Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 17, 2011

Remmy Ongala, Tanzanian Musical Star, Dies at 63

Filed under: obituary — louisproyect @ 6:14 pm

NY Times January 16, 2011
Remmy Ongala, Tanzanian Musical Star, Dies at 63
By JON PARELES

In 1990, as the AIDS epidemic was gathering strength in Africa, the Tanzanian songwriter, singer, guitarist and bandleader Remmy Ongala released an ebullient dance track called “Mambo Kwa Soksi” (“Things With Socks”). Its lyrics called for men to use condoms (“socks”) to prevent AIDS, and it stirred up controversy; Radio Tanzania refused to play it.

But it became one of Mr. Ongala’s best-known songs in a career as Tanzania’s most beloved and influential musician, on and off the dance floor, with songs that had both a groove and a conscience. He sang serious thoughts about poverty, corruption, mortality, faith and Tanzanian pride, and he called his music “ubongo beat” — “ubongo” is Swahili for “brain.”

Mr. Ongala died on Dec. 13 at his home in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. He was 63. His death was announced on the Web site of Real World Records, for which he recorded. No cause was specified.

He was a superstar in East Africa, and in the 1980s and 1990s he reached European and American audiences with albums for Real World, a label founded by Peter Gabriel, and international tours that included many appearances at Mr. Gabriel’s Womad (World of Music and Dance) festivals. He jokingly called himself “sura mbaya” (“ugly face”), but fans gave him the honorific “Doctor.”

Ramadhani Mtoro Ongala, nicknamed Remmy, was born in 1947 in what was then the Belgian Congo (later Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). His hometown, Kindu, is near the Tanzanian border. After both parents died, Mr. Ongala started working as a musician in his teens, playing drums and guitar in the Congolese style called soukous: dance music with intertwined guitar lines and an Afro-Cuban lilt. As he sang with bands in Zaire and Uganda, he was already writing songs with messages.

In 1978 he moved to Dar Es Salaam and began performing with Orchestra Makassy, a band led by his uncle. With that band, he wrote his first hit single, “Sika Ya Kufa” (“The Day I Die”).

Mr. Ongala is survived by his wife, Toni, an Englishwoman he married when she was teaching in Tanzania, and four children.

When Orchestra Makassy relocated to Kenya, Mr. Ongala remained in Tanzania, joining and then leading Orchestre Super Matimila, named after the patron who bought the band its equipment. That group mingled soukous with Tanzanian and Kenyan elements.

As Mr. Ongala’s popularity grew, his songs stayed forthright. At one point the government considered expelling him, but it later granted him Tanzanian citizenship, and a district of Dar Es Salaam was named after him.

A British friend brought one of Mr. Ongala’s cassette recordings back to England, where organizers of the Womad festival heard and admired it. They first booked Mr. Ongala and Orchestre Super Matimila for the 1988 Womad Festival in Reading, England. Mr. Ongala began making studio albums in England for Real World, which released “Songs for the Poor Man” in 1989 and “Mambo” (a Swahili word for observations or comments) in 1992; both albums contained songs in English as well as in Swahili. During the 1990s Mr. Ongala and his band toured Africa, Europe and the United States.

A stroke partly paralyzed Mr. Ongala in 2001, but he continued to perform as a singer from his wheelchair. In his last years he turned to gospel music. Following his mother’s wishes on the advice of her traditional healer, he never cut his hair during her lifetime. On her death he did cut it, then let it grown again until late in life, when he gave up secular music and cut off his locks.

King and Obama

Filed under: african-american,Obama — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm

January 16, 2011

Judy Bonds, an Enemy of Mountaintop Coal Mining, Dies at 58

Filed under: Ecology,obituary — louisproyect @ 3:04 pm


NY Times January 15, 2011
Judy Bonds, an Enemy of Mountaintop Coal Mining, Dies at 58
By DENNIS HEVESI

Ankle deep in the stream by the house where his coal-mining family had lived for generations, Judy Bonds’s 6-year-old grandson, Andrew, scooped up fistfuls of dead fish one day back in 1996.

“What’s wrong with these fish?” he asked.

“I knew something was very, very wrong,” Ms. Bonds told Sierra magazine in 2003. “So I began to open my eyes and pay attention.”

Ms. Bonds soon discovered that the fish had been poisoned by debris from the mines in the mountains above the West Virginia hollow where her family had lived since early last century. Within six years, she and her Marfork Hollow neighbors had to abandon their homes.

That day in the stream, Ms. Bonds found her mission. Since then, thousands of people — neighbors, environmental activists, politicians, mining company officials, industry regulators and crowds at the rallies she organized — have heard from the short, round-faced woman known as the godmother of the movement to stop mountaintop-removal coal mining.

Ms. Bonds died of cancer — it had spread from her lungs — on Jan. 3 in Charleston, W.Va., at age 58, said Vernon Haltom, who leads the Coal River Mountain Watch, an advocacy group. He and Ms. Bonds had been its co-directors since 2007.

Based in a former post office in Whitesville, W.Va., the organization is dedicated to banning the mining process by which mountaintops are blasted off to expose coal seams, with tons of loose rock cascading into adjacent valleys and carbon dioxide billowing into the atmosphere.

The tumbling rock — called valley fills — clogs streams and rivers and leaches chemicals, previously sealed underground, into water systems.

“There are many things we ought to do to deal with climate change,” James E. Hansen, a climatologist at NASA and Columbia University, said Thursday, “but stopping mountaintop-removal is the place to start. Coal contributes the most carbon dioxide of any energy source.” Carbon dioxide traps heat from the sun and prevents it from escaping the atmosphere.

In 2001, three years after she joined Coal River Mountain Watch as a volunteer, Ms. Bonds became the organization’s $12,000-a-year outreach director, a position she accepted after working as a waitress, then manager, at a Pizza Hut while a single mother.

In her new job, she began staging protest rallies, testifying at regulatory hearings, filing lawsuits, picketing mining company stockholders’ meetings, organizing letter-writing campaigns. A primary target was the Massey Energy Company, which owned the mines around Marfork Hollow and other Appalachian communities. Last April, an explosion at the Massey Company’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W.Va., killed 29 miners in what was the nation’s worst mining disaster in 40 years.

“She became the voice for communities around the country fighting mountaintop-removal,” Mr. Haltom said of Ms. Bonds. “She spoke to audiences of one person to 6,000.”

One of her standard lines was, “Stop poisoning our babies.”

In 2003 Ms. Bonds received the Goldman Environmental Prize, an annual $150,000 prize that goes to unrecognized “grass-roots environmental heroes.”

“Her dedication and success as an activist and organizer have made her one of the nation’s leading community activists confronting an industry practice that has been called ‘strip mining on steroids,’ ” the Goldman Foundation said.

For years, Ms. Bonds had envisioned a “thousand-hillbilly march” in Washington. That wish was fulfilled last September, when about 2,000 people joined what was called the Appalachia Rising, leading to the arrest of about 100 protesters outside the White House. But by then she was too ill to join the march.

Julia (she preferred to be called Judy) Belle Thompson was born on Aug. 27, 1952, one of nine children of Oliver and Sarah Thompson. Her father stopped working in the mines at 65 and soon died of black lung disease. Besides her grandson, she is survived by her daughter, Lisa Henderson; two brothers, Ernie and Paul; and three sisters, Wanda Webb, Marilyn Thompson and Jamie Adkins.

Danger came with Ms. Bonds’s activism: phone threats, insults, physical attacks.

“She was walking right behind me when she got belted by a burly miner’s wife,” said Dr. Hansen, who in June 2009 joined a march at Marsh Fork Elementary School in Sundial, W.Va., to protest its proximity to a coal-processing silo and a slurry dam, parts of a 2,000-acre mountaintop-removal site.

“She fought to get a safe new school for the kids,” Mr. Haltom said. “In the old one, the kids breathe coal dust in class.”

But last April, he continued, “everything came together: a new school at a safe location about 10 miles up the road. The kids will start attending class there in the fall of 2012.”

January 14, 2011

Art Tatum

Filed under: music — louisproyect @ 10:26 pm

People who saw him play were heard to exclaim, “My God! His hands are a blur!”

When Vladimir Horowitz, the famed classical pianist, was asked who the best pianist was, he responded with Art Tatum’s name.

Even Fats Waller, a very accomplished pianist in his own right and one of Tatum’s favorites, was reported to have said, “I’m just a piano player. But God is in the house tonight,” when he spotted Art Tatum in the audience.

Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops, once said, “There’s a demonic, almost diabolical quality to his playing. The Furies must have gathered around his crib at birth, something infernal slipped into his mother’s milk.”

Top musicians in the 1930s and 40s and 50s would trek to Harlem clubs to hear him play — Gershwin, Horowitz, Godowski, Rachmaninoff, Geseking, Paderewski… Rachmaninoff told the press, “If this man ever decides to play serious music we’re all in trouble.”

Tatum did play serious music, it happened to be jazz. But Tatum was black in an era when the top concert draws were white.

Conductor Arturo Toscanini would always seek out Tatum whenever he came to New York to conduct. Toscanini was one of the fiercest and most strict conductors to have ever lived. He held his musicians to the highest of standards. (One time when he tapped his baton on his music stand for a rehearsal he noticed that the first-chair clarinetist’s chair was empty. “Where’s the first clarinetist?” he immediately demanded of the clarinetist in the next chair. The second clarinetist meekly replied, “Um, he died yesterday, sir.” Toscanini immediately shot back, “That’s no excuse!”)

Full article

January 13, 2011

Crime and Punishment; Petition

Filed under: China,Film — louisproyect @ 10:42 pm

Opening today for a one week engagement at Anthology Film Archives in New York City are two documentaries by Zhao Liang who works in an austere cinéma vérité style but who leaves no doubt about where his sympathies lie, namely with China’s poor.

Despite being filmed with the cooperation of Chinese police, “Crime and Punishment” is just the opposite of “Cops”, the long-running Fox TV reality show that depicts different police departments around the United States as a kind of grown-up boy scouts with guns. The border guards in Liang’s documentary, who are a kind of militia operating under the PLA’s authority, beat and humiliate their prisoners in the police station as if it was part of their job description. Of note is the fact that Liang was all on his own during the filming, an incredible accomplishment given the standard crew of 20 or more in most documentaries made in the West. Perhaps working on his own allowed the cops to drop their guard, or—more likely—they didn’t really care if they were shown as sadists.

One segment captures the nature of Chinese law and order in its cruelly bureaucratic splendor. They have arrested a 43-year-old man for pickpocketing a cell phone at a nearby bazaar. In the station they grow increasingly frustrated with his failure to answer their questions adequately. A typical exchange as seen in the subtitles:

A cop: “Where do you live?”

The suspect: (unintelligible).

Since I don’t speak Chinese, it was a little hard for me to understand why the man had so much trouble answering the cops clearly, especially since it made them more and more vicious as the questioning proceeded. After a few minutes, they were slapping him in the face, all to no avail. He could neither give them the answers they were looking for (who were his accomplices?) nor enunciate them clearly even if he knew the answers.

The cops eventually escalated their interrogation methods. They made him stand in a semi-squatting position until he was ready to answer their questions. As his suffering increased, he kept returning to an upright position only to be remonstrated by the cops: “Don’t you understand that you must squat?” As always, he looked at them with a quizzical expression on his face.

Eventually we learned what the problem was. A cop is seen talking on the phone. Look, he says, we have a deaf-mute in the station here and we need somebody to interrogate him.

What a commentary on the People’s Liberation Army to see such behavior. It will remind you of how the IDF treats the Palestinians or how the American troops treat Iraqis or Afghans. It is all the more disgusting since the sadism emanates from a nominally socialist police force and against its own people. Of course, the class divisions in China today are as deep as those seen in conditions of neocolonial occupation.

The film is a good reminder that China is going through a kind of “primitive accumulation” that Karl Marx explored in Volume One of Capital. After the enclosure acts, peasants were forced to go into the work force or become vagabonds and thieves. Poaching and other forms of criminal behavior were the inevitable consequence of losing one’s means of production, namely land. In China today, people retain their farms in many cases but are forced to enter the “informal economy” or to steal to stay afloat. The gendarmes in “Crime and Punishment” have the job of keeping the riffraff in line.

In one case, they arrest a sixty-four year old junkman who does not have the proper papers. They seize his donkey and cart until he can prove that he is legally allowed to pick through the rubble of old buildings to find something worth salvaging, like scraps of plastic and paper. In another case, a group of young men are beaten repeatedly until they confess that they have chopped down a few trees on a mountainside to sell in town. New Year’s is coming and they need to buy gifts for their children.

Apparently one Chinese citizen got sick and tired of police brutality and arbitrary behavior and struck back as the New York Times reported on November 27, 2008:

A 28-year-old man convicted of killing six police officers was executed by lethal injection on Wednesday morning, according to state media, ending a case that drew a surprising amount of public sympathy for the man.

The execution came shortly after the nation’s highest court, the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing, rejected an appeal on behalf of the unemployed Beijing man, Yang Jia, who stormed a Shanghai police station on July 1 and stabbed six officers to death.

Mr. Yang said he had been wrongly accused of stealing a bicycle and been beaten by the Shanghai police in October 2007; the police have acknowledged that they questioned him about riding an unlicensed bicycle but denied beating him. Mr. Yang wrote to the Shanghai police and demanded compensation for psychological damage. He eventually called his assault at the police station a revenge attack.

To many Chinese, he became a symbol of the little guy standing up against police harassment and government injustice. During his two trials, supporters gathered in crowds outside the courthouse in Shanghai. Some wore T-shirts with Mr. Yang’s image; some called him a hero.

Outside of Shanghai, some Chinese newspapers published sympathetic portraits of Mr. Yang.

The title of Zhao Liang’s other documentary “Petition” refers to the process in which aggrieved citizens of China can win redresses against illegal or unjust actions of those in positions of authority. Petition offices in Beijing operate as a kind of ombudsman that is the court of last resort for ordinary citizens.

Zhao Liang has been filming petitioners since 1996 who have lived in a shanty town near the Beijing railroad station in the southern part of the city. Coming from both the rural peasantry and the middle class (including one professor who was refused tenure), they stand on line to get a hearing from petty bureaucrats who are about as cold as the cops in “Crime and Punishment”. At least they don’t see slapping and cursing the petitioners as part of their job description.

That can’t be said about the “retrievers” who are sent out as deputies from the rural hometowns of the petitioners. Once the petition officers decide that they have heard enough from some peasant who has lost his land or a factory worker who was fired illegally, they call up the authorities from their hometown to get some goons to pick up the inconvenient complainer. As was the case in “Crime and Punishment”, Liang is on the spot to film the violence taking place on the streets of Beijing as the hapless petitioners are slapped and kicked into submission, then hauled off into waiting cars.

Some of the most interesting scenes in the movie show groups of petitioners who have developed real bonds of solidarity with each other discussing what has to be done in China to rid the country of the gangsters in power. They harp on the need for democracy and an end to a single-party state even if it operates in the name of socialism.

Today’s NY Times reports on the struggle of an artist very much in sympathy with the petitioners, as well as the young man who killed the six cops:

The studio would have stood at the heart of an embryonic arts cluster on the outskirts of Shanghai, a draw for luminaries from around the world.

It took two years to build, and one day to tear down.

An order to raze the studio — designed by Ai Weiwei, a protean artist who is one of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese Communist Party — was issued last July. Mr. Ai took the move to be retribution for rankling the authorities. He said officials told him that the demolition would not take place until after the first day of the Year of the Rabbit, which falls on Feb. 3.

So he was shocked to discover that workers had begun knocking it down early Tuesday, Mr. Ai said in a telephone interview from Shanghai on Wednesday. Mr. Ai said a neighboring studio he had designed for a friend had also been destroyed.

“Everything is gone,” he said. “It’s all black now. They finished the job at 9 o’clock last night.”

Mr. Ai’s studio was to be used as an education center and a site for artists in residence. He had invited a group of university graduates from Oslo to come to the studio next month to study architecture with him.

Mr. Ai said he believed that his advocacy in two causes might have prompted Shanghai officials to order the razing. The first was that of Yang Jia, a Beijing resident who killed six policemen in a Shanghai police station after being arrested and beaten for riding an unlicensed bicycle. Mr. Yang became a hero among many Chinese, and was later executed. The second was the Kafkaesque case of Feng Zhenghu, a lawyer and activist who spent more than three months in Tokyo’s Narita Airport after Shanghai officials denied him entry. Mr. Ai made a documentary about Mr. Feng’s predicament.

Mr. Ai has also demanded democracy for China, criticized government corruption for playing a role in the deaths of schoolchildren in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and stridently supported Liu Xiaobo, a political prisoner who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

Like many on the left, I viewed the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo with some suspicion especially since the man was on record as supporting the war in Iraq. While this statement was unforgivable, I feel somewhat different after having seen these two documentaries. The simple truth is that the political system in China crushes the human spirit no matter how many consumer goods, cars, and houses are now available to the population. As socialists, we must never forget that the freedom from arbitrary arrest, torture both petty and grand, the right of assembly, etc. must expand under socialism, not disappear. The discussion about China on the left tends to have an abstract quality. Nothing else will help to make the discussion more concrete and more real than these two powerful documentaries that I strongly recommend to anybody in the greater New York area.

January 12, 2011

Frank Marshall Davis’s warning to Barack Obama

Filed under: african-american,Obama — louisproyect @ 5:33 pm

Frank Marshall Davis

In Barack Obama’s “Dreams from my Father”, there’s a minor character named Frank who Obama identifies as an 80 year old Black poet who he met as a teenager in Hawaii through his grandfather. While Obama’s recollections about Frank are affectionate, they are also patronizing: “It made me smile, thinking back on Frank and his old Black Power, dashiki self. In some ways he was as incurable as my mother, as certain in his faith, living in the same sixties time warp that Hawaii had created.”

It turns out that Frank is Frank Marshall Davis, a life-long member of the Communist Party. From the wiki on Davis:

Davis used his newspaper platform to call for integration of the sports world, and he began to engage himself with community organizing efforts, starting a Chicago labor newspaper, The Star, toward the end of World War II. In 1945, he taught one of the first jazz history courses in the United States, at the Abraham Lincoln School[10] in Chicago.

In 1948, Davis and his second wife, who had married in 1946, moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, at the suggestion of Davis’s friend Paul Robeson. During this time Hawaii was going through a non-violent revolution between colored labor workers and the white elite known as the Democratic Revolution. There, Davis operated a small wholesale paper business, Oahu Papers, which mysteriously burned to the ground in March 1951. In 1959, he started another similar firm, the Paradise Paper Company.

Davis also wrote a weekly column, called “Frank-ly Speaking”, for the Honolulu Record, a labor paper published by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) headed by Harry Bridges.[11]Davis’ first column noted he was a member of the national executive board of the Civil Rights Congress,[12] cited as a Communist subversive organization by President Harry S. Truman’s Attorney General Tom Clark.[13] The paper had been founded in 1948 by Koji Ariyoshi , and closed in 1958. Davis’s early columns covered labor issues, but he broadened his scope to write about cultural and political issues, especially racism. He also included the history of blues and jazz in his columns.

You can find all sorts of attempts in the rightwing blogosphere to turn Obama into some kind of Manchurian Candidate based on his grandfather’s friendship with Frank Marshall Davis and his supposed tutelage at the red poet’s knees. But it would appear that Obama and Frank were a world apart based on this excerpt from Obama’s memoir. He is just about to start his freshman year at Occidental College and Frank is warning him about how he would be indoctrinated to serve the ruling class in college rather than the Black community. Frank had the gift of prophecy, it would appear.

The only thing that Frank gets wrong is Obama occupying a “corner office”. It turned out that he landed the grand prize, the oval office. His ambition, his Machiavellian skills, his shrewdness and his chameleon qualities propelled him into an office where he could exercise real power as opposed to just merely being a “well-trained nigger”, to use Frank’s words.

Dreams from my Father, page 97:

What had Frank called college? An advanced degree in compromise. I thought back to the last time I had seen the old poet, a few days before I left Hawaii. We had made small talk for a while; he complained about his feet, the corns and bone spurs that he insisted were a direct result of trying to force African feet into European shoes. Finally he asked me what I expected to get out of college. I told him that I didn’t know. He shook his big, hoary head.

“Well,” he said, “that’s the problem, isn’t it? You don’t know. You’re just like the rest of those young cats out here. All you know is that college is the next thing you are supposed to do. And the people who are young enough to know better, who fought all those years for your right to go to college—they’re just so happy to see you in there that they won’t tell you the truth. The real price of admission.”

“And what’s that?”

“Leaving your race at the door,” he said. “Leaving your people behind.” He studied me over the top of his reading glasses. You’re not going to college to get educated. You’re going there to get trained. They’ll train you to want you don’t need. They’ll train you to manipulate words so they don’t mean anything anymore. They’ll train you so good, you’ll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit. They’ll give you a corner office and invite you to fancy dinners, and tell you that you’re a credit to your race. Until you want to actually start running things, and then they’ll yank on your chain and let you know that you may be a well-trained, well-paid nigger, but you’re a nigger just the same.”

January 11, 2011

Was there a link between Black nationalism and Colin Ferguson?

Filed under: Tucson killings — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm

The Washington Times
December 9, 1993, Thursday, Final Edition
Racial hatred suspected in N.Y. rampage

Liz Trotta; THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NEW YORK – A black gunman who killed five persons and wounded 18 others on a crowded New York commuter train was someone who “hates whites, Asians and black conservatives” and his random shooting rampage apparently was carried out in the suburbs to avoid embarrassment to Mayor David Dinkins, authorities said yesterday.

Colin Ferguson, 35, of Brooklyn was arraigned and charged with the carnage that began shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, just two minutes before the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train pulled into the Merillon Avenue station in Garden City.

Wielding a 9mm Ruger semiautomatic, the Jamaican-born loner walked through a passenger car, methodically firing 15 shots and reloading at least once, police said. Police said they found 100 more rounds of lethal Black Talon ammunition in a canvas bag carried by the gunman.

After the rampage, the suspect is reported to have said, “I’ve done a bad thing.”

All those shot were white or Asian.

“I consider this an outrageous crime motivated by bias,” said Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon.

At a mobbed news conference conducted by Nassau County Police Commissioner Donald Kane and other officals, a picture emerged of a severely disturbed man, unemployed and single, obsessed by deep-seated feelings of racial hatred. The commissioner said that Mr. Ferguson had targeted Nassau County instead of New York City because of his high regard for Mr. Dinkins.

“It did not appear it was a random thing. . . . He had severe hostilities toward a lot of people, and he boarded the train because he targeted Nassau County,” Mr. Kane said.

One note said to have been written by the suspect read: “New York City was spared because of my respect for Mayor David Dinkins and [New York Police] Commissioner Raymond Kelly who is officially still in office. Nassau County is the venue.”

Mr. Dinkins condemned the shooting spree but said it could happen anywhere.

Mr. Kane said four papers of handwritten notes found in Mr. Ferguson’s pockets revealed that he had “strong hostility” for Caucasians, including Mr. Cuomo and his staff; blacks, including “so-called civil rights leaders,” “rich black attorneys” and “Uncle Tom Negroes”; and “Chinese racists.” The entries apparently were disconnected, composed of “small notes” and “individual references” rather than complete sentences.

Mr. Kane said the gunman also condemned some institutions, such as the compensation board and Adelphi University in Garden City, from which he reportedly was suspended in 1991 for disciplinary reasons. Some reports said he also had attended Nassau County Community College, where he was a good student, but then was expelled after an altercation with a professor, apparently over a grade.

The shooting drew reactions from across the nation:

* President Clinton condemned the “terrible human tragedy,” saying it should spark new gun-control initiatives. “I hope that this will give some more impetus to the need to act urgently to deal with the unnecessary problems of gun violence in the country,” Mr. Clinton said.

In his first year in office, Mr. Clinton has signed the Brady Bill, with its five-day waiting period for handgun purchases, and supported banning certain types of ammunition, taxing ammunition and requiring all gun owners to pass a standards test.

* Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America said Mr. Clinton “is laying down, if he can, the foundation for gun confiscation.” Gun enthusiasts noted that the gunman bought the handgun in Long Beach, Calif., after complying with a 15-day waiting period.

* Gun-control advocates in Congress, among the nation’s mayors and police chiefs, and James Brady, the White House press secretary shot by a gunman aiming at President Reagan in 1981, laid out plans for even tougher regulations.

* FBI Director Louis J. Freeh called for a complete ban on the manufacture, sale and distribution of assault-style weapons.

* In a statement, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo called for “swift judgment” and “harsh punishment” for the gunman.

* Blacks offered a mixed reaction, with outrage for the senseless killings but sympathy for the gunman’s mental condition.

Of the 18 wounded, one is in critical condition and on life-support systems, the police said. Two more people were injured in the crush of terrified commuters trying to get off the bloodied car.

The heavyset Mr. Ferguson, wearing a blue detention uniform, kept his head down as he stood sullen and silent before the bench in Hempstead District Court yesterday. He did not enter a plea to charges of weapons possession, four counts of depraved indifference, murder and four counts of second-degree intentional murder.

Judge Sandra Fierstein ordered him to be held without bail and given a psychiatric screening. Another hearing is set for tomorrow.

At one point, a reporter yelled out to the suspect, asking whether he hated whites. Mr. Ferguson replied: “That’s a lie.”

Cynthia Roe, who said she was a cousin of the suspect, attended the arraignment and told reporters that she had never seen any evidence that he hated whites.

Police said a search conducted of the suspect’s rented room in a Brooklyn house uncovered a number of papers and a box that had contained the suspect’s weapon. Federal authorities later said that Mr. Ferguson had purchased the weapon legally in Long Beach.

Race, always a highly sensitive issue here, dominated the mayoral election in November. Black leaders, however, for the most part remained silent yesterday about the tragedy. Black radio stations, often confrontational during the campaign, also refrained from comment.

The ill-fated commuter train left Pennsylvania Station at 5:33 p.m. bound for Huntington, Long Island. The suspect is thought to have boarded at Jamaica, Queens. Ten minutes later, with about 100 passengers in the compartment, he started shooting from the back of the third car, went briefly into the No. 2 car and then returned to the third to continue firing.

“The shots just kept going off,” passenger Diane McCleary said. “He just wouldn’t stop shooting.”

John Skramko, another passenger, said: “He emptied his gun out, just randomly shooting people in the head and neck. He then reloaded and continued shooting.”

During the shooting, commuters were screaming and frantically trying to get off the train. According to some, the doors remained shut for some moments. LIRR President Charles Hoppe said the failure of the train doors to open immediately was “under investigation.”

When the train stopped, the gunman was wrestled to the floor by three passengers.

One man said he had seen nothing like it since he was in Vietnam, “Except there I could fire back.”

January 10, 2011

Thoughts on Arizona

Filed under: Fascism,repression,tea party — louisproyect @ 9:58 pm

In my view it is a mistake to view the Tucson killings as some kind of trend attributable to the Tea Party Movement. For example, Lenin’s Tomb writes:

So, in light of that, who cares if Jared Lee Loughner looked on Sarah Palin’s website, or heard a speech Sharron Angle made? It was enough for him to exist in a particular context of American life, in this era. It was enough to live in Arizona, where the murders took place, and which has been nominated by a local County Sheriff as “the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry”. That would have been more than sufficient to drive a vulnerable man out of his mind.

After watching Loughner’s Youtube videos and reading reports in the New York Times and Washington Post, it seems fairly obvious that he had much more in common with mentally ill college or high school students who go on shooting sprees. In Loughner’s case, the indications strongly suggest paranoid schizophrenia. In other words, his act is best understood in terms of brain chemistry rather than prejudice and bigotry as was the case, for example, with Timothy McVeigh.

On Oct. 7, Pima Community College sent a letter to Loughner stating that he would have to get a letter from a mental health official indicating “his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others.”

In a NY Times article titled Suspect’s Odd Behavior Caused Growing Alarm, we learn about what alarmed school officials and other authorities:

In a community college classroom here last June, on the first day of the term, the instructor in Jared L. Loughner’s basic algebra class, Ben McGahee, posed what he thought was a simple arithmetic question to his students. He was not prepared for the explosive response.

“How can you deny math instead of accepting it?” Mr. Loughner asked, after blurting out a random number, according to Mr. McGahee.

A classmate told the Times: “He would laugh a lot at inappropriate times, and a lot of the comments he made had no relevance to the discussion topic.” The staff at the YMCA was just as alarmed:

At the Y.M.C.A. where Mr. Loughner worked out, he would ask the staff strange questions, like how often they disinfected the bathroom doors. Once he asked an employee how he felt “about the government taking over.” Another time, he sat in the men’s room for 30 minutes, leaving front-desk staff members to wonder what he was doing. When he emerged, he asked what year it was.

Now I agree that Loughner absorbed the culture around him. Psychotic people are not that detached from reality that they don’t realize and reflect what is going on about them. They do reflect social forces. If Loughner developed schizophrenia in a society where the rightwing was not as feral and where guns were not so easily accessible, then a different result might have been expected. The closest analogy would appear to be with John Hinckley, the young man who shot Ronald Reagan and James Brady in 1981 in order to “impress Jodie Foster”.

Now this is not to say that political violence, including assassination, is not a real problem in the U.S. There have been 8 people working at abortion clinics who have been killed since 1993, the last of these being Doctor George Tiller who was shot by a fanatic in Tiller’s church in May, 2009. The killer, Scott Roeder, did not commit this act to impress Jodie Foster or because the government was plotting to brainwash people through its control of grammar. Roeder killed Tiller in order to prevent doctors from providing abortions. The militant anti-abortionist movement has been far more of a threat to democracy than Tea Party activists who have not engaged in terrorist acts no matter the kind of rhetoric heard on Glenn Beck’s television show.

I think what leftists have to understand is that violence and repression today directed against the popular movement is far more based on legality than mob violence or terrorism.

For example, the day before the gun attack, this assault on the rights of Mexican-American students in Tucson took place sanctioned by law:

The class began with a Mayan-inspired chant and a vigorous round of coordinated hand clapping. The classroom walls featured protest signs, including one that said “United Together in La Lucha!” — the struggle. Although open to any student at Tucson High Magnet School, nearly all of those attending Curtis Acosta’s Latino literature class on a recent morning were Mexican-American.

For all of that and more, Mr. Acosta’s class and others in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American program have been declared illegal by the State of Arizona — even while similar programs for black, Asian and American Indian students have been left untouched.

So reported an article in the New York Times titled Rift in Arizona as Latino Class Is Found Illegal. This is the real strategy of the Tea Party movement, to elect politicians who pass such racist laws—not to organize mobs to go into the barrio and brutalize activists. If the left cannot figure out what phase of the struggle it is in, we will not be effective, I’m afraid.

For the definitive account of what is going on with the Tea Party in Arizona, I can’t recommend highly enough Ken Silverstein’s article Tea Party in the Sonora: For the future of G.O.P. governance, look to Arizona that originally appeared in the July 2010 Harpers but now can be read on the magazine’s website, no doubt an attempt to shed light on the Tucson incident. Whether Ken thinks that the killings are a direct outcome of the Tea Party movement, as his former co-editor at Counterpunch Alexander Cockburn does, is another question altogether.

Ken writes:

Arizona lawmakers have shown little enthusiasm for dealing seriously with the state’s insolvency. They have instead preferred to focus on matters that have little to do with the crisis. Lawmakers have turned racial profiling into official policy, through a new law that requires police to stop suspected illegal immigrants and demand to see their papers; anyone not carrying acceptable proof of citizenship can be arrested for trespassing and thrown in jail for up to six months. But this is just one bill in what has been a season of provocative legislating. Another new law bans the funding of any ethnic-studies programs in the public schools, while a third prohibits “intentionally or knowingly creating a human-animal hybrid.” Lawmakers declared February 8 the “Boy Scout Holiday,” took time out to discount fishing-license fees for Eagle Scouts, and approved a constitutional right to hunt.

In January, Senator Jack Harper, an immaculately combed zealot who speaks in the patter of an infomercial voiceover, submitted a bill that would allow faculty members to carry guns on university campuses, saying it was “one very small step in trying to eliminate gun-free zones, where there’s absolutely no one who could defend themselves if a terrorist incident happened.” The house passed a measure that would force President Barack Obama to show his birth certificate to state officials if he runs for re-election, as well as a bill that bars Arizona from entering into any program to regulate greenhouse gases without approval from the legislature. “There are only two ways to vote on this,” said Representative Ray Barnes of the latter initiative. “Yes, or face the east in the morning and worship the EPA because they own you.”

This is Tea Party politics in its essence. It is an attempt to carry out an ultraright agenda through control of the courts, the legislature and the executive offices on a state and national level. In order to succeed, it has to be careful the way it manages its image. That is why a leader of the movement was forced to resign after making explicitly racist statements. It is also the reason it must take great care to avoid any connections with terrorists such as the kind that blow up abortion clinics. It is a deeply reactionary movement but is not terrorist or fascist at this point.

I would also urge the left to understand the history of Arizona, a country that arguably provided the launching ground for the modern conservative movement when its favorite son Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964. Although Goldwater was defeated, many Republicans including Ronald Reagan endorsed his program. Reagan managed to succeed where Goldwater failed—largely a function of his own demagogic gifts and the understanding by the ruling class that an attack on the welfare state had to be mounted.

I especially recommend Elizabeth Tandy Shermer article Origins of the Conservative Ascendancy: Barry Goldwater’s Early Senate Career and the De-legitimization of Organized Labor that appeared in the Journal of American History in 2008. Shermer writes:

The threat of a labor and liberal ascendancy spurred conservatives to political action. Although they benefited from federal dollars, many business leaders in the Southwest had no intention of supporting corporatist arrangements. The specter of the growing labor movement and the expanding federal government united corporate titans with local business owners in the region. Opposing them were employers in retail, service, agricultural, and extractive enterprises, which were either labor intensive or structured in a way that gave workers power at the work site. Throughout the 1940s, southwestern state legislatures were key arenas in the fight against the New Deal. As one tactic, business leaders supported laws designed to remake the region into an oasis for heavily taxed and unionized firms fleeing the Northeast. In 1949, the members of the Reno Chamber of Commerce pushed a “free-port” bill through the Nevada legislature, which permitted manufacturers to avoid property taxes on goods officially “in transit.” The state assembly relaxed those rules throughout the 1950s, attracting warehousing and manufacturing companies to Nevada. Curbing labor’s growth was also a key strategy for conservatives. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, state governments across the South and Southwest introduced right-to-work legislation, similar to the 1946 Arizona law.12

Barry Goldwater’s rise exemplified the politics of this emergent counteroffensive. The Arizonan was well known even before he ran for the Senate because of his family’s stylish department store, Goldwater’s, and his daring exploration of the Grand Canyon in 1940, which he captured on film and presented to audiences during the 1940s across the state. He cultivated the image of a compassionate capitalist. His firm was renowned for its positive employee relations as well as its medical and pension plans. Like the benefits offered by other welfare capitalists, the perks at Goldwater’s were an important argument against charges of business malfeasance and employer indifference to workers’ welfare. Local papers lauded Goldwater’s, cementing the Phoenician’s reputation as a model employer. A Prescott newspaper reported that upon the opening of a store in that city in the early 1940s, Goldwater treated fourteen of his new employees to a fancy dinner. “Perhaps it’s pretzels and beer for run-of-the-counter sales ladies,” the editors noted, “but it’s champagne and chicken if they’re on Goldwater’s payroll . . . and a chance to ‘dine out’ with the dashing bon vivant, Mr. Barry Goldwater.” “Pity the poor working girls? Not if they work for Goldwater’s.”13

This is the kind of analysis that the left should be producing today. Arizona’s reactionary stew is a product of class antagonism that is leading toward a showdown between the rulers and working people. The ruling class is using “legal” methods to keep working people and oppressed nationalities under its thumb, even as we understand that its tactics might change in the future, as antagonisms grow irreconcilable. But if we cannot base our own strategy and tactics on the true relationship of class forces, then we will end up making mistake after mistake.

January 9, 2011

Obreagan

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 3:53 am

January 8, 2011

Bob Herbert rips Obama a new one

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 9:01 pm

Bob Herbert

New York Times Op-Ed January 7, 2011

Misery With Plenty of Company

By BOB HERBERT

Consider the extremes. President Obama is redesigning his administration to make it even friendlier toward big business and the megabanks, which is to say the rich, who flourish no matter what is going on with the economy in this country. (They flourish even when they’re hard at work destroying the economy.) Meanwhile, we hear not a word — not so much as a peep — about the poor, whose ranks are spreading like a wildfire in a drought.

The politicians and the media behave as if the poor don’t exist. But with jobs still absurdly scarce and the bottom falling out of the middle class, the poor are becoming an ever more significant and increasingly desperate segment of the population.

How do you imagine a family of four would live if its annual income was $11,000 or less?

During a conversation I had this week with Peter Edelman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a longtime expert on issues related to poverty, he pointed out that the number of people in that tragically dismal category has grown to more than 17 million. These are the folks trying to make it on incomes below half of the official poverty line, which is $22,000 annually for a family of four.

No one talks about these families and individuals living in extreme poverty. Certainly not the Republicans who were having a dandy time this week deliberately misreading the Constitution and promising budget cuts and other initiatives that will hurt the poor even more.

If you’re still having trouble deciding whose side the Republicans are on, just keep in mind that the House G.O.P. bigwig Darrell Issa sent a letter to 150 businesses, trade groups and think tanks asking them to spell out which federal regulations they dislike the most. These are lifeguards on the side of the sharks.

Scared to death of being outdone, President Obama and his sidekicks climbed into their spiffy new G.O.P. costumes and promised in humiliatingly abject tones to shower the business world with whatever government largess they could lay their hands on. The first order of business (pun intended) was the announcement that William Daley, the Chicago wheeler-dealer and former Clinton administration official who landed a fat gig at JPMorgan Chase, would become the president’s chief of staff. Mr. Daley was a loud critic of recent financial regulatory reforms and has been obsessed with getting Democrats to be more subservient to business.

read full article

Some comments from NY Times readers on this column:

“… Darrell Issa sent a letter to 150 businesses, trade groups and think tanks asking them to spell out which federal regulations they dislike the most. These are lifeguards on the side of the sharks.”

No matter which party grasps the power, the working majority remain powerless while the capitalist minority rules the world. It is of no use to blame one party on the misfortune and misery of the people and hope the other party would come to people’s help. No any party will do any good. They are as corrupt as any henchman of the capital can be.

Even if the Democrats had taken power of the Capital’s House, nothing would have changed as far as the political corruption, economic monopoly and social regression are concerned. The question is how to convince capital itself that the current mainstream and orthodox political economic policy is not only wrong and detrimental to the working majority but also harmful to the dictatorship of the bourgeois minority.

Capital has taken it for granted that even though the economic crisis could be worse than the Great Depression in the 1930s, recovery has never been far away, time is on their side and patience will pay off. Its trusting to luck ideas keep a blear-eye in front of the danger ahead. Ever since China surrendered three decades, the Soviet Union folded two decades ago, and all-out confrontation ceased, capital started its barefaced onslaught on the working people of the world with candid exploitation and oppression as though there would be no tomorrow. Representative Democracy and profit sharing have died. Global discontentment among the working majority is never higher because of unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosure, poverty and austerity. Capital as a hegemony is about to slip downward from its power peak.

Global overproduction relative to working people’s affordable demand has been the real cause of the economic crisis. Overproduction comes about from fierce competitions and cost reduction. Automation has made matter worse than better through reducing work force or underemployment or both. The 21th century Innovation is all cost-saving enterprise, especially on human capital. Global accumulation of capital, on the other hand, reaches it new high and entraps into the mire of over-accumulation that overproduction engendered over the past three decades. The profitable investment outlets other than the speculative financial bubble-prone money ports like housing and stock markets become so much rare that lack of outlets has forced capital to invest overseas en mass leading to deindustrialization on a global scale. A permanent global unemployment calamity has arrived and it has been hardly fleeting at all. For some similar viewpoints, see http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/1

Now as though that were not enough, overseas low-cost investment outlets in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere face either inflation or over-investment and unemployment as well. Capital, which looked as invincible as only yesterday, has been on tenterhooks almost daily by crises. Overseas investments may do down the drain if China’s economy falls.

Due to housing overproduction, housing crisis rivals the Great Depression. Housing price in 2010 dropped $1.7 trillion over last year when it shed $1 trillion or at a falling rate of 63% and a total drop of $9 trillion since 2006. “The U.S. housing market is now down around 25 percent from its peak in 2006. (During the Great Depression, home prices fell 25.9 percent in five years.) Housing bubbles are now bursting in China, France, Spain, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, and many other regions.” (December 29, 2010, “Underneath the Happy Talk, Is This As Bad as the Great Depression?”) .

Due to over-accumulation of capital, “Indeed, top economists such as Anna Schwartz, James Galbraith, Nouriel Roubini and others have pointed out that while banks faced a liquidity crisis during the Great Depression, today they are wholly insolvent. Insolvency is much more severe than a shortage of liquidity.”

“So many Americans have been jobless for so long that the government is changing how it records long-term unemployment.

‘Citing what it calls “an unprecedented rise” in long-term unemployment, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless.’ “The two-year limit has been used for 33 years.”

Darrell Issa, William Daley, Barak Obama and their ilk – the right-wingers – now put on their tax cut hawk facemasks, shift the financial burden of tax cut on social programs and scoop more lucre for their masters and themselves. The strategic plan of their class welfare is not only to starve the beast but, most importantly, also to starve the working class.

* * *

Scrooge asked, have they no prisons, no workhouses? America should bring back the workhouse for the poor. It worked for 19th century England, why not for 21st century America—the greatest, richest country in the world. We already have a large section of our citizens in prison, the better to take away their vote. Now we need to further the process of making the poor into indentured servants to work off their debt to society for food and shelter. We keep creating new poor people with our policies, especially sending jobs overseas, and letting major illness drive people into bankruptcy. These two policies alone should in future, create whole new classes of poor for us to exploit. And probably, these policies will continue and intensify with the increasing right wing turn of our politics and media. As the generations go by, the descendents of formerly middle class Americans will join the ranks of the poor, and provide even more fodder to be used. These people will be called irresponsible and unambitious. Not too bright. Otherwise they would keep themselves out of the pit of poverty. Oh well, they must not deserve much help then. Probably education would be wasted on them anyway. I guess god helps those who help themselves. What’s on TV tonight and what’s for supper?

* * *

I am still trying to figure out exactly what President Obama’s function is. Under his stewardship, the presidency of the United States seems to have devolved into being the chief public relations front man for Wall Street and the military industrial complex. He is in never-ending campaign mode and uses the charm offensive to try to fool at least some of the people into thinking he’s on their side. It turns out he never was, and he never will be. The man is a monumental fraud. Had he chosen Lloyd Blankfein as his chief of staff I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. I am just baffled about why he calls himself a Democrat.

The only time I ever heard Obama utter the word “poverty” was in an address he gave to the United Nations last year. Of course, he was referring to the poverty of third world countries, not ours. He occasionally puts in a token appearance at a soup kitchen with the family around the holidays, right before they jet off for their latest exotic vacation. Most of their charity seems aimed only at military families. The fact that one out of six Americans is now below the poverty level just doesn’t mesh with his road trip spinning of the economic recovery. It’s an inconvenient truth.

Right before the holidays. Obama had a secret meeting with the CEO of Walmart as part of his outreach to businesses. Soon after, Walmart cut the Sunday $1 pay differential for its associates in a cost-saving move. Apparently, discussion of how to improve workers’ lives was not on the Oval Office agenda that day.

The irony is that Tea Party bigotry is giving Obama perfect cover, It’s easy to be the shadow Corporation President when half the country thinks you’re a Kenyan socialist giving away the store to people who are too lazy to work. He and his Wall Street cronies must have a lot of laughs on the golf course over that one. Stay tuned for country club photo ops with John Boehner to get that bipartisany glow. They’re all just one great big happy family living in their own gated-community world.

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