27 June 2013

Ted McLaughlin : Wendy Davis, Energized Dems Deal Blow to Texas GOP and War on Women

Pro-choice demonstrators at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Sunday, June 23, 2013. More than 1,000 packed the place on Sunday and the numbers kept growing during the week. Photo by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog.
A new day for Democrats in Texas:
New political stars and a raucous crowd
deal blow to GOP's insidious attack on choice

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / June 27, 2013

[The Week that Was! As the Supreme Court made landmark decisions about voting rights (two thumbs down) and gay marriage (it's about time!), thousands of cheering pro-choice Texans -- wearing orange shirts that read "Stand With Texas Women" and rooted on by Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, daughter of the late and great Texas Gov. Ann Richards -- filled the rotunda and packed the galleries of the State Capitol of Texas in Austin for their own marathon filibuster. The enthusiasm was intoxicating.

It was a massive three-day show of opposition to Texas Republicans' attack on women's health in the form of a draconian new abortion law -- and of support for Texas Sen. Wendy Davis and her dramatic filibuster in the Senate chambers. Davis has emerged as a superstar and a legitimate candidate for higher office in Texas. The events captured the imagination of the nation. As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said Tuesday night: "Texas: Who knew!" Oh, and coming next week: "Kill the Bill, Volume 2." See you there. -- Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog]

AUSTIN, Texas -- The teabagger governor of Texas announced Wednesday, June 26, 2013, that he is calling a second special session of the Texas legislature. Three issues are on the agenda -- transportation funding and juvenile justice (both of which died in the last session because Republicans wasted the whole 30-day session trying to shut down the state's abortion clinics), and, of course, the same old anti-choice legislation that was filibustered to death in that first special session.

Perry seems determined to keep the issue alive, and give Democrats something to make sure their supporters remain energized and engaged.

Texas Democrats have been a dispirited bunch for a long time now. It has been more than 20 years since a Democrat held statewide office, and prospects for the future seemed dim because there were really no politicians in the party with true statewide appeal.

That changed dramatically on Tuesday night, when a couple of female State Senators put themselves in the limelight to stop (at least temporarily) an odious anti-choice bill that would almost certainly close 37 out of 42 clinics in the state that do abortion procedures -- and in the process they inspired and renewed thousands of Democrats across the state.

Texas Senators Wendy Davis, left, and Leticia Van de Putte in the Texas Senate Chamber, Tuesday, June 26, 2013. Photo from Jobsanger.
The new Texas political stars are Sen. Wendy Davis and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. Davis got the ball rolling by declaring she would filibuster the bill (which had to be approved by midnight, when the session ended, or it would die).

She got the floor about 11:15 a.m. and began her filibuster -- and then she held the floor for over 10 hours. She was helped by the other 11 Democratic senators who lobbed her "softball" questions to keep her filibuster growing, but the real work of the filibuster was on her capable shoulders -- and she performed admirably.

With only a couple of hours to go before midnight, the Republican majority was able to stop her by claiming for the third time that she was not being germane to the bill with her discourse. It was arguably not true, but truth or rules have never been very important to Texas Republicans. The other 11 Democratic senators stepped forward with a barrage of parliamentary maneuvers (points of order, parliamentary questions, etc.).

One of the most prominent of these senators who sprang to the defense of Sen. Davis was Sen. Van de Putte. And with only about 15 minutes until midnight, she challenged the Senate president by demanding to know, "At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?" The crowd in the gallery began to applaud her, and that applause turned into more than 20 minutes of shouting and applauding that delayed a vote on the GOP bill.

With time running out, the GOP tried to hold their vote -- but as Democratic senators pointed out, the vote was not finished before midnight, and by Texas law, the session was over at midnight. This caused a big mess -- as Republicans claimed the bill was passed, since the vote started before midnight, and the Democrats claimed the bill was dead since the vote was not finished before midnight.

The official senate record backed Democrats, showing the bill was passed on 6/26 and not on 6/25 as required. The Republicans then tried to fix that by illegally altering the senate record (see below).

The top picture shows the original Senate log, and the bottom one shows the log after being altered by Republicans. The senators then argued among themselves for a while -- and at about 3 a.m. the Republicans backed down and admitted the bill had been passed after midnight, which means the bill was DEAD.

The governor will call another special session and most likely get the bill passed (even if they have to lock the public out and do it in secret). But for right now, the bill is dead. And the Republicans did nothing good for their image, since their shenanigans were observed by hundreds of thousands of Texans and other Americans.

I watched the proceedings on the Texas Tribune's live YouTube feed. More than 182,000 people watched on that stream, but that was just a portion of those watching the proceedings, since there were approximately 199 other live feeds -- not to mention all the traffic on social media like Twitter and Facebook.

And while the Republicans were humiliated, thousands of Texas Democrats (and others) were energized -- and Sen. Wendy Davis and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte were able to increase their political capital immensely. They are now both credible candidates for statewide office. And combined with the new statewide Democratic effort to register new voters, and the added impact of changing demographics, this means Democratic prospects in Texas are brighter than they have been in many years.

To put it bluntly, it was a great night for Texas Democrats and a terrible night for Texas Republicans.

[Amarillo resident Ted McLaughlin, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, also posts at jobsanger. Read more articles by Ted McLaughlin on The Rag Blog.] 

Photos by Alan Pogue / The Rag Blog:

The Rag Blog

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Tom Hayden : The Right-Wing War on Democracy

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, 1965. Photo from AP.
The right-wing war on democratic rights:
Voting rights, immigration reform imperiled
Lost in both the partisan spin and rhetorical legalisms is that the scale of political power is being tipped far to the right in spite of progressive majorities which elected and reelected President Obama.
By Tom Hayden / The Rag Blog / June 27, 2013

With the fiftieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington approaching, is the time at hand for mass protest and civil disobedience against the Republican/Tea Party's war against voting rights and immigrant rights?

That's among the immediate questions as the Roberts Court has dropped its hammer on the 1965 Voting Rights Act while a dubious "immigration reform" bill passed the Senate on its likely way to an even worse fate in the Tea Party-controlled House.

Together with the Court's Citizens United decisions protecting secret money in campaigns, Republicans are doing everything possible to cement a grip on power as a numerical white minority bloc. Successful Republican efforts to gerrymander House seats to gain ground in the Electoral College, combined with the rising tide of anti-abortion restrictions in southern states, reinforce the drift towards a new civil war -- one fought by political means with recurring episodes of mass violence.

The Court's narrowing of affirmative action also guarantees a widening of the racial divide in education and economic opportunity.

The Court's composition reveals its underlying partisan character, with the decisive tilt occurring after the 2000 election between Al Gore, Ralph Nader, and George Bush, in which the Court usurped the verdict of a majority of voters, thus becoming a de facto branch of the Republican apparatus.

Photo by Richard Ellis / Getty Images.
The Republican bloc now includes: Roberts [Bush, 2005], Alito [Bush, 2006], Scalia [Reagan, 1986], Kennedy [Reagan, 1988], and Thomas [Bush, sr., 1991]. The Democratic bloc includes Ginsberg [Clinton, 1993], Stephen Breyer [Clinton, 1994], Sonia Sotomayer [Obama, 2009], and Elena Kagan [Obama, 2010].

The Republican tilt is likely to continue indefinitely, with Obama only able to appointment replacements to retiring liberals. The tilt will become a lock if a Republican president is elected in 2016.

Lost in both the partisan spin and rhetorical legalisms is that the scale of political power is being tipped far to the right in spite of progressive majorities which elected and reelected President Obama.

In the voting rights decision, the Court has prevented aggressive action by the Justice Department to deter egregious methods of suppressing voter turnout among communities of color. University surveys show that most whites in the Southern states, with the addition of Pennsylvania, are more prejudiced than the national average [Annenberg survey, 2008 data].

Most lost or settled voting rights cases have occurred in the South. {New York Times, June 23]. It is true that both blatant and more subtle cases of voter suppression occur outside the states covered by the Voting Rights Act, but that is an argument for expanding the Section 5 protections, not weakening them.

The point is that Barack Obama was elected twice with the support of 75-95 percent of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American voters, and any government-imposed inhibitions on their registration and turnout will make the difference in close national and state elections. Without federal intervention, the challenge of protecting voting rights will be left largely to massive volunteer efforts by civil rights and labor organizations.

With respect to the immigrant rights bill passed by the Senate this week, the measure shifts U.S. military buildups from the Muslim world to the Mexican border, airports, and coastlines. The Statue of Liberty is replaced by a Minuteman at the watchtowers.

Border wall boondoggle. Photo by
Scott Olson/Getty Images.
The projected cost is $40 billion, which is sure to rise with overruns, making the costs comparable to other major military operations. The total number of Border Patrol agents will double to 40,000, and the fencing is to cover 700 miles. Sen. Patrick Leahy was right in calling the bill a boondoggle for Halliburton. [For the historical record, the original fencing metal strips came from Halliburton's corporate predecessor, Brown and Root; the metal was from landing strips installed for U.S. aircraft during the Vietnam War.]

The billionaires' boondoggle aside, the question is whether -- and when -- the immigrant rights bill will include voting rights, if ever. Obama temporarily legalized the DREAM Act youth who participated heavily in the 2012 election. Their future now is linked to the immigrant rights bill, or will require an extension of Obama's executive order.

It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1.2 million of the DREAM Act generation could become empowered to vote. In addition, there are one million projected voters in the category of Title II, the Agricultural Worker Program. That would leave about 9 million immigrants facing the pitfalls of the so-called "pathway to citizenship" which will take perhaps 13 to 20 years.

According to an analysis by Peter Schey, it is likely that 4 to 5 million mostly low-income immigrants will be unable to adjust their status because of roadblocks to eligibility.

It is anyone's guess whether the Tea Party Republicans in the House will accept any immigration reform, especially reform that will empower low-income, brown-skinned people to vote. That would shift the political balance of power towards the multicultural majority, now represented by Obama, for the coming generation.

The all-important electoral balance will shift away from the Republican Party in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and elsewhere -- through the fault lines of the Mexican War of the 1840s.

The point is that the Tea Party, the Republican Party, and Corporate Agriculture will consent to between 2 and 7 million brown-skinned people becoming new voters. If the conservatives finally acquiece, it is reasonably certain that they will make the "pathway to citizenship" as uphill, filled with obstacles, and gradual as possible.

This is not only about raw partisan political power, but about the last stand of the xenophobes and nativist elements in America's political culture. Those who consider these words an exaggeration should read again Patrick Buchanan's State of Emergency [2006] with its foaming fear of a new reconquista in California, or Reagan Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger's prediction of war with Mexico.

Historically, it was difficult enough to achieve democracy in America as a form of minority rule. The British had to be defeated and a new republic given birth where the minority of while male property owners were enfranchised. Each expansion of democratic voting rights has come in the wake of war or massive civil strife.

Now, even with a new and more tolerant American majority coming into view, the resistance from the Right will harden in every way. Politics, including the politics of American progressives, will be seen increasingly through this lens.

[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.]

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Steve Russell : Big Brother in the Data Mines

Cover of the first Signet Classics edition of George Orwell's 1984. Image from Vintage Paperback Archive.
We're talking yottabytes here:  
Big Brother in the data mines
We’ve been living for some time in the world set out in Moore’s Law, which predicts that computing power will double every two years, a proposition that obviously has mathematical limits we have yet to reach.
By Steve Russell / The Rag Blog / June 27, 2013

One of the television talking heads really hurt my feelings in a report the other night on Edward Snowden, the traitorous hero or heroic traitor who leaked the existence of PRISM, wholesale collection of data from the servers of various major players on the Internet. Not once but twice, he demanded to know how a 29-year-old high school dropout could become a computer jock for the National Security Agency with a top-secret clearance?

I was once an 18-year-old high school dropout who was a computer jock for the NSA (USAF branch) with a top-secret clearance. In the three years I worked up to my elbows in top secret intelligence, I can remember two items the leaking of which would have landed the news on the front pages along with the leaker in the pokey.

We were all told regularly and often what the consequences of revealing classified information would be. Would I have done that? I like to think I would if the public interest in the information clearly outweighed my own safety, but that circumstance never came up, so I can’t know. Before you spit your coffee on the keyboard, remember that the very oath every military person takes involves putting the interests of the country above your own.

Spying on the retail level has been part of war on this continent at least since the pueblos pulled off a sneak attack that sent the Spanish colonists all the way back to El Paso del Norte, licking their wounds.

Spying on the wholesale level awaited technology, not intent. Governments had always tried to gin up networks of informers, some of which became famous in history and did the job for a period of time. Scholars estimate that one in seven East Germans informed for the Stasi on some level. People, over time, seem to revert to their own values over those imposed by government, and so become less reliable as informers. People lack the discipline of computers.

During WWII, Bletchley Park began to move warfare into the digital age. Communication had for some time been by wire and by broadcast, and so intelligence became a contest between code makers and code breakers in, as the computer geeks say, real time.

One obvious method of code breaking is to archive and collate vast numbers of messages and look for patterns. This became possible by entrusting analysis to Alan Turing’s mathematics, which became the Allies’ ACE (“Automatic Computing Engine") in the hole.

Once the algorithms were written, the issue became how to capture and store mountains of communication data. We’ve been living for some time in the world set out in Moore’s Law, which predicts that computing power will double every two years, a proposition that obviously has mathematical limits we have yet to reach.

By the time the calendar turned over the date that gives the title to George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, the technology was possible for Big Brother to be watching us. When the date whizzed by with no more notice than Y2K, some of us wondered whether the American people, like Winston Smith, had learned to love Big Brother?

Image from The Matrix.
Apparently, not all people share amorous attachment to the government, since the sales of Orwell’s novel have spiked with the revelations about PRISM.

Back to the Okie teenager who got his top-secret clearance in 1965. We learned our trade on computers that stored data in kilobytes. When we moved to intelligence, we were dealing with megabytes. There were rumors about gigabytes, like the computer in my home on which I compose this column. Today’s NSA is storing data in yottabytes. That is, a septillion bytes.

We are told PRISM collects “metadata,” not identifiable to individuals or even organizations. Numbers called to and from, length of call. Not content. Not even who made the call.

Excuse me, but how would it help catch terrorists if it could not be focused on individuals or organizations? Back when I did this, just about everything we had in the computer was from communications intercepts and aircraft sorties. Collating that told us all kinds of useful things about our adversaries.

The question how many data points it takes to focus on an individual is not one of opinion but one of mathematics, and the number of data points is directly related to the level of certainty we demand. In the case of cell phone metadata, there’s some evidence that a mere four hits on the same number can identify 95% of individuals.

Because published studies in scientific journals are limited, that could be wrong, but the fact remains that the question is not one of opinion, but of mathematics.

By cross-referencing telephone and Internet metadata with bank records, which are already in electronic form and do not require a search warrant to access, the NSA can discover things about you that your parents may not know.

We are told that the metadata can be accessed from the desktop computer of any analyst who has the proper clearance. You know, like the one I had at age 18? Let’s not give Big Brother too much credit for having his attention focused on us, but let’s not pretend that it’s impossible or that the right hand always knows what the left hand is doing when thousands of people have access to yottabytes of data.

Big Brother does not care about you, but he cared enough about Martin Luther King, Jr., to bug his motel room, a laughably primitive method. He cared enough about the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement to insert double agents, which is also kind of labor intensive and old fashioned.

If the United States is data mining on this level, what do you think China and Russia are doing? China in particular has pulled off some hacks into corporate databases that left me scratching my head.

This is not an argument to shut down PRISM, assuming that would be possible given the resources already invested in storage. Consider these words like a weather report, since, after all, the databases being mined were already in corporate hands before the government touched them. I’m unclear that maximizing shareholder value is a less dangerous imperative than maintaining a government in power.

“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

[Steve Russell 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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Lamar W. Hankins : Ted Cruz's Opposition to Liberty

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Photo by Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images.
States’ rights trump the Constitution:
Ted Cruz’s opposition to liberty
Cruz’s homophobia is so pronounced that he has criticized other politicians for being too accepting of gays.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / June 27, 2013

[The Supreme Court issued rulings on two landmark marriage equality cases on Wednesday, June 26, striking down a federal law that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples married in states that recognize gay marriage and allowing a lower court ruling that struck down California's same-sex marriage ban to stand.]

It was gratifying to read of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, declaring that she has changed her mind about her opposition to gay marriage. Her change of heart is based on the right to privacy, support for encouraging committed families, and recognition that denying first-class citizenship to people because of their choice of life partners also denies such people the liberty promised by the constitution.

Murkowski did not explain her reasons exactly as I have explained them above, but my comments fairly interpret what she said. She does not believe that religions or religious beliefs should control our civil rights. But she does not suggest that any church or religious group be required to recognize same-sex marriages:
As a Catholic, I see marriage as a valued sacrament that exists exclusively between a man and a woman. Other faiths and belief systems feel differently about this issue -- and they have every right to. Churches must be allowed to define marriage and conduct ceremonies according to their rules, but the government should not tell people who they have a right to marry through a civil ceremony.
Murkowski was moved by the experience of a same-sex couple in Alaska who adopted a family of four children so that they could stay together. Murkowski recognized that the two women are denied rights that all heterosexual married couples enjoy and found such a “second-class existence” intolerable when viewed from the perspective of the Republican and Christian values she espouses.

This view seems imminently reasonable, so why have only two other Republican United States senators agreed with her -- Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Sen. Mark Kirk (Illinois), who announced earlier this year that they too support same-sex marriage in the civil context? That leaves 43 Republicans in the U.S. Senate who oppose the freedom to marry the adult of one’s choice. (According to an ABC News report, nearly 50 Democrats in the senate support or do not oppose same-sex marriage.)

There is no fiercer Republican opponent of same-sex marriage than Texas’s Sen. Ted Cruz, who many believe is the future of the Republican Party. Cruz claims to be what I would call the “liberty senator,” except that the only liberty he consistently supports is liberty that his Tea Party constituents embrace. Cruz tries to finesse his position on same sex marriage by arguing that the matter is, under the Constitution, left to the states to decide:
The Constitution leaves it to the states to decide upon marriage and I hope the Supreme Court respects centuries of tradition and doesn’t step into the process of setting aside state laws that make the definition of marriage.
But Cruz is disguising his abhorrence of gays with his paean to states’ rights. In his view, the personal freedom to decide whom to marry is not a constitutional guarantee for all, but a privilege to be doled out by the states to those fortunate enough to live in one of the 11 states that permit same sex marriage.

Cruz seems not to remember that the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia, which overturned that state’s law against interracial marriage, was based on the U.S. Constitution. In its ruling, the court found that Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
If Cruz’s limited liberty ideas had been in effect in 1965, the Supreme Court might not have allowed women to have access to birth control, which had been denied by the state of Connecticut. The court ruled that the right to privacy and due process entitled women to use birth control if they choose to do so. States cannot deny access to birth control under our Constitution.

For Cruz, states’ rights seem to trump the Constitution, at least whenever his political and religious views are affected. Fortunately for the rest of us, the Supreme Court has usually recognized that the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution protect us all from state legislators and voters who would deny to some those rights and liberties we should all treasure, and from which we should all benefit.

Cruz’s homophobia is so pronounced that he has criticized other politicians for being too accepting of gays. Former Dallas mayor Republican Tom Leppert twice marched in Dallas' gay pride parade, actions that Cruz finds offensive: "When a mayor of a city chooses twice to march in a parade celebrating gay pride that's a statement and it's not a statement I agree with."

At the federal level, Cruz has defended marriage between one man and one woman as the fundamental building block of society. But the difference between same-sex marriage and heterosexual marriage is not obvious. In both cases, the couples can nurture children, work, engage in religious preferences together or separately, own property together, and live together in every other way.

But because same-sex marriage partners are denied the automatic extension of the privileges of marriage, such as property rights, medical decision-making, inheritance, and the right to make decisions on the death of the other partner, same-sex partners are far from equal to their heterosexual counterparts.

A couple married in Vermont who move to Texas, for example, will not enjoy the “full faith and credit” of Vermont’s law permitting same-sex marriage if that couple seeks to divorce -- that is, the couple cannot divorce in Texas, their then legal residence. This is a situation Cruz is proud to have helped create.

His campaign website crows,
When a Beaumont state court granted a divorce to two homosexual men who had gotten a civil union in Vermont, Cruz, under the leadership of Attorney General Greg Abbott, intervened in defense of the marriage laws of the State of Texas, which successfully led to the court judgment being vacated.
It is counter-productive to a civil society to allow such chaos to prevail. The couple will have to re-establish residence in Vermont in order to have a court supervise the dissolution of their marriage and division of property. If children were involved, the consequences would be even more troubling -- the children would be held hostage to the religious beliefs of Ted Cruz, as well as his narrow and limited definition of liberty.

Cruz ignores the Full Faith and Credit clause (Article IV, Section 1) of the U.S. Constitution. Understood in plain English, this clause means that the various states must recognize the legislative acts, public records, and judicial decisions of the other states in our union. With the Full Faith and Credit Clause, the Constitution drafters wanted to do two things: unify this country and preserve the autonomy of the states.

If the Supreme Court applied this provision to same-sex marriages created in one state when the parties have moved to another state, it would not require any state to allow same-sex marriage, but it would require every state to behave toward all married couples residing in their state in a legally equal fashion. If a quickie Las Vegas opposite-sex marriage can be enforced in Texas, the sanctity of marriage is not harmed by enforcing in Texas a same-sex marriage entered in Vermont.

Such an outcome may be a part of the “gay rights agenda” Ted Cruz loves to oppose. I don’t know because I don’t know what the “gay rights agenda” is. If by gay rights, one means that people who are gay should be treated without discrimination under our laws, then I favor such an “agenda.”

This is not a grant of special rights to gay people, but merely an effort to treat gays with the same respect our laws provide to all who suffer discrimination because of their status. Opposing discrimination against gays for being gay fulfills the promise of liberty, something Cruz claims to champion.

But as we have learned over the past two years or so, Cruz doesn’t like liberty as much as he likes talking about liberty. Cruz’s liberty reminds me of Anatole France’s idea of equality under the law, which “forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.” Cruz is all for liberty that allows gays as well as straights to marry someone of the opposite sex. He thinks that makes us all equal.

[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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26 June 2013

RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : Peruvian Scholar/Activist Cristina Herencia, UN Observer on Indigenous Issues

Peruvian social psychologist Cristina Herencia in the studios of KOOP Radio, Austin, Texas, Friday, June 14, 2013. Photos by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.
Rag Radio podcast:
Social psychologist Cristina Herencia,
UN observer on Indigenous Issues
Sponsored by the United Tribal Nations of North America, Herencia has been an observer at the UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues yearly since 2004, participating in caucuses on World Indigenous Women and Latin American Indigenous Peoples.
By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / June 26, 2013

Peruvian social psychologist Cristina Herencia, active in United Nations efforts on behalf of the world's indigenous peoples, was Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio, Friday, June 14, 2013.

Rag Radio is a syndicated radio program produced at the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively-run all-volunteer community radio station in Austin, Texas.

Listen to or download our interview with Cristina Herencia here:

Cristina Herencia is a Peruvian social psychologist and activist who works in interdisciplinary social sciences, specializing in issues of gender and identity among Andean indigenous peoples and the effect of globalization on native peoples and cultures.

Sponsored by the United Tribal Nations of North America, Herencia has been an observer at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues yearly since 2004 -- most recently in May 2013 -- and has participated in numerous UN caucuses, including World Indigenous Women and Latin American Indigenous Peoples, and others addressing educational policies, resource management, climate change, water issues, and indigenous youth.

Cristina Herencia on Rag Radio.
The Permanent Forum is the UN's central coordinating body for matters relating to the concerns and rights of the world's indigenous peoples. It has played a major role in bringing to international attention the plight of and increasingly important role being played by the world's native peoples, especially in the Global South. At this year's UN meeting, Herencia participated in planning for a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples to be held in New York in September 2014.

Herencia, who is of mixed heritage, has been working in the Indian movement in Peru since she was 27 years old.

Cristina Herencia has a doctorate from the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a masters in experimental psychology from the State University of New York.. She is an adjunct professor at Austin Community College and has taught at Universidad Particular Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru, and at the Universidad Nacional Mayor De San Marcos de Lima.

She has also served as a consultant with UNICEF, UNESCO, Swiss Technical Cooperation with Peru, the UN World Labor Organization, and the World Bank.

Cristina Herencia was previously our guest on Rag Radio on June 29, 2012. Jeff Zavala's video of our earlier interview with Herencia can be seen The Rag Blog.

Rag Radio is hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor and long-time alternative journalist Thorne Dreyer, a pioneer of the Sixties underground press movement.

The show 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. (CDT) on KOOP and is rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (EDT) on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA.

The show is streamed live on the web by both stations 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. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

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

Coming up on Rag Radio:
June 28, 2013: Democratic political consultant and writer Glenn W. Smith on abortion and the Texas legislature, voting rights and the Supreme Court, and more hot political dish!

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Turk Pipkin : Remembering James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano from season six of The Sopranos.
Sleep well, Jimmy:
Remembering James Gandolfini
Though I'd worked a long while in film and television, I never dreamed that a tall drink of water from Texas would end up acting alongside Gandolfini in the show that I loved...
By Turk Pipkin / The Huffington Post / June 26, 2013

From the premiere episode forward, I was a huge fan of The Sopranos and the show's amazing lead actor James Gandolfini. What David Chase and team were creating week after week was quite amazing, but what Gandolfini was creating and living moment by moment was a timeless work of art and passion that we will not see again for a very long time.

Though I'd worked a long while in film and television, I never dreamed that a tall drink of water from Texas would end up acting alongside Gandolfini in the show that I loved, even when I was invited by the Austin Film Festival to do a panel with Sopranos creator David Chase and to honor Chase with their lovely writing award.

David and I spent some enjoyable time talking about his hit show and about the past months I'd spent in Italy writing a book about the Calabrian mafia, the Ndrangheta. I'd recently been in La Stampa prison interviewing Ndrangheta hitmen, one of whom told me of taking a target into the woods and ordering him to dig a grave. When the man ran away, the bad guys had cut his achilles tendons, then made him continue digging. "Let's see you run now," they laughed.

A few days later, Sopranos casting agents called to ask if I'd audition for a part in the show. The scene came over my fax and I read the pages trembling, my eyes pouring over the lines of Aaron Arkaway, Janice's born-again, narcoleptic boyfriend. The title of the episode was one of my lines, "Have you heard the good news?"

I shot the audition in Austin, Fedexed the tape and was on the plane to New York to start shooting by the next week. The first day on the set -- with one of the greatest casts and crews ever assembled -- I ran through the first scene with the full cast with the exception of James Gandolfini, who I believe was still in makeup.

Turk Pipkin, as the narcoleptic Aaron Arkaway, with Aida Turturro, who played Janice Soprano. Photo from HBO.
The Sopranos family was watching football on Thanksgiving Day and I had the easy task of taking a deep narcoleptic nap. I asked the director if it would be okay for me to fall asleep on Tony's shoulder and he said to give it a shot with Gandolfini's stand-in.

Here's the thing. I'd been up all night -- a great way to look sleepy and as it would turn out, one of Gandolfini's own tricks to create a look and feel he wanted -- so when we ran the scene a second time, I didn't actually notice that my head was not resting on a stand-in but on the man himself. Just before "action," Gandolfini leaned down to my drooling face on his shoulder and introduced himself.

One episode turned into two and then into three. There wasn't a lot of broad comic relief on the show and I was loving being a part of it, especially being in the spell of the great and kind James Gandolfini. Filming the show was a marathon for all involved. Late one night, Gandolfini had a rare break where he wasn't in a scene. When he came back for a post-midnight scene, he brought back enough sushi for the cast and crew to cover a 20-foot table. Those type of gestures were not uncommon.

When I'd fallen asleep on the dining room table during Thanksgiving dinner, he bounced nuts off my noggin from the other end of the table, and between takes kept saying, "Man, am I throwing those too hard?" I said, "Is that all you got?" And it turned out that indeed he had a little more.

Gandolfini was a cigar smoker and between scenes would retire to the back porch of the Soprano family home for a stogie. This is on an indoor soundstage at Silver Cup Studios in Queens mind you, a definite "No Smoking" zone. I asked him what it takes to get that privilege and he said, "All it takes is asking. And you're the first to ask."

So there I was, looking at the painted swimming pool chroma-key of the Sopranos family back yard, smoking a Cuban cigar with the greatest actor of my day. Thank you Jimmy, for that and for so much more.

I was just a tiny cog in the great wheel that was The Sopranos, just one of thousands who James Gandolfini treated with kindness and respect. There are few so great who remain so humble, who are able to grasp their own incredible abilities and still recognize them as a gift.

James Gandolfini was a gift. And he will be missed beyond measure. Luckily we have his incredible body of work to keep us company. Thanks, Jimmy, for showing us the way. And thanks, David, for letting me lean on the shoulder of greatness.

[Turk Pipkin, an Austin-based writer, actor, and filmmaker, played a recurring role on The Sopranos. Pipkin founded the education and social action nonprofit, The Nobelity Project, and his films include Nobelity, One Peace at a Time, and Raising Hope. He is the author of 10 books including the New York Times bestseller, The Tao of Willie, written with Willie Nelson.]

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Michael James : Baseball in Moscow and 'Turf Accountant' in Belfast

Turf Accountant, a betting parlor in Belfast, Northern Ireland, August 7, 1990. Photo by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.
Pictures from the Long Haul:
Playing baseball in the USSR and
drinking Guinness in Belfast
In Belfast we drive to the battlefield called the Falls Road, working class and traditionally socialist. I shoot pictures of buildings and people, and a betting parlor that is called 'Turf Accountant.'
By Michael James / The Rag Blog / June 26, 2013

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about -- and inspired by -- those images. This photo will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.]

I have to go through Shannon, Ireland, to get to the Soviet Union in 1990 -- both going and coming -- and both ways I observe people drinking Guinness early in the morning, when getting off planes and before boarding planes. Another observation: I like the Soviet/Russian planes, particularly that the armrest on the aisle goes up, freeing you to turn and talk to your neighbors, put your legs in the aisle somewhere over Poland, to move around.

In the USSR our delegation of already aging left-wing Athletes United for Peace plays baseball at Moscow State on a beautiful baseball diamond built by the Japanese. In Donetsk we play ball in a soccer stadium, run a baseball clinic, meet with striking miners, and run in a race with striking miners, many running barefoot.

We visit Sochi and Leningrad too. The husband/dad of the family I stay with in Leningrad was a member of the Soviet Olympic Volleyball team He takes me to a wonderful ancient bathhouse, and -- being Jewish -- fills me in on some Soviet realities.

On the trip I bond with comrade brother Mike Klonsky; we are roommates and share some swell activities and observations. We are tovarischs -- comrades -- forever. On the plane back are lots of Cubans; I trade them my rubles for their pesos. In Shannon, I say goodbye to Klonsky and others, and head off with Guy Benjamin and Dan Goich, retired pro football players.

We rent a car and head for the Fitzgerald's in Tullah. Relatives of my longtime friend and business partner Katy Hogan, they treat us to nips of whiskey and sandwiches. Then on toward the West Coast, Galway, and a place to stay in Ennis, a bed and breakfast owned by Mary Monahan. I just assume she is a relative of the Monahan's in my Chicago neighborhood, the so-called Peoples Republic of Rogers Park. We fall out by 9:30.

In the morning Mary nourishes us, and then we're off. Guy stops in town for a Guinness at Mahoney's thatch-roofed pub. I buy film, and two tapes, one by my man George Jones, the other a collection of Tulla bands, 1946-1986. We stop by the water in Galway, and then drive to a town called Westport. My hometown is Westport, Connecticut, so I buy saltwater taffy that says Westport on it, and drive the next leg to Sligo by the Atlantic. Driving while sitting on the right side of a blue Ford, and driving on the left side of the road, is very strange.

We stay in Sligo, but backtrack a bit to a place we learn about, Kilcullen's Seaweed Baths in Enniscrone, Sligo County. They were great: a big tub of seaweed and hot seawater -- plenty of it with a cold freshwater shower overhead the middle of the tub.

We cross into Northern Ireland. I had spent two weeks in the USSR and saw zilch for guns and weaponry. Crossing into Northern Ireland there were machine gun turrets, barbed wire, cement barriers, zig zag-driving lanes, and guys in full-bore combat outfits. Whoa and wow. Wow and whoa.

In Belfast we drive to the battlefield called the Falls Road, working class and traditionally socialist. I shoot pictures of buildings and people, and a betting parlor that is called "Turf Accountant." Back in Belfast center Dan buys us a big steak lunch at a nice place.

We make our way south, through another checkpoint, drive over to the Irish Sea at Clogherhead, and find a bed and breakfast around sunset that's run by the McEvoy family, in a place called Termonfeckin. That's Termonfeckin! We settle in, take a walk on the beach, and then go for more Guinness at a local pub.

Jim McEvoy turns out to be a masters 800-meter champion. He knows the Irish running scene, and I tell him about my Loyola track coach pal Gordon Thomson. Jim also raises barley for Guinness, and raises Belgium Blue cattle. In the morning we hang out with Jim, his nine-year-old daughter Bernette, and a humongous 16-month-old bull, who acts like a cute, passive, and loveable puppy.

On to Dublin, we walk around this urban energy city, have coffee at Brawley's, see a store called Chicago, and have big lamb chops at The Old Stand in the financial district. We take in Trinity University, dig its' ancient vibe, and then head out. By evening we're on the bank of the River Shannon near Limerick, staying at the Anchor Inn, sleeping upstairs from Irish Molly's traditional music pub. The music and revelry goes on late into the night.

In the morning its cereal, sausage, Irish bacon, eggs, cooked tomatoes, OJ, toast and coffee. Before you know it, we're in the Shannon airport. Guy gets another Guinness, we board, and after two weeks in the USSR and 96 hours in Ireland, we cross the blue waters to New York and west, back to life in the good old US of A.

[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago's Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is reachable by one and all at michael@heartlandcafe.com. Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.]

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25 June 2013

James McEnteer : Escape to Ecuador

Edward Snowden and the flag of Ecuador. Image from Salon.com.
Rehanging the crepe paper:
Escape to Ecuador
Edward Snowden is the latest insider who pulled back the curtain to reveal the wizardry of American Freedom as the diabolical machinations of a surveillance state.
By James McEnteer / The Rag Blog / June 25, 2013

QUITO, Ecuador -- The colored crepe paper we hung up has tattered and fallen. The balloons we tied to the walls and ceiling have deflated or popped. Confetti remains in bags, unthrown. The welcome party we planned for the arrival of Julian Assange has had to be postponed indefinitely. Graffiti on the city walls prophesying his advent have begun to chip and fade away.

We know Assange is safe and still active in his Ecuadorian Embassy sanctuary in London. But we can’t help feeling disappointed that he never actually landed here among us. It’s not simply that we wanted the spotlight of his celebrity to shine a bit on the rest of us. There is so much here that we wanted to show him.

The bracing air of the Andes would revive his spirits. The sight of snow-covered volcanic peaks bespeaks a primordial reality which dwarfs the foolish vanity and paranoia of the people and the governments who want him silenced and punished. Julian Assange and Wikileaks have spotlighted the new political reality.

Our primary struggle now is not a conflict of countries or religions or ideologies against one another, but the wars of governments against their own peoples. The governments of China, Russia, and the United States have more in common with one another than they do with their own populations. Ours is a battle between state control and personal freedom.

The Turkish people know this. So do the Syrians and the Brazilians and the Egyptians. They have fewer illusions than Americans do because they can’t afford them. They have learned to trust their own eyes and ears rather than rely on the televised, predigested propaganda churned out by corporate U.S. media in service to the state.

Julian Assange and Ecuador's Foreign
Affairs Minister Ricardo Patiño Aroca
at Embassy in London.
Americans cling to their comforting delusions, that we are the greatest, freest country on earth, that the political landscape is painted blue and red, that liberals and conservatives are battling for dominance, and the extremes of tea-party libertarianism and radical leftist socialism should be reviled and feared.

All this is irrelevant and distracting, like the clash of Christianity versus Islam. Or the flood of professional sporting events and pornography that drowns our awareness with vivid images. Americans are bad at organizing, still suffering from the cult of rugged individualism. But when we do form trade unions or progressive political groups or student protests against wars or the depredations of Wall Street, the tentacles of government are quick to infiltrate, defame, and destroy.

Edward Snowden is the latest insider who pulled back the curtain to reveal the wizardry of American Freedom as the diabolical machinations of a surveillance state. Is he a hero or a traitor? Where you stand depends on where you sit. For all those growing fat off the surveillance state, the toady media, the corporate Congress, the social networks and other minions of the ruling oligarchy, Snowden is a trouble-maker, messing with the dominance of their masters.

For the rest of us, trying to survive and live our lives as well as we can, Snowden is a freedom fighter, exposing the intrusion of the state apparatus into our private affairs. That is why we have begun to rehang the crepe paper here, inflate new balloons and prepare once again for a welcome party fit for a man of principle and courage.

Snowden would add luster and gravitas to our community. We can only hope he really comes. Then we have to find a way to spring Bradley Manning. Manning’s only crime was believing he could appeal to the conscience of the American people over and above the violent authoritarian regime masquerading as a democracy.

It would be great to have Assange, Manning, and Snowden all here in Ecuador. They could all have faculty positions at the IIF (International Institute of Freedom). I think they’d have a lot of valuable lessons to teach. You know we’ll have a good time then.

[James McEnteer is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Political Documentaries (Praeger). He lives in Quito, Ecuador. Read more of James McEnteer's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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Jean Trounstine : Censoring What Prisoners Read

Werewolf erotica: Too sexy for prisoners? Image from The Atlantic Wire.
'Werewolf erotica' too 'sexy'?
Censoring what prisoners read
The truth is that prisons want to control behavior. They want to 'reform' prisoners, which usually means they want to turn out people who are as conformist as possible.
By Jean Trounstine / The Rag Blog / June 25, 2013

Some astute judges are standing up and challenging prisons which think they have the right to tell prisoners what they can and cannot read.

Just after I wrote a blog about the wonders of Changing Lives Through Literature, a program begun in Massachusetts where a judge, probation officer, and facilitator discuss books together in a “democratic” reading group, offering those on probation a chance at rehabilitation (see "What You Need to Know About Changing Lives Through Literature"), I came across an article at the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) titled "Should prison inmates be allowed to read whatever they choose?"

We know prisons only let in certain kinds of material, sent in certain packages and provided in certain formats. At least that is what Framingham Women's Prison told me some years ago when they rejected my hardback book Shakespeare Behind Bars being housed in the prison library. Forget that I had worked there, directing plays and teaching college classes for almost 10 years. They also don't want books critical of their practices in any way. Apparently, my book raised their hackles.

Now prisons are going even farther: they don’t want books that have subjects someone deems unfit.

Madden work 'Problematic'?
Husna Haq, in his CSM, article mentions that recently the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco overturned a previous ruling barring a prisoner from receiving a book he requested deemed "problematic" by prison officials. The book in question was The Silver Crown by Mathilde Madden "which has widely become known as 'werewolf erotica,' and was considered too sexual by corrections officers."

What? Corrections Officers are deciding that a book is too sexual for prisoners to read?

Get a load of this other recent news article posted in Business Insider. Called "America's Prison Guards Are The 'Ugly Stepchildren' Of The Criminal Justice System," the article reveals how guards "allegedly snuck cell phones and other contraband to Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gangsters." They allowed them to do whatever they wanted apparently, having the run of the prison, and now BGF leader Tavon White is accused of impregnating four guards, two of whom got tattoos with his name.

Thankfully, as Salon reported, the Court found that the prison had overstepped its bounds in the case, engaging in an “arbitrary and capricious application of the regulation.” The judge declared that "The Silver Crown did not meet the famous 'three-pronged' standard by which American courts have determined obscenity since the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision on Miller v. California in 1973."

A 2011 suit by the American Civil Liberties Union charged a South Carolina prison with denying its prisoners all reading material other than the Bible. Other cases include an Alabama prison that barred a prisoner from reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II by Douglas Blackmon.

Hurston 'too racial'?
Why? Because it was too controversial? That's another problem prisons have with texts. And also what I was told at Framingham, when I wanted to teach a June Jordan essay and direct a version of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Way before Oprah produced a movie of this novel, I had planned a production. But the prison said that involving my theatre troupe in such an effort was "too racial." And I quote.

The truth is that prisons want to control behavior. They want to "reform" prisoners, which usually means they want to turn out people who are as conformist as possible. Read, write, paint, and draw? Only as long as prisoners don't overstep their boundaries.

The idea that a prisoner can’t vote, can’t write, and can’t read what he or she wants are different kinds of “crime against person.” Restricting such freedoms could be considered unconstitutional if not illegal. But the idea that a prison will ever honor such rights for prisoners without a judge intervening -- considering that a prison’s aim is to “correct” -- is pure illusion.

[Jean Trounstine is an author/editor of five published books and many articles, professor at Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts, and a prison activist. For 10 years, she worked at Framingham Women's Prison and directed eight plays, publishing Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women's Prison about that work. She blogs for Boston Magazine and takes apart the criminal justice system brick by brick at jeantrounstine.com where she blogs weekly at "Justice with Jean." Find her contributions to The Rag Blog here.]

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Ron Jacobs : Onward, Through the Fog of War

Syrian refugees in Arsaal, Lebanon, on the Syrian border. Photo by Ed Ou / NYT.
Enter Obama:
Onward, through the fog of war
There will be no progressive secular government in Syria after the bloodshed ends. Indeed, there may not even be the nation the world now knows as Syria.
By Ron Jacobs / The Rag Blog / June 25, 2013

The world waits. Washington and other western capitals ponder war. Tehran and Moscow assume their positions, wary of their flanks and the rear. Syria suffers.

Groups within and without Syria's borders position themselves as representatives of the Syrian people, almost every one of them hoping for some kind of Western support now that Obama and his White House have decided to publicly join the fray.

The question remains: How much military aid and of what nature? Does the White House honestly think it can get away with providing small arms and ammunition to the rebels in Syria? Or is it quietly planning to jump into the shitstorm with the the wild man and warmonger John McCain, eventually providing anti-tank weapons, lethal air support, and RPGs to the rebel elements with the greatest chance of victory?

Meanwhile, opposition to the White House decision remains muted, despite opinion polls showing over 80% disapproval of the decision. In fact, the primary opposition comes from libertarian and other right-wing quarters, some of them who oppose it only because Obama is spearheading it.

As for members of the left? If they spoke 10 times as loud they would still be but a whisper.

Syria is in the throes of a civil war. The government is winning, thanks in some part to the recent entrance of Hezbollah forces into the battle. The rebellion which began almost three years ago as popular protests against a repressive regime sold to the neoliberal marketplace has long since stopped being what it originally was. The violent repression of those protests by the Assad government provoked a violent response and the formation of what is called the Free Syrian Army.

Since that time, various regional governments and groups with their own agendas have sent in fighters, provided funds and weapons, and generally helped expand the conflict into almost every sector of Syrian society. The politics of the rebel forces grow murkier each day while the influence of outside forces seems to grow. This latter phenomenon will grow exponentially once Washington begins to play its latest hand.

There will be no progressive secular government in Syria after the bloodshed ends. Indeed, there may not even be the nation the world now knows as Syria.

If we are to use recent history as an example, the rationale of the previous statement is clear. Iraq, a once singular state run by an authoritarian Baathist government is now a fragmented collection of regions controlled by local rulers often at odds with the nominally central government in Baghdad.

The reasons for Iraq's current situation are related directly to Washington's 1991 invasion, a decade of low-intensity warfare against Iraq, and the culminating invasion by U.S. forces in 2003. Since none of these series of actions were able to install a regime beholden to Washington, the resulting fragmentation has had to do.

If nothing else, it has made the once regional power of Iraq a non-factor. This pleases not only Washington and Tel Aviv, but Saudi Arabia and the other emirates as well. If Washington is unable to install a client government in Damascus, one imagines that a weakened and fragmented Syria will suffice. Given the current role of Hezbollah, one assumes that Washington also hopes to weaken its role in the region.

These are at least some of Washington's desired goals. After all, Assad's authoritarian rule has never been too much of a problem before, especially when one understands that Washington maintained relations of various kinds with the Assad regime until quite recently.

Much like the relationship various U.S. administrations shared with Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein, the commonality of interests and enemies insured numerous joint ventures between Damascus and Washington, including the rendition of U.S. captives to Syria for interrogation under torture. Now, however, it appears that Washington is going to throw its lot in with whatever lies past the long and brutal history of the Assads.

Like Libya and Iraq, this decision means that Washington's new commitment will be broader than it is letting on to the U.S. public. What are now small arms shipments to certain groups in Syria could soon become no-fly zones and bombing raids; drone strikes and helicopter gunships; bombardment from the sea and Marines on the ground.

If the usual contingencies are being followed, it is fairly safe to assume that special forces and CIA paramilitaries are already involved inside Syria. If the military piece of this war continues like it has, Syrian government forces and their allies will continue to win. That, in turn, means that the only way in which the forces Washington prefers can win is with ever greater U.S. support. If the scenario begins to include Iranian forces and more sophisticated Russian weaponry, all bets are off.

The decision by Obama and his henchmen to arm some Syrian rebels came in the wake of those forces suffering some major defeats. It also makes the moves toward negotiations touted about a couple weeks ago moot. In other words, Washington has chosen war over negotiation once again. The reasons are numerous and certainly include a desire to decrease Iran’s stature in the Middle East. The lives of the Syrians, already made cheap by the armed assaults of their government, have been made even cheaper by this decision.

There is nothing noble in Obama's decision. Like so many U.S. leaders before him, he has chosen to expand a war instead of negotiating to end it. In doing so, he has calculated that the Syrian people will continue to pay the ultimate price in hopes that Washington's hegemony in the region can continue.

As I write this, Robert Fisk is reporting in the British newspaper The Guardian that Iran will be sending at least 4,000 troops to Syria in support of the Assad government. If true, this move almost demands that Washington step up its support for its favorite rebels in response.

There are those on the left who are convinced that the rebel forces they support can accept arms from Washington and maintain their hopes for a progressive, secular, and democratic government when all the killing is done. This type of thinking is as naive as that of the liberals who believe Washington's entrance into the war is a humanitarian act devoid of imperial machinations.

To begin with, those who believe this assume that U.S. support will go to leftist and progressive forces. The likelihood of this is minimal, especially since there are elements in the opposition that share Washington's plans for Syria and the Middle East. For the most part, the leftist elements do not.

The plain truth is that imperialist acts never flow from pure humanitarian motives. The very nature of imperialism demands that any action, especially in the arena of warfare, is taken to further the goal of hegemony.

You can bet your bottom dollar that Barack Obama understands this. No matter what he or any of his spokespeople say in the upcoming months regarding the U.S. commitment in Syria, the fact is that his decisions are based on his understanding of the risks involved and the potential benefits to be gained -- for Washington, Tel Aviv, himself, and whomever else he and his regime are beholden to (and that doesn't include the U.S. public).

[Rag Blog contributor Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. He recently released a collection of essays and musings titled Tripping Through the American Night. His novels, The Co-Conspirator's Tale, and Short Order Frame Up will be republished by Fomite in April 2013 along with the third novel in the series All the Sinners Saints. Ron Jacobs can be reached at ronj1955@gmail.com. Find more articles by Ron Jacobs on The Rag Blog.]

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24 June 2013

BOOKS / Alan Wieder : Thai Jones Draws 'A Radical Line'

Generations in the struggle:
A 'retro-review' of 
Thai Jones' A Radical Line
Throughout A Radical Line the progressive fights of Thai Jones’ extended families, Weather Underground and earlier, are connected to the collective struggle against class disparity, racism, and the Viet Nam War.
By Alan Wieder / The Rag Blog / June 24, 2013

[A Radical Line: From the Labor Movement to the Weather Underground, One Family's Century of Conscience by Thai Jones (2004: Free Press); Hardcover; 336 pp; $26.]

Reading Neil Gordon’s novel and then viewing Robert Redford’s film, The Company You Keep, a fictitious portrayal of the Weather Underground Organization (WUO), led me to re-read Thai Jones’ book on his family -- his mom and dad, WUO people Eleanor Stein and Jeff Jones, as well as their parents, Albert Jones a Quaker and WWII conscientious objector and Annie and Arthur Stein, labor movement people and both members of the Communist Party.

While I actually liked Redford’s film, and the book even more, A Radical Line is much more encompassing as it portrays generations and real lives in the continuing struggle for a democratic, socialist America -- yes, Eleanor and Jeff and I think Thai, as well as many of their WUO comrades and their children, continue the fight today.

I had no intention of writing a review as I began to re-read A Radical Line. The story, though, is so engrossing, and Thai Jones’ combination of detail, thoughtfulness, and drama pull you in as words bring depth to his extended family as well as the collective, progressive struggle in the United States.

Jones’ craft as a writer shows in the book's poignant beginning, as Jones describes his parents being arrested -- reflecting on his own memories of the event as a four year old child.
There had to be something I could do to help my parents. I made a fast survey of my possessions: a cowboy outfit, a coloring book, a stuffed Tyrannosaurus. I opened the drawer of my little desk and picked up my child’s scissors. The ends were rounded, and the blades were covered by blue plastic guards. Bouncing them in my hand and snipping at the air, I considered putting on the cowboy hat and charging into the hallway with scissors blazing to defeat these men who had come to hurt our family. Even then, I knew it was a battle against long odds. But I didn’t realize it was a question that many in my family had already faced. They had chosen to fight.
Throughout A Radical Line the progressive fights of Thai Jones’ extended families, Weather Underground and earlier, are connected to the collective struggle against class disparity, racism, and the Viet Nam War. Jeff Jones was raised in Southern California and his father worked for Walt Disney Corporation. But as already noted, Albert Jones was a pacifist, and his experience working as a conscientious objector at Civilian Public Service Camp #37 in Coleville, California, during WWII is itself a story.

 His path was not easy as his father disapproved and church people at the Methodist congregation that nurtured his views abandoned him -- Camp #37 became home:
He was surrounded by pacifists. Each Sunday they held a silent Quaker meeting, and that was the only time in the week that the men were not in heated discussions about their faith. Coming here, Albert finally felt welcome.
Jeff Jones’ early lessons were pacifism and peace and not a long leap to the civil rights movement and opposing the Viet Nam War.

Eleanor Stein’s parents were much more political. Annie was introduced to socialism in high school and was politicized even further as a student at Hunter College. Thai Jones describes her early participation in the National Student League and the Communist Party.

It was Annie who politicized Arthur. Initially she was disheartened because her husband was apolitical, but she began leaving copies of The Daily Worker around their apartment and soon Arthur was attending meetings and demonstrations.

Like Albert Jones’s lifelong commitment to nonviolence, Annie and Arthur Stein never stopped fighting class disparity and racism. In the book, Thai remembers Albert’s assertion to Jeff before the Days of Rage: “Son, I believe very strongly in your goals. But if you set out to hurt somebody, I would hope and pray that you are hurt first.”

Concurrently, Eleanor was clearly nurtured by Annie’s work with civil rights stalwart Mary Church Terrell and her political work on education in New York City. She was also nurtured by her father’s labor activism, his founding of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee chapter in Brooklyn, and his appearance before HUAC, where he was represented by Victor Rabinowitz, the attorney who also represented Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger.

Annie and Arthur sent Eleanor to Camp Lakeside, a "red diaper" summer camp. Eleanor recalled her mother’s expulsion from the CP over China and mother continued to lecture daughter throughout Eleanor’s WUO years:
“Look,” Annie would tell Eleanor, “I lived through the 1930s when the capitalist system was on the ropes. Labor unions were strong and men were out of work, on breadlines.” Pausing for effect, she would light a cigarette, sip her scotch and soda, and go to the bookshelf for her copy of Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? "It was obvious in 1917,” she would say, waving the book in her daughter’s face. “The workers were in the streets. Who is going to run the means of production in your revolution? The hippies? You’ve got to be kidding.”
The heart of A Radical Line, however, is Jeff and Eleanor’s lives in SDS and the Weather Underground and their coming together as a couple. There are rich photographs in the center of the book -- especially one of Eleanor wearing her lambswool jacket with a raised fist salute in front of Columbia University Law School. Most endearing is a page with portraits of both Thai, as a very young child, and Jeff in running gear.

We learn about Eleanor quitting law school after participating in the Columbia University student takeover in 1968 and of Jeff joining SDS while a student at Antioch. There are other events that have been written about by Mark Rudd, Cathy Wilkerson, Bill Ayers, and others; but Thai Jones presents a different take, new insights, and of course issues that still leave us with questions about the Weather Underground and the struggle in general.

We learn a great deal about WUO life underground but for the purpose of this review I would like to address one particular issue.

It begins in early July 1969, when Eleanor was part of a delegation that went to Cuba to meet with representatives of the National Liberation Front and of the North Vietnamese government. Others on the trip included Bernardine Dohrn and Diana Oughton.

The North Vietnamese had invited Eleanor and her comrades so that they could interact and learn how the anti-war movement in the United States might help to end the War in Vietnam. One of the first lessons was on the lack of focus of American activism. The teacher pointed out that day that anti-war slogans and chants, like

"No More Vietnams" vs. "Two, Three, Many Vietnams"
"No More Wars" vs "Bring the War Home"
"Long Live the Victory of the People’s War" vs. "Make Love not War"

were contradictory. What was the goal?

The Americans traveled Cuba with their Vietnamese mentors and one man, Nguyen Thai, stood out -- the man from whom Thai Jones inherited his name. There were hours and hours of discussions and Eleanor and the other Americans became focused on taking one message to the masses back home: “End the War Now.”

When they returned to the U.S., however, they were informed that their leadership had decided to form small collectives; their job was not to organize the masses. Thai Jones writes, “Before Eleanor had even clanked down the gangway to the shore, Nguyen Thai’s plan for an all-encompassing mass movement was sunk.”

And I would argue, that it was at this point, before the forming of the Weather Underground, before the Townhouse bombing, before the manifestos and armed propaganda, before freeing and then being betrayed by Timothy Leary, and before the breakup of WUO, the youth movement for social justice and equality in the United States was doomed. That is, doomed as a movement.

While the Vietnamese spoke of -- and represented -- a people’s movement, people on the ground weren’t included in the United States. The people of WUO and the anti-war movement in general were young -- we didn’t take the lessons that others taught us. We didn’t pay attention to how different Fidel and Che’s revolution in Cuba was from Che’s adventurist foray into Bolivia. We didn’t know how to organize a people’s war.

My analysis, of course, is only about a small part of Thai Jones’s book. And the people that he writes about, particularly his parents Eleanor Stein and Jeff Jones, as well as their WUO comrades, have continued, maybe not as a movement, but nevertheless continued, the fight to end class disparity and racism in the United States and throughout the World.

Their mistakes as well as their continuing commitment and passion offer important lessons. As does Thai Jones’ book, A Radical Line.

[Alan Wieder is an oral historian who lives in Portland, Oregon. His new book, from Monthly Review Books is titled Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid.]

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