Jon Stewart peers into the abyss

June 20, 2015 at 2:48 pm (Anti-Racism, crime, good people, Jim D, television, United States)

The usually witty host of the US Daily Show, Jon Stewart says “no jokes” in the aftermath of the Charleston killings:

“I have nothing other than sadness that once again we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal but we pretend doesn’t exist … I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit.”

A powerful and moving statement, well worth watching:

H/t: Jon-Erik Kellso

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Seymour Hersh and the killing of bin Laden: who gives a flying f**k?

June 12, 2015 at 6:50 pm (conspiracy theories, Jim D, Pakistan, publications, terror, United States)

Seymour Hersh – who won a Pulitzer in 1970 for exposing the My Lai massacre – has in recent years been going in for conspiracy theories based on unnamed and/or unreliable sources and generally tenuous evidence, resulting in unlikely conclusions that often defy common sense and certainly defy the principle of Occam’s razor.

Over the last three years, for instance, Hersh has come up with pieces alleging that the George W Bush administration trained Iranian militants in Navada and that Turkey (not Assad) was behind chemical attacks in Syria.

Hersh’s most recent ‘revelation’ appeared in the 21 May edition of the London Review of Books, in which he claimed that the official White House account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden “might have been written by Lewis Carroll.” Far from being a top secret US action, the raid was, according to Hersh a joint operation between the US and  senior officers of the Pakistani army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI).

Central to Hersh’s account is the claim that since 2006, bin Laden was under Pakistani control, kept in the Abbottabad compound with financial assistance from Saudi Arabia. The problems with this scenario are pretty obvious – not least, why would the Saudis support someone who wanted to overthrow them? And if the US and Pakistan were actually co-operating, why was an elaborately staged and risky raid necessary in order to kill him?

Hersh’s article has been called into question by several serious journalists with no obvious axes to grind – notably Max Fisher of Vox, Peter Bergen of CNN and Ben Mathis-Lilley at Slate.

But, with all due respect to the journalists who have spent much time and effort examining and debunking Hersh’s version of events, the best response to his LRB article (and, by the way, its a long article, spread over more than five full foolscap pages)  is a brief letter published in the present edition. My only quibble with Francis X. Archibald of Hilton Head, South Carolina would be his use of the words “Most Americans”; I’d have said  “most rational people”:

Regarding Seymour Hersh’s story, the facts are these  (LRB, 21 May):

1. Osama bin Laden orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.

2. The CIA found out where he was living.

3. US Navy Seals killed him.

End of story. Most Americans don’t give a flying f**k about the details of the venture.

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Civil rights: a Mighty Girl reaches 60

June 10, 2015 at 9:35 pm (Anti-Racism, children, civil rights, good people, history, Human rights, posted by JD, Racism, United States)

I am speechless with admiration! A mighty girl, indeed!

A Mighty Girl's photo.

Happy 60th birthday to Ruby Bridges! As a six-year-old, Ruby Bridges famously became the first African American child to desegregate an all-white elementary school in the South. When the 1st grader walked to William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960 surrounded by a team of U.S. Marshals, she was met by a vicious mob shouting and throwing objects at her.

One of the federal marshals, Charles Burks, who served on her escort team, recalls Bridges’ courage in the face of such hatred: “For a little girl six years old going into a strange school with four strange deputy marshals, a place she had never been before, she showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier. We were all very proud of her.”

Once Ruby entered the school, she discovered that it was devoid of children because they had all been removed by their parents due to her presence. The only teacher willing to have Ruby as a student was Barbara Henry, who had recently moved from Boston. Ruby was taught by herself for her first year at the school due to the white parents’ refusal to have their children share a classroom with a black child.

Despite daily harassment, which required the federal marshals to continue escorting her to school for months; threats towards her family; and her father’s job loss due to his family’s role in school integration, Ruby persisted in attending school. The following year, when she returned for second grade, the mobs were gone and more African American students joined her at the school. The pioneering school integration effort was a success due to Ruby Bridges’ inspiring courage, perseverance, and resilience.

If you’d like to share Ruby Bridge’s inspiring story with the children in your life, there are several excellent books about her story including the wonderful picture book “The Story Of Ruby Bridges” for ages 4 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-story-of-ruby-bridges), the early chapter book “Ruby Bridges Goes to Story” for ages 5 to 8 (http://www.amightygirl.com/ruby-bridges-goes-to-school), and the highly recommended memoir that Ruby Bridges wrote for young readers 6 to 12 entitled “Through My Eyes” (http://www.amightygirl.com/through-my-eyes).

There is also an inspiring film about her story called “Ruby Bridges” for viewers 7 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/ruby-bridges) — you can also watch it instantly on Amazon at http://amzn.to/WOOvgY

To give young readers more insight into the school integration struggle, Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison, has written an outstanding book, that’s filled with photos capturing the major desegregation events of the period, entitled “Remember: The Journey to School Integration” — for ages 9 and up — at http://www.amightygirl.com/remember

To introduce young people to the Civil Rights Movement and its courageous activists, we’ve compiled over 30 books for children and teens in our special feature on the “Top Mighty Girl Books on Civil Rights History” at http://www.amightygirl.com/mighty-girl…/civil-rights-history

For Civil Rights Movement-themed books for readers 4 to 8, we recommend “I Am Rosa Parks” (http://www.amightygirl.com/i-am-rosa-parks-1), “Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins” (http://www.amightygirl.com/freedom-on-the-menu), “White Socks Only” (http://www.amightygirl.com/white-socks-only), and “Child of the Civil Rights Movement” (http://www.amightygirl.com/child-of-the-civil-rights-moveme…).

For older readers, we recommend “Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High” for 12 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/warriors-don-t-cry), “Rosa Parks: My Story” for ages 9 to 13 (http://www.amightygirl.com/rosa-parks-my-story), “The Lions of Little Rock” for ages 9 to 13 (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-lions-of-little-rock), and “Fire From The Rock” for 12 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/fire-from-the-rock).

For Mighty Girl stories for children and teens that explore racial discrimination and prejudice, visit http://www.amightygirl.com/…/soci…/prejudice-discrimination…

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Selma, Alabama, 1965

March 8, 2015 at 8:15 pm (Anti-Racism, cinema, civil rights, posted by JD, Racism, solidarity, the cops, United States)

They wouldn’t let nobody turn them around

From the US Socialist Worker (ISO) website (nothing to do with the UK SW):

Marlene Martin tells the story of a landmark struggle of the civil rights movement that has been brought to life, fifty years on, in a new and justly celebrated movie.

THE STRUGGLE in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. A new film Selma takes up a three-month period from this battle, beginning with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. winning the Nobel Peace Prize and ending with the successful 50-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, which preceded the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of two main pieces of federal civil rights legislation that dismantled legal segregation.

Prior to 1965, activists in the South had been working hard for many years trying to register Blacks to vote. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that formed after the wave of lunch counter sit-ins in early 1960 had made voting rights a main aspect of its work. SNCC had been in Selma, working with Black activists, helping to develop leadership, holding meetings and helping to organize people to register.

Amelia Boynton, a prominent local activist was frustrated with the slow pace of progress in Selma. So she reached out to Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King answered the call, and SCLC brought its resources into the struggle in Selma.

Review: Movies

Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay, written by Paul Webb, starring David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo and Tim Roth.

The film focuses on three attempted marches from Selma to the capital of Montgomery, to confront racist Gov. George Wallace. The first time, marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, and they were beaten, whipped and denied passage in an orgy of violence known as Bloody Sunday. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named after a Confederate general and Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan.

In the film, this scene is intense. You feel as though you are on the bridge alongside the other activists, in a fog of thick tear gas. Then, all of a sudden, you see a horse coming forward and someone struck with a police billy club.

A few days later, with King at the head of it, activists attempt to cross the bridge again. This time, the troopers stood back to let the demonstrators pass. Whether King sensed a trap and was afraid of impending violence, or was concerned about violating a federal order not to cross before a coming hearing, King turned the march around. He lost respect among activists in SNCC and in the movement generally for this decision.

The third attempt happened several days later after a federal judge’s order cleared away all obstacles. Federal law enforcement agents were on hand for protection, and 300 marchers were allowed to march to Montgomery.

The movie is magnificent. It is filmed beautifully–many of the scenes are close-ups, with low lighting and actors speaking in soft voices, giving the filmgoer the sense of eavesdropping on conversations. The acting is superb, too.

But most importantly, the film captures the gut-wrenching sense of the human feeling of what it is like to be deprived of a basic human right just because you are Black, and what it takes to gather the courage and strength to challenge the oppressor. Director Ava DuVernay said people might understand the civil rights movement period intellectually, but she wanted people to feel it and make it “part of their DNA.” And she succeeds.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Giuliani’s attack on Obama fuels racism

February 21, 2015 at 3:24 pm (Democratic Party, Guest post, Obama, Pink Prosecco, Racism, Republican Party, United States)

6a00d83451b85a69e2017eea56d9c4970d-pi.jpg
Above: Rudy Giuliani

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

The controversy kicked off on Wednesday night when Rudy Giuliani, formerly Mayor of New York, accused Obama of not loving America.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Mr. Giuliani said at the event. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
To call this a dog whistle is an understatement.

Now he’s compounded the problem by insisting that his remarks couldn’t possibly be considered racist.

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

Yes, logically, he might be able to claim that he wasn’t targeting Obama’s black/African heritage, but the way his mother brought him up, the milieu in which he was raised. But that’s pretty disingenuous given the way (some of) Obama’s opponents focus on his birthplace and his religion. Many of those gleefully applauding Rudy Giuliani’s speech won’t have parsed them with Giuliani’s own retrospective punctiliousness. The former Mayor has irresponsibly fuelled the suspicions of bigots, while maintaining plausible deniability.

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The Girls In The Band

February 7, 2015 at 5:03 pm (Anti-Racism, Feminism, good people, jazz, posted by JD, Sheer joy, United States, women)

A wonderful, short (less than ten minutes) documentary about women in jazz, starting with the fabulous ‘International Sweethearts Of Rhythm’, who in 1940’s America, were not only an all-female big band, but also racially integrated. The interviews with (then) surviving members (the film’s about 20 years old) are tremendously uplifting and moving. The late Marian McPartland also features:

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James P. Cannon on the separation of church and state

January 22, 2015 at 6:02 pm (atheism, Catholicism, Christianity, Civil liberties, class, Free Speech, From the archives, Human rights, James P. Cannon, Marxism, posted by JD, religion, socialism, trotskyism, United States)

In view of the craven capitulation of sections of the “left” before religion in recent years (and, notably, following the Charlie Hebdo murders), it seems timely to reproduce the views of the great US Trotskyist James P Cannon. This article, entitled ‘Church and State’ originally appeared in the Militant (paper of the US Socialist Workers Party) of November 19, 1951. It was later republished in Notebook Of An Agitator (Pathfinder Press, 1958).

James P Cannon

It’s a fairly safe bet that President Truman didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he announced his decision to send a US. ambassador to the Vatican, nominating General Mark W. Clark to the post. Inhibited by training and constitutional disposition from seeing anything more important or farther in the future than the next election, he probably thought he was just firing off a cap pistol to attract “the Catholic vote in 1952. He didn’t know it was loaded.

But the recoil of the gun and the noise of the explosion leave no doubt about it. The shot heard ’round the country has had results undreamt of in the philosophy of the Pendergastian politico in the White House. A bitter controversy, long smoldering, has burst into a flame that brings both heat and light into American politics. Sides are being chosen for a fight. In my opinion, it’s a good fight worth joining in.

The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So reads the first clause of the first amendment to the U;S. Constitution, adopted under the pressure of the people to protect their rights and freedoms. The meaning of this constitutional provision is quite clear to all who have no special interest in muddling it. It is the doctrine of “the separation of church and state.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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The present and future state of the US labor movement

January 19, 2015 at 8:46 pm (AWL, class, posted by JD, unions, United States, women, workers)

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, shown speaking Aug. 28 at Trinity All Nations Church in Chicago, is known for her bold style.
Above: Karen Lewis

By Ira Berkovic (from the Workers Liberty website, with very minor adaptions):

Before the tragic discovery that she has a brain tumour, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, the public figurehead of the CTU’s 2012 strike against the city’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, was preparing a mayoral campaign for the 2015 election. Lewis’s national union, the American Federation of Teachers (the country’s biggest), had pledged $1 million. A Chicago Tribune poll from August 2014 put her ahead of Emanuel by 43 to 39%. Her victory, or even, perhaps, her campaign, would have been the most significant act of self-assertion by US labour in the political sphere for decades.

In a September 2014 article in Salon, Edward McClelland argues that Lewis typifies the contemporary US labour movement, which, since the 1970s, has become “feminised, professionalised, politicised and regionalised.” McClelland writes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most unionised job category is ‘education, training and library occupations’ at 35.4 percent. That’s a field dominated by women, many with master’s degrees. (In fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research predicts that by 2020, a majority of union members will be women.)”.

He argues that deindustrialisation, and the relocation of heavy industrial manufacturing to America’s south, “a region hostile to unionism”, has meant that the archetypal unionist of yesteryear – a white man working a “blue-collar” industrial job – is now more likely to be anti-union. The archetypal trade unionist of 2014 -15 is a graduate, a woman, probably black (unionisation rates amongst black workers are higher than those amongst whites), and in a “white-collar”, “professional” job.

McClelland also cites a political shift and realignment from the 1970s onwards; where unionised, working-class voters in America’s industrial heartland provided a base of support for Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory (in which he ran what he called a “blue-collar strategy”), now membership of and support for unions is “just another blue state [Democratic] trait”.

The statistics in McClelland’s article are stark. In early 2014, in a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the United Auto Workers (UAW) lost a ballot for something akin to union recognition by 712 votes to 626. In a separate campaign amongst graduate workers in administrative jobs at New York University, UAW won the ballot 620-10. McClelland’s article is an observation extrapolated from those statistics, and not a comprehensive study. But even as an observational sketch, there are some important details missing from the picture. Read the rest of this entry »

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Samuel Farber: The Alternative in Cuba

December 28, 2014 at 6:47 pm (democracy, Latin America, posted by JD, socialism, stalinism, United States)

Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock

By Samuel Farber at the excellent US Jacobin magazine and website.

(Farber was born and raised in Cuba. He is the author of Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment).

*******************************************************************************************************

The Alternative in Cuba

The resumption of US – Cuban relations is a real victory. But Cuban workers face renewed economic liberalization with little political opening.

On December 17, 2014, Washington and Havana agreed to a pathbreaking change in a relationship that, for more than fifty years, was characterized by the United States’ efforts to overthrow the Cuban government, including the sponsorship of invasions, naval blockades, economic sabotage, assassination attempts, and terrorist attacks.

The new accord set free the remaining three members of the “Cuban Five” group held in US prisons since 1998 and, in exchange, Cuba freed the American Alan Gross and Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, a previously unknown US intelligence agent imprisoned on the island for almost twenty years, in addition to over fifty Cuban political prisoners. Far more consequential are the resumption of official diplomatic relations and the significant relaxation of travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba.

The agreement covers the political normalization but not the full economic normalization of relations: that would require Congress repealing the Helms-Burton Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.

Past failures

There were previous efforts to resume political and economic relations between the two countries since the United States broke ties in early 1961. The most important was undertaken by the Carter administration, which in pursuing an initiative originally undertaken by Nixon, renewed secret negotiations with the Cuban government in 1977, when the Cuban exile right-wing in South Florida was still a negligible political force.

The two countries made mutual concessions that included the establishment of diplomatic “interest sections” in Washington and Havana and the lifting of the ban on tourist travel to the island, a restriction later reinstated by Reagan in 1982. In the wake of the Carter-Castro negotiations, the Cuban leader released most political prisoners, of which about 1,000 left for the United States, and in 1979, Cuban-Americans were, for the first time, allowed to visit their relatives on the island.

Yet the reconciliation process came to a halt. While the presence of US troops throughout the world was taken for granted by Washington as an imperial entitlement, the deployment of Cuban forces in Africa became an obstacle to the normalization of relations. Many in the US blamed Castro’s foreign involvement as the decisive reason for the collapse of the talks both under Nixon and Carter. But there were other more important factors at work.

For one thing, the Carter administration was itself divided on the question. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance supported the resumption of normal relations with Cuba, while Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s powerful national security adviser, opposed the move. But it was domestic political developments in the US unrelated to Cuba, that ultimately stopped the process.

The American right was becoming agitated over the negotiations concerning the transfer of the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians. In September 1977, Carter suspended negotiations with Cuba until after the Canal treaties were ratified by the Senate.

The suspension turned out to be indefinite. Faced with attack over Panama, the Carter administration decided to shore up its right flank by adopting a tougher posture on Cuba, a stance that was shortly after reinforced by the victory of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, and by the political weakening of the Carter administration as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis.

American capitalists approve                      

Why did Obama succeed where previous US administrations failed? More than anything else, the end of the Cold War, the departure of Cuban troops from Africa, and the less militant stance of Cuba in Latin America have, through the years, qualitatively downgraded the importance of Cuba in American foreign policy, as witnessed by the fact that practically all US government strategic studies in the last two decades don’t even mention the island. Read the rest of this entry »

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George Clooney: why Sony capitulated to cyberterror attack

December 19, 2014 at 9:38 pm (capitulation, cinema, film, Free Speech, grovelling, posted by JD, stalinism, United States)

Workers removed a massive poster publicising The Interview in Hollywood after its release was cancelled

EXCLUSIVE: As it begins to dawn on everyone that Sony Pictures was the victim of a cyberterrorist act perpetrated by a hostile foreign nation on American soil, questions will be asked about how and why it happened, ending with Sony cancelling the theatrical release of the satirical comedy The Interview because of its depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of the issues is this: Why didn’t anybody speak out while Sony Pictures chiefs Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton were embarrassed by emails served up by the media, bolstering the credibility of the hackers’ threat to blow up theaters if The Interview was released?

George Clooney has the answer. The most powerful people in Hollywood were so fearful to place themselves in the cross hairs of hackers that they all refused to sign a simple petition of support that Clooney and his agent, Bryan Lourd, circulated to the top people in film, TV, records and other areas. Not a single person would sign. Here, Clooney discusses the petition and how it is just part of many frightening ramifications that we are all just coming to grips with

DEADLINE: How could this have happened, that terrorists achieved their aim of cancelling a major studio film? We watched it unfold, but how many people realized that Sony legitimately was under attack?
GEORGE CLOONEY: A good portion of the press abdicated its real duty. They played the fiddle while Rome burned. There was a real story going on. With just a little bit of work, you could have found out that it wasn’t just probably North Korea; it was North Korea. The Guardians of Peace is a phrase that Nixon used when he visited China. When asked why he was helping South Korea, he said it was because we are the Guardians of Peace. Here, we’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have. This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have. That’s the truth. What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it? Forget the hacking part of it. You have someone threaten to blow up buildings, and all of a sudden everybody has to bow down. Sony didn’t pull the movie because they were scared; they pulled the movie because all the theaters said they were not going to run it. And they said they were not going to run it because they talked to their lawyers and those lawyers said if somebody dies in one of these, then you’re going to be responsible.

On November 24 of this year, Sony Pictures was notified that it was the victim of a cyber attack, the effects of which is the most chilling and devastating of any cyber attack in the history of our country. Personal information including Social Security numbers, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and the full texts of emails of tens of thousands of Sony employees was leaked online in an effort to scare and terrorize these workers. The hackers have made both demands and threats. The demand that Sony halt the release of its upcoming comedy The Interview, a satirical film about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Their threats vary from personal—you better behave wisely—to threatening physical harm—not only you but your family is in danger. North Korea has not claimed credit for the attack but has praised the act, calling it a righteous deed and promising merciless measures if the film is released. Meanwhile the hackers insist in their statement that what they’ve done so far is only a small part of our further plan. This is not just an attack on Sony. It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country. That is why we fully support Sony’s decision not to submit to these hackers’ demands. We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.

DEADLINE: That doesn’t sound like a hard paper to sign.
CLOONEY: All that it is basically saying is, we’re not going to give in to a ransom. As we watched one group be completely vilified, nobody stood up. Nobody took that stand. Now, I say this is a situation we are going to have to come to terms with, a new paradigm and a new way of handling our business. Because this could happen to an electric company, a car company, a newsroom. It could happen to anybody.

DEADLINE: You said everyone acts based on self interest. What’s yours?
CLOONEY: I wanted to have the conversation because I’m worried about content. Frankly, I’m at an age where I’m not doing action films or romantic comedies. The movies we make are the ones with challenging content, and I don’t want to see it all just be superhero movies. Nothing wrong with them, but it’s nice for people to have other films out there.

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