"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Cocaína No, Coca Sí
By Chellis Glendinning

Cocaine cuts close to the bone here in New Mexico. An addict lives on either side of me. To the south, it's the angry Chicano whose proclivities run to shooting off guns and starting fires that require three fire departments to quell; to the north, it's the waif of a blonde whose high school graduation may have been awaited with joy, but who, in the presence of the white temptation, deteriorated into confusion, loss of a job and ill health.

So when Tom Hayden suggested I travel to Bolivia for el transmito del mando of the coca farmer Evo Morales to the presidency of that country -- one of the top Latin American growers of the plant used in the production of the narcotic cocaína -- I slapped a few Levi shirts into my maletita and waited for the departure date.

To the average U.S. observer, Morales' campaign platform might have appeared odd, even contradictory. It included halting sales of the coca leaf to the burgeoning narco business, which anyone who has seen the “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” TV ads could go for. But it also called for stopping U.S.-backed eradication of coca fields and the legitimization of the plant as the ancient sacred herb that it is.

Tom's idea was in line with Morales' thinking. He wanted us to gather information and make contacts in Bolivia so that, upon return, we might launch a campaign to legalize sale of coca inside the United States. Mi compañero de viaje was jazzed by the potential medical application of the herb for heart and diabetes patients.

He himself, a heart attack survivor, had experienced its remarkable effects when, with leaves chocked into his cheek on a previous visit, his normal huffing and puffing had been miraculously replaced by an energetic mounting of the cobblestone streets of La Paz. His strategy was to put the herb through FDA hoops and make it a legal prescription drug for medical distribution.

I began to contemplate possible economic effects. The narcotraficantes are grossly in evidence in Colombia, Perú, Ecuador and Bolivia, where by military might and political manipulation they control the Andes' No. 1 commodity product: la coca, which is processed in laboratories for international distribution as cocaine. In some instances, the cartels kidnap farmers, sequestering them in wooden cages at night, forcing them to shout Wal-Mart-style pep chants and work the fields in double shifts. In others, village growers simply find it more remunerative to sell coca to drug dealers than to market pineapples at the local mercado. In still others, the crops are taxed, either by narcotraficantes themselves or by political groups amassing resources for military campaigns.

A thought -- which popped into my head not full-blown and solid as, let's face it, narcos are not ones to put up with competition -- was that a legitimate, collective-run venue for growers could provide uninterrupted income while upsetting the base of the illegal drug trade, a task that has thus far eluded every local, governmental and international effort ever attempted.

Sacred plant

La coca is the sacred plant of Bolivia, with 82 different species grown in the tropical Chapare, in the forests of Santa Cruz and on the altiplano of the Yungas de La Paz.

Why is it considered a "sacred” plant? The people value it above all else. They believe that its existence, like that of spirit, infuses every facet of life. When a couple marries, they plant a coca field; as their children grow, so the field matures, providing for all; when the children leave home, the field has passed its peak, producing now only for two. Coca is the gift that binds all social relations. It is the healer of humankind's ills. It is used to give thanks, to predict fortunes, to celebrate the season, to solidify the community, to experience the primeval space-time continuum of the gods.

And it has remarkable nutritional and medicinal attributes. Chock-full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, it is reported to relax, invigorate and give strength. Hundreds of biological and medical studies propose it can aid digestion, combat arthritis, balance blood sugar, impede fungal and bacterial growth, heal ulcers, boost the immune system, augment oxygenation, act as a sedative, and -- of particular interest to Tom -- facilitate circulation and restore the cardiac muscle.

Coke. Snow. Flake. Blow. Tornado

Cocaine is a whole other story. Extracted as a lone alkaloid from a potpourri of nutrients in the coca plant, then processed with forty-some chemicals, including ether, acetone and methyl ketone -- it is a deadly drug. Snorted, injected or smoked, the white powder jacks the nervous system into a frenzy of extreme excitement, just as it interrupts the passage of nerve impulses, causing inhibition of pain sensations and failure of judgment.

And it is horrifically addictive. When laboratory rats are offered an endless supply of heroin, they ingest it constantly but also take time to eat and sleep; when they’re given an unending cache of cocaine, they do nothing but consume it. Complications can include heart attacks, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures and paranoid psychosis. According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 48 million Americans have used cocaine. Read: one in six. That's a lot of people. The business is bigger than that of McDonald's, Microsoft and Kellogg's rolled into one: $92 billion a year.

It can be no surprise that the kind of people running it are of the no-bullshit variety, the kind with personal zoological gardens, personal body guards, personal hit men, personal telecommunications systems and personal techno-armies. To go up against them, the primary cocaine-consuming nation in the world -- the United States -- has likewise amassed techno-armies. Fighter jets. Black Hawk helicopters. Ground-to-ground missiles. Rocket launchers.

Since 2000 the "war on drugs" has laid out $7.5 billion to the Andes region, ostensibly to eradicate cartel-grown coca and opium fields. But, in fact, wanton spraying of toxic chemicals onto innocent coca farmers, their families, and the fields producing their daily food has predominated -- while the bulk of the money has been funneled toward military actions aimed at securing Latin America's oil, natural gas, water, gold, etc., for unfettered corporate exploitation.

Talking revolution

People in Bolivia talk politics. Well, truth be told, they talk revolution. This is a place where both classical and current colonization have taken brutish forms: genocide, slavery, resource robbery, military juntas -- and almost every family has a member who has been arrested, tortured and/or desaparecido. Bolivia has endured 192 changes of government in 178 years of existence as a republic, 100 of them by revolution.

Consider what this means: You have to keep up.

The waiter at my hotel in La Paz, a supporter of Morales' Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), brightens at the thought I have come all this way for the inauguration -- and our mutual enthusiasm for conversation, as he serves mangos and trucha a lo macho, revolves around la liberación of his country.

A 20-year-old cab driver tells me that Evo is like a loaf of bread fresh from the oven: We'll find out how he tastes. In a village west of Cochabamba, a doctor lays out the shape of the new Latin America. Venezuela's president is socialist Hugo Chavez. Chile has just elected former torture victim and single mother Michelle Bachelet. Left-of-center Néstor Kirchner heads Argentina, while Luiz "Lulu" da Silva is president of Brazil. Uruguay's Tabaré Vazquez's initial act is to open diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Inauguration day

22 Enero. Plaza de los Héroes.

Thousands of people are overflowing the heart of La Paz where large gatherings have historically taken the form of pitched battles against the military. This is something different. The official state inauguration is taking place several blocks away in the Congress. The presidents of Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Panama, Peru, Brazil and Paraguay are in attendance, and out here uncountable crowds are awaiting the arrival of their new leaders.

Smiling Aymara women in felt bowler hats. The street kids rehabilitated by El Teatro Trono atop stilts made of scrapwood, gyrating to the thunder of homemade drums. Quecha women in their flat-topped straw monteras. Miss Bolivia Universo. Bigger-than-life flying eagle puppets. Dance groups in feather headdresses. Bolivia's glorious trícolor, impressive blue MAS banners, the emblematic multicolored wiphala flags -- all flapping like foam caps atop a sea of humanity.

Rather than one mass leaning, lunging, looking toward one stage as would be done in the United States, the crowd organizes itself into circles resembling village clans. I am jammed into one, and an infant wrapped in a shawl grasps to hold my finger. An Aymara woman admires the artistry of the poncho I am wearing with a gold-toothed grin. To the emphatic toots of zampoña music, a cholito in red helmet hat dances with an African-American girl in dreadlocks, a willowy blond boy spins a laughing indígena. A serpent of miners in hardhats presses through, and every now and again the crowd lets roar a mass chant: "!EVO! !EVO! !EVO!"

It is 5 o'clock. Many have been waiting for Morales' appearance for six hours. Suddenly the distinguished Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano steps onto the stage and, with his gravely poetic voice, announces that Evo's presidency marks the death of la dictadura del miedo (the dictatorship of fear).

Next comes the handsome vicepresidente Álvaro García Linera. At last Evo steps to the microphone. The crowd stills. The coca farmer now festooned in the national medallion of liberator Simón Bolívar pledges obedience to the people and unprecedented striving for justice. The sky opens to its seasonal downpour, and thousands of people are drenched in hope.

Tears of Evo

One memorable thing about Morales is that, on both occasions of receiving his mandate -- the spiritual transmission at the sacred site Tiwanaku, for which he prepared with rituals of purification, and the official inauguration in Congress -- he burst into tears.

The 46-year-old Evo Morales Aima was born Aymara and poor in the department of Oruro. During a drought in 1983, his family was forced to move to the tropical Chapare to survive by coca farming. Before making his way through the ranks of local unions there, finally emerging as the president of El Comité de Coordinación de las Seis Federaciones, he had worked as a baker, a brick layer, a farmworker, a trumpet player and a soldier. In the mid-1990s he rose to lead MAS and, along the way, harshly derided the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas as "an agreement to legalize the colonization of the Americas"; be thrown in jail for standing up for the cocaleros; and proclaim ”Cocaína no, coca sí,” (Cocaine no, coca yes), with emphasis on solving the cocaine problem not at the campesino end, but at the consumption end.

Morales is known for two distinguishing characteristics: (1) his Beatle-like, bowl-cut hairdo (read: he's an indígeno through and through); and (2) the ratty old red and blue alpaca sweater he would not take off during his world tour to meet the leaders of China, Spain and France (read: he doesn't compromise).

Because Morales is romantically unattached -- and now asserts that, by vote of the people, he is married to Bolivia -- la primera dama is his sister, Esther Morales Aima. She is a 54-year-old vegetable vendor.

Morales' politics are touted to be an unfolding of socialista and indígena. The MAS platform has 10 points, which include the nationalization of resources (read: profits go to the country, not to multinational corporations); decentralization of decision making back to the pueblos indígenas, municipalities and regions; eradication of rampant government corruption; the creation of a national health system and, for our purposes, decriminalization of traditional coca growing; routing out the narcotraficantes; and the return of land to the campesinos who work it.

At Tiwanaku, in reference to Che Guevara, who was executed in Bolivia in 1967 at the hands of the military and the CIA, Morales proclaims, "La lucha que dejó Che Guevara, vamos a cumplir nosotros" (We will finish the fight Che Guevara began).

In the garden of the activists

I arrive in the village of Totorcahua craving a good night's sleep. I get it on a three-acre piece of permacultured paradise. The German-Bolivian doctor José Carlos Ramirez Voltaire, veteran of Physicians for Social Responsibility International, is my host, and I am sharing the walled gardens of lime, lemon, plantain, comfrey, carrots and nasturtium with Bolivian activist Malena Vida, Spanish healer Ignacio Ballesteros and Quecha gardener Irgidio Torres.

The fact that they are activists working for worldwide legalization -- or, at least, removal from the United Nations’ controlled substances list -- is sheer synchronicity. What it means is I am privy to almost nonstop discussion on the meaning of coca and the means by which it might overcome the taint it suffers from its unfortunate association with cocaine.

The first guest to a political meeting on coca filters through the plantain leaves to the house around 4 o'clock. He is Guido Capcha whose dedication is finding health care for the villagers in the Chapare. Next comes Gabriel Yawar Nina dressed in disheveled khaki jungle gear, a camera artisan who brings his photo creations of indígenas printed on brown-bag paper. He is accompanied by writer-activist Malena Tuta Larama. Carmen Cárdenas, along with Grober and Alexia Loredo from Teatro Trono, arrives toting a suitcase full of colorful puppets. The painter Valentina Campos carries her two-month-old in a red and pink shawl. While José, Ignacio and Malena are laying out cheese and cakes, Appalachian folksinger Ricardo Jack Herrenan picks a tune he has written linking the struggles of coal miners in West Virginia with that of gold and silver miners in Bolivia's Potosí.

We talk politics. There are as many years of movement sweat under the bougainvillea as there are years since the arrival of Cristobál Colón. We are talking about a possible worldwide campaign to legalize coca. A major theme is la liberación de los pueblos. Another is the holism that is second nature to communities not yet totally wrenched from the land: coca is not separate from people, family, ancestors, nutrition, music, art or spirituality. La coca es sagrada, as is so often said, and everyone's cheeks are bulging with leaves meshed with the characteristic bolus of licorice that glues it all together.

Then Juan Carlos Escalera, the dedicated agronomist in the corduroy beret, puts it to me eyeball to eyeball. How can coca be forged into a product separate from origins, place and traditions? Wouldn't the demand from worldwide consumers transform its historic small-scale village production into technology-based corporate agribusiness? And wouldn't such an endeavor signal yet another assault on Bolivia's waning biodiversity?

Just that morning, while downing our daily mate de coca, jam and bread, José has expounded yet again on the possibilities of coca despenalización, and a question has niggled its way into my mind. Wait a minute -- it flies in like a bird seeking a nest -- we're talking about the creation of ... a global commodity. A beneficent global commodity, perhaps, but a global commodity nonetheless -- complete with its potential for wrenching community from tradition, entry into the wage economy, devolution to mass transportation and telecommunications technologies, imposition of economic inequities and individualism, etc.

I answer Juan Carlos eyeball to eyeball, relaying my own progression of thought. I begin by describing mi compañero's desire to legalize coca and put it through FDA standards to make it available to U.S. heart and diabetes patients. I hear a collective gasp of anguish and witness a row of black-haired heads drop into despairing hands.

I move on to describe my conversion to the softer notion of coca sold in U.S. health food stores like yerba mate or chamomile. The same gasp erupts, the same dropping of heads. Last I tell of the thought that has entered my mind just that morning: Selling coca in mass quantities could signify entry into the global economy with perilous consequences for people, culture and the natural world. There is no gasp and no dropping of heads.

The plant stays

Juan Carlos escorts Jack and me to the farming village of El Paso. Its claim to fame is chicha, a homemade corn drink akin to moonshine, and the chicherría is a cavernous adobe barn with chickens and roosters strutting freely among the tables.

We take our first round of chicha from a dried gourd cup, making sure to offer the first sip to Pachamama who, in this case, appears as the earthen floor of the barn. Juan Carlos launches into a lecture on Bolivia's ecological cosmology. Illustrating his thoughts on a piece of blue-lined paper, he overlays a ladderlike configuration depicting the four altitude zones over a birds-eye view of the country.

His drawing becomes ever more elaborate, like a labyrinth, as he adds seasonal charts revealing farming and festival schedules; statistics on loss of biological diversity since 1930; etchings of sun, land and people. We are into our third round of chicha, a black cow is ruminating at the barn door, and Juan Carlos and Jack are simultaneously putting away the coca. Juan Carlos' conclusion is as simple and complicated as a leaf.

"La planta no sale fuera" (The plant doesn't leave here), he states. It is dusk. Against the darkening valley splayed out beneath the Cordillera Cochabamba, I have clarity. It all comes down to a politic of la soberanía. Respect for other peoples' self-determination implies that my business stops at the boundary where theirs begins; it does not extend inside another's territory, community, body or psyche.

That understood, there can only be two possible responses on my part. The first is to take responsibility for what my own government is doing to Bolivia: to stop the military/political arm of the U.S. war on drugs. In the interest of not imposing a plan that I posit would be useful to me, my second task becomes respectful communication: to listen, learn and respond in cooperation.

Needless to say, the age-old question raises its tangled head. Who is the legitimate spokesperson for la soberanía? What if, in response to pressures to amass capital that press in on any government in a global economy, Morales himself negotiates a deal for mass coca production with a multinational pharmaceutical? Or a consortium of health food companies? Or even a group of left-leaning "free trade" collectives? Juan Carlos stares into me with those eyes.

He says nothing, and I suddenly laugh at my own doubt. "OK. I get it. The origin of sovereignty precedes government and always, always always resides with the people."

I return home to New Mexico -- as before, sandwiched between the vato and the sad blonde, whose lives are forever marked by a drug derived from leaves grown somewhere in the Andes, perhaps in the Bolivian Chapare. It is time: I, too, must work to finish the fight that Che Guevara began.


el transmito del mando: the inauguration; literally, the transfer of command
cocaína: cocaine, the narcotic
maletita: little suitcase
compañero de viaje: traveling partner
narcotraficantes: drug traffickers, cartels
altiplano: the high, temperate plateau of Bolivia
desaparecido: a "disappeared" or kidnapped person, possibly tortured and killed
trucha a lo macho: trout from Lake Titicaca served with garlic and onions
trícolor: national flag
wiphala: flag of MAS, representing all indigenous peoples of Bolivia
zampoña: a flute made of reeds strapped together
cholito: a term used to refer to an indigenous man
indígena: indigenous woman
cocaleros: coca farmers
la primera dama: the first lady
pueblos indígenas: indigenous peoples or communities
la liberación de los pueblos: the liberation of peoples or communities
sagrada: sacred
mate de coca: coca tea
despenalización: decriminalization
chicherría: neighborhood bar that serves chicha
la soberanía: sovereignty
vato: homeboy
posted by R J Noriega at 3:31 PM | Permalink | 1 comments
Friday, April 28, 2006
Fewer African-Americans enlisting in the military
By Drew Brown

WASHINGTON - Fewer African-Americans are joining the Army, a trend likely to make it harder to keep the all-volunteer military at full strength.

The percentage of African-Americans among all those who signed up for active-duty Army service fell from 24 percent in 2000 to 14 percent in 2005, according to Army statistics. That's the lowest percentage since 1973, when the draft ended and the all-volunteer military began, say David R. Segal and Mady Wechsler Segal, sociologists with the University of Maryland's Center for Research on Military Organization.

In the past, African-Americans have enlisted at higher rates than their overall percentage of the U.S. population, which was 12.9 percent in the 2000 census.

"These trends may spell trouble for the Army, which has depended on blacks to meet its recruiting goals and re-enlistment targets," the Segals wrote in a November study.

In 1974, blacks made up 27 percent of new Army recruits and 21 percent of new Marine recruits, 16 percent of Air Force enlistees and 10 percent of Navy enlistees, according to the study.

"Basically, what has happened over time with the all-volunteer force is that the Army has become sort of dependent on the overrepresentation of African-American recruits, who have been more inclined to stay," David Segal said in an interview.

Blacks have tended to enlist in administrative, medical and support specialties, the Segal study said.

S. Douglas Smith, a spokesman for Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky., pointed out that recruiting is down, not just for African-Americans, but for all groups. This year, the Army missed its recruiting goal by more than 6,600 new enlistees, the first time it has missed an annual recruiting target since 1999.

Smith said the improving economy is mostly to blame for the recruiting slump, but the war also has been a factor, he said, "and the public perception that this is a risky time to be a soldier."

Smith said the Army has been focusing recruiting efforts more on Hispanics and Asian-Americans and other minorities in recent years. In fiscal year 2001, Hispanics made up 10.5 percent of active-duty Army recruits. In fiscal year 2005, they comprised 13.2 percent of active-duty recruits, according to Army statistics, slightly higher than their overall percentage in the U.S. population of 12.5 percent. The percentage of Asian recruits rose from 2.6 percent in fiscal year 2001 to 4.1 percent in fiscal year 2005, about on par with their percentage of the U.S. population.

"We want the Army to be reflective of the nation," Smith said.

The Army appealed to blacks for decades because they saw it as one of the most integrated institutions in America, said Charles Moskos, a sociologist at Northwestern University who specializes in military affairs.

Eventually, blacks made up one-third of all enlisted women and one-fifth of men, including many senior noncommissioned officers.

"It's been the only institution in America where whites have been routinely bossed around by blacks because many of your (non-commissioned officers) are black," Moskos said.

According to the Segal study, black enlistments peaked at 28 percent in 1979 and later hovered at around 20 percent until they began to drop in 2000.

Experts looking for reasons for the decline cite these factors:

-Better economic and educational opportunities.

-The high rate of incarceration among young black males. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 8.4 percent of all black males in the United States between 25 and 29 were in a state or federal prison last year, compared with 2.5 percent of Hispanics and 1.2 percent of whites in the same age group.

-An erroneous belief, dating back to the Vietnam War, that blacks and other minorities suffer a disproportionate share of combat casualties.

Statistics don't bear out those perceptions. According to independent researchers with Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks casualty statistics based on Defense Department press releases and media reports, whites have suffered 74 percent of deaths in Iraq, while blacks have suffered 10.4 percent and Hispanics 11 percent.

-Blacks have been much less supportive of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than whites and other ethnic groups, according to U.S. military surveys.

According to a report titled "U.S. Military Image Study" commissioned last year by the Army, African-Americans who viewed the military favorably decreased from 22 percent in November 2003 to 11 percent in November 2004.

Compared with other ethnic groups, African-American youths are also the least supportive of the war in Iraq, the least likely to believe that the war was justified and the most disapproving of the U.S. government's handling of foreign affairs, researchers found.

The study also found that black adults are less likely than adults in other ethnic groups to recommend military service to youths, in part because of the war.
posted by R J Noriega at 7:44 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, April 27, 2006
the Government Crackdown on Information From Whistleblowers to Journalists
Today we look at the U.S government's attempt to clamp down on the ability of the public to transmit or receive information that the government deems secret. In recent weeks, various government agencies have sought to punish people who they believed leaked classified information. Government agents have also sought personal files from those who they claimed possessed classified information and some intelligence agencies have tried to limit what information the public has access to.
Last week, the CIA fired analyst Mary McCarthy who the agency says had undisclosed contacts with journalists, including Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. Priest won a Pulitzer Prize earlier this month for a series of articles about how the CIA is running secret prisons overseas. McCarthy has denied disclosing this information to Priest or leaking any other classified information.

Congress is also considering legislation which would potentially revoke the pensions of intelligence agency employees who make unauthorized disclosures. The legislation would also greatly expand intelligence agency powers by permitting security forces at the National Security Agency and the CIA to make warrantless arrests outside the grounds of those agencies. And it was also recently disclosed that the CIA and the National Archives signed a secret agreement, which would permit the CIA and other intelligence agencies to withdraw from public access records it considered improperly declassified.

Also, earlier this month it was revealed that the FBI is seeking to go through the files of legendary muckracking journalist Jack Anderson in order to remove anything it regarded as classified or secret. Anderson died last December and his family is refusing to allow government agents access to 200 boxes of his documents which are housed at George Washington University. We will talk more about this later in the program. But first we turn to longtime First Amendment advocate and Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff. On Tuesday, he spoke at an all-day conference on Presidential Powers sponsored by NYU's Center on Law and Security.

Nat Hentoff, speaking on April 25, 2006.

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AMY GOODMAN: We turn to longtime First Amendment advocate and Village Voice columnist, Nat Hentoff. On Tuesday, he spoke at an all-day conference on presidential powers, sponsored by New York University's Center on Law and Security.

NAT HENTOFF: I'm going to focus on the further expansion of the President's powers in the increasing investigations, and some may be criminal investigations, of the press for, in the President's terms, “aiding the enemy” in publishing leaks of classified information. Now, having been advised by a covey of lawyers in the Justice and Defense Departments 2002 and 2003, headed by John Yoo, that since 9/11, as Commander-in-Chief, he has the power, when it's necessary for national security, to bypass Congress, bypass the courts. The White House is now insistent that the press is also getting in the way of the unitary executive.

Now, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in February, C.I.A. Director Porter Goss – Porter Goss was about to resign from Congress. He had been in the C.I.A. previously, but he was persuaded by the President and Dick Cheney to become the director of the C.I.A. Vice President Cheney, shortly after 9/11, mentioned the necessity to cultivate the dark arts, and he wanted to make sure, with all the leaks going on, that those arts would become even darker, and he's testified, Porter Goss did, saying, “We will witness a Grand Jury investigation with reporters present” -- presumably “and testifying” -- “being asked to reveal who is leaking information about the C.I.A.'s classified material.”

The charge against Mary O. McCarthy -- and she has denied not only the charge, that she even had access to that information that Dana Priest was printing – that she was a source of Dana Priest's Washington Post report on the C.I.A.’s secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Now, Dana Priest – I'm so pleased she won the Pulitzer this year – has been writing about the C.I.A.'s black sites since late 2002, the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. And Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who continually refuses to authorize an investigation of the C.I.A.'s violations of American and international laws in its prisons, wholly hidden, obviously deliberately from our rule of law, is now congratulating the firing of Mary McCarthy.

Dana Priest is already subject to a Justice Department investigation, as are New York Times reporters Lichtblau and James Risen, for their disclosure of the President's secret approval of the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance of Americans, and those reporters have also received Pulitzers this year, despite the President's characterization of their reporting as “shameful.”

The administration's position has been clearly stated by F.B.I. spokesman William Carter. “Under the law, no private person, including journalists, may possess classified documents that were illegally provided to them. These documents remain the property of the government,” unquote, and that's what they're telling the late Jack Anderson's family now.

The law cited by Mr. Carter is this administration's expansion of the Espionage Act of 1917, which is now before the courts. By the way, Woodrow Wilson has been mentioned earlier, and he was very disappointed in what finally became of the Espionage Act. He was insistent that there be a provision that would punish the press, and that, after a very spirited debate, was extracted from the Espionage Act of 1917. It is now expanded by this administration, and there is a case now in the courts that can greatly diminish the First Amendment rights of the press and the rights of Americans to receive information about such lawless practices as the C.I.A.'s secret interrogation centers, the President's violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, etc.

This espionage case, which has been not reported sufficiently in the media, United States of America v. Franklin, Rosen and Weissman, is the first in which the federal government is charging violations of the Espionage Act by American citizens who are not government officials for being involved in what until now have been regarded as First Amendment protected activities engaged in by hundreds of journalists, not everyday, but quite often. Stephen Rosen and Keith Weissman, former officials of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – they have since been fired – are accused of receiving classified information from a Defense Department analyst, Lawrence Franklin, about American Middle East and terrorism strategy. Rosen and Weissman are charged with providing that classification information to an Israeli diplomat and a journalist.

Lawrence Franklin has pleaded guilty, is sentenced to prison, but defense attorneys for Rosen and Weissman declared – and by the way, in the defense brief, there are several now before the Federal District Court, I was very pleased to see that signing the defense brief against this use of the Espionage Act was a previous speaker this morning, when he was in the Justice Department and a primary architect of the PATRIOT Act, but he is also, as he indicated today, concerned with what is happening now, Viet Dinh, signed the defense brief in this Espionage Act case. Anyway, the defense of the two say, “Never until now has a lobbyist, reporter or any other non-government employee been charged for receiving oral information the government alleges to be national defense material, as part of that accused person's normal First Amendment protected activities.”

In an amicus brief to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, with which I'm affiliated, I'm on the steering committee but – and never being asked to steer, but anyway, they say, “These charges potentially eviscerate the primary function of journalism: to gather and publicize information of public concern, particularly where the most valuable information to the public is information that the government wants to conceal, so that the public cannot participate in and serve as a check on the government.” After all, that's why the First Amendment, one of the reasons anyway, was added to the Constitution in 1791.

But the judge now hearing this case, this espionage case, T.S. Ellis, III, said in March -- he's backtracking a little now, but he said in March --that “persons who come into unauthorized possession of classified information must abide by the law. That applies to academics, lawyers, journalists, professors, whatever,” unquote. “Whatever” being a rather broad and vague term.

Now, recently, as I said, Judge Ellis is beginning to realize, it seems, that this is a more difficult case than he first thought. However it goes, and it will eventually, I expect, be before the Supreme Court, as Steven Aftergood, head of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, says, “To make a crime of that kind,” of this kind of conversations that Rosen and Weissman had with Franklin over lunch, “would not be surprising in the People's Republic of China, but it's utterly foreign” – the question is, is it? – “it's utterly foreign to the American political system.”

This censorship of the press was cut out, as I said, of the Espionage Act of 1917. Now, if the Supreme Court agrees with the Bush administration and Judge Ellis in March, maybe not now, we will, as Steven Aftergood says, “We will have to build many more jails and disarm the First Amendment.”

AMY GOODMAN: Nat Hentoff, writer for the Village Voice, well known for his writings on the First Amendment
posted by R J Noriega at 1:50 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The Power of Fusion Politics
By Alyssa Katz

Last election day, as thousands of New Yorkers bused out to Ohio on a mission to stop George W. Bush from being re-elected, a few dozen stayed behind in Albany and made sure David Soares won.

The volunteers knocked on doors street by street; in the housing projects, hall by hall. The day John Kerry lost, the Working Families Party helped Soares take the job of Albany District Attorney away from a machine Democrat notorious for condemning drug offenders to extreme prison terms. With the rallying cry "Reform Rockefeller Drug Laws Now," the Soares campaign got voters to the polls by tapping into public outrage at seeing lives destroyed and billions wasted by the justice system. Soares had won the primary as a Democrat. In the general election he was still a Democrat, but on the ballot he was something else, too: the candidate of the Working Families Party.

A few months earlier, the WFP operation hit Westchester County. Volunteers trawled suburban streets delivering the message: "We're telling State Senator Nick Spano that New Yorkers need a raise in the minimum wage." A few residents cursed and slammed doors. But more often than not they agreed, and received a sheet of paper, a pen and a chance to handwrite a plea to the Senator. "It's about time!" exclaimed an expensively groomed woman as she took a clipboard.

That wasn't the first or last time Spano, a high-ranking Republican, heard from his constituents--and the greeting wasn't always so polite. A few weeks earlier, Spano had endured an "accountability session," a public event community organizers use to extract commitments from elected officials. In a YMCA hall packed with some 150 union members and other activists, filled with cries of "$5.15 is not enough!" Spano expressed surprise at the turnout--and, knowing he had little choice, signed a poster-size pledge to push legislation raising New York's minimum wage to $7.10. "I am on your side," Spano declared. "I will deliver this personally to the majority leader."

But it was not just because he was caught on the spot that Spano came around on this issue--he knew that the Working Families Party, which organized the session, had a card to play: the ballot line in elections throughout New York State that it has wielded since 1998. In New York, election laws allow "fusion"--candidates for any public office can run as the nominee of more than one political party. The votes candidates receive are tallied separately by party, then combined. Like many candidates in New York State, Spano was hungry for the extra boost of that additional ballot line, which could make all the difference on election day. With the WFP's progressive seal of approval, Spano could expect some votes from people who might never otherwise support a Republican.

Fusion is powerful. Voting in the Working Families column is no wasted gesture--every ballot counts. It sidesteps the Nader Effect, since voters can show their support for a progressive party agenda without spoiling the chances of a candidate--usually a Democrat--who has a shot at winning. And if there's an opportunity to take out a bad Democrat, like former Albany DA Paul Clyne, Working Families can run its own candidate.

Fusion politics also gets complicated, and occasionally controversial.

The Working Families Party gave Spano its ballot line--and with it the race. It turned into a contest so close that it had to be sorted out in court. Spano prevailed against Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a progressive African-American Democratic county legislator. He got 1,800 votes on the WFP line, and held on to his seat by just eighteen votes. This, in a state where Democrats have been laboring to retake the majority in the State Senate.

But the Working Families leadership was satisfied. In exchange for the endorsement of Spano and other Republicans in a tight race, state Republicans relented after years of opposition and hiked the minimum wage, which raised pay for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. By wielding the power to make or break one of its top leaders, Working Families pushed the Republican Party to take a progressive stance.

Much more often, that ballot line goes to a Democrat. The expectations are no different. Last November US Senator Chuck Schumer ran as both a Democrat and a Working Families nominee, and votes on either counted equally toward his re-election. But he got nearly 169,000 of his votes on the WFP line--3.6 percent of his total. Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, running for governor in 2006, solicited Working Families as his first endorsement. "What this is about," said Spitzer as he accepted the party's support, "is embracing progressive politics. It's about embracing the ideas and the values that will change the lives of citizens across the state; being willing to challenge the status quo; being willing to say, If it's broken we will fix it.... You have proven that substance matters in politics."

It's also about Spitzer buying into the WFP's sophisticated organizing apparatus. In acknowledgment of his cash contributions--the Attorney General was a keynote speaker at a party fundraiser--Spitzer can expect Working Families canvassers to go door to door or hold rallies in key districts he needs to win. And it's understood that Spitzer will have an obligation to deliver on Working Families' demands.

Spitzer's a radical by Wall Street standards, but not by the WFP's. Items on the party's legislative agenda include universal healthcare, rent regulation, a living wage and closing the income gap through progressive taxation. Founded and led by a coalition of labor unions and community organizations--including the Northeast regions of the United Auto Workers and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), locals of the garment and hotel workers' union UNITE HERE and the service workers' SEIU, ACORN and Citizen Action--Working Families claims an organized bloc of voters committed to economic populism, and the party uses them to get major-party politicians to follow the Working Families agenda. Its organizers strive to appeal simultaneously to Nation-reading liberals, people of color alienated by the Democrats, and working-class whites.

The WFP's ability to reach that third group, which Republicans have so successfully wrested from the Democrats, says a lot about what fusion can accomplish. A poll of New York State CWA members found that non-Democrats were likelier than Democrats to use the WFP ballot line to cast a vote for Hillary Clinton in 2000--of the 38 percent of that group who went for Clinton, eight in ten cast their vote under Working Families. Votes on the WFP line helped Democratic challenger Tim Bishop beat a conservative incumbent Republican Congressman on Long Island--in a district that went overwhelmingly for Republican Governor George Pataki on the same ballot.

WFP executive director Dan Cantor and a leadership circle of labor union political directors, community organizers and staff hunt for practical legislative and policy campaigns that will resonate with the party's target constituencies. "What issues do you want to move?" asks Cantor. "What moral disgrace brings issues into the electoral moment?" They then put those issues into play with a one-two punch: a grassroots field operation anchored by local chapters in the state's biggest counties, coupled with the ability, through fusion voting, to cross-endorse Democrats or Republicans for public office. Targeted politicians can't afford to ignore the party's agenda.

Less splashily, Working Families has become a fixture in local political races in the state's bigger cities and in the suburbs of New York City, delivering a get-out-the-vote apparatus and its progressive WF brand label in exchange for influence over candidates' policy agendas. Some of those relationships spawn legislative breakthroughs, including a 2002 living-wage law in Westchester. Many others simply rubber-stamp an undistinguished major-party favorite.

The party has held off on this year's New York City mayoral race, where Democratic candidates are struggling. Republican Mayor Mike Bloomberg leads them in the polls--among Democratic voters. Some of the WFP's member unions have already endorsed Bloomberg, while others can't agree on which Democrat to support. The party is showing its influence in subtler ways--for example, in candidate Fernando Ferrer's proposal to revive a stock-transfer tax to increase funding for schools, an idea the WFP actively promoted.

Starting with a campaign this year against Social Security privatization, Working Families has also begun targeting members of Congress in between election cycles. And it's not just assaulting Republicans: In August party leaders called for House minority leader Nancy Pelosi to remove two black Democratic Congressmen, Greg Meeks and Edolphus Towns, from their respective positions on the Financial Services and Energy and Commerce committees because they voted for CAFTA and other bills benefiting corporate powers. Prodded by Working Families, unions are sending letters to members in the Congressmen's districts informing them about the votes. They're doing all this on a shoestring; the WFP's entire budget is about $1.6 million a year, just $300,000 of which, according to the WFP, represents dues from its union affiliates. Revenues from door-to-door canvassing are growing steadily, a sign of broader public support.

Even the party's opponents acknowledge its influence. Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the business-lobby group Partnership for New York City, fought the WFP's ultimately successful effort to require some companies under contract with New York City government to pay employees a minimum of $10 an hour. "When it comes to bringing resources, bringing influence to bear on important public policies," says Wylde, "their political success, in terms of electing and supporting people in key positions, makes them a force to be reckoned with."

Working Families made 2004, of all years, a moment for progressive political gains in a state, governed by a Republican and a divided state legislature, that hasn't recently been out front on social and economic reforms. Now that it's proving its power to make things happen, the WFP is looking to export fusion voting to other states. "Common-sense progressivism is actually popular, but you need a way to make it visible," says Cantor. "Nothing's more powerful than a ballot line."

Franchising fusion is an undertaking somewhere on the highway between ambitious and quixotic. Most states abolished cross-endorsements more than a century ago, as the major parties consolidated their power. Besides New York, fusion remains legal only in Connecticut, Delaware, Vermont, South Carolina, Mississippi and Utah, and in none is the ballot line so accessible and useful as in New York. In 1997 the US Supreme Court ruled in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party that states cannot be compelled under the First Amendment to allow candidates to run on multiple party lines.

So Working Families and its labor and community allies are bracing for a state-by-state slog. In Connecticut the party is already up and running. It has to qualify in each legislative district, by first running candidates exclusively on the Working Families line and getting at least 1 percent of the vote. If it passes the threshold, in subsequent elections in that district it can cross-endorse candidates from any other party, in any race. Working Families is now on the ballot in sixty-five out of the state's 187 districts.

The party made a move for influence last fall: Leaders sat down with Connecticut State Representative Jim Amann, a Democrat who was enmeshed in a fight for House leadership, and agreed to pull Working Families nominees out of races where the Democratic candidate was an Amann ally, in exchange for Amann's support on the WFP's Connecticut agenda. "Even in districts where we couldn't cross-endorse, we could withdraw our candidate, and that gave us some leverage," explains party organizer Jon Green. Amann won, although that hasn't yet produced any legislative gains for the WFP.

Next up is Massachusetts. Starting September 21, a Working Families-led coalition will be collecting signatures to get a referendum on the ballot legalizing fusion voting. It is likely to be a difficult fight. In Massachusetts, state legislators have ways to thwart the results of a referendum. Fusion is unlikely to hold much appeal for them, since the Statehouse is solidly Democratic. And some of the state's progressive political organizers are balking at joining the emerging fusion coalition. They say they've already won some of the same gains WFP has--including a minimum-wage hike. "We win so much in the legislature just by going to the legislature," says Harris Gruman, director of Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, a grassroots organizing group. "We don't need to change the rules. The rules are working for us, now that we are working them."

"It's only natural that there would be a healthy dose of skepticism and nervousness," says Patrick Gaspard, vice president of politics and legislation for 1199SEIU and a veteran strategist with Working Families. "But look at what's been made possible in New York State as a result of people coming in and saying, 'I want to do a chunk of my work through this political institution.'... Having that flexibility has been a benefit to [1199's] membership."

The Maine legislature held a hearing earlier this year on a bill that would bring New York-style fusion to the state. There's interest in fusion, explains State Representative Hannah Pingree of North Haven, who introduced the bill, because the Green Party has repeatedly spoiled races for Democrats, siphoning off enough votes to let Republicans win. Democrats control the Statehouse, but by a slim margin. As she works to acquaint her colleagues with fusion, Pingree also has to acknowledge that the benefits may not flow just to Democrats. "People look at this as a way to promote the left, but it also could be a way for conservatives to advance as well," she notes. That concern is particularly acute among progressive leaders considering adopting fusion in Oregon, a state with an active radical right.

Cantor and partners are also sowing seeds in Delaware and exploring litigation in New Jersey, where they plan to argue that fusion voting is protected by the state Constitution. And Cantor is particularly excited about Ohio, under consideration for a 2006 ballot measure legalizing fusion. Cantor sees the presidential election results--where voters in a state with huge job losses went for the Republican--as an opportunity. Working Families' target constituency, he says, is "people who do not want to vote on the Democratic line but want to vote for the more progressive candidate. That's how you get somewhere in Ohio."

Wherever it goes next, Working Families will be highly dependent on its friends in labor for funds, person-power and political muscle. Lately, of course, those friends have been preoccupied with the decision by SEIU, the Teamsters and other unions in the Change to Win Coalition to leave the AFL-CIO. It's too soon to say what the departure bodes for the WFP. Still, there may be a growth opportunity: As labor works to figure out how to maintain undivided political influence, Working Families, with fusion voting, has found a way to build just that, pulling together unions for common strategic purposes. Bob Master, co-chair of the party and one of its founders, is Northeast political director of the CWA, which remains part of the AFL-CIO, as does the UAW, another pivotal WFP player. But quite a few of the WFP's most active union affiliates are with Change to Win: large and influential locals of SEIU, UNITE HERE, the Teamsters and the Laborers.

Master's co-chair, Bertha Lewis, executive director of ACORN's New York City chapter, has to insure that her members--poor people, mostly black and Latino--get their interests represented in a party dominated by organized labor. ACORN buys power through its organizing acumen, and through its communities' sheer numbers. Election turnout shows spikes in areas in Brooklyn and elsewhere where ACORN worked to get out the vote (though not always on the Working Families line). "In certain neighborhoods," says Lewis, "we are the machine." Fusion voting, she declares, "is the political tool of brown America."

Recruitment into an unknown cause didn't go down easily for ACORN members. "There ain't no way people are going to give up being a Democrat in order to be something they never heard of," Julia Boyd, a Brooklyn ACORN veteran, remembers saying. "There's no track record. Who are you? People felt like it was just another scam to get publicity or get your name in the papers. It was a difficult job to convince me."

Working Families showed its ability to turn out large numbers of minority voters with the election of David Soares as Albany District Attorney. The party sought out this race. It had interns call every county in the state to see which incumbents were up for re-election, then singled out Paul Clyne as especially vulnerable. Working Families handpicked Soares, who at the time was an obscure prosecutor in Clyne's office.

"When I went out and sought the endorsement, people laughed at me!" says Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York and a leader in Soares's campaign. "There was a strong Democratic Party. The candidate was completely unknown to the public, not politically active. It's a majority-white district, with no history of electing people of color." As a prosecutor, Soares had founded a project that promoted alternative sentencing for young offenders, and the core of his support came from civil rights groups and progressive religious institutions. Working Families and Citizen Action turned out throngs of volunteers--culled from sources ranging from church choirs to defunct Howard Dean meetup groups. Some of them are now running for local public office for the first time.

But building strong local chapters that bring citizens more deeply into power has been an uphill climb. "There are no resources put into New York City chapter and club organizing," says Dorothy Siegel, a longtime Brooklyn civic activist who three years ago decided to focus her energy on building citizen participation in the Working Families Party--"to make it less of an alliance of labor unions, ACORN and Citizen Action, and more of a partnership organization with real grassroots chapters and clubs." In Brooklyn, she says, she's been doing the work herself, as a volunteer. "There's just one organizer for all of New York City," Siegel points out.

"This is a party that does not have a lot of resources," notes Democratic State Senator Eric Schneiderman, whose campaign committees have contributed to Working Families. "They have to raise money to put out the troops." Schneiderman is the former chair of the New York Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and he put aside his misgivings about the Spano endorsement to make an appearance with Working Families in Massachusetts, supporting the move to bring fusion voting there. He believes the party is important to progressives' national prospects. "There's a lot of concern among progressive activists that the Democratic Party is too much in the grip of consultants who are always suggesting that they slide to the right and take conservative positions to accommodate swing voters, rather than exciting our own beliefs and animating people," says Schneiderman. "The hope is that the Working Families Party can empower progressive Democrats within the Democratic Party."

Working Families' distinction from the likes of the Independence Party, whose ballot line Bloomberg is counting on to draw New York City voters who just won't pull a lever for a Republican--or New York's Liberal Party, which started out as just that but deteriorated into a patronage factory--is its commitment to engaging citizen-activists at the local level and building power from there, much as conservatives did a generation ago. Political consultant Ethan Geto ran the Howard Dean campaign in New York State. When Dean dropped out weeks before the New York primary, Geto found himself with thousands of volunteers who had nothing to do. Though many Deaniacs didn't know or care about local politics, Geto and others convinced some to put their energies into the WFP's nominees for state office. "A new generation of activists responded to that in New York: We have to build here," says Geto. "It's a way of supporting a national resurgence of the Democratic Party."

The experience of watching organized labor go all-out for John Kerry left John Murphy of Boston's Teamsters Local 122 wondering what else labor could do in states where it's strong (in Massachusetts, 28 percent of workers are in unions).

"How many times do we have to pour millions of dollars into the Democratic Party, and thousands of volunteers? And then hoping even if they win, we still have to get them to pay attention to us?" asks Murphy, who is a member of the Teamsters' executive board. He has become a leading advocate for fusion voting in Massachusetts.

"If we do nothing and hope to simply influence the Democratic Party, that's doomed to fail," says Murphy. "How many times do you have to lose before you make a change?"
posted by R J Noriega at 5:42 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, April 22, 2006
My Struggle
By Hugo Chavez

This is from a March 3, 1999 letter to Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, the Venezuelan terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, in response to a previous letter from Ramirez, who is serving a life sentence in France for murder. Translated from the Spanish by Paul Reyes. Originally from Harper's Magazine, October 1999. By Hugo Chavez.
SourcesCitizen Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, Distinguished Compatriot,

Swimming in the depths of your letter of solidarity I could hear the pulse of our shared insight that everything has its due time: time to pile up stones or hurl them, to ignite revolution or to ignore it; to pursue dialectically a unity between our warring classes or to stir the conflict between them—a time when you can fight outright for principles and a time when you must choose the proper fight, lying in wait with a keen sense for the moment of truth, in the same way that Ariadne, invested with these same principles, lays the thread that leads her out of the labyrinth.

Our liberator Simon Bolivar, whose theories and example are fundamental to our doctrine of revolution, whispered briefly this question before he passed away: "How will I find the way out of this labyrinth?" We agree with Bolivar that Time delivers miracles only to those who maintain a righteous spirit, to those who understand the true meaning of things. There is no measure of distance or time that can undermine these thoughts of our Caracan hero.

I feel that my spirit's own strength will always rise to the magnitude of the dangers that threaten it. My doctor has told me that my spirit must nourish itself on danger to preserve my sanity, in the manner that God intended, with this stormy revolution to guide me in my great destiny.

With profound faith in our cause and our mission, now and forever!
posted by R J Noriega at 10:54 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, April 21, 2006
August Wilson life Achievement
August Wilson was born and raised in Pittsburgh. If you don't know that, you've never seen one of his plays, virtually all of which take place there. If you've never seen one of his plays, you've missed the chance to be in contact with one of the great cultural achievements of our time. Almost alone in the American theater of the past three decades, August Wilson was an artist who thought on a grand scale, who set himself an epic ambition and achieved it. Even with the tragic news of his untimely death this week, of liver cancer, at the harrowingly young age of 60, his is a success story. That destiny gave him only a few bare months in which to look back and relish his success raises his story to the level of myth.
Soft-spoken, easygoing, and modest, August was the least grandiose and least arrogant artist imaginable to achieve something so big. You might expect the man who could envision and create a 10-play cycle illustrating African American life in the 10 decades of the 20th century to be haughty, self-demonstrating, full of pronouncements about the high meanings of his work. That was not August's way. I served as his dramaturg twice, on the O'Neill Playwrights Conference staged readings of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and The Piano Lesson. In between the two experiences, he had become a world-famous writer, a Broadway success, a Pulitzer Prize, Tony , and Drama Critics Circle award winner. It did not change August. Like all dedicated artists, he was a worker and a learner, anxious to see things come right, anxious to test out any way he could help them do so. And like all the best artists, under his amiability he was a deep believer in his own sense of what was right. You could suggest any amount of revisions to him, and he would listen and reflect on them deeply. But in the end it was always vision, not revision, that counted for August. He would cut and he would reshape, but if he felt that even the smallest word was essential to a play, that word could not be moved.

This mixture of modesty and absolute self-confidence was the key to August's success: His is an epic of people, in which the grand historical movements of the larger world are not preached upon but reflected through the lives of distinct, graspable individuals, usually in an enclosed space: a boardinghouse parlor, a recording studio, a modest front yard, a corner diner. The world is vast and beyond our control, but the humans in it live for individual needs, within a constantly evolving cultural pattern. This dynamic tension between history and the individual is reflected in the plays' aesthetic tension, for though each of them has the superficial look of a traditional well-made play, each of them is really a free-flowing river of poetic impressions and musings, a point often lost on those who mistake August for (or would have liked him to be) a conventional Broadway realist. What he was really about was what all great tragic poets are about: the transfiguration of reality. This explains the mythic power of his plays to grip. Everything in a Wilson play is both recognizably real and yet larger than life, the quintessence of the paradox being the figure of Aunt Ester, whom we meet in the cycle's first play and whose death casts a shadow over its ninth. A healer whose practices belong to pre-Christian African religions, Aunt Ester is literally older than America: In Gem of the Ocean, she produces, as if displaying her credentials, a colonial bill of sale for herself.

The devastating quiet dignity with which Phylicia Rashad played that unforgettable moment on Broadway last year underscores another important aspect of August's work: Though rarely about artists (Ma Rainey, as in other ways, is the significant exception), his plays are a medium for African American art, a source of opportunity and a celebration of creativity. The speeches that distend his "well-made play" structures, jazzing them the way a great trumpet or sax player jazzes a popular tune, are unexampled occasions for great acting to cast a spell on the theater. To think of the great characters and scenes in August's plays is to think of an epic parade of great African American actors who have seized their moment to make theater history: James Earl Jones and Mary Alice in Fences, Charles S. Dutton in Ma Rainey and The Piano Lesson, S. Epatha Merkerson confronting him in the latter, Roscoe Lee Browne sagely ironic in Two Trains Running, Stephen McKinley Henderson oozing malice in Jitney, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Lisa Gay Hamilton glaring a skyful of weaponry at each other in Gem of the Ocean. The list is long, and will get longer. There may be no new August Wilson plays (though New York has yet to see the cycle's final play, Radio Golf), but the ones we have will be back time and again.

August's faith in black America, welded at the heart to his faith in himself, put him at the flashpoint of the paradoxical position that all African Americans find themselves in: They cannot be only "African" or only "American." All of us, except the Native American tribes, know that we came here from somewhere else, but Africans came by different means, and (until the recent influx of economic and political immigrants) not of their own will. As conscious of this history as he was of his own divided parentage (his father was not only white but a German immigrant), August was driven by two partially conflicting goals: that black American artists occupy a recognized place in the mainstream, and that black America celebrate the culture it had evolved in its own communities. He wanted there to be black theaters, with all-black administrative and artistic staffs, and disdained the idea of black actors appearing in Shakespeare and other "white" European classics; at the same time (as black cultural nationalists often pointed out derisively), he saw his plays produced in the mainstream "white" theaters of the resident-theater movement and Broadway. This dilemma drew him into controversies, such as the one that led to his famous "debate" with Robert Brustein, in which, to my mind, neither side made very convincing arguments (a fact that, as a friend to both men, I found deeply dismaying). I still remember Bob Brustein declaring that every resident theater had black artists on its roster, and August replying, with well-earned rue, "generally in February"—Black History Month being when most nonprofits schedule their "token" African American play.

As with other controversies that marked August's later years, his need to confront the problem of racism, and his ability to command a large public forum for the confrontation, were the significant elements. Nobody expected him, or Brustein, to offer an instant solution to an affliction that, like Aunt Ester, predates America's existence. But without August's willingness to take a contentious stand—the controversy began with a speech he gave at a Theatre Communications Group conference—the question would never have been raised. Something similar happened, with even grimmer results, when he aborted the production of Fences as a feature film, because the producers declined to hire an African American director. This was not a matter of Wilson's being a racist—he worked willingly and congenially with white artists in every capacity, and was invariably gracious in acknowledging their contribution—but of his affirming, once again, African Americans' right to a place in the mainstream, and particularly in interpreting works that were products of African American culture. My single greatest regret, apart from the personal ache I feel at his loss, is that we will never see the plays he would have written after the completion of the cycle; I had always expected—hoped?—that they would take place in the world he had experienced in his theater work, a world where black and white mingled and collaborated freely.

It was not for August to imagine a world he had not experienced. His epic is one grounded in reality; his was not the way of the fantasist. That is why he was able to laugh off the accusation that, in focusing on African Americans, his plays were "narrow" in their subject matter. People are people everywhere, but the world you know is the one you write. His models were African American artists: He revered Langston Hughes and Amiri Baraka; a major stimulus to his playwriting was his reading, in the 1960s, about the work of Ed Bullins (also the author of an ambitious play cycle) at the New Lafayette Theatre; the images of Romare Bearden wielded great influence. August's original plan for the cycle was to name each play after a Bearden painting (Joe Turner's Come and Gone was initially titled Mill Hand's Lunch Bucket). But the closed-off spirit that is the source of racism was nowhere to be found in him: Whatever he felt about black actors playing Shakespeare, he delighted in discovering works by writers, artists, and composers new to him. I once took him to a Kurt Weill concert; he was thrilled by the music, and doubly so when he discovered that the song which had moved him most, "Lonely House," had words by his beloved Langston Hughes. A big, expansive, life-loving man, August delighted in the variety and surprise of human experience, and his delight is visible in every nuanced turn of his extraordinary speeches.

Not many years ago, I had the honor of interviewing him onstage at the 92nd Street Y. When he retold the now-familiar story of his dropping out of school at 15 and spending his days in the public library, I asked him what he had read there, expecting to hear a familiar litany of African American writers. To my astonishment—the 92nd Street Y's archive videotape must show me nearly falling off mychair—he answered, "Ruth Benedict," and after I had caught my breath, we found ourselves discussing the whole panoply of his plays in the context of cultural anthropology. The scientific and systematic aspects of August's approach became abruptly visible to me: Look at the use of social-science parameters in the opening scene of Fences, or the constant playing on superstition and stereotype in The Piano Lesson. There are many such surprises still to be discovered in August's plays. In that sense, he will still be here with us, sharing his extraordinary gifts. That he will not be present to witness our joy in the discovery is an inexpressible loss to everyone who knew him, to the theater, and to America.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:55 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Why I Support the Latino Demonstrators
By Amin Sharif

Ever since Rudolph Lewis (editor of Chickenbones) and I sat down and formulated the idea of the Fourth World, we wondered how it would play itself out in the real world. After all, conceptualizations are nothing if they do not reflect reality on some level. It had been my contention that Fourth World activism would be sustained in Europe where racism and religious intolerance would set millions of Africans, Asians, and Arabs against Western governments.

Last years riots in France seemed to be a confirmation of my estimate. Even today, we can certainly find Fourth World people—Africans, Asians, and Arabs—in some numbers among the student demonstrators on the streets of Paris protesting the new labor laws aimed at emasculation the rights of all French youth. And certainly as the Chirac government has now announced the scrapping of this law, members of the Fourth World in Europe can celebrate a well-won victory.

But, as we looked west toward Europe, we had no idea that in the space of a few months there would be hundreds of thousands of Mexicans (and other Latinos) taking to the streets of America protesting against a racist immigration policy that would attempt to criminalize an entire community. For Rudy and me, the emergence of this Latino militancy—especially among the youth—is both a welcome and unexpected surprise. It is our hope that this Latino militancy might re-ignite the activism and militancy that has been flagging within Afro-America since the end of the 1970s.

Already in Baltimore where Rudy and I live, we see students involved in protests against school closings and the lowering of academic standards that would put them at a disadvantage in pursuing their goals of a higher education. To see ten of thousands of their Latino brothers and sisters out in the streets can only serve to inspire these Black students in their struggle. In the end, this is how we-Blacks and Latinos-must see each other-as brothers and sisters. For, in the fundamental struggle to transform America into a more equitable society, we are undoubtedly on the same side.

There is, of course, some grumbling in the Black Community about how Latinos have come to this country to take “our jobs”—as though any job in America is designated for Blacks, Browns, or anyone else. This is nothing more than a knee-jerk response of reactionary forces within the Black Community—especially among elected officials. It echoes the same sentiment that white Americans exhibited before the Civil War that the freeing of millions of black slaves would threaten the livelihood of white workers.

It seems that some black elected officials and other reactionaries within the black community are more interested in guarding their own parochial interests than in extending a helping hand to poor and working class Latinos.

More than that, these leaders are bent on dividing Blacks and Latinos by spreading the venom of racial chauvinism that is aimed at setting each community at each others throats. This is sad since we have just buried the widow of Dr. King who would have undoubtedly championed the cause of the Latino community. Instead of providing real leadership for the black community on economic issues as both Dr. King and his courageous wife attempted, these politicians and reactionaries have chosen to castigate a community whose efforts they should be supporting.

Ask these politicians exactly how does a Latino who has come to pick lettuce in a field in California take away jobs from Blacks. Ask how does a Latina hospital or a Latino construction worker drive down any Black persons wages. They would probably mouth the same rhetoric as a thousand other racists in America. But the last time I looked I did not see poor Blacks or whites line up to pick lettuce in California.

The only reason a Latino hospital or a construction worker might drive down wages is because she or he is not unionized. Rather than lead the drive to bring millions of Latinos into the main economy, some Black leaders would wish to have them remain in the shadow economy where they will always be a sword pressed against the throat of every poor and working class person in America.

The fundamental question for Blacks in regard to Latinos is simply empathy. Can we, the most oppressed people in America, look beyond our own suffering and see the suffering of others? Or has our suffering made us numb to any pain but our own? Let us hope that this is not the case.

We should remember how we felt when we took to the streets and stormed the citadels of power. And, we should remember how we looked in every quarter for empathy for our cause. Remember how we stood shoulder to shoulder as Dr. King’s voice rang out extolling us to find justice not simply for ourselves but for the whole of humanity?

Are we to discard that greater call for one made by minor demagogues and political eunuchs who reside in the citadels of power that we once sought to bring down? It is my belief that we gain more than we lose when we help others who like ourselves suffer from oppression. My heart races and swells again when I see so many Latino youth waving their Mexican flags and standing up for what they believe.

There are real ways that Blacks and Latinos can work together to ensure that each community can make economic advancements. The first thing we must do is to bring our Latino brothers and sisters out from under the shadow economy and to unionize them. Unionization of millions of Latino workers would mean greater strength for all workers in America and would put upward pressure on wages.

Together, Blacks and Browns can work for a universal living wage that would ensure economic parity for every American worker—Black, Brown, Asian, white or otherwise. This is particularly important since it is clear that one of the main tactics of the reactionary forces in America is to pit one sector of the poor against another. We can also work together to bring about the realization of universal health care. Universal healthcare would disarm the argument that Latinos put a strain on critical services in the community where they live. Latinos are not the only ones this claim is made against. The same argument is used against the Black and urban poor.

But none of this cooperation can occur if Blacks do not support full and immediate citizenship for the millions of Mexicans and their children in America who have lived and worked in this country for years—and a more humane path to citizenship for all future Latinos entering the country. If Latinos are forced to live a marginal existence in the barrios of this country, the entire working class and poor will be robbed of their strength and militancy.

Black workers, students, and trade unionists should seek to form alliances with their Latino counterparts and expand the movement to block any effort to criminalize the Mexican community. We should work to ease the tensions between Black and Latino gangs that have turned many of our prisons into racial tinderboxes. We must come to understand that if millions of Blacks stand together with millions of Latinos that we can and will bring about beneficial change for both communities.

This is why I fully and unequivocally support the Latino demonstrators and their goals. This is why I shout with them when they take to the streets, “A people united can never be defeated!”
posted by R J Noriega at 10:06 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, April 20, 2006
Warriorz heart
posted by R J Noriega at 6:22 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
From Work to Text
By Roland Barthes

It is a fact that over the last few years a certain change has taken place (or is taking place) in our conception of language and, consequently, of the literary work which owes at least its phenomenal existence to this same language. The change is clearly connected with the current development of (amongst other disciplines) linguistics, anthropology, Marxism and psychoanalysis (the term 'connection' is used here in a deliberately neutral way: one does not decide a determination, be it multiple and dialectical). What is new and which affects the idea of the work comes not necessarily from the internal recasting of each of these disciplines, but rather from their encounter in relation to an object which traditionally is the province of none of them. It is indeed as though the interdisciplinarity which is today held up as a prime value in research cannot be accomplished by the simple confrontation of specialist branches of knowledge. Interdisciplinarity is not the calm of an easy security; it begins effectively (as opposed to the mere expression of a pious wish) when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down -- perhaps even violently, via the jolts of fashion -- in the interests of a new object and a new language neither of which has a place in the field of the sciences that were to be brought peacefully together, this unease in classification being precisely the point from which it is possible to diagnose a certain mutation. The mutation in which the idea of the work seems to be gripped must not, however, be over-estimated: it is more in the nature of an epistemological slide than of a real break. The break, as is frequently stressed, is seen to have taken place in the last century with the appearance of Marxism and Freudianism; since then there has been no further break, so that in a way it can be said that for the last hundred years we have been living in repetition. What History, our History, allows us today is merely to slide, to vary, to exceed, to repudiate. Just as Einsteinian science demands that the relativity of the frames of reference be included in the object studied, so the combined action of Marxism, Freudianism and structuralism demands, in literature, the relativization of the relations of writer, reader and observer (critic). Over against the traditional notion of the work, for long -- and still -- conceived of in a, so to speak, Newtonian way, there is now the requirement of a new object, obtained by the sliding or overturning of former categories. That object is the Text. I know the word is fashionable (I am myself often led to use it) and therefore regarded by some with suspicion, but that is exactly why I should like to remind myself of the principal propositions at the intersection of which I see the Text as standing. The word 'proposition' is to be understood more in a grammatical than in a logical sense: the following are not argumentations but enunciations, 'touches', approaches that consent to remain metaphorical. Here then are these propositions; they concern method, genres, signs, plurality, filiation, reading and pleasure.

1. The Text is not to be thought of as an object that can be computed. It would be futile to try to separate out materially works from texts. In particular, the tendency must be avoided to say that the work is classic, the text avant-garde; it is not a question of drawing up a crude honours list in the name of modernity and declaring certain literary productions 'in' and others 'out' by virtue of their chronological situation: there may be 'text' in a very ancient work, while many products of contemporary literature are in no way texts. The difference is this: the work is a fragment of substance, occupying a part of the space of books (in a library for example), the Text is a methodological field. The opposition may recall (without at all reproducing term for term) Lacan's distinction between 'reality' and 'the real': the one is displayed, the other demonstrated; likewise, the work can be seen (in bookshops, in catalogues, in exam syllabuses), the text is a process of demonstration, speaks according to certain rules (or against certain rules); the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language, only exists in the movement of a discourse (or rather, it is Text for the very reason that it knows itself as text); the Text is not the decomposition of the work, it is the work that is the imaginary tail of the Text; or again, the Text is experienced only in an activity of production. It follows that the Text cannot stop (for example on a library shelf); its constitutive movement is that of cutting across (in particular, it can cut across the work, several works).

2. In the same way, the Text does not stop at (good) Literature; it cannot be contained in a hierarchy, even in a simple division of genres. What constitutes the Text is, on the contrary (or precisely), its subversive force in respect of the old classifications. How do you classify a writer like Georges Bataille? Novelist, poet, essayist, economist, philosopher, mystic? The answer is so difficult that the literary manuals generally prefer to forget about Bataille who, in fact, wrote texts, perhaps continuously one single text. If the Text poses problems of classification (which is furthermore one of its 'social functions), this is because it always involves a certain experience of limits (to take up an expression from Philippe Sollers). Thibaudet used already to talk -- but in a very restricted sense -- of limit-works (such as Chateaubriand's Vie de Rancé, which does indeed come through to us today as a 'text'); the Text is that which goes to the limit of the rules of enunciation (rationality, readability, etc.). Nor is this a rhetorical idea, resorted to for some 'heroic' effect: the Text tries to place itself very exactly behind the limit of the doxa (is not general opinion -- constitutive of our democratic societies and powerfully aided by mass communications -- defined by its limits, the energy with which it excludes, its censorship?). Taking the word literally, it may be said that the Text is always paradoxical.

3. The Text can be approached, experienced, in reaction to the sign. The work closes on a signified. There are two modes of signification which can be attributed to this signified: either it is claimed to be evident and the work is then the object of a literal science, of philology, or else it is considered to be secret, ultimate, something to be sought out, and the work then falls under the scope of a hermeneutics, of an interpretation (Marxist, psychoanalytic, thematic, etc.); in short, the work itself functions as a general sign and it is normal that it should represent an institutional category of the civilization of the Sign. The Text, on the contrary, practises the infinite deferment of the signified, is dilatory; its field is that of the signifier and the signifier must not be conceived of as 'the first stage of meaning', its material vestibule, but, in complete opposition to this, as its deferred action. Similarly, the infinity of the signifier refers not to some idea of the ineffable (the unnameable signified) but to that of a playing; the generation of the perpetual signifier (after the fashion of a perpetual calendar) in the field of the text (better, of which the text is the field) is realized not according to an organic progress of maturation or a hermeneutic course of deepening investigation, but, rather, according to a serial movement of disconnections, overlappings, variations. The logic regulating the Text is not comprehensive (define 'what the work means') but metonymic; the activity of associations, contiguities, carryings-over coincides with a liberation of symbolic energy (lacking it, man would die); the work in the best of cases -- is moderately symbolic (its symbolic runs out, comes to a halt); the Text is radically symbolic: a work conceived, perceived and received in its integrally symbolic nature is a text. Thus is the Text restored to language; like language, it is structured but off-centred, without closure (note, in reply to the contemptuous suspicion of the 'fashionable' sometimes directed at structuralism, that the epistemological privilege currently accorded to language stems precisely from the discovery there of a paradoxical idea of structure: a system with neither close nor centre).

4. The Text is plural. Which is not simply to say that it .has several meanings, but that it accomplishes the very plural of meaning: an irreducible (and not merely an acceptable) plural. The Text is not a co-existence of meanings but a passage, an overcrossing; thus it answers not to an interpretation, even a liberal one, but to an explosion, a dissemination. The plural of the Text depends, that is, not on the ambiguity of its contents but on what might be called the stereographic plurality of its weave of signifiers (etymologically, the text is a tissue, a woven fabric). The reader of the Text may be compared to someone at a loose end (someone slackened off from any imaginary); this passably empty subject strolls -- it is what happened to the author of these lines, then it was that he had a vivid idea of the Text -- on the side of a valley, a oued flowing down below (oued is there to bear witness to a certain feeling of unfamiliarity); what he perceives is multiple, irreducible, coming from a disconnected, heterogeneous variety of substances and perspectives: lights, colours, vegetation, heat, air, slender explosions of noises, scant cries of birds, children's voices from over on the other side, passages, gestures, clothes of inhabitants near or far away. All these incidents are half identifiable: they come from codes which are known but their combination is unique, founds the stroll in a difference repeatable only as difference. So the Text: it can be it only in its difference (which does not mean its individuality), its reading is semelfactive (this rendering illusory any inductive-deductive science of texts -- no 'grammar' of the text) and nevertheless woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages (what language is not?), antecedent or contemporary, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The intertextual in which every text is held, it itself being the text-between of another text, is not to be confused with some origin of the text: to try to find the 'sources', the 'influences' of a work, is to fall in with the myth of filiation; the citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read: they are quotations without inverted commas. The work has nothing disturbing for any monistic philosophy (we know that there are opposing examples of these); for such a philosophy, plural is the Evil. Against the work, therefore, the text could well take as its motto the words of the man possessed by demons (Mark 5: 9): 'My name is Legion: for we are many.' The plural of demoniacal texture which opposes text to work can bring with it fundamental changes in reading, and precisely in areas where monologism appears to be the Law: certain of the 'texts' of Holy Scripture traditionally recuperated by theological monism (historical or anagogical) will perhaps offer themselves to a diffraction of meanings (finally, that is to say, to a materialist reading), while the Marxist interpretation of works, so far resolutely monistic, will be able to materialize itself more by pluralizing itself (if, however, the Marxist 'institutions' allow it).

5. The work is caught up in a process of filiation. Are postulated: a determination of the work by the world (by race, then by History), a consecution of works amongst themselves, and a conformity of the work to the author. The author is reputed the father and the owner of his work: literary science therefore teaches respect for the manuscript and the author's declared intentions, while society asserts the legality of the relation of author to work (the 'droit d'auteur' or 'copyright', in fact of recent date since it was only really legalized at the time of the French Revolution). As for the Text, it reads without the inscription of the Father. Here again, the metaphor of the Text separates from that of the work: the latter refers to the image of an organism which grows by vital expansion, by 'development' (a word which is significantly ambiguous, at once biological and rhetorical); the metaphor of the Text is that of the network; if the Text extends itself, it is as a result of a combinatory systematic (an image, moreover, close to current biological conceptions of the living being). Hence no vital 'respect' is due to the Text: it can be broken (which is just what the Middle Ages did with two nevertheless authoritative texts -- Holy Scripture and Aristotle); it can be read without the guarantee of its father, the restitution of the inter-text paradoxically abolishing any legacy. It is not that the Author may not 'come back' in the Text, in his text, but he then does so as a 'guest'. If he is a novelist, he is inscribed in the novel like one of his characters, figured in the carpet; no longer privileged, paternal, aletheological, his inscription is ludic. He becomes, as it were, a paper-author: his life is no longer the origin of his fictions but a fiction contributing to his work; there is a reversion of the work on to the life (and no longer the contrary); it is the work of Proust, of Genet which allows their lives to be read as a text. The word 'bio-graphy' re-acquires a strong, etymological sense, at the same time as the sincerity of the enunciation -- veritable 'cross" borne by literary morality -- becomes a false problem: the I which writes the text, it too, is never more than a paper-I.

6. The work is normally the object of a consumption; no demagogy is intended here in referring to the so-called consumer culture but it has to be recognized that today it is the 'quality' of the work (which supposes finally an appreciation of 'taste') and not the operation of" reading itself which can differentiate between books: structurally, there is no difference between 'cultured reading and casual reading in trains. The Text (if only by its frequent 'unreadability) decants the work (the work permitting) from its consumption and gathers it up as play, activity, production, practice. This means that the Text requires that one try to abolish (or at the very least to diminish) the distance between writing and reading, in no way by intensifying the projection of the reader into the work but by joining them in a single signifying practice. The distance separating reading from writing is historical. In the times of the greatest social division (before the setting up of democratic cultures), reading and writing were equally privileges of class. Rhetoric, the great literary code of those times, taught one to write (even if what was then normally produced were speeches, not texts). Significantly, the coming of democracy reversed the word of command: what the (secondary) School prides itself on is teaching to read (well) and no longer to write (consciousness of the deficiency is becoming fashionable again today: the teacher is called upon to teach pupils to express themselves', which is a little like replacing a form of repression by a misconception). In fact, reading, in the sense of consuming, is far from playing with the text. 'Playing' must be understood here in all its polysemy: the text itself plays (like a door, like a machine with 'play') and the reader plays twice over, playing the Text as one plays a game, looking for a practice which re-produces it, but, in order that that practice not be reduced to a passive, inner mimesis (the Text is precisely that which resists such a reduction), also playing the Text in the musical sense of the term. The history of music (as a practice, not as an 'art') does indeed parallel that of the Text fairly closely: there was a period when practising amateurs were numerous (at least within the confines of a certain class) and 'playing' and 'listening' formed a scarcely differentiated activity; then two roles appeared in succession, first that of the performer, the interpreter to whom the bourgeois public (though still itself able to play a little -- the whole history of ) the piano) delegated its playing, then that of the (passive) amateur, who listens to music without being able to play (the gramophone record takes the place of the piano). We know that today post-serial music has radically altered the role of the 'interpreter', who is called on to be in some sort the co-author of the score, completing it rather than giving it 'expression'. The Text is very much a score of this new kind: it asks of the reader a practical collaboration. Which is an important change, for who executes the work? (Mallarmé posed the question, wanting the audience to produce the book). Nowadays only the critic executes the work (accepting the play on words). The reduction of reading to a consumption is clearly responsible for the Boredom' experienced by many in the face of the modern ('unreadable') text, the avant-garde film or painting: to be bored means that one cannot produce the text, open it out, set it going.

7. This leads us to pose (to propose) a final approach to the Text, that of pleasure. I do not know whether there has ever been a hedonistic aesthetics (eudaemonist philosophies are themselves rare). Certainly there exists a pleasure of the work (of certain works); I can delight in reading and re-reading Proust, Flaubert, Balzac, even -- why not? -- Alexandre Dumas. But this pleasure, no matter how keen and even when free from all prejudice, remains in part (unless by some exceptional critical effort) a pleasure of consumption; for if I can read these authors, I also know that I cannot re-write them (that it is impossible today to write 'like that') and this knowledge, depressing enough, suffices to cut me off from the production of these works, in the very moment their remoteness establishes my modernity (is not to be modern to know clearly what cannot be started over again?) As for the Text, it is bound to jouissance, that is to a pleasure without separation. Order of the signifier, the Text participates in its own way in a social utopia; before History (supposing the latter does not opt for barbarism), the Text achieves, if not the transparence of social relations, that at least of language relations: the Text is that space where no language has a hold over any other, where languages circulate (keeping the circular sense of the term).

These few propositions, inevitably, do not constitute the articulations of a Theory of the Text and this is not simply the result of the failings of the person here presenting them (who in many respects has anyway done no more than pick up what is being developed round about him). It stems from the fact that a Theory of the Text cannot be satisfied by a metalinguistic exposition: the destruction of meta-language, or at least (since it may be necessary provisionally to resort to meta-language) its calling into doubt, is part of the theory itself: the discourse on the Text should itself be nothing other than text, research, textual activity, since the Text is that social space which leaves no language safe, outside, nor any subject of the enunciation in position as judge, master, analyst, confessor, decoder. The theory of the Text can coincide only with a practice of writing.

posted by R J Noriega at 4:29 PM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
The White Man's Burden
Rev. Sequoyah Ade

"Take up the White Man's burden, send forth the best ye breed; Go,
bind your sons to exile To serve your captives' need; To wait, in
heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild, Your new-caught sullen
peoples, Half devil and half child."

Rudyard Kipling - The White Man's Burden

The United States, like all of Western Europe's former
colonies around the world, is the product of aggression directed
towards populations of independent Aboriginal sovereignties. The
subsequent conquest and near total obliteration of non-European
nations, peoples and identities in the past as well as the present is
perhaps one of the most contested issues in modern historiography.
In the United States, the subject is as a matter of conventional
practise avoided at all costs in the public and professional
discourse. This is in direct contradiction to the professed doctrine
of self-determination and unbiased truth and justice expressed as
national policy within American political folklore.

Many will consider this brief analysis banal and redundant. Others
may regard the query as divisive anti-White racism and still others
will simply disregard it as irreverent to contemporary global
politics. It is important to note that these positions are accepted
in the general social understanding as rational and in some circles
progressive in that they speak to a present as opposed to past
policies of injustice. According to this belief, racism is over,
slavery ended, the Indians lost and in the end, America the land of
the free was the result. The incontrovertible fact that Europeans,
and only Europeans, have been allowed to fully enjoy the fruits of
that freedom is beside the point. Psychologically, White people in
the United States have always found it necessary to rationalise their
history, social policies and ethnic bigotries into something blame
free and racially neutral whenever possible, and ethnocentrically
when it suits their interests precisely because this reality directly
conflicts its own moralistic mythology.

For many Americans, there is a serious and very emotional push to
question whether or not genocide against non-Europeans really does
occur. This is not surprising. Few Americans today are willing to
openly acknowledge the brutal track record of American history or the
system of institutionalised racism that emerged from the colonial
necessity to condone it. It is much more psychologically settling
for Whites to shift blame towards the subjects of the violence than
to accept responsibility for what has occurred incessantly in North
America since the 1492 invasion of Taino territories in the
Caribbean. Not only were ideological justifications manufactured to
rationalise Aboriginal genocide and the enforced servitude and
subsequent systematic dehumanisation of Africans and later Asians,
but rationalisations were also created to retrospectively address in
future years the legitimacy of such deeds.

This observation is very important in that the racialist aspects
inherent in such lines of reasoning are routinely overlooked in
discussions involving how the United States developed into its
current incarnation and how it might possibly come to terms with this
questionable history. The widespread willingness towards evasiveness
and selective narration on the part of United States citizens,
residents and many foreign observers is indicative of a deeper, less
visible set of factors. At its basest level, such attitudes clearly
identify a certain level of individualised paranoia and group
persecution including but not limited to a need to justify White,
ethno-supremacist power. Whites who are comfortable within the
traditional Euro-centric world-view paradigm find it very difficult
to see much beyond this complex and stringently deny that other, more
ethnically diverse concepts deserve equal merit. Such bigotries when
presented as reasonable appraisal are of course overly simplistic and
logically barren, but it is a widely held perception that survives
and is carefully maintained because it serves a vital emotive, as
well as political prerequisite. It elucidates a perception that
European cultures, theologies and ethnicities are by fiat superior to
all outside of this quite limited arrangement of human groupings and
therefore presupposes a mandate that makes European imposition on
these "outside" entities morally permissible. Perception by its nature is a fluid and very subjective component ofhuman thinking and behaviour. It is also a critical factor inunderstanding how Americans, in particular White Americans, can consciously support and often manufacture a variety of absurd and contradictory rationales designed to sustain the Euro-centric supremacist doctrine.

For example, many European descendants of colonialist invaders reject
the assertion that genocide was practised against Indigenous
populations and African slaves. They assert that violence and
slavery are not unique to Europeans and that as a group they cannot
be reasonably charged with sole responsibility for such crimes.
They also generally reject such notions as revisionist multi-
culturalist forms of reverse racism and redefine colonialism as
enlightened Europeans bringing civilisation to backward huddles of
ignorant savages. For non-Europeans this thinking exposes a myriad
of conflicting issues concerning self-identity and internalised
colonial edification as well as social integration. For those who
still suffer ethnic stereotyping, racial profiling by law enforcement
and social marginalization yet still professing faith in the current
system, these contradictions are frequently rationalised into more
palatable images of eventual social acceptability. "We shall
overcome someday", (my emphasis) was not simply a rallying cry, but a
statement of principle by the bulwark of the mainstream civil rights
movement. It should also be understood that the American Civil
Rights Movement of the early sixties passionately encompassed this
singular objective as its central goal and vociferously dismissed
other, more pragmatic and more ethnically conscious revolutionary
programmes. Social change through Integration rather than
emancipation from European socio-political and economic hegemony was
and is, viewed as the Holy Grail by many within this broad
assemblage. And despite the unquestionable fact that after forty
years of pursuing such a capitulating agenda, very little in
empirical benefit has resulted from these efforts. Police still
profile, (by law. If you doubt this, review President Bill Clinton's
New Crime Bill passed into law during his first term) non-Whites are
still subject to discrimination in employment, housing, health and
education and in academics, Western Europe is still touted as a
benevolent, and on occasion, divinely directed illustration of
cultural supremacy.

Yet, many non-Europeans in the United States still cling to the
delusion that full assimilation within White society is the ultimate
realisation of social legitimacy. This lack of self-assurance in the
viability and legitimacy of ethnic identities outside of the European
example is the direct result of colonialist indoctrination official
and unofficial. You will be very hard pressed to find a primary
school textbook that does not proclaim Christopher Columbus as the
discoverer of the Americas. All but a very few churches in the
world display artistic representations of Jesus Christ resembling
anything other than a Western European despite that fact that this is
a scientific as well as theological impossibility. The American
Civil War is still publicized as a struggle against African slavery
and Mexico's defeat at the Alamo a model of American bravery in the
face of overwhelming odds. For Europeans and non-Europeans alike,
this deliberate and redundant misinterpretation of history acts as
the template for the psychological formations that allow Euro-centric
domination to exist intact. One common method used to neutralise
challenges to this complex is the refusal to acknowledge the reality
of Euro-centric racism. This may manifest itself in several
recognisable often co-existing forms that attempt to buttress one
another. Primarily this may entail a stubborn denial of empirically
provable discrimination; a professed blindness to skin colour or
other visible signs of ethnicity and an assertion that racial
equality has already been achieved.

Selective Reasoning

This is a very standardized and highly distorted view of North
American realities. The irrationality inherent within such views is
telling in that there exists in ample abundance massive amounts of
evidence documenting European aggression and hegemony in North
America as well as the social legacies of that history that persist
in the contemporary period. We can even step out of the stateside
model and observe the very same pathology in international examples.
Most of Germany's citizenry claimed total ignorance to knowledge of
the Nazi Party's Final Solution even after government films of the
atrocities were made public. War crimes by American military forces
in Vietnam such as the My Lai massacre once proved beyond all
reasonable doubt to be factual were immediately re-evaluated by
political conservatives that accused the native farming communities
of inciting the butchery by resisting the orders of American
personnel. And today, Israelis vehemently dismiss claims by the
international community that their policy of occupation in the West
Bank suspiciously resembles the Lebenstraumpolitik of 1930's German
fascism. So the United States is not unique in this pathology. The
process itself is so formulaic that one can easily apply it to nearly
any situation in which European expansionism has encountered
populations they did not understand and threatened to stand in the
way of the material desires of colonialist whims. And while it is
quite true that many non-White cultures have employed some form of
genocide and expansionism, this is an often employed but logically
poor excuse for legitimising such practices by Europeans. Despite
assertions to the contrary, colonialism, European or otherwise, is a
well understood and universally recognised wrong and denials to this
actuality are dangerously delusional.

To understand this complex a little better let's examine what I call
European Exemptionalism, the delusional drive to rationalise pro-
White racism by way of a demographically different circumstance. In
this situation we will substitute gender disparities as a synonym for
European colonialism and ethnocentrism. Utilising the raison d'être stated above, male on female rape would be regarded as a normal form of sexual relations that occur between men and women rather than sexual violence imposed by males seeking to dominate and overpower physically and socially weaker females. The fact that the female subjected to the dehumanising effects of sexual violation endures an assault on her sense of well-being, self-image and personal security, such a dictum would demand that she view her misfortune as something separate from what she is experiencing at this very moment and forget the incident altogether. She would also do herself a service by accepting what happened as partly her own fault because she is a female and therefore inherently inferior to males with naturally makes her subject to the male's sexual desires. Finally, she is advised to reconcile with her situation by rationalising her rape as the natural order of things and by encouraging her to capitulate to her abuser by conferring upon him kudos for the violation.

There are those who will object to such a metaphor being used in this
way but there is no denying that this is an accurate analysis of
White attitudes towards non-Europeans that object to White
ethnocentrism. Without the steadfast persistence of anti-racism
activists', Euro-centric chauvinism would remain just another
phenomena that remained largely unspoken and unchecked. Some people
are quite genuine in their denial to recognise the inherent
unfairness and debilitation of institutionalised racism; they choose
not to see the damage White racism has incurred. In the exceptional
story 1984, author George Orwell created a term "Double-think" to
describe how an entire society could be compelled to accept several
contradictory views as a cohesive singular socio-political policy.
This is an accurate synonym for European Exceptionalism past and
present. It assumes a syllogistic logic that on its face isn't quite
logical. Just because Whites assert that racism doesn't exist it
does not diminish the reality of the phenomenon. For White people to
argue that non-Europeans endure no measurable degree of damage
resulting from the past or present manifestations of racism under
Europeans, this is an effort to disassociate themselves from
responsibility for maintaining the conditions that have resulted from
that social policy.

This tendency to avoid recognition of American racism is important in
that it exposes the paranoia Whites have unconsciously internalised
through colonialism. The fear is that by acknowledging racism, its
parent colonialism as a matter of principle would be challenged as
well. And since the United States, Canada, Australia, all of South
America and the entire current state of global affairs are centred
squarely upon European concepts of theology, economics and social
justice, the risk of all this being overturned is simply too much for
99.9% of White folks to stomach. Psychologically this would entail
Whites being forced to see the world as something other than a
playground for White interests. They would be required to recognise
and reconcile with a new world-view that does not place Whites at the
centre of the universe but within the entirety of the human species.
And unless you truly consider yourself ethnically superior to all
others, such developments should not induce fear and loathing.
Psychologists refer to such emotional symptoms as delusions of
grandeur and persecution. Clinically a paranoid subject generally
harbours strong feelings of superiority, personal moral authority, a
need to dominate others and finally a perception of persecution when
the first three components are not satisfied. The paranoid
individual regularly distorts reality by refusing to accept any
concept or conditions that challenge his or her perception of
personal certainty. Such a person will also freely reinterpret and
misrepresent facts to prove or disprove issues that contradict his or
her position no matter how illogical or fanciful that position may
be. White Americans as individuals and as a sociological faction
typify this diagnosis and so do nearly perfectly. I do not expect
this statement to be accepted by Whites at face value and it need not
be. The symptoms of European ethnocentric pathology are tangibly
evident all around us. We only need open our eyes to see it. As
long as Whites stubbornly resist the reality of racism, pro-White
racism will continue to exist. And every time pro-White racism is
challenged, European Exceptionalism can be expected to fuel
resistance to accepting the limitations imposed by accepting
recognition of the frailties inherent within their own
posted by R J Noriega at 8:08 AM | Permalink | 0 comments

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