28 March 2013

Roger Baker : It's Official: Karl Marx Was Right!

Karl Marx's grave in Highgate Cemetery, London.
Wait... so, Karl Marx was right?
Terminal capitalism / Part 1
The doubts about the viability of capitalism as a system now extend far beyond its traditional critics.
By Roger Baker / The Rag Blog / March 28, 2013
"Karl Marx was supposed to be dead and buried... Or so we thought. With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant incomes, Marx’s biting critique of capitalism -- that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive -- cannot be so easily dismissed..." -- Time Magazine, March 25, 2013
Part one of two.

Does American capitalism have a future?

We might easily anticipate that the usual critics, including perpetually grouchy observers of the status quo like Noam Chomsky, would have doubts about the future of capitalism. Here, he asks, "Will Capitalism Destroy Civilization?"
The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will. There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy -- RECD for short -- the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.
But the doubts about the viability of capitalism as a system now extend far beyond its traditional critics. The U.S. economy has been in bad shape since about 2007 and the signs of recovery have not improved much since then. To give one example, Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute notes that the total economic growth in the United States is approximately equal to the annual government deficit.

In other words, if the U.S. Treasury were not issuing bond debt, printing fiat currency in cooperation with the private Federal Reserve, which is in de facto control of the U.S. economy through creating new money and setting the prime interest rate, there would actually be negative U.S. economic growth and a severe recession:
The math is not difficult. The U.S. has an annual GDP of $14 trillion, and the nation’s current $1 trillion in annual deficit spending is seven percent of its GDP. Growth in GDP has recently been running at about two percent annually (though in the last quarter of 2012 the economy actually contracted slightly). The relationship between deficit spending and GDP growth may not be exactly 1:1 but it’s probably quite close.

The conclusion is therefore inescapable: doing away with a substantial portion of deficit spending would reduce GDP by a roughly corresponding amount, almost certainly causing the economy to tip over into recession... The political situation in Washington is such that -- whether it’s the “sequester” or a compromise work-around -- substantial near-term deficit reduction is more or less inevitable. As a result, America will be thrust back into an economic situation reminiscent of early 2009.
If we were to calculate the unemployment rate in the United States as we did during the Great Depression, the current rate would be about 23%, This figure nearly matches the high unemployment rate seen during the Great Depression.

Meanwhile, prominent Keynesians like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman advocate a lot more deficit spending to revive the economy. The current amount of deficit spending is largely benefiting the private banks by allowing them to pay interest on their vast portfolios of bad loans. This is keeping the economy afloat, but is not enough to much affect average consumers and restore their old carefree spending habits.

Keynesian economics is largely based on managing consumer spending psychology by means of a contra-cyclical federal economic policy. In theory, federal stimulus is meant to restore demand in a weak economy until average consumers feel confident enough to resume their pre-recession level of spending. This stimulus is supposed to be balanced by raising taxes enough to prevent a spending surge during the boom phase of the capitalist business cycle. In effect the government adds and subtracts money to smooth out the cycle.

One reason that things are not working out the way that Keynes anticipated is that too much of the money has been going to the rich who tend to save it, rather than to the poor who need it most and will spend it. Another problem is that while it is not hard to hand out stimulus money during a recession, the politics of raising taxes during an economic boom, or "taking away the punchbowl," is not nearly so politically popular, especially among Republicans who have great political influence.

The Tea Party conservatives, who are typically not part of the 1%, face their own financial stresses, and tend to oppose all increases in social spending that they see as mostly benefiting the poor. They see their own class interests as being distinct from, and often opposed to, the have-nots at the bottom, who are highly reliant on social safety net programs.

Meanwhile the rich have every interest in encouraging conflict between mainstream Republicans and Democrats -- to draw attention away from the extremely generous portion of the total government benefits they receive. The sense of unfairness and injustice in such a system leads to dysfunctional and unpopular government, incapable of easily implementing rational policy decisions.

Growing pessimism about the U.S. economy abounds

There is now a kind of convergence of economic pessimism regarding the U.S political economy. This pretty much extends across the political spectrum, including some top bankers and the scientific community.

A January 26, 2012, article in the science journal Nature, by James Murray and David King, declares that "Oil's Tipping Point Has Passed" and shows that certain scientists understand that high oil prices, due to a limited global oil supply, can prevent an economic recovery and explain the need for action among those prepared to listen.
Only by moving away from fossil fuels can we both ensure a more robust economic outlook and address the challenges of climate change. This will be a decades-long transformation that needs to start immediately.
Some bankers and economists view the current situation from the point of view of a spiraling unpayable burden of federal government debt.
Richard Duncan, formerly of the World Bank and chief economist at Blackhorse Asset Mgmt., says America's $16 trillion federal debt has escalated into a "death spiral," as he told CNBC. And it could result in a depression so severe that he doesn't "think our civilization could survive it." And Duncan is not alone in warning that the U.S. economy may go into a "death spiral." Since the recession, noted economists including Laurence Kotlikoff, a former member of President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers, have come to similar conclusions."
The reason that some others, including top money managers like Warren Buffett, are dumping stocks is that they have little faith that the consumer spending sector of the economy can recover.
Despite the 6.5% stock market rally over the last three months, a handful of billionaires are quietly dumping their American stocks... and fast.

Warren Buffett, who has been a cheerleader for U.S. stocks for quite some time, is dumping shares at an alarming rate. He recently complained of  “disappointing performance” in dyed-in-the-wool American companies like Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Kraft Foods... With 70% of the U.S. economy dependent on consumer spending, Buffett’s apparent lack of faith in these companies’ future prospects is worrisome. Unfortunately Buffett isn’t alone. Fellow billionaire John Paulson, who made a fortune betting on the subprime mortgage meltdown, is clearing out of U.S. stocks too.
Top investment advisor Jim Rogers warns that despite the illusion of a market recovery, that government cannot be trusted and that, with the current levels of deficit spending, a big crash lies ahead.

Despite the current stock market rally, legendary investor Rogers say the U.S economy is poised for a major crash and he is warning investors to protect themselves immediately. In a riveting interview on Fox Business, Rogers warned Americans not to trust any of the positive economic news coming from world governments. "I don't trust the data from any government, including the U.S., Rogers said. "We know that governments lie to us. Everybody's printing money, but it cannot go on. This is all artificial."

Money power is blocking reform

We live in a time when hugely concentrated wealth is attempting to cling to power and perpetuate the status quo by means of well-funded right wing media groups like the MRC Network. Such special interests block policy reforms by sponsoring global warming denial politcs, etc. Groups of right wing think tanks abound in Washington, DC, perpetuating corporate domination by means of their unregulated money power.
Think tanks are funded primarily by large businesses and major foundations. They devise and promote policies that shape the lives of everyday Americans: Social Security privatization, tax and investment laws, regulation of everything from oil to the Internet. They supply experts to testify on Capitol Hill, write articles for the op-ed pages of newspapers, and appear as TV commentators. They advise presidential aspirants and lead orientation seminars to train incoming members of Congress.

Think tanks may have a decided political leaning. There are twice as many conservative think tanks as liberal ones, and the conservative ones generally have more money. One of the important functions of think tanks is to provide a way for business interests to promote their ideas or to support economic and sociological research not taking place elsewhere that they feel may turn out in their favor. Conservative think tanks also offer donors an opportunity to support conservative policies outside academia, which during the 1960s and 1970s was accused of having a strong "collectivist" bias.
Everywhere we look we can see confidence in the U.S. political system breaking down. It is not just the poor, but we see rising anger across the political spectrum from those who are not the beneficiaries of concentrated private wealth. The polls make it clear U.S. citizens are losing faith in their failing economy, in their leaders in Congress.

In fact, they are rapidly losing faith in capitalism itself. The public feels trapped, angry, sensing that they are the victims of an unfair, unjust, and exploitative system. Videos like this one, which document the huge disparities in wealth, are going viral.

To those who lived through the fifties and sixties, such as the author, it comes as a shock to see Time Magazine, once the confident voice of middle class American optimism, now admit that Marx was essentially right about class struggle.

We are now operating under a political system of institutionalized corruption; of top-down corporate and special interest control that Sheldon Wolin terms "inverted totalitarianism."
Whereas in Nazi Germany the state dominated economic actors, in inverted totalitarianism, corporations through political contributions and lobbying, dominate the United States, with the government acting as the servant of large corporations. This is considered "normal" rather than corruption.
This opposition at the top to sensible reform is like disabling the safety valves on a steam boiler as the pressure builds up. Blocking reform can work over the short run, but it really means that the internal unrelieved social pressures will build until a social explosion is inevitable at some point that is not predictable in advance.

The sudden level of national support for the Occupy movements in late 2011 should serve as a warning that in the absence of external repression, the political system could see mass protests develop quite unexpectedly.

In his classic work, "Anatomy of Revolution," historian Crane Brinton describes the classic stages and patterns of social rebellion and ultimately revolution that result when populist reforms are blocked and repressed. An economic crisis can only accentuate this process.

[Roger Baker is a long time transportation-oriented environmental activist, an amateur energy-oriented economist, an amateur scientist and science writer, and a founding member of and an advisor to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA. He is active in the Green Party and the ACLU, and is a director of the Save Our Springs Association and the Save Barton Creek Association in Austin. Mostly he enjoys being an irreverent policy wonk and writing irreverent wonkish articles for The Rag Blog. Read more articles by Roger Baker on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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INTERVIEW / Jonah Raskin : Translator and Mystic Willis Barnstone on Babe Ruth, the Beats & More

Willis Barnstone, right, with Jorge Luis Borges, Buenos Aires, 1975.

Interview with Willis Barnstone:
Hermit, translator, ardent baseball fan
“People called Babe Ruth a womanizer and a drunk. Southerners suspected that he was part black. Protestants denounced him because he was Catholic. He never forgot that he was an orphan. Unlike other baseball greats, he was the opposite of a racist and a man with a desperate love for living.” -- Willis Barnstone
By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / March 28, 2013

Willis Barnstone has lived most of his life in big cities around the world -- New York, Athens, Paris, Mexico City, and Buenos Aires -- but he was born in Lewiston, Maine, in 1926. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Zhou Enlai invited him to Beijing. Decades earlier -- in the late 1940s and early 1950s -- he taught in Greece; in many ways he’s been more at home in the world of the ancient Greeks than he has been in the modern world.

Barnstone helped to bring the work of the Argentinian author, Jorge Luis Borges, to the attention of the English-speaking world. He translated the poetry of Mao Zedong.

A poet and memoirist himself, he reads his own work aloud with his daughter, Aliki Barnstone, and his son Tony. At 85, he’s still vigorous, still translating, and still traveling widely.

Willis Barnstone, on left, with Babe Ruth, New York, 1939.

Jonah Raskin: Since baseball is back for yet another season could we start with your own memories of Babe Ruth?

Willis Barnstone: I met the Babe when I was 11 and he was 44. We lived in the same building on Riverside Drive in New York. I lived on the second floor. Ruth was on the 18th. It was April 30, 1939.

What was the occasion?

He was going to give out a few thousand diplomas from the fictitious Academy of Sports at the New York World’s Fair. A photographer from the Daily News took a photo of me and the Babe and another kid my age. We were on the front page of the newspaper on May 1, 1939. I was in my boy scout uninform. Ruth didn’t wear his Yankee uniform, but a black cap and gown.

When you look back at Babe Ruth how do you remember him?

People called him a womanizer and a drunk. Southerners suspected that he was part black. Protestants denounced him because he was Catholic. I thought of him as the immortal Babe. He never forgot that he was an orphan. Unlike other baseball greats, such as Ty Cobb, he was the opposite of a racist and a man with a desperate love for living.

You received one of Ruth’s diplomas from the Academy of Sport and yet you never went into the world of sports, but rather into the academic world.

I did play stickball as a kid on 89th street in Manhattan. As an undergraduate, I went to Bowdoin College in Maine and then to Columbia and to Yale, where I received my Ph.D.

And you taught at colleges and universities in the United States and around the world.

I was at Wesleyan and then at the University of Indiana where I was a professor of comparative literature and Spanish. I taught Greek at Colgate and I was a visiting Fulbright professor in Beijing.

You’ve been a translator for most of your life. Through your translations you’ve created a whole series of bridges between cultures and societies. And you’ve lived in many different parts of the world -- Greece, China, France, and Argentina.

When I travel I seldom feel like a foreigner. In Greece during their civil war and in Buenos Aires during their “dirty war,” I made deep connections with Greeks and Argentinians. If you’re a sympathetic outsider you get inside a country.

For my generation 1968 was a real watershed. What year is pivotal for you and your generation?

Personally, it was 1948, the year I went to Paris, began graduate school at the Sorbonne, and compiled my first book of poems that was published in 1949. The Spanish Civil War, from 1936-1939, was my first international political cause. As for my generation, the pivotal time was World War II and then the Korean War when I was drafted.

How did you experience the Sixties?

I remember going to Auschwitz in Poland, the grimmest, most sordid place in the world. I went on to Lapland, roamed through Brazil and spent time with the Beats. My friendships with Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg go back to the 1950s, not the 1960s. For me, the 1950s were a more vibrant time of change and revolution than the fabled 1960s.

Is seems to me that you have no fixed identity.

Barnstone in China, 2006.
My central identity is as a poet, with a drift toward secular mysticism. I suppose I’m also a kind of tramp. The characters in literature with whom I identify the most are all on journeys, whether they’re Ulysses or Don Quixote. My heroes are picaros.

Is there a similarity between poetry and sports?

Poetry is a game, a way of creating the fantastic out of the ordinary, and baseball is also a game -- mostly nonviolent -- in which you try to hit the ball into the stars.

How did you feel during the witch-hunts and the Red Scare of the 1950s?

Like shit. But the 1980s, with Reagan, was worse. He was the incarnation of illiteracy and the assault on thought itself. Reagan killed you with a smile.

You live in Oakland, California now. What’s that like?

Oakland is a sad, troubled city. I’m an outsider and live like a hermit which is good for the pen. Since settling here 20 years ago, I have published more than a dozen books including translations of Sappho, the Bible, and the twentieth-century Spanish poet, Antonio Machado.

What, if any, are the cultural advantageous for a writer who lives in the “literary capitals” of the world?

I regret I’m not in a literary capital right now. When I go back to New York and Boston I breathe different. The advantage of living in a great city is that you long to get out of the city.

How is the U.S. like the ancient Roman Empire?

I wish we had Nero who liked the poor, wrote poems, and sang. He has gotten a lot of bad press and it’s true that he was a pathological murderer. But he was not so bad as Constantine I, who transferred the capital of the Empire from Rome to Byzantium, who poisoned, burnt, and murdered his mother, brother, and son. There were also always the Goths -- the barbarian Germans from the north -- who came down into the civilized Mediterranean with their gods, hatchets, and swords.

You were born and raised before television, computers, and cell phones. How have these technologies altered your way of being in the world?

I print a book in five minutes rather than have to type it and retyped it for a whole year. On the Internet, I find old films and locate old friends. Caryl Chessman – known as “The Red Light Bandit” -- would not have been gassed at San Quentin in 1960 because the Supreme Court telephone was busy when his supporters called to have a stay of his execution.

What about technology for those not of your generation?

For the younger generation, technology is both good and bad. Books and literacy are in front of a firing squad. Nonetheless, I’m confident that the young are not conservative. I think they’ll even come to love Mozart and Brueghel.

You went to see the Yankee greats -- Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth -- play in Yankee Stadium. Are you still a Yankee fan?

Yes, but a depressed fan. Perhaps the baseball star I miss the most is Mel Ott, who played for the New York Giants for two decades and was the first National Leaguer to hit more than 500 home runs.

Are you awaiting the start of the 2013 baseball season?

Yes, but with trepidation.

When you’re in New York what do you like to do?

Stay with my childhood friend Alfred, who has a mouth like a mountain lion. I see my editor, Declan Spring, at New Directions, and Lois Conner, a great photographer, with who I went to Burma and trekked around Annapurna in Nepal. I also buy pearls and rubies wholesale and make necklaces to give to family and friends.

Americans seem to be hard on their writers -- or maybe they’re hard on themselves; Jack London, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Jack Kerouac all died before they reached the age of 50 and they weren’t killed in a civil war, a revolution, or by an assassin’s bullet.

My own family is cursed. My father committed suicide and so did two brothers, though only my older brother -- who designed the Rothko Chapel in Houston -- was an artist. Death came early to many writers and artists and not just to Americans: Apollinaire, Modigliani, Camus, and those two twentieth-century Spanish writers, Garcia Lorca and Miguel Hernandez. Alcohol and madness have been the traditional killers. TB killed many, from Spinoza to Chopin.

I’ve always assumed you were Jewish, but Willis Barnstone doesn’t sound like a Jewish name.

My father’s original name was Bornstein. He changed it to Barnstone about 1912. As Willis Barnstone, I felt I could pass for the total White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or WASP -- like Jay Gatz in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. Both of my parents were Jewish; a grandfather started a synagogue in Maine. My stepmother was an Argentinian Jew.

Do you celebrate Easter or Passover?

As a child I celebrated Passover with my family. Now nothing.

Would you describe your version of Heaven?

The only heaven I have is here. I only believe in now.

[Jonah Raskin, a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University and a frequent contributor to The Rag Blog, is the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War and Rock ‘n’ Roll Women: Portraits of a Generation. Read more articles by Jonah Raskin on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : Progressive Sportswriter Dave Zirin Takes Off the Gloves

Dave Zirin: "Politics have always been a part of sports."
Rag Radio podcast:
Progressive sportswriter Dave Zirin
on the intersection of sports and politics
"Sports has become such a big business that the line between journalism and being a broadcast partner for all intents and purposes has been obliterated." -- Dave Zirin on Rag Radio
By Thorne Dreyer / The Rag Blog / March 28, 2013
Dave Zirin will speak on the politics of sports at the Belo Center for New Media on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Monday, April 1, from 7-9 p.m., an event sponsored by the Texas Program in Sports and Media.
Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation and author of Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down, was our guest on Rag Radio, Friday, March 22, 2013. Rag Radio is a syndicated radio program produced at the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, Texas.

Listen to or download our interview with Dave Zirin here:

Dave Zirin has been called “the best sportswriter in the United States,” by noted sports journalist Robert Lipsyte. Named one of UTNE Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World,” Zirin writes about the politics of sports for The Nation and hosts Edge of Sports Radio on Sirius XM.

Ron Jacobs of The Rag Blog called Zirin, "the man who politicized the sports pages," and The Washington Post described him as "the conscience of American sports writing." ("They didn't mean it as a compliment," Zirin told us with a chuckle.) Christine Brennan of USA Today called Zirin's Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down, "the perfect book for our time in sports."

Zirin told the Rag Radio audience that the nature of sports journalism has changed dramatically in recent years. "Unfortunately," he said, "sports has become such a big business that the line between journalism and being a broadcast partner for all intents and purposes has been obliterated."

"I don’t think Hunter S. Thompson [who started out as a sportswriter] could have imagined a situation where the best journalists would work for places like the NBA.com, NFL.com, MLB.com."

Sports journalists need to be watchdogs, he said, because professional sports organizations represent "very powerful multi-billion dollar interests with tentacles in every aspect of our society."

In discussing his book, Game Over, about how politics has changed sports, Zirin says that “politics have always been a part of sports," but that things changed dramatically after the economic crisis of 2008. The owners, he says, “were freaking out about the loss of public subsidies which they had gotten used to over the last 20 years... And so they’re trying to figure out a way to restore profitability.”

“The most obvious thing is we almost lost the whole hockey season this year, we lost part of the NBA season last year, we almost lost the NFL season last year and the first quarter of the NFL season this year. And there were scabs -- so-called replacement referees who made the game unsafe -- and sometimes unwatchable.”

“When owners lock out players,” he pointed out, “they’re also locking out everybody that works in the parking lot, who works in the stadium, all the waiters and waitresses picking up an extra shift at the restaurants. And when you think that it’s our billions of dollars that go into building these stadiums... they’re not just locking out the players. They’re locking out all of us.”

Dave Zirin takes off the gloves.
When people ask him who his favorite sports owners are, “I always say, the Green Bay Packers. They’re the best 200,000 owners in sports. That’s a fan-owned team. And the difference is profound in terms of the relationship between the team and the community. The difference between a nonprofit that puts money back into the community, and a sponge that sucks money and resources out of the community.”

About violence in professional football, Zirin said that “trying to curb head injuries in the NFL is basically like trying to make a safe cigarette.” “It’s such a dangerous, violent game that your next play can always be your last, so they dehumanize the players. They don’t want you to get attached to them...” Players are “quickly ferried off the sidelines if they get hurt, brought to some back room so you don’t actually have to see the effect of the injuries…”

“You can’t really separate football from the violence,” he says, but he believes there are things that can be done, “like maybe having certified medical concussion experts on every single sideline in the NFL.” “One player said to me, 'You’ll know the NFL is serious when they propose reforms that actually cost them money.'"

Zirin is very critical of the hypocritical way major league baseball has handled the steroids issue. “It was either a situation of malign neglect or malignant intent,” he says. With “owners happily looking the other way, to make sure that the home runs would keep getting hit, the fans would keep coming to the park, and the game would keep growing.”

He is also critical of the baseball writers who are keeping deserving players like Jeff Bagwell -- “anybody who has a whiff of rumor about them” -- out of the Hall of Fame. “It is guilt by association, guilt by rumor, and guilt by innuendo,” he said, and smacks of Joe McCarthy.

Zirin discussed the story of Houston Rockets rookie Royce White who suffers from a severe anxiety disorder and has been “battling with the Rockets over how they would deal with his mental health.” As Zirin wrote in an article run on The Rag Blog, "For months, the 21-year-old has been sitting out the season in protest: a rebel with a cause." "White has become a crusader for change," he wrote, "calling out the NBA for disregarding mental illness and treating him like 'a commodity.'"

Zirin told the Rag Radio audience that White "has developed quite the radical consciousness. Just by standing up and just by the abuse he’s taken.” White “did an interview with ESPN and he said that the majority of players in the NBA are mentally ill,” but that they self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.

“Mental health issues are nearly taboo to talk about in the world of sports,” Zirin says. It’s only “in recent years that players have begun to come out of this particular closet.”

Zirin says more women are actively involved in sports than ever before, but that there’s “less and less visibility. There’s less coverage of women’s sports now then there was 10 years ago. And less coverage 10 years ago then there was 20 years ago.”

He talked about a major study out of the Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota that asked the question, “Does sex -- and I think we can more appropriately say, sexism -- sell women’s sports? Are people more likely to watch women’s sports when women athletes dress up in certain ways?”

“They did this massive research project on this issue, interviewing tens of thousands of people, and what they came up with was that sexism actually hurts women’s sports. It makes people less likely to consume women’s sports.”

Zirin says that the LGBT movement has had a major impact on the sports world and he believes that there are gay athletes in pro sports who are on the verge of coming out publicly.

In an article about the recent rape trial involving football players at Steubenville High School in Ohio, Zirin pointed to “the bond between jock culture and rape culture.”

He told the Rag Radio audience: “I think that there is a connection. I think that men’s sports, with its combination of hero worship, of an emphasis on team and of men looking out for each other, and oftentimes looking at women as the spoils of being an athlete, can create a culture where women are seen as objects and where women can be seen as something to be taken.”

Zirin says that, “When you have a town like Steubenville, which is a town of 18,000 people, yet the stadium holds 10,000, When you have a school that’s been refurbished... and everybody walks around and says, ‘that’s because of Big Red football, that we got this money,’ and these kids walk around and adults kiss their butts, I think that’s a recipe for disaster.”

The problem, he says, is hero worship. And, as with the scandal at Penn State, “When a football team becomes the emotional, the economic, the cultural, and the social center of a community, the priorities spin out of whack dramatically.”

The worse thing about Stuebenville, he said, was that “there were 50 people who saw what was happening -- boys and girls -- and they all chose to do nothing.” But, he believes, “with the active intervention of coaches, of adults, that you can actually affect and change rape culture.”

There are a lot of positive things happening in sports, Zirin says. “I love the fact that LeBron James and the Miami Heat actually took a stand when Trayvon Martin was murdered by Robert Zimmerman, the self-appointed neighborhood watch leader. They all posed with their hoods on.”

And “the actions of the Phoenix Suns a couple years back in immigration solidarity, in protest of the horrific immigration laws in the state of Arizona, wearing jerseys that said Los Suns.”

One athlete Zirin admires is Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, who is “incredibly literate and erudite.” Zirin begins his latest book with a quote from Foster: “I heard Jim Brown once say the gladiator can’t change Rome. I love Jim Brown. But I disagree. I’ll die trying, my brother.”

And, Dave Zirin reminds us, we remember Muhammed Ali "because the 1960s were happening outside the boxing ring. And without that context of social struggle you’re not gonna have the athletes who can rise up and meet the moment.”

Winner of Sport in Society and Northeastern University School of Journalism's 2011 “Excellence in Sports Journalism” Award, Dave Zirin hosts Sirius XM Radio’s popular weekly show, Edge of Sports Radio. He is also a columnist for SLAM Magazine and the Progressive and his articles frequently appear on The Rag Blog.

Zirin is a regular guest on MSNBC, CNN, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, NPR’s All Things Considered, and other major media outlets. His earlier books include the NAACP Image Award-nominated The John Carlos Story, Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love, and A People’s History of Sports in the United States, part of Howard Zinn’s "People’s History" Series.

Ron Jacobs wrote at The Rag Blog that “Dave Zirin takes on those people and institutions that have crippled sports in the name of profit and power while championing those athletes and others who have used their name and position to make sports a force for change.”

And New York Magazine's Will Leitch said that "Dave Zirin, as the years go by, sounds less and less like a politically slanted leftist rabble-rouser and more like the only sumbitch who understands what the hell's going on."

Rag Radio has aired since September 2009 on KOOP 91.7-FM, an all-volunteer cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin, Texas. Hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor and long-time alternative journalist Thorne Dreyer, a pioneer of the Sixties underground press movement, Rag Radio is broadcast 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:
THIS FRIDAY, March 29:
"Bronx Butch" poet, performance artist, and memoirist Annie Rachele Lanzillotto.
Friday, April 5: Anti-violence activists John Woods and Claire Wilson James about the issue of guns in schools and on college campuses.
Friday, April 12: Sixties activists and Yippie founders Judy Gumbo Albert and Nancy Kurshan.
Friday, April 19: Amsterdam-based poet John Sinclair, founder of the White Panther Party and former manager of the MC5.

The Rag Blog

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27 March 2013

Chellis Glendinning : Confessions of an Obituary 'Aficionada'

Fred Astaire: Bidding adieu.
Witness to notable crossings:
Confessions of an obituary aficionada
Brimming with Mississippi gentility and rousing political arguments, he drew me into the swirl of mad farmers, musicians, historians, sheep herders, and political philosophers who were demanding that the state of Vermont secede from the United States of America.
By Chellis Glendinning / Wild Culture / March 27, 2013

Bolivia-based psychotherapist and author Chellis Glendinning on the fine art of biography-after-the-fact.

I’m a daily reader of the New York Times obituaries. There, I said it. And yes, this little habit of mine has been going on for decades. Needless to say, in that time I’ve witnessed a surfeit of notable crossings into the unknown. Simone de Beauvoir. Picasso. Katherine Hepburn. Anwar Sadat. Indira Gandhi. Mercedes Sosa. And, in the process, I’ve gained an education in the fine art of biography-after-the-fact.

For example, I’m an admirer of Fred Astaire -- and of Fred Astaire’s NYT obit. Placing him in the era of America’s immigration rush, vaudeville, and the rise of Hollywood talkies, it covers his working-class upbringing, attendance at dance school, how he stayed so lithe, film successes, marriages, praise from colleagues, and why he put away his tap shoes. The essay is capped off with his philosophy of hoofing: “The search for what you want is like tracking something that doesn’t want to be tracked.” The obit itself is as elegant as Fred Astaire in a tuxedo skipping across the linoleum.

Which brings us to the obituary as literary form. While the death notice began as a titillating little gossip crumb in early-1700s England, Melanie Johnson’s The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries informs us that we have arrived at the Golden Age of the Obituary. In addition, says Johnson, while the earliest obit writers perceived the job as the lowest-entry-rung of a hopefully rising journalistic career, today’s writers accomplish the mythic feat of blending “empathy and detachment; sensitivity and bluntness.”

But, we might ask, from where springs this mad dash toward minimalism? True, invention of the six-word narrative, short-short fiction, and “smoke long” (a tale whose enjoyment lasts the length of a cigarette) parallels the fascination. The cell phone, whose text-messaging lines allow but 40 characters, could be a culprit.

In this era of flash-technologies, life has become too hurried and fragmented for lolling about for days on end with Sense and Sensibility. Whatever the sociology of this literary development, in a mere 100-500 words, the obituary may have replaced the biography, using the most telling incidents of a lifetime to reveal the blistering whole of a person’s story; perhaps, we might consider, its practitioners have become today’s bards.

Nonetheless, in not-so-Golden-Age circles, to be an aficionada, as I am, is still not an accepted social status. If ever my little secret happens to come up in conversation, the incredulous demand to know why, and I’m never able to formulate an explanation that saves me from assignment to the “Goth” category. That is... until my own friends’ life stories began to appear like confetti in a ticker tape parade in those same revered pages -- and in the San Francisco Chronicle, Santa Fe New Mexican, Washington Post, Anderson Valley Advertiser, By What Authority, Orion, La Jornada, CounterPunch...

Feminists, writers, filmmakers, anti-nuclear activists, farmers, historians, ecologists, bioregional activists, folk singers, yoga teachers, technology critics, philosophers, they -- and I could see that death was no longer going to be something that happened occasionally and to someone else. It was the flame-eyed, snake-coifed Gorgon in the room -- right here and right now.

The passing that threw me over was that of John Ross. The news came via an email announcement from his colleagues in San Francisco, reporting that the doctors had done all they could to prolong his time and, by choice, he had left his room in a Mexico City hotel for Lake Patzcuaro where he had lived on and off for 50 years. It wasn’t that we hadn’t had sufficient notice of the possibility, yet I sat in my chair for some time, as stunned as a bird slamming into a glass window.

I could not imagine a world
without John Ross.
Red-diaper baby, the first journalist to venture into the Chiapas selva to report on the Zapatistas, Human Shield against the war in Iraq, author of books documenting left-wing history in the U.S., jazz poet: Ross was a bona fide character. Toothless and almost blind from conflict generated during his various political exploits, he could guzzle cheap wine like nobody’s business and recite poetry into the wee hours. He was obnoxious as all get-out, and he had liver cancer.

Ross took the rail-runner from Albuquerque to Santa Fe to visit me while on a book tour for his monstrous tribute to Mexico City, El Monstruo. His mission was to swig espresso, buy a really cool cane to bolster his failing leg, and (needless to say) talk politics. I was on the verge of moving to Bolivia, and he reached into the suitcases of memory to regale me with his encounters with now-President Evo Morales. Although neither of us said a word, when he mounted the aluminum steps for the return journey, we knew it would be the last time we would be together. I clung to the vision of this brave warrior as he hobbled to grab the overhead bar and plop his wiry body into a seat.

The news of his passing in January 2011 struck me in a way that even my own mother’s death did not. I could not imagine – or accept – a world without John Ross.

Maybe I was still reeling from Ross’ passing when Richard Grossman’s metastatic melanoma flared up. Grossman was what one might call a “sweetheart with an edge.” Caring in friendship, he also boasted something of an uncouth penchant for sticking his face into stretch limousines and loudly decreeing the shame of the owners in a world of gross inequity. He was best known for his contribution to progressive thought for the “legal” mechanism corporations rely on to perpetrate injustice and exploitation: they enjoy the same rights as individual people do.

He had also fought for workers’ rights in the context of the environmental movement, jumpstarted organizations to push citizen rights, designed a school for teaching democracy, and spearheaded court cases to challenge the “rights” of corporations. Grossman and I had had a habit of talking on the phone for hours each week -- Río Grande Valley to the Catskills -- about history and politics. He had a fondness for growing opium poppies, and since cultivating such a crop was illegal in the U.S. (and, incidentally, since I had written a book about the global heroin trade), he reveled in referring to his delicate blossoms with code words and a tone of devilish irony.

Two weeks before he died, in November of 2011, Grossman was talking up a storm about his new lawsuit in Pennsylvania; he had just done an interview for Corporate Crime Reporter proposing a law to strip away 500 years of Constitutional protections for corporations -- and out of the blue he offered financial help to salve my housing problems in Bolivia. His last email to me capped off with: “Be Good, Be Bad, Be Historical.” And then the calls and letters stopped...

Rebekah Azen’s suicide hit like the clang of an alarm clock: “SAD NEWS FROM SANTA FE” announced the note from a friend-in-common. Upon arriving in New Mexico from Wisconsin, Azen had sought roots with a Native clan at San Felipe Pueblo that she called her “family,” and by the time I met her in the 1990s, she was hot on the trail of the visionary philosophies of what she called the two Henrys: Thoreau and George. Her particular outrage had to do with theft of land and home, drawing parallels between the colonization of indigenous peoples and the housing hardships of the working class – and she wrote abundantly on the topic in Green Fire Times.

Of late, she had been suffering from an ill-explained illness, although her diligent work in the anti-electromagnetic radiation movement, and her constant complaints about her librarian job at the Santa Fe New Mexican where she was daily barraged by Wi-Fi, gave the sense that she had electro-hypersensitivity, otherwise known as microwave sickness. One afternoon in October of 2011, probably very slowly as Azen always moved at the pace of a snail in a Buddhist retreat, she walked into her beloved, juniper-spotted Tesuque desert and blasted her skull to bits with a bullet.

I couldn’t get over the courage that such an act took. Maybe it was desperation: she hadn’t been able to sleep for months. But being that she was an ally with whom I had navigated the labyrinthine passageways of philosophy and literature, not to mention Cochiti Pueblo’s wind-sculpted Tent Rocks -- and who had come to me in my moment of need -- I knew her spirit: that exit was the handy work of one intrepid voyager.

Then Thomas Naylor surprised us with a stroke, and on December 12, 2012, the family chose to remove the life-support technologies. That decision would have pleased Thomas: he was a raving critic of mass technologies and of the authoritarian institutions they reflected, facilitated, and propagated. After a successful career as an economics/computer science professor at Duke University, he moved to Vermont and authored a series of books on decentralism, including Downsizing the USA.

Thomas Naylor: Brimming with
Mississippi gentility.
I met him in 2008. I had written an essay for CounterPunch entitled “Techno-Fascism,” and it turned out that Naylor had been using that same term. He sent me a packet containing a four-page hand-scrawled letter, a pile of articles, and a book he had written called Secession. And so it came to be that Naylor, brimming with Mississippi gentility and rousing political arguments, drew me into the swirl of mad farmers, musicians, historians, sheep herders, and political philosophers who were demanding that the state of Vermont secede from the United States of America.

His activism was inflamed by old-fashioned ethical outrage, and he waxed emotional when it came to the immorality of remaining within a U.S. that was ruining the planet with its technologies and killing people with its imperialist wars. Right before his death, he was organizing an assembly of the small nations of the world to discuss their role in addressing the injustices caused by imperial nations and gain worldwide backing for secession movements, to be held in Liechtenstein in 2013. But then, unexpectedly, he was gone.

One angle on this incessant bombardment of obituaries is that today’s culprits to the final demise tend not so much toward what in my grandmother’s day was called “natural causes” as they do toward the impacts of the dirty chemicals and abrasive technologies overrunning planet Earth. Pesticides. Nuclear power plant leakages. Preservatives. Dioxin-infused tampons. Cell-tower and satellite emissions of electromagnetic radiation. Carbon monoxide. Asbestos. Chemical hormones. Heavy metals. I do not feel just the wells of grief at these deaths; I feel unnerved and discombobulated by the untimely and unnecessary theft of lives -- and wisdom -- from our midst.

And there is something else. Now, after reading so many of my own friends’ life endeavors in encapsulated form, I finally understand why I have relished the NYT obituaries all these years. As we know, the end of an individual’s life bold-facedly reveals that person’s participation in an era. Yet too, and perhaps more notably for the longings of the human psyche, it offers up the wide view we all seek so that we can make meaning of life. And more importantly still, it proposes a frame.

When the dreaded skeleton-laden-with-roses-and-gauze snatches away a comrade, we are able to see with utter clarity what that person did with this life, what her challenges and burdens were, how he mounted them, what she did with ease, what he attempted against all odds. No matter how illuminated or bewildered, how fulfilled or unfinished, how healed or how wounded, the frame reveals that each person is in reality a hero.

The irritations and disappointments we may have felt at personality quirks fall away; whether the most introverted of poets, the most inspiring of orators, or the crankiest of curmudgeons, the final marking unveils each of us as a wondrous creature in the eyes of Creation.

This article was first published at The Journal of Wild Culture.

[Chellis Glendinning lives in Bolivia. She is a psychotherapist specializing in treatment of traumatic stress and the author of six books. Her Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy won the U.S. National Press Women book award in 2000, and she just finished a novel about the energies emanating from artifacts used in revolutions and social movements. In Bolivia she writes for Los Tiempos. She may be contacted via www.chellisglendinning.org Read more of Chellis Glendinning's writing on The Rag Blog.]

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26 March 2013

Marilyn Katz : Hathaway's Nipples and a Congressional Primary

Anne Hathaway at the Academy Awards. Image from HaveUHeard.
Signs of the times?
Hathaway’s nipples and
a Congressional primary

Has the liberal media switched sides in the war against women?
By Marilyn Katz / The Rag Blog / March 27, 2013

CHICAGO -- I generally have ignored the growing number of articles raising alarm about a widespread war against women, comfortable in my confidence that women have long exercised power in this nation -- perhaps not as much as we should -- but increasingly at the ballot box, in the workplace and in the home.

I have had little interest in the debates about “leaning in or out” or whether the White House has a sufficiency of women. (Anyone who doesn't believe that Valerie Jarrett is among, if not the most powerful person in Washington should have their head examined.)

That said, comments not from the misogynist Right but from the liberal media about two successful women have made me reconsider my dismissive attitude.

The first -- while seemingly trivial -- is Anne Hathaway’s supposed nipple problem at the Academy Awards. Personally I neither noticed, nor would I have cared about being able to see the outline of her nipples -- I just thought it was a great dress worn by a woman with a really good back.

What I found disturbing was the ensuing media storm. Why were men looking at her nipples rather than listening to what she had to say? Why is this a topic for discussion? Provocative? Improper? According to whom?

The criticism was silly, but it also reminded me of my recent experiences in the Middle East. In the once-modern Egypt, where today women no longer venture onto the streets at night, and among even young college students are pressured to hide their hair under a head scarf, while others wear the hijab and gloves, in the name of modesty or because it makes them feel more secure and less likely to be verbally or physically attacked as a temptress.

And in Israel where, when I was there last year, I was shocked to find that in Jerusalem, women’s images had been forbidden on billboards, women’s voices banned on some radio stations and in certain neighborhoods women were literally relegated to the back of the bus -- all in the name of ensuring appropriate modesty.

The second instance, which would also be laughable in another era, concerns Robin Kelly, who won the Illinois’ 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary on February 26. News coverage in Chicago and across the country, and mostly written by progressive journalists with comments from progressive “reformers,” has asserted that her win was really not her own.

Usually spot-on writers like James Warren credit Michael Bloomberg’s $2.4 million expenditure on attack ads aimed at one opponent’s ties to the NRA. Well-respected election activist Cindy Canary agreed, telling Warren that Bloomberg’s money suppressed voter activity and turnout.

Yet the facts suggest otherwise. In the last Illinois special election, in 2009, when Rahm Emanuel resigned from Congress to join President Obama in the White House, there were 54,856 votes cast for the 12 candidates in the Democratic primary. Now-Rep. Mike Quigley won the primary with 12,100 votes -- or 22.1 percent of the total cast. In contrast, 59,593 votes were cast in the 16-person 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary this year, with Kelly garnering 30,872 or 51.8 percent of the vote, and Debbie Halverson coming in a distant second with 14,533 votes.

Looking through the archives, no one thought that a 50,000-person turnout in the 5th Congressional District was unusual. Why then did scores of reporters, along with such usually thoughtful people such as Warren, legal scholar Geoff Stone, and Canary, founder of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, parrot the line that participation was depressed?

Further, while we need look no further back than the November elections when Sheldon Adelson’s and the Koch brothers’ millions could not salvage a Romney victory, there are plenty of other examples, the most striking being the 1989 New York City mayoral contest in which Estee Lauder heir Ronald Lauder spent $14 million in his attempt to win the Republican primary. Despite the money, he garnered only 38,000 votes, at a cost of $363 each, and lost to Rudy Giuliani.

Anne Hathaway and all women have a right to dress as we like, for ourselves, knowing that we have good sense, and most of us good taste. If men are distracted, by the outline of a breast or excited by the shape of a hand, that’s their problem -- and perhaps they should try blinders.

Robin Kelly, like all women who take that treacherous path of running for public office, is a study in courage -- and most of all, a hard worker. There are no shortcuts to raising funds, learning the issues, building the organization necessary to get out the vote. Ask any woman legislator out there and she’ll tell you the same.

Women have to work harder, run faster, and make more calls than do their male counterparts for every dollar raised and every vote garnered. To ascribe her win to the largesse of a rich man or a depressed vote is an insult both to her and the voters of the 2nd District.

Are these aberrations or do they indicate a growing attempt to undermine the strides that women have made?

While many may have found Seth MacFarlane’s “boob song” amusing, seen nothing untoward in engaging in the Twitter frenzy about Hathaway’s dress, or felt all right about dismissing Robin Kelly, they are mistaken.

These incidents, while seemingly trivial, belittle women, their judgment, and their independent agency. Each incident echoes, in its own way, the more serious assaults women have endured this year -- from the congressional committee that had the chutzpah to disallow a woman to speak about restricting access to birth control -- saying she lacked expertise on the issue -- to the 19 states that voted last year to severely restrict women’s rights to make their own reproductive health decisions.

Last week the male-dominated state legislature in North Dakota authorized the use of vaginal probes to ensure that most pregnancies cannot be terminated after six weeks. To those who would without question object to the right wing’s intrusive mandates, I’d suggest perhaps it’s time to stop looking under our skirts to see if we’re wearing underwear or being held up by someone else’s strings.

This article was cross-posted to In These Times, where it also appears.

[An anti-war and civil rights organizer during the Vietnam War, Marilyn Katz helped organize security during the August 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention. Katz has founded and led groups like the Chicago Women’s Union, Reproductive Rights National Network, and Chicago Women Organized for Reproductive Choice in the 1960s and 1970s, and Chicagoans Against War in Iraq in 2002. The founder and president of Chicago-based MK Communications, Katz can be contacted at mkatz@mkcpr.com. Read more articles by Marilyn Katz on The Rag Blog.]

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BOOKS / Ron Jacobs : Justin Hart and William Blum on Exporting Democracy

Spreading the word:
'Democracy, we deliver'
In his inimitable style, Blum rips into the lie of U.S. propaganda and takes Hart’s academic discussion into the streets.
By Ron Jacobs / The Rag Blog / March 26, 2013

Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U.S. Foreign Policy by Justin Hart (2013: Oxford University Press); Hardcover; 296 pp.; $34.95.

America's Deadliest Export: Democracy - The Truth About U.S. Foreign Policy and Everything Else by William Blum (2013: Zed Books); Paperback; 304 pp.; $19.95.

A frequent target of antiwar protests when I lived in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, was the local Amerika Haus. These buildings existed in several European cities and were essentially outposts of the United States Information Agency, which was part of the propaganda wing of the United States government and under the aegis of the CIA.

As the U.S. war in Vietnam grew in intensity and scope, their presence became a sore point among leftists and other war opponents in the countries that hosted them. At the same time, the Frankfurt Amerika Haus was where I heard Kurt Vonnegut give a lecture that did not support the war in Vietnam.

In Justin Hart’s new book Empire of Ideas: The Origins of Public Diplomacy and the Transformation of U. S. Foreign Policy, Amerika Haus and many other aspects of Washington’s propaganda machine are addressed. This history of the origins of the current government propaganda machine in Washington covers the years 1936-1953 and presents the debates, uncertainties, and ultimate use of that machine as an important tool in the proliferation and maintenance of U.S. markets overseas.

After watching Michelle Obama’s presentation of the award for Best Picture to a film praising the CIA from the White House, it’s somewhat difficult to believe that there was a time when politicians and government officials questioned the usefulness of propaganda in the battle for U.S. hegemony. Yet, that is exactly where Hart’s story begins.

In a rather interesting tale, he presents the beginnings of what is euphemistically called public diplomacy in Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy towards Latin America. It represented a new understanding that spreading U.S. culture helped open markets overseas while simultaneously justifying the growing U.S. Empire to the domestic audience, an audience which to that point was mostly isolationist in its outlook.

This new approach was not without its detractors. Most of them came from the extreme right, who saw propaganda as communist-inspired, given its use by the new Soviet government in Russia. This concern was also related to the fact that cultural diplomacy (another euphemism for propaganda) was championed primarily by liberals and progressives with Henry Wallace leading the charge.

The presence of liberal elements at the forefront of this movement lends further credence to the argument that it was liberals and progressives who were at the forefront of the U.S. hegemonic endeavor. It’s obvious from Hart’s telling that the inclusion and acceptance of propaganda as a useful tool for those interested in building the U.S. Empire (pretty much every official in Washington) was not without its ups and downs. However, by the time Harry Truman was president, it was clear that its role was accepted and certain to expand.

Of course, when propaganda failed, the iron fist became ungloved. By 1950, the U.S. military was engaged in a brutal war in Korea whose aim was similar to the efforts of the cultural propaganda committee. In other words, to keep the Soviets from expanding into markets Washington had defined as its own. Meanwhile, the Marshall Plan, hyped as bringing democracy, was underway in Europe and part of the same process.

As William Blum makes clear in his latest collection, America's Deadliest Export: Democracy - The Truth About U.S. Foreign Policy and Everything Else, the folks that truly benefited from the Marshall Plan were the U.S. corporations that rebuilt Europe. Just like the so-called reconstruction funds apportioned to Kosovo after its “liberation” and Iraq after the U.S. invasion, the truth about those reconstructions is that they were primarily a means to move taxpayer dollars from the U.S. treasury into the coffers of a few giant corporations.

Blum’s new book is a collection of commentary exposing the true nature of Washington’s ongoing campaign to spread its democracy around the world. While reading it I was reminded of the t-shirt that shows a photograph of a U.S. bomber plane dropping bombs on some city somewhere on planet earth. Inscribed above the photograph are the words “Democracy, We Deliver.”

America’s Deadliest Export explores the lies involved in this campaign and exposes the brutality and associated arrogance. In his inimitable style, Blum rips into the lie of U.S. propaganda and takes Hart’s academic discussion into the streets, simultaneously pointing out the hypocrisy of U.S. democracy and indicting it for the fraud it is, not only abroad but at home, as well.

While Hart’s text looks primarily at the role of U.S. propaganda overseas, Blum’s tends to focus on how it is utilized to manipulate domestic public opinion. He takes the concept that Washington and its military act only for the good of the world and traces its history from the “Good War” to the “humanitarian” intervention in Libya, and the “liberation” of Iraq.

Along the way, he not only shows the lie behind the concept but how that concept is accepted by most U.S. citizens in the same way Christians accept the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary.

These two books provide a complementary narrative on U.S. foreign policy. While Hart’s book examines the development of the U.S. imperial propaganda machine, Blum’s looks at its growth and also the brutality of the military about whose operations the propaganda seeks to misinform.

As we move into an age where the only victims of U.S. wars are those whom our propaganda claims to be freeing and the assumption of our national goodness is enforced and reinforced to the point of overkill, the understanding these two books provide is more crucial than ever.

[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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Alan Waldman : ‘Inspector Morse’ and Sequel ‘Inspector Lewis’ are Smart, Taut British Mystery Series

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
The great John Thaw and amiable Kevin Whately star in two gripping series from respected mystery writer Colin Dexter.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / March 26, 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.]

Inspector Morse is a truly splendid English crime/mystery series that ran for 33 episodes and 12 seasons (1987-2000), until author Colin Dexter killed off the brilliant, crusty Oxford police chief inspector in a poignant final episode. Not too long thereafter, superb star John Thaw passed away, at only 61.

Six years later, the excellent sequel Inspector Lewis, starring Kevin Whately (Morse’s former right-hand man and now replacement), began a seven-series/30-episode run that is scheduled to conclude in 2013.

Inspector Morse won five BAFTA awards and garnered 11 more nominations. Two wins went to Thaw as Best Actor and two more were for Best Drama Series. The show won two Writers Guild “Best Original Drama Series” honors, and Thaw earned “Most Popular Actor” at the National Television Awards.

More than 96.3% of the 2,865 viewers rating it at imdb.com gave it thumbs-up, and 33.8% consider it a perfect 10. Inspector Morse’s six writers include Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) and its directors include Oscar winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) and Oscar nominee John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). Scores of Britain’s top actors guested in the series as victims, suspects, or murderers.

The sequel.
Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis are smarter, twistier and much better written and produced than most cop shows, with no fights, chases, or on-screen violence. The tales are set in and around Oxford University, so they deal with real issues, assorted intellectual matters, and nefarious university politics. My various wives and I found the 60 episodes released so far in the U.S. (usually on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery) compelling and fascinating. I sometimes check them out of my local library and enjoy them again.

Many of the episodes are taken from the Morse novels of Colin Dexter, who makes Hitchcock-like cameo appearances in 30 episodes. His writing and plotting are very good.

Inspector Morse is an odd duck. He is cynical and acerbic and loves opera, “real ale," cryptic crossword puzzles, and his classic red and black Jaguar Mark 2. He is a very astute detective, although he sometimes arrests the wrong suspect. He is a frustrated romantic, gently flirting with and sometimes dating witnesses, colleagues, and murder suspects.

In Morse, Lewis is a quiet, conscientious sergeant and loving family man, although he is a widower in his own series. The Morse-Lewis relationship is a fascinating one, as is Lewis’s with his partner Detective Sergeant Hathaway (Laurence Fox) in the sequel.

Composer Barrington Pheloung (BAFTA-nominated for both Inspector Morse and the good 1998 film Hilary and Jackie) has a flute play the word “M.O.R.S.E.” in Morse code in the show’s theme music at the beginning and end of episodes. Sometimes that flute also plays the name of the murderer in code, although after savvy viewers figured that out he began spelling out the names of other suspects to fool them.

All 33 Morse episodes are available on DVD and Netflix, and 20 episodes of Lewis are on Netflix -- including 15 that can be streamed on Netflix Instant. Many episodes of both series can be seen on YouTube. Morse may be the most enjoyable mystery series I have watched, Lewis is very good, and I firmly believe you would greatly enjoy them both.

[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.]

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Lamar W. Hankins : Texas' Pedernales Electric Coop Violates Cooperative Values

Then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson at PEC headquarters in Johnson City, Texas, in 1961.
PEC violates cooperative values
and principles of liberty
Perhaps the greatest irony about membership in the PEC is that I have no choice about being a member if I want to purchase electricity.
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / March 26, 2013

SAN MARCOS, Texas -- In 2006, my wife and I built our retirement home in the City of San Marcos, but within a small area of the city where electric service is provided only by Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC). We had no choice about whom we bought electric service from -- it was PEC or no electricity. Had we been able to get service from the City of San Marcos, as our neighbors a few blocks away do, we would have been able to pay about half of what we currently pay for electric service.

PEC is unique among member-owned electric utilities. It is the largest electric cooperative in the nation and has operated for over 75 years in Central Texas, now serving more than 200,000 members over 8,100 square miles.

PEC’s service area is vast: it extends from Lampasas in the north, Liberty Hill and Manchaca in the east, Canyon Lake and Bulverde in the south, and Johnson City to the west, and includes a large area around Junction and Rocksprings farther west that is not contiguous with the rest of its service area.

It serves all or part of 24 Texas counties: Bell, Bexar, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Comal, Edwards, Gillespie, Guadalupe, Hays, Kendall, Kerr, Kimble, Kinney, Lampasas, Llano, Mason, Menard, Real, San Saba, Schleicher, Sutton, Travis, Williamson. It boasts that its service area is larger than the state of Massachusetts.

Ever since PEC corruption was exposed in 2007, I have kept a closer watch on what PEC does, but it is not easy to accomplish. Until the reforms that began in 2008, PEC spent lavishly on its chief officials, including board members, whose median pay in 2006 was over $50,000 each; and the board president was paid $190,000 per year for minimal work (no office, no staff, no regular hours, no specific duties).

Spouses were taken on official trips at co-op expense. Travel for some was first class. The organization hired public relations services at considerable annual expense, lobbyists were used regularly at great expense, health insurance was provided to PEC board members and their families at PEC expense. In 2006, the 17-member co-op board paid itself over $1 million in compensation and benefits.

To put this situation in perspective, it may help to understand that most cooperatives are a special kind of nonprofit organization, operating under unique tax and legal requirements. They are supposed to exist for the benefit of their members. I have had experience throughout my adult life with service on nonprofit boards and organizing committees, including cooperatives, and have helped create several cooperatives. While I am not an expert, I have learned a few things about the responsibilities of nonprofit and co-op board members in the last 45 years.

The National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), the leading national association dedicated to the creation and support of cooperatives, identifies the values that should guide all cooperatives:
Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
In 1999, PEC was protected from the legislation that permitted many Texans to choose where they would buy their electric service. The inaptly named Electric Choice Act of 1999 was implemented throughout Texas in 2002 -- a time when PEC was mired in corruption, which is why it is no surprise that the PEC board then would not allow its captive members to choose another electricity provider. But we are in a different era now according to the current PEC board. However, we still don’t have the opportunity to choose a different electricity provider.

Randy Claus, a PEC member since 1990, pointed out in a recent letter that, “The sole business purpose of an electric cooperative is to provide safe, reliable and low cost electricity, but it’s not happening (with PEC).” The PEC board seems horrified by the idea of giving those living in its designated service area a choice of electricity providers.

Earlier this year, when Chris Perry, a PEC board member, wrote an op-ed favoring choice and introduced a resolution before the board that would have allowed choice, the board asked Perry to resign from the board, according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman.

The board then stripped Perry of his position as the board’s secretary-treasurer on the grounds that his article “violated the board’s code of conduct, communications policy and statutory fiduciary duties.” So much for openness (the freedom to speak one’s mind), social responsibility, and caring for others.

Perhaps the greatest irony about membership in the PEC is that I have no choice about being a member if I want to purchase electricity. Such a circumstance does not square easily with PEC’s principles that are explained in several of its organization documents that provide, in part:
Cooperatives are independent, private and not-for-profit organizations owned by the members they serve. The priorities of PEC’s members are represented through a democratic process, and every member is encouraged to monitor and regulate the business of our cooperative . . . Cooperatives such as Pedernales Electric are rooted in the Cooperative Principles first established by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in 1844. As one of more than 900 members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, PEC is guided by these seven principles.

These seven principles have been adopted, also, by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), which grew out of the movement begun by the Rochdale pioneers in the late 1800s. The ICA provides this definition of cooperatives, which comes directly from the seven principles: “A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. [Emphasis added]
The first principle that all of these organizations claim as their own provides that cooperatives, by their very nature, have “open and voluntary” membership, something no one now living in a PEC service area can have if it wants electric service, since PEC has a monopoly on providing electricity in its service area. I and others are involuntary members because PEC wants to keep it that way, though it doesn’t have to. We are pressed into involuntary servitude by virtue of where we live and PEC’s policies and practices.

Of course, PEC claims that it has debt and contractual obligations that must come before the liberty concerns of its captive customers. If PEC had clean hands, that argument might have merit, but its hands are far from clean considering the millions of dollars it squandered during decades of prodigal spending and opulent operations that benefited the few at the expense of the members.

It is past time to free the citizens living in PEC’s service area and permit them a choice of electricity providers. The liberty that we have come to expect as our birthright is held captive by the power given to PEC by the Texas Legislature to make its involuntary customers pay exorbitant prices created by PEC’s own past corruption.

[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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Harry Targ : The Destruction of Public Institutions

Image from econoclass.com.
One by one:
On the road to
destroying public institutions
In the dystopian society the rich and powerful wish to create there will be education, health care, physical security, and a sustainable and fulfilling quality of life for those who can pay for it.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / March 26, 2013
I've traveled round this country
From shore to shining shore
It really made me wonder
The things I heard and saw
I saw the weary farmer
Plowing sod and loam
l heard the auction hammer
A knocking down his home

l saw the seaman standing
Idly by the shore
l heard the bosses saying
Got no work for you no more

I saw the weary miner
Scrubbing coal dust from his back
I heard his children crying
Got no coal to heat the shack

But the banks are made of marble
With a guard at every door
And the vaults are stuffed with silver
That the miner sweated for

I've seen my brothers working
Throughout this mighty land
l prayed we'd get together
And together make a stand

-- from “The Banks are Made of Marble,”
written by Les Rice and sung by Pete Seeger and the Weavers
Mike Pence, Indiana’s recently elected governor, published an editorial in the Lafayette Indiana Journal and Courier (March 22, 2013) proposing a 10 percent “across the board” cut in state income taxes. He claimed that this tax cut would put money back into households that can better spend it than government. State financial reserves remain flush, he said, because of the wise management of public funds of the prior governor, and now Purdue University president, Mitch Daniels, and the state legislature.

Pence defends his tax cut proposal with the old tired mantra of making the Indiana economy more competitive even though he does admit that “Indiana’s economy is still struggling... with unemployment… stubbornly above 8 percent.” Apparently, the downsizing of government, building a budget surplus, privatizing schools and highways, and giving tax breaks to the wealthier sectors of the Hoosier population have not worked so far.

Even though the 30-year campaign (since Reaganomics) to cut taxes, reduce the size of government, and privatize public services has clearly reduced rates of economic growth, increased unemployment, cut real wages, and made access to health care and education less affordable for more Americans, the Daniels/Pence-type economic programs are being expanded in virtually all the “red” states and most of the “blue” ones. The pressure to impose economic austerity has profoundly affected conflicts over federal policies as well.

The gridlock over economic policy at the national level and states where control of the government is shared by the two parties is driven by debates between so-called Keynesians, who support “mixed” state/ market policies, versus Hayek/Friedman supporters who believe, as former President Reagan declared, “government is not the solution, government is the problem.”

However, beyond the debate about economic theory is a sustained, well-funded campaign by the Koch Brothers, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), conservative and even liberal think tanks, and most politicians to destroy public institutions that masses of working people have struggled to construct since the industrial revolution. These include libraries, public schools, parks, roads, mail service and other forms of communication, social safety nets for the needy, and the guarantee through public institutional scrutiny basic rights-to vote, to form trade unions, to have safe work places, to be secure in one’s home and on the streets. Governments even were assigned the tasks of research and development to promote the common good and improve the physical and social quality of life.

All of these services were demanded by the vast majority of Americans because they knew that such tasks could not be done individually. All of these benefits provided by public institutions are in danger of being destroyed by the tax cutters, the privatizers, and the deregulators such as reflected over the last decade in policies instituted by governors and legislatures in states like Indiana.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) issued a report last week on the devastating consequences of these policy shifts on one public sector, higher education (“Recent Deep State Higher Education Cuts May Harm Students and the Economy for Years To Come”). One example has been the 28 percent cut per student in state expenditures on higher education over the last five years in all 50 states. Eleven states cut their support for higher education by more than one-third. In Governor Daniels’ Indiana higher education funding declined by 17.2 percent between fiscal year 2008 and 2013 ($1,240 per student).

CBPP pointed out that these cuts in public support for higher education have dramatic negative consequences. “States (and to a lesser extent localities) provide 53 percent of the revenue that can be used to support instruction at these schools. When this funding is cut, colleges and universities generally must either reduce spending, raise tuition to cover the gap, or both.”

In response to declining state support for higher education, tuition increases since 2007-2008 have exceeded 27 percent nationally. (In Indiana tuition has risen by 15.1 percent or $1,142 per student). Many colleges and universities have cut teaching staff, increased class size, reduced course and program offerings, shut down computer and library facilities, and eliminated branch campuses.

Debates abound in state legislatures about the impacts of recession on public financing of higher education. Legitimate arguments are raised about the pattern of bloated and unnecessary administrative expansion in colleges and universities and administrative salaries that are extraordinarily out of line with the norms of public service.

But there is a deeper meaning to the CBPP report, the Pence-proposed tax cuts, and the downsizing of support for public-supported higher education. That is, powerful economic and political actors, representing what the Occupy Movement called the one percent and their allies among traditional conservatives and right-wing populists, are on a campaign to destroy public institutions which for the most part serve the interests of the vast majority of the population of the United States.

In the dystopian society the rich and powerful wish to create there will be education, health care, physical security, and a sustainable and fulfilling quality of life for those who can pay for it but for the rest of us, the 99 percent, life will become harsh and painful. More and more it is becoming clear that politics must be about saving those public institutions that workers, women, people of color, marginalized peoples of all kinds struggled for a long time to secure and are now in danger of losing.

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

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