now retired and living in Austin.

Bob Breihan was an active participant in the civil rights and desegregation movement in Austin from the early 1950s, and was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War. The Methodist Student Center under his tenure was a haven for student radicals and other wayward souls. It was home to the Ichthus Coffee House, where Pete Seeger and Janis Joplin performed, and to Sattva, Austin’s pioneering vegetarian restaurant and commune. Rev. Breihan assisted the Vets for Peace and counseled conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War and, later, young women seeking abortions.

Sam Daley-Harris

Listen to or download the podcast of our November 22 Rag Radio interview with citizens' advocate Sam Daley-Harris, author of Reclaiming Our Democracy here:

Activist and citizens' advocate Sam Daley-Harris, a former music teacher and classical percussionist, "has helped thousands of ordinary citizens transform from hopeless bystanders to powerful advocates." He is the author of Reclaiming our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government, which recently was published in its updated 20th anniversary edition.

In 1980, Sam Daley-Harris founded RESULTS, a grassroots lobbying group that, according to The New York Times, "has had major success building support in Congress for initiatives aimed at basic needs for the poor." In 1995 Daley-Harris and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammed Yanus founded the Microcredit Summit Campaign that provided microloans to more than 100 million of the world's poorest families.

He also mentored the founder of Citizens Climate Lobby prior to its launch in 2007, and in 2012 started the Center for Citizen Empowerment and Transformation, a group that works with the leadership of organizations to empower their members and train them to work for social causes like "ending poverty, cleaning up the environment, building local economies, and bringing peace to the world."

From left, Rag Radio's Tracey Schulz, guest Mariann Wizard, host Thorne Dreyer, and guest Doyle Niemann, at the studios of Austin's KOOP-FM, November 15, 2013. Photo by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.
Doyle Niemann and Mariann Wizard

Listen to or download the podcast of our November 15 Rag Radio interview with former Ragstaffers Doyle Niemann and Mariann Wizard here:

Doyle Niemann is now a progressive leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, and Mariann Garner-Wizard is an Austin-based poet and social activist. Niemann and Wizard (then Mariann Vizard) both worked with The Rag, Austin’s now legendary underground newspaper, published from 1966-1977.

Doyle Niemann was an anti-war activist at the University of Nebraska and the University of Texas where he worked with the Young Democrats and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He later was on the staff of underground newspapers Space City! in Houston and The Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta, and was founding managing editor of the national progressive newspaper, In These Times. In 2002 Niemann was first elected to the Maryland House of Delegates where he is a legislative leader on environmental and housing issues.

Mariann Wizard has been a progressive activist since the ‘60s and an advocate for drug law reform. She is a widely-published poet, a professional science writer specializing in natural health therapies, and a regular contributor to The Rag Blog. Her recent books include Did You Hear Me the First Time? and End Games, a book of poetry and drawings, and Hempseed Food: The REAL Secret Ingredient for Health & Happiness.

Susan D. Carle

Listen to or download the podcast of our November 8 Rag Radio interview with author Susan D. Carle here:

Susan D. Carle is the author of Defining the Struggle: National Organizing for Racial Justice, 1880-1915, a groundbreaking study of nineteenth century social and legal activism published by Oxford University Press. According to NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous, “Susan Carle writes a clear and convincing history of the first generation of civil rights organizers and advocates -- the movement that started the Movement.”

Carle is a professor at American University Washington College of Law where she teaches legal ethics, anti-discrimination law, labor and employment law, and torts. She writes primarily about the history of social change lawyering, legal ethics, and the history and sociology of U.S. lawyers. Carle has been a community organizer, a civil rights lawyer, and a union-side labor lawyer. She graduated from Yale Law School in 1988 and received the 2001 American Association of Law Schools Best Junior Scholar Award and the 2006 Jean and Edgar Kahn National equal Justice Library Award for her writing on the early history of the NAACP.

Slaid Cleaves

Listen to or download the podcast of our November 1 Rag Radio interview with singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves here:

Go to our earlier post about the show at The Rag Blog -- for information and photos from our interview with Slaid Cleave, who joined us in interview and lively performance.

Rag Radio is hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer, a pioneer of the Sixties underground press movement. Dreyer was a founding editor of the original Rag, published in Austin from 1966-1977. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

Rag Radio has aired since September 2009 on KOOP 91.7-FM, an all-volunteer cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin, Texas. Rag Radio is broadcast live every Friday from 2-3 p.m. (CST) on KOOP and is 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 also aired on KPFT-HD3 90.1 -- Pacifica radio in Houston -- on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. (CST).

The show is streamed live on the web and, after broadcast, all Rag Radio shows are posted as podcasts at the Internet Archive.

Rag Radio is produced in association with The Rag Blog, a progressive Internet newsmagazine, and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

Rag Radio can be contacted at ragradio@koop.org.

Coming up on Rag Radio:
THIS FRIDAY, December 20, 2013: Historian, author, and publisher of nonfiction comics, Paul Buhle, editor of Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

18 December 2013

BOOKS / Alan Wieder : Paul Buhle's 'Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith'

Paul Buhle's 'Radical Jesus':
Comic artists explore the history
and social message of Jesus Christ

By Alan Wieder / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2013
Paul Buhle, the noted historian, author, graphic novel publisher, and editor of Radical Jesus, is Thorne Dreyer's guest on the 200th edition of Rag Radio, Friday, December 20, from 2-3 p.m. (CST). Rag Radio airs and streams live on cooperatively-run KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, Texas, and is rebroadcast and streamed on WFTE-FM in Mt. Cobb and Scranton, PA, Sunday at 10 a.m. (EST) and on KPFT's HD-3 Channel in Houston, Wednesday at 3 p.m. (CST). The podcast of this show can be found at the Internet Archive.
[Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith. Paul Buhle, Editor; Sabrina Jones, Gary Dumm, Nick Thorkelson, Artists (2013: Herald Press); Paperback; 128 pp; $24.99.]

Paul Buhle is one of the most prolific and insightful critics from the American left. While his topics at first glance appear incredibly eclectic, closer reading uncovers a sharp focus that thoughtfully challenges class disparity, racism, and imperialism in the United States and throughout the world.

The breadth of his work, even if you consider only his collaborative graphic titles, is mind-boggling as the topics include Che, Yiddishkeit, SDS, the Wobblies, Emma Goldman, FDR, the Beats, and Isadora Duncan. And now, in collaboration with artists Sabrina Jones, Gary Dumm, and Nick Thorkelson, comes Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith.

Like Buhle’s prior books, Radical Jesus investigates the inequalities that exist in the world, historically and presently, but this time through a theological lens. After an introduction, the sections of the book are “Radical Gospel,” “Radical History,” and “Radical Resistance.”

As a focus for reading the book we can assume that liberation theology began with Jesus and carries on at the present time. Each section is illustrated by a different artist but is pulled together by both content and style. As Buhle explains in the Introduction: “The book has been designed with a purposeful color progression from black and white in the first section, to a color choice reminiscent of the illuminated texts of the Middle Ages, to the full color of modern times.”

Combining substance and style, the drawings and text constantly switch between social issues of the past and the present. Interviewed by a reporter for the Brown University newspaper, Buhle said that he wrote the book for the young people involved in the Occupy Movement.
Oh, let’s say I was speaking to those young people. I’m not a person who goes to church. But I was speaking to those young people and to others who were looking for some alternative, there’s one page in the comic that says no to either passivity or violence. For some other way to respond to the crises, and you know, Americans by and large, still, have this religious thing, this mystique. It’s good to think of a way to speak to them in this fashion.
There are numerous poignant frames in Radical Jesus; below are some samples. With stark black and white graphics page 23 in the “Radical Gospel” section, by Sabrina Jones, begins with a priest looking at a dead man lying in the street, “unclean -- better keep away!” Another priest does the same but then comes the Good Samaritan who helps the man who isn’t dead -- who is the Christian.

Stories of Jesus and class disparity continue in this section with a distressing sequence on preaching and religious leaders on page 35, “They preach – But they don’t practice.” Reminiscent of of Bishop Tutu’s story of Europeans coming to Africa: “We had the land and they had the bible. Then they said, ‘Let us pray.’ And we dutifully shut our eyes, and when we said amen at the end and opened our eyes, why, they had the land and we had the bible.”

But of course Bishop Tutu said much more. Corresponding to Radical Jesus:
This God did not just talk... He showed himself to be a doing God. Perhaps we might add another point about God -- he takes sides. He is not a neutral God. He took the side of the slaves, the oppressed, the victims. He is still the same even today; he sides with the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, and the victims of injustice.
Gary Dumm did the “Radical History” section of the book with Laura Dumm and others. This section tells the story of dissent beginning in the 14th Century and concluding with the abolitionists. John Wycliffe, the Anabaptists, Quakers, and the Grimke sisters are introduced with many other people who challenged church hierarchy in the name of social justice. On page 63, Buhle collaborates with Dumm on a story called “Escape from Galley Slavery.”
Some martyrs were burned at the stake, others were drowned, decapitated, had their tongues ripped out, or their mouths filled with gunpowder. To go to a violent death with cold determination or even good cheer was to prove to all present that the believer placed ultimate trust in God’s judgment.
However, these executions were ultimately cynical and class disparately vicious.
French and Belgian royal courts sometimes offered ‘banquets’ for the intended victim the day before the execution. In the city hall, the accused would be compelled to take the seat of honor between the mayor and a local religious leader while being mocked and offered expensive food and wine.
Many a martyr refused to eat or drink!

Drawing by Sabrina Jones
Radical Jesus.
The last pages of “Radical History” speak to the Quakers in Pennsylvania losing the fight for Indian rights. Two frames appear on page 85 with the first showing Quaker representatives in the Pennsylvania Assembly resigning and walking out of the chambers in protest of oppressive actions to attack Indians.

The second frame, titled “What was Lost,” depicts people in a living room watching a baseball game between the Philadelphia Quakers and New York Iroquois -- shades of Howard Zinn history.

The 39 pages of the book’s last section, “Radical Resistance,” is thick as the art of Nick Thorkelson and the text speak to the many more modern quests for social justice through questions/statements of a grand diversity of people on-the-ground testifying at a faith-based meeting.

The courage of abolitionist Sojourner Truth is portrayed in a story called “Steal Away: Abolitionism and Black Freedom.” We meet those who fought for civil rights in the United States like Rosa Parks, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttleworth, Bob Moses, and many people whose names we don’t know.

The New Jim Crow is portrayed on page 104 with Reverend Jeremiah Wright connecting the incarceration of blacks in the United States with the plight of Jesus. On Reverend Wright: “A prophetic voice much maligned in the mainstream media but cherished by the thousands of black churches allied against mass incarceration.”

“Radical Resistance” also tell us of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin’s Catholic Worker movement as a lead into the anti-war actions of the Berrigan brothers -- liberation theology and the work and political assassination in El Salvador of Archbishop Oscsar Romero. All of these accounts of activism conclude with stories of people that we have never heard of who fight for social justice in both their communities and throughout the world -- and there lies the "mission" of Paul Buhle and his collaborators in Radical Jesus.

Buhle writes:
The radicalism of Jesus has nothing to do with men hoarding guns against the imagined threat of black helicopters, or bearded fanatics burning down schools for women. Instead, Jesus goes to the roots of assorted hatreds -- not only our destructive exploitation of humanity but also our plundering of creation. All of life is endangered and we cannot afford these hatreds running rampant much longer.
Radical Jesus provides the stories of models, teachers, for the young people for whom Buhle says the book was written. The book’s portraits, graphics, and text are thoughtful and powerful, and are important not only for young activists, but also for all of us who thoughtfully work for social justice.

[Alan Wieder is an oral historian who lives in Portland, Oregon. His latest book, Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid was published in the United States by Monthly Review Press and in South Africa by Jacana Media. Read more articles by Alan Wieder on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Rabbi Arthur Waskow : Israel, Hillel, and Idolatry

Harvard Hillel banned a speech by former Israeli Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg.
The spiritual issue:
Israel, Hillel, and idolatry
The Hillel International prohibitions make the State of Israel, and indeed only one version of it, into an idol.
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2013

Recent controversies within Hillel International, the “home” for many Jewish college students of diverse backgrounds and beliefs, have made public in a sharper way a profound spiritual issue confronting American Jews and their “official” organizations.

The spiritual issue: When does strong support from many American Jews for the State of Israel and its Jewish citizens as an emergency refuge, as a creative culture, as a defender of Jewish interests, as a member of the Jewish family, become idolatry of the State?

First, the background of the Hillel controversy; then, an examination of what idolatry is:

The controversy surfaced most publicly when Swarthmore College Hillel announced they would refuse to abide by rules handed down by “Hillel International” that would limit what Jewish organizations and speakers were allowed to speak there. Hillel International then threatened to expel Swarthmore Hillel.

The debate within Hillel began in 2011 when its official managers adopted a policy that prohibited having speakers or partnering with organizations that “deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state; delegitimize, demonize, or apply double standards to Israel; support boycott, divestment, and sanctions [BDS] efforts against Israel; or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

Applying these rules, Harvard Hillel refused to allow a former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, to speak at Hillel because co-sponsors of his speech included a group of pro-BDS students in the Palestinian Solidarity Committee along with J Street U, Students for Israel, and Progressive Jewish Alliance.

Responding to this exclusion of Burg, first Harvard students and then a growing band of Jewish students across the country created “Open Hillel,” arguing for a policy of welcoming broad debate and inclusion of Jews of varied views and action about Israel and about prayer, gender, sexuality, economic policy, political party, theology, and every other issue.

More recently, Hillel International announced it had become formal partners with AIPAC, an American lobbying group that almost always strongly supports Israeli government policies when it meets with and encourages campaign contributions to Members of Congress.

Open Hillel raised strong concerns about the effect of Hillel’s privileging AIPAC in this way, as against other Jewish organizations that strongly differ with Israeli government policy. Open Hillel urged that instead, AIPAC continue to be treated as one voice among many in the voices Hillel encourages to speak in its venues..

Then Swarthmore Hillel proclaimed itself an “Open Hillel.”

For me, all this raises some basic questions of the Spirit.

What is idolatry? Worshipping any being -- person, object, institution, community -- as if it were Divine. “Carving it out” and “bowing down to it” as the Ten Commandments describe and forbid. (Exod. 20: 4). Not only “carving out” a physical object, a statue, but carving out from the One Great Flow of Life a piece that must not be criticized, not be questioned. A piece not only to be loved and honored for its usefulness and beauty, not only to be seen as a temporary aspect in service to that Unity -- but treated as an Ultimate, Unchangeable good.

The Hillel International prohibitions make the State of Israel, and indeed only one version of it, into an idol.

I understand the urge to do this. The Rabbis told a tale in which they searched and searched for the yetzer hara (the evil impulse) toward idolatry, hoping to destroy it. They finally found it -- in the Holy of Holies! We most easily make an idol of something that has a lot of sacredness in it.

What is the alternative to idolatry of Israel? Idolatry of any thing?

The alternative is celebration of the God Whose Name is "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, I Will Be Who I Will Be." I am Becoming. Never stuck.

That was/is/will be the God of the Burning Bush, Who called Moses to resist Pharaoh and calls us to resist all pharaohs. (Exod. 4)

There is an intrinsic connection between Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh and freedom of work, restfulness, association, speech, conscience, politics, culture, sexuality.

Free speech is not only valuable because it treats individual conscience seriously; it is also valuable because from much debate emerges greater wisdom.

Does excluding Avraham Burg make sense? Does it work for or against a vibrant Jewish people, for or against wise policies toward Israel? Does refusing to allow Jewish groups and a pro-BDS pro-Palestinian group to co-sponsor a Hillel program make sense? Does that exclusion help Palestinians and Jews get to hear each other and begin to shape a relationship that could seek peace and pursue it? ?

A personal example: I have debated publicly against supporters of all-out BDS against Israel. As a result of those debates, people have written me that they have grown in their understanding of the flaws and dangers in such BDS. And I have grown in my own understanding as well, coming to see that a more limited and targeted boycott of products dependent on Israeli Occupation of the West Bank might be a reasonable instrument of nonviolent opposition. The debates have led to greater wisdom.

The danger is that because of its idolatry toward Israel, the Jewish establishment doesn’t want creative, independent-minded Jews around for the next generation to create a vibrant Judaism in tune with the God Whose Name is "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh" -- a Judaism that would be threatening to those same established structures.

I prefer the intense debates that make the Torah and the Talmud, the Hassidim and their opponents the Misnagdim, full of life.

So I applaud the response of Open Hillel, which instead of walking away from Jewish life in disgust, seeks to shape not only new content but a new form of college Jewish life, and is using Internet connections to do it. You can access their website and sign their petitions at www.openhillel.org.

[Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph.D., directs The Shalom Center; the newest of his 22 books, Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia, was co-authored with Rabbi Phyllis Berman (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011). Read more articles by Rabbi Arthur Waskow on The Rag Blog].

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Paul Krassner : Is There a Doctor in the House?

Doctors provide free medical care at the Riverside County Fair Grounds in California's Coachella Valley earlier this year. Image from KESQ.com.
California tops in most uninsured:
Is there a doctor in the house?
The insurance industry has a preexisting condition known in technical terminology as greed.
By Paul Krassner / The Rag Blog / December 19, 2013

Although Coachella Valley in Southern California has become synonymous with music festivals, Goldenvoice, the company that produces those events, also helped sponsor the first massive four-day health clinic this year. Free medical, dental, and vision care was provided to nearly 2,500 uninsured patients at the Riverside County Fairgrounds.

According to the California Healthcare Foundation, this state now has the largest number of people without health insurance -- 6.9 million –- more than any state in the country. More than 20% of Californians remain uninsured. Employees in businesses of all sizes are more likely to be uninsured in California than any other state. About 60% of the uninsured population are Latino.

Pamela Congdon, president of the Remote Area Medical’s California affiliate (RAM CA) and Volunteer Coordinator, told me that
The California Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (CALAOMS) helps sponsor RAM CA. They allow us to use their office, use our staff, including myself and our Associate Director, without any charges.

I work for CALAOMS, and when I asked if they would help us bring RAM in Northern California, they agreed. Stan Brock asked me to start the affiliate -- RAM CA –- which ran the clinic in Coachella. Please say that the clinic is run by the greatest group of volunteers.
Indeed, over 1,200 general and healthcare professionals volunteered to provide more than 10,000 individual services with more than $1,000,000 in value. Over those four days, 12 hours a day, an estimated 600 custom pairs of eyeglasses were cut, 750 medical exams administered, and 1,300 dental patients treated.

There were 615 general volunteers, 395 dental professionals, 60 vision professionals, and 190 medical professionals of all kinds. There were 1,766 dental patients, 1,435 medical, and 798 vision. One patient hadn’t seen a doctor for 17 years. Of the 2,419 patients, 1,796 were Latino. Oh, yes, and 234 stuffed animals were handed out to children.

One patient sent this message:
My name is Jennifer and I wanted to say thank you from the deepest of my heart! I found out about RAM in Indio at 11 p.m. on Thursday. By 2:30 a.m., I had made my way across the valley, and joined in line with the rest of the people you helped. Not a SINGLE person I interacted with was anything but kind, courteous, and understanding. No one judged us for being there, no one thought we were a burden.

I had all of my wisdom teeth pulled, something I avoided due to an overbearing phobia of dentists in general. Both my dentist and the dental assistant were comforting, and made the procedure almost painless, and fast. I am almost in tears as I write this email, due to the overwhelming gratitude I have for everyone involved in this amazing project that has changed and saved so many lives, including my own.

I’m writing this in the middle of the Open Enrollment time frame, during which my wife Nancy and I finally signed up for a Medicare Advantage plan. Stemming from an old police beating, I use a cane to walk from room to room, and a walker outside the house. The new healthcare plan includes free access to a gym, and I picture myself using my walker on a treadmill.

That image reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon depicting a group of people on stationery bicycles in a park. In the process of enrolling in the Medicare Advantage plan, we were told that we would have to pay a penalty because we hadn't joined a Medicare (or any other “creditable”) prescription drug coverage. We were never informed about that requirement, which began in 2006.

Since we’ve always avoided taking prescription drugs, we never felt the need for it. I called the Health Insurance Counseling Advocacy Program and learned that the penalty would be $32 for each of us. That means $64 every month for the rest of our lives. It seems somewhat absurd and unfair that we could be penalized for not taking any prescription drugs.

Ironically, “This penalty is required by law and is designed to encourage people to enroll in a Medicare Drug Plan when they are first eligible,” yet we had no way of knowing there was such an option to consider. Another irony is that Medicare doesn’t cover any dental procedures, even though rotten teeth and gums can cause internal illness that Medicare does cover.

I asked RAM CA volunteer Dr. Peter Scheer, a world-renowned oral surgeon, about that. His response:
In regard to Medicare and covering dental needs, it has always been an issue. Medicare stands strong in only providing benefits for services that are deemed medically necessary and has always excluded anything related to dentistry, surgical or restorative.

Yes, there are situations where a patient may have an atrocious dental infection that can become life-threatening if not treated. The times where this situation really hits a grey area is when the patient also has other medical issues that may be affected by the infection or contributing to it. Unfortunately, most instances we come across are a decrease in the quality of life due to a poor oral condition rather than a life-threatening event.
However, a research team from Columbia University’s School of Public Health has just released the results of a three-year study of 420 men and women, concluding that the improvement of gum health can help slow the development of atherosclerosis, the build-up of cholesterol-rich plaque along artery walls, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Meanwhile, Goldenvoice has invited RAM CA to return next year. I asked Pamela Congdon, “Will the Affordable Care Act affect that event, or is it too early to tell?” She replied, “The ACA won’t affect the event in terms of people needing service. We are going to have the Borrego Community Health Foundation there to help people sign up for the ACA.”

As inspiring as this year’s four-day free clinic has been, in a truly compassionate culture, there would be no need for its existence.

But the insurance industry has a preexisting condition known in technical terminology as greed. Not to mention the pharmaceutical industry; the annual turnover of revenue for prescription drugs by the top 10 companies is estimated to be worth $700 billion dollars.

In my new Medicare Advantage Enrollment Kit, there are listed a few thousand prescription drugs, from Abacavir to Zyvox. Okay, now cue that soothing voiceover to recite all their side effects, from anal leakage to zits.

As for me, I owe my longevity to never taking any legal drugs.

The above piece was first published on AlterNet and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog by the author.

[Paul Krassner’s latest book, an expanded, updated edition of his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, available at Source paulkrassner.com. Read more articles by Paul Krassner on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Only a few posts now show on a page, due to Blogger pagination changes beyond our control.

Please click on 'Older Posts' to continue reading The Rag Blog.