Philip L. Russell :
AMLO at midterm

Mexico’s president receives mixed grades.

Andres Manuel López Obrador. Photo by Eneas De Troya / Wikimedia. Commons.

By Philip L. Russell | The Rag Blog | October 28, 2021

Listen to Thorne Dreyer’s Rag Radio interview with Philip Russell about the issues discussed in this article, Friday, Oct. 28, 2021, 2-3 p.m. CDT on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, or stream it live at Or listen anytime to the podcast of this show at

November first marks the midpoint of President López Obrador’s six-year term. Based on his approval ratings alone, one would have to judge his presidency a roaring success. An October poll found 63.7% of the population approved of his presidency while only 35.9% disapproved. His approval rating is up from a year ago, when it was 58.8%. (, Oct. 26, 2021.)

Several factors contribute to his high ratings. He dominates the daily news cycle with his morning news conferences, the mañaneras. In these conferences, he highlights his social programs and has led people to identify these programs with him personally. In addition, he has had several successes during the first half of his term. He raised the minimum wage, increased tax collection without increasing the tax rate, and aided millions by eliminating abuses associated with subcontracting.

Although AMLO’s support remains high, it is nuanced. When asked about specific aspects of his administration, approval plunges. A poll in September found that only 38% approved of his handling of the economy, only 40% approved of efforts to fight corruption, and 31% of his approach to public safety. (El Financiero, Sept. 2, 2021, p. 37.) As columnist Enrique Quintana noted, “AMLO’s support is based, not on what his government does or does not do, but on who he is.” (El Financiero, Sept. 17, 2021, p. 2.)
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Alice Embree :
IN MEMORIAM | Recent passages: JoAnn Mulert, Pat Cramer,
Gregg Barrios, and Steve Russell

Sometimes they happen in quick succession.

From left: JoAnn Mulert, Pat Cramer.

From left: Gregg Barrios, Steve Russell.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | September 30, 2021

Sometimes the passages happen in such quick succession. This has been a summer of such passages with four friends and colleagues who were courageous and creative. Three of them tackled Texas homophobia and expanded LGBTQ rights with their advocacy. We lost Pat Cramer June 19, 2021 and JoAnn Mulert passed away on July 15, 2021. And Gregg Barrios died August 17, 2021. Then, on September 25, 2021, Steve Russell passed on.

Gregg Barrios was a film critic for Austin’s Rag newspaper in the early days and became an influential critic, poet, and playwright. Steve Russell was an activist in Austin in the 1970s and later served as a Texas State trial judge.
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POLITICAL CARTOON | Deep in the heart…

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POLITICAL CARTOON | Deep in the heart…

POLITICAL OPINION | Blowback: The forever wars are
coming home

I see a desire for violence as catharsis in many protesters on the
Left and Right today.

March on the Pentagon, 1967. Photo by Warren K Leffler /
Library of Congress / Flickr.

By Mike Giglio | The Rag Blog | Sept. 16, 2021

This article was first published by The Intercept on September 9, 2021, and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog.

Listen to Thorne Dreyer‘s Rag Radio interview with Mike Giglio on Friday, September 17, 2021, from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin or stream it here. Listen to the podcast of the show anytime here.

I was driving home from a militia muster in the Virginia mountains last summer — after another day immersed in preelection talk of civil war — when I found myself reflecting, as I often have in the year since, on Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night.

The book is about the 1967 anti-war protest at the Pentagon and, more broadly, the factionalizing unrest of that period and how Vietnam fueled it. It also explores how the quiet or mostly quiet acquiescence to horrors abroad, horrors carried out by U.S. troops in the name of an entire democratic nation, degrades a society. At one point, the narrator imagines himself encountering “Grandmother, the church-goer, orange hair burning bright” at a slot machine in Las Vegas. “Madame, we are burning children in Vietnam,” he tells her. “Boy, you just go get yourself lost,” she replies. “Grandma’s about ready for a kiss from the jackpot.”
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BOOKS | ‘Life Is a Butt Dial: Tales from a Life Among
the Tragically Hip’

It’s A greezy, slippery slope to fun!

By Mariann G. Wizard | The Rag Blog | September 11, 2021

When it’s the Dog Days and the second summer of Covid and the headlines are ugly and even Cousin Junebug has stopped posting up cute puppy pictures, it’s time for a cool, light summer read!

Cleve Hattersley’s Life Is a Butt Dial: Tales from a Life Among the Tragically Hip (2019: Yes Publishing, Austin, Texas, 2021, 171 pp., $19.95) which was actually published just as Covid knocked everything off the tracks, fills the bill just as admirably right now. Bustling, breezy vignettes from the veteran band leader, club manager, newspaper columnist, and occasional political operative carry just enough weight to pull readers happily along Hattersley’s twisty byways of connections and insights.

Candidly crediting always having the best weed for his easy camaraderie with many of the biggest names in show business and sports over the last half-century, Cleve name-drops unabashedly, and why should he be abashed? From James Brown and Bo Diddley to Abbie Hoffman and Robin Williams to the New York Yankees, he toked, joked, and/or coked with the stars and celebs in greenrooms, hotel rooms, locker rooms, and night clubs after closing, when the real jams come out.

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BOOKS | Alice Embree’s ‘Voice Lessons’

This important book tells the story of Alice Embree’s struggle to be heard at a time when women were especially marginalized.

Alice Embree’s Voice Lessons.

By Sharon Shelton | The Rag Blog | August 26, 2021         

Voice Lessons by Alice Embree (Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas Press, 2021) tells the story of an Austin, Texas, in change from the harsh segregation and gender oppression of the 1950s through the upheavals of the ’60s and ’70s to the present.  Far from a dry history, this highly readable memoir brings those heady years alive and at the same time paints a picture of the personal life of a woman activist and leader inspired by the Civil Rights Movement to begin what became for her a lifetime struggle for the voices of marginalized people to be heard.

For old-time Austinites, Embree’s book, both its words and photos, will vividly bring back the joys, the mistakes, the humor, and the obstacles of an idealistic movement that, as it matured, sought to end racist, sexist, and economic oppression at home and imperialist wars abroad. For today’s activists who are continuing that struggle but may not have experienced those pivotal times, her book contains many invaluable lessons of a young movement charting a path into the unknown out of the deeply entrenched and all-pervading racism and sexism of the 1950s. These are lessons that remain as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.

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Lamar W. Hankins :
PUBLIC HEALTH | Gov. Abbott’s pandemic failure

It is not a personal health decision when the failure to protect oneself endangers the lives of everyone.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Caricature by DonkeyHotey / Flickr / Creative Commons.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | August 19, 2021

Like many Americans, I have been pondering how we could best end the pandemic of Covid-19 in the U.S. and in Texas. Most Republican governors and some Democratic ones are relying on a belief in personal responsibility — leave the decision to each individual to get vaccinated, wear a mask in public, and physically distance. After all, this reasoning goes, these measures are personal health decisions, not ones to be made by someone else.

But they are not personal health decisions when the failure to protect oneself endangers the lives of everyone. We are in a public health emergency that requires government intervention to protect the health and welfare of all. The 1918-19 flu epidemic is comparable to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the CDC, that flu epidemic took the lives of 675,000 people in the U.S., and resulted in 50 million deaths worldwide. Mutations of that influenza pandemic continue to cause the yearly flu for which many receive annual vaccinations.
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Harry Targ :
FOREIGN POLICY | The elephant in the room

United States global hegemony is coming to an end.

Elephant in the room. Photo by Sam Hood, March 24, 1939. From the
collection of the State Library of New South Wales..

By Harry Targ | The Rag Blog | August 19, 2021

[This article was adapted by the author from a 2017 post that appeared in The Rag Blog.]

An empire in decline

United States global hegemony is coming to an end. The United States was the country that collaborated with the Soviet Union to defeat fascism in Europe and with Great Britain to crush Japanese militarism in Asia in 1945. The Soviet Union, the first Socialist state, suffered 27 million dead in the war to defeat the Nazis. Great Britain, the last great imperial power, was near the end of its global reach because of war and the rise of anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa.

As the beneficiary of war-driven industrial growth and the development of a military-industrial complex unparalleled in world history, the United States was in a position in 1945 to construct a post-war international political and economic order based on huge banks and corporations. The United States created the international financial and trading system, imposed the dollar as the global currency, built military alliances to challenge the Socialist Bloc, and used its massive military might and capacity for economic penetration to infiltrate, subvert, and dominate most of the economic and political regimes across the globe.

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Alice Embree :
THE VOTE | Free the vote and the governor’s hostages

Rev. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign led a four-day
march from Georgetown.

Photo by Alice Embree / The Rag Blog.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | August 4, 2021

The Austin American-Statesman headlined their story on July 1: “Republicans counter Willie Nelson, Beto O’Rourke rally to support Texas Democrats in D.C.” The account of “hundreds” at the rally, and the equal time afforded a couple dozen protestors gave me a shudder of 60s déjà vu. Hundreds marched 27 miles and thousands were at the Capitol.

While it is true that Beto O’Rourke gave a powerful speech and his organization, Powered by People, boosted turnout, Beto is only part of the story. It is also true that Willie Nelson made his first public appearance since quarantine to grace the crowd with his talent and rally them with his song, “Vote ‘Em Out.” But there was so much more to this march and rally.

Several of my Texas Alliance for Retired Americans (TARA) compatriots marched much of the route from Georgetown. I joined on Saturday in front of the AFL-CIO building to walk the last mile, circling the Capitol before entering the grounds.

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Lamar W. Hankins :
TEXAS HISTORY | Forgetting almost all I ever learned
about the Alamo

The men who fought there may have been brave, but I no longer
count them as heroes.

The Alamo at night. Photo by Jean Beaufort. Creative Commons Public Domain license.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | July 29, 2021

As a child in the 1950s, it seems that almost everything I learned about “The Battle of the Alamo” was wrong, biased, or both. My basic public education taught me that the Alamo was the quintessential symbol of freedom, often referred to as the “cradle of Texas liberty.” The defenders in 1836 were brave heroes who valued liberty more than life. Well, they may have been brave, but I no longer count them as heroes.

I did not learn in school that the battle had little, if any, military significance. The men who fought at the Alamo had a variety of motivations that became subsumed in the popular mind as a fight for liberty. Less than three months before that March 6, 1836 battle, the mission had been taken by force by a group of mercenaries, insurgents, squatters, and rebels, who represented no one other than themselves and their kin. Independence was declared for a Texas Republic only four days before the March 6 battle, which probably lasted no more than an hour.

Many of the brave Alamo defenders escaped before the mission was overrun by Santa Anna’s forces, who then executed the survivors, including many who had escaped and been captured. These defenders were seen by Santa Anna as pirates or terrorists, to use a common modern term.
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BOOKS | Rails and roads

Novelist Colson Whitehead’s ‘The Underground Railroad,’ is an epic novel of bondage and liberation.

By Jonah Raskin | The Rag Blog | July 29, 2021

Near the end of The Underground Railroad, his epic novel about bondage and freedom, the author, Colson Whitehead, offers two related ideas that are separated by only two pages. The first, which sounds like recycled Rousseau, goes like this: “Men start off good and then the world makes them mean.” The second idea, which might have been inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus, reads, “The world may be mean, but people don’t have to be, not if they refuse.”

Cora Randall refuses to be mean, though she is born a slave on a Georgia plantation and is abandoned by her own mother and abused by white men all through her childhood. She has every reason to grow up and become mean as a whip, but she maintains her essential goodness while toiling as a slave and then as a fugitive from slavery.

Anyone who took part in the Civil Rights Movement, supported the Black Panthers or who marched in the streets after George Floyd’s murder will find The Underground Railroad sobering and inspiring, and a good reason to keep on keeping on. Even if you didn’t cotton to any of those causes and organizations, you might read the book or watch the film. You’re liable to learn a lot about Blackness and whiteness in America.
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Joshua Brown :

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