Saturday, January 30, 2010

Remembering Howard Zinn: August 24 1922 – January 27 2010

Howard Zinn, author of "A People's History of the United States," died Wednesday at the age of 87.

Adapted from the Harper Collins Summary: Howard Zinn was a historian, playwright, and social activist. He was a shipyard worker and Air Force bombardier before he went to college under the GI Bill and received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He taught at Spelman College and Boston University, and was a visiting professor at the University of Paris and the University of Bologna. He received the Thomas Merton Award, the Eugene V. Debs Award, the Upton Sinclair Award, and the Lannan Literary Award. He lived in Auburndale, Massachusetts.

“He was the best human being I've ever known. The best example of what a human can be, and can do with their life.”

Daniel Ellsberg

“I always wondered why Howard Zinn was considered a radical. He was an unbelievably decent man who felt obliged to challenge injustice and unfairness wherever he found it. What was so radical about believing that workers should get a fair shake on the job, that corporations have too much power over our lives and much too much influence with the government, that wars are so murderously destructive that alternatives to warfare should be found, that blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities should have the same rights as whites, that the interests of powerful political leaders and corporate elites are not the same as those of ordinary people who are struggling from week to week to make ends meet?”

Bob Herbert (NY Times)

"He's made an amazing contribution to American intellectual and moral culture. He's changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. I really can't think of anyone I can compare him to in this respect. He was a person of real courage and integrity, warmth and humor.”

Noam Chomsky

"Howard had a great mind and was one of the great voices in the American political life. He taught me how valuable -- how necessary -- dissent was to democracy and to America itself. He taught that history was made by the everyman, not the elites. I was lucky enough to know him personally and I will carry with me what I learned from him -- and try to impart it to my own children -- in his memory."

Ben Affleck

"Howard had a genius for the shape of public morality and for articulating the great alternative vision of peace as more than a dream. But above all, he had a genius for the practical meaning of love. [He was] simply one of the greatest Americans of our time. He will not be replaced -- or soon forgotten.”

James Carroll (Boston Globe)

“Zinn's brand of history put common citizens at the center of the story and inspired generations of young activists and academics to remember that change is possible.”

Peter Rothberg (The Nation)

“Zinn's influence will live on in the great power of his words, and the courage and modesty with which he lived his life.”

Victoria Brittain (The Guardian)

"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it.”

Howard Zinn

“Where progress has been made, wherever any kind of injustice has been overturned, it's been because people acted as citizens, and not as politicians. They didn't just moan. They worked, they acted, they organised, they rioted if necessary to bring their situation to the attention of people in power. And that's what we have to do today."

Howard Zinn

"My hope is that you will not be content just to be successful in the way our society measures success; that you will not obey the rules, when the rules are unjust; that you will act out the courage that I know is in you."

Howard Zinn

Random Note: When I made plans to publish the Jazzman Chronicles I sought the comments and support of America’s two pre-eminent progressives: Chomsky and Zinn. Zinn replied that he did not have time to read my work but encouraged me to keep writing. When I pressed him to comment on a short essay entitled True History he replied “… a succinct and heartfelt statement about the importance of teaching good history to the new generation.” He was and is a hero who fought the good fight to the end of his days and I will always be grateful.


Beatlick Travel Report 2010: Marfa TX

Date: Jan 30, 2010 11:18 AM

Marfa, Texas

While we were visiting in Fort Stockton Beatlick Joe and I were really impressed by Marfa’s public radio station KRTS 93.5 “radio for a wide range,” so we decided to stop for the weekend and check out some of the activities mentioned on the air. We had spent a cold night in Marathon with freezing rain that left the van coated in ice so we were grateful to see clouds in the vast sky break up and the temperature rise as we drove the 60 mile stretch into the Marfa Plateau.

We have passed through Marfa a number of times traveling down Highway 90 on our destinations elsewhere. Staying on that route the place looked like so many other hard-luck scenes in Texas, we really thought it was a little one-trick pony town touting its mystery lights, not unlike Roswell, cashing in on a local phenomenon.

We passed by the Marfa Lights Viewing Center nine miles from town. We judge that a good place to park overnight sometime. Native inhabitants were aware of Marfa’s mysterious lights long before the first recording of them back in 1883. The whole concept is so popular now that the town provides this accommodating viewing station and a festival on Labor Day weekend.

It was only after we pulled off of 90 and ventured closer into the heart of town that we saw how truly unique and interesting Marfa is. We urban camped right beside the Paisano Hotel which had a great bar, fireplace and wonderful big old bathrooms off of the lobby where you can lock yourself in for complete privacy and enjoy a big sink with lots of hot water. We haven’t had it this good since the Bisbee library in Arizona. The hotel hosts a large display of memorabilia from the movie “Giant.” Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson all spent time there and left behind their autographed photos.

We strolled around and enjoyed the beautiful buildings, coffee shops and art galleries all looking neatly spruced up and tidy. Our itinerary included KRTS, the Marfa Book Company, and Ballroom Marfa where an international film project was holding a reception. What an interesting crowd showed up. There seems to be a large draw of young people from Sul Ross University less than 30 miles away in Alpine. The art scene is huge here and we spoke to so many young people who have moved here from Boston, Austin , Berlin, you name it.

Apparently Donald Judd laid the foundation for the town’s heavy art scene in the mid-1970s when he established the Chinati Foundation, which today houses a permanent collection of contemporary art as well as temporary exhibits by artists in residence. One night on Marfa Radio they were interviewing two Germans who came to Marfa and created an art installation by taking apart an entire automobile and reconstructing it into two bicycles.

The “Art in the Auditorium” at Ballroom Marfa is a global collaboration between museums and art spaces in Italy, Norway, Turkey, Argentina, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. There were two large rooms with short films by seven up and coming filmmakers. One of the film directors was in attendance, Aida Ruilova. Her seven-minute short “Meet the Eye,” was filmed on a sound stage in Los Angeles and featured Karen Black of “Easy Rider” fame and LA artist Raymond Pettibon.

Black is expressing her anxieties to the male lead about her futile struggle to remember something. Pettibon is secretly carving a peephole in the wall. When Black does look through the hole she sees a scene of death, which ironically is the thing she is trying to remember. It’s pretty abstract as Truelove’s work is critiqued to be. The plot could be deciphered as the actor meeting herself in that dreamlike dimension. The petite former punk rocker said to her knowledge Marfa was the only town in America hosting the international collaboration.

“Dead Forest (Storm) by Charley Nijensohn of Buenos Aires was my personal favorite, totally surreal and I couldn’t figure out how in the world it was shot. Filmed in the Amazon Basin where the plight of the area’s deforestation is well documented a man is standing unprotected on a small floating craft, not much bigger than a log. It is pouring down rain and all you hear is the downpour with the visual of the man floating through a flooded landscape of blackened dead tree stumps. The relentless rain robs the scene of any color and the man drifts so precariously perched on his tiny craft, pummeled by the precipitation, as endangered as the rain forest.

We will stay the weekend and head on to El Paso. I have an appointment with an endodontist to get a root canal. Apparently I am such a unique and special person that I have grown four roots from my problem tooth instead of the usual three. So it is this fourth one which requires a root canal. I wish I could use these odds to work in my favor in Las Vegas.

So we completely changed our plans and won’t be back at Astor Park in the Big Bend area until March and April. Then we will continue our ultimate survival camp experience. In the meantime we will go to Truth or Consequences where we hope to park at the Artesian Hot Springs for a month. You can do that for only $125 with a discount on the hot baths and access to electricity. That sounds pretty plush to us.

Happy Trails

Beatlick Pamela

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Boston Alarm Redux

The alarm goes off and a procession of skulls materialize ahead of the engine. Handing out tickets to the destruction, they're followed by the curious and together they gather as the house falls in on itself. Screams, you can't hear them anymore. Three alarm, four? How many engines need to respond? Pull the body out through the window even if the skin pulls away? This is democracy in action. We don't mind to see the sausage made, we don't care if the blood gets into the ground. The table is set and its no longer an indoor sport.

Gathering to vote we pass one another and curse the voting line. Its more interesting to watch on television. Download a copy of the Bill of Rights in pdf. Your elected officials are just like the bull in the china shop and you are the smallest crystal cup. But you like it this way. Its only a crisis of conscious if everyone around you says they will agree. Foreign aid will take your job away but it won't stop you from filling your life with goods from China. Made in America was never going to make it past the parking lot. You used to be a card carrying hypocrite until like so many other words you forgot the meaning while you were in line to look away.

Chris Mansel

Monday, January 25, 2010

Boston Alarm

If the ruling party fails to heed the warning sounded by the senatorial special election in Massachusetts then the midterm elections will be a massacre. If the only lessons learned are the need to retool the message or the necessity of hand-to-hand campaigning, then the party is deaf to the cry of the people and therefore fundamentally incapable of governing.

Frankly we don’t care what the message is any more as long as jobs are being delivered yesterday. Frankly we don’t want to shake hands with any candidate. We just want to know that she or he is working for us and not the multi-billion dollar corporations that finance the bulk of all political campaigns.

For a year we have waited for something positive to come out of Washington and the ruling party gave us a Wall Street bailout and a healthcare package so brutalized it was hard to tell who wrote it: corporate lawyers or Washington lobbyists.

When you don’t have a job you really don’t care about healthcare insurance and the last thing you want to hear is mandatory coverage. Is there anyone listening?



By Jack Random

“The court’s primary function will be to strike back government regulation of private business at every turn. Anti-trust law is dead. Environmental law is rendered toothless. Regulation of essential industries -- energy, water and food -- is barely breathing. Security reigns supreme over individual liberties and the only rights that count are corporate.”

“Blame the Democrats and Move On: The Federalist Court.” Jazzman Chronicles, July 20, 2005.

“It would be impossible to understate the dangers that corporate dominance poses to democracy. Corporate democracy is an oxymoron. It cannot exist. It is an unconscionable perversion of democracy.”

“As the World Turns: America Left Behind.” Jazzman Chronicles, September 6, 2009.


As a progressive libertarian independent the events of the week were enough to send me into a tailspin of despair. No, it was not the Massachusetts senatorial race, which I found rich in irony and something of a mixed blessing. No, it was not the precipitous decline in the stock market, which served to remind us that that brokers and bankers are far more afraid of populist rage than they are of any mainstream political party.

No, it was rather the boldest assertion to date that the Supreme Court of Chief Justice John Roberts has one and only one defining characteristic: Corporate bias.

History informs us that there is perhaps no form of government more vulnerable to corporate takeover than a democracy in which there are no controls on the funding of political campaigns. Knowing this, there is no democracy in the western world that allows unlimited corporate funding. Knowing this, our Supreme Court delivered a ruling that allows just that with one caveat: corporations cannot contribute directly to political parties or candidates. It is a curious exception in that it seems to confess that the court’s reasoning is flawed. If corporations are in effect citizens, entitled to the rights of individuals, on what grounds should they be denied direct engagement?

It is however an exception that has no teeth. Corporations do not need to contribute directly to parties or candidates. They are fully capable of running their own political operations. They can operate their own focus groups. They can use their resources, even those gained from public bailouts, to tip the balance of power and control the policies of government.

We’ve grown accustomed to hyperbole from pundits and politicians but this time it is real. Democracy can be compromised only so far before it ceases to be democracy. In this case the alternative our Supreme Court has thrust us toward is corporate fascism not unlike Mussolini’s Italy, a government that found nothing objectionable in Hitler’s Third Reich. It was only business.

In the bold new world the court has laid out for us the electoral process will become a mere formality as it is in Russia or Iran. It will become a ritual to commemorate the democracy we once treasured. In this new world neither the people, the mom and pop corporations nor the unions will hold any sway, though this ruling applies to them as well, for they cannot compete with the power of the almighty dollar that corporate monoliths bring to bear.

Leaders of the Republican Party have embraced this decision and never fail to include the unions in their analysis. Yet the labor unions are a red herring. After half a century of decline, there is no union in the land that can compete with any major corporation. By this ruling union influence is rendered negligible and corporate power reigns supreme.

Among the many questions that remain unanswered are the international implications. The modern corporation is an international leviathan with tentacles extending across borders in every direction. It has no loyalties, no patriotism, no ideology, no principles and no virtue. It is governed by the profit margin, plain and simple. If selling out the workers of America (by exporting jobs and banishing the rights of labor) will boost the profit margin, it is not a decision that will be contested.

The corporate behemoths may allow Barack Obama to continue as president, they may allow the major parties to exist, but with this ruling the nation just got a charter for a new board of directors that will replace all branches of government as the ultimate arbiter of decisions. If any member of congress, Senator or President violates the dictums of the corporate masters, they will be targeted for extinction. In that sense the parties themselves will become irrelevant. All parties will become agents of corporate interest.

For as long as this decision is allowed to stand we are no longer a democracy.

It must not be allowed to stand and yet overturning a Supreme Court decision is a daunting task. Among the courses of action suggested thus far, none shows any real promise of success. Amending the constitution requires two thirds of congress and three quarters of the states. Removing the majority members of the court for treason, however justified, would require an overwhelming push by congress. As long as Republicans remain convinced that corporate dominance is to their advantage it cannot happen.

Perhaps Congressman Barney Frank, who noted that corporations are creations of law, offered the most interesting approach. Corporations are granted corporate status by the government and the government retains the right to enforce standards and regulations. It is therefore possible that congress can control the power of corporations through corporate law rather than campaign finance law.

There are at least two major obstacles to this approach. First, congress has not been able to pass re-regulation of the financial institutions even after the lack of regulation played a primary role in a near catastrophic collapse. How are we to believe that congress will act in this case even as the minority party throws up a roadblock of united opposition?

The dismal truth is congress is paralyzed. While some may give lip service to the necessity of systemic change, there is no real movement toward striking down the filibuster rule in the United States Senate. As long as the filibuster remains there can be no real change.

Even if we could get beyond systemic paralysis, any effective legislative attempt to undo what the Supreme Court has done would surely be struck down by the same court.

Those of us who believe in democracy must continue to fight but it seems to me we must also recognize reality. In all likelihood we are stuck with this decision until the balance of the court is altered. The way things are going it could be decades and by that time the nature of congress and the White House could be so altered that change may be impossible.

Once lost, the road back to democracy is paved with hardship.

That is the problem with Supreme Court decisions. They have the power to alter the very heart and soul of a nation.

So welcome to the corporate world: We are up against the wall, rifles pointed at our chests, and our only remaining choice is whether to be blindfolded or to confront our destiny with open eyes.