Jonah Raskin :
TRAVEL | Three days in LA: Tales of a reluctant tourist

It’s clear that there’s little if anything natural about LA.

Photo by Jean-Francois Bourdic.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | April 18, 2019

“Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyper-real and of simulation. It’s no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.” — Jean Baudrillard, Simulation and Simulacra, 1981


You don’t have to be a French philosopher like Jean Baudrillard to grasp the unreality of LA. Indeed, the outlook that once belonged largely to Parisian intellectuals is now commonplace. “I don’t think anything in LA is real or natural,” quipped a young mother with a real baby in a real baby carriage. She and I were walking around the real canals in Venice, a short distance from the Pacific Ocean. I was admiring the arrangement of water and land and houses, too, that must cost a fortune. She was a stranger, at least to me, but she looked savvy so I couldn’t help but ask her about the canals.

To my naked eye they looked too regular, too predictable, and too shapely to be made by nature, but I wasn’t sure. Much the same might be said of LA itself, which strikes me as the capital of the artificial, though Las Vegas with its neon and glitter isn’t far away and offers stiff competition.
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Elaine J. Cohen :
Pilgrims’ process

Japanese pilgrims bearing 30,000 paper cranes visit WWII internment site, meet up with Austin Sanctuary Movement.

Japanese-American Memorial Pilgrimage to Crystal City. Photo by Kimiko Marr / The Rag Blog.

By Elaine J. Cohen | The Rag Blog | April 4, 2019

AUSTIN — It has been over two years since I wrote about immigrant detention. The French have an expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I just reviewed the Rag Blog posts I wrote in 2015 and 2016 and comparing them to the situation today feels masochistic. Agent Orange’s anti-immigrant vitriol has been so often repeated (and re-tweeted) that even if one has a psychic barrier to protect one from Fox Not News, the cruelty creeps under the door like some 21st century mustard gas.

And we are still in the trenches.

And yet.

This Monday I made the drive north on Cameron, which then became Dessau and turned West on Wells Branch to visit St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, where my friends Hilda and Ivan have been living in Sanctuary for too long. I’m glad I made the drive because I met an extraordinary group of people who had come to Texas to make a pilgrimage to Crystal City, Texas, one of the U.S. Department of Justice internment camps that held Japanese-Americans during World War II and even after the war had ended.

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The Rag Blog :
The New Journalism Project launches NJP Publishing

Rag Blog publisher announces new book publishing effort.

By The Rag Blog | The Rag Blog | March 29, 2019

The New Journalism Project (NJP), publisher of The Rag Blog and sponsor of Rag Radio, is spreading its wings with an expanded publishing effort. NJP has sponsored The Rag Blog and Rag Radio for more than a decade, but its first venture into publishing was Celebrating The Rag: Austin’s Iconic Underground Newspaper, published in 2016. The book met with wide national acclaim.

We plan to build on the success of Celebrating The Rag by launching NJP Publishing. We can contribute editorial expertise, production skills, and a promotion platform to this effort. In the 2019 pilot phase, NJP Publishing will publish both established and emerging writers, with an initial focus on amplifying women’s voices.

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Rabbi Arthur Waskow :
Facing two different forms of anti-Semitism

We must resist White Nationalism and reach out in solidarity to the communities it attacks.

Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, August 12, 2017. Photo by Anthony Crider / Wikimedia Commons.

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow | The Rag Blog | March 14, 2019

An old Jewish saying goes, “Why did God give us two thumbs? So we could say — ‘On the one hand!’ and then, ‘On the other hand!’”

Through much of the history of Jewish thought and the evolution of Jewish values, in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) and rabbinic discussion ever since, Jews have often faced the need to choose between what at first seem to be irreconcilable alternatives — two “goods” or two “bads.”

We face what seems to be such a choice now, about responding to what seem like two different forms of anti-Semitism. One is the pervasive danger to Jews among many other communities of a hypermasculinist White-Nationalist wave of policy and rhetoric coming from some places of great power in American life, and the other is the occasional use of expressions that to many of us feel like ant-Semitic motifs, coming from members and leaders of groups in American society that are under systematic attack from centers of great power — groups toward which many of us feel deep empathy and hope to act in solidarity.
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Jonah Raskin :
BOOKS | Don Cox’s caustic memoir of the Black Panthers

Heyday is brave to have published this book, which blows the lid off the BPP.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | March 7, 2019

Mention the two words “Black Panther” to anyone under the age of 40, and they’re likely to think, right off the bat, of the 2018 action, adventure film Black Panther. They’re not likely to think of the Black Panthers of the Sixties, who were superheroes to a generation or two of Americans, both black and white, and who were as deeply flawed as any tragic heroes in any film.

Don Cox’s Just Another Nigger: My Life in the Black Panther Party ($28), which has just been published by Heyday in Berkeley, will not replace Ryan Coogler’s movie, Black Panther in the pantheon of popular American culture, but it will dispel many if not all of the myths that have surrounded the Black Panther Party (BPP) and its two founders, Huey Newton, who was killed in Oakland in a drug deal gone awry in 1989, and Bobby Seale, who is still alive and a shadow of his former self, though he performs very funny stand-up comedy.
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Evan Hearn :
MEDIA | Jussie Smollett, and why mainstream media needs to stand its ground

The media’s reaction has been depressingly predictable.

Jussie Smollett, 2018. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

By Evan Hearn | The Rag Blog | February 27, 2019

On January 29, actor Jussie Smollett made headlines after he claimed to be the victim of an assault. According to Smollett’s initial descriptions, he was accosted by two assailants who taunted him with racist and homophobic slurs, told him “this is MAGA country,” and left him with a rope around his neck. Now, Smollett is suspected of having staged the assault, and is awaiting trial for multiple felony charges.

The media’s reaction has been depressingly predictable. After initial reports of the attack, media outlets like CNN and MSNBC aired outpourings of support for Smollett, condemnation of his attackers, and commentary on the troubled state of our nation. Even Fox News published a handful of perfunctory articles covering the incident and the immediate follow-ups by the Chicago police department.
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Richard Croxdale :
BOOKS | Debs Graphic bio is perfect vehicle to tell his story

Eugene V. Debs created and constantly evolved new approaches to the battle against capital and injustice.

By Richard Croxdale | The Rag Blog | February 22, 2019

Paul Buhle, Steve Max, Dave Nance, and Noah Van Sciver have produced a new and delightful biography of Eugene Victor Debs, the iconic American socialist, told in a comic book format, although these days, the proper term is graphic book. The book, Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography was published by Verso.

For Debs, who created and constantly evolved new approaches to the battle against capital and injustice, approaches that were always peculiarly American, a graphic book is the perfect vehicle to tell his biography.
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Steve Russell :
Three swings and three misses

The news last week tells me it’s time to confess some doozies.

caricature of Alex Acosta

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta. Caricature by DonkeyHotey / Flickr.

By Steve Russell | The Rag Blog | February 12, 2019

My method of practicing the pundit trade is to own my errors, and the news last week tells me it’s time to confess some doozies.

I wrote a piece for The Rag Blog on June 18, 2017, where I questioned the wisdom of impeaching Donald Trump based on running down his cabinet in the order of succession. In my evaluation of each Trumpian appointment, I mentioned matters that made the overall result predictable as night follows day. That overall result was a pack of billionaires with their hands in the public till, corruption on a level unknown since Warren Harding.
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Steve Rossignol :
A tale of baseball, socialism, and oil

The playful gist was that the Internationale would be the new national anthem played at baseball games.

Corsicana Daily Sun, August 12, 1924, p. 9.

By Steve Rossignol | The Rag Blog | February 1, 2019

Rag Blog author Steve Rossignol recently retired as an IBEW electric worker.  He turned his attention to the rich vein of union and socialist history in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana to ensure that this earlier period of insurgency would be remembered.  A century ago, both the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Socialist Party were active in Texas and adjoining states.

William Covington Hall, a Wobbly labor organizer who led the East Texas Lumber Workers in their strike at Grabow, Louisiana, in 1912, was a writer, poet, labor organizer, and socialist. Steve’s research came to our attention when Steve asked for help to place a marker on Covington Hall’s unmarked grave. We asked him to write something about the Wobblies and Socialists in Texas. He did and is still working on the Covington Hall article.

During the Seventies and Eighties in Austin and the Hill Country, our socialist meetings and encampments would sometimes be punctuated by the singing of those old socialist songs, especially the Internationale.  Invariably at the conclusion of that venerable hymn of the proletariat, Travis would shout out, “Play ball!” — the playful gist of the comment implying that the Internationale would be the new national anthem played at baseball games.

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Murray Polner :
Bipartisan wars

(There’s no there there.)

Left-wing journalist I.F. Stone cited our enormous military bureaucracy.

By Murray Polner | The Rag Blog | January 10, 2019

“Try to calm down, America. Whatever RussiaGate (and the Greater Middle East] ultimately turns out to be, it won’t be anything worth a single drop of American or Russian blood” — or anyone else’s.” — Thomas L. Knapp, The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism

Even if our erratic and mendacious president follows through and actually withdraws a few thousand soldiers from Syria and ultimately Afghanistan, I remain fixated on the silence of Democrats, especially about our foreign policies and what we’ve done, few of them explained or debated in our never-ending imperial wars.

But a few years ago I thought I glimpsed a peak at what we do and why, when, on January 3, 2017, I watched Senator Charles (Chuck, since he left friendly Brooklyn for Washington) Schumer belittle Donald Trump on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC-TV show that the President was “being really dumb ” for refusing to accept the “Intelligence Community’s” allegations about Russian interference in our 2016 election.
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Dick J. Reavis :
An immodest proposal

Here’s a day when we can all say, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire.’

Image by DonkeyHotey / Flickr / Creative Commons.

By Dick J. Reavis | The Rag Blog | January 10, 2019

June 14 is Donald Trump’s birthday and it deserves celebration — as National Liars Day. On that day, we, his detractors, could or should tell lies so grandiose that co-workers and friends would halt our narratives, saying “No, that can’t be true! You’re making this up.”

Tellers of “fake news” would or will then confess that “Of course I’m lying. This is Trump’s birthday. We have to emulate him.”

The only competition Liars Day has is from April Fools Day, and it is for kids. Liars Day combines childishness with braggadocio, just as our president does with every Tweet.
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Alice Embree :
Remembering Dennis Fitzgerald: Underground journalist and veteran activist

Fitzgerald was a founder of The Rag in Austin and Houston’s Space City!

Dennis Fitzgerald, Space City! days. Image from
Jessica Kent / Facebook.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | December 17, 2018

Dennis Fitgerald passed away on December 9, 2018, in British Columbia, Canada, where he had lived for several decades. Dennis graced ‘60s Texas activism with a wry wit and a talent for journalism. When the Rag reunion of 2005 came together, his written memoir stood out for its sweet tone of humility:

I was privileged to be in the delivery room at the birth of The Rag. ‘Breathe, breathe, breathe!’ It was a long, hard labor. But what a beautiful child she was. For just over a year, I changed my share of dirty diapers and delighted in watching her first tentative steps. And then we both had other places to go.

The Rag was where my friends and I tried to figure out who we were. We were hardly more than kids, taking our own first steps into the “real” world, and trying to make sense of the fact that there was so much there that affronted our ideals. Things were a lot meaner and shallower than they were supposed to be. That wasn’t anything we were prepared to conform to, nor, given our idealistic bent, anything that we could in good conscience ignore.

We were a group that found each other and clicked because we shared a common, albeit kind of fuzzy, notion about what was right and what was wrong and what was really important. But we didn’t have a home for all that; we fit with each other, but we didn’t seem to fit anywhere else. The Rag was our owner-built home, a place of safety and purpose, where we could define who we were and get on with the job of saving the world from itself.

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