31 July 2013

Lamar W. Hankins : Alcoholics Anonymous, Nonbelievers, and the Constitution

Alcoholics Anonymous "praying hands" medallion. Image from Alternatives in Treatment.
Alcoholics Anonymous, nonbelievers, 
and the Constitution
AA proponents argue that the 'higher power' found in its steps can be whatever one wants it to be. Yet plainly religious practices go on at AA meetings, such as prayer, scripture-quoting, and the crediting of a supernatural 'higher power.'
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / August 1, 2013

Every day, courts throughout the country require people placed on probation for alcohol-related offenses to attend 12-step treatment programs. Often, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is specifically named as the program they must attend, and a probationer may be required to attend one AA meeting each day for 30 days or more.

This raises two important questions: 1) Is AA a religion-based program? 2) If so, does it violate the First Amendment rights of probationers to require attendance at AA meetings?

Since 1996, at least 12 federal district and appellate courts have found that AA is religion-based. Thus, mandatory attendance at AA meetings as a condition of probation (or parole) violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Of course, if there is a secular program that serves the same purpose as AA, attendance at that program can be made mandatory because no Establishment Clause problem affects secular programs. But no other alcohol recovery program of which I am aware provides as many meetings as does AA. With over 100,000 meetings worldwide and nearly 2 million members, all other programs are dwarfed by AA.

I do not oppose AA. Many of my friends, relatives, acquaintances, and clients benefit from AA. But I have also known people who find AA meetings that emphasize religion or religious practices unacceptable, preventing them from benefiting from the program.

Not all AA meetings are the same, though it is probably fair to say that most AA groups include religion in their meetings. Some people who reject religion are able occasionally to find a group that has a more secular approach that is not offensive to their core beliefs.

But every one of the 12 federal courts and one state court that I have found that has ruled for the record on this issue has held that AA is religious-based and that offenders cannot be constitutionally compelled to attend AA meetings.

There is irony in this situation. AA is widely acknowledged as founded by Bill Wilson (Bill W. in AA parlance) and Bob Smith, but others joined them in creating what is arguably the most successful self-help program to help alcoholics overcome (or at least manage) their problems with alcohol.

Bill W. wrote the first version of the 12 Steps that at least 10 people began using in 1938 to get and stay sober. But two members of the group, Jim Burwell and Hank Parkhurst, objected to the emphasis on faith, religion, and religious practice they encountered when they began to attend meetings.

Wilson reported in “The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” that Burwell said in their first encounter, “I can’t stand this God stuff! It’s a lot of malarkey for weak folks. The group doesn’t need it and I won’t have it. To hell with it.”

Burwell could not accept the idea of Christian redemption that most of the group was preaching. When Burwell started to drink again a few months later, the members of the group turned against him and refused to help him again. After Burwell regained his sobriety and would not stop attending the meetings, the group once again accepted him in spite of his anti-religion attitude.

Wilson initially refused to change any of the ideas he had enunciated in “The 12 Steps,” which he wrote on a scratch pad in pencil in May 1938. But Burwell and Parkhurst would not go along with the use of the word God in the original draft. They represented 20% of the original group and Wilson did not want to lose them, so he relented.

As Susan Cheever, a columnist for The Fix recently explained:
Finally a compromise was reached, and four key changes in the document were agreed to. In Step Two, “a Power greater than ourselves” replaced “God.” In Steps Three and Eleven, the single word “God” was qualified by the addition of “as we understood Him.” “On our knees” was cut from Step Seven. And the sentence “Here are the steps we took which are suggested as a Program of Recovery” was added to introduce all the Steps; they were being offered as “suggestions” rather than imposed as “rules.”

It was Jimmy Burwell’s uncompromising stance against religion that initially forced Alcoholics Anonymous into the tolerant, open and welcoming group that has helped more than two million believers, agnostics and atheists. It was Burwell and Parkhurst who bridled at Bill’s original “God”-centered Step Three and pestered the group into the all inclusive revision, “God as we understood Him.” And it was Burwell whose “bad behavior” was the foundation of the Third Tradition in which the only requirement listed for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
After at least 100 men were participating in AA, Wilson began dictating what became known as “The Big Book,” which was edited and revised by all who were then participating in the program. Burwell later became the unofficial archivist for AA, though his secular views never changed. Burwell retained his sobriety until his death at age 76 in 1974.

In 1941, Jack Alexander wrote an article about AA for the Saturday Evening Post, which established the program as what Cheever calls “a serious and effective option for alcoholic treatment.” Cheever summed up Wilson’s attitude toward Burwell and Parkhurst:
In “Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age,” Bill Wilson paid tribute to Burwell, Parkhurst and the changes they forced in AA’s principles: “This was the great contribution of our atheists and agnostics. They had widened our gateway so that all who suffer might pass through, regardless of their belief or lack of belief.”
Any AA group that is intolerant of atheists, agnostics, and religious nonbelievers fails to appreciate the history of AA and has too narrow a view of what makes AA successful. From my observations over the years, I have concluded that it is the assistance that members provide to one another that makes AA work. Each member helps others stay sober and, in turn, is helped.

The best AA programs provide a form of cognitive behavior therapy in which participants look at themselves honestly and openly, identifying the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that cause them problems. With the help of one another, members find ways to avoid their dysfunctional feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

Psychologists and psychotherapists might suggest journaling, role-playing, relaxation techniques, and mental distractions as coping strategies. In the best AA programs, members practice these or similar strategies, including having someone available day or night to provide support.

The “Serenity Prayer” that is a part of AA (“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”) recognizes what writer and psychology educator Kendra Cherry says is the purpose of cognitive therapy: “The goal of cognitive behavior therapy is to teach patients that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with things in their environment.”

AA would appeal more to atheists, agnostics, and other nonbelievers if AA would make a conscious effort to be more inclusive. When that doesn’t happen, secular alternatives in some communities can serve the non-religious population, but their meetings are not as available to most people as are AA’s meetings.

Among secular alternatives to AA are Life Ring, which has one meeting in Texas, in Austin; Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) has meetings in about 30 towns and cities in Texas, including Austin and Lockhart in Central Texas; Smart Recovery has no meetings in Texas; Women for Sobriety has an office in Pennsylvania, but no meeting information on its website; Rational Recovery has one meeting location in California and one in Iowa.

In contrast, even in most small towns, one can find several AA meetings to attend every week.

Many AA proponents argue that the “higher power” found in its steps can be whatever one wants it to be. Yet plainly religious practices go on at AA meetings, such as prayer, scripture-quoting, and the crediting of a supernatural “higher power” for what is obviously a result of intensive support by the AA community.

I’m glad AA exists for those who need, want, and benefit from it. But we need other alternatives for those whose beliefs don’t harmonize with AA practices.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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EXTRA : Rag Blog Editor Dreyer Does it in Public this Friday!

Poster art by James Retherford / The Rag Blog. The banner, designed by famed comix artist Gilbert Shelton, is from the original Rag, Austin's legendary underground newspaper published from 1966-1977.
Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer 
just keeps getting older!
"Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional." -- Chili Davis, hitting coach, Oakland Athletics
From the Rag Blog Society Desk / July 31, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas -- In Austin? Or can you get here fast?

Rag Blog editor/Rag Radio host Thorne Dreyer is having another birthday, and he's doing it in public!

Please join us for Dreyer's 68th birthday party this Friday, August 2, 6-9 p.m., at Maria's Taco Xpress, 2529 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, Texas. Maria's has a full bar and Tex-Mex menu, and Leeann Atherton performs on the patio at 7. (Find the party on Facebook.)

(Dreyer's birthday is really August 1st, but cut the old guy some slack: he gets confused!)

No gifts, but a small donation to the New Journalism Project -- the Texas 501(c)3 nonprofit that publishes The Rag Blog -- would be welcome. If you can't come, here's the link to donate.

Baseball's Chili Davis famously said: "Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional."

Don't grow up! Come party with us Friday.

The Rag Blog

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30 July 2013

RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : Prof Jay D. Jurie & Texas NAACP Pres Gary Bledsoe on Trayvon Martin

Central Florida Prof. Jay D. Jurie, left, and Gary Bledsoe, president, Texas NAACP.
Rag Radio podcast:
The Rag Blog's Jay D. Jurie and
Austin attorney Gary Bledsoe
on the legacy of Trayvon Martin
They discuss the trial, racial profiling, the 'stand your ground' laws and gun violence in America, the movement that has grown up in response to the Zimmerman verdict, and President Obama's call for a 'conversation' about race in America.
By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / July 31, 2013

Jay D. Jurie, who teaches at the University of Central Florida in Sanford, and Austin attorney Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas NAACP, discuss issues related to the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman on Rag Radio, Friday, July 26, 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 this episode of Rag Radio here:

On the show, Jurie and Bledsoe discuss the killing of Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman with host Thorne Dreyer. They also address related issues including racial profiling, the "stand your ground" laws and gun violence in America, the movement that has grown up in response to the Zimmerman verdict, and President Obama's call for a "conversation" about race in America.

The NAACP's Gary Bledsoe in the studios of KOOP-FM, Austin, Texas, Friday, July 26, 2013. Photo by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.
Jurie, who lives and teaches in Sanford, Florida, site of the killing and the trial, talks about the nature of the community and the history of racism in the area, and Bledsoe also discusses the role played by the NAACP in Florida, Texas, and nationally.

Jay D. Jurie, Ph.D. is an associate professor of public administration and urban and regional planning at the University of Central Florida. Jay, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, is a veteran of SDS at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has long advocated public policies that promote social and environmental justice and economic democracy.

His Rag Blog article, “Trayvon Martin’s Fatal Shortcut," has been chosen to appear in a special edition of ProudFlesh: New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics and Consciousness. His more recent article, "'Approved Killing' in Florida," addresses parallels between the Trayvon Martin killing and the murder of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, in 1955.

Jay Jurie, third row, at race relations meeting in Sanford, Florida, Oct. 2, 2012
Gary Bledsoe is president of the Texas NAACP, a position he has held since 1991. An Austin attorney who specializes in public interest, employment, and civil rights law, Bledsoe has been a member of the National Board of the NAACP since 2003, and currently chairs the organization’s National Criminal Justice Committee.

Bledsoe earned a Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the University of Texas School of Law, where he was class president in 1976. Gary Bledsoe has received “lawyer of the year” awards from the Texas Attorney General, the Travis County Bar Association, the Austin and national NAACP, and the Austin Area Urban League.

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:
THIS FRIDAY, August 2, 2013: Linda Litowsky
and Stefan Wray of ChannelAustin on the historic significance of public access television.
Friday, August 9, 2013: We continue our discussion with sociologist, author, and New Left pioneer Todd Gitlin.

The Rag Blog

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BOOKS / Ron Jacobs : Crary's '24/7': Wake Up Little Susie!

Wake up little Susie:
We’re in trouble deep
Crary's book provides a historical survey of capitalism’s growing encroachment on individual human life.
By Ron Jacobs / The Rag Blog / July 30, 2013

[24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary (2013: Verso); 144 pp; $16.95.]

Most of us are familiar with the fact that the global financial markets run 24 hours a day and seven days a week with just a few exceptions. This is due in part to the incredible improvements in technology which have enabled trading to occur at rocket speed and across national borders. Also important in this scenario is the loosening of laws restricting financial trading to domestic markets.

The combination of these phenomena has helped create a world where the machinations of capital never stop, with the consequence that the insecurity natural to capitalism is enhanced exponentially. Economies are more fragile, jobs more temporary, and working people’s lives even less meaningful.

The only members of the capitalist economy and society that benefits in both the short and long term are those at the top: the executives at financial houses, corporations, and media outlets and those entities’ owners.

A new book simply titled 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, addresses this latest modification of the capitalist world. The author, Jonathan Crary, begins his essay with a description of some ongoing attempts by scientists and military services to create a medication that eliminates the need for sleep from the human body.

Unlike amphetamine-type drugs, which wear one’s body out by keeping it going beyond its natural ability, these drugs would just eliminate the need for the body to rest. Not only would this create an ideal soldier (hence the military’s participation in the research) it would also create the ideal worker, whether that worker is a well-paid trader at the NYSE or an assembler on a factory floor in China.

Crary moves past his anecdote to examine the relationship between regulated time and capitalism. He explains how once time was mechanized capitalism was also bound to come along. Or was it the other way around?

Chicken and egg questions aside, it can be safely stated that capitalism has certainly decided how we spend our time since it began to dominate our lives and how we perceive them. Given this fact, Crary continues his discussion of sleep, stating that it may be the only bodily function that modern capital cannot colonize. Indeed, it may be the only aspect left in modern society’s daily routine that can truly be considered part of what philosopher Hannah Arendt called the private sphere.

Arendt is but one of the twentieth century philosophers Crary refers to in this intelligent and intriguing discussion of how modern monopoly capitalism insinuates itself into the most intimate aspects of our lives. Another is the Frankfurt School essayist and New Left thinker Herbert Marcuse, who wrote extensively on the nature of freedom in modern society and was among the first to conclude that the modern capitalist economy had taken away our freedom and replaced it with a freedom of choice between different consumer goods that were in reality essentially the same product.

 Besides philosophers, Crary introduces the reader to filmmakers and artists and his particular perception of their works in relation to the ever-increasing commodification of our time and the subsequent loss of independence the modern citizen has experienced. He also examines the increasing use of medicinal sleeping aids and their relation to the 24/7 capitalist express.

Tangentially, he discusses the current pharmaceutical determination to designate every human psychology that differs from what is good for that express as outside the norm and therefore requiring some kind of pharmaceutical solution.

24/7 is a masterful exploration of the place of human individuals and their dreams, and the future of the species in today's age of nonstop neoliberal capitalism and its multitude of manifestations. The text provides a historical survey of capitalism’s growing encroachment on individual human life and the reasons this occurs, yet emphasizes the current scenario where that encroachment has increased in a manner previously impossible, but now matter of course thanks to today’s technological advances.

While a philosophical treatise, it rarely wanders into a verbal density that would render it unreadable. In other words, it definitely will not put the reader to sleep.

[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.]

The Rag Blog

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Alan Waldman: ‘Not Going Out’ is an Extremely Funny British TV Sitcom

Waldman's film and TV
treasures you may have missed:
Brilliant Lee Mack writes and stars in this truly wacky, unpredictable series.
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / July 30, 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.]

Not Going Out, starring and written or co-written by standup comic Lee Mack, is a side-splitting Britcom series which has aired 44 episodes since 2006. A seventh season and two Christmas specials are coming, and Mack is talking about a film version and a live show.

It won “Best Sitcom” at the 2007 Swiss Rose d’Or Light Entertainment Festival, a 2007 Royal Television Society Award for Mack, and 2007 British Comedy Award nominations for “Best New Comedy” and “Best TV Comedy Actor” (Mack). More than 91.5% of viewers who rated it at imdb.com gave it “thumbs up,” and 28.9% gave it 10 out of 10.

The highest-rated episode (at imdb.com) is this very funny one. The series has been sold to 120 countries.

Lee plays a thirtysomething slacker who lives in a flat in London’s Docklands neighborhood and spends most of his time on his couch or hanging out in the local pub with his best friend Tim (Tim Vine). What gets him off his couch are his attempts to impress his attractive female roommate/landlady (Megan Dodds in Season 1 and Sally Bretton thereafter). Two hilariously dim characters are his cleaning lady (Miranda Hart, who now stars in the spinoff series Miranda) and Tim’s girlfriend Daisy (Katy Wix).

A lot of Not Going Out’s humor is based on word play and double entendres, delivered in a deadpan manner, which is the comedy style Mack and Vine have both used in stand-up acts.

Season 1 is on Netflix now, Season 2 is coming, and all episodes are on YouTube. I enthusiastically urge you to sample the episode linked to above. My wife and I saw it last week -- and howled with mirth.

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

The Rag Blog

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29 July 2013

Tom Hayden : Secrecy Protests Split American Elites

Image from ElectronicFrontierFoundation / Flickr.
Protests against secrecy
drive elites into debate
A virtual empire composed of distant and interconnected private and public elites contradicts representative democracy as virtually all Americans understand it.
By Tom Hayden / The Rag Blog / July 29, 2013

Concerned citizens need to crack open the covers of C. Wright Mills' The Power Elite [1956] as the curtains are being ripped back from the new Surveillance State by whistleblowers, investigative reporters, and civil liberties lawyers.

Mills' classic book needs revision in light of the expanded use of technology but his survey of power is unrivaled to this day.

According to Mills' detailed research, the power elite was composed of the military and corporate hierarchies in combination with the executive branch of the state. Congress, he concluded, was relegated to the "middle levels" of power, except for the cooptation of the top leadership of both parties when needed to ratify executive decisions.

We saw this revealed in the extraordinary approval of the Wall Street bailout in 2008. We have seen the role of the elite on the Libya war, the cyber-attacks on Iran, the Long War's counterterrorism policy, and the implementation of the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force [AUMF].

It has been revealed that a secret and virtually parallel constitution has been written by the FISA Court in order to "legalize" this expanding power of the elite to obtain Big Data on the lives of ordinary citizens. The result, according to the New York Times' Eric Lichtblau is "almost a parallel supreme court." [NYT, July 6].

It is further revealed that the secret surveillance court known as FISA has been shaped by right-wing U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. The FISA appointees therefore are "more likely to defer to government arguments that domestic spying programs are necessary." [Charles Savage, NYT, July 26]

In terms of the global economy, the secret negotiations of pro-corporate "trade" agreements with Europe and the Pacific Rim would complete the design of "the new world order" established largely beyond the reach of local, state, and congressional officials, not to mention unions and human rights groups [except for official "democracy promotion" programs aimed at Cuba, Venezuela, etc.].

A virtual empire composed of distant and interconnected private and public elites contradicts representative democracy as virtually all Americans understand it. Participatory democracy, as envisioned by John Dewey, Mills and the 1962 Port Huron Statement of SDS is contained, suppressed or, as during the 60s movements and today's Occupy struggle, appears occasionally as an oppositional uprising on the streets, the Internet, or the defiant actions of whistleblowers.

Thankfully, participatory democracy, even while sidelined, prevents total control by the power elite and at times causes contagious chain reactions. The state is the Titanic, public opposition the iceberg.

Opposition has been rising from the margins. Only 28 percent of Americans think Afghanistan is a war worth fighting, a percentage that likely will continue to drop, in nothing less than a public withdrawal from the official agenda. Nor is there popular support for U.S. intervention in Egypt or going to war with Iran. Popular opposition to the drone war is on the rise too.

The more the public learns about Big Brother obtaining Big Data, the more the public is troubled. What Mills called civil society, and which he hoped would become a live "democracy of publics," continues to boil up like a populist geyser.

But this opposition can only rise and flame out, unless the big institutions -- the Congress, courts, mainstream journalism -- are moved and divided in response to the simmerings. One of Mills' blind spots, since he wrote in the mid-50s, was the role that a "new Left" might play in challenging those institutions, since the Left in the 50s had been crushed by McCarthyism at home and Khrushev's revelations about the Soviet Union's internal repression.

At the first stirrings of protest by what Mills called "the young intelligencia" -- the Cuban revolution, the Aldermaston anti-nuclear marches, the black student sit-in movement -- Mills dashed off an enthusiastic "Letter to the New Left"... Then he died of a heart attack in 1962, one month before the Port Huron conference.

What we discovered in the Sixties, and what remains true today, is that effective grassroots protest can influence the institutions of power where those institutions depend on public support or consent. Differences between the "inside" and "outside" tend to blur when the outsiders become strong enough and enough insiders accept the need for reform.

This is what accounts for the remarkable 205-217 protest vote in the Republican-controlled House this week against the National Security Agency's secret collection of private phone call data. The battle was between the bipartisan Congressional establishment, backing the Obama/NSA program, and dissident House members from the libertarian Right and the civil liberties Liberals. The same fight may continue on the Senate floor if Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden teams up with Tea Party Sen. Rand Paul.

In part the drama was simply staged. Republican leader John Boehner surely could have rounded up the few votes needed to spike the NSA program. An identical scenario played out during the House debate on the Libyan war in 2011, when a near-majority voted to impose the War Powers Act against the will of the national security elite.

In both cases, the House establishment led by Boehner had no choice but to let their dissident members vent, in response to their district's public opinion, before blowing the whistle and herding most of them them back to business as usual.

While the drama last week illustrated Mills' thesis that the Congress has declined to a "middle level" of power, it also was a sign of how suspicion and critical public opinion can make it difficult for the power elite to secure its position.

When a constitutional crisis in the Sixties divided the executive and legislative branches, conservative intellectuals like Harvard's Samuel Huntington were condemning the "excess of democracy." Not long after, Lewis Powell wrote his famous memo outlining a secret strategy to reestablish corporate power over the state in the face of popular movement.

Here is a brief list of what had happened as a result of those "democratic excesses" (read: social movements taking matters into our own hands):
  • The U.S. was defeated embarrassingly in the Indochina wars;
  • Richard Nixon was driven from office for unconstitutional schemes to shut down whistleblowers [Ellsberg-Russo], jail anti-war and anti-racism "conspirators" (Chicago Eight, Harrisburg and Gainesville anti-war trials, Black Panther trials in New York and New Haven, etc.).
  • Most important for today's crisis, the Congress passed the War Powers Resolution to rein in the imperial presidency, and held extensive hearings on domestic spying and counterintelligence operations by the CIA and FBI.
As a result of those protests and hearings led by Sen. Frank Church, in which the NSA's spying on 75,000 Americans was revealed, the present Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA] was written and the Congressional intelligence committees were created. As "reforms."

After a significant run of some 40 years, in which vast conservative countermovements arose to block the progress of the Sixties (leading to the Reagan, Nixon, and Bush-Cheney eras), those 1975 reforms have run their course and need to be sent back to Congress for repairs.

Already the Congressional leadership is scheming quietly to placate the current opposition with reformist tinkering. Superficial reform, however, is unlikely to placate an opposition which now stretches from Congress to The New York Times and FOX News to the passionate supporters of Pfc. Bradley Manning.

While most of the public holds a Washington-centric picture of the unfolding conflict, it is important to realize that the underlying cause of the rift has been the skeptical resistance of many Americans, whether expressed in public opinion surveys or persistent grassroots protest.

If one looks at the electoral map, the chief Congressional opponents of the new surveillance state are from either progressive constituencies (Senators Wyden and Merkley from Oregon, Udall from Colorado, Conyers from Michigan, Nadler from Brooklyn, Sanders and Welch from Vermont, or from libertarian Tea Party enclaves where the John Birch Society once considered Dwight Eisenhower a communist and today believe that Obama is far worse).

Mills was prescient on one further point: that the power elite would attempt to globalize. Even at the height of the Cold War, Mills predicted a bureaucratic "convergence" between the two superpowers resulting in a bipolar dominance over other nations or blocs. The policy result of this convergence would become known as "detente," and was opposedby the Non-Aligned bloc of the Third World.

Detente eventually collapsed under pressure from those on the Right who demanded "rollback." But the "convergence" agenda may be reappearing between Obama's America and Putin's Russia, as illustrated in the quandary over the status of Edward Snowden.

Obama is threatening to derail the planned September summit with the Russians if Snowden is given protection in Moscow. Putin, angered by the U.S. role in Syria and Iran, is moving towards rapprochement with China but is clearly uncomfortable with giving protection to Snowden if it means a crisis with the US.

By contrast, at least three countries in the Third World -- Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia -- are offering refuge to Snowden despite threats from the State Department, and Ecuador already is protecting Julian Assange in its London consulate.

Since Obama is unlikely to back down, the question is whether Putin will embrace Snowden instead of additional "convergence" with the U.S. To Putin's left are Russians who want him to stand up for Russian sovereignty. And to Obama's right, of course, the entire Republican Party opposes "convergence"with Moscow and is hoping to undermine Obama's proposed nuclear arms agreement.

It's complicated. But the best map of power relations remains the one charted by Mills in 1956. The power elite can be divided in its quest for a new world order. Social and revolutionary movements contribute to causing those divisions. Unity between the outside movements and the more moderate elements of the elite can lead to significant shifts of power and policy, at least for a time.

One presidential election or one Supreme Court appointment can make a critical difference. So can contradictory populist movements of the Right and Left, when and if they unite. The revolts initiated by either anarchists and libertarians, or both, lead to crisis and reform, sometimes to the disappointment of the original catalysts. We are in such a time.

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

The Rag Blog

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HISTORY / Bob Feldman : A People's History of Egypt, Part 4, 1849-1879

Building the Suez Canal. Image from Modern School.
A people's history:
The movement to democratize Egypt
Part 4: 1849-1879 period -- From free trade and the Suez Canal to bankruptcy and austerity
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / July 29, 2013

[With all the dramatic activity in Egypt, Bob Feldman's Rag Blog "people's history" series, "The Movement to Democratize Egypt," could not be more timely. Also see Feldman's "hidden history" of Texas series on The Rag Blog.]

In 1841 the sultan of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire had “bestowed the hereditary rule of Egypt on Muhammad Ali and his family,” according to Jason Thompson’s History of Egypt. A grandson of Muhammad Ali, Pasha Abbas Hilmy I, succeeded Muhammad Ali as Egypt’s ruler between 1848 and July 1854 -- at which time Abbas Hilmy I was murdered by two of his slaves.

But during his six years as pasha, Abbas Hilmy I “closed the country’s factories and secular schools and opened Egypt to free trade, thus retarding industrialization” of the Egyptian economy, according to The Rough Guide to Egypt.

Following the murder of Abbas Hilmy I, a son of Muhammad Ali -- Pasha Muhammad Said -- ruled Egypt between 1854 and 1863. After coming to power, Muhammad Said gave a concession to build the Suez Canal that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea to a childhood friend: a French consul and engineer named Ferdinand de Lesseps.

In exchange for granting the concession to Lesseps and agreeing to provide the Egyptian workers whose labor was required to dig the Suez Canal, Muhammad Said was awarded “personal ownership of 15 percent of the shares of the Suez Canal Company, with another 15 percent going to Egypt” and “through purchase of additional shares, Said’s stake in the company eventually rose to 44 percent,” according to A History of Egypt.

But many of the Egyptian peasants who were conscripted to dig the Suez Canal between 1859 and its completion in 1869 lost their lives while the canal was being built. As the same book recalled:
Some 20,000 peasants were conscripted every month, herded to the canal zone, and put to work. That meant that every month, 20,000 conscript laborers were on their way to the canal zone, 20,000 were actually at work there, and another 20,000 were returning to their homes, so that during the course of a year, more than 500,000 laborers were involved with the canal in one way or another, and this process continued for 10 years.

Working conditions were often horrific; sometimes men had to dig with their bare hands, paid only a pitiful allowance, with barely enough food to sustain them. Dredging machines (paid for by Egypt) were not used extensively until the final phase of work on the canal.
Estimates of how many Egyptian workers died during construction of the Suez Canal vary. According to A History of Egypt:
The number of lives lost from neglect, overwork, malnutrition, or accident has been estimated at the same number as the basic quota of workers: 20,000. Such a large continuing drain on Egyptian manpower at a time when the total population of the country was perhaps 5 million created general economic difficulties... Antislavery societies...strongly objected to what could be considered slave labor...
But according to The Palestine Book Project’s 1977 book, Our Roots Are Still Alive: The Story of the Palestinian People, “over 125,000 Egyptians...died building the canal for the British Empire,” including those Egyptian workers who died of cholera during the 10 years of construction.

After Muhammad Said’s death in 1863, another son of Muhammad Ali named Ismail -- whose status was changed from “pasha” to “khedive” by the Turkish sultan in 1866 after Ismail agreed to pay more money in tribute to the Istanbul government -- became Egypt’s ruler until 1879.

By 1865, “the value of Egyptian cotton exports had risen to a level more than ten times higher” than in 1860, after Europe’s supply of cotton from the South was cut off by the U.S. Civil war, according to A History of Egypt.

But when the value of Egyptian cotton exports decreased by 50 percent in the late 1860s, Khedive Ismail’s government borrowed heavily from mostly UK and French banks and investors to finance Khedive Ismail’s lavish palace lifestyle, his road, bridge, and railroad construction projects, the expansion of his Egyptian army from 25,000 to 120,000 troops, and his attempts to establish more Egyptian control over parts of Sudanese territory to the south of Egypt.

As a result, as the same book observed:
By the mid-1870s, Ismail was desperate. One-third of Egypt’s revenue was going to service the debt. In 1875 he sold his shares in the Suez Canal Company to Britain.....but that exhausted his assets, and his credit had reached its limit. The following year, Egypt stopped making payments on its loans. The country was bankrupt...Ismail had to agree to the formation of a European commission to manage the debt.... Two Controllers, one British and one French, oversaw collection of revenues to make debt payments... They instituted an austerity program of cuts and expenditures that caused widespread hardships…

[Egyptian] Army officers whose pay had been severely cut rioted, probably at the instigation of Ismail... He dismissed the Dual Control... But these initiatives merely convinced France and Britain that Ismail had to go... On June 25, 1879...two telegrams arrived from Istanbul... Ismail learned that he had been deposed and replaced by his 27-year-old son. It had been a fairly simple matter for Britain and France to pressure the sultan to act in the interests of those countries’ bondholders…
[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

25 July 2013

Lamar W. Hankins : Callous Republicans Emulate Scrooge Regarding Helping the Needy

Art from Sodahead.
Republicans want a country
Scrooge would have loved
Republicans are unwilling to accept that our founders viewed the collective efforts of the people, through the government, to include providing for “the general welfare.”
By Lamar W. Hankins / The Rag Blog / July 26, 2013

It seems self-evident. A person who does not have enough to eat will experience hunger. Since the Great Depression, the U.S. government has provided food assistance to people who were hungry. Although responding to hunger was not the reason the direct assistance began, the ethical underpinnings soon developed, and for three-quarters of a century Americans have recognized the societal obligation to help those who need food.

Now, however, Republicans in Congress deny a moral obligation to help those in need. Their callousness is historic: On July 11, Republicans in the House deleted the nation’s general food assistance program from the existing law that is usually called the Farm Bill.

While it is true that charitable organizations and churches have provided, and continue to provide, some food relief for those in need, their efforts fall far short of satisfying that need. Without the general food assistance program, lately known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), some 50 million Americans would be what is now called food insecure; that is, they would be hungry some of the time because they do not have adequate meals three times a day.

The history of public food assistance in the U.S. makes clear how we got to this place. Public food assistance began in the 1930s as crop support for farmers. Farm commodity prices were depressed because many people could not buy food during the Great Depression. Efforts by farmers to grow more crops to make up for the low prices pushed the prices still lower, leading to surpluses, much of which were wasted. The Congressional response to these surpluses was to make loans to farmers to allow them to store their surplus non-perishable crops until prices were better.

When farmers began defaulting on the loans, Congress allowed them to give their crops to the government, which sold them in international commerce and also made them available for distribution to those in need of food in a way that did not disrupt domestic commerce. In 1935, the first commodity distributions were authorized. The motivation for these distributions came mostly from concern about widespread malnutrition among children.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) made surplus commodities available for school lunch programs, nonprofit summer camps for children, charitable institutions, and families in need of food assistance. Later, child care centers were given commodities, the Bureau of Indian Affairs distributed food to Native Americans who were in need, and private welfare organizations provided the same assistance to the needy both within and outside the United States.

In the 1950s, all schoolchildren, without regard to their need, could buy reduced-price milk. I remember paying 4 cents for a half-pint at the school cafeteria. Those in need could get the milk at no cost.

In the 1960s, the nation began to focus more on the need, especially among children, for food assistance and less on the distribution of foodstuffs bought through the price support programs of the USDA. School breakfast programs, summer feeding programs, adult food programs, and programs to meet the food needs of the elderly were developed, mostly administered through the states. New programs aimed at helping meet the nutrition needs of pregnant women and those with infants were developed.

In more recent decades, food assistance has been directed through food banks and general feeding programs that were once known as soup kitchens. Assistance to families in the form of food stamps that could be used like money at stores to purchase groceries have been supplanted by credit cards for the same purpose.

 While concern for the nutrition of all of our citizens has become a prime factor in the increase of nutrition assistance programs, many food assistance programs continue to be related to the government’s price supports for farmers and the surplus food that farmers produce.

Since the late 1700s, soup kitchens have been generally well regarded by most people, who see them as a vital need in a civilized society, but there have always been critics who think they encourage dependency and attract undesirable people to the part of town where the services are provided.

Those criticisms continue to be heard and are part of the mean-spiritedness of today’s Republicans who feel no moral obligation to help those whose economic fortunes wax and wane with the capitalist economy. But these same Republicans now talk about waste, fraud, and abuse in these food assistance programs without much evidence to support their position.

The expanded food assistance programs of the 1960s and 1970s were severely curtailed in the early 1980s after Ronald Reagan became president. A 2002 government survey found that 90% of the then-existing food banks, 80% of the food kitchens, and all “known food rescue organizations” were created after 1981. Even Reagan’s mild Republicanism had a devastating effect on our collective responsibility to help those who were hungry.

While the private charitable efforts of the nation have taken up some of the slack created by Reagan’s cutbacks in food assistance, they have not been enough to meet the needs of people during economic downturns.

Currently, the government allocates about $105 billion for food assistance. Indiana University’s Center for Philanthropy reported that in 2005, total charitable giving in the U.S. was about $252 billion. Of that amount, less than $60 billion went to programs that included some food assistance. These figures suggest that private sector giving cannot possibly make up for the loss of federal government expenditures for food assistance.

Republicans seem to have distorted views about the amount of food assistance that is actually provided to those who need it. The SNAP program currently provides about $4.45 per day per person -- less than what most people spend on a hamburger and soft drink. As for fraud, it amounts to no more than 1% of the total, far less than Republicans would have us believe. And the fraud is not committed only by recipients. Some of that 1% in fraud is committed by food retailers who lie on their applications to be approved to participate in the program.

Most Americans support the federal government’s food assistance efforts, but the House Republicans do not reflect this broad national compassion toward people who have inadequate food resources. They are unwilling to accept that our founders viewed the collective efforts of the people, through the government, to include providing for “the general welfare.”

This point was so important to the founders’ understanding of the social contract they were creating that they provided for efforts to promote the general welfare in both the Preamble to the Constitution and in Section 8, which created the power to tax, provide for the common defense, and provide for the general welfare.

Virtually all of the Republicans voting against food assistance on July 11 support the right to life of the unborn. It is apparent that their concern for life does not extend beyond nine months of gestation.

Today’s Republicans can be fairly described much like the main character in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol before he has an epiphany. Ebenezer Scrooge has only disgust for the poor, that group that he believes the world would be better off without, thus, "decreasing the surplus population." Scrooge thinks the poor are most adequately cared for by being in prisons and workhouses, which were dismal institutions of indentured servitude and impoverishment for the destitute during his time.

Unlike Republicans, 69 percent of Americans believe the federal government should have a major role in providing food to low-income families, according to a 2012 poll by Hart Research Associates, which measures attitudes toward the poor.

But as a result of gerrymandering of congressional districts, most Americans are not fairly represented by people who share their values. In the last election, more voters chose Democrat candidates, but the House has about a 55 percent majority of Republicans. Gerrymandering is one way that the minority diminishes the voice of the majority.

Anyone who still believes that the SNAP program is too generous should live for a week spending less than $1.50 per meal. That might make a prison or workhouse look pretty good. To learn more about hunger in America, food insecurity, and the way our economy exacerbates these problems, see the new documentary A Place At the Table and view the Frontline program “Two American Families.”

Knowledge about our country and its economic system is essential to being a good citizen.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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Norman Pagett : Cheap Food, Our Grand Illusion

It takes oil, and lots of it, to move our food. Image from Center for a Liveable Future.
Cheap food, our grand illusion
We built an industrial civilization on cheap oil, but now we’ve burned it all. We only have the expensive stuff left but we continue to burn that, believing our system of cheap living can go on forever.
By Norman Pagett / The Rag Blog / July 26, 2013

We are faced with a barrage of bad news about the imminent, and inevitable, rises in the cost of basic foodstuffs. Professor Tim Benton, head of Global Food Security working group, has warned that "meat could become a luxury by 2040, because emerging middle classes in South Asia and going to affect food flows".

In everyday language, "food flow" is the nice way of saying those who can afford meat and luxury foods will buy them, while those who can’t will go without.

As Professor Benton makes brutally clear, "food is going to be competed for on a global scale and there is going to be a doubling and trebling in price of everything we need to survive."

Tesco boss Philip Clarke backed up his statements: "The end of cheap food is over because of the surge in demand. Over the long run I think food prices and the proportion of income spent on food will be going up".

Remember that bit -- the proportion of income. It’s going to be critical to your way of life.

Two years ago Oxfam issued the same clear warning: Food prices are set to double by 2030 as the population grows from its current 7 billion to eight then 9 billion. There will be a perfect storm of ecological and sociological factors.

Again, we need clarification of polite-speak: what that really means is that people will not starve to death quietly, they will fight to survive. And that is going to get nasty.

Right now, we can feed ourselves (as an average) by spending only about 10% of our income. Until the 1950s that proportion was nearer 50%

That represents our current unreality of cheap food. We have become used to spending the other 90% on housing, heat, light, clothes, and luxuries. Not only that, but our entire economic system exists on the assumption that we will be able to go on spending it, forever.

We have created an illusion of "employment."

Stop and consider that: we are all spending (spare) money to keep ourselves employed. As we come to spend more on food, there will be less to spend on other "stuff."

More clarification here: we will have to use what money we have to buy the food energy necessary to stay alive. Because our economy depends on constant spending, that shortfall is going to increase unemployment. This will be a major consequence of food price rises that must never be mentioned.

Our cheap food has been a direct product of cheap energy. At every point in our food chain we feed oil into the system: diesel in tractors, nitrate fertilizers (natural gas) on the fields to increase yields, processing and packaging, transport, the fuel in your car to go and collect it. We burn 10 calories of energy for every food calorie put on your plate.

That is why cheap food is unsustainable and why promises of "growth" by governments and economists are nonsense. The gentle warnings offered by Oxfam don’t even touch on the reality of our future because doubling and trebling of food prices won’t be matched by doubling and trebling of income.

Our book, The End of More, shows how cheap oil gave money its illusion of value. That value holds only so long as we keep finding more {cheap} oil to top up our economic system.

We built an industrial civilization on cheap oil, but now we’ve burned it all. We only have the expensive stuff left but we continue to burn that, believing our system of cheap living can go on forever.

The forecasts of those at the sharp end of food delivery may yet turn out to be optimistic.

This article was published at The End of More and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog.

[Norman Pagett is a UK-based professional technical writer and communicator, working in the engineering, building, transport, environmental, health, and food industries. He blogs at The End of More. Find more articles by Norman Pagett on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Harvey Wasserman : Fukushima Continues to Spew its Darkness

House in Fukushima. Image from ABC News.
Still on the brink:
Fukushima continues to spew its darkness
A pool containing many tons of highly radioactive used fuel is suspended 100 feet in the air... Should an earthquake or other trauma knock the pool to the ground, there’s a high likelihood the fuel rods could catch fire.
By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / July 25, 2013

Radiation leaks, steam releases, disease and death continue to spew from Fukushima and a disaster which is far from over. Its most profound threat to the global ecology -- a spent fuel fire -- is still very much with us.

The latest steam leak has raised fears around the planet. A worst-case scenario of an on-going out-of-control fission reaction was dismissed by the owners, Tokyo Electric, because they didn’t find xenon in the plume. The company says the steam likely came from rain water being vaporized by residual heat in one of  the plant’s stricken reactors.

But independent experts tend to disbelieve anything Tepco says, for good reason. Reactor Units One, Two and Three have exploded at Fukushima despite decades of official assurances that commercial atomic power plants could not explode at all. The company has been unable to clear out enough radioactive debris to allow it to put a cover over the site that might contain further airborne emissions.

Tepco has also been forced to admit that it has been leaking radioactive water into the ocean ever since the disaster began on March 11, 2011. In one instance it admitted to a 90-fold increase of Cesium in a nearby test well over a period of just three days.

Earlier this year a rat ate through electrical cables, shorting out a critical cooling system. When Tepco workers were dispatched to install metal guards to protect the cabling, they managed to short out the system yet again.

Early this month Fukushima’s former chief operator, Masao Yoshida, died of esophogeal cancer at the age of 58. Masao became a hero during the worst of the disaster by standing firm at his on-site command post as multiple explosions rocked the reactor complex. Tepco claimed his ensuing cancer and death were “unlikely” to have been caused by Fukushima’s radiation.

The impact of work in and near the reactors has become a rising concern. Critics have warned that there are not enough skilled technicians willing to sacrifice themselves at the plant. Tepco has worsened the situation by applying to open a number of its shut reactors elsewhere in Japan, straining its already depleted skilled workforce even further.

Meanwhile, a staggering 40 percent rise in thyroid irregularities among young children in the area has caused a deepening concern about widespread health impacts from Fukushima’s fallout within the general public. Because these numbers have come in just two years after the disaster, the percentage of affected children is expected to continue to rise.

And the worst fear of all remains unabated. At Unit Four, which apparently did not actually explode, the building’s structural integrity has been seriously undermined. Debate continues to rage over exactly how this happened.

But there’s no doubt that a pool containing many tons of highly radioactive used fuel is suspended 100 feet in the air, with little left to support the structure. Should an earthquake or other trauma knock the pool to the ground, there’s a high likelihood the fuel rods could catch fire.

In such an event, the radioactive emissions could be catastrophic. Intensely lethal emissions could spew for a very long time, eventually circling the globe many times, wrecking untold havoc.

The Japanese have removed two apparently unused rods from the fuel pool so far. But intense international pressure to clear out the rest of them has thus far been unsuccessful.

So while a depleted, discredited, and disorganized nuclear utility moves to restart its other reactors, its stricken units at Fukushima continue to hold the rest of us at the brink of apocalyptic terror.

This article, first published at www.progressivemagazine.com, was cross-posted to The Rag Blog.

[Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org. His Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth is at www.solartopia.org, along with Harvey Wasserman's History of the United States. His Solartopia Green Power and Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm. Read more of Harvey Wasserman's writing on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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24 July 2013

RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : Sociologist, Author, and New Left Pioneer and Critic, Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin. Photo by David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons.
Rag Radio podcast:
Sociologist, media critic, author, 
and SDS pioneer Todd Gitlin
Our discussion with the renowned scholar and author ranges from the legacy of the Port Huron Statement and Gitlin's critical take on the later days of the movement, to the role of mass media in shaping social events.
By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / July 24, 2013

Todd Gitlin, an American writer, sociologist, and media scholar -- and a pioneer of the '60s New Left and underground press movements -- was Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio, Friday, July 19, 2013, in the first of two interviews.

Our second on-air visit with Gitlin will take place on Friday, August 9. It will be broadcast live from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, Texas, and streamed live on the Internet.

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

Listen to or download this episode of Rag Radio here:

Todd Gitlin, an American writer, sociologist, communications scholar, novelist, poet, and public intellectual -- and an early president of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) -- is the author of 15 books, including Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street.

He is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in Communications at Columbia University. He holds degrees from Harvard University (mathematics), the University of Michigan (political science), and the University of California, Berkeley (sociology). He lectures frequently on culture and politics in the United States and abroad

Gitlin is on the editorial board of Dissent and is a contributing writer to Mother Jones. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and many more.

His other books, several of which have won major awards, include The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, The Whole World Is Watching, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives, and The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked by Culture Wars.

Todd Gitlin was the third president of SDS, in 1963-64, and was coordinator of the SDS Peace Research and Education Project in 1964-65, during which time he helped organize the first national demonstration against the Vietnam War and the first American demonstrations against corporate aid to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

During 1968-69, he was an editor and writer for the San Francisco Express Times, and through 1970 wrote widely for the underground press. In 2003-06, he was a member of the Board of Directors of Greenpeace USA.

On the show we discuss the lasting legacy of SDS and the Port Huron Statement; Gitlin's critiques of the '60s movement and the Left involving issues like violence -- especially in the case of the Weather Underground and later Black Panther Party -- and "identity politics"; the role of the mass media in shaping our understanding of events, including social movements; and some reflections on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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:
July 26, 2013: Sanford, FL-based political science prof Jay D. Jurie and Austin lawyer Gary Bledsoe, President of the Texas NAACP, on the consequences of the Trayvon Martin verdict.
Friday, August 2, 2013: Linda Litowsky and Stefan Wray of ChannelAustin on the historic significance of public access television.
Friday, August 9, 2013: We continue our discussion with sociologist, author, and New Left pioneer Todd Gitlin.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Kate Braun : Lammas is the Fire Festival

Honoring the First Harvest. Image from Asiya.
Honor the harvest:
Lammas is the Fire Festival

By Kate Braun / The Rag Blog / July 24, 2013
“Lord of the Harvest place your fire in me…”
Lammas, a Fire Festival also called First Harvest, Harvest Home, and Lughnasadh, may be celebrated on Wednesday, July 31, 2013, Thursday, August 1, 2013, or Friday, August 2, 2013. If at all possible, celebrate outdoors and have a fire burning.

You may use candles, or a cauldron, chiminea, barbeque pit, or grill. As long as it’s an open flame it will serve the purpose nicely. If you celebrate indoors, I recommend you include a cauldron in your table decorations and have charcoal tablets handy to ignite when your meal is concluded.

Decorations may include sickles, scythes, corn dollies, sun-wheels, bread, and fresh fruits and veggies. Use small brightly-colored notebooks and pens as placecards on your table. Your choice of colors may include red, gold, orange,yellow, bronze, citrine, gray, and green.

A pot-luck feast is most appropriate for this festival, as sharing food with others is a way to manifest prosperity in all its forms. Encourage your guests to bring whole-grain breads, locally-grown produce, summer squash, berry pies and cobblers, cornbread shaped like little ears of corn, ale, and fruit wine, and all you will need to prepare is roast lamb.

This celebration honors the harvest, honors Lord Sun, honors all grain goddesses such as Demeter and Freya. Begin your meal by asking each guest to break off a bit of bread and present it to his neighbor while saying “May you never go hungry” or “May food be always on your table” or a similar sentiment.

As your meal progresses, encourage your guests to tell or retell myths of grain goddesses, family stories about past harvest celebrations, memories of celebrating harvests. Keep the focus on the bounty of Mother Earth, the enjoyment of eating locally-grown foods, the delight in sharing food and companionship with friends. Make any toasts that seem appropriate, too.

At the conclusion of your feast ask your guests to use their notebooks and pens to write or draw symbols of whatever it is they regret from the previous 12 months. Burn these regrets in the ceremonial fire or on the charcoal tablets you ignite in your cauldron; as the smoke rises, the regrets are dissipated into the air, leaving only wisdom behind and a clear path ahead.

Any leftovers should be shared among your guests, making sure that no one takes home any of the food that person brought. If there are more leftovers than guests to take them home, it is strongly recommended to give those leftovers to the needy or the homeless.

It is considered taboo to keep your own uneaten contribution to the festivities. By sharing we generate energies that promote continuing prosperity.

[Kate Braun wrote for the original Rag Her website is www.tarotbykatebraun.com and she can be reached at kate_braun2000@yahoo.com. Read more of Kate Braun's writing on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Michael James : Pledging Allegiance in 1961

Pledging allegiance, Westport, Connecticut, 1961. Photo by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.
Pictures from the Long Haul:
Pledging allegiance in
Westport, Connecticut in 1961
Westport is where I learned to love America, where we played in fields, in woods, and on the shores of the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound.
By Michael James / The Rag Blog / July 24, 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'm back home in Connecticut, an original colony, the "Nutmeg State" turned "Constitution State."

I grew up with constant reminders of the Revolutionary War. On Red Coat Road we played "fight the British" near where real Red Coats marched to burn hat factories in Danbury.

Westport is where I learned to love America, where we played in fields, in woods, and on the shores of the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound. Its where in the late 1940s we hiked along the Wilton Road singing "John Brown's body lies a-moldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on; glory, glory hallelujah." And my town really supported the new United Nations.

My teen-dream romance comes rapidly undone one night at the beginning of the summer. That is it; young love, over and done. I spend the summer in pain, a shredded heart -- one mizzable bastard to use one of my Dad's favorite expressions.

Life goes on. I have a job at the YMCA's Camp Mahackeno. It's where artist Eric Von Schmidt (in full Indian dress) taught us about the Sioux. The Camp's Rotary Pavilion became the Downshifters Hot Rod Club garage during off-camp months, and we were there -- and upset -- when the Russians and their Sputnik machine beat us into space.

A young trumpeter, I was a Mahackeno bugle boy, blowing reveille in the morning before the Pledge of Allegiance. In the afternoon I blew taps while our beloved flag was lowered. At Camp Mahackeno I suffered major yellow-jacket abuse while trying to save the bees from a clean-up brigade with a forceful hose.

There I earned my Minnow, Fish, Flying Fish, Shark, and Porpoise badges, and grew up through the ranks: a Papoose, Hiawatha, Brave, Sachem, and CIT (counselor in training). Now I was a counselor and unit leader.

We marched our tribe through the woods to my family home on the Wilton Road. My mom Florence fixed lemonade and sandwiches. Mom (Dad didn't allow me to call her Ma) also gave me an illustrated kid's book with stories of Bre'r Rabbit, et. al. I read them to campers during rest periods.

I loved Uncle Remus, the storyteller. He took a lot of hits for being an "Uncle Tom" during the Black Power years. It's hard today to find a copy the Disney film Song of the South. In my mind he was kind and wise, and a cool old dude. I am glad I saw that flick. Bre'r Rabbit was definitely cool!

I head to Rhode Island. Not to Charlestown and the drag races of my high school years, but the Newport Jazz Festival. I'm with high school chum Don Law, his dad a C&W producer with Columbia Records. We party late into the night with Nigerian drums-of-fire-guy Babatunde Olatunji and jazz great Horace Silver.

In 1963 the cultural activities committee will bring Olatunji, his drummers, and wild Haitian (and gay) dancers to campus during Africa Week. Silver's Sunday school teacher in Norwalk turns out to be the mother of my adopted brother, body builder Jim Arden.

I look forward to heading west and back to school. I do it via a run south to Birmingham with fellow Downshifter John Willoughby. On a late summer night we hit Bristol, Virginia, and Bristol, Tennessee, and I swear the Bristol Stomp was on the radio. The tune is about a dance in another Bristol --  Pennsylvania -- and was being played nationwide.

Willoughby's mom nourishes me for a day, and then I don my sport jacket and hitchhike, mostly up US 41, back to college. Near Pulaski, Kentucky, I get a short ride in a beat up car with a group of juiced up folks, both white and black. They're having a fun time.

I am crammed into the back seat, surrounded by heat, wind, and people drinking -- a scary-reckless-ride. I do accept a hit of whiskey from their pint. A feeling of relief engulfs me when the ride is over and I get to stick out my thumb again.

Back at college I embrace it all. I enjoy debating the issues of the day: birth control, abortion, the death penalty, and the Greek fraternity-sorority system. I pledge the Phipes, a local house, home to football linemen; I resign shortly thereafter over pledging rituals, beliefs, and attitudes.

The new "beatniks" and independents take over the school paper, The Stentor, as well as control of the student government. The administration had been supportive of the Greek decline until they realized they had greater control of students through the Greek system. Civil rights, race, and the teachings of Malcolm X are now real hot topics on campus.

It's been 53 years since I headed to LFC and I only recently and happily learned that it was started by pro-abolitionist Presbyterians, and that the town was involved in the Underground Railroad.

There was a small black community in town, but very, very few blacks on campus. However, over the next few years the College seemed to make efforts to change that. Black students arrived from the East Coast, the Chicago area, and Africa. Marcia Gillespie, who went on to edit Ms. Magazine, was among them. Randy Holman, Charlie Williams, and others began to stir things up. The son of a left-leaning probation officer in Chicago, Randy was an early-on militant sparking discussion and organizing people to go hear Malcolm X in Chicago.

Joe Obuto from Kenya couldn't get a haircut; the local barber claimed not to "know how to cut a Negro's hair." That led to student action and the intervention of the Illinois Commission on Human Relations. President William Cole would end up being appointed to that Commission, and active students initiated tutorial programs in both North Chicago and Chicago during 1963 and 1964.

Early in the football season I'm in the Lake Forest Hospital with a horrible sore throat. The doc isn't going to let me out to play on Saturday, but teammate Paul Gilroy helps me climb out of the first floor window, through the pouring rain to his car, and on to the field house. Coach Hanke says I can't play without the doctor's permission; I say, "I'm playing today or not anymore."

I play a strong game in the pouring rain. We lose the game and I have terrible tonsillitis for years until Dr. Quentin Young and the Medical Committee for Human Rights arrange to sneak me into Chicago's Masonic Hospital to remove those tonsils.

After my stint at Arden Shore I have babysitting and cooking jobs that include a place to live, first for a family named Garfield (descendents of President Garfield), and then a Christian Science and banker family named Thomas where I live in the servant's quarters.

And for a time I live with one of the Herbert brothers who is a counselor in a makeshift dorm on top of the Administration building. My dad is between his producing jobs for advertising agencies and producing the Broadway hit Man of La Mancha, so these jobs are necessary to supplement my government loans.

I hitchhike back and forth between Connecticut and Lake Forest. I have a lifelong friend whom I met at college, Patrick Sturgis from Massachusetts. Later we would call him Patrix or just Trix. During our senior year we live together in an off-campus crib.

We are together in the frigid weather at Brady's Leap, the most eastern rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike, hitching home in December of 1961. Some college kids stop to pick us up on the entry ramp and are promptly busted by Ohio State Troopers for "stopping on the ramp." Taken to a nearby town, a nighttime Justice of the Peace hits us with a fine.

A few years after our time at LFC Patrix and I would run together in Chicago during our active revolutionary years, in Students for A Democratic Society (SDS), JOIN Community Union, and Rising Up Angry. We were photographed together rocking a police paddy wagon that nearly ran people over during the 1968 Democratic Convention battle at Michigan and Balbo. Later we would both have natural food joints: mine the Heartland Café in Chicago, and Patrix's, Beans and Barley in Milwaukee.

We took the same pledge of allegiance: to social justice and wholesome food.

[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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23 July 2013

Jean Trounstine : The Plight of California's Prisons

Cruel and unusual: Overcrowded California prisons. Image from TheBusySignal.com.
The plight of California's prisons:
Hunger strike, sterilization, and valley fever
While we complain of 100 degree heat and take solace in our air-conditioned homes, prisoners across the country are suffering -- and not just for their crimes.
By Jean Trounstine / The Rag Blog / July 24, 2013

It’s been two years since Governor Jerry Brown was court ordered to fix California’s ailing prisons and the situation is still life-threatening and possibly illegal.

It's been all over the papers and many bloggers are tackling the horrendous conditions in California. A prison system that in 2011 was ordered by the Supreme Court to figure out what to do with 30,000 people who because of the system's overcrowding were suffering "cruel and unusual punishment."

As Laura Gottesdiener wrote in The Huffington Post, "The state’s 140,000 inmates, jam-packed into 33 prisons only built to hold 80,000 individuals...commit suicide at double the national inmate average, experience unprecedented rates of lock-downs, receive inadequate medical treatment and sometimes live in continuous fear of violence."

In early July, the infuriating news broke that between 2006-2010, doctors who were under contract with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sterilized nearly 150 female inmates without anyone's approval. Corey G. Johnson, writing for the Center for Investigative Reporting wrote that these doctors were paid $147,460 to perform the procedure and that "at least 148 women received tubal ligations...during those five years -- and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s, according to state documents and interviews."

And it doesn't get better for prisoners, or for that matter, for any of us who care about how we treat those behind bars. California holds nearly 12,000 people in solitary confinement at a cost of over $60 million per year. The prisoners recognize that they have committed crimes but they are suffering under extreme isolation. U.S. News and World Report called these cells "living tombs."

I wrote about Massachusetts' current attempts and need to get rid of these dangerous solitary conditions recently online at Boston Magazine. And Texas prisoners have been known to die in 130 degree heat, reported The Coalition for Prisoners’ Rights, a prisoner-run newsletter.

One of the best websites about the plight of California, Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, says about the state’s Secure Housing Unit (SHU), "The cells have no windows, and no access to fresh air or sunlight. The United Nations condemns the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 days as torture, yet many people in California state prisons have been encaged in solitary for 10 to 40 years."

The hunger strike began on July 8, when more than 30,000 prisoners in 15 prisons refused meals. They are about to enter their third week. As reported on Democracy Now!, about 2,500 prisoners from across the state are still on “indefinite hunger strike,” calling for Governor Jerry Brown and the CDCR to meet their demands about the inhumane conditions they are suffering.

But as Lois Ahrens of the Real Cost of Prisons Project said in an email, California officials are trying in any way they can to discredit the strike. Brown has not been moved to act. Strikers' lawyers are not being allowed into the prisons.

Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and lead attorney representing Pelican Bay prisoners in a lawsuit challenging long-term solitary, appeared on Democracy Now!. He said
If you’re found guilty of murdering somebody in prison, you’re given a definite term, which can be no more than five years in solitary. If you, on the other hand, are simply labeled by some gang investigator as a member of some gang -- and that could be done simply because you have artwork or because you have a tattoo or because you have a birthday card from somebody who’s in a gang… -- you then are given an indefinite sentence, which can go on for years and years and years and decades.
This is not the first hunger strike for California. In 2011, over 12,000 prisoners and their family and community members participated in statewide hunger strikes protesting the inhumane conditions in solitary. The core demands for the current strike, one of the largest ever, are below, in their own words, reprinted from the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity website.
  1. End Group Punishment & Administrative Abuse
  2. Abolish the Debriefing Policy, and Modify Active/Inactive Gang Status Criteria -Perceived gang membership is one of the leading reasons for placement in solitary confinement. The practice of “debriefing,” or offering up information about fellow prisoners particularly regarding gang status, is often demanded in return for better food or release from the SHU. Debriefing puts the safety of prisoners and their families at risk, because they are then viewed as “snitches.”
  3. Comply with the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons 2006 Recommendations Regarding an End to Long-Term Solitary Confinement – [my note -- Why is this not so???]
  4. Provide Adequate and Nutritious Food –
  5. Expand and Provide Constructive Programming and Privileges for Indefinite Secure Housing Unit (SHU) Status Inmates.
While this strike rages on, another horrible plague has struck California's prisoners. Governor Brown has said that California has the greatest health care for prisoners "in the world," but San Francisco Bay View reported that over 3,300 prisoners in such facilities as Avenal and Pleasant Valley State Prison are at high risk of infection or death from a fungal infection called “valley fever.”

Since 2006, 62 behind bars in California have died from this disease which undoubtedly is related to overcrowding and other unhealthful conditions. And 80% of those contracting the illness have been African-American, reported the Bay View.

Many have joined rallies and protests and signed petitions -- all found at the websites I've mentioned above. However, while we complain of 100 degree heat and take solace in our air-conditioned homes, prisoners across the country are suffering -- and not just for their crimes.

[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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