Sunday, September 29, 2013

On the Media - Sarah Abdurrahman: My Detainment Story or: How I learned to Stop Feeling Safe in My Own Country and Hate Border Agents

My Detainment Story or: How I learned to Stop Feeling Safe in My Own Country and Hate Border Agents*
On the Media

Earlier this month, On the Media producer Sarah Abdurrahman, her family, and her friends were detained for hours by US Customs and Border Protection on their way home from Canada. Everyone being held was a US citizen, and no one received an explanation. Sarah tells the story of their detainment, and her difficulty getting any answers from one of the least transparent agencies in the country.

To Listen to the Episode

Blondie: Live in Amsterdam 1977

Spirit: Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tool: 10,000 Days

Matt Taibbi: Looting the Pension Funds

Looting the Pension Funds: All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers
By Matt Taibbi
Rolling Stone

In the final months of 2011, almost two years before the city of Detroit would shock America by declaring bankruptcy in the face of what it claimed were insurmountable pension costs, the state of Rhode Island took bold action to avert what it called its own looming pension crisis. Led by its newly elected treasurer, Gina Raimondo – an ostentatiously ambitious 42-year-old Rhodes scholar and former venture capitalist – the state declared war on public pensions, ramming through an ingenious new law slashing benefits of state employees with a speed and ferocity seldom before seen by any local government.

Called the Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011, her plan would later be hailed as the most comprehensive pension reform ever implemented. The rap was so convincing at first that the overwhelmed local burghers of her little petri-dish state didn't even know how to react. "She's Yale, Harvard, Oxford – she worked on Wall Street," says Paul Doughty, the current president of the Providence firefighters union. "Nobody wanted to be the first to raise his hand and admit he didn't know what the fuck she was talking about."

Soon she was being talked about as a probable candidate for Rhode Island's 2014 gubernatorial race. By 2013, Raimondo had raised more than $2 million, a staggering sum for a still-undeclared candidate in a thimble-size state. Donors from Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, Bain Capital and JPMorgan Chase showered her with money, with more than $247,000 coming from New York contributors alone. A shadowy organization called EngageRI, a public-advocacy group of the 501(c)4 type whose donors were shielded from public scrutiny by the infamous Citizens United decision, spent $740,000 promoting Raimondo's ideas. Within Rhode Island, there began to be whispers that Raimondo had her sights on the presidency. Even former Obama right hand and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel pointed to Rhode Island as an example to be followed in curing pension woes.

What few people knew at the time was that Raimondo's "tool kit" wasn't just meant for local consumption. The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast. One of her key supporters was billionaire former Enron executive John Arnold – a dickishly ubiquitous young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation's Koch brothers, and who for years had been funding a nationwide campaign to slash benefits for public workers.

Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo's strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion – 14 percent of the state fund – to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb's Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina's Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer's Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 "Urban Innovator" of the year.

The state's workers, in other words, were being forced to subsidize their own political disenfranchisement, coughing up at least $200 million to members of a group that had supported anti-labor laws. Later, when Edward Siedle, a former SEC lawyer, asked Raimondo in a column for how much the state was paying in fees to these hedge funds, she first claimed she didn't know. Raimondo later told the Providence Journal she was contractually obliged to defer to hedge funds on the release of "proprietary" information, which immediately prompted a letter in protest from a series of freaked-out interest groups. Under pressure, the state later released some fee information, but the information was originally kept hidden, even from the workers themselves. "When I asked, I was basically hammered," says Marcia Reback, a former sixth-grade schoolteacher and retired Providence Teachers Union president who serves as the lone union rep on Rhode Island's nine-member State Investment Commission. "I couldn't get any information about the actual costs."

This is the third act in an improbable triple-fucking of ordinary people that Wall Street is seeking to pull off as a shocker epilogue to the crisis era. Five years ago this fall, an epidemic of fraud and thievery in the financial-services industry triggered the collapse of our economy. The resultant loss of tax revenue plunged states everywhere into spiraling fiscal crises, and local governments suffered huge losses in their retirement portfolios – remember, these public pension funds were some of the most frequently targeted suckers upon whom Wall Street dumped its fraud-riddled mortgage-backed securities in the pre-crash years.

Today, the same Wall Street crowd that caused the crash is not merely rolling in money again but aggressively counterattacking on the public-relations front. The battle increasingly centers around public funds like state and municipal pensions. This war isn't just about money. Crucially, in ways invisible to most Americans, it's also about blame. In state after state, politicians are following the Rhode Island playbook, using scare tactics and lavishly funded PR campaigns to cast teachers, firefighters and cops – not bankers – as the budget-devouring boogeymen responsible for the mounting fiscal problems of America's states and cities.

Not only did these middle-class workers already lose huge chunks of retirement money to huckster financiers in the crash, and not only are they now being asked to take the long-term hit for those years of greed and speculative excess, but in many cases they're also being forced to sit by and watch helplessly as Gordon Gekko wanna-be's like Loeb or scorched-earth takeover artists like Bain Capital are put in charge of their retirement savings.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Democracy Now: Matt Taibbi on How Wall Street Hedge Funds Are Looting the Pension Funds of Public Workers

Matt Taibbi on How Wall Street Hedge Funds Are Looting the Pension Funds of Public Workers
Democracy Now

In his latest article for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi reports that Wall Street firms are now making millions in profits off of public pension funds nationwide. "Essentially it is a wealth transfer from teachers, cops and firemen to billionaire hedge funders," Taibbi says. "Pension funds are one of the last great, unguarded piles of money in this country and there are going to be all sort of operators that are trying to get their hands on that money."

To Watch the Episode

Democracy Now: 40 Years After Secret U.S. War in Laos Ended, Millions of Unexploded Bomblets Keep Killing Laotians

40 Years After Secret U.S. War in Laos Ended, Millions of Unexploded Bomblets Keep Killing Laotians
Democracy Now

Forty years ago, on March 29, 1973, the "secret" U.S. bombing that devastated Laos came to an end. By that point, the United States had dropped at least two million tons of bombs on Laos. That is the equivalent of one planeload every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years — more than on Germany and Japan during World War II. The deadly legacy of the Vietnam War lives on today in the form of unexploded cluster bombs. Experts estimate Laos is littered with as many as 80 million "bombies" — or baseball-size bombs found inside cluster bombs. Since the bombing stopped four decades ago, as many as 20,000 people have been injured or killed as a result. To mark International Day of Mine Awareness, we speak to a Laotian bomb survivor and a leader of an all-women bomb clearance team in Laos. Thoummy Silamphan and Manixia Thor are speaking at the United Nations ... and are currently in the United States on a tour organized by Legacies of War.


Thoummy Silamphan, bomb accident survivor and victim assistance advocate in Laos.

Manixia Thor, leads an all-women bomb clearance team in Laos.

Channapha Khamvongsa, founder and executive director and founder of Legacies of War.

To Listen to This Episode

Monday, September 23, 2013

Gary Younge: The American dream has become a burden for most

The American dream has become a burden for most
by Gary Younge
Comment is Free

As wages stagnate and costs rise, US workers recognise the guiding ideal of this nation for the delusional myth it is

The final chapter of America's Promise, a high-school textbook on American history, ends with a rallying cry to national mythology. "The history of the United States is one of challenges faced, problems resolved, and crises overcome," it states. "Throughout their history Americans have remained an optimistic people, carrying this optimism into the new century. The full promise of America has yet to be realised. This is the real promise of America; the ability to dream of a better world to come."

Such are the assumptions beamed from the torch of Lady Liberty, coursing through the veins of the nation's political culture and imbibed with mothers' milk. Their nation, many will tell you, is not just a land mass but an ideal – a shining city on the hill beckoning a bright new tomorrow and a dazzling dawn for all those who want it badly enough. Such devout optimism, even (and at times particularly) in the midst of adversity makes America, in equal parts, both exciting and delusional. According to Gallup, since 1977 people have consistently believed their financial situation will improve next year even when previous years have consistently been worse.

But when President Barack Obama was planning his run for a second term his pollsters noticed a profound shift in the national mood. The optimism was largely gone – and with it both the excitement and the delusion. The time-honoured rhetorical appeals to a life of relentless progress, upward mobility and personal reinvention didn't work the way they used to.

"The language around the American dream wasn't carrying the same resonance," Joel Benenson, one of Obama's key pollsters, told the Washington Post. "Some of the symbols of achieving the American dream were becoming burdens – owning that house with the big mortgage was expensive, owning two cars and more debts; having your kid go to college. The cost and burden of taking out those loans was making a lot of Americans ambivalent. They weren't sure a college education was worth it."

This wasn't just about the recession – though of course that didn't help – but a far more protracted, profound and painful descent in expectations and aspirations that has been taking place for several decades. For underpinning that faith in a better tomorrow was an understanding that inequality in wealth would be tolerated so long as it was coupled with a guarantee of equality of opportunity. In recent years they have seen both heading in the wrong direction – the gap between rich and poor has grown even as possibilities for economic and social advancement have stalled.

Between 2007 and 2010 the median American family lost a generation of wealth, putting them on a par with where they were in 1992. Last week the census revealed that median household income is roughly the same as it was in 1988 and that the poverty rate had actually increased since 1973. Meanwhile, median male earnings in 2010 were on a par with 1964. This is not for want of effort. American workers continue to make gains in productivity and American companies continue to reap the benefits. Last year corporate profits, as a share of the economy, were the highest since the second world war. The trouble is, none of the benefits went back to them.

To Read the Rest

Democracy Now - Spilling the NSA’s Secrets: Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger on the Inside Story of Snowden Leaks

Spilling the NSA’s Secrets: Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger on the Inside Story of Snowden Leaks
Democracy Now

Three-and-a-half months after National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden came public on the the U.S. government’s massive spying operations at home and abroad, we spend the hour with Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of The Guardian, the British newspaper that first reported on Snowden’s leaked documents. The Guardian has continued releasing a series of exposés based on Snowden’s leaks coloring in the details on how the NSA has managed to collect telephone records in bulk and information on nearly everything a user does on the Internet. The articles have ignited widespread debate about security agencies’ covert activities, digital data protection and the nature of investigative journalism. The newspaper has been directly targeted as a result — over the summer the British government forced the paper to destroy computer hard drives containing copies of Snowden’s secret files, and later detained David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian for nearly two decades, joins us to tell the inside story of The Guardian’s publication of the NSA leaks and the crackdown it has faced from its own government as a result.

To Watch the Episode

Henry Porter: American gun use is out of control. Shouldn't the world intervene?

American gun use is out of control. Shouldn't the world intervene?
Comment is Free
by Henry Porter

The death toll from firearms in the US suggests that the country is gripped by civil war

Last week, Starbucks asked its American customers to please not bring their guns into the coffee shop. This is part of the company's concern about customer safety and follows a ban in the summer on smoking within 25 feet of a coffee shop entrance and an earlier ruling about scalding hot coffee. After the celebrated Liebeck v McDonald's case in 1994, involving a woman who suffered third-degree burns to her thighs, Starbucks complies with the Specialty Coffee Association of America's recommendation that drinks should be served at a maximum temperature of 82C.

Although it was brave of Howard Schultz, the company's chief executive, to go even this far in a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte. There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet.

That's America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks – last week it was the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC's navy yard – and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families – the maiming and killing of children – just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.

The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40% lower than in 1980). If this perennial slaughter doesn't qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.

To absorb the scale of the mayhem, it's worth trying to guess the death toll of all the wars in American history since the War of Independence began in 1775, and follow that by estimating the number killed by firearms in the US since the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 by a .22 Iver-Johnson handgun, wielded by Sirhan Sirhan. The figures from Congressional Research Service, plus recent statistics from, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171.

To Read the Rest

Saturday, September 21, 2013

On the Media: The Surprising History of Gun Control, School Shooting Myths, and More

The Surprising History of Gun Control, School Shooting Myths, and More
On the Media

The surprising history of the gun control narrative, the media myths of past school shootings, and the problem when the media speculate on the mental health of shooters.

We’ve become accustomed in the past 20 years to seeing the issue of guns in America broken down into two camps: gun control advocates — led by police chiefs and Sarah Brady — and the all-powerful National Rifle Association. Bob talks to Adam Winkler, author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms In America, who says there was a time, relatively recently, in fact, when the NRA Supported gun control legislation, and the staunchest defenders of so-called "gun rights" were on the radical left.

How Myths Form After a School Shooting

The press has misreported a lot about the Newtown shooting, and if history is any guide, much of that misreporting will inform our memory of the event. In his book Columbine, Dave Cullen revisited that soul shattering school shooting 13 years ago. He tells Bob that our story of that event is largely frozen in early misreporting.

Speculating about Adam Lanza's Mind

Once Adam Lanza had been correctly identified as the shooter, speculation quickly turned to why he killed so many. Much of the media raced, as it often does, to explain the tragedy by speculating on Lanza’s psychological state. Particularly bandied about was whether Lanza had been diagnosed with either a personality disorder or Asperger’s Syndrome. Bob talks with the Columbia Journalism Review's Curtis Brainard about the perils of this sort of coverage.

Interviewing Kids In the Wake of a Tragedy

A lot of criticism was leveled at the press for interviewing the child survivors of the Newtown school shooting in its immediate aftermath. Bob talks to WABC-TV reporter Bill Ritter about whether it's ever appropriate to interview a child in the moments after a disaster of this nature, and whether the very act of interviewing a child could contribute to the childrens' trauma.

Politicizing the Congressional Research Service

Last week, the Congressional Research Service released an updated version of a report that repudiates a mainstay of conservative economic doctrine: namely, that reducing top marginal tax rates spurs economic growth. Despite the CRS's bipartisan track record, and despite the report's potentially explosive implications for the ongoing "fiscal cliff" debate, the media have barely paid it any attention. Roll Call reporter Emma Dumain talks with Bob about the peculiar role of the CRS as a non-partisan football in a fiercely partisan game.

To Bork

Supreme Court nominee and Constitutional originalist Robert Bork died this week at the age of 85. In a segment that originally aired in 2005, Brooke muses over the verb "to bork," coined in honor of the man whose unsuccessful bid for the bench earned him a place in Webster's.

The Great Newspaper Strike of 1962-63

Fifty years ago this month, 17,000 New York City newspaper workers went on strike, shuttering the city's seven daily papers for 114 days. Rooted in fears about new "cold type" printing technology, the strike ended up devastating the city's newspaper culture and launching the careers of a new generation of writers including Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, and Nora Ephron. Vanity Fair contributor Scott Sherman talks with Bob about the strike and its legacy.


In 2010, Congress passed the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act, also known as the CALM Act, which would keep television commercials from being louder than the programs they sponsor. The law finally went into effect last week. In an interview originally aired in 2010, the Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Williamson explains to Bob why regulators haven't been able to turn down the volume of commercials until now.

To Listen to the Show

Thursday, September 19, 2013

David Pinder: The Power and Politics of Maps

How can the power and politics of maps be uncovered, given their common mask of neutrality? A starting point is to approach maps as texts and a form of language. Maps employ rhetorical devices to make statements about the world, advancing particular propositions and arguments. Interpretation therefore entails decoding that language in terms of the visible as well as hidden codes, signs, rules and conventions through which maps are constructed. It is not a case of trying to expose how maps are somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘untrue.’ Such a stance assumes that it is possible to produce a value-free image that leaves an external world ‘undistorted.’ As I have argued, that claim is untenable. More to the point for the position that I am advocating here is to analyse how claims to truth or the truth-effects’ of maps are constituted, to address how they are part of a discourse of cartography through which they derive their authority and work as a form of knowledge and of power (175).

Pinder, David. “Mapping Worlds: Cartography and the Politics of Representation.” Cultural Geography in Practice. Ed. Alison Blunt, et al. NY: Oxford UP, 2003: 172-187.

Muddy Waters: After the Rain

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Daniel Kovalik: Death of an Adjunct

Death of an adjunct
by Daniel Kovalik
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to.

On Aug. 16, I received a call from a very upset Margaret Mary. She told me that she was under an incredible amount of stress. She was receiving radiation therapy for the cancer that had just returned to her, she was living nearly homeless because she could not afford the upkeep on her home, which was literally falling in on itself, and now, she explained, she had received another indignity -- a letter from Adult Protective Services telling her that someone had referred her case to them saying that she needed assistance in taking care of herself. The letter said that if she did not meet with the caseworker the following Monday, her case would be turned over to Orphans' Court.

For a proud professional like Margaret Mary, this was the last straw; she was mortified. She begged me to call Adult Protective Services and tell them to leave her alone, that she could take care of herself and did not need their help. I agreed to. Sadly, a couple of hours later, she was found on her front lawn, unconscious from a heart attack. She never regained consciousness.

Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, "She was a professor?" I said yes. The case- worker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.

Of course, what the case-worker didn't understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 percent of the faculty at colleges and universities.

To Read the Rest

Dean Spade & Craig Willse: Marriage Will Never Set Us Free; John Scagliotti -- Why Gay Marriage Matters: A Reply to Dean Spade and Craig Willse

Marriage Will Never Set Us Free
by Dean Spade & Craig Willse
Organizing Upgrade

In recent years, lots of progressive people have been celebrating marriage -- when various states have passed laws recognizing same-sex marriage, when courts have made decisions affirming the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, when politicians have spoken in favor of it. At the same time, many queer activists and scholars have relentlessly critiqued same-sex marriage advocacy. Supporters of marriage sometimes acknowledge those critiques, and respond with something like: While marriage is not for everyone, and won’t solve everything, we still need it.

What’s the deal? Is same-sex marriage advocacy a progressive cause? Is it in line with Left political projects of racial and economic justice, decolonization, and feminist liberation?

Nope. Same-sex marriage advocacy has accomplished an amazing feat--it has made being anti-homophobic synonymous with being pro-marriage. It has drowned out centuries of critical thinking and activism against the racialized, colonial, and patriarchal processes of state regulation of family and gender through marriage. It is to such an understanding of marriage we first turn.

I. What is Marriage?

Civil marriage is a tool of social control used by governments to regulate sexuality and family formation by establishing a favored form and rewarding it (in the U.S., for example, with over one thousand benefits). While marriage is being rewarded, other ways of organizing family, relationships and sexual behavior do not receive these benefits and are stigmatized and criminalized. In short, people are punished or rewarded based on whether or not they marry. The idea that same-sex marriage advocacy is a fight for the “freedom to marry” or “equality” is absurd since the existence of legal marriage is a form of coercive regulation in which achieving or not achieving marital status is linked to accessing vital life resources like health care and paths to legalized immigration. There is nothing freeing nor equalizing about such a system.

In her famous 1984 essay, “Thinking Sex,” Gayle Rubin described how systems that hierarchically rank sexual practices change as part of maintaining their operations of control. Rubin described how sexuality is divided into those practices that are considered normal and natural--what she called the “charmed circle”-- and those that are considered bad and abnormal--the “outer limits.”

Practices can and do cross from the outer limits to the charmed circle. Unmarried couples living together, or perhaps homosexuality when it is monogamous and married, can move from being highly stigmatized to being considered acceptable. These shifts, however, do not eliminate the ranking of sexual behaviors; in other words, these shifts do not challenge the existence of a charmed circle and outer limits in the first place. Freedom and equality are not achieved when a practice crosses over to being acceptable. Instead, such shifts strengthen the line between what is considered good, healthy, and normal and what remains bad, unhealthy, stigmatized, and criminalized. The line moves to accommodate a few more people, who society suddenly approves of, correcting the system and keeping it in place. The legal marriage system--along with its corollary criminal punishment system, with its laws against lewd behavior, solicitation, indecency and the like-- enforces the line between which sexual practices and behaviors are acceptable and rewarded, and which are contemptible and even punishable.

Societal myths about marriage, which are replicated in same-sex marriage advocacy, tell us that marriage is about love, about care for elders and children, about sharing the good life together--even that it is the cornerstone of a happy personal life and a healthy civilization. Feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial social movements have contested this, identifying marriage as a system that violently enforces sexual and familial norms. From these social movements, we understand marriage as a technology of social control, exploitation, and dispossession wrapped in a satin ribbon of sexist and heteropatriarchal romance mythology.

To Read the Rest


John Scagliotti -- Why Gay Marriage Matters: A Reply to Dean Spade and Craig Willse (Organizing Upgrade)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Beck: Sea Change

Law and Disorder Radio: Mara Verheyden-Hilliard - FBI Considers The Occupy Movement A Terrorist Threat: The State of Civil Rights and Public Policy; Carl Mayer - Challenging The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012

Law and Disorder Radio

FBI Considers The Occupy Movement A Terrorist Threat: The State of Civil Rights and Public Policy

A few weeks ago the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund released secret documents obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests revealing that the Occupy movement was treated as a terrorist threat by the FBI. This is despite agency acknowledgement that the organizers called for peaceful protests. The documents also show massive resources used to track the Occupy movement, a month prior to the encampment in Zuccotti Park. FBI and counter-terrorism agents in offices across the country, from Anchorage to Jacksonville, to Tampa, Virginia, Milwaukee, Birmingham, Memphis and Denver, coordinated with various local and federal law enforcement, to monitor and collect intelligence on OWS. The documents obtained by the PCJF are heavily redacted and the tip of the ice berg says our guest attorney Mara Verheyden Hilliard. We also talk with Mara about her thoughts on the state of civil rights for the year moving forward.

Guest – Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s national Mass Defense Committee. Co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund in Washington, DC, she recently secured $13.7 million for about 700 of the 2000 IMF/World Bank protesters in Becker, et al. v. District of Columbia, et al., while also winning pledges from the District to improve police training about First Amendment issues. She won $8.25 million for approximately 400 class members in Barham, et al. v. Ramsey, et al. (alleging false arrest at the 2002 IMF/World Bank protests). She served as lead counsel in Mills, et al v. District of Columbia (obtaining a ruling that D.C.’s seizure and interrogation police checkpoint program was unconstitutional); in Bolger, et al. v. District of Columbia (involving targeting of political activists and false arrest by law enforcement based on political affiliation); and in National Council of Arab Americans, et al. v. City of New York, et al. (successfully challenging the city’s efforts to discriminatorily restrict mass assembly in Central Park’s Great Lawn stemming from the 2004 RNC protests.)

Challenging The National Defense Authorization Act of 2012

Last September a federal judge struck down part of the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Obama that gave the government power to indefinitely detain anyone, anywhere in the world it considers to substantially support or be in associative force with terrorism. This includes US citizens. Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York had ruled the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act likely violates the First and Fifth Amendments of U.S. citizens.

Guest – Attorney Carl Mayer runs the Mayer Law Group LLC and is the author of several books including “Shakedown” and “Public Domain, Private Dominion.” Carl Mayer is a former law professor and served as special counsel to the New York State Attorney General.

To Listen to the Episode

Marshall Berman (November 24, 1940 – September 11, 2013)

Marshall Berman, Philosopher Who Praised Marx and Modernism, Dies at 72
By William Yardley
The New York Times

Marshall Berman, an author, academic, philosopher and lyrical defender of modernism, Karl Marx and his native New York City, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 72.

His death was announced by City College, where Dr. Berman had taught since 1967 and was distinguished professor of political science. His son Danny said Dr. Berman had a heart attack while eating breakfast with a friend at a diner he loved, the Metro Diner on Broadway and 100th Street.

Dr. Berman was a public intellectual and often an optimistic one. He heard song in conflict and argued that the stop-start stumble of modern life was, for all its inexplicability and despair, necessary and promising. Marx, he insisted counterintuitively, might admire the energy and diversity that capitalism has delivered to the United States even if he believed there was a better way. The Bronx, Times Square, all of New York in its many incarnations — from the seedy, bankrupt 1970s to the murderous 1980s to today’s urban boutique — was in his view alive and luminous in its recklessness and resilience.

“Something is happening that I never could have imagined: a metropolitan life with a level of dread that is subsiding,” he wrote in an introductory essay to the 2007 book “New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg,” which he edited with Brian Berger. “Some people say they’re worried that a life without dread will lose its savor. I tell my students and people I know not to worry. If they just scrutinize their lives, they will find grounds for more than enough dread to keep them awake. While they’re up, they should seize the day and take a midnight walk.”

Dr. Berman arrived at City College shortly after he finished his doctoral studies at Harvard. But he was not interested in academic solitude. Devoted to the university’s missions of diversity and accessibility, he passed up chances to move to Ivy League schools or colleges in the West.

Inside the kitchen cupboards of the Upper West Side apartment where he lived for decades, he stored his staples: books. Inside the bathroom cabinets, he stored his balm: more books.

His intellectual passion was first stirred by Marx — with his shaggy hair and beard, he eventually started looking like him — and he viewed Marx as deeply relevant long after Communist governments faded.

“Marx was appalled at the human costs of capitalist development,” Dr. Berman wrote in the introduction to the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Marx’s “Communist Manifesto,” published in 2011, “but he always believed the world horizon it created was a great human achievement, on which socialist and communist movements must build. Remember, the grand appeal to unite, with which the Manifesto ends, is addressed to the ‘workers of all countries.’ ”

Dr. Berman’s best-known book, “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity,” was published in 1982 and took its name from a line in the Manifesto. Reviewing it in The New York Times, John Leonard called it “brilliant and exasperating.”

“Being modern is being new, whether we like it or not,” Mr. Leonard wrote, summarizing his assessment of Dr. Berman’s argument. “He likes it, Mr. Berman. Seize the day and change the world. Modernism is ‘a permanent revolution,’ full of radical sunrise and great dawn. We synthesize ourselves, without tears.”

Mr. Leonard added: “I’ve read Goethe, Marx, Baudelaire and Dostoyevsky, and I’ve been to Leningrad. Mr. Berman, generous and exuberant and dazzling, has been somewhere else, with a ‘shadow passport,’ inventing another history and literature, a romance of great ideas. I love this book and wish that I believed it.”

Marshall Howard Berman was born on Nov. 24, 1940, in the Bronx. His parents, Murray and Betty, ran a tag and label business in Times Square. His father died when his son was 14. Dr. Berman grew up taking the subway with his family to Times Square, a lifelong stimulant he celebrated in his 2006 book, “On the Town: One Hundred Years of Spectacle in Times Square.”

To Read the Rest

To Read All That Is Solid Melts Into the Air


Marianna Reis: Marshall Berman, 1940-2013 (Verso)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Law and Disorder Radio: Chris Hedges - Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt; Richard D. Wolff - Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism, Pt. 2

Law and Disorder Radio

Days of Destruction Days of Revolt – Chris Hedges

We go now to an interview with Pulitzer-Prize winning author and journalist Chris Hedges. His latest book Days of Destruction Days of Revolt sends a powerful message about the perils of staying on the current destructive track in post capitalist America. The book is also filled with line drawing graphics, illustrating some of the most depraved areas in the United States. The book explores what Chris describes as the country’s sacrifice zones, areas that have been torn apart in the name of greed, progress and technological advancment. These areas include the streets of Camden New Jersey, the coal fields of West Virgina, the Lakota reservation of Pine Ridge in South Dakota.

Guest – Chris Hedges, Pulitzer-Prize winning author and journalist. He was also a war correspondent, specializing in American and Middle Eastern politics and societies. His most recent book is ‘Death of the Liberal Class (2010). Hedges is also known as the best-selling author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction.

Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism PART 2

Occupy the Economy: Challenging Capitalism is the title of Professor Rick Wolff’s new book. After more than a dozen interviews with Rick Wolff since 2008, the theme is consistent, beyond the corrupt banks and stock markets is a flawed economic system. A system that at worst needed to change direction in the 1970s when wages stopped increasing and the cost of living continued to rise. As we look around, the collapse has been coming down in steps, and many have been trying to dial back, save and prepare. This, as millions have lost their jobs, 401ks, pensions, and homes. Overseas, the waves of austerity continue to push through Europe as protests have erupted again in Spain.

Guest - Richard D. Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he taught economics from 1973 to 2008. He is currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, New York City. He also teaches classes regularly at the Brecht Forum in Manhattan.

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RSA Animate - Ken Robinson - Changing Education Paradigms

On Being: Her Deepness - Oceanographer Sylvia Earle

Her Deepness: Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
On Being

Sylvia Earle has done something no one else has — walked solo on the bottom of the sea, under a quarter mile of water. She tells what she saw — and what she has learned — about the giant, living system that is the ocean. And, she explains why seeing a shark is a sign for hope.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Gina Apostol: Borges, Politics, and the Postcolonial

Borges, Politics, and the Postcolonial
by Gina Apostol
LA Review of Books


What is it about the writer in the First World that wants the Third World writer to be nakedly political, a blunt instrument bludgeoning his world’s ills? What is it about the critic that seems to wish upon the Third World the martyred activist who dies for a cause (O’Connell: “In his own country, six coups d’etat and three dictatorships” — one hears exclamation points of disappointment)? Where does this goddamned fantasy come from — that fantasy of the oppressed Third World artist who must risk his life to speak out, who’s not allowed to stay in bed and just read Kidnapped? I have to say, look at it this way: It only benefits dictatorships when all the Ken Saro-Wiwas die — and the loss of all the Ken Saro-Wiwas diminishes us all. Why is it not okay that an old man in Argentina lives for his art — and yet it is okay for a writer in The New Yorker whose country is targeting civilians abroad in precision assassinations to merely sit and write reviews about dead Argentines whose political feelings are insufficiently pronounced? Where is the great American artist leading his fellow citizens in barricades against the NSA? And why are these New Yorker critics not calling them out for their “refusal to engage with politics”?

Although it is amusing to imagine a blind librarian in Buenos Aires brandishing his weapons of Kipling tomes against the old junta, it is less possible to imagine Jonathan Franzen or Jeffrey Eugenides risking jail at all for any reason. Why are Americans allowed to be more cowardly than others?

These are momentary, kneejerk thought-bubbles that rise up whenever I read reviews in The New Yorker. But this is only part of the problem, because for any of us who read Borges closely from the perspective of the colonized, Borges is very political: he gives us a template to think about our politics and our problems. He provokes us to imagine what “identity” and “nation,” the “other” and the “self” are, with cunning, humor, and incalculable, astonishing vision and precision. This is not to say that he provides his political lessons directly, or even intentionally. As O’Connell notes, “To read his stories is to experience the dissolution of all certainty, all assumption about the reliability of your experience of the world.” Borges’s stories, in fact, dissolve the certainties of that hegemonic world of The New Yorker; but then, he decenters everyone’s assumptions — about politics, about being, about God.

Borges is the author of the essay “The Argentine Writer and Tradition,” an amusing, deconstructive lesson on how to read and write a country. In anti-colonial poetics in Argentina, in the Philippines, and elsewhere, the question of “tradition” is dominant: what makes a literature “Argentine”? What makes a story “Filipino”? It’s a question that always drove me nuts — because the arguments always seemed at best foolish, and at worst dangerously essentialist. Anti-colonial critics at one point suggested that one must isolate “Filipino-ness” or “Argentine-ness” and find some pure, untrammeled state beyond history, when the “native” was pristine and untouched by the foreign, or even time. But the Filipino or Argentine or Kenyan or Indian is necessarily hybrid, condemned to deal with the past: history makes our identities irreducibly multiple. The Filipino is Western and Asian, European and Ifugao, animist and Christian, all simultaneously and vertiginously so. To isolate what is “Filipino” is to seek a chimera. And in such lucid essays as “The Argentine Writer and Tradition,” a quite polemical work that sends up these fantasies of our singular national identities, Borges dissuades people like me from seeking such illusions. The essay is a classic in deconstructive postcolonial thought, before Gayatri Spivak, before Homi Bhabha. The public intellectual Borges may not have directly wrestled with political stances and historical dilemmas in his passing interviews. But in his essays and his fiction, with clarity and logic, he sets up for the Argentine, or for someone like me, a template for how to think about our historical reality, and thus our art. That portal he provides is a political act.

In typical fashion, Borges presents the problem of Argentine tradition with doubt:

My skepticism does not relate to the difficulty or impossibility of solving this problem. [. . .] Rather than with a true mental difficulty, I take it we are dealing with an appearance, a simulacrum, a pseudo-problem.

The essay’s logic unfolds to dissipate a chimera. Borges takes as his departure the “almost instinctive” solution to the problem of tradition — that “the Argentine literary tradition already exists in the gauchesque poetry.” To me, this is the same solution that nationalist critics (and they may be Filipino or Western or both) often come to — they wish to isolate a pre-colonial form or story, say epic syntax in Tagalog, or the dusty themes of a Native American romance with plants, or the too-much-sung story of migration, and expect the artist to grapple with such “traditions.” But Borges proceeds to devastate that solution with a close reading of motifs and syntax in gauchesque poetry: “gauchesque poetry is a literary genre as artificial as any other.” In short, one form is not more essentially “Argentine” as the next. He makes definitive, political pronouncements: “The idea that Argentine poetry should abound in Argentine traits and Argentine local color seems to me a mistake,” he writes, employing with humor that Borgesian trick of inverse persuasion, his trademark logical-jujitsu move: “The Argentine cult of local color is a recent European cult which the nationalists ought to reject as foreign.”

As a writer from the colonized world, I find Borges’s work almost intolerably revealing, as if spoken directly to the political debates that beset my country. Borges’s postcolonial critique and analysis in his ficciones are obscured by his philosophical sleights of hand, startling plots, and narrative wizardry, but though buried, his critique is powerful. In particular, I am struck by his logic of the inverse. His use of doppelgangers (sometimes triplegangers) and mirrors and refractions and texts within texts — spies that become victims, heroes that are villains, detectives caught in textual traps of their own making, translators who disappear in puffs of smoke in someone else’s writer’s block — in Borges’s stories, these astonishing mutations force us to see reality from new perspectives, force us to question our own encrusted preconceptions. While questions of ontology and Berkeleyan illusion and all those philosophical games beloved of Borges are paramount, the constant revisiting of the problems of fictionality and textuality in these stories have profound echoes for the postcolonial citizen, bedeviled by and grappling with questions of identity and nation, questions seething always under our every day, our working hours, our forms of art.

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Esther Armah -- Syria: The Politics of Swagger

Syria: The Politics of Swagger
by Esther Armah
New Black Man (in Exile)

Resolution approved. The politics of swagger led to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee authorizing a limited U.S. military intervention in Syria. The committee voted 10-7 in favor of a compromise resolution that sets a 60-day limit on any engagement in Syria and bars the use of U.S. troops on the ground for combat operations. The stage for a debate in the full Senate on the use of military force is officially set.

The drumbeat towards that vote became less about fact and more about framing and narrative. The narrative was of absolutes: Go to war or look like a punk by doing nothing. The framing emerged as the President drew a red line around the use of chemical weapons by Syria president Bashar al Assad against the Syrian people, and told Syria to observe that line or else. (Although now a back and forth has begun about who actually drew that red line - the President now says he did not draw it, the world did.) That red line became the launch pad for this politics of swagger. The President was then subjected to a political onslaught from neo Cons and some elements of the Left - including former President Bill Clinton - about being 'weak', a punk, a wuss, a fool, once the line was crossed. Here was a president who killed Osama bin Laden and Libyan former leader Colonel Maummar Gadafi - as Eli Lake of the Daily Beast said sarcastically on 'All in With Chris Hayes' 'Who do you have to kill around here to not be accused of being a punk?"

There is another irony, so far unsaid. Barack Obama is America's first African American president. He is a black man. America's relationship with black men has long been one where they were considered threat, to be feared, poised to commit violence and yet the routine accusation against this first black president is of being weak, lacking swag, lacking the balls to act - invoking the absence of a John Wayne, get-it-done hyper masculinity.

Take a walk back from president to senator. When President Obama ran for that historic 2008 election, the then senator said he didn't just want to end the war in Iraq, he wanted to "end the mindset that got us into the war in the first place." That mindset is a politics of swagger. Phyllis Bennis, a Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy and author of 'Challenging Empire: How People, Governments and the UN Defy Its Power' said during our interview: "The point is, this is the George Bush line post 9/11; we either go to war or let them get away with it. It's a false dichotomy to talk about military force or nothing.' Bennis agrees this politics of swag emerges due to what she calls 'face-saving' post the drawing of red lines and the President then submitting to the haranging from political voices. She explains there has been a 'militarization of foreign policy of diplomacy'.

It is this militarization of diplomacy that enables Secretary of State John Kerry to make a powerful case for war. The same Kerry, who in April 1971 as a former US Navy Lieutenant and spokesperson for 'Vietnam Veterans Against the War', testified in uniform before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Some of what he said: "We watched pride allow the most unimportant battles to be blown into extravaganzas, because we couldn't lose, and we couldn't retreat,............We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake.?" Kerry's voice is now part of that drumbeat towards war, as despite the President's assurance there would be no boots on the ground Kerry called for that option acknowledging the strike may not work.

Bennis like other experts, commentators, human rights organizations, activists and many of the American people does not advocate taking no action. "We should not be prepared to stand aside and do nothing, but we need to send in international human rights campaigners." Bennis explains: "We need to use the chemical weapons treaty." That treaty is the 'Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, known as 'The Chemical Weapons Convention.' It is an arms control agreement which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. Bennis argues a thorough examination of options from within this Convention should be explored. The challenge with the politics of swagger is the absence of real debate to explore such a strategy. What is on the table is a demand to adopt a specific option or reject it and pay the price of a diminished global identity, a weakening of your nation's supremacy. How does that serve this call to end the mindset that creates war?

Bennnis says: "There has to be a campaign to reclaim legitimate diplomacy". Bennis argues that tough diplomacy would mean the US meeting with Russia. Right now, Presidents Putin and Obama are engaged in a war of words. Putin has condemned Kerry as a liar, Russia vigorously and financially supports Assad, the President canceled a planned meeting with Russia's Putin, but will meet lgbt activists amid a continuing controversy around lgbt rights. The politics of swagger make no room for such a meeting. Bennis argues however tough the politics, a meeting between the two men would much more accurately reflect Obama's rhetoric.

Indeed, the contradiction in these politics of swagger lie in the President's own strengths, seemingly abandoned in this moment. His advisers, the First Lady, other Democrats, routinely remind the American people, this is a President whose eye is always on the end goal, the long game. He is not a leader caught up in the magic or mayhem of a moment. His caution and thoughtfulness were a major plus post the bluster of two terms of George W Bush, and a reason for his election win. Even Bush acknowledged the politics of such bluster are a hindrance to long term change, even as the architects of the Iraq war add their voices to the drumbeat of war while heckling the President and lambasting his leadership. And yet this current Syria strategy is so short term. There is no long term goal, strategy, agenda that has been articulated.

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David Graeber: A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse

A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse
by David Graeber
The Baffler


Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with utopian visions. Or even blueprints. They just need to be kept in their place. The theorist Michael Albert has worked out a detailed plan for how a modern economy could run without money on a democratic, participatory basis. I think this is an important achievement—not because I think that exact model could ever be instituted, in exactly the form in which he describes it, but because it makes it impossible to say that such a thing is inconceivable. Still, such models can be only thought experiments. We cannot really conceive of the problems that will arise when we start trying to build a free society. What now seem likely to be the thorniest problems might not be problems at all; others that never even occurred to us might prove devilishly difficult. There are innumerable X-factors.

The most obvious is technology. This is the reason it’s so absurd to imagine activists in Renaissance Italy coming up with a model for a stock exchange and factories—what happened was based on all sorts of technologies that they couldn’t have anticipated, but which in part only emerged because society began to move in the direction that it did. This might explain, for instance, why so many of the more compelling visions of an anarchist society have been produced by science fiction writers (Ursula K. Le Guin, Starhawk, Kim Stanley Robinson). In fiction, you are at least admitting the technological aspect is guesswork.

Myself, I am less interested in deciding what sort of economic system we should have in a free society than in creating the means by which people can make such decisions for themselves. What might a revolution in common sense actually look like? I don’t know, but I can think of any number of pieces of conventional wisdom that surely need challenging if we are to create any sort of viable free society. I’ve already explored one—the nature of money and debt—in some detail in a recent book. I even suggested a debt jubilee, a general cancellation, in part just to bring home that money is really just a human product, a set of promises, that by its nature can always be renegotiated.

Labor, similarly, should be renegotiated. Submitting oneself to labor discipline—supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed—does not make one a better person. In most really important ways, it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it’s only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others. A renegotiated definition of productivity should make it easier to reimagine the very nature of what work is, since, among other things, it will mean that technological development will be redirected less toward creating ever more consumer products and ever more disciplined labor, and more toward eliminating those forms of labor entirely.

What would remain is the kind of work only human beings will ever be able to do: those forms of caring and helping labor that are at the very center of the crisis that brought about Occupy Wall Street to begin with. What would happen if we stopped acting as if the primordial form of work is laboring at a production line, or wheat field, or iron foundry, or even in an office cubicle, and instead started from a mother, a teacher, or a caregiver? We might be forced to conclude that the real business of human life is not contributing toward something called “the economy” (a concept that didn’t even exist three hundred years ago), but the fact that we are all, and have always been, projects of mutual creation.

At the moment, probably the most pressing need is simply to slow down the engines of productivity. This might seem a strange thing to say—our knee-jerk reaction to every crisis is to assume the solution is for everyone to work even more, though of course, this kind of reaction is really precisely the problem—but if you consider the overall state of the world, the conclusion becomes obvious. We seem to be facing two insoluble problems. On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises, which have grown only more and more severe since the seventies, to the point where the overall burden of debt—sovereign, municipal, corporate, personal—is obviously unsustainable. On the other, we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war. The two might seem unrelated. But ultimately they are the same. What is debt, after all, but the promise of future productivity? Saying that global debt levels keep rising is simply another way of saying that, as a collectivity, human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.

To Read the Entire Essay

Monday, September 09, 2013

John Lennon: Imagine

David Bowie: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars

Rob Urie: Obama Goes Full Bush on Syria

Obama Goes Full Bush on Syria
by Rob Urie

In an interview with filmmaker Oliver Stone Argentina’s former President Nestor Kirchner recalled a conversation he had with U.S. President George W. Bush in which Mr. Bush expressed his view that war is ‘good for the economy.’ Given the context, a high level discussion over the efficacy of government programs to boost ‘the economy,’ Mr. Bush was apparently voicing a crude variant of ‘military Keynesianism,’ the theory that government military spending during WWII brought the U.S. out of the Great Depression. With WWII being one of the greatest slaughters in human history, the difference between the unintended auxiliary ‘benefit’ of the U.S. having the only industrial economy still standing as ‘the West’ was in need of rebuilding and Mr. Bush starting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq under the lunatic theory war has constructive benefits seems not to have occurred to him. Put differently, as long as ‘the economy’ for which war is considered good is Mr. Bush’s, the costs in terms of death, destruction and misery are apparently debits destined for someone else’s social accounting.

A quick glance at a map of the world shows Syria, the object of current President Barack Obama’s blood lust, just west of Iraq and just north and East of Israel, with Iran to the east of Iraq and Afghanistan to the east of Iran. Mr. Bush’s war on, and occupation of, Iraq sent approximately one million Iraqi refugees fleeing into Syria and opened a Sunni-Shia divide that is a primary factor in current Syrian tensions. U.S. ‘cold’ hostilities with Iran date to the waning days of the (Jimmy) Carter administration when the Iranian people rebelled against the puppet regime the U.S. had installed to ‘secure’ Iranian oil for the company that became British Petroleum (BP). Oil geopolitics explain some fair portion of the U.S.-Israeli ‘alliance,’ the overthrow of the legitimate government of Iran by the U.S., the repeated wars the U.S. has launched against Iraq and the geographical importance of Afghanistan to U.S. control of the region. In fact, the continuing presence of the U.S. in the Middle East over the last century has been the central cause of political instability in the region. And bogus rationales were given to suggest that slaughter and destruction were in some way for the benefit of those killed in every military conquest the U.S. has carried out in the last century.

Now we have current U.S. President Barack Obama, himself the leaker of classified ‘intelligence’ that has him personally ordering the extra-legal (illegal) murders of hundreds of women and children through his drone program, the political leader who refused to allow the prosecution of senior Bush administration officials for war crimes related to the war against, and occupation of, Iraq and Commander-in-Chief of a military that is one of the shadow protagonists in the ongoing conflict in Syria, claiming that the U.S. has the legal and moral authority to launch ‘official’ war against the Assad regime in Syria. However, under existing international law Mr. Obama lacks the legal authority to do so, given his own culpability for knowingly murdering hundreds of innocents he lacks the moral authority to do so, and as political leader of one of the shadow protagonists he already bears legal culpability for illegal acts being carried out by the U.S. military and intelligence services in Syria. And to paraphrase the charge made against the U.S. when baby Bush was selling his war on Iraq: how do we know Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons?—because Mr. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, still has the receipts. Press reports have it that U.S. ally Great Britain was in fact selling the ‘precursor’ chemicals for Sarin gas to at least one side in the Syrian conflict until the EU (European Union) forced them to stop a few months ago.

Mr. Obama’s ‘official’ rationale for launching war on Syria—that chemical weapons represent a special class and their use requires a U.S. response, might be slightly less ludicrous if the U.S. hadn’t so recently launched an illegal war of aggression on Iraq in which over one million people were killed, the country was substantially destroyed and banned white phosphorous, depleted uranium shell casings, cluster bombs and illegal torture were liberally used against the civilian population. Across the Middle East today U.S. military drones are being used to terrorize and murder civilians and the murders are being covered up with the knowingly inaccurate classification of civilians as ‘terrorists.’ The CIA continues to run illegal ‘black sight’ torture facilities across the Middle East (and the world) where people accused of no crime are routinely tortured, raped and murdered against the Geneva Conventions and international law. And in fact the very same Syrian government now being accused of illegal acts was delivered hundreds, if not thousands, of people by the U.S. to be illegally tortured and murdered through the CIA’s and U.S. military’s ongoing ‘extraordinary rendition’ program. Mr. Obama’s cynicism in selling his war as ‘humanitarian’ intervention is nearly heroic in its contempt for U.S. history in the region, for the people who elected him and for his intended victims.

Public relations surrounding wars of imperial plunder have in recent centuries and decades tidied them up with alleged moral authority replacing naked self-interest as their stated intent. However, oil geopolitics alone tie together the last century of U.S. military actions in the Middle East. Much as with the development of ‘AFRICOM,’ the U.S. military adjunct to Western capitalist expansion in Africa, Mr. Obama’s external goal in Syria is to offset competing imperial claims on Middle Eastern oil. In so doing he is following U.S. geopolitical ‘tradition’ by using military force to maintain a ‘balance of power’ with chaos, death, terror and destruction the tools used to gain and maintain control of resources for the benefit of ‘Western’ multi-national corporations. The official U.S. line has been and remains that oil is a strategic resource, but it is strategic by design. Western corporations have engineered modern economies to be dependent on oil. To use this engineered dependence as the ongoing rationale for military conflict demonstrates Western capitalism to be incapable of the introspection needed for basic self-preservation in the face of changing circumstance–history has most decidedly not yet ended.

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Joy Division: Warsaw

The Stooges: The Stooges

Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Thomas Frank: Academy Fight Song

Academy Fight Song
by Thomas Frank
The Baffler


Indeed, to judge by the popular understanding of the dream-institution, the whole thing might as well be some sort of self-perpetuating cabal, akin to Skull and Bones or Sigma Chi. Maybe college is able to work its magic because college grads hire only college grads, and after decades of “networking”—which everyone knows is more important than book-learning—they have managed to colonize the entire economy. No one knows for sure how it works, but everyone can see that it does work, and that’s good enough. Get yourself a bachelor’s degree from a “good school,” and those dreamy dreams of yours can come true. Get something else, like a cosmetologist license or a membership in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and you lose.

We don’t pause to consider that maybe we’ve got the whole thing backwards—that the big universities expanded in their heyday to keep up with industry demand, not to build the middle class. Instead, what everyone agrees on is this: higher education is the industry that sells tickets to the affluent life. In fact, they are the only ones licensed to do this. Yes, there are many colleges one can choose from—public, private, and for-profit—but collectively they control the one credential that we believe to be of value. Everything about them advertises it. The armorial logos, the Gothic towers, even the names of the great colleges, so redolent of money and privilege and aristocracy: Duke and Princeton and Vanderbilt. If you want to succeed, you must go to them; they are the ones controlling the gate.

What they sell, in other words, is something we believe to be so valuable it is almost impossible to measure. Anyone in her right mind would pay an enormous price for it.

Another fact: This same industry, despite its legal status as a public charity, is today driven by motives indistinguishable from the profit-maximizing entities traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

The coming of “academic capitalism” has been anticipated and praised for years; today it is here. Colleges and universities clamor greedily these days for pharmaceutical patents and ownership chunks of high-tech startups; they boast of being “entrepreneurial”; they have rationalized and outsourced countless aspects of their operations in the search for cash; they fight their workers nearly as ferociously as a nineteenth-century railroad baron; and the richest among them have turned their endowments into in-house hedge funds.

Now, consider the seventeen-year-old customer against whom this predatory institution squares off. He comes loping to the bargaining table armed with about the same amount of guile that, a few years earlier, he brought to Santa’s lap in the happy holiday shopping center. You can be sure that he knows all about the imperative of achieving his dreams, and the status that will surely flow from the beloved institution. Either he goes to college like the rest of his friends, or he goes to work.

He knows enough about the world to predict the kind of work he’ll get with only a high school diploma in his pocket, but of the ways of the University he knows precious little. He is the opposite of a savvy consumer. And yet here he comes nevertheless, armed with the ability to pay virtually any price his dream school demands that he pay. All he needs to do is sign a student loan application, binding himself forever and inescapably with a financial instrument that he only dimly understands and that, thanks to the optimism of adolescence, he has not yet learned to fear.

The disaster that the university has proceeded to inflict on the youth of America, I submit, is the direct and inescapable outcome of this grim equation. Yes, in certain reaches of the system the variables are different and the yield isn’t quite as dreadful as in others. But by and large, once all the factors I have described were in place, it was a matter of simple math. Grant to an industry control over access to the good things in life; insist that it transform itself into a throat-cutting, market-minded mercenary; get thought leaders to declare it to be the answer to every problem; mute any reservations the nation might have about it—and, lastly, send it your unsuspecting kids, armed with a blank check drawn on their own futures.

Was it not inevitable? Put these four pieces together, and of course attendance costs will ascend at a head-swimming clip, reaching $60,000 a year now at some private schools. Of course young people will be saddled with life-crushing amounts of debt; of course the university will use its knowledge of them—their list of college choices, their campus visits, their hopes for the future—to extract every last possible dollar from the teenage mark and her family. It is lambs trotting blithely to the slaughter. It is the utterly predictable fruits of our simultaneous love affairs with College and the Market. It is the same lesson taught us by so many other disastrous privatizations: in our passion for entrepreneurship and meritocracy, we forgot that maybe the market wasn’t the solution to all things.

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On Being - Becoming Detroit: Grace Lee Boggs on Reimagining Work, Food, and Community

Becoming Detroit: Grace Lee Boggs on Reimagining Work, Food, and Community
On Being with Krista Tippett

We’re used to hearing about Detroit as a symbol of economic collapse. With the recent news coverage of city's financial crisis and declaration of bankruptcy, we travel to a city of vigor where joyful, passionate people are reimagining work, food, and the very meaning of humanity. The Chinese-American philosopher and civil rights legend Grace Lee Boggs is the heart and soul of this largely hidden story, which holds lessons for us all.

To Listen to the Episode

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Michael Marchman: New Movements of Resistance

New movements of resistance, USA
by Michael Marchman
The International Institute for Research and Education

Michael Marchmann on the crisis in the US, the state of the labour movement and the recent Occupy Wall Street Movement. A must see!

To Watch the Presentation

Democracy Now: Raymond Offenheiser - With Focus on U.S.-Led Strikes, Global Failure to Meet Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis Goes Unnoticed; Mark Seibel: As U.S. Pushes For Syria Strike, Questions Loom over Obama Claims in Chemical Attack

With Focus on U.S.-Led Strikes, Global Failure to Meet Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis Goes Unnoticed

While Washington debates the use of military force in Syria, the United Nations has revealed the number of refugees who have fled the country’s civil war has topped two million, with another four million internally displaced. The tide of children, women and men leaving Syria has risen almost tenfold over the past 12 months. On average, almost 5,000 people take refuge in Syria’s neighboring countries every day. The United Nations warned last month that the war is fueling the worst refugee crisis since the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Overall, the fighting in Syria has killed more than 100,000 since 2011, including some 7,000 children. In Beirut, Lebanon, we’re joined by Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser, just back from visiting refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

To Watch the Report

As U.S. Pushes For Syria Strike, Questions Loom over Obama Claims in Chemical Attack

During Tuesday’s Senate hearing on Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted the administration has irrefutable evidence showing the Assad regime was responsible for the deadly chemical attack in late August. But questions remain over key parts of the administration’s case for military action. To explore these issues, we speak with journalist Mark Seibel of McClatchy, co-author of the article, "To Some, U.S. Case for Syrian Gas Attack, Strike Has Too Many Holes." "When it came to questions of the efficacy of a U.N. investigation, or the number of people killed in the conflict, or even the U.S. rendition of what happened in what order, there are contradictions," Seibel says. The United States has claimed it had "collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence" that showed the Assad government preparing for an attack three days before the event. "That claim raises two questions," Seibel writes. "Why didn’t the U.S. warn rebels about the impending attack and save hundreds of lives? And why did the administration keep mum about the suspicious activity when on at least one previous occasion U.S. officials have raised an international fuss when they observed similar actions?"

The Black Angels: Directions to See a Ghost

Common Sense with Dan Carlin: An Army of One

#260 - An Army of One
Common Sense with Dan Carlin

Can a U.S. president take his nation into war by himself? The Syrian conflict may prove to be a test case to determine if any checks still exists on the war making authority of the Executive Branch of government.

1."Syria: Outrage is Not a Strategy" Michael Yon blog, September 2 , 2013

2."Obama's proposal seeks broad war power despite vow of limits" by Michael Doyle for McClatchy News Service, September 1, 2013

3."Syria: it takes more courage to say there is nothing outsiders can do" by Simon Jenkins for the Guardian Newspaper, August 29, 2013.

To Listen to the Episode and Access Links to the Notes

Monday, September 02, 2013

Jon Shenk - Playback: Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line

Playback: Errol Morris' 'The Thin Blue Line'
by Jon Shenk

I was a freshman in college when a friend asked me one night if I was interested in seeing a documentary film. "The director will be there," he said. "A guy named Errol Morris."

The screening was in a lecture hall, but when the lights dimmed, I immediately felt transported to another world. An electric blue line shot through the screen during the title sequence, and I remember thinking, I have no idea what this blue line is all about, but I'm drawn to it. I spent the rest of the film in a state of hypnosis.

The first lines, like so much of the interview material in The Thin Blue Line, come so effortlessly. This is America, I remember thinking, but a new kind of America where every spoken syllable is important. A man in jail tells us, "In October, my brother and I left Ohio... We arrived in Dallas on a Thursday." Another inmate begins by saying, "I ran away from home." The pace is patient and deliberate. In this alternate universe, engaging one another's stories feels like a sacred act.

At 19, I had never considered a career as a documentary filmmaker. I had never thought about what made a documentary a documentary, but with The Thin Blue Line, I was beholding a beautiful piece of art, full of drama, justice and humanity. I wondered, Could I ever be a part of something like this?

The Thin Blue Line is a study of truth. At one level, it is a collection of depositions, in life's cosmic courtroom, that serve as a giant "fuck you" to the Texas criminal justice system. During the Q&A that night, a student asked Morris how he felt about the death penalty. He responded that he never intended to make an anti-death penalty film, but that he found his subject, Randall Adams, by accident while researching a film focused on the court psychologist that assessed Adams' sanity. "However," Morris said, "if I was able to randomly uncover one innocent person on death row, I can't help but to think there might be a second one out there."

That response defines the relationship between documentaries and the potential activism around the issue that they approach. Morris is not so much an activist as he is an artist/storyteller unabashed by unimpeachable, first-hand knowledge about this particular subject matter.

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Democracy Now: Questlove on Police Racial Profiling, Hip-Hop, Michele Bachmann & Soul Train’s Lasting Influence

Questlove on Police Racial Profiling, Hip-Hop, Michele Bachmann & Soul Train’s Lasting Influence
Democracy Now

On the heels of last month’s historic ruling declaring the "stop-and-frisk" tactics of the New York City Police Department unconstitutional, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson of the Grammy Award-winning band The Roots joins us to talk about his own experiences being repeatedly racially profiled by police. He describes the first time he was harassed by police, as a young teenager in Philadelphia on his way to Bible study, to the most recent: being pulled over in his car by the NYPD several weeks ago, despite being one of the most acclaimed artists in hip-hop. He also discusses the 40th birthday of hip-hop, the anniversary of the first Bronx block party thrown by New York DJ Kool Herc. He talks about his upbringing, his musical interests, transitioning to "Late Night," and his new memoir, "Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove."

To Watch the Episode

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Martin Scorsese - The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema

The Persisting Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema
by Martin Scorsese
The New York Review of Books


Frank Capra said, “Film is a disease.” I caught the disease early on. I felt it whenever I walked up to the ticket booth with my mother or my father or my brother. You’d go through the doors, up the thick carpet, past the popcorn stand that had that wonderful smell—then to the ticket taker, and then in some of the old theaters there would be another set of doors with little windows and you’d get a glimpse of something magical happening up there on the screen, something special. And as we entered, for me it was like entering a sacred space, a kind of sanctuary where the living world around me seemed to be recreated and played out.

What was it about cinema? What was so special about it? I think I’ve discovered some of my own answers to that question a little bit at a time over the years.

First of all, there’s light.

Light is at the beginning of cinema, of course. It’s fundamental—because cinema is created with light, and it’s still best seen projected in dark rooms, where it’s the only source of light. But light is also at the beginning of everything. Most creation myths start with darkness, and then the real beginning comes with light—which means the creation of forms. Which leads to distinguishing one thing from another, and ourselves from the rest of the world. Recognizing patterns, similarities, differences, naming things—interpreting the world. Metaphors—seeing one thing “in light of” something else. Becoming “enlightened.” Light is at the core of who we are and how we understand ourselves.

And then, there’s movement…

I remember when I was about five or six, someone projected a 16mm cartoon and I was allowed to look inside the projector. I saw these little still images passing mechanically through the gate at a very steady rate of speed. In the gate they were upside down, but they were moving, and on the screen they came out right side up, moving. At least there was the sensation of movement. But it was more than that. Something clicked, right then and there. “Pieces of time”—that’s how James Stewart defined movies in a conversation with Peter Bogdanovich. That wonder I felt when I saw these little figures move—that’s what Laurence Olivier feels when he watches those first moving images in that scene from The Magic Box.

The desire to make images move, the need to capture movement, seemed to be with us 30,000 years ago in the cave paintings at Chauvet—in one image a bison appears to have multiple sets of legs, and perhaps that was the artist’s way of creating the impression of movement. I think this need to recreate movement is a mystical urge. It’s an attempt to capture the mystery of who and what we are, and then to contemplate that mystery.


Does cinema really begin with Muybridge? Should we go all the way back to the cave paintings? In his novel Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas Mann writes:

The deeper we sound, the further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal themselves unfathomable.

All beginnings are unfathomable—the beginning of human history, the beginning of cinema.

A film by the Lumière brothers of a train arriving at a station in France is commonly recognized as the first publicly projected film. It was shot in 1895. When you watch it, it really is 1895. The way they dress and the way they move—it’s now and it’s then, at the same time. And that’s the third aspect of cinema that makes it so uniquely powerful—it’s the element of time. Again, pieces of time.

When we made the movie Hugo (2011), we went back and tried to recreate that first screening, when people were so startled by the image of an oncoming train that they jumped back. They thought the train was going to hit them.

When we studied the Lumière film, we could see right away that it was very different from the Edison films. The Lumière brothers weren’t just setting up the camera to record events or scenes. This film is composed. When you study it, you can see how carefully they placed the camera, the thought that went into what was in the frame and what was left out of the frame, the distance between the camera and the train, the height of the camera, the angle of the camera—what’s interesting is that if the camera had been placed even a little bit differently, the audience probably wouldn’t have reacted the way it did.

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