Friday, September 30, 2005

What the Press Won't Say About GOP House Leaders

The immediate inta-GOP fallout of Tom Delay's indictment brings to mind a classic American political quote. Earl Long, brother of Huey Long, once was reported to have said that he would be elected unless someone had pictures of him in bed with a dead woman or a live boy.

Delay's original pick to take his place was California Congressman David Drier. Same say this is because Delay thought Drier was no threat to build his own empire and would turn back the reins of power to the Hammer. Drier's elevation was overturned, though the media ignored a likely major cause. Drier has been outed as a closeted Gay. (See Doug Ireland's article for details of Drier's anti-gya voting record.)

If the GOP has problems with Drier sleeping with his male chief of staff, they apparently don't have a problem with the ethically-challenged Blount sleeping with a Philip Morris lobbyist. (His wife, but not his first wife, who got dumped for the lobbyist-spouse. The media wants to cover this up, as well. Here's what the Washington Post wrote (via Talking Points Memo)

The new majority whip, who has close personal and political ties to the company, instructed congressional aides to add the tobacco provision to the bill -- then within hours of a final House vote -- even though no one else in leadership supported it or knew he was trying to squeeze it in.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

When Dylan Went Electric

Martin Scorsese's documentary ("No Direction Home") on Bob Dylan aired on PBS Monday and Tuesday evening. I missed parts of the first night as I was tempted to watch the KC Chiefs who were getting womped by Denver, but caught all of the second part. It's a masterful and intriguing film, a must for every Dylan fan. For me the climax of the film was Dylan's decision to go electric.

Norm Geras had an interesting question
The people who booed Dylan during his 1966 tour of the UK, and some of whom were seen speaking to camera - saying his new stuff was rubbish, he'd sold out, and so forth - looked to be about the age I was in 1966. That means (I deduce) that they're about my age now. So, does anyone actually know someone who booed Bob Dylan in 1966? Better still, does anyone remember being one of the booers?
The Independent did track down the chap who yelled "Judas" during Dylan's Manchester perfomrance in 1966.

We did learn something in the documentary about those who booed Dylan electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. This account from the site is by Peter Stone Brown.

That night at the evening concert, Dylan, in a leather jacket and white shirt with snap-tab collar, launched into "Maggie's Farm" and in the three minutes it took to play the song changed music completely. Many in the crowd didn't like what they heard – whether it was the rock and roll band or the inadequate sound system remains a topic of debate – and booed. Dylan did two more songs, the early version of "It Takes A Lot To Laugh" (titled by some "Phantom Engineer") and his current single, "Like A Rolling Stone," and walked off the stage. Called back to the stage by Peter Yarrow and performing alone, he sang "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" and "Mr. Tambourine Man."

Thirty-seven years later the controversy of what went on that night still rages with much revisionist history. Some newspaper articles claim that Alan Lomax got in a fistfight with Dylan's manager Albert Grossman over it. They did have a fistfight, but it was over Lomax's introduction to the Paul Butterfield Band, not Dylan. The most legendary story is that Pete Seeger looked for an axe to cut the sound cable. According to Seeger in an interview published in Gadfly magazine, he said to the person doing the sound, "Clean up that sound so we can understand the words," and they shouted back, "No, this is the way they want it." I said, "Goddamn it, if I had an ax, I'd cut the cable." Not all that surprising since Seeger toyed with electric guitars in the forties and there were electric guitars on the albums The Weavers recorded for Decca Records, not to mention that various other performers including Howlin' Wolf and Johnny Cash had appeared at Newport with bands. Some contemporary writers, based on tapes of the show, are claiming no one booed. However all press accounts at the time as well as people I've spoken to who were there said there was booing and shouting.

There's also an account by Robert Shelton from his bio of Dylan, No Direction Home, which backs the traditional story. On the other, Bruce Jackson, one of the directors of the Newport festival, says it ain't so.

When I watched the Tuesday episode it sure sounded like booing to me. Of course, I'd like to hear the entire tape, which is apparently available on a bootleg. Contrary to the covnentional interpretation, Dylan's vocals didn't sound all that distorted. Maybe some modern day re-mixing cleaned things up.

One thing for sure, an older Pete Seeger sounded pretty unrepentant about his negative reaction. There was an instant there when you could imagine the gentle folk singer as cultural commisar. Yes, Pete and his pals were Communists or close enough to have cheated the party out of dues if they never filled out a card.

Pete's dad and step-mother were modernist, atonal composers, until they adopted the political aesthetics of the CP which decreed the superiority of folk melodies to commercial music. Interesting that Henry Ford, America's leading capitalist, anti-Semite, and opponent of unions, was another patron of traditional song and dance.

Democratiya and Engage

Two websites worth taking a look at.

Democratiya is a

free bi-monthly online review of books. Our interests will range over war, peace, just war, and humanitarian interventionism; human rights, genocide, crimes against humanity and the responsibility to protect and rescue; the United Nations, international law and the doctrine of the international community; as well as democratisation, social and labour movements, 'global civil society', 'global social democracy', and Sennian development-as-freedom.

Democratiya believes that in a radically changed world parts of the left have backed themselves into an incoherent and negativist 'anti-imperialist' corner, losing touch with long-held democratic, egalitarian and humane values. In some quarters, the complexity of the post-cold-war world, and of US foreign policy as it has developed since 9/11, has been reduced to another 'Great Contest': 'The Resistance' (or 'Multitude') against 'Imperialism' (or 'Empire'). This world-view has ushered back in some of the worst habits of mind that dominated parts of the left in the Stalinist period: manicheanism, reductionism, apologia, denial, cynicism. Grossly simplifying tendencies of thought, not least the disastrous belief that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' are once again leading to the abandonment of democrats, workers, women and gays who get on the wrong side of 'anti-imperialists' (who are considered 'progressive' simply because they anti-American).

Engage is the new website of the UK democratic left who overturned the AUT academic boycott of Israel.
  • Engage challenges left and liberal antisemitism in the labour movement, in our universities and in public life more generally. Antisemitism here, manifests itself mainly as anti-Zionism.
  • We are a resource for the monitoring and the critique of left and liberal antisemitism.
For fans of the Engage blog, it continues here.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Marc Cooper on the failure of the anti-war march

Marc Cooper points out that despite an estimated 200,ooo turnout at the various rallies, the anti-war movement has been a political failure. As long as the peace movement fails to stand up to the neo-Stalinists of ANSWER and fails to positively reach out to mainstream Americans, the left will, sadly, deserve to fail.

No question that there is a growing frustration and even dread about where the war in Iraq is leading – if anywhere. Or if it has been worth the bloodshed until now. And the demonstrations were a good opportunity to manifest that mounting discomfort.

That said, there are only two ways the anti-war movement can achieve its goals. Either through what the Europeans calls “extra-parliamentary” methods i.e. the disruption of business-as-usual and rendering the country ungovernable. Or through a political strategy by which there is a strategic shift in The Establishment.

Yes, yes, I’ve heard all the facile rhetoric many times before about an “inside/outside” – "suites and the streets” strategy that would combine both approaches. But in the end, it’s really one or the other. Either you overthrow the government, or you force it to change its policies.

That, in turn, means that at least a significant, if not a majority, slice of the Democratic Party has to be on board. Unfortunate, but true. That means including not only those who sign on to the 'Out Now' mantra of the current movement, but also those who have a less drastic view -- but still oppose the current course. The war issue could be “nationalized” in next November’s congressional election if that movement were broadened sufficiently. A Democratic upset in the mid-terms could force the Bush administration to change course and/or could lead to a Democratic victory and a change in war policy in ’08.

Yet, not a single top Democratic official publicly associated him or herself with Saturday’s street protests (sorry, Reps. Conyers and McKinney don't qualify as "top" officials). Not just Mister Kerry and Madame Clinton were missing. But equally AWOL were outspoken critics of the war like Howard Dean and Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy – just to mention the better-known.

This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but only a bit. Much can be said about the timidity of the Democrats when it comes to staking out a position – any position—on the war. And I have not flinched from saying so, rather repeatedly.

Indeed, one of the reasons that the peace movement’s organizational logistics remain in the hands of fringe groups like ANSWER, is because they eagerly fill a gaping void left by more moderate forces. Democrats and liberals have not stepped forward – so they get trampled by the few dozen fervent comrades from the glorious Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Fundamentalist-Leninist grouplet that runs ANSWER.

There is another coalition that helps organize the peace rallies – United For Peace and Justice. Somewhat more moderate than ANSWER, UFPJ nevertheless has few and only tenuous links with mainstream political forces. At various times over the last few years UFPJ has threatened to resist getting bullied by the cultish members of ANSWER, but in the end it always capitulates in the name of “unity.” Such was the case with this past weekend activities in which ANSWER once again set the themes and the tone of the protests.

There's an odd and defeating dynamic that pervades these activist groups -- a dynamic that often leads young critical thinkers to abandon them after a short infatuation. The inner circle, the feverish full-timer activists are often members of tiny, Marxist groups, "vanguard parties" or their "mass organizations." These devoted militants dedicate all of their time, all of their energy and all of their lives to "building" these miniscule sects. Some of the more entrepreneurial among them even figure out a way to make a living out of their politics.

Their relentless, round-the-clock energy allows them to easily dominate the tedious, mind-numbing meetings and planning sessions that go into organizing large-scale protests. Who else but a humourless party-builder could survive those marathon "consensus" sessions. But God Forbid anyone should actually criticize any of them or the 'line' they impose on the demos. Anyone who dares to challenge them is immediately called out as a McCarthyite -- as if joining one of these sects offers some implied warranty of immunity from criticism. When confronted with this cheap blackmail of being branded as "red-baiters," the more reasonable liberals and "progressives" almost inevitably fold and the cycle repeats itself. And then people actually wonder why the peace movement can't attract more mainstream political support?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Descent into Anarchy

From the Coalition for Darfur:

One week ago, experts and observers warned that Darfur risked "sliding into a perpetual state of lawlessness." At a time when Khartoum and the Darfur rebels were preparing to meet in
an attempt to move the essentially non-existent peace process forward, IRIN was reporting
Banditry and continuous attacks by armed groups on humanitarian workers, Arab nomads and villages in Darfur have increased significantly over the past weeks and threaten to destabilise the fragile ceasefire in the volatile western Sudanese
The "fragile ceasefire" has never really existed and fears of "perpetual" lawlessness are misplaced considering that Darfur has been essentially lawless for more than two years.

Last week, the World Food Program reported that "security levels deteriorated in Darfur during the reporting week." This week, the WFP reported that "despite precautionary security measures, attacks on commercial and humanitarian vehicles continue in Darfur."

And as the UN was expressing its concern "about the recurrent attacks carried out by armed men and gangs in Darfur states, which target civilians and commercial vehicles hired by relief organizations," Norwegian Church Aid was reporting that "relief convoy has been raided at gunpoint by bandits in Darfur for the second time in a short period. The security situation in
Darfur shows signs of deterioration"
A growing problem is also that aid convoys are now being ambushed with increasing
regularity by bandits on horses and camels. Norwegian Church Aid
vehicles have been raided at gunpoint twice in a matter of weeks ...
The field teams who travel most often through the western and southern
parts of Darfur regularly encounter en route, and are often chased by,
heavily armed men riding on horses and camels. Since the aid operation
began just over a year ago, security has presented a great challenge
for the agencies. Yet whereas assault, exchanges of fire and attacks
on villages were previously politically motivated, much of the
violence seems now to be criminal in nature.
And the violence continues.

Just yesterday, it was reported that 40 were killed in fighting after an attack on the rebel Sudan
Liberation Movement/Army by "armed nomadic tribesmen" [aka "the Janjaweed"]. This was followed by another report that 80 government soldiers had been killed by the SLM when they capturedthe town of Sheiria in a surprise attack in retaliation for earlier government attacks on rebel-held territory.

The attack on Sheiria put at risk some 33,000 civilians who rely on humanitarian assistance after staff from three NGO's were withdrawn due to the fighting. And for good measure,
the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) "reported that the security situation in the Kalma camp housing displaced persons has further deteriorated with a large number of security incidents, including some 60 reported attacks on women over the last week alone."

All of this took place while the sixth round of peace talks were being held in Nigeria.

It has now been more than ayear since the United States declared the situation in Darfur a
"genocide" - and the security situation on the ground is now even arguably worse. While government-orchestrated attacks on civilians have diminished, mainly because "there are not manyvillages left to burn down and destroy," the rampant insecurity in all likelihood still qualifies as part of Khartoum's genocidal campaign to "deliberately [inflict] on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in

The genocide is not ending and the situation is not improving. The people of Darfur have, for all intents and purposes, been abandoned.

Two New "Must View" Websites

Chris Phelps, author of Young Sidney Hook: Marxist and Pragmatist, published by Cornell University Press in 1997 and just reissued in paperback, with a new preface, by the University of Michigan Press has a new website with sections on his writing on Hook, race, American radicalism, and The Jungle.

There's lots of interesting stuff here, though some may be behind the wall of academic privilege.

Bill Domhoff has put together an excellent companion website for the fifth edition of his classic, Who Rules America?. Highly recommended.

I'm reasonably sure I've read WRA, but its been a long time. One of those books that didn't make a move somewhere along the line.

I hope that Domhoff will do a website on his 2003 book
Changing The Powers That Be: How The Left Can Stop Losing and Win.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Truly Bad Idea

From Harry's Place

Those clever people appointed by the government to look into how to stop some Muslim youth turning to Islamist terrorism have come up with one of their first bright ideas.

Advisers appointed by Tony Blair after the London bombings are proposing to scrap the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day because it is regarded as offensive to Muslims.

They want to replace it with a Genocide Day that would recognise the mass murder of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia as well as people of other faiths.

.....“The very name Holocaust Memorial Day sounds too exclusive to many young Muslims. It sends out the wrong signals: that the lives of one people are to be remembered more than others. It’s a grievance that extremists are able to exploit.”

Sends out the wrong signal? I wonder what kind of signal is sent out by senior Muslims comparing the dreadful policies of successive Israeli governments in the occupied territories with the systematic murder of six million Jews? There are lots of words that could describe what has happened in Palestine, genocide isn't one of them.

( Genocide the systematic killing of all the people from a national, ethnic, or religious group, or an attempt to do this)

And what message does it send that the list of 'genocides' against Muslims comprises Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia. What about Kurdistan? What about Sudan? If we are to have the suggested 'Genocide Day' than surely we would have to remember the Armenian massacres too wouldn't we?

I'm not at all sure why Britain, sixty years after the events, took it upon itself to suddenly have its own national memorial day for the holocaust but the notion that we should scrap it because remembering the horrors of the extermination camps is offensive to Muslims is, I would like to think, truly offensive to most British Muslims.

Blogging vs. Activism

There's lot of discussion about how on-line activism and "real-world" activism are related. One thing for sure, the time that is committed to real world activism isnt' available to do blogging.

Last Sunday I attended the Wichita Labor Day event, an indoor picnic at the Machinists Hall.

Then on Monday, I drove up to Topeka to attend the Labor Day parade and rally. I got a little late start and then encountered a traffic jam, due to a national guard convoy going to the Gulf Coast, so I missed the parade, but got their in time for the rally.

Then, on to Lawrence, for their annual Ice Cream Social, some speeches and music. I took a table, got signature to protect social security, not buy school supplies at Wal-mart, and signed up people for Working America, the new community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

After the picnic, had a nice meal at the Free State brew pub.

Tuesday, I had a nice visit with an old political friend I hadn't seen in years: Benjamin Ross, who has the best single piece on the "Trotskyist" neo-conservatives in the latest Dissent. (More on this latter.) With Ben was his son Jack who is giving a paper at a conference on radical economics and the labor movement at UMKC next week. I hadn't made the connection before.

Wednesday, I went to a planning meeting for a human rights event in October.

Oh, and I posted an article on the UMKC conference and the legacy of the IWW on the Kansas Workbeat website. I also did a webpage of photos from the Labor Day events around the state. Plus wrote and send out the Kansas Workbeat update email.

So, if the blogging has been a little slow, that's why.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Boeing Machinists on Strike

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union who work for the Boeing Company have voted 86 percent in favor of going out on strike.The strike will affect about 18,400 machinists who assemble Boeing's commercial airplanes and some key components in the Seattle area, Wichita, Kansas, and Gresham, Oregon.The machinists are the workers who assemble Boeing's commercial jetliners. The 86 percent vote was well in excess of the two-thirds margin needed to create a strike.


I'm using this from a Seattle TV station because it was the first news report I found.

A couple of quick comments.

The IAM (Machinists) has a constitutional requirement that strikes have to get a 2/3 vote. This one got 86 percent. The super majority requirment raises an interesting issue for democratic theory. On the one hand, a strike probably won't succeed if it only has a slim majority support. On the other, requiring a super majority means that the company can tailor the last, best, and final offer so as to peel off 34 percent. In recent years, a number of IAM
contract have been voted down by 70% or more but been accepted by default when they only got 64--65%.

It will be interesting to see if the almost 19,000 Boeing strikers get anywhere near the sympathy that certain circles have given to the 5,000 AMFA strikers.