WAR & PEACE
The Shame of Nations
Lawrence S. Wittner
Israel Plots Endgame
The Propaganda System in Overdrive
Edward S. Herman
You Are All Suspects
Occupy & Labor
Educational Diversity Case
Books, Music, TV, and Film
Events, Campaigns, New Releases
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Books, Music, TV, and Film
Obama’s Recovery for the Few by Jack Rasmus
Pluto Press, 2012, 177 pp.
Review by Carl Finamore
Apparently, economics is one of the most popular electives in Ivy League schools. Admittedly, it can be a difficult and confusing subject. Particularly, it appears, for undergraduates from these very elite colleges. According to a survey in the Wall Street Journal published a couple of years ago, most of them walk away from their brief classroom introductions with blind faith in an unfettered and unregulated market economy. Perhaps this explains Harvard graduate Barack Obama’s June 2008 comment to cable business channel CNBC that, “I’m a pro-growth, free market guy. I love the market.” Maybe they’re all reading the same books. I have another recommendation. Economics professor Jack Rasmus’s latest book, Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few. In clear descriptive language, Rasmus presents a devastating indictment of the last four years of utterly failed government policies and their underlying false precepts.
No cheerleading for the private sector cabal of banks and corporations here. Why should there be? Outside of Ivy League classrooms, what exactly has blind faith in the market accomplished? Rasmus cites 2011 business journal reports that “corporations have a higher share of cash on their balance sheets than at any time in half a century…rather than invest[ing] in new plants or hiring.” Banks are no different. The author explains that banks are sitting on $1.7 trillion in excess cash, which they refuse to extend for mortgage relief or as credit for small businesses.
The author breaks down how banks received low interest and, in some cases, zero interest bailout funds of $9 trillion, without any obligation or intention to help out millions of working people facing foreclosures. It may shock readers to learn that insurance policies reimburse bank mortgage losses at higher, pre-crash market rates. Rasmus also reveals how quasi-government mortgage agencies like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae extend exactly the same favor to their banker friends. This is a far better deal than renegotiating lower principle and interest payments with desperately “underwater” homeowners.
Just when you think it can’t get worse, other chapters disclose one of the most unscrupulous policy scandals of any recovery program. Banks were actually urged to park their zero interest, or ridiculously low 0.25 percent interest, bailout funds with the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) where they were paid more millions in interest for doing nothing.
Corporations are no better. Rasmus describes how they are sitting on a huge stash of $2 trillion, much of it resulting from government tax cuts. This money is being invested in more profitable overseas markets or is being used to buy up their company stock, a move that inflates the stock value, thus increasing dividend payments to fortunate share- holders. Neither of these extremely profitable ventures produced jobs in this country. Therefore, Rasmus concludes, rather than just simply arguing for more government spending as some liberal economists do, it’s far more important to challenge how the money is being spent, something economists call the composition of expenditures. In other words, who receives bailout funds and what do they do with them.
I asked the author to further explain how he differs from other progressive economists. “My other difference with liberal economists,” Rasmus replied, “is that if corporations are hoarding their tax cuts and squeezing profits from labor the past four years, then government should and must tax them and create jobs directly itself.... The market created the crisis and you cannot rely on the market to resolve it. Government must directly create jobs, and to do so without raising deficits there must be a radical restructuring of the U.S. tax system.”
To illustrate his point that Obama’s exclusive reliance on the private sector has been a complete disaster, Rasmus produces ample evidence that this is the most “lopsided” recovery of the post WW II era. For example, while the majority is suffering significant loss of spending power from the deep recession, he explains in his book how stock and bond investors have achieved extremely high returns and how corporate profits have snapped back “to record highs not seen in decades.”
Rasmus targets Obama’s policy for these cockeyed results and for producing other ruinous consequences: not increasing employment, not halting foreclosures and not ensuring sustained state and local government revenue. As only one example mentioned by Rasmus, upward revisions of the current low tax rates for the wealthy and for corporations could alone offset most government deficits.
Other chapters thoroughly delve into Obama’s three-pronged recovery program of tax cuts, temporary subsidies to state and local governments, and cash handouts to the private sector. In fact, the author believes these government policies have generated another downturn in job losses and foreclosures. As Rasmus points out, “there has never been a recovery of the economy from recession since 1947 without a sustained recovery of jobs, without the housing sector leading the recovery, and without state-local government increased spending on jobs and services.”
The government has completely failed to provide direct funding to solve these chronic problems. There was no funding to the 25 million unemployed for a massive, government-sponsored jobs program as was done during the Great Depression and no direct funding to some 16 million “underwater” homeowners facing foreclosures now at around levels of 200,000 month.
Rasmus examines how Obama and Congress provided billions of dollars to banks without any obligation to renegotiate home loans and provided billions to corporations without any obligation to create new jobs.
This quick read of 177 pages is really a nice companion piece to Rasmus’s earlier 2010 work, Epic Recession, Prelude to Global Depression. But here, Rasmus focuses his critical review less on theory and more on policy, examining decisions that have deepened the crisis and burdened further the overwhelming majority of people by favoring banks, corporations and the very wealthy.
As the author summarizes: “So long as current economic recovery policies focus on more tax cuts for business and investors, on more subsidies for corporations, more free trade, more deregulation, and more deficit cutting for the rest of us—there will be no sustained recovery.”
Before becoming a trained economist, Rasmus served several stints as a union representative and organizer. He brings that knowledge and experience to his current profession. The last chapter in the book contains a full social and economic program that, in his view, will result in a dramatic reversal of the serious downward trends he predicts will only worsen, perhaps to the point of a global depression just a few years ahead of us.
His proposals include immediate relief to homeowners and the unemployed along with long-term structural reforms. For example, it is quite interesting to review his detailed proposals fundamentally restructuring the tax system and a similar overhauling of the banking and retirement systems that in the longer run, Rasmus explained to me, “will shift income back to the middle and working classes and expunge their debt burden. Without these changes more 2008-like crashes are in our future, just as they are unfolding today in Europe.”
In every case, his initiatives contain revenue sources that, predictably, do indeed place the burden on banks, corporations, and the wealthy. For example, he suggests increasing corporate tax rates that return them to 1980 levels, still far lower than business tax rates of the 1950s. In this sense, Rasmus frames his program as realistic appeals to the majority of people. That is, while they do indeed require struggle against the entrenched interests of the one percent, the suggested reforms are also capable of being considered both reasonable and necessary by millions who today believe the rich should be taxed more.
I strongly recommend this very readable primer for those interested in understanding more thoroughly how economic policy affects us, how it has been shaped by elites and how new radical reforms can earnestly get the attention of the majority whose support and action are so desperately needed to shape a new reality.
Carl Finamore is a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at email@example.com and his writings viewed on http://carlfinamore.wordpress.com/.
Sex, Race, and Class by Selma James
The Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952–2011
PM Press, 2012, 300 pp.
Review by Seth Sandronsky
Men and women work. But they labor under conditions of coercion. That fact is in force in and out of the home. Both settings are the concern of Selma James, 81, Brooklyn-bred in a Jewish-American, leftist working-class family, and a self-defined activist who writes about the causes and outcomes of a global, gender division of labor.
As a U.S. GOP-led war on the rights of women—especially those who are nonwhite and poor—heats up, James urges us to think more clearly about the meanings and motives of “unwaged labor.” James uses this term for the daily work that females do for the aged, children, and adults. It’s uncounted in national data. However, people of all backgrounds count on such female work in ways big and small.
In varied contexts and at many venues, including the UN, James’s output over six decades, Sex, Race, and Class, shines with radical clarity on the economy, humanity, and society. Throughout, she stresses the crucial need to advance a class formation that politically privileges the majority of humanity. Against this backdrop, some people get wages for their work. Then again, some people don’t. Why is this so? How does the wage question shape personal and political relations among and between men and women in the First and Third Worlds?
James tackles this subject head-on. Take her landmark 1952 essay “A Woman’s Place.” In it, she details the roots of a fledgling female revolt against their domestic servitude that consists of daily and unpaid labor time serving the needs of children and husbands. To the end of human liberation from capitalist alienation, James calls for a women’s movement that struggles to avoid exchanging one form of oppression for another. That is, from being unpaid housewives to paid wage-laborers under an employer.
James explains more fully her position in a 1972 book, excerpted in her current collection of writings, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, written with co-author Maria Dalla Costa. The same year James launched the International Wages for Housework Campaign, to compel governments to direct some of the surplus product (profits from waged workers sustained by unpaid female labor) from capitalist employers to unwaged housewives. We read also about her reasons for playing a part in the emergence of the Global Women’s Strike in 2000. Its mission, in sum, is to force governing elites to invest in “caring not killing.”
James also writes about her working with prostitutes and sex workers, occupying a church. She also works with revolutionaries in Venezuela where women play an enormous role in and out of their homes, elevating the well-being of their communities. An anti-Zionist, James writes of her work with like-minded people opposed to the Israeli government’s oppression of the Palestinian people.
An index would have improved this book of writings by Selma James. But this is a minor quibble in her otherwise stimulating writing on 60 years of practice and thought on how to build a better world for human beings. Hers is a gift of clarifying often knotty issues which sprout from the troubling divisions that alienate us from each other, our work and ourselves, in words that people can grasp.
Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento.
Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America
By Writers for the 99%
OR Books, 2012, 232 pp.
This Changes Everything
Edited by Sarah van Gelder and the staff of YES! Magazine
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2011, 96 pp.
Occupy: Scenes from Occupied America
Edited by Keith Gessen, Astra Taylor, Eli Schmitt, Nikil Saval, Sarah Resnick, Sarah Leonard, Mark Greif, and Carla Blumenkranz
Verso, 2011, 224 pp.
Reviews by Bennet Baumer
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is at a crossroads. It used to live in plazas and parks and gave voice to rambling general assemblies about the troubling triumvirate of race, class, and gender. Now, OWS is more diffuse. A series of insta-books have been published to make sense of this transformation.
The Arab Spring bloomed into the indignados of the European summer and then what might be termed an American Fall. In July, the anti- consumerist magazine Adbusters put out a call to “bring a tent” to protest Wall Street. I went to Zuccotti Park on October 14 at 5:30 AM. A throng of thousands ringed the park in a show of force to prevent the City from clearing the plaza under the pretext of unsanitary conditions. A microphone check then echoed, “We received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park and they are postponing the cleaning.” Billionaire Bloomberg blinked and we won.
A great retelling of the scene appears in Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America, replete with social media anecdotes and chants of “We are the 99%”—now familiar associations with the Occupy movement.
“Something happened in September 2011 so unexpected that no politician or pundit saw it coming,” reads the introduction to This Changes Everything. Prior to Occupy, the Tea Party crashed Democratic elected officials’ town hall meetings and turned them into “town hell meetings” with asinine rages about keeping the government’s hands off of Medicare. Budget deficits were the new bogeyman. Banks nearly collapsed global capitalism and were rewarded with bailouts while we—and we did not even know who “we” were yet—were told to tighten our belts. Then the American left reared its head and breathed new life. We learned we were the 99% and we were powerful.
Many essays use words like “awakened” to describe what happened. Thus far, OWS’s biggest influence has been on the national dialogue about gross inequality. It has successfully framed economic struggle in brief but eloquent phraseology—the 99% versus the 1%.
The literary journal N+1 and Verso books published a compilation of essays, tweets and texts—Occupy: Scenes from Occupied America—from their excellent Occupy! Gazette series. Highlights include Žižek’s excoriation “Don’t Fall in Love With Yourselves,” which starts: “We are all losers, but the true losers are down there on Wall Street.”
Another—Occupy: Scenes from Occupied America—hit is Rebecca Solnit’s essay on violence, anarchism, and diversity of tactics. “The euphemism for violence is ‘diversity of tactics’.... But diversity does not mean that anything goes,” Solnit writes. Violence’s role in Occupy’s narrative cannot be overstated—it drove the media into a frenzy while “white shirts” suddenly entered our lexicon and Americans became familiar with pepper spray.
Nathan Schneider’s piece on diversity of tactics in This Changes Everything explores why traditional forms of civil disobedience aren’t well suited to Occupy. Schneider writes, “While those in the civil rights movement could sit in the wrong part of a segregated bus, the occupiers at Liberty Plaza can’t exactly flout campaign finance laws or laws regarding the regulation of banks.”
Each book features powerful stories of people of color getting involved to make OWS’s declaration of beliefs more representative. For example, the People of Color working group here in New York led to organizing efforts in Harlem and the Bronx. Without their valuable organizing work, the movement would not be as strong.
There is little discussion on Occupy’s future in these books. Last fall, Occupy had encampments in many places, but police are moving to close the movement’s remaining redoubts, including the occupation in New Haven, Connecticut. Holding ground as a long-term tactic is most likely over. Many Occupiers spent the winter taking over foreclosed homes, staging actions against banks, and participating in occupations in their own neighborhoods. It is now time for community organizing groups to step in and carry the load through the elections this fall.
Occupy made good on its promise of an American Spring. Unions and community groups sponsored a series of workshops training activists in direct action, titled “Spring training for the 99%.” However, I wish Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, had examined Occupy as a brand in her essay in This Changes Everything. With the movement’s increasing popularity, Occupy is becoming an attitude and a brand as much as it is a movement—hopefully this broad banner will continue to galvanize action against corporate abuses.
Bennet Baumer is a tenant organizer in New York and has written articles on various topics for The Indypendent.
The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources
By Michael T. Klare
Metropolitan Books, 2012, 320 pp.
Review by Lawrence S. Wittner
Is it possible to cope with the immense dangers posed by the rapid consumption of the world’s resources? In The Race for What’s Left, Michael Klare claims that it is—but only through a significant change in behavior. Klare is the author of 14 books, the most recent of which focus on resources and international conflict. He is also the defense correspondent for The Nation and the director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
In The Race for What’s Left—a book displaying his stunning knowledge of drilling and mining techniques, obscure minerals, geology, and remote regions of the world—Klare argues that “the world is entering an era of pervasive, unprecedented resource scarcity.” Both government and corporate officials “recognize that existing reserves are being depleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not-too-distant future.” In their view, “the only way for countries to ensure an adequate supply of these materials, and thereby keep their economies humming, is to acquire new, undeveloped reservoirs in those few locations that have not already been completely drained. This has produced a global drive to find and exploit the world’s final resource reserves”—not only energy and mineral resources, but arable land. Thus, a great scramble by private corporations and government entities is now underway to own or control resources in the Arctic, in northern Siberia, in the deep waters of the Atlantic, in remote regions of Africa, and in other previously inaccessible, largely undeveloped regions of the world.
Of course, there has long been a competition for resources among nations. But, as Klare shows, the current struggle is becoming fiercer. “Whereas previous centuries generally witnessed conflict between just a few dominant powers,” he notes, “today many more countries are industrialized or on the path to industrialization—so the number of major contenders for resources is greater than ever before.” Moreover, “these new challengers also often harbor large and growing populations, whose desire for consumer goods of all sorts cannot be long denied. At the same time, many existing sources of supply are in decline while few new reservoirs are waiting on the horizon.” Consequently, “with more nations in the resource race and fewer prizes to be divided among them, the competition is heating up and governments are being pressed to assume a more active role.”
A skeptic might ask: What is wrong with this competition? The obvious answer, implicitly accepted by corporate and government officials alike, is that there are not enough resources to go around. In this situation, prices will rise and the living standards of many people throughout the world will fall. In the midst of growing scarcity, some will emerge winners and others losers, with the poorest among them starving and dying.
But, as Klare demonstrates, there are other great drawbacks, as well. One is that corporations and governments, in their determination to reach previously inaccessible resources, are employing extractive technologies that are destroying the environment. BP’s deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, corporate hydrofracking in the northeast United States, and the massive Canadian tar sands operation are three well-known examples of this phenomenon. Also, the rising consumption of fossil fuels will accelerate climate change.
Furthermore, wealthy investors, hedge funds, and a growing number of governments (including those of Saudi Arabia, other Persian Gulf nations, China, India, and South Korea) are busy buying up farmland in other nations—in 2009 alone, an estimated 110 million acres, an area the size of Sweden. According to Susan Payne’s Emergent fund, “Africa is the final frontier,” with land that is “very, very inexpensive.” Thus, Emergent promises to achieve a very high rate of return on such agricultural investment—exceeding 25 percent a year. The return to African peasants, forced off their ancestral lands to make way for overseas agribusiness and profits, will almost certainly be much less.
Of course, intensive resource extraction will also lead to foreign support for exploitative, dictatorial regimes, as it has in many African nations. Certainly, the average citizens of these countries have experienced little benefit from their resource wealth. Klare observes: “Ever since the early Cold War period, when Niger was still under French rule, uranium extraction has been a significant industry in the country, but it has mostly enriched only a few well-connected government officials and the companies that own the mines. Few of Niger’s sixteen million people have ever seen any benefits from the mining, and two-thirds of them still live on less than $1 per day, making Niger one of the poorest nations on earth.”
Finally, the scramble for global resources provides the potential for heightened military conflict. Klare remarks: “In all probability, countries with major resource deposits will receive more weapons, military training, technical assistance, and intelligence support from states that wish to curry favor or establish closer ties. At the same time, combat forces will be deployed abroad to defend friendly regimes and protect key ports, pipelines, refineries, and other critical installations.” Amid competing resource claims, the Arctic, Africa, and the East and South China Seas have recently experienced new tensions and military buildups.
Fortunately, as Klare points out, there is an alternative to the “race for what’s left”—a “race to adapt.” This would entail a contest among the “major political and corporate powers...to become among the first to adopt new materials, methods, and devices that will free the world from its dependence on finite resource supplies.” It would “reward the governments, companies, and communities that take the lead in developing efficient, environmentally friendly industrial processes and transportation systems.” Replacing “finite natural resources with renewables” and focusing “on increasing efficiency” would not only allow the global economy “to escape from the trap of diminishing resource supplies,” but would “allow many nations to free themselves from military pacts and other diplomatic arrangements currently employed to cement ties with foreign resource providers.”
Although Klare does not suggest running this “race to adapt” as a cooperative one, it could proceed much like the women’s races of some years ago, when participants joined hands while crossing the finish line. Wouldn’t it be a grand moment in human history if people of every nation collaborated in facing the challenge of dwindling resources that confronts us all? But, whether cooperatively or competitively, we must begin adapting to the limits of our resources, and Michael Klare’s book—exhaustively-researched, beautifully-written, and convincingly-argued —helps move this vital project forward.
Lawrence S. Wittner is professor of history emeritus at the State University of New York/Albany. His latest book is Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual (University of Tennessee Press).
O’Connor: Music’s “Uncooperative”Celebrity
By Mark T. Harris
What are we to make of Sinead O’Connor? The Irish singer who rose to fame at age 21 with her 1987 release, The Lion and the Cobra, has, in ensuing years, acquired a reputation that seems to oblige journalists to affix some pointed adjective before every mention of her name.
Thus, we have the “troubled” and “controversial” Sinead, music’s “madwoman” whose recent Twitter comments on her sexual desires, reports of online dating, and brief marriage to an Irish drug counselor have been fodder for the tabloid press. Indeed, following reports this past winter of her days-long-and-done Las Vegas marriage, readers of Britain’s The Sun were incredulous, deriding O’Connor as a “wackjob,” “nuts,” “slowly disintegrating,” “a woman who needs professional help,” and more.
O’Connor doesn’t shy away from discussing her personal struggles. She recently told the Guardian (March 1, 2012) she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her horrific childhood. Elsewhere, she’s acknowledged treatment for bi-polar disorder, a condition that, at its worst, has led to suicidal moments and hospitalization. In fact, her story is a very human story, one that deserves empathy and understanding, not scorn.
Of course, most of us wouldn’t know anything about O’Connor if not for her music. This is where the remarkable Sinead takes the stage, the singer-songwriter with a voice at once tender and formidable. She is a unique performer whose songs can simultaneously move listeners to tears or, if she chooses, leave hypocrisy and propriety bleeding all over the floor.
These days O’Connor is back with a new album, How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? It explores a gamut of stories and emotions, from the joys of romance to an addict’s troubles to her long-standing anger over the Catholic Church’s cover-up of priest sexual abuse. It is among the finest music of her career.
In interviews, O’Connor has said she would have preferred to call the album, How About I Be Me (And You F. . k Off)? Listen to the sonic boom of volume and vitriol on the album’s one cover, John Grant’s “Queen of Denmark,” and you’ll know what she means. The new album is O’Connor doing what she does best and reminding us what all the fuss was about 25 years ago when she first burst on the scene. But perhaps this is why the album is so artistically strong. Defiance is O’Connor in her native element.
One of the more notable tracks is “V.I.P.,” a “finger-pointing song” as she described it on Tavis Smiley’s PBS show (borrowing a phrase from Bob Dylan). Sung with sparse accompaniment, O’Connor blasts the materialism, narrow self-importance, and lack of social conscience of the celebrity music culture. But not all the songs are necessarily weighty. One of the best tracks, “Old Lady,” tells the story of a secret crush on a boyfriend’s buddy. And there’s “4th and Vine,” a spry skip down the lane for a woman contemplating her wedding day.
It has been two decades now since the Irish singer’s infamous performance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” where she ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II. Yet the incident remains a vivid part of the O’Connor folklore. Her intent at the time was to protest the Catholic Church’s cover-up in Ireland of priest sexual abuse of minors, which was then breaking news in her native land.
As an artistic statement, O’Connor’s action was not exactly well received by her American audience. From far and wide, threats and outrage were directed against her. The following week’s “Saturday Night Live” host, Joe Pesci, declared he would have “smacked” the young singer if he had been there. She was even booed off the stage at a Bob Dylan tribute concert (irony of ironies) held at Madison Square Garden a few weeks after her television appearance.
Incredibly, this wasn’t the first threat of violence directed at the young singer. In 1990, O’Connor told the management of a New Jersey venue she wouldn’t take the stage if the National Anthem was played (as was their policy) before her show. This was at the outset of the first U.S. Gulf War against Iraq, which O’Connor opposed. Playing the same venue the next evening, Frank Sinatra called O’Connor a “stupid broad,” adding “I’d kick her ass if she were a guy.”
Years later, O’Connor’s criticism of the Catholic Church hierarchy has not softened. In an April 23, 2010 appearance on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” she said it was now apparent the Vatican had coordinated an international cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. “As it happens, they all behaved without exception in exactly the same way when dealing with complaints,” O’Connor told Maddow, referring to investigative reports documenting cover-ups by dioceses in Boston, Philadelphia, and in Ireland. “If that hadn’t been orchestrated by central command [the Vatican], there would be differences in how each diocese had handled the matter. The conclusion of all of those reports is that the church’s concern was for the preservation of its assets and its reputation above the caring of the children.”
O’Connor has called for a criminal investigation of the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI, with appropriate consequences. ”Whoever was involved in the cover-up of child abuse and therefore endangering children should be fired.” She includes the pope in that assessment.
O’Connor’s anger over child abuse is hardly out of place, considering the reports she’s given over the years of her own brutal mistreatment growing up, including physical violence and starvation at the hands of her mother. Encouraged by her mother as an adolescent to shoplift, she ended up spending a year and a half in a juvenile facility, one of the dreaded “Magdalene laundries” run by the church for Ireland’s “fallen” and “uncooperative” young women.
I suspect many fans of O’Connor are especially drawn to her music because they share her sensitivity to the plight of oppressed people, including abused children. Listening to her older songs like “This is to Mother You” or “Famine,” you can hear the voice of a woman who has felt deeply about love and suffering in this troubled world. To those inclined to mock Sinead O’Connor for her alleged “eccentricities”—perhaps only those who have never been, or known someone, who suffers from clinical depression, sought therapy—should cast the first stone. “A lot of people say, ‘You destroyed your career by tearing up a picture of the pope,’” O’Connor told the Guardian (February 3, 2012). “But I define success differently in this spiritually bereft business. To me, it’s ‘Can I be myself'?”
That she is. And we are glad for it.
Mark T. Harris lives in Portland, Oregon. He has written for Utne, Z, and Dissent magazines (www.Mark-T-Harris.com).
Television’s Best Kept Secret
By John Zavesky
“Treme” is the brainchild of writer/producer David Simon (“Generation Kill,” “The Wire,” “Homicide: Life on the Street”) and Eric Overmeyer. The series is as audacious as the city it portrays. What television drama would be daring enough to put their primary focus on local musicians? What television drama would be so fearless as to portray the moments just before Katrina and tie up every character’s back-story in a three minute flashback during the final episode?
Simon and Overmeyer offer a Dickensian view of one of America’s greatest cities, New Orleans. The show is made up of priceless moments that ring universal truths while being authentically endemic to the Big Easy. Season 1 begins three months after Katrina and its aftermath that devastated New Orleans. The show’s ensemble cast includes John Goodman as a Tulane English Professor, Melissa Leo as a civil rights attorney and Goodman’s wife, Steve Zahn, Khandi Alexander, Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce (both from “The Wire”), Kim Dickens (late of HBO’s “Deadwood”) and classical violinist Lucia Micarelli. That is just the regulars. The series also boasts cameos from Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, Elizabeth Ashley, Steve Earle, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, restaurateur David Chang, and about three dozen local bands and musicians playing themselves.
The storylines are deep with character development always at the forefront. Simon and his writers—novelist George Pelecanos and Anthony Bourdain—seam- lessly weave local history, such as the NOPD killings on the Danziger Bridge and the shuttering and demolition of public housing into the show.
Season 2 continues the tale 18 months after Katrina. Crime has risen. NOPD is rife with corruption, racism, and vigilante cops. Agencies meant to provide relief for local citizenry are ineffectual, at best. Local politicians are more than happy to embrace out of state carpetbaggers looking to make a fast buck from the disaster. The series even gives a glimpse of the BP disaster waiting to happen when it segues to a character working in the Gulf fishing industry.
“Treme” is not typical TV. The storylines crisscross between a chef losing her restaurant, a bar owner dealing with the loss of a brother and a vicious assault, an Indian Chief attempting to get his tribe back from the half dozen states where they’ve been scattered, and a trombonist trying to sort out his family situation. Yet “Treme’s” emphasis is always on the music and musicians of New Orleans. It is the music and its players that hold the series together and give it those special moments like Irma Thomas performing “Time is on My Side”; Steve Earle playing a street musician; Dr. John portraying himself as a sessions player; and John Hiatt, Rebirth Brass Band, Big Feedia, Kermit Ruffins, The Iguanas, Galactic, and dozens of outstanding bands and musicians appear throughout any given episode. (HBO has also released companion CD’s of the music from “Treme.”)
One cannot write about the music of “Treme” without mentioning classic violinist Lucia Micarelli, who portrays Annie, a street musician. Micarelli had injured her hand and was recovering when her agent got a call from David Simon. The part was initially small. Lucia thought it might be fun and something she could do while her hand healed. After two seasons, the part of Annie has grown significantly and Micarelli is frequently featured playing with locals from the Iguanas to David Torkanowsky.
The institutions and government have failed. It is the people who have undertaken the job of rebuilding their neighborhoods, keeping their culture alive. “Treme” captures that passion both musically and dramatically. The series is like a world class gumbo that offers an amazing array of tantalizing flavors and scents. Do yourself a favor and sample “Treme.” You won’t regret it.
John Zavesky has worked in the media field for over 30 years. His screenplays have been produced for New Zealand and U.S. television. His articles have appeared in Z Magazine, Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, and Palestine Chronicle. Zavesky is currently working on a crime novel set in southern California.
Turkish Filmmakers Claim International Spotlight
By Lisa Mullenneaux
A panorama of 29 Turkish films, dating from the 1950s to the present, screened from April 27-May 10 at Manhattan’s Walter Reade and Elinor Bunin Munroe theaters. For some foreign film aficionados, the U.S. largest retrospective of Turkish films, called “The Space Between,” was overdue. “Turkey has an extraordinarily rich cinematic tradition,” said Richard Peña, program director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center, “which has remained largely unknown to even the most dedicated American filmgoers.”
Peña, who teaches Film Studies at Columbia University, joined directors Rasit Çelikezer, Yesim Ustaoglu, and Ali Ozgentürk and film scholars Fatih Özgüven and Zeynep Dadak for a discussion of the development of Turkish cinema on April 29.
Yesilçam” (green pine) is Turkey’s version of Hollywood; from the 1950s-1970s studios churned out 200 movies a year.
Alongside these genre films was a more personal cinema, highly influenced by neo-realism’s raw social critiques, as in The Law of the Border (1966), Revenge of the Snakes (1962), and Dry Summer (1964).
In the 1970s, the popular actor Yilmaz Güney used his box office clout as a vehicle for more films of social criticism—Elegy (1971) and Hope (1970) depict the struggles of rural and urban poor to survive. Güney’s outspokenness often landed him in prison, which is where he wrote The Road (1982). This prisoners’ road film won Cannes’ Palme d’Or. After Turkey’s 1980 military coup, censorship stalled Yeilçam production, but the 1990s witnessed a new breed of independent filmmakers.
Tension between life in Turkey’s remote provinces and Istanbul is a recurrent theme in feature films and documentaries. In Ali Ozgentürk’s Hazal (1979) a beautiful widow is forced by her in-laws to marry her dead husband’s 12-year-old brother. Her desperate situation contrasts with the construction of a new road, encroaching on the village’s tribalism and isolation. Yilmaz Erdogan’s Vizontele chronicles the ripples caused by a village’s first TV set. On Fertile Lands (1979) tells the tale of three friends who trade rural poverty for factory and construction jobs.
Portraits of Istanbul at the festival included O Beautiful Istanbul (1966), Three Friends (1958), Somersault in a Coffin (1996), and Steam: The Turkish Bath (1997). My Cinemas (1990) features the work of three women as screenwriter, director, and star.
In the award-winning Journey to the Sun (1999), female director Yesim Ustaoglu takes her characters from Istanbul to the war-ravaged Iraqi border.
Other memorable works included Can (2011), Turkey’s first entry at the Sundance Festival, directed by Rasit Çelikezer; Climates (2006), director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s stunning tale of a couple’s breakup and its aftermath; The Girl with the Red Scarf (1977); and Halit Refig’s My Aunt (1987). Organized by the Moon and Stars Project of the American Turkish Society and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the retrospective gave audiences a taste of the vibrancy and scope of Turkey’s artistic achievement.
Lisa Mullenneaux is a journalist whose work has appeared in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines for over 20 years. Photo 1: From "O Beautiful Istanbul." Photo 2: From "The Law of the Border." Photo 3: From "Elegy."
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CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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