Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Friend at TPSM Blogs Against Zombies

Go check it out. It's funny, it's a reminder to keep memory alive and the dead presidents in their graves. Go check it out at:
The Pagan Science Monitor where truth never sleeps.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Let's All Face it: The War on Christmas makes the Holidays More Fun.

Back before the ideologues of the far-right started the hype about the "War on Christmas," there was so little to laugh about during the holiday season. The holidays were a time of panic about the expense of holiday shopping, hordes of sidewalk clogging tourists, and weight gain brought on by the cookie-baking mania and excessive partying. It was easy to feel resentful as a fully secular communist Jewish type when I was struggling through the crowds at Macy's to buy holiday gifts for my secular pinko-communist Jewish friends and family, or tripping through the pine-scented streets on my way home from work.
But the very propaganda of the "War on Christmas" has given me something to be part of during the holiday season. Instead of feeling excluded, I now belong! I belong to an army of disgruntled secularizers. It's kinda fun. In fact, the "war on Christmas" and the Christian right's excesses have brought all the cranky Jews and Pagans out of the closet to celebrate the holiday in all its non-Christian glory. I used to, in respect for other people's' religious beliefs, say "Merry Christmas" quite jovially to people far and wide. Not now. Commercial culture is even catching on and giving up the holly and sleighbells. In a hip, commercial decorating magazine, I read about how I might craft my very own Festivus party.
Everywhere you look, there are people cracking jokes about this ludicrous claim that began with a bunch of Fox news hacks and wacko evangelicals. Check out the Cafe Press items on sale. Look at the battlefield photos at Flickr, and Stephen Colbert has a whole season's worth of material.

However, the fact of its absurdity doesn't make the "War on Christmas" rhetoric a mere comedy vehicle. The war-on-Christmas story is a case of first time as farce, second time as tragedy. There's something truly pathetic about the fact that some people actually believe that such a war exists, and are willing to spend their money to fund the Christian soldiers of the solstice season. Last night on the train, I chatted briefly with a trainer from my gym, and before heading back to my earphones the 12/16/06 podcast of my favorite radio show, which right then, was doing an interview with the Reverend Barry Lynn of "Americans United for the Separation of Church and State" about his new book and what the Bible actually say, I said to this dark haired, small sized New Yorker, "Happy Holidays!" After all - he might be celebrating Channukka, and I was feeling friendly. "Merry CHRISTMAS!" he responded with vehemence and a fierce teeth-bearing grin.
Since when has saying "Merry Christmas" been a way to release your aggression at unsuspecting Jews? I thought that was an EASTER tradition, for Chrissake!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Propaganda Machines Part Two

As promised, here's my second round of responses to right-wing Zionist talking points. One of these general points, applied in many situations is this one: The Arab nations want to "sweep Israel into the sea" and won't stop until they do. Thus, Israel must defend itself all the time.

3.According to Zionist history, in 1948, Israel had to defend itself against annihilation by the united force of all the Arab countries - whose primary motivation was anti-semitism. The Arab nations told the Palestinians to flee.
It is true that Israel was "born in the midst of a war with the Arabs of Palestine and the neighboring Arab states." (Shlaim, 28), but it is not clear that the motivation for this war was the hatred of Jews, nor is there any evidence to suggest that the Arab leadership issued orders to Palestinian Arabs to flee. From 1946-1947, David Ben Gurion united Zionist forces in Palestine into an army to pursue the formation of an Israeli state. In 1947, only one Arab leader supported such a Zionist state in Palestine, King Abdullah of Transjordan. The not-nearly as well organized Palestinian nationalists, a total of 4000 fighters united under the leader, al-Husayni, attacked Jewish targets in Palestine immediately following the UN decision to partition Palestine in the fall of 1947.(Pape, 65,77).
The response was as follows:
Ben Gurion's army pursued the objective of "Plan D" which was to attack Arab villages in Palestine (civilians) and thus remove Palestinians from Israel, beginning in April, 1948. In all, 350 villages were evacuated or abandoned, and 700,00 to 750,000 Palestinian refugees fled to the West Bank, to Gaza, and to Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The very worst atrocities of the war (massacres of villagers) occurred in October and November of 1948. The goal was not simply to create a new state, but a state that was ethnically pure, or at least dominated by a Jewish population. Who then, are the people with a strong case of ethnic nationalism or "tribalism"?
Another part of the Zionist version of this history regards the combined invasion of Palestine by Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which is usually portrayed by Zionists as a group that numerically overwhelmed Israel. In fact, as Avi Shlaim points out, the Israeli forces outnumbered the combined Arab military force; Arab troops numbered 25,000, Israel troops went from 65,000 to 97,441. Moreover, the war aim of the Arab nations was not the single goal of "sweeping Israel into the sea" but a complicated mix of individual national objectives.
(on 1948, see Pape, Shlaim, and Morris).

4. Modern American zionism came to its full fruition following the 1967 war, when Israel expanded its territory significantly. This war has been portrayed in Zionist history as a heroic victory over hostile forces, and a necessity for Israel to defend itself from the hostile Arab world.
In 1967, Israel faced Palestinian attacks that were supported by the Syrian government. In response, Israel's Yitzhak Rabin threatened to "overthrow the Syrian regime" (Shlaim, 236). As Egypt, under Nasser, closed off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, massed troops on the Sinai border, and asked for the UN emergency forces to be removed from the Sinai, Israel responded with an attack now known as the "six day war" during which Israel was victorious and took the following territories: the Sinai peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. This expansion of Israel's borders and its attempts to keep these territories remains the bone of contention today, and the proposal of many peace groups (including Jewish ones) is that Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. In my next post, I will go into more detail on the history of the fate of territories occupied in 1967. In general, one could say that this occupation, and effort to make it permanent, and not anti-semitism, is the real source of continuing hostility to the state of Israel.

5. Another common event used to support the hypothesis of unrelenting Arab hostility is the "Yom Kippur War" of 1973
The surprise attack on Israel by Syria and Egypt in 1973 was a response to the continued Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. In fact, it was Moshe Dayan who told Time magazine in July of 1973, "There is no more Palestine. Finished" and his policy was to move settlers into the occupied territories "won" in 1967, including the Golan Heights, which were once part of Syria, and sought an Israel whose authority extended "from the Jordan to the Suez canal." The reason that Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in October of 1973 (The surprise "Yom Kippur war") was to put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied territories.

* For all of the above references, see Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.

and that's it for now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Propaganda Machines

Once a week, my colleagues and I go out for happy hour, which is a testament to our general collegiality. Last week's happy hour, however, was marred slightly by the eruption of the Israel/Palestine question into our otherwise comradely chatter. I mentioned something about the occupation and my colleague, from across the table said," Occupation?!" as is if I had just asserted the reality of something that was in doubt. I'm not sure whether it's the insistance that I treat total propaganda as an "alternative view" or distortions and lies as "facts" or whether it's the pure racism involved in saying things like "Palestinians?" and "Occupation?" as if these were facts in question, but I was shocked and dismayed. The same colleague asked me yesterday if I knew about the group "CAMERA" which he described as a general mid-east media watch group with no political affiliation, out to give the "truth" on American news reporting from the Middle-East. "No," I said, "is it associated with AIPAC?"
"Oh, no" he responded.
The gist of his conversation was that he wanted to have a civil dialogue with me about the issues and offered to exchange information resources. This is the man who refused to read Tom Segev, on the basis that he was a "revisionist!" in the previous conversation. Finally, I had to tell him that I just didn't see the arguments he was making as an even a bit legitimate and that I couldn't have such a conversation with him on that basis at all. I said, "If you had a friend who loved Rush Limbaugh and insisted that he was telling the truth, and kept coming to you with things Rush had said, and asking you to take them seriously, wouldn't it drive you crazy?"
I could see that this hurt his feelings, and I felt bad about it, but on the other hand, he's coming to me with offensive, racist propaganda and asking me to accept it as a rational argument. If we were acquaintances in Mississippi in the 1960s, and he was talking about how inaccurate the Northern media was to depict Mississippi as a racist backwater, I'd have had to say the same thing.
Most of the time, I live in a bit of an alternative news "bubble" and unless I encounter students with very conservative views (this almost never happens where I teach) I don't often encounter right wing views, some of which seem like they are coming from another planet. In case you have the same's my report from the land of ultra-Zionist propaganda...part one.

The Right Wing Spin Machine on Israel/Palestine

1. "There are no Palestinians." This is the first departure point, and it's the one that Golda Meier made in her infamous statement, "There is no such thing as a Palestinian." Here is a web-site that promotes this point of view and a column from Ha'aretz that argues against it on this simple basis: no one gets to decide whether someone else's identity is valid or not.
* This justification for seizing other people's land is as specious as the justification used by the Puritans who came over to North America and seized Native American land on the basis that they a) didn't have the same concept of private property and farming as the Europeans and therefore couldn't make a legitimate ownership claim and b) weren't a nation in the European sense of the term.
I don't know what else to call it but racism when the basis for denying the existance of a people and their rights to stay where they are is that they are different from and therefore inferior to you. It doesn't matter whether the Palestinians have always called themselves Palestinians or not. The fact is, Israel was built on land that was inhabited by people, and the leaders of Israel expelled those people from their homes (about which, more later).
But let's see....what IS the basis of the Palestinian national identity?...It began in the 19th century, and you can find out more about it in the most serious scholarly history of it by Rashid Khalidi. For those who would claim that the Palestinians are not a "real" nation, it might be useful to think about the history of nationalism more generally. The "French" and "German" identities were also "made up" for political reasons. European historians generally agree with Benedict Anderson's description of the nation as an "imagined community" , not a biological reality.

2. The American media is biased against Israel and the Palestinians are manipulating the world media to hate Israel.
Yes, you heard it right. My colleague insisted that the liberal media couldn't be trusted in its reports from Israel. He went on to talk about CAMERA, which is not a neutral organization, which is affiliated with AIPAC, and which spends its time denying the murders of Palestinian children by the Israeli Defense forces. It does focusing on such cases as the image of Mohammed Al Duraduring the Al Aqsa intifada. In that case, the media first decided the photo was accurate, then later decided it was not. And with this one image, groups like CAMERA convince otherwise rational people that the entire record of crimes by the IDF is an elaborate Palestinian hoax. However, if you knew the big picture, you'd know this:

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Israeli security forces killed 2,038 Palestinians between 29 September 2000 and 11 May 2003. Of these, 366 (18%) were minors under the age of 18. Indeed, by the end of the second day of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the day on which Mohammed al-Dura died, 15 Palestinians had already been killed. Of these, four (27%) were minors. Besides Mohammad al-Dura, whose death was so graphically captured on video, B’Tselem reports these otherwise-invisible child casualties:

· Khaled 'Adli al-Baziyan, age 15, from Nablus, killed by Israeli security forces live gunfire to the head in Nablus/The West Bank

· Nizar Mahmud 'Abd al-'Ayedeh, age 16, from Deir 'Ammar/Ramallah, killed by Israeli security forces gunfire to the chest in Ramallah/The West Bank

· 'Iyyad Ahmad al-Khashashi, age 16, from Nablus, killed by Israeli security forces live gunfire in Nablus/The West Bank

The day after Mohammad al-Dura died, four more minors—including another 12-year-old, Samer Samir Sudki Tabanjeh—were killed by Israeli security forces.

(By comparison, B’Tselem reports that between 29 September 2000 and 11 May 2003 Palestinians killed 483 Israeli civilians and 216 Israeli security personnel, or 699 total. Of these, 92 or 13% were minors. By the end of the second day of the intifada one Israeli soldier but no Israeli civilians, and therefore no Israeli minors, had been killed. Further information is available at

That's all I can manage for now, I'll do some more responses to ultra-right Zionist talking points later in the week.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

All New Game in Town

So, the president has said he rejects the "Iraq study group solution." Condoleeza Rice says she doesn't want to make nice with Syria and Iran. According to the NY Daily News, "The White House is totally constipated," a former aide complained. "There's not enough adult leadership, and the 30-year-olds still think it's 2000 and they're riding high." SO. What IS Bush/Cheney's "secret plan" to win the war? I welcome serious attempts and satire:

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More Global Warming News

I was just checking my email for the hundreth time today, wondering what I was looking for. It must have been this link to a story from Reuters at "Truth Out" which announces that the Alps are currently undergoing the warmest winter in 1300 years.

It's not reassuring then that the proposed budget (which I have hanging on my office wall) for 2007 included cuts in environmental and energy programs. Since the last congress could not come to agreement on the 2007 budget I hope this means that the new one will be able to monkey around with it a little.

This winter should fuel (sorry, I couldn't resist) the movement to take action to slow down global warming, but the media's portrayal of the issue is making it sound as if any effort to control carbon emissions is some kind of inexcusable government interference in our "way of life." Meanwhile, the same crowd finds the Patriot Act and the rest just fine. anxiety is bubbling. For an interesting piece on the latest see Think Progress.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Freaky Friday

Last night, I was walking through the West Village with my Aunt, dodging the partying NYU students who appeared to be on a premature Spring break. As we shuffled along with jackets in hand, I wondered whether this was really the end of winter as we know it. For this reason, I was glad to see this article in New York magazine that attempts to explain the weird weather.
The current warm spell that we're experiencing can be attributed to El Nino, but the larger context for that and other changes is global warming. According to the article,
The computer models reviewed in the “Metropolitan East Coast Climate Assessment”—a 50-year prediction of New York’s changing climate, developed by nasa and Columbia University—suggest that the city will continue to heat up by as much as one degree by 2010, two degrees by 2020, and accelerate on a gentle curve until we reach as much as nine degrees warmer than now in 2100.

I remember back in the warm winter of '97 that people said "it's El Nino, not global warming," but climatologists argue that it's not an "either/or" explanation. We'll continue to have more el ninos because of global warming.
Has anyone else noticed how people keep saying hopefully, "it's really going to cool down this weekend!" and then if you look at the forecasts, it says it will be in the high forties? Sheesh, it's December and I still have time to plant hollyhocks for next year. I was already delaying Fall bulb planting by a month to fit the real temperatures, and it looks like I'm not alone.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

National Resistance Movement or Civil War?

The other day, someone from Left Spot, which is, as far as I can tell, the blog of an old friend of mine who's now part of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), argued in a comment on my last post that I shouldn't refer to what's occuring in Iraq right now as a civil war. There are others in the revolutionary socialist left who have made similar arguments, most notably ,the International Socialist Organization (ISO) which, at least the last time I checked, had been arguing that the anti-war movement should support the Iraqi resistance.
Since I'm no longer a member of any sectarian left group, I haven't been involved in such a debate for a while, but I can see the relevance of this particular seemingly far-fetched position denying that there is a civil war going on in Iraq to the US anti-war movement, and had an email exchange about it two years ago with Rahul Mahajan of Empire Notes, who certainly doesn't see the current insurgents as a group that Americans should laud as a national liberation movement. He also argues that the situation in Iraq is now a civil war, or at least close to it, commentng that: "it’s already at somewhere not too far from the level in the Lebanese or Bosnian civil wars."
I haven't seen many articles that characterize the Iraqi resistance as a "heroic national liberation movement," though there is this one which seems to be based more in the theory of resistance than the actual on-the-ground happenings in Iraq. England's Respect party also defines the current action in Iraq as such a movement.
Loretta Napoleoni, whose book may be the most detailed look into the Iraqi insurgency, describes the resistance as follows:
Beyond the myth of Zarquawi there is a much more frightening reality made up of complex forces: independent Iraqi jihadist groups that gravitate toward Al Qaeda in Iraq, Islamo-nationalist and Baath party resistance fighters opposing coalition forces; ethnic conflict among the Sunni, Shi'ites and Kurds; fully armed and active ethnic and religious militias' and an endless stream of foreign suicide bombers. This is a scenario that may well haunt Americans for decades. It is the true nature of the insurgency.

Based on what I've read from people who take the "heroic national liberation movement" line on describing the mass killings of civilians going on in Iraq, it seems like the resistance to calling it a "civil war" has to do with what this means for whether Americans support immediate withdrawl or not, and the relationship of anti-Shi'ite violence to the relationship of the Shi'ites and the US. However, with the current situation, I don't think it's safe to say that the US is simply pro-Shi'ite anymore. Also, the assumption seems to be that if we call it a "civil war" it means we have to stay there. I don't like this particular tendency in the debate, because it seems to me to deny an apparent reality in order to justify a political position, instead of basing a strategy on what's actually happening. Second, I haven't seen anyone who's in any real contact with people in Iraq take this position, which makes me think it's ill-informed. There are plenty of people who say that the Iraqis are in a civil war - and that the civil war is being provoked by the US occupation, although it would probably not end with the occupation's departure. Patrick Cockburn, whose work I linked in the last post, and more recently, Nir Rosen on Democracy Now, and Al Jazeera are perfectly capable of taking a "troops out" now position while also describing the violence in Iraq as a civil war.
But, perhaps LS and others have more to say to explain their position?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Civil War

It's distressing to read that in the midst of annual consumer hoopla over "Black Friday" that government officials in Iraq "do not believe that this is a civil war."
Juan Cole's blog has a collection of the ongoing news reports about the continuing Shiite reprisals for Sunni violence, including a translation of Muqtada Al Sadr's address demanding that Sunnis not kill Shia, not join Al Quaeda, and his continuing call for the US troops to set a time-table for withdrawl from Iraq.
Cole says...
Members of Muqtada's bloc in Parliament, such as Faleh Hasan Shanshal, have threatened to pull out of the al-Maliki government if the prime minister follows through with his plans to meet US President George W. Bush in Amman on Wednesday. Bush's spokesman say that the meeting would be held nevertheless. Why US news services feel the need to report the rest of what the spokesman said, especially fairly high up in the article, is beyond me. Nonsense such as that Iraq is not in a civil war or that the violence will be "high on the agenda" at the Amman meeting is only worthy of being ignored or derided. If Bush was able to do anything about the violence in Iraq, he wouldn't have to meet al-Maliki in the neighboring country of . . . Jordan. I think the Pentagon has concluded that Baghdad is just too dangerous and unpredictable to allow Bush to go there anymore.

If the Iraq war is our generation's Vietnam, this latest upsurge in violence may be this war's Tet Offensive - inasmuch as it reveals the true failure of the US occupation to maintain peace or stability. Patrick Cockburn was reporting three weeks ago in the London Independent that Iraq is not "on the way to civil war" but that the entire country is disintegrating and is actively in the midst of a civil war and has been for some time. In his article "Baghdad Under Seige"
he sums it up:
The scale of killing is already as bad as Bosnia at the height of the Balkans conflict. An apocalyptic scenario could well emerge - with slaughter on a massive scale. As America prepares its exit strategy, the fear in Iraq is of a genocidal conflict between the Sunni minority and the Shias in which an entire society implodes. Individual atrocities often obscure the bigger picture where:

* upwards of 1,000 Iraqis are dying violently every week;

* Shia fighters have taken over much of Baghdad; the Sunni encircle the capital;

* the Iraqi Red Crescent says 1.5 million people have fled their homes within the country;

* the Shia and Sunni militias control Iraq, not the enfeebled army or police.

In the midst of this ongoing disaster, it appears that the ever-predictable Fox news was covering something else. Now, Cheney is in Saudi Arabia, while Bush heads off to talk to Al Maliki in Jordan, and Tom Hayden, in articles at Huffington Post, says that he has documents proving that the Bush administration has been secretly negotiating with the Sunni armed resistance. None of us would put it past them to rewind the tape in Iraq to the pre-2003 war solution: ensure stability and keep the Shia out of power by ushering an appropriate Sunni "strongman" into place in the region. Alexander Cockburn puts it this way, "If some Sunni substitute for Saddam stepped up to the plate the US would welcome him and propel him into power..." However, with the carnage and dissaray we see now, "it is too late for such a course."
Who can say what the next step will be. Cockburn continues:
As Henry Kissinger said earlier this week, the war is lost. This is the man who -- if we are to believe Bob Woodward's latest narrative -- has been advising Bush and Cheney that there could be no more Vietnams, that the war in Iraq could not be lost without humiliating consequences for America's status as the number # 1 bully on the block. When Kissinger says a war is lost, you can reckon that it is.

Here is my prediction. Since Cheney is in Saudi Arabia attempting to get the US's "friends" the Saudi Wahabbis to "calm" the Iraqi Sunnis, we are going to try to create some kind of "multi-national" regional force involving the Saudis to attempt to impose order on Iraq and to keep Iran in check. The US will try to sell this group the way they sold the Taliban to us back in 1995....I just wonder where it will lead - especially given parallel efforts on the Iranian side. If a civil war isn't enough to bring on the "endtimes" maybe a regional one will be.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Trying Vietnam All Over Again

If at first you don't succeed "try, try again." This can be a nice motto for many endeavors in life, but it shouldn't be for wars, no matter what John McCainsays.
When Kerry ran for prez. in 2004 he arguedthat he would send more troops, that he wouldn't try to win "war on the cheap," and since then, others of those critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war have made similar arguments that the problem with the war is that we haven't sent in enough troops to win the war. Many in the general population, even those against the war, will say the same thing. Just last night I was talking to a bartender in Windsor Terrace (hardly a lefty neighborhood) who was as critical of US foreign policy as anyone I've met in recent years. He was going on about the US's support of the Saudis and the Shah, and talked about his hatred for the whole Bush family. And he asked me, "in one or two sentences, how do we fix the problem in Iraq?"
My answer began, "first, pull the troops out." He objected strongly and said, "the root of this whole thing is the Sunni Shia conflict," and suggested that if the troops were to come out now, Iraq would be overtaken in chaos and civil war.
I almost replied that the "send in more troops" solution hadn't' worked in Vietnam and it wouldn't work here either, until I remembered that there's a whole popular school of thoughtthat the reason that we lost the war in Vietnam was that we fought it with "one hand tied behind our back."
My students always say on the first few days of class that they think history is important because if you don't know about the past, you'll be doomed to repeat past mistakes, but I beg to differ. It's not complete ignorance about the past, but the knowledge of useful mythologies about the past that allows people to confidently reapply wrong-headed strategies in the present day.
We need people like George McGovern, with all his incapacity to win elections, to remind us that "more troops" didn't work then, and it won't work now. The US occupation is the reason for the insurgency, so if the troops are pulled out, much of the energy and support for the insurgency will disappear, making it much easier for the Iraqis to quell any remaining "sectarian violence."
If your jury's out on what the insurgency is, and what is driving it, I recommend the following reading: Christian Parenti's The Freedom and Loretta Napoleoni's Insurgent Iraq.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Scandalous Exclusion of Howie Hawkins

There are few better examples of the corporate freeze-out of the public than the Senate race in New York. The candidates are: Hillary Clinton (D), John Spencer (R) and though you wouldn't know it, Howie Hawkins (G). Hawkins is running on an anti-war position, was endorsed by anti-war candidate Jonathan Tasini as well as by Cindy Sheehan, but because Hillary Clinton refused to debate him, and because the mainstream anti-war voices have not covered or endorsed his campaign, despite his meeting all the League of Women Voters' standards for legitimate candidacy(including fundraising and poll numbers), he has received no media attention. In the progressive blogosphere, as represented by the Dailykos, his name appears only once in a diary.
Those who listen to Pacifica radio's "Democracy Now" probably know that the League of Women Voters have withdrawn their approval not only from the debates between Clinton and Spencer, but from a number of debates because of Democratic candidates refusal to appear in debates with third party anti-war candidates.

After reading just a few stories based on "man on the street" feeling about the voters who may turn out again this time around because of their disgust about the war, I'm sure that if some of those New Yorkers knew Hawkins was running, or what he stood for, they would vote for him rather than Hillary C.
New York Newsday puts it like this :
People don't turn out only for cliffhangers," said Miringoff. "They show up when they have something to say or to send a message. For Democrats in New York, it's send a message to George Bush about Iraq and they'll use the congressional races to do that.

But what message are voters who vote for Hillary Clinton sending about Iraq?
Maybe it's to "stay the course" after all, and it doesn't send a good message to the dems about 2008. I think she should be punished at the polls for the greater good, and here's why:

In 2002, Hillary Clinton, made this speech explaining why she would support Bush's resolution to use force in Iraq:

I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible. Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation. If we were to defeat this resolution or pass it with only a few Democrats, I am concerned that those who want to pretend this problem will go way with delay will oppose any UN resolution calling for unrestricted inspections. This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make -- any vote that may lead to war should be hard -- but I cast it with conviction.

In late 2005, Clinton was critical of the president and presented herself, as well as other members of congress, as being "duped" into voting for war based on faulty intelligence - despite the fact that anyone with a brain was already saying in 2002 that the Bushies were not to be trusted. However, her argument was still for war:
"It is time for the President to stop serving up platitudes and present us with a plan for finishing this war with success and honor," she said,
– not a rigid timetable that terrorists can exploit, but a public plan for winning and concluding the war. And it is past time for the President, Vice President, or anyone else associated with them to stop impugning the patriotism of their critics.

In her other, more recent positions, Clinton continues to triangulate. Like John Kerry, who blew the 2004 election because he refused to take an anti-war position, she is critical of the management of the war "on the cheap," but doesn't call for withdrawl of troops. In fact, the Democratic plan for Phased redeployment that Clinton and other milque-toast dems support does not include a meaningful time-table for withdrawl, and because it suggests little more than the "Vietnamization" strategy that Bush seems already to have put forth, does not inspire confidence in the Dems' will to truly "change course" in Iraq.
As Norm Solomon reminds us:

Tactical critiques of war management are standard ways that politicians keep wars going while they give superficial nods to voters' frustration and anger. Those kinds of rhetorical maneuvers went on for the last several years of the war in Vietnam, while the death toll mounted at the same time that polls showed most Americans had turned against the war. These days, Hillary Clinton must be very appreciative that MoveOn is helping her to finesse the war in Iraq while she continues to support it.

But, say, people, at least Hillary Clinton will be better on domestic issues than Bush. I wonder how true that really is. Medea Benjamin, who went with the "Anybody But Bush" line and cast her support to Kerry in 2004, describes how Clinton thwarted efforts of anti-war activists to be heard at a "take back America" conference, at which CODEPINK was a registered participant organization with a table and an pre-conference agreement with the organizers. Despite this, they were turned away at the door.

A few CODEPINK women did manage to get inside the breakfast, however, as they were legitimate ticket holders. Once inside, the CODEPINK women soon realized that they had been deceived about the second part of the agreement: They would not be allowed to ask the first question, or any question, because Hillary Clinton would not be fielding questions from the audience. “We were really upset that we had been lied to by Take Back America, and that there would be no space at this ‘progressive conference’ to have a dialogue with Hillary Clinton about the most critical issue of our time—the war in Iraq,” said Katie Heald, DC coordinator for CODEPINK. “We got up on our chairs holding up our hands with the peace sign, and were pulled down from the chairs. We tried to take out our banner that said “Listen Hillary: Stop Supporting the War” and it was grabbed from us. And when Hillary started talking about her Iraq strategy, criticizing Bush but not posing a solution, we shouted ‘What are YOU going to do to get us out of Iraq,’ but she ignored us.”

If anything, the complete blackout of anti-war candidates and voices from this year's political races is even worse than it was in 2004, and that may just be because the public's position has shifted so dramatically against the war that the Democrats are running scared, not just from the Republican machine, but from the true wishes of the majority of Americans.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Pimped Out at the U of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois seems determined to sacrifice its integrity for the sake of alumni dollars, which reveals that the latest controversy over the "chief and the campaign to force professors from their jobs for protesting against him, is not just another attack on the left coming from organized right-wing students, which is bad enough, but of the importance of college sports as a business that has become too high a priority at many schools. As the above article, as well as the next one shows, these sports programs often cost more money than they bring in.
I guess now it's an endless cycle, and nothing will stop the University of Illinois's Board of Trustees from getting on their knees for alumni bucks.

The story: The mascot or, as the university prefers to call it, "symbol" of the team is the Chief Illiniwek, a white student in redface, moccasins, and head-dress, who does a made-up "Indian" dance at sports half-times shows. The university, which has about 100 Native American students, has had this mascot since the 1920s. The mascot was first challenged by American Indian activists in the 1970s, but activism gained real momentum in the 1980s with the founding of the University's Native American studies program. One of the many activists who have opposed the "chief" is Charlene Teters, is featured in the movie "In Whose Honor," an excellent documentary about the impact of Native American mascots on actual Native Americans.

in 2000, faculty at Illinois resolved that the "Chief" interfered with the educational mission of the institution.
In 2001, faculty threatened to send out a letter to athletic recruits about the mascot.

In 2005, the NCAA took action and said that the Illinois team's mascot could not appear at Post-Season games and that the school could not host post-season games at all. A great move by the NCAA.

However, things are now stuck in court; the University isappealing the NCAA decision, and has reportedly attempted to pass off the trademarked symbol to the alumni association - though this didn't work.
Exasperated with the intransigence of the university, a group of faculty finally did send out a letter
to recruits, and now an angry student has created a petition calling on the professors who signed the letter to resign.
Although it seems like an odd thing to imagine that a fraternity brother's rallying of "school spirit" could actually have influence on the jobs of professors, particularly those as notable as historian David Roediger, whose name is now featured as one of the "chief villains" on the student's call to resign petition, I'm worried about the climate that we're in, given the recent skewering of Ward Churchill over his article about September 11th, and the kind of money involved in college sports programs.
When I read about the Chief Illiniwek conflict, I feel like I'm living on another planet from the rest of America. I was also horrified to read that students at the U. of Illinois, which has the largest fraternity and sorority system in the entire country, recently held a "fiesta" at which students dressed up as Mexican immigrants as a joke. As Aimee Rickmann, a graduate student who wrote the above-linked-letter to the student newspaper protesting the party pointed out, the Illinois mascot sets the tone that excuses such behavior.
People at Illinois claim that they are really "honoring" Native Americans with their chief, despite the fact that the Native American students who go to the university find it offensive. So, abstract made up Native Americans inspire "awe and reverence" in the Illini fans, but actual Native Americans are just a drag.

Reading about this "Illiniwek" symbol I was reminded of another story about Native Americans and school sports, which was not about the mascot, but about the experiences of a group of Native Americans who played highschool basketball in South Dakota, which I'd heard a few years ago on "This American Life"(key word search "high speed chase" and you'll find the episode).
Following the game, white students chased the Native American
girls, called them Prairie Niggers, and fired shots at them from their car. They didn't think they were racists either.
If the Illini, and other "Indian" mascots were really honoring Native Americans, wouldn't the culture of sports be more friendly to Native Americans, promoting actual Native American athletes? Since the people who protest the "chief" and other mascots are often Indian, and the people who chase them around, make threats and create a climate of fear at these institutions are mostly white, I would have to say that it doesn't look like these symbols are doing much in the way of increasing understanding.

But I guess it doesn't matter. For the University of Illinois, keeping the bills paid on their sports program must be more important than maintaining a university that serves as an institution for everyone in the state of Illinois. I just wonder how much more shameless this "ho" university will get.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Back to the Blog

It's been a long summer and my blogging has been infrequent, but finally, this new draft of my book is done and is going in the mail on Monday morning. That means that I'll be back to writing regularly here. It also means that my living room is now a little less cluttered than it's been for the last few months. Books are going back in the shelves, or back to the library, or to my office. Notebooks are going to be indexed and stored in boxes. Now, it's just a matter of waiting to hear back from the press's readers to see what they think of this new version. Later tonight or tomorrow morning, I'll do a regular blog post.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

American Genius,A Comedy

After we've waited so long for a new novel by Lynne Tillman whose last novel No Lease on Life pulled the skin off the Lower East Side, American Genius, A Comedy from Softskull press is now out in the stores.
All I knew about this novel before now was that it, unlike Tillman's previous works, featured very long sentences. I had no idea until just this morning, when I read the bookforum review, that the novel made skin into its leaping-off point for meditations on history and the human condition. I'm pleased to see that my Aunt (yes, we're related) has written this new novel from the point of view of a former historian (and I was just talking to her yesterday about how the worst thing about being historian must be torturous process of editing footnotes!). This current historian is now a designer, fascinated by chairs.

According to Matthew Sharpe,

Magnificently, Lynne Tillman makes skin do what Herman Melville made boats do--contain multitudes. American Genius, though less macho, belongs in the same class as Moby-Dick and Gravity's Rainbow: encyclopedic novels about America and the world. Grand and minute, elegiac and hilarious, this book will also contradict anything anyone can say about it."

If that's true, it's best to take a look for yourself. It's been excerpted in Bomb magazine, and you can read a snippet online.
It's got a web-presence already, being blogged at books are pretty and Midnight Ambulette twice, actually. Earlier this year, Dennis Cooper was celebrating Lynne Tillman Day. And a fellow in Buffalo includes the new novel on his list of books the New York Times should review in comparison with what they have reviewed, which seems to be Phillip Roth and more Phillip Roth.

I'll have more to say about it after reading it, which I will do on the plane on my way to the American Studies conference in Oakland (about which I will surely blog). What I can say for now is this: Lynne Tillman has remained true to her vision as a writer of serious literature. In a world of "Chick Lit" and navel-gazing memoirs, t's not easy to remain true to a marginalized field in which women are even more notoriously marginalized by critics who are obsessed with boys. So the comparison made in the blurbs to boy-cult author, Thomas Pyncheon, delights me.
From what I know of her work, this novel will do what others have failed at: integrate personal reflection with the weight of American history. I look forward to it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

still cute

Nine pounds and 15 ounces, and yet said his mother, "totally painless." Who is it?

it's Benji

  Posted by Picasa

News News News

My brother and his wife just had a baby last week, and here are some pictures. Isn't he cute? I've visited him once since he was born, but since then I've disappeared back into a corner covered with knee-high piles of books and similarly high stacks of spiral binders.
Every time I do a major writing project, I say to myself that I will do all the footnotes as I go along. I was slightly more responsible that way this time around, but with about 150-200 footnotes per chapter, I still am spending a lot more time than I'd like making sure that every little detail is taken care of before I put the ms in the mail. So that's why I've been absent from the blogging world. However, the end is really in sight.
* * *
But, enough about me.
In honor of Benji's arrival,and in a somewhat shameless imitation of my friend Dave over at Axis of Evel Knievel, lemme take a look at some historical coincidences. Once I've done compiling, I will whiz the data all around and make a prediction about Benji's future.

Benji was born on the anniversary of a number of important historical events: On September 28 in 48 BC, the King of Egypt assassinated Pompey of Rome, (which you might have seen on TV if you watched HBO last year.) In 1066, the Norman Conquest began. On September 28th in 1542 - Navigator Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo of Portugal arrived at what is now San Diego. In 1787, the US Congress voted to send the brand new United States Constitution (at that points sans Bill of Rights) to the states for ratification. In 1928 on that day, the United Kingdom banned marijuana, and followed up by banning medical marijuana on Sept 28, 1971. Stalin and Hitler signed their infamous pact to divide Poland on that day in 1939. In 1958, France ratified the Constitution of the fifth Republic, and its colony, Guinea declared independence.And last year on this day, Tom Delay was indicted for violating election laws by a Texas grand jury.
Little Benji celebrates his birthday along with the following famous people: Carravagio, Ethel Rosenberg, Marcello Mastroianni, Ben E. King, John Sayles,Janeane Garafalo, Mira Sorvino, Koko Taylor, Al Capp, Brigitte Bardot, and Hilary Duff.

Benji's Mom is a believer in astrology, so I think we should add that to the mix as well. According to this computer generated chart
Benji is a Libra, with Pisces rising and his moon is in Sagittarius, and will be a creative, empathic, idealistic and perfectionist guy who likes everything to be beautiful and scorns ugliness. He works well with others, likes to have a partner for projects, but also likes to "get his own way" all the time, and yet he can't always decide what that way is.

So, let's stir up all the info....

I predict that Benji will be an artist, will not smoke marijuana, will be good looking, have great taste in clothes and interior decorating and since he's social he'll throw some good parties. He'll also be interested in politics, and at some point he will either found or conquer a new country, or both. Short of a new country, he may create a little community of like-minded people with its own rules, and with a beautiful decorating scheme, of course, perhaps out West. When he chooses a partner with whom to work on this project, his sensitivity and empathy will keep him from choosing someone like either Hitler or Stalin to be his co-founder. Don't worry Mom and Dad.

And that's my prediction. If I'm still blogging in forty years or so, I'll do a follow up.

Welcome to the World Benjamin

My new nephew, Benjamin Nathan.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

War Looming?

Someone asked me if I was OK because I haven't been keeping up the blog lately. Sorry folks, school started August 30th, and I've been pretty fried by the end of the day, most days and the AM fresh hours are dedicated to proofreading and footnote chasing. The other spare minutes, when I could be blogging, I admit, have been spent frittering.
But amidst all this relatively minor business, I keep hearing somewhere in the background, on the radio perhaps, or the CNN notices that pop up in my email (no wait, that was about Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston) that we are on the threshold of war.
For thoughtful reflections on the possibility I recommend the Daniel Ellsburg's recent "reporter's notebook" in the October issue of Harper's (sorry, they don't have it up on their site). However, you can find a reference to it at Editor and Publisher along with examples of the distortion of informaiton (ie, lying) going on in the Bush admin. Here's Ellsberg's call to action:

Indeed, Ellsberg had called for insiders, such as Clarke, to come forward before the Iraq invasion, in a January 2003 interview with E&P.

Assuming Hersh’s so-far anonymous sources mean what they say -- that this is, as one puts it, 'a juggernaut that has to be stopped' -- I believe it is time for one or more of them to go beyond fragmentary leaks unaccompanied by documents. That means doing what no other active official or consultant has ever done in a timely way: what neither Richard Clarke nor I nor anyone else thought of doing until we were no longer officials, no longer had access to current documents, after bombs had fallen and thousands had died, years into a war. It means going outside executive channels, as officials with contemporary access, to expose the president’s lies and oppose his war policy publicly before the war, with unequivocal evidence from inside.

Simply resigning in silence does not meet moral or political responsibilities of officials rightly 'appalled' by the thrust of secret policy. I hope that one or more such persons will make the sober decision -- accepting sacrifice of clearance and career, and risk of prison -- to disclose comprehensive files that convey, irrefutably, official, secret estimates of costs and prospects and dangers of the military plans being considered.

What needs disclosure is the full internal controversy, the secret critiques as well as the arguments and claims of advocates of war and nuclear 'options' -- the Pentagon Papers of the Middle East. ...

The personal risks of doing this are very great. Yet they are not as great as the risks of bodies and lives we are asking daily of over 130,000 young Americans -- with many yet to join them -- in an unjust war. Our country has urgent need for comparable courage, moral and civil courage, from its public servants. They owe us the truth before the next war begins.

For people who generally know something about "what the hell is really going on"....I am turning today to Consortium News.

It seems to me that the US is in no position to expand the so-called war on terror. However, an anon commenter alerted me to this alarming rumor at Matthew Yglesias' blog. It seems crazy, but I find myself wondering "will they stop at nothing?" After all, the Bush admin has not been known for its wise caution, foresight or morality so far.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

ack! The Primaries

Perhaps I should have been blogging about the primaries BEFORE they happened, but last week, I couldn't get to my desk because a huge pile of David Yassky literature was blocking the way. Thank goodness that craven ass didn't win. Unfortunately, Jonathan Tasini got only a small proportion of the New York vote. As Tasini points out in his own dailykos diary, he was polling in numbers similar to Lamont's in Connecticut at the beginning of the primary campaign. However, Tasini's campaign got nowhere near the support or publicity that Lamont's did. Why? The only answer I can think of is fear. Progressive Democrats hate Hilary Clinton, but they don't think Tasini can win. Therefore, they didn't vote for him. So, I'm glad to see that people in other states are a little bolder than the lily-livered dems of New York.

For example, Minnesota democrats just voted for Keith Ellison. Good for them.
I don't generally follow political races outside New York (and I barely follow the New York races) but I notice that my old buddy, Keith Ellison won in Minnesota. That's good news.
I met Ellison in the mid-1990s when he was defending my friend Kieran, who'd been charged with felony assault after defending himself against a Nazi skinhead at an anti-Nazi demonstration. It was my understanding at the time that Ellison was a member of the Nation of Islam, and we had a few interesting conversations about Jewish and Black identity. He was sympathetic (as I've found many Black nationalists are) to anyone with a strong Jewish ethnic identity, and asked me if I was perplexed by the Jewish student who was testifying against Kieran. (I was - the kid seemed to feel that self-defense was just mean.)
Knowing him over the years, watching him defend young white guys who'd gotten into conflicts with neo-Nazis, I never found Ellison to be an anti-semite. In fact, because he took on at least two big felony assault cases during which he had to cross-examine pea-brained neo-Nazi boneheads, he probably knows more about anti-Semitism than most people want to. Despite this, and despite his voting record in the Minnesota stage legislature, I imagined that his involvement or association with the NOI would lead to accusations of anti-Semitism. Of course it did, but the accusations didn't stick. Plenty of other people have had the same kind of experience with Ellison that I've had, which is why they voted for him, and it's also probably why the American Jewish World, Minneapolis' mainstream Jewish newspaper, endorsed him in the primary.
The only thing I'm disappointed to see is that Ellison's taken a pretty conservative position on Israel, and even says in his campaign literature that
Iran is the leading sponsor of international terrorism as well as the major financial supporter of many radical groups that threaten moderate regimes throughout the Middle East.

The reality is, however, that taking any other position on this issue is likely to result in losing the election, especially if you are a Muslim.
Middle-East politics is not the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Keith Ellison. I knew him as a lawyer who specialized in indigent criminal defense, and as an activist around the issues concerning the urban black poor. I heard him give a great talk at a 1998 prison conference I helped organize in which he pointed out that the Minneapolis police's gang task force listed a number of Black gangs, and argued for a policy of aggressively surveilling suspected/potential gang members (ie, black teenagers), but only one white group: the "baldies," an anti-racist skinhead group that had by that time not existed for at least ten years. If they included the Aryan brotherhood or other white biker gangs, he suggested, they might be able to do something about the methamphetamine traffic in the area. Of course, that was long before "meth" became a national scare.
Ellison is an engaging, open-minded fellow who defies easy stereotypes of the Black nationalist bogeyman. He had me as a guest on his radio show once with David Roediger, whose work on whiteness interested him. He also showed himself to be an all-around nice person, not a lofty activist superstar. One snowy morning I was standing at the bus-stop waiting for my ride to the U and a car drove up, it was Keith, offering me a lift to school. Of course I said yes, and on the way, for some reason, he started talking to me about how much he liked Molly Ivins. Is that what you expect the "follower of Farrakhan" to be talking about or thinking about on his morning drive? Well, he may surprise you yet.
Big ups to Minnesota for being out in front and choosing one of the few true progressives to run for congress as a Democrat.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Crimes Against History Volume II

Given this administration's propensity for varnishing, hiding and erasing "reality," if I wrote about recent history often, I could do two or three "crimes against history" entries here every day. Nonetheless, the news about ABC's recent "docu-drama" "The Path to 9/11," posted by an anonymous commenter the other day is worth its own special space in the annals of distortion.
America Blog has the basic overview of a tv show that distorts the history of 9/11 so intensely that the democratic leadership of the Senate has written a letter of outrage. In the alternate universe of conservative bloggery, David Horowitz's crowd proclaims it an "outstanding" and "epic" piece of work.
Sheldon Rampton at Firedoglake has an excellent and well-researched articlee on the propaganda piece, which gets to the bottom of some of the conservative talking points in the show's current promotion, such as the claim that some on the right are calling it Bush-bashing leftism. Not so, he indicates,

When challenged to explain why the right-wing blogosphere is abuzz with praise for the film, director David Cunningham responded that "we are also being accused of being a left wing movie that bashes Bush" — a claim for which there is absolutely no evidence. I searched Technorati for mentions of the film and found 260 references, mostly from conservative websites, every single one of which had nothing but praise for the film. And although I found numerous examples of conservative pundits and bloggers who reported seeing pre-broadcast screenings, no leftist pundits or bloggers had been given a chance to see it (unless you count’s roundup of several 9/11-themed movies).

I'll be asking my students if they watched it. My guess is that they won't have, but despite one commenter at FDL saying that "nobody's going to watch this turkey" my guess is that many will and will come away believing a lot of the inaccuracies. Most Americans don't keep up with the history of events that happened last year, much less back in the 1990s. Everyone thinks there is a "secret truth" behind 9/11. You can't go to a public event in NYC without encountering 9/11 conspiracy theorists. Believe me, people are able to incorporate both the scenes of Clinton mismanagement and Bush intentionality with no cognitive dissonance.
On a certain level...should there be? Is it the job of anti-war and anti-Bush activists to protect Clinton's treatment of Bin Laden in contrast to Bush's? After all, both Bush and Clinton are responsible for maintaining policies that antagonized people in the Middle-East, such as the US bases in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. But recognizing a long term policy continuity doesn't mean that, as the ABC show purports to show, 9/11 is just "Clinton's fault." I'm annoyed by the inconsistancy in the average right winger's view of foreign policy. There seems to be no underlying principle in any of it. Moreover, there's just no debate about the competence issue.
I do remember when Bin Laden first hit the US news, and the main thing that people were saying on the street in my mostly Somalian neighborhood at the time was, "Bin Laden is the CIA's man." Of course most of those folks got crushed during the post-9/11 crackdown because of their immigrant status and their habit of sending money home to who knows where that kind of historical memory is now.
I'd say that being suspicious is no guarantee of protection against ABC's fakery. Without a clear way of measuring various pieces of evidence, people do and will believe almost anythiing they see on television news shows or read on the internet. People are both suspicious of everything and willing to believe anything. It makes it hard to come up with a way to talk about anything real at all. All our news has a fantastical quality to it these days. What Larry Beinhart calls "Fog Facts" are around by the hundreds, but instead of paying attention to them, people are concerned instead with glimpsing whatever mystery "truth" some pr flak is handing out on the corner.
and now, time for bed.

Monday, September 04, 2006

West Indian Day Parade 2006

I was cooped up inside working for most of the weekend, but managed to make it out for the West Indian Day parade one more time. Next year, I'm going to have to figure out how to get to the pre-parade j'ouvert. It's hard to imagine an all steel pan band instead of the soundtrucks .
This time, I found a good spot, and I got some pretty good pictures. What I love about the parade, and carnval traditions in general, is the mixture of young and old. While there is obviously a focus on young ladies in beaded bikinis, there are young kids, and old gramps and grannies getting down too.
Thanks to my friend from Trinidad, who came with me to the parade last year, I even knew which stand to hit this time, and I brought a delicious smelling roti home with me for later.
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa
  Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bad News for NY Radio Listeners

Ever since Air America cancelled "Morning Sedition," a radio show that had become an essential part of my waking routine, I've listened to the station less and less and have started switching between Air America, NPR and WBAI in the morning, but mostly between WBAI and NPR. Last week the station also cancelled the popular evening show "The Majority Report," which has brought us Sam Seder one of the funnier and smarter liberal/progressive commentators out there on mainstream radio. I cancelled my subscription to Air America Premium - not a moment too soon - as there was hardly even anything left to podcast, and I resent paying a network to listen to shows that have been cancelled in my area. This week, it was announced that the management had fired Mike Malloy.
This morning I woke up and remembered, "hey it's September 1st, that means the station has made it's move to 1600 am in NY wonder whether I can get it." So, I tuned to the new station and discovered that though I could get the weaker-signaled station in my apartment, I don't know if I want to. Instead of Mark Riley or Rachel Maddow, I heard some pieces of "Sammy and Army in the Morning," the regular AM show on 1600 am. Who are they? I don't know about Sammy, but "Army" is the not-so-recently disgraced Armstrong Williams.
I checked the stream on the web, and they are still streaming the "Mark Riley" show (though Bill Crowley is sitting in) and Rachel Maddow is on the stream too, but in NY, it does not sound so good. Meanwhile, WLIB, the major Black-owned station in NY, has become an all-gospel radio station and its few regular talk shows, including Al Sharpton's "sharptalk" have all been cancelled, according to this article in the Amssterdam News. Supposedly, Sam Seder is going to replace Jerry Springer in the 9-12 slot starting September 18th, but who knows whether the new NYC station will feature the new show.
There is still WBAI to listen to, especially on Fridays when Mario Murillo still hosts the morning show, but I find many BAI shows unlistenably earnest and I am not at all interested in all the "alternative health" shows that seem to dominate the programming way too often.
I heard Bernard White speaking cheerfully of Air America's failure when I heard him talking a couple of weeks ago on "Wake Up Call" and was disappointed. I understand that the two stations are to an extent competing for listeners in NY - I certainly stopped listening to the WBAI morning show while Maron and Riley were on - but it seems like there should be enough listeners to support one seriously left community radio station like WBAI and one humorous-progressive station like Air America. WBAI is at times ideologically narrow, so Air America could appeal to a wider audience, and had something that has been seriously lacking at WBAI: a sense of humor. It also has commercials, and depends on advertising, which is, White points out, why it couldn't survive as a genuinely progressive station. I agree with his explanation of the station's move to 1600 and its continuing decline having to do with the need to maintain advertisers, but both stations have been victims of the constant anti-left carping of the corporate media. Air America's programmers could just as easily criticize WBAI for its failure to raise enough money and maintain a broad listener base.
Now that Air America is quickly disappearing as a serious competitor for progressive listeners in NY, I am wishing that WBAI would take the internal criticisms of the station as an experience for real listeners a bit more seriously. I was active in the campaign to save the station back in 2002, and was overjoyed when Wake-Up Call came back, and WBAI has initiated some new shows, particularly Michael Ratner's, that are very good, but over the last few years, I've gotten impatient with the station, especially in the morning. The constant pledge drives are a sign of trouble, and I can't stand the endless playing of archived speeches of various left-celebrities when I want to hear current news, not old-time rhetoric.
That's all for now.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Military Families in the Modern Era

Thanks to the person who posted the Boston Globe story about "flat daddy and Flat Mommy" today.
It is one of the most truly weird news items I've ever come across, but people seem to like it, at least the ones talking about it in the papers. Another modern military family issue is a new approach to helping families cope following the return of their traumatized loved ones. You can read about it here.
As I looked for more news items about this "Flat Daddy" phenomenon, I wound up at some military families websites. Those folks are quite concerned with a problem I hadn't seen much in the mainstream news (although I could have missed it): predatory lending to military families. If you'll read it, you'll discover that military families are victims of those paycheck loans that wind up costing more than the paycheck. There is currently a bill to curb some of this in the senate, and the military itself is a major sponsor of the legislation. The bill is currently in committee, having been called back by the senate banking committee (aka, the hirelings of the banks/credit card companies) who have gutted it. According to the 'Center for Responsible Lending" Press release:
Fed up with these predations, the Pentagon issued a report earlier this
month saying these predators bankrupt and ruin young soldiers. And that
wasn't all. Payday lenders are hurting the military's ability to defend the
"Predatory lending," the report said, "undermines military readiness,
harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of
fielding an all volunteer fighting force."
It called for a 36-percent ceiling on interest on payday loans to
members of the military -- the same cap many states impose in their usury
laws to ban loan sharks.
Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) then added the 36-percent cap to a
bill he introduced that had already passed the lower house of the
The bill was about to go to the floor of the Senate for a vote when the
banking committee called it back. At this point the committee had a chance
to help the people who protect this country. Instead they went AWOL: They
stripped the 36-percent interest-rate cap.
The military, hoping to get at least some protection for service
members, is supporting the watered-down bill, but still wants the
36-percent cap.
It may get that, instead, from Congress. U.S. Senators Jim Talent, a
Missouri Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, got the
36-percent cap passed in an amendment to a defense bill. While the payday
lobbyists stalk Capitol Hill, the amendment awaits its fate in a
House-Senate conference committee.

Here's an older story on the issue of predatory lending more generally, by David Sirota.

As someone who has struggled with compulsive spending and debt problems for many years, I feel a little bit like old Carry A. Nation when I read these articles about lenders hanging out around military bases looking for cash-strapped soldiers' families.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lyrics of the Week

Poor Man's House - Patti Griffin

You know you've done enough when every bone is sore
You know you've prayed enough when you don't ask any more
You know you're coming to some kind of understanding
When every dream you've dreamed has passed and you're still standing
Mama says god tends to every little skinny sheep
So count your ribs and say your prayers and get to sleep
Nothing is louder to god's ears than a poor man's sorrow
Daddy is poor today and he will be poor tomorrow

Hey that's the poor man's house
Everybody get a look at the poor man's house
Everywhere they went before must have turned them out
And now they're living in a poor man's house

There's nothing like poverty to get you into heaven
They got a lot of wine and fish up there
And the bread's unleavened
They got a lot of ears that have heard a whip go crack
Lots of missing toes and fingers and scars upon their backs
Daddy's been working too much for days and days
He doesn't eat
He never says much but I think this time it's got him beat
It isn't that he isn't strong or kind or clever
Your daddy's poor today
And he will be poor forever

Hey that's the poor man's house
Those kids are living in a poor man's house
They walk to school with the soles of their shoes worn out
And come home in the evening to the poor man's house

What are you chopping that wood for
Why are you growing that corn
Mama's sewing a brand new shirt and
You're wearing the one that's torn
I guess it's for some one else's kid who wasn't born
In a poor man's house

Hey take a look at that house
Everybody we're living in a poor man's house
Seems like everywhere we go they find us out
Find out that we've been living in a poor man's house

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On Disasters

I just got done watching the first half of Spike Lee's documentary about Hurricane Katrina, "When the Levees Broke. It's hard for me to evaluate it with any critical distance either as a movie or from a political standpoint, but it was very moving and effective at bringing back all the pain of those terrible events last year. What worked most for me was the way that Lee reconstructed the sequence of events, so that information that had come out in bits and pieces over the year were put in their proper place in time, like that conference call video that came out in March. Watching those first five long days crammed into one hour really reminded me of how long it took before the National Guard finally went into New Orleans. The only thing I would criticiz in the documentary so far is that there are very few young people who are interviewed in the film and he doesn't talk to some of the more radical community activists who were there during the storm such as Malik Rahim, Mama D., and Jordan Flaherty. The only newsreporter in part one is Soledad O'Brien. It's not as if others weren't reporting on the story as well.
I was thinking as I watched it, that it was amazing to think that since 2001, we in the US have lived through the two tragedies of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. And now, every Fall is going to have a bitter taste. I was barely able to watch television coverage of Katrina last year because those images of the dead bodies floating by in the water spoke to such a profound level of indifference.
When I look at these two events together a few things strike me. While 9/11 became the source of jingoistic American patriotism, mentioned by Bush over and over again in every speech, Katrina is rarely mentioned. The Bush administration's main response has been to make empty verbal gestures toward the disasster while busily covering up its responsibility instead of taking an active role to improve matters.
Hurricane Katrina should be like my generation's Birmingham 1963. A year ago it was a televised trauma, a shocking picture of the violence of American racism. And significant numbers of people have gone to New Orleans to help the recovery effort. But immediately after, too many were caught up in diversion and distraction, too busy discounting "conspiracy theories" about blown up levvies (an idea which Lee deals with well in the film) and looking to blame individuals, when the devastation of that hurricane was not only in total failure of Michael Brown and FEMA, but the long-term inequalities, defunding of public services, particularly for AfricanA-Americans and other racial minorities, and total indifference to environmental realities that prepared the way for the disaster. As this recent report from Stanford found, "Katrina Did Not Raise Awareness about poverty."
* * *
These realities have not gone away, and because of them the problems in New Orleans continue.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Late to Catch onto the Anxiety Index...

I guess everyone but me has heard about the manatee that's been hanging around the Chelsea Piers. It's almost as cute and fun an animal interest story as the snakehead eel or the tanuki on the bus, but as troubling as the recent catch of a Mediterranean swordfish in England's North Sea.
Now, in both the cases of Manatee and Swordfish there are previous incidents of sightings of such creatures in Northern waters...but they are pretty few and far between. Two odd ones in one summer strikes me as a bit strange. So, I hope I've given you something to worry about, because gawd knows, the Middle East isn't enough.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Crimes Against History

I haven't done an edition of the "Anxiety Index" in a while, but I have an all new series to start now: "Crimes Against History" in which I randomly view historical movies/popular books, etc. and comment on their disgusting white-washing of the past.
I was motivated today by "Come See the Paradise," which is about the Japanese internment during WWII. In addition to having some of the clumsiest exposition I've ever seen, the movie gets one of the most famous facts of US history WRONG.
The movie was going along steadily, sort of like a good little textbook when the dreadful gaffe was made. As she was narrating the story to her young daughter, the Japanese heroine of the movie, Lily says that the Supreme Court ruled that the internment camps were unconstitutional, and that therefore all the internees were freed. It bugs me that a film-maker with a budget big enough to make sure that the costumes and cars were correct could not bother to figure out that the Supreme Court decision in 1944, Korematsu vs. United States was that the camps were constitutional. It wasn't until the 1980s that the federal government acknowledged the unconstitutionality of Exec. Order 9906.
I'm glad to say that my students all know this fact by tne end of their US history course. Maybe someone in the movie should have told Parker? With all those Japanese American actors, I can't believe no one knew.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

More Stuff that's on the Web...

I feel weird moving on and doing more mundane blog entries after writing about Josie here, and after seeing everyone sharing their memories of Josie. Thanks everyone. I'm glad to provide a space for reminiscing about our friend. I still miss her.
* * *
In most of the hours that make up my days though, I am just plugging away on book revisions, which brings me to today's history website recommendation.
The FBI's FOIA idexes and files are now up online. So you can read as many FBI reports on the Sacco-Vanzetti defense committee as the bureau allows, which is a somewhat substantial number.
As a historian of the left, I've looked at a lot of FBI files in my time, and I'll say that despite their mystique, they are not such good sources. Often, they are just big clippings files. Very often, they spell people's names incorrectly, which just makes me doubt their seriousness. They get various sects and groups hopelessy confused too, and sometimes, I don't know what those secret informants are smokin.
However, occasionally there is something intriguing. Today, in secton 6a I came across a memo to J. Edgar Hoover (the first such memo to that personnage I've come across so far) suggesting that in 1922, Fred Moore, Sacco and Vanzetti's attorney had "solved the case" in S. Braintree. This is interesting 1) because you'd think that since the Bureau supported the Mass DA that they thought the case was already solved and 2) I may find some other info about it in the correspondence of said lawyer in my own old notes. And no, the Aldino Felicani collectionof Sacco and Vanzetti's papers is not available on line. It's not even on microfilm. More's the pity.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

  Posted by Picasa
Josie Fowler on July 14, 2006.

My Friend, Josie Fowler

On July 23rd 2006, my good friend from graduate school, Josie Fowler, died of cancer.

I met her in the early 1990s, having first heard about her from my advisor, who had been on the admissions committee when she applied. I got the impression that she was someone to pay attention to. And she was. When she came to grad school, she was in her thirties, already had a master's degree in historic preservation and had written a novel. I wanted to be her friend pretty much immediately, and sought her out.
We had one class together, one in immigration history, and little did either of us know at that time that by the end of her time in grad school that she would become one of the most innovative scholars in the history of US immigrants. She started out a dissertation project that would compare the history of Gays and Lesbians and Asian-Americans in the Communist Party of the USA, primarily in California. Since I had done a lot of research on the CPUSA as an undergrad, and was doing my own dissertation on the history of the American left, we were natural research allies and library buddies.
Josie was diagnosed with breast cancer early in her graduate school career, and continued in school despite a double mastectomy and intensive chemo-therapy. I well remember talking with her all through the time of her treatments and gave her my TV to watch during recovery time. She lived with another friend of mine, and through tbe years we would see each other at parties if we weren't both in the library. She talked me through a million dumb relationships with guys in and out of grad-school, and I talked her through some prelim worries and problems with grad school "hoop jumping." Eventually, she went to Russia for six months and was one of the few American scholars, and one of the only ones on the left, to read pieces of the Russian comintern records of American communists. Occasionally, we exchanged emails while she was there. At one point, I seem to remember that she was sleeping on a cot in the hallway of some dreadful rooming house. While there she assembled her own excellent archive of Japanese and Chinese American communist materials, all of which will be donated to an American library.
Back in Minneapolis, she first planned to write her dissertation as a historical play with an academic introduction, and indeed, she wrote the entire thing. However, she changed her mind, and wrote what her advisor said to me was one of the most "traditional" (in the best way) historical dissertations, involving meticulous archival research.
On the way there, she proofread a chapter of my dissertation for me, and when I defended it, she came, and joined me and friends for bowling and beers afterward. After I left graduate school, Josie was one of a very small number of people with whom I remained in regular contact. She came to New York on a fellowship at Barnard and I was lucky to spend time with her while she was in the city. One of the best times, she came to my birthday party, and I got to introduce her to a famous labor historian and activist whom I know. Later that year, she told me that her cancer had metastasized. This was devastating news, and I read a little and learned that the survival rate of stage four breast cancer was not very high, however treatments are always improving, and Josie was someone who would make sure that she got the best treatment available. She was always confident and maintained a good sense of humor about her treatments.
The next time I saw her was in New York City. She had just finished her dissertation, a two volume tour-de-force history of Asian American communism titled, “To be Red and ‘Oriental’: The Experiences of Japanese and Chinese Immigrant Communists in the American and International Communist Movements, 1919-1934," but had to defend it from bed because she had broken her foot in a fall. She broke it because the chemo-therapy had given her osteoperosis, and she had tripped on a cobblestone while on her way to lunch with Peter Kwong, the famous Asian-American labor historian, who took her to great Chinese restaurants. I was amazed when Josie told me that while she was in the hospital with the broken foot, she had made friends with her hospital-room-mate and they had written part of a musical comedy about American medicine together. I think one of the songs was "Nurse, where's my bed-pan?"
Of course, as she was a labor activist and lefty, the musical involved the bad working conditions of the nurses along with the pangs of the patients. If there's a manuscript of this somewhere, I would love to see it.
She spent almost a year back in Minnesota, teaching at Macalester, where she was a huge success, and also taught at Metro State Community College, where she just loved the students. It was her favorite teaching job. That year, however, she was forced to leave teaching and focus her attention on her health. She moved to Boston, where she lived until her death last week. During those last two years of her life, Josie got a book contract with Rutgers, and last week, before she died, she finished it. I last saw her on July 14th. What she was most concerned about in our conversations was the state of the world she was leaving behind. She was hungry to stay in touch with current events, and told me that she was frustrated with the state of cancer research in the US. "All they are interested in is drugs," she said, and they do very little research into the evironmental causes.
An activist to the end, her plans for her own remembrance include asking people to donate to some organizations that do more research on environmental causes of cancer. When I find out which specific organizations she listed in her plans I will post their names here.
As an academic and as a friend, she has left a big mark on the world, a bigger one than many who are here for longer do. She said she lived a full life, and she was right. I am just angry that it ended so soon, and I will miss her terribly. And yet, I know that she already gave me so much. She said to me before I left, "you have a good life." She was absolutely, I realized then, one of the most truly generous people I've ever known