Steve Russell :
Truth in an age of post-factual politics

Since the arrival of The Donald, U.S. politics is a fact-free zone. The truth simply no longer matters.

Steve Bannon, back at Breitbart News, is backing convicted felon Michael Grimm for Congress. Caricature by DonkeyHotey / Flickr.

By Steve Russell | The Rag Blog | October 16, 2017

Congressman Michael Grimm (R-NY) was not happy being questioned by a TV reporter for NY1, Michael Scotto, about a pending investigation into Grimm’s campaign fundraising. Grimm walked away and Scotto had signed off… but the camera was still running when Grimm returned, and told Scotto, “Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again and I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony.”

He was speaking of the balcony in the United States Capitol and threatening the reporter with a 48-foot fall ending with a sudden stop on a marble floor. Survival would be chancy.

The video became confused with both men talking until Grimm ended the conversation, “No, no, you’re not man enough, you’re not man enough. I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.” Apparently noticing the camera was rolling, Grimm hurried away.
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Murray Polner :
The Vietnam War: An American crime

Vietnam was ‘the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

North Vietnamese prisoner awaits interrogation, 1967. Photo by PFC / David Epstein / Wikimedia Commons.

By Murray Polner | The Rag Blog | October 12, 2017

Our government has no right to send American boys to their death in any battlefield in the absence of a declaration of war… and no war has been declared in Southeast Asia, and until a war is declared, it is unconstitutional to send American boys to their death in South Vietnam or anywhere else in Southeast Asia. I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to substitute might for right. And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia.

Senator Wayne Morse, who with Senator Ernest Gruening, was one of only two senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which gave the U.S. and President Lyndon B. Johnson a free hand to wage war.

More than half a million U.S. troops were sent to serve in what was in reality a civil war. B-52s dropped as many or more bombs on rural North Vietnam than they did on Nazi Germany. 58,209 American servicemen and women were killed, a disproportionate number of them conscripts, and 153,303 were wounded, many forever damaged in body and mind. Millions of Southeast Asians died or suffered grievous wounds.
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Lamar W. Hankins :
Nineteen fifty-four: A fable

Bobby raised his hand and asked his teacher, Mrs. Miller, ‘Is God the same as the sun?’

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | October 10, 2017

It was an unusual year, 1954. The U.S. Supreme Court held that separate schooling for blacks and whites was unequal for blacks, mostly because the quality of segregated education seriously disadvantaged black children. Sen. Joseph McCarthy was censured by the United States Senate for his Communist witch hunts. French colonialism in Vietnam was defeated in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Elvis Presley cut his first commercial record.

But none of these things made much impact on 10-year old Bobby LeFlore Lewis, if he even heard about them. What did affect him was a small action by Congress that seemed just strange to him. Bobby’s teacher told his class that now there were two new words that he had to recite when saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Congress had added the words “under God” to the Pledge, placed between “one nation” and “indivisible.”
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Steve Russell :
Making peace between Rocket Man
and the Dotard

Solving the North Korea problem requires our best understanding of everybody’s needs.

Rocket Man. Graphic art by DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy /
Creative Commons.

By Steve Russell | The Rag Blog | September 27, 2017

Two grown men are publicly calling each other names, a childish spat that rises from annoying to alarming because both Kim Jong Un and Donald J. Trump have nuclear weapons.

When I watch the news lately, I only have to close my eyes and I’m back in rural Oklahoma about the time the Korean War ended, fussing with my cousins.

My grandmother yells: You kids settle down!

She is met by a collective whine: He started it!
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Maxine Phillips :
BOOKS | ‘Johnny Appleseed: Green Spirit of the Frontier’

Paul Buhle and Noah Van Sciver’s graphic history tells a tale very relevant to our time.

By Maxine Phillips | The Rag Blog | September 25, 2017

[Johnny Appleseed: Green Spirit of the Frontier, a graphic history written by Paul Buhle and illustrated by Noah Van Sciver (September 5, 2017: Fantagraphics Books); Hardcover; 112 pp; $19.99.]

Before there was organic farming, there was… organic farming. Before Rachel Carson, Bill McKibbon, or Michael Pollan, there was… Johnny Appleseed.

Appleseed, as he is known in myth, was born John Chapman in Leominster, Massachusetts, on September 26, 1774, and of all the figures of the U.S. frontier, real or imagined, from Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone (real) to John Henry and Paul Bunyan (imagined), he is perhaps the most suited to our climate-imperiled times.
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Jonah Raskin :
Marijuana madness: From Harry Anslinger to Jeff Sessions

Marijuana has been a heated political issue in the United States for more than 100 years.

Gustin Reichbach in the ’60s. Judge Reichbach, who died in 2012, was a proponent of medical marijuana. Image from Gustin L. Reichbach Papers / University at Buffalo Libraries.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | September 21, 2017

Three months before he died of pancreatic cancer in July 2012, Judge Gustin L. Reichbach published an op-ed piece in The New York Times in which he said that “marijuana is the only medicine that gives me some relief from nausea, stimulates my appetite, and makes it easier to fall asleep.” He added, “friends have chosen, at some personal risk, to provide the substance.”

What Reichbach did not say in his op-ed piece, but that almost all of his friends and family members knew, was that he had smoked marijuana for decades, before he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, and that he enjoyed getting “high” and getting “stoned,” to borrow the vernacular.
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Alice Embree :
Sex and socialism

Is it time to consider what socialism can mean in the bedrooms as well as in the body politic?

Soviet Women’s Day Poster, 1960s.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | September 20, 2017

Is sex better under socialism? Apparently, according to an August 12, 2017 New York Times opinion piece. Did women from the United States find fulfillment in revolutionary Russia? Julia Mickenberg’s American Girls in Red Russia makes that case. As socialism continues to gain traction with millennials, it may be time to consider what that can mean in the bedrooms as well as in the body politic.

“Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll” was a theme of the ’60s rebellion. After all, the Baby Boomers came of age when birth control pills did. Then women’s liberation added an entirely new spin to sexual liberation.
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Jonah Raskin :
BOOKS | Blowing themselves up: Revisiting the Weather Underground

‘Swords in the Hands of Children’ is Jonathan Lerner’s passionate tale of his adventures as a young, gay insurgent.

Jonathan Lerner gives a press conference for the Weathermen during the “Days of Rage,” October 9, 1969. Photo by Barbara Leckie. Image courtesy of OR Books.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | September 14, 2017

Jonathan Lerner, author of Swords in the Hands of Children, is Thorne Dreyer‘s guest on Rag Radio, Friday, Sept. 15, 2-3 p.m. (CT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and streamed live here.

[Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary by Jonathan Lerner (December 5, 2017: OR Books); Hardcover; 224 pp.]

Not that long ago, homegrown American bombers set off explosives in offices, schools, and ROTC buildings and then watched the fallout gleefully. Warren Hinckle published an entire issue of his short-lived magazine, Scanlan’s Monthly, on that very subject. Indeed, TNT or dynamite was then all the rage along with LSD. “Blasting caps for the Capricorns,” one bomber exclaimed. Another proclaimed, “Light ‘em and run.” She was referring to fuses.

That time in the 1970s now looks like the culmination of Sixties radicalism and also its death knell. Novelist Jonathan Lerner, now on the cusp of 70 and an environmentalist living near the Hudson River with his husband, Peter Frank, looks back at that era with fear and loathing and a sense of nostalgia, too. What a strange political and personal trip it has been.
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Allen Young :
BOOKS | Jonathan Lerner’s ‘Swords in the Hands of Children’

Lerner, a closeted gay man active with the Weather Underground, tells a gripping story and reveals his authentic remorse.

By Allen Young | The Rag Blog | September 13, 2015

Jonathan Lerner, author of Swords in the Hands of Children, is Thorne Dreyer‘s guest on Rag Radio, Friday, Sept. 15, 2-3 p.m. (CT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and streamed live here.

[Swords in the Hands of Children: Reflections of an American Revolutionary by Jonathan Lerner (December 5, 2017: OR Books); Hardcover; 224 pp.]

The words “fear” and “frightened” pepper gay writer Jonathan Lerner’s intriguing account of how he, a young idealist with sincere interest in the 1960s political movements for civil rights and peace, became a committed member of the violence-prone Weather Underground Organization.

With an interest during his late teenage years in a possible career as an actor, and already aware of his homosexual desire, the closeted Lerner held back, noting “the ubiquitous and openness of gay people in theater frightened me.” A few pages later, recounting his experience at a major anti-war march on the Pentagon in October of 1968 where there was confrontation between demonstrators and police in riot gear, he mentions his “fear of… those swinging truncheons.” Once immersed himself as a soldier in the Weather Underground, whose leaders and their politics turned autocratic and cruel, Lerner becomes fearful of his comrades.
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James Retherford :
IMAGE | The New American Eagle

The New American Eagle. Digital image by James Retherford /
The Rag Blog.

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Steve Rossignol :
How close are we to doomsday?

Some models predict a global firestorm apocalyptic-level event.

“Clouds of Doomsday” by Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería / Flickr.

By Steve Rossignol | The Rag Blog | August 29, 2017

Well, we appear to have survived the historic solar eclipse.

And it also appears that the potential nuclear crisis with North Korea may have abated for now. Donald Trump’s and Kim Jong-Un’s saber-rattling and sword fight over who has the largest, ah, missile seems to have come to a draw.

And we are weathering Hurricane Harvey.
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Alan Waldman :
TELEVISION | ‘Deep Water’ is a gripping four-part Aussie police drama

Yael Stone is excellent as a police detective cracking a string of 80 brutal gay killings.

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | August 27, 2017

[In his Rag Blog column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD, Netflix and/or Netflix Instant Streaming, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

In Orange is the New Black, Yael Stone was very convincing as whiny-voiced, Italian-American prison van-driving inmate Lorna Morello, but in the outstanding 2016 Australian police drama Deep Water, it is shocking to hear her return to her normal accent from Down Under. Stone is actually an Aussie, the granddaughter of Czech Jewish holocaust survivors.
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