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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Alternative Radio March Programmes

Schedule for March.

I'm a Soprano's fan (you know, the gangster show from TV).

The key figure is the family boss Tony Soprano. His son, Tony Junior, is not cut from the same cloth (perhaps) and during one episode Tony Snr joins his son at the breakfast bar of their mansion. Tony Jnr is reading "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn. His father dismisses his son's engagement with the, largely ignored, history of his nation. What is ironic about that episode is that Tony Snr is using African Americans and Hispanics to exploit native American workers while in another sub-plot he is enjoying the largess of a casino being run on a 'reservation' by an indigenous corporation.

Ah, the convoluted plots of life and fiction.

The same could be said of the passing of Howard Zinn.

The right wing continued to pour out their vitriol on him after death while the mainstream media largely ignored his passing.

It seemed that the only real outlet for the 'righteous' anger against a man who dared to expose and give voice to the exploited was National Public Radio (the US equivalent of a community radio network).

Howard Zinn was a personal friend of the founder of AR, David Barsamian and his loss is felt deeply by those of us involved in AR.

This month, as a tribute to him, AR is featuring five programs of Zinn material.

The first two are a lecture he gave about his landmark work, "A People's History".

The next two feature a special event for the launch of his follow up work "Voices of a People's History" and features an array of special guests reading excerpts from that book as Zinn unpacks and explains the context in which the words were first spoken.

The final program for the month is a repeat of Zinn's final contribution to Alternative Radio. Its title is "Against Discouragement" and is a timely reminder that no matter how young or old we are, those who engage in the struggle for a better society do impact on those around us ... even those we never meet.

I hope you enjoy the programs.

In Solidarity

Shane Elison

01-March Howard Zinn - A People's History of the US (Pt. 1)

08-March Howard Zinn - A People's History of the US (Pt. 2)

Howard Zinn, was professor emeritus at Boston University, and was one of America's most renowned and influential historians. He helped spark a movement to re-examine what we call history. His classic book, A People's History of the US reverses traditional perspectives and presents history from the point of view of those who have been largely omitted from traditional texts. Zinn brilliantly reshuffles heroes and villains. The New York Times said the book should be "required reading". And this two-part program should be required listening.

Howard Zinn, was professor emeritus at Boston University, and was, perhaps, America's premier radical historian. He grew up in the slums of Brooklyn. As a teenager, he worked in a shipyard. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He was an active figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. His masterpiece, A People's History of the US continues to sell in huge numbers. He has written several plays including the widely acclaimed Marx in Soho. Howard Zinn passed away on January 28th 2010.

15-March Howard Zinn - Voices of a People's History (Pt. 1)

22-March Howard Zinn - Voices of a People's History (Pt. 2)

Traditional history, we are taught, is dominated by generals, presidents, and other so-called important people. When we read in standard texts about the sinking of the Spanish Armada, we learn King Philip wept. Oral historian Studs Terkel asks, "Were there no other tears?" Historians have difficulty matching the eloquence of those who experienced events firsthand such as soldiers at war, the survivors of massacre and genocide, and those who fought oppression. When they tell their own story, history is not only different, but authentic. An all-star cast including John Sayles, Wally Shawn, and Paul Robeson Jr. join Zinn in this engaging two-part program.

Howard Zinn, was professor emeritus at Boston University and was, perhaps, America's premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922 to poor immigrant parents. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. He was an active figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. His masterpiece, A People's History of the United States continues to sell in large numbers. His latest book is, Voices of a People's History of the United States. Howard Zinn passed away on January 28th 2010.

29-Mar 090401 Howard Zinn - Against Discouragement

It wasn't that long ago when the United States labelled the African National Congress as a terrorist organization. Its leader, Nelson Mandela languished for years in prison. Then because of massive grassroots movement and international support through boycott and divestment, Mandela is released and South Africa frees itself from its apartheid regime. Throughout history people have overcome tremendous odds to advance the cause of justice. Take the civil rights movement. What were African Americans up against? The entire apparatus of power from the courthouse to the statehouse was controlled by segregationists. And the federal government? Asleep at the wheel. Nevertheless, blacks organized and fought back against tremendous odds. The key to the struggle was collective action. There's an African proverb that captures that spirit, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Howard Zinn, was professor emeritus at Boston University and was, perhaps, America's premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922. His parents, poor immigrants, were constantly moving to stay "one step ahead of the landlord." After high school, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He was an active figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. He was a regular contributor to The Progressive magazine. His masterpiece, A People's History of the United States, continues to sell in huge numbers. His latest books are A Power Governments Cannot Suppress and Original Zinn. Howard Zinn passed away on January 28th 2010.
01-Mar 020903 Howard Zinn - A People's History of the US (Pt. 1)

08-Mar 020904 Howard Zinn - A People's History of the US (Pt. 2)

Howard Zinn, was professor emeritus at Boston University, and was one of America's most renowned and influential historians. He helped spark a movement to re-examine what we call history. His classic book, A People's History of the US reverses traditional perspectives and presents history from the point of view of those who have been largely omitted from traditional texts. Zinn brilliantly reshuffles heroes and villains. The New York Times said the book should be "required reading". And this two-part program should be required listening.

Howard Zinn, was professor emeritus at Boston University, and was, perhaps, America's premier radical historian. He grew up in the slums of Brooklyn. As a teenager, he worked in a shipyard. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He was an active figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. His masterpiece, A People's History of the US continues to sell in huge numbers. He has written several plays including the widely acclaimed Marx in Soho. Howard Zinn passed away on January 28th 2010.

15-Mar 050504 Howard Zinn - Voices of a People's History (Pt. 1)

22-Mar 050505 Howard Zinn - Voices of a People's History (Pt. 2)

Traditional history, we are taught, is dominated by generals, presidents, and other so-called important people. When we read in standard texts about the sinking of the Spanish Armada, we learn King Philip wept. Oral historian Studs Terkel asks, "Were there no other tears?" Historians have difficulty matching the eloquence of those who experienced events firsthand such as soldiers at war, the survivors of massacre and genocide, and those who fought oppression. When they tell their own story, history is not only different, but authentic. An all-star cast including John Sayles, Wally Shawn, and Paul Robeson Jr. join Zinn in this engaging two-part program.

Howard Zinn, was professor emeritus at Boston University and was, perhaps, America's premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922 to poor immigrant parents. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. He was an active figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. His masterpiece, A People's History of the United States continues to sell in large numbers. His latest book is, Voices of a People's History of the United States. Howard Zinn passed away on January 28th 2010.

29-Mar 090401 Howard Zinn - Against Discouragement

It wasn't that long ago when the United States labelled the African National Congress as a terrorist organization. Its leader, Nelson Mandela languished for years in prison. Then because of massive grassroots movement and international support through boycott and divestment, Mandela is released and South Africa frees itself from its apartheid regime. Throughout history people have overcome tremendous odds to advance the cause of justice. Take the civil rights movement. What were African Americans up against? The entire apparatus of power from the courthouse to the statehouse was controlled by segregationists. And the federal government? Asleep at the wheel. Nevertheless, blacks organized and fought back against tremendous odds. The key to the struggle was collective action. There's an African proverb that captures that spirit, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

Howard Zinn, was professor emeritus at Boston University and was, perhaps, America's premier radical historian. He was born in Brooklyn in 1922. His parents, poor immigrants, were constantly moving to stay "one step ahead of the landlord." After high school, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During World War II, he saw combat duty as an air force bombardier. After the war, he went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He was an active figure in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. He was a regular contributor to The Progressive magazine. His masterpiece, A People's History of the United States, continues to sell in huge numbers. His latest books are A Power Governments Cannot Suppress and Original Zinn. Howard Zinn passed away on January 28th 2010.


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Challenging History By RAMZY BAROUD

When American historian Howard Zinn passed away recently, he left behind a legacy that redefined our relationship to history altogether.

Professor Zinn dared to challenge the way history was told and written. In fact he went as far as to defy the conventional construction of historical discourses through the pen of victor or of elites who earned the right of narration though their might, power and affluence.

This kind of history might be considered accurate insofar as it reflects a self-seeking and self-righteous interpretation of the world by a very small number of people. But it is also highly inaccurate when taking into account the vast majority of peoples everywhere.

The oppressor is the one who often articulates his relationship to the oppressed, the colonialist to the colonized, and the slave-master to the slave. The readings of such relationships are fairly predictable.

Even valiant histories that most of us embrace and welcome, such as those celebrating the legacy of human rights, equality and freedom left behind by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela still tend to be selective at times. Martin Luther King’s vision might have prevailed, but some tend to limit their admiration to his ‘I have a dream’ speech. The civil rights hero was an ardent anti-war champion as well, but that is often relegated as non-essential history. Malcolm X is often dismissed altogether, despite the fact that his self-assertive words have reached the hearts and minds of millions of black people throughout the United States, and many more millions around the world. His speech was in fact so radical that it could not be ‘sanitized’ or reinterpreted in any controllable way. Mandela, the freedom fighter, is celebrated with endless accolades by the very foes that branded him a terrorist. Of course, his insistence on his people’s rights to armed struggle is not to be discussed. It is too flammable a subject to even mention at a time when anyone who dares wield a gun against the self-designated champions of ‘democracy’ gets automatically classified a terrorist.

Therefore, Zinn’s peoples’ histories of the United States and of the world have represented a milestone in historical narration.

As a Palestinian writer who is fond with such luminaries, I too felt the need to provide an alternative reading of history, in this case, Palestinian history. I envisioned, with much hesitation, a book that serves as a people’s history of Palestine. I felt that I have earned the right to present such a possible version of history, being the son of Palestinian refugees, who lost everything and were exiled to live dismal lives in a Gaza refugee camp. I am the descendant of ‘peasants’ – Fellahin – whose odyssey of pain, struggle, but also heroic resistance is constantly misrepresented, distorted, and at times overlooked altogether.

It was the death of my father (while under siege in Gaza) that finally compelled me to translate my yearning into a book. My Father was a Freedom Fighter, Gaza’s Untold Story offered a version of Palestinian history was not told by an Israeli narrator – sympathetic or otherwise – and neither was it an elitist account, as often presented by Palestinian writers. The idea was to give a human face to all the statistics, maps and figures.

History cannot be classified by good vs. bad, heroes vs. villains, moderates vs. extremists. No matter how wicked, bloody or despicable, history also tends to follow rational patterns, predictable courses. By understanding the rationale behind historical dialectics, one can achieve more than a simple understanding of what took place in the past; it also becomes possible to chart fairly reasonable understanding of what lies ahead.

Perhaps one of the worse aspects of today’s detached and alienating media is its production of history - and thus characterization of the present - as based on simple terminology. This gives the illusion of being informative, but actually manages to contribute very little to our understanding of the world at large.

Such oversimplifications are dangerous because they produce an erroneous understanding of the world, which in turn compels misguided actions.

For these reasons, it is incumbent upon us to try to discover alternative meanings and readings of history. To start, we could try offering historical perspectives which try to see the world from the viewpoint of the oppressed – the refugees, the fellahin who have been denied, amongst many rights, the right to tell their own story.

This view is not a sentimental one. Far from it. An elitist historical narrative is maybe the dominant one, but it is not always the elites who influence the course of history. History is also shaped by collective movements, actions and popular struggles. By denying this fact, one denies the ability of the collective to affect change. In the case of Palestinians, they are often presented as hapless multitudes, passive victims without a will of their own. This is of course a mistaken perception; the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel has lasted this long only because of their unwillingness to accept injustice, and their refusal to submit to oppression. Israel’s lethal weapons might have changed the landscape of Gaza and Palestine, but the will of Gazans and Palestinians are what have shaped the landscape of Palestine’s history.

Touring with My Father was a Freedom Fighter in South Africa, in a recent visit, was a most intense experience. It was in this country that freedom fighters once rose to fight oppression, challenging and eventually defeating Apartheid. My father, the refugee of Gaza has suddenly been accepted unconditionally by a people of a land thousands of miles away. The notion of ‘people’s history’ can be powerful because it extends beyond boundaries, and expands beyond ideologies and prejudices. In that narrative, Palestinians, South Africans, Native Americans and many others find themselves the sons and daughters of one collective history, one oppressive legacy, but also part of an active community of numerous freedom fighters, who dared to challenge and sometimes even change the face of history.

South Africa has; Palestine will.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto Press, London). His newbook is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Feed Pete Peterson to the Whales By ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Call him, just for now, Spartacus. He was two years old when the slavers captured him in 1982 and hauled him off to Oak Bay, near the town of Victoria, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in the far Canadian west. And there he met his fellow slaves, Nootka and Haida. Day after day, in slave school they learned their tricks. Day after day, they did their act for the paying customers. And then, on February 20, 1991, in the tank operated by Sealand of the Pacific, the three struck back at their captors.

Okay, not Spartacus, but an orca whale – Tillikum, the one who drowned 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau last Wednesday in the Shamu tank, at SeaWorld, Orlando, after grabbing her by her ponytail. Tillikum was caught off Iceland. Nootka and Haida, both females, were seized in the Pacific. In fact, Nootka was the third orca by that name to be bought by Sealand. The first two died within a year of their capture. At that time, enslaved orcas had a life expectancy in captivity of anywhere from one to four years. These days they do a bit better. In wild waters, orcas live to be anywhere from 30 to 60.

By the time of the 1991 slave revolt, Nootka III already had a couple of priors back in 1989, when she’d attacked trainers twice. Then, on Feb. 20, 1991, Keltie Byrne, a 20-year-old marine biology student, champion swimmer and part-time trainer, slipped while she was riding on the head of one of the orcas. Tillikum, Nootka and Haida took turns in dragging her beyond reach of trainers trying to hook her out with long poles. As Jason Hribal, author of our forthcoming CounterPunch/AK Press book Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden Story of Animal Resistance, reconstructed the episode on our CounterPunch site,

“‘The whale got her foot,’ an audience member recalled, ‘and pulled her in.’ We do not know which orca it was that started it, but all three, Nootka, Haida, and Tillikum, took their turns dunking the screaming woman underwater. ‘She went up and down three times,’ another visitor continued. The Sealand employees ‘almost got her once with the hook pole, but they couldn’t because the whales were moving so fast.’ One trainer tossed out a floatation ring, but the whales would not let her grab it. In fact, the closer that such devices got to the young woman, the further out the whales pulled her into the pool. It took park officials two hours to recover her drowned body.”

As is typical with theme parks in the business of exploiting animals, whether whales or elephants or some other captive breed, Sealand tried to pass off the disaster as a one-in-a-thousand mishap – sort of a bad-hair day for orcas. The citizens of Vancouver Island didn’t see it that way. Many said the whales had understandably mutinied against their ghastly imprisonment and exploitation and should be freed. They started picketing Sealand. The company trotted out the usual story that captive orcas actually like being slaves, forced to work 365 days a year, several times a day and, if freed, would swiftly die. What is meant here is that slave orcas are worth a lot of money – up to a cool million each, which explains why Russia has now lifted its ban on orca trafficking.

There are actually quite detailed Canadian laws governing the export of wild creatures. Sealand, soon to go out of business, got the permits by saying the whales needed to be sent south to the U.S. for “medical reasons.” Sold to the SeaWorld empire, Tillikum was shipped off under cover of darkness to Orlando, Florida. Nootka followed, and died there in 1994 at the age of 13. Haida and her calf Ky ended up in SeaWorld, San Antonio. Haida died in 2001 but imparted the spirit of rebellion to Ky, who nearly killed his trainer in 2004.

SeaWorld got its start in the mid-1960s, founded by four UCLA grads planning to run an underwater restaurant and marine life exhibit. After various ups and downs, in the late 1980s, the three SeaWorlds passed into the hands of the vast brewing conglomerate Annheuser-Busch, which pumped millions into upgrades, finally selling the theme parks to the Blackstone Group for $2.7 billion in 2009.

So, there’s a lot riding on the slave orcas toiling away (according to a SeaWorld official, as many as 8 times per a day, 365 days a year) as the star attractions in each of the Shamu stadiums. The first Shamu was put to work in the San Diego SeaWorld, now on its fifty-first “Shamu” – one of 20 enslaved orcas presently owned by Blackstone. Tillikum’s asset value is enhanced by his duties as a sperm donor. He’s a breeding “stud” often kept in solitary, away from the other orcas. One of his long-distance partners was Kasatka, at the San Diego slave facility. Kasatka was also captured off Iceland at the age of two, in 1978, and bought by SeaWorld, and has seen service for the company in Ohio, Texas, Florida and California, making three efforts in San Diego to kill her trainer – in 1993, 1999 and 2006. Her official SeaWorld bio refers chastely to the 1999 episode as “an incident” where she got “a bit aggressive”, whereupon – as a SeaWorld spokesman put it, she was sent “for some additional training and behavior modification.”

As Hribal writes,

“In order to see the world from Kasatka’s perspective, three facts need to be considered. First, there are no recorded incidences of orcas ‘in the wild’ attacking humans unprovoked. This is an institutional problem. Second, Kasatka and other performers have a long history of attacking trainers. Resistance in zoos and aquariums, in truth, is anything but unusual. Third, the zoological institutions themselves have to negotiate with their entertainers to extract labor and profit. Indeed, animal performers have agency, and zoos have always (privately, at least) acknowledged this. Therefore, the next time you hear about an orca attack, don't dismiss it from above: ‘Animals will be animals.’ But, instead, look from below: ‘These creatures resist work, and can occasionally land a counterpunch or two of their own.’”

All the SeaWorld shows should be shut down, as should all kindred exhibits. If it’s judged by an independent panel that the artificially bred orcas simply couldn’t hack it in the wild blue yonder, let them laze around in their pools and toss them an occasional corporate executive, perhaps starting with slave-owner Pete Peterson, co-founder of Blackstone, a public pest who richly deserves an orca jaw clamped on his ankle.

For those who think the references to slavery are excessive, remember the words of Frederic Douglass, quoted by Hribal. Douglass often made direct comparisons between the treatment and use of other animals and that of himself. “When purchased, my old master probably thought as little of my advent, as he would have thought of the addition of a single pig to his stock! Like a wild young working animal, I am to be broken to the yoke of a bitter and life-long bondage. Indeed, I now saw, in my situation, several points of similarity with that of the oxen. They were property, so was I; they were to be broken, so was I; Convey was to break me, I was to break them; break and be broken – such is life.”

Maybe, in the wake of Tillikum’s lethal onslaught on Dawn Brancheau, lover of orcas, in Orlando earlier this week, they taped his whale talk to his seven fellow prisoners. Maybe, one day they’ll decode them. I doubt there was contrition. He was probably pointing out that although the act of rebellion was entirely justified, the aesthetics of orca exploitation by humans were such that he’d actually upped his remaining profit potential – he’s 30 now – for Blackstone. As one entertainment consultant pointed out, attendance will probably go up for “Shamu” shows. Orcas after all are “killer whales,” and the public needs to be reminded of this once in a while.

Jason Hribal’s Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden Story of Animal Resistance will be published by CounterPunch Books/AK Press this coming fall.

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com

from CounterPunch February 26 - 28, 2010


Calculating Life for a Dying Empire by Francis Shor

$2000 per dead child! That's the amount of compensation offered by the Pentagon for the "collateral damage" which it has caused in Afghanistan. As the war escalates and more innocent victims of Washington's aggressive actions accumulate in number, the US military calculates what it will take to placate grieving Afghan parents.

Eight years into a war deemed "necessary" by both Republican and Democratic Administrations, the death and destruction visited upon Afghan civilians seems reducible to neat and cheap compensation packages. And, yet, the real physical and psychological damage inflicted by the war-makers remains strangely abstract and without comprehension of the very real unintended consequences. The anger of Afghan families in the earliest days of US military intervention undoubtedly persists and may even fuel the continuing insurgency. According to a June 28, 2002 Los Angeles Times story about one Afghan who had lost his wife, mother and seven children to a US air attack, he bitterly lamented: "I put a curse on the Americans who did this. I pray that they will have the tragedy in their lives that I have had in mine."

While not suffering this kind of tragic loss in just one family, US families have paid a price with increasing numbers of dead and wounded in Afghanistan. More generous with their compensation packages to families who have lost a loved one in military operations in Afghanistan, even the $100,000 offered cannot excuse the needless loss of life promulgated by the Pentagon and their so-called civilian bosses.

The squandering of billions of dollars, however, in prosecuting this war and the other imperial campaigns in the Middle East and Central Asia is responsible for other hidden costs to children in the United States. In 2009, the US continued its falling ranking in infant mortality to 33rd in the world, behind the much poorer, but medically wiser, nation of Cuba. In addition, infant mortality among African-Americans is estimated to be twice as high as that of whites.

On the other hand, the terrible toll on Iraqi children, as a consequence of policies pursued by the United States since the first Gulf War, has been enormous. From the use of depleted uranium by the Pentagon under Bush Sr. and Jr. to sanctions preventing medical supplies from entering Iraq under Clinton, the death and disease suffered by Iraqi babies is directly attributable to the United States.

Even in the absence of war and aggressive policies pursued by Washington, the imbalance between the United States and the developing world, made worse by the recent financial crisis, is deplorable. It is estimated that the average inhabitant of the United States uses 250 times the resources of the average Nigerian. That average US citizen, if a baby born in the 1990s who reaches 75 years of age, will have generated fifty-two tons of garbage while utilizing close to 4,000 barrels of oil. The amount of energy consumed by the average US resident would be equivalent to 531 Ethiopians.

When UNICEF reported, as is did in 2002, that ten million children under the age of 5 died each year from preventable causes, such as malnutrition, unsafe water, and the lack of the most basic health care, we should, in the words of ethics philosopher Peter Singer "know that others are in much greater need...and learn to think critically about the forces that lead to high levels of consumption and to be aware of the environmental costs of this way of living."

Yet, to attain that level of consciousness would require confronting the legacy of being part of an empire and benefitting from its ostensibly unequal privileges. Trying to come to terms with all of the human and planetary consequences of empire as a way of life may be especially difficult now that the empire is dying. Let's just hope that we can help to diminish the further destruction produced by an empire in its death throes.

Francis Shor is author of the recently published, Dying Empire: US Imperialism and Global Resistance. Excerpts from the book can be found at dyingempire.org
Published on Saturday, February 27, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I'm A Better Anarchist Than You, Some Thoughts on Vancouver and the Black Bloc by David Rovics

I love a good riot. The distant sound of things breaking, the smoke billowing from whatever is burning, the young men and women busily smashing whatever they can find into fist-sized pieces, launching the objects over the heads of their fellow rioters (if all goes well) and into the ranks of the black-clad police with their Ninja Turtle armour, translucent plastic shields and their array of far more sophisticated weaponry. I love the scent of tear gas (if I'm just on the outskirts of the cloud), it's exhilarating, the scent of possibility, of the situation's volatility, the thrilling uncertainty. The excitement of seeing the barricades get lit on fire, knowing that no police vehicle, no matter how well-armoured, is going to drive through that.

They're going to have to put the fire out first, and until they manage to get some big hoses to the scene (which might require the participation of the fire department, which might not want to participate), this is our block. Maybe the police even retreat a couple times under particularly heavy volleys of rocks and bottles, the crowd surges and cheers, meanwhile the more experienced rioters stay busy gathering wheelbarrows full of more things to throw at the cops, knowing they'll be back soon. My neighbour says it's because I'm an Aries, but whatever it is, if I find myself in the midst of such a situation, the memories are all fond ones of the rush and the togetherness of the moment. It's a warm, fuzzy feeling, really.

However, most people in most of the countries with which I'm fairly familiar – the US, Canada, England, Germany, Denmark, Australia, Japan – don't feel that way. For most people I meet riots are scary things and they don't care or notice much whether it was a chain store's windows smashed or a local one, whether only SUV's were torched or hybrids, too, whether any passersby got hurt in the process or not. The major news outlets don't pay much attention to what the underlying reasons for the rioting is – just enough about the situation for people to associate the riot with the cause and the cause with scary people who aren't like them.

I've been home in Portland over the past couple weeks, not in Vancouver for the Olympics and the

accompanying protests that tend to materialize when a gigantic corporate event and the international media covering it rolls into (and over) the town. By European standards the event the media was focusing on sounds like it was a pathetic little riot, a few smashed windows and overturned newspaper boxes, but it managed to attract the lion's share of Canadian and even international media coverage, as usual– it's sensational, but more than that it serves the purposes of corporate media outlets who, for political reasons, want to make most protesters look bad and don't want people going out to rock the boat in the first place.

By my informal count traveling around, I'd say that most people in many countries are afraid to go to protests, even if their sympathies are with those protesting. They're afraid of what they've heard in the media about how things get out of control. They'd rather avoid lines of police in riot gear, and they feel unsafe at the thought that what they believed was going to be a nonviolent event might suddenly get scary when a small group of people decide to start throwing rocks through store windows.

Some of the rock-throwing anarchists (as opposed to the far more numerous non-rock-throwing variety of anarchists) will now ask, who cares? Who cares if lots of people are afraid to come to protests because of us. They're “liberals” anyway (anyone who doesn't support your right to riot is a liberal, in case you didn't know).

But here's the thing: we need a mass movement, and contrary to what certain popular primitivist authors like to say, a few thousand dedicated people are not going to accomplish much of anything, let alone revolutionary change, without the support of a mass movement. That is, whatever tactics you're using to organize resistance groups of any kind, the tactics need to be ones that don't completely alienate the general public (very much including the “liberals”). And the general public tends to be freaked out by groups of people committing acts of violence (or forms of property destruction that seem violent to them). In recent decades lots of people in lots of places have embraced all kinds of militant and often effective tactics – strikes, bus boycotts, sit-ins, building take-overs, nonviolent civil disobedience of all kinds. Those of any political persuasion who would say that tactics like these are universally ineffective are simply ignorant.

Equally, there have been some pretty darn effective movements that have employed violence around the world over the past few decades and centuries, and you'd have to be an extremely ideological pacifist not to recognize that. But these movements that have employed violent means have used a lot more than rocks. It takes a pretty desperate situation (say, Cuba in 1959) for movements like that to garner popular support, and there's not a serious guerrilla movement anywhere that wouldn't admit that the fish need the sea in which to swim, or they quickly die.

In the context of most modern, relatively well-off countries, it seems quite evident that rioting – even if it's not much of a riot – only impedes anyone's efforts at building a movement. It is, in fact, a much-used strategy of the police, as we've seen time and time again certainly throughout North America, Europe and elsewhere. I have no doubt that the first rock thrown is thrown by an undercover cop at least half the time in most situations. I also have no doubt that most of the young people participating in Black Bloc and advocating for “diversity of tactics” (translation: “don't tell me not to throw rocks, you oppressive, ageist liberal carnivore!”) are well-meaning people doing a lot of good work in their communities when they're not throwing rocks through windows. But whether or not they want to believe it, when they start throwing rocks during a march they are doing exactly the same work as the police provocateurs – I mean literally, not figuratively.

Black Bloc: doesn't this make you wonder about what the fuck you're doing?









Friday, February 26, 2010

Nick ****ing Cohen, On What's Left by Mark Steel

Mark Steel
The article on the Iraq that The Observer asked Mark Steel to write but then refused to print.

What splendid timing. Out pops a book applauding the virtues of the invasion of Iraq, just when even the invasion's last bedraggled supporters in the American establishment are giving up on it. Even the head of the British Army has declared it a disaster. The United Nations have revealed that among the occupation's magnificent achievements is there is more torture in Iraq now than under Saddam. The debate about the scale of the slaughter concerns how many hundreds of thousands are dead. So here Nick Cohen not only cheers the decision to invade but declares his bemusement about why everyone else didn't join him. Maybe he's got another one coming out called "Why can't everyone see England are bound to win the 2006 World Cup?"

Much of the book comprises accounts of Iraqis who supported the invasion, with scorn for those opponents of the war who "wouldn't listen" to Iraqis who'd experienced Saddam's tyranny. But even the Iraq Survey Group sponsored by George Bush reported that 60% of Iraqis now support attacks on occupying troops, and amongst the most strident are those who suffered under Saddam. So does Cohen still think we should follow mainstream Iraqi opinion. If he does, presumably he's training to go out there and start firing, is he?

But there's also an extraordinary element to this book. As well as being a re-hash of all the insipid arguments used by fans of the war, (the anti-war movement didn't want Saddam to be deposed because they "Might have faced a Middle-East running short of dictators for them to salute" etc.), he claims his pro-war mania should be the true agenda for the left. So everyone vaguely connected to the left is reviled in this book for opposing the war: Amnesty International, Nelson Mandela, human rights lawyers, the lot. Everyone was wrong except Nick.

Cohen WAS impressed however by Paul Wolfowitz, co-creator of the "Project for the American Century," and Bush's choice to head the World Bank for his uncompromising dedication to big business and militarism. Cohen met him in London, and admired his "warmth" and "coherence" and "sense of purpose."

So - the left should denounce everyone with a record of valuing humanity above profit and war, and revere the most prominent champions of profit who are prepared to fight wars to defend this. It would be like someone cheering all season for Arsenal in an Arsenal shirt, then saying he was doing this because he was the only true supporter of Tottenham.

And what a bizarre world he lives in, which writes off all those millions who oppose the war as either twisted lefties, or dupes of twisted lefties.

So there we are - Cohen is the only true person on the left, despite the fact that on the defining issue of our times he is angrily to the right of two ex-presidents of America, the Liberal Democrats, Joanna Lumley, Leo Sayer, Zoe Ball, Jimmy Hill, Pope John Paul II, Jacques Chirac, Dolly Parton, almost everyone in Africa and South America, the head of the British army and Cat bloody Stevens.

It might be worth reading a book explaining the 'virtues' of this war by Colin Powell, or even Paul Wolfowitz, as an insight into the thinking of those behind it. But this represents no one but himself. If you're really bored and fancy reading it, do something more useful, such as counting the ants in your garden or pushing an onion round the perimeter of Surrey.

Exclusive to marksteelinfo - never previously published.

You can teach birth control but you'll end in hell if you do it by Mark Steel

Mark Steel

There's no other subject schools can teach with their version of the truth

How can there be so many lunatics opposed to sex education? And apart from anything else, what makes them think a lesson about sex is going to make kids go out and immediately have sex? It's education about it, not an instruction to get it done before dinner break. Maybe they should demand an end to history lessons as well on the grounds that "I don't want my fourteen-year-old learning about Napoleon as he's too young to invade Italy."

It took institutions as irrational as the Catholic Church to make their objections, so a law was devised making sex education compulsory. But now, after "Extensive lobbying" from the priesthood, an amendment's been added that religious schools will still be able to teach their own unique Biblical version. For example, according to Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, the schools "can still teach contraception is wrong, but they can't refuse to teach it."

So that's an improvement I suppose. The Catholic teacher can demonstrate putting a condom on a banana, saying "First we expel the air, then place it over the end, then we remember if you do this for real you'll face an eternity in unimaginably agonising molten lava searing through your pores as you scream in soulless anguish while demons submerge you in relentless unbearable horror, then right the way along, nice and snug and we're done. Now you try."

If the only rule is that they have to teach about sex, but it doesn't matter if it's in any way true, the religious schools might as well teach anything they like. They could tell the class "Copy down these facts - 1) Doing it from behind makes your tongue fall out. 2) Masturbation causes earthquakes. 3) Every time you get an erection you poke an angel's eye out."

There's no other subject that schools would be allowed to teach with their own version of the truth. If a teacher told his class "Some people believe the capital of Italy is Rome, but I've always said it's Nairobi in the North Pole", they wouldn't get an Ofsted report saying "He might be teaching geography that's cobblers but he's teaching it, and that's the main thing."

Religious schools will probably try this trick with other lessons now, to see what they can get away with, refusing to teach chemistry as they don't believe in sulphur, or announcing they won't teach the six times table as the Pope's had a vision that it's wrong.

So we're left with differing methods of approaching sex education. One might be to acknowledge that we get desires, that can be lethal at times, so it's probably for the best if we find ways of managing them safely and respectfully. Or there's the more traditional method, which is more along the lines of "You know those natural feelings you get – well they're unnatural so stop having them."

They might as well teach that God wants everyone to be cold, and if we feel a desire to shut the door in winter we must fight the temptation, and we must go to the park in January in our swimming trunks to and, if we shiver or reach for a coat, that's Satan at work and we should discuss it with the priest.

This might do less damage than teaching sex education that involves pictures of sexually transmitted diseases, and stories of the decrepit life that awaits anyone who submits to sexual temptation. Imagine the outrage if people in favour of sex education resorted to those tactics, by saying "This is what happens if you stay a virgin all your life", and showing a picture of Ann Widdecombe.

But somehow it's when sexuality is most denied and suppressed, that you find society most riddled with torment and horror, of abused children shipped out of the country to avoid embarrassment and hushed up illegal abortions and all the things that God doesn't seem to mind as long as no one uses a condom.

But then the government probably isn't bothered about the social implications of their policy, as long as the schools get good exam results. They won't mind if the Catholic school turns out a heap of screwed-up teenagers as long as they get A grades for correctly calculating the angles in the holy trinity.

In any case it's probably all irrelevant, as most schools manage to make lessons excruciatingly dull whatever the subject. So it could be a sex education lesson about responsibility in relationships, using the problems of Ashley Cole, and by the end everyone would be staring out of the window as the teacher bawled "Come on, we ought to know this, what's wrong with Ashley's texts? Well, before he writes 'then make you scream like a hyena' there should be punctuation. No wonder he's in trouble, now write it out as he should have done."

First published in The Independent on 24th February 2010

Listen to the heroes of Israel by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger reminds us of the struggle by an extraordinary few in Israel against the repression and lawlessness of the occupation of Palestine. They are the inspiration to break the loud silence in the Jewish diaspora.

I phoned Rami Elhanan the other day. We had not spoken for six years and much has happened in Israel and Palestine. Rami is an Israeli graphic designer who lives with his family in Jerusalem. His father survived Auschwitz. His grandparents and six aunts and uncles perished in the Holocaust. Whenever I am asked about heroes, I say Rami and his wife Nurit without hesitation.

Soon after when we met, Rami gave me a home videotape that was difficult to watch. It shows his daughter Smadar, aged 14, throwing her head back, laughing and playing the piano. “She loved to dance,” he said. On the afternoon of 4 September, 1997, Smadar and her best friend, Sivane, had auditions for admission to a dance school. She had argued that morning with her mother, who was anxious about her going to the centre of Jerusalem. “I didn’t want to row,” said Nurit, “so I let her go.”

Rami was in his car when he turned on the radio to catch the three o”clock news. There had been a suicide bombing in Ben Yehuda shopping precinct. More than 200 hundred people were injured and several were dead. Within minutes, his mobile phone rang. It was Nurit, crying. They searched the hospitals in vain, then the morgue; and so began, as Rami describes it, their “descent into darkness”.

Rami and Nurit are two of the founders of the Parents Circle, or Bereaved Families Forum, which brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones. “It’s painful to acknowledge,” he said. “but there is no basic moral difference between the [Israeli] soldier at the checkpoint who prevents a woman who is having a baby from going through, causing her to lose the baby, and the man who killed my daughter. And just as my daughter was a victim [of the occupation], so was he.” Rami describes the Israeli occupation and the dispossession of Palestinians as a “cancer in our heart”. Nothing changes, he says, until the occupation ends.

Every “Jerusalem Day” – the day Israel celebrates its military conquest of the city – Rami has stood in the street with a photograph of Smadar and crossed Israeli and Palestinian flags, and people spit at him and tell him it was a pity he was not blown up, too. And yet he and Nurit and their comrades have made extraordinary gains. Rami goes to Israeli schools with a Palestinian member of the group, and they show maps of what ought to be Palestine, and they hug each other. “This is like an earthquake to children who have been socialised and manipulated into hating,” he said. “They say to us, ‘You have opened my eyes’.”

In October, Rami and Nurit sat in the Israeli High Court while the state counsel, “stammering, unprepared and unkempt,” wrote Nurit, “stood like a platoon commander in charge of new recruits and refuted... the allegations”. Salwa and Bassam Aramin, Palestinian parents, were there, too. Tears streaked Salwa’s face. Their ten-year-old daughter Abir Aramin was killed by an Israeli soldier firing a rubber bullet point-blank at her small head while she was standing beside a kiosk buying sweets with her sister. The judges seemed bored and one of them remarked that Israeli soldiers were rarely indicted, so it would be best to forget it. The state counsel laughed. This was normal.

“Our children,” said Nurit at a rally last December to mark the anniversary of the Israeli assault on Gaza, “have learned this year that all the disgusting qualities which anti-semites attribute to Jews are actually manifested among our leaders: deceit, greed and the murder of children... What values of beauty and goodness can we squeeze into such a sophisticated apparatus of brainwashing and reality distortion?”

Rami now tells me the High Court has decided to investigate the case of Abir Aramin after all. This is not normal: it is a victory.

“Where are the other victories?” I asked him.

“In America last year, a Palestinian and I spoke five times a day in front of thousands. There is a big shift in American public opinion, and that’s where the hope lies. It’s only pressure from outside Israel – from Jews especially – that will end this nightmare. People in the West must know that while there is a silence, this looking away, this profane abuse of Israel’s critics as anti-Jew, they are no different from those who stood aside during the days of the Holocaust.”

Since Israel’s onslaught on Lebanon in 2006, its devastation of Gaza in 2008-9 and Mossad’s recent political murder in Dubai, the criminality of the Israeli state has been impossible to disguise. On 11 February, the influential Reut Institute in Tel Aviv reported to the Israeli Cabinet, which it advises, that violence had failed to achieve Israel’s ends and had produced worldwide revulsion. “In last year’s Gaza operation,” said the report, “our superior military power was offset by an offensive on Israel’s legitimacy that led to a significant setback in our international standing and will constrain future Israeli military planning and operations...”. In other words, proof of the murderous, racist toll of Zionism has been an epiphany for many people; justice for the Palestinians, wrote the expatriate Israeli musician Gilad Altzmon, is now “at the heart of the battle for a better world”.

However, his fellow Jews in Western countries, particularly Britain and Australia, whose influence is critical, are still mostly silent, still looking away, still accepting, as Nurit said, “the brainwashing and reality distortion”. And yet the responsibility to speak out could not be clearer and the lessons of history – family history for many - ensure that it renders them culpable should their silence persist. For inspiration, I recommend the moral courage of Rami and Nurit.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When education favours division over diversity JOHN PILGER

Public education gave John Pilger his start, but as he told Sydney Boys High School this week, success in life is more than winning prizes.

It is strange for me to be standing on the stage where I last stood in 1957 as a member of the Sydney High first eight that had just won the GPS Head of the River. I was so proud. We had shown that High, a state school, could deploy the determination and skill, the spirit and intelligence that are often claimed as the monopoly of money and privilege. Most of our supporters on the river bank were not finely dressed. They did not drive smart cars. They were not always confident and assured. But they represented the way we were.

Yes, High is an elite school - it comes eighth in the government's new performance tables, but that is not the point. Public secondary education in NSW was pioneered at Sydney High; and as Australia has changed its Anglo-Irish characteristics for a nation drawn from all corners of the earth, this amazing diversity is celebrated at High in common with most public schools which, unlike the private sector, speak for the wider Australian community.

The Rudd government's recent publication on the My School website of school league tables is an attack on this wider community and the very essence of "fair go". The hidden message of these lists is one of division and hopelessness to many young people not fortunate enough to be at a school like Sydney High.

For example, I looked up the primary school I attended - Wellington Street, Bondi. It rated No.564 out of 1100. Wellington Street is an excellent school, but it was never fashionable. The parents of kids who go there often have to struggle. However, not far away, Bondi Beach Primary is fashionable. Middle-class parents fight to get their offspring in. And it is more than 400 points up the list from Wellington Street.

In the west of Sydney, schools that have the responsibility of teaching students with English as a second language, and dealing with the poverty that inevitably comes with refugees, find themselves way down in the list.

In the country, Boggabilla is near the bottom of the list. Its students come from the indigenous community: the First Australians. According to a recent United Nations report on 90 countries, the Aboriginal people of Australia are so disadvantaged they have the worst life expectancy of any indigenous people in the world. This is shocking.

What will happen now to schools like Boggabilla that are named and shamed? The students, teachers and parents, for all their admirable often heroic efforts, may now feel more alienated from the Australian community than ever as a campaign of attrition is mounted against so-called failed schools.

What is the real aim of these lists? Is it to cut back state education and harness teachers to a dictated curriculum? Is it to replace a democratic system with a primitive corporate version?

I have watched this happen in Britain and the United States, disastrously. A New York model which has besotted the politically born-again Julia Gillard is a sordid exercise in failed extremism: of turning schools into competing businesses for no purpose other than ideological.

In Australia, this false debate serves as a political distraction from the scandalous fact the federal government bankrolls private schools at the expense of public schools. A wealthy private school like Knox Grammar gets an aquatic centre while the poorest schools beg for funds for a library. By 2012, Australian taxpayers will have given $12 billion more to obscenely wealthy private schools than to the schools where the majority of our children are educated. This is wrong by any moral measure.

There is nothing more precious in a democracy than a well-resourced public education system that provides opportunity for all youngsters, regardless of income, race and class. Without it, I would have failed. Without it, the esteem and confidence of our youngsters is just another commodity.

The great American historian and teacher Howard Zinn, who has just died, was a champion of public education. His textbook A People's History of the United States challenged the propaganda of established power that claimed democracy as a gift from the top, not fought for by us.

"I wanted my students," he wrote, "to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

In congratulating all school leavers, I urge you to remember success in life does not necessarily come from prizes. What is important is the person you are, the kindness you express, the compassion you feel and the courage you show. Go into the world and relinquish the safety of silence and make trouble - remembering that the most important trouble is calling to account those who assume power over our lives.

This is an edited extract of an address by journalist and filmmaker John Pilger to the Sydney Boys High School annual speech night.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Should unions leave Labor? by Tim Gooden

Congratulations to Victorian Electrical Trades Union secretary Dean Mighell for his frank comment in the February 11 The Age ("Unions must leave Labor").

Unionists, including ALP members, must not be afraid to have this debate publicly. The troubled trade union movement cannot move forward if discussion is kept away from rank-and-file members.

Everyone knows why the debate is on: the union movement fought (and spent millions) to get the rid of Work Choices, only to have the Rudd government replace it with "Work Choices lite" (the Fair Work Act).
Howard's Australian Building Construction Commission still prowls building sites and its powers have been extended. Contact with union organisers and lawful industrial action is restricted, and award simplification makes many workers worse off.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions says that the Fair Work Act contains 15 serious breaches of human rights, but does nothing about it — it doesn’t want to embarrass Rudd.
So should unions dump the ALP? Absolutely.

Dean Mighell is right — passing over workers’ money to a party that represents big business has not worked. However, disaffiliation alone is not enough. It could even weaken the disaffiliating union when it comes under attack from a Labor government.

Where does the union movement then head? Dean Mighell’s solution is to convert the unions into a politically independent lobby group. The problem with this approach is that neither of the major parties are going to offer any concessions to workers' interests unless they have to, and converting the existing half-demoralised union movement into a politically unattached lobby group won't achieve that.

Neither will using disaffiliation as a threat to scare the ALP into paying attention to worker and union demands. The disaffiliation manoeuvres of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union in Western Australia were water off a duck's back to the former state Labor government.

Labor is also trying to move away from relying on donations and affiliation towards taxpayer-funded elections. That would dramatically undermine union influence within the party and kill another tactic that unions have tried to get Labor governments to listen to them — only funding Labor candidates that support union values and demands.

This tactic has been widely used by British unions. The most principled and committed union-backed Labour parliamentarians remain impotent on the back benches; the others have succumbed to the call of personal ambition. The political strength of the British working class has not improved.

Finally, there's the tactic of supporting other existing parties that support worker and union demands — like the Greens and the Socialist Alliance. The union movement should definitely fund the political forces most sympathetic to it. If the Greens won the senate balance of power at the next election it would rob a second-term Rudd government of its pretext for refusing to improve industrial laws.

However, it would not shift the biggest roadblock — a political system where neither of the "parties of government" are friends of working people.

To begin to move that barrier the union movement has to relearn the lesson that led to the formation of the ALP in the first place, after the failure of the 1890s strikes: that industrial action was inadequate without a political voice.

The union movement should think about creating a political process where union members and working people can develop demands and elect candidates based on those demands; and guarantee the ability to recall candidates if they stray.

This sounds like pie in the sky at the moment. Two things that would make it more real are:
If some unions opened up a rank-and-file debate about affiliation to the ALP. They would learn that union members are sick to death of their money being wasted on Rudd Labor and keen to discuss alternatives;

If existing socialist organisations got over the delusion that their program alone represents salvation for the working class, and started to take the issue of left unity seriously. A bigger, more united socialist left would help give the lie to the age-old ALP "truism" that there's no political home for workers outside Labor ranks.

In this year of national and state elections — when most union officials will be involved with party pre-selections and maneuvering — let’s have an open discussion on how workers can create their own political voice.

[Tim Gooden is the secretary of the Geelong and Region Trades and Labour Council.]

Sunday, February 21, 2010

No escape from the curse of 'easy-listening' radio by Mark Steel

Mark Steel
Someone has decided that this rot is popular, but it isn't

In these discussions about the use of torture, everyone seems to have missed the growth of one barbaric practice rapidly on the increase, which is the enforced playing of Magic FM in public places. This hideous fake-soothing, "easy-listening" evil infests a huge number of cafés, minicabs, shopping centres, leisure centres, pubs. It's unstoppable, and unless we reduce its emissions by 90 per cent by 2020 the planet will become uninhabitable.

It takes immense planning to avoid being subjected to its Phil Collins and Abba-dominated pap, involving long periods in hiding and careful reconnaissance, with training from veterans of the French Resistance.

And when one of these records stops, before you can process the thought, "Ah, a moment's respite", the faux-jocular DJ is telling you, "Wow, we've got some great music coming your way. I hope you're having a fantastic morning, and if you're in that 25-mile ice-bound tailback on the M3 just sit back and relax, this is 'Candle in the Wind'."

And you know that if a nuclear bomb went off he'd say, "My word it's 8.6 on the Geiger counter this morning so whether you're digging a bunker or already disintegrating, I hope you're having a wonderful day with our classic tunes, and don't forget the mystery voice competition will be coming up right after Lionel Richie." And all punctuated by adverts for car insurance.

Soon there'll be loudspeakers playing it on every corner. It will be on in operating theatres and in courtrooms during murder trials, and crematoriums will replace funeral services with Magic FM, so you'll all stand there for a few minutes through "Knowing Me, Knowing You" and the travel news, then send the coffin on its way and leave.

This is all because someone has decided this rot is popular, but it isn't. Some people tolerate it because it lulls the listeners into a semi-coma where the real world can't get in, acting as a type of morphine so they can drift off to "Every Breath You Take" and gently wait to die.

But few people can truly enjoy it because it's the same every single day. So you'll never hear anyone say, "Wow, did you hear Magic FM this morning?" because you'd have to follow that with "You'll never guess what happened – they played a track by Billy Joel."

It can't even work as nostalgia, because no one can think, "Oh marvellous, they're playing 'Fernando'. I haven't heard this since 10 to three and it's nearly half past now, doesn't seem possible does it?"

Occasionally they do play a classic Motown song, or Dusty Springfield or something with a hint of stimulation or sexuality, but in some ways that's even worse, because they're playing it as genteel background lift music when it's supposed to be electrifying. It's like seeing footage of George Foreman being knocked out by Muhammad Ali, but on "You've Been Framed" with a presenter saying, "Uh-oh, here's another chap who's taken to the floor, heh-heh."

Obviously people should be free to listen to whatever they like, but when this stuff's thrust at you from all angles all the time, you enter into a philosophical debate about liberty that could keep universities busy for decades as they consider the moral implications of forcibly subjecting people to Chris de Burgh's "Lady in Poxy Red".

I might have a day where I play a selection of particularly manic African rap, or the entire works of Nick Cave, but I wouldn't suggest it's blasted into every café, shopping centre and minicab. Well I would, to be honest, but the point is I wouldn't get away with it.

But also, if you complain to whoever's playing Magic publicly, a common response from the staff will be, "You don't like it – we have to listen to it all bloody day, it drives us MAD." Surely this is an act that contravenes several clauses of the Geneva Convention. These poor sods would probably rather listen to Dentist FM, with a DJ saying, "Remember this stubborn little incisor from 1982, an absolute classic – vvvzzzzzhhhhh vvvzzzzvvzzzzz."

And the worry now is that other radio stations will try to go the same way. Radio 2 has announced its intention to deepen its appeal to over-65s, which I hope isn't code for becoming more like Magic. Because this is how dictatorships start.

I bet if you look at the Soviet Union in 1930 there was a radio station playing a handful of mindless tunes all day across the farms, and before long the population was in a trance, and its disc jockeys were purring, "OK, it's minus 27 degrees out there but never mind, if you're being worked to death in a salt mine just relax in the frozen wastes and enjoy the great sound of Abba. This is "Gimme Gimme Gimme a Man After Midnight".

First published in The Independent on 17th February 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lessons From Howard Zinn by Anthony Arnove

The late historian and activist was a compelling example of someone committed to, and enjoying to its fullest, a life of struggle.

Filming our documentary, The People Speak, in Boston one afternoon, Howard Zinn said that the camaraderie between our cast members, the sense of collective purpose and joy, was a feeling he hadn’t experienced with such intensity since his active participation in the civil rights movement.

Since Howard’s passing, I have thought often of that moment, which crystallizes for me what made him so compelling an example of someone committed to, and enjoying to its fullest, a life of struggle.

Howard jumped into the civil rights struggle as an active participant, not just as a commentator or observer. He decided that the point of studying history was not to write papers and attend seminars, but to make history, to help inform struggles to change the world.

He was fired from Spelman College as a result, and only narrowly escaped losing his next job at Boston University for his role in opposing the Vietnam War and in supporting workers on the campus.

When there was a moment of respite after the end of the Vietnam War, Howard did not turn back to academic studies, or turn inward, as so many other 1960s activists had done, but began writing plays, understanding the importance of cultural expression to political understanding and change. He also began writing A People’s History of the United States, which came out in 1980, right as the tide was turning against the radical social movements he had helped to organize.

A People’s History would provide a countercurrent that developed and grew, as teachers, activists, and the next generation of social movements developed new political efforts, new movements. And Howard was there to fight with them.

Throughout, he reminded us of the history of social change in this country, and kept coming back to the essential lessons that it seems we so often forget or need to learn anew. That change comes from below. That progress comes only with struggle. That we cannot rely on elected officials or leaders. That we have to rely on our collective self-activity, social movements, protest. That change never happens in a straight line, but always has ups and downs, twists and turns. That there are no guarantees in history.

But Howard added a distinctive element to these arguments by embodying the understanding that the process of struggle, the shared experience of being part of work alongside and for others, is the most rewarding, fulfilling, and meaningful life one can live. The sense of solidarity he had with people in struggle, the sense of joy he had in life, was infectious.

The stereotypical image our corporate media presents of the Left, especially the radical Left, is that it is humorless, it lacks culture, it’s based on self-denial and conformity. Howard shattered this convenient caricature.

Howard’s talks were like a Lenny Bruce monologue, with punch-lines that delivered keen social observations. His play Marx in Soho manages to simultaneously reclaim Marxism from its bourgeois critics and its Stalinist distorters, while bringing down the house with physical comedy that evokes Sid Caesar and Zero Mostel.

He returned repeatedly to discussions of the importance of music, theater, film, literature, and the arts to political change. When he spoke of his turning points politically, Howard would often evoke Woody Guthrie, Charles Dickens, Dalton Trumbo, Alice Walker (his former student), and Marge Piercy.

He enjoyed mussels, Italian food, wine, the company of friends, vacations. And especially he loved time with his family, Roz, his life partner, his two children, and five grandchildren.

We should avoid hagiography, though. Howard was not a saint. None of us are. It’s important to remember that whatever revolution we make, it has to be made with people as they are, with all the contradictions that come with living under capitalism. There is no other way for it to happen. But in the course of trying to change the world, with others, we change ourselves, and new possibilities emerge.

It is a problem that the Left in the United States and in much of the world today relies so heavily on a few charismatic leaders, who often are elevated above or set apart from the movements of which they are a part. The reasons are many. Some people cultivate or contribute to this dynamic, of course, but Howard was not one of them.

There are, from time to time, people who can crystallize the aims or goals of a movement in an especially compelling way. Who can rally greater numbers of people to take a particular action or, in the case of Howard, make a lifelong commitment to activism. But such people cannot substitute for a movement. Eugene Debs, who understood this problem well, put it this way, once: “I am no Moses to lead you out of the wilderness … because if I could lead you out, someone else could lead you in again.”

That was the spirit of Howard: think for yourself, act for yourself, challenge and question authority. But do it with others. As he writes in Marx in Soho, “If you are going to break the law, do it with two thousand people … and Mozart.”

Anthony Arnove is co-director of the documentary The People Speak, just released on DVD, and co-editor, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a People's History of the United States, a collection of first-hand accounts from those involved in the historical movements Zinn discusses in A People's History of the United States.

Published on Thursday, February 18, 2010 by YES! Magazine

Five Reasons NOT to Invest in Nuclear Power by Robert Alvarez

Yesterday, President Obama announced that the Energy department will provide an $8.3 billion loan guarantee to the Southern Co. for its proposed nuclear power plant near Augusta, GA. "The loan guarantee program for new nuclear power plants not only will further the nation's commitment to clean energy, Obama said, "but also will assist in creating jobs in American communities." Unfortunately, nuclear energy isn't safe or clean and it's too costly for the nation.

Barack Obama speaks about creating new energy jobs. He announced plans to fund two new nuclear power plants. (Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty)News coverage has been mostly supportive and, in some cases, bordering on cheerleading. In his blog for the Atlantic magazine, Editor Daniel Indiviglio laid out "five reasons to cheer Obama's ambition." Let's take a closer look at these "five reasons."

Reason #1: "Nuclear power is a known quantity. The U.S. has been successfully using this energy source for a very long time."

Nuclear power is certainly well known to Wall Street, which despite its recent debacles, has refused to fund power reactors for more than 30 years because of their financial risks. Reactor construction costs climbed as high as 380 percent above expectations during the boom period for nuclear in the 1970s. Nuclear investors eventually wrote off about $17 billion. Consider the 1979 Three Mile Island Accident, in which TMI investors lost about $2 billion in about an hour, when the reactor core started to melt. Nuclear energy has depended primarily on the financial burden being born by the tax payer and rate payer. This is hardly a success story.

Reasons #2 & #3: Semi-Shovel ready, Jobs now -- Jobs later

A new nuclear reactor might provide 800 near-term jobs and as many as 3,500 new construction jobs later. This is comparable to the number of home weatherization jobs created in State of Ohio last year. Unlike energy conservation, in which jobs are created relatively quickly, nuclear reactor construction jobs may take several years to come about.

Reason #4: Probably not very costly

Costs for nuclear power have nearly doubled in the past five years. Currently reactors are estimated to cost about $8 to $10 billion. Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office estimate these loan guarantees have more than a 50-50 chance of failing -- something Energy Secretary Chu told the news media yesterday he was unaware of before signing off on them. Because of the way the $54.5 billion in loan guarantees are structured, the Federal Financing Bank (otherwise known as the U.S. Treasury) will provide the loans. Guess who will be left holding the bag if things go south?

Reason #5: Preparing for America's Energy future

Assuming that all $54.5 billion in nuclear loan guarantees being sought by Obama are successful -- this will provide less than one percent of the nation's current electrical generating capacity. Replacing the existing fleet of 104 reactors which are expected to shut down by 2056 could cost about $1.4 trillion. Add another $500 billion for a 50% increase above current nuclear generation capacity to make a meaningful impact on reducing carbon emissions. This means the U.S. would have to start bringing a new reactor on line at a rate of once a week to once a month for the next several decades.

Meanwhile, Obama has pulled the rug out from under the nuclear industry by terminating funds for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site in Nevada. After nearly 30 years of trying, disposal of high-level radioactive waste is proving to be extremely difficult. So Obama has convened a "blue ribbon" panel of experts to go back to the drawing board and recommend what to do two years from now.

The accumulation of spent power-reactor fuel is expected to double at reactor sites and poses new safety issues, which will be the reality for several decades to come. Spent fuel pools currently contain about four times what their original designs envisioned and may be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than reactors. In 2004, a National Academy of Sciences panel concluded that drainage of water from a spent fuel pond by an act of malice could lead to a catastrophic radiological fire. One thing is certain. Republicans and Democrats do not want to restart a national radioactive waste dump selection process that's guaranteed to anger voters before the 2012 elections and beyond.

Nuclear Energy is an intriguing idea until you start to think about it.

Published on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 by Huffington Post

Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Even Sadder by John Tognolini

A CFMEU member protesting against the ALP keeping Howard's industrial Gestapo the Australian Building Construction Commission, compaing Gillard to Thatcher is spot on.

On Facebook I was recently invited to join the Julia Gillard fan page. I thought the very idea of a Gillard fan club was repugnant. I had just sent the letter below to the NSW Teachers Federation journal Education.

If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his [or her] office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job.

Donald D. Quinn

It is because of our union we have much smaller class sizes than 40. It is also because our federation as well as the rest of the union movement, that we have a Rudd government in Canberra. It wasn’t so much the ALP being elected, but more Howard and the Liberal/Nationals being thrown out of office for their WorkChoices policies and inaction over Climate Change.

We now have Education and Industrial Relations minister, Julia Gillard who has decided to shaft us by publishing school tables. Gillard follows the standard CV requirements of being an education minister applied to any state or federal government, whether ALP or Liberal/Nationals;

1) She‘s never taught in a classroom.

2) She generates ignorant public debates on education.

3) She supports funding to elite private schools.

4) She whips up bigotry and hate against teachers.

TAFE colleagues know all too well that there isn’t much difference between the WorkChoices Lite from the state ALP government. Isn’t it ironic that these same politicians campaigned against the Liberal/Nationals WorkChoices in 2007 state election? In that election, the ALP never said a word about privatisation of electricity or school GA’s.

Australia and Britain both face elections this year and the sad choice in the major parties in the UK is very similar to here, was summed up by Mark Steel in Britain’s Independent when he said, ” There are many questions a population asks itself before a General Election, and the one that many people are asking before the one this year is, "Which of these rancid heaps of sewage will be slightly less repulsive than the other?" Maybe that's the way it should be phrased on the ballot paper, to increase turn-out.” Voting is not compulsory in Britain.

Teachers should seriously consider voting for Independents, the Greens or Socialist Alliance as both the major parties are constantly assaulting us and public education. And in saying that, what has been the point of federation lobbying the ALP or Liberal/Nationals?

Fighting Shell Oil in Ireland, The Arrest of Pat O'Donnell by By DAVID ROVICS

David Rovics

In a country with the kind of tumultuous history that Ireland has it's not surprising that a man being arrested and jailed for seven months would escape the notice of the media, at least outside of Ireland. What should hopefully pique some interest is that this is a man with a long history of being bullied, intimidated, arrested and treated roughly by the authorities for his nonviolent resistance against Shell Oil's construction of a gas pipeline, and now the judge is calling him a bully and jailing him for seven months on the extremely dubious charge of intimidating an officer.

To be sure, this is not Nigeria, where Shell regularly massacres those opposed to the oil drilling which is destroying the environment and the livelihoods of so much of the population. Shell doesn't run Ireland in the way it controls Nigeria. But at the same time, much like my own country, the Irish government has proven itself to be far from free of corruption.

When I arrived in Dublin last June, on the other side of the country from where Pat O'Donnell's family has fished the bay for the past five generations, the Shell to Sea campaign was a subject that came up regularly in conversation. There was, and is, a buzz around it because, especially for those of us the authorities like to denounce as “professional activists,” the Shell to Sea campaign in County Mayo is inspiring as an example of an effort that has brought together people from all walks of life. To be sure, there are many scruffy young activists involved of all sorts, from Dublin, Cork and Galway, with and without dreadlocks, along with scruffy environmentalists from England, France and elsewhere. But the backbone of the campaign are local school teachers and fishermen.

Despite my GPS it was difficult to find the tiny town of Rossport in Mayo because, well, it didn't seem to exist. Occasionally there was a cell phone signal and I was able to make contact with a very patient volunteer, but between the two of us we couldn't figure out where I was or how to get to Rossport from there. My traveling partner, fellow US musician Shawnee Kilgore and I resorted to asking for directions, which we ended up doing frequently. Once in a pub full of three generations of locals enjoying the craic, then at a little grocery store. The woman in the grocery store was the last little town we came to, then it was all narrow dead-end streets that ended at someone's farm. At one such farm we were met by a very nice but completely unintelligible elderly farmer whose border collie herded us into submission when we got back in the car and wouldn't let us leave for a good couple minutes.

Like everyone else we had met in Ireland, people seemed to have a positive view of the campaign in Rossport. Until now our sample had been fairly self-selecting, the types of folks who come to leftwing folk music shows, but here in Mayo it was a decidedly random sample. The next person from whom we asked for directions was a young man with a wheelbarrow full of shit, a physique that suddenly made me question my heterosexuality, and the humble, friendly manner that gives the Irish countryside its reputation.

Once we crossed into County Mayo, and increasingly as we neared our destination, there were home-made signs of all sorts on the sides and roofs of barns, perched in front of haystacks and all kinds of other places making clear in no uncertain terms that Shell and its pipeline were not welcome here. Finally, getting tantalizingly close to our destination, we stopped in front of the house of a transplant from England, yet another sympathizer, who was the last person from whom we required assistance that day. (After that, finding our way around got a bit easier because I could at least find our way back to the camp by saving our coordinates on my GPS. The GPS had the road in there marked as “road,” which was better than nothing...)

First we found the B&B where we were booked in for the next couple nights, a couple miles down the road where the Shell to Sea camp was now set up. The woman running the B&B was another strong supporter of the campaign. She also had probably the only wifi signal to be found for a hundred miles. We asked her where to find the camp, and she explained that now that we had gotten this far it was easy – just drive down the road a bit further and you'll see all the police vehicles.

The ranks of the police as well as of the campaigners were swelled that weekend for the planned events, which were many-fold – an introduction to the campaign for newcomers, a workshop on how to do civil disobedience, a workshop on how to talk to the media and workshops on other subjects, a mini-festival with an impressive roster of punk, hiphop and acoustic performers from several different countries, and an attempt to scale the formidable steel fence surrounding the nearby Shell base of operations for this stage of the pipeline-building operation.

Within a couple hours of our arrival I found myself sitting around a fire on a field that sloped down to the water fifty meters away. Sitting on logs and chairs around the fire with people from County Mayo and others from England, Lithuania and elsewhere in Ireland, a man sat down and introduced himself to us one by one. This was Pat O'Donnell. He thanked us for coming and joked that a few years ago people in the town would cross the road in fear if they saw someone looking like some of these unwashed feral types, but now they were all good friends. Around the fire there Pat gave us an informal course on why this community had mobilized against Shell.

Although the circumstances are always different wherever you go, I was reminded sitting around that fire of other small gatherings around a firepit where I have heard other people say the same things. Sometimes the phrases are identical. I heard elderly Dineh women around a firepit in Arizona talking about the uranium mines and middle-aged farmers from the Wendlandt area of Germany talking about the nuclear waste transports. I imagined Pat O'Donnell had never been to Arizona, but he'd sure find the discussions familiar there in Black Mesa.

Some people are cynical and just accept that “progress” is inevitable, he said. Some make money from selling property to the corporation. Others talk about the jobs the pipeline will bring in. But what about those whose livelihoods will be lost when the fish becomes toxic? What about the drinking water they're going to poison? They say their operations are safe but we know that's not true, we know their safety record, it's disastrous.

It's when people like Pat start talking about “generations” that I feel like I'm in a David and Goliath type movie – the Milagro Beanfield War or Civil Action or something – my family has been fishing here for five generations and I want to make sure we can fish here for the next five generations.

Certainly the only people visible in Rossport who supported Shell were the police, and there were a lot of them, from all over Ireland. Pat and others from the community gave speeches to those police that would make a fascist cry, one would think, but the police were studiously unmoved. Others protesting were a bit more confrontational at least in their chants, if not in their actions – “Whose cops? Shell's cops! Whose cops? Shell's cops!”

Attempts to scale the fence were beaten back, literally. One young Lithuanian man (a different Lithuanian than the one around the fire the day before) suffered a badly sprained ankle from being shoved down the hill by the police. It seemed like it might be broken. I drove him to the nearest hospital an hour away. Except for the local folks I was one of the few at the camp who knew I could find my way back. (Oddly enough it seemed that half the other people there at that emergency room that day were there for injuries below the knee.)

While some local people will profit from Shell's operations, the company itself stands to make hundreds of billions of dollars from this vast untapped resource off the west coast of Ireland, but these profits will clearly come from the poisoning of the air, land and water of County Mayo and the region. Moreover, the Irish people, ostensibly the owners of this vast resource, are virtually giving it away. In 1987 and again in 1992 laws were passed that decreased the share of profit from such operations tremendously for the Irish public. One government minister was jailed for corruption as a result of the 1987 law but it remains on the books.

Most of the people arrested on the day of the protest that I participated in were released later that day. I found out later that a few days after I visited the Shell to Sea camp Pat O'Donnell's fishing boat was boarded by four masked men who held Pat and a colleague in a room while the four men sank their fishing boat. Pat and his friend only survived because they were quick with getting on an inflatable raft, from which they were eventually rescued. And now, eight months after the sinking of his ship by these mysterious masked men, Pat is in jail. Coinciding with Pat's imprisonment, Shell is making plans to get a lot of work done in his enforced absence.

As Shawnee and I headed towards Belfast for the next gig we had after our weekend in Rossport we were pulled over by the Gardai. They asked to see my license and the ID of the other three people in the car (we were giving a ride to a couple folks who had come down from Belfast for the festivities). They took notes. They didn't say why we had been pulled over. They told me my American driver's license wasn't valid in Ireland (untrue) and that they could take my car from me. They said the car may be legal in Belfast (where it was rented) but not in the Irish Republic (where I had rented cars on many occasions with the same license). Then, out of the goodness of his heart, he decided to let us go – this time.
No, Ireland isn't Nigeria. The outside agitators get harassed, not shot. The community organizers have their boats sunk by thugs and are regularly imprisoned, they're not hanged. But in Ireland as in Nigeria, Royal Dutch Shell lies about their safety record, lies about their intentions, while making obscene profits off of the poisoning of the environment while most of the local people have less than nothing to show for any of it.

David Rovics is a singer-songwriter based in Portland, Oregon. For more information about the Shell to Sea campaign go to www.shelltosea.com.