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May 26

The Proud Message of Utah Phillips

By Richard L Fricker, Consortium News | News Analysis

May is graduation month, the start of the summer season, the time when youth pack off for travels in search of a broader worldly perspective. May is also workers’ month, a celebration of those who have struggled to raise the respect for those who labor and thus to tie together those slender threads of human decency in what we call civilization.

So, May is a good time to celebrate U. Utah Phillips, who lived from May 15, 1935, to May 23, 2008, a labor organizer, poet and folk singer who was known as the “Golden Voice of the Great Southwest.”

Phillips was born Bruce Duncan Phillips in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edwin D. Phillips and Frances Kathleen Coates, both active labor organizers. Their activities and his step-father’s management of vaudeville houses contributed to his becoming an icon of American folk music and the labor movement.

America's renowned global media giant, CNN, could not have made a more obvious blunder than when it placed Ukraine in the midst of Afghanistan and Pakistan, just northwest of India. But was CNN's interactive and colorful three-dimensional map, replete with Ukraine's flag, a black pointed arrow and the words: "Eastern Ukraine Referendum," a simple geographical mistake? Or was it a sinister plot to mislead viewers so as to persuade them in supporting US military intervention? If CNN LIVE committed the latter, then, it is guilty of the geographical sins of false association, proximal distortion and cartographic disconnectedness.

Inserting eastern Ukraine between Pakistan and Afghanistan is committing the cardinal crime of false association. In other words, is CNN LIVE attempting to connect Ukrainian protests, demonstrations and referendums with the Global War On Terror, specifically as it pertains to Afghanistan and Pakistan? If so, it is in lock-step with most of America's mainstream press which has repeatedly referred to demonstrators and protestors as either rebels or "terrorists."

At least 183,000 people signed a petition seeking leniency for Occupy Wall Street member Cecily McMillan, who was convicted last week of assaulting a plainclothes police officer during a pub crawl pit stop at Wall Street's Zuccotti Park on St. Patrick's Day 2012. McMillan did not dispute accusations that she had elbowed Officer Grantley Bovell during the NYPD's eviction of protesters from the park on the six-month anniversary of what OWSers describe as the "original occupation;" her lawyers explained during her trial that what the police and prosecutors termed an assault was instead an instinctive response to Bovell's grabbing her breast from behind. (The sexualized crowd-dispersal tactics of the New York Police Department during the Occupy Wall Street protests have been well-documented and Bovell has his own personal history of violence – particularly while out of uniform but on the job). However, nowhere in the various media coverage of the trial, nor the communiqués from McMillan's supporters, was the right to self-defense from police violence indicated as an explanation for her actions. Rather than challenge the sociopolitical consensus and laws that create near total immunity for on-duty police officers during confrontations with civilians, McMillan and her defense team instead proclaimed her innocence, leaving her in the awkward position at sentencing of having to reframe the incident as "an accident" for which she was sorry. Within the context of a general population submissive to state power, and a local police brutality movement chilled by progressive political advancement, claims of innocence were perhaps necessary to solidify her support, signaling to observers that she was worthy of sympathy; but at what cost? By emphasizing her individual condition and privileging that above others involved in the criminal legal system, are we foreclosing a greater opportunity for a collective response to a systemic punishment problem?

Colombia has been at war for over 50 years. The internal armed conflict between the government and the Marxist guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC after their Spanish acronym, originated in the aftermath of a bloody period of political violence during the 1950s known as "La Violencia," or "The Violence."

Peasant self-defense groups that had formed to resist the forcible privatization of lands by the Colombian army began to band together after the end of The Violence in 1959. In 1964, one such group drafted what is considered the founding document of the FARC, the "Agrarian Program of the Guerrillas," which laid out the FARC's agenda of radical land reform and its Bolivarian revolutionary ideology. In the following decades, the group's ranks swelled as the rebels became involved in the cocaine trade, as well as in extortion, kidnapping and robbery.

In what kind of a country is money considered free-speech? In what kind of a country is a legal construct considered a person? It is definitely not a country to which one would apply the term "democracy."

It is stunning to consider where we have come along the spectrum from democracy to plutocracy. The ruling by the Supreme Court on April 2, 2014 (McCutcheon v FEC) was one of the most egregious blows to democracy that our country has ever seen.

New documents filed with the federal courts in Washington DC as part of an ongoing case concerning the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo have revealed that one detainee contracted a chest infection as a result of botched force-feeding procedures, leading him to "vomit blood" a number of times.

The filing comes a day after, in a related case, federal judge Gladys Kessler ordered the Obama administration to disclose video tapes showing force-feedings at the prison, as well as the "Forcible Cell Extraction" (FCE) procedures which are used against prisoners who refuse to comply.

Last semester, the husband of one of my students was deported to Mexico. To see that battle ensue during the school year was not pleasant. I accompanied her to see lawyers that might help, yet in the end, all said he had no chance. He was deported and despite this, this semester, she graduated with honors.

Also, the previous semester, Cynthia Diaz, another one of my students, waged a very public battle to bring her mom back home after seeing her mother deported from their house in Phoenix some three years ago. Her public battle, which included a 6-day fast this semester in front of the White House, resulted in her mom's return into the country - as a political challenge to the Obama administration – and then her completely unexpected release.

No institution has invited me to be the speaker at graduation, and none is ever likely to do so.

But I feel compelled to offer this speech to gradates. So in the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut - great American novelist who knew how to give a graduation speech—I'll start by telling you exactly what I want you to learn from this speech: Don't listen to graduation speakers.

An Executive* of a major shale gas development company has conceded what scientists have been saying for years: global shale gas development has the potential to wreak serious climate change havoc.

Best known for his company's hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") activity, Southwestern Energy Executive Vice President* Mark Boling admitted his industry has a methane problem on the May 19 episode of Showtime's "Years of Living Dangerously" in a segment titled, "Chasing Methane."

Over the years, Tim Geithner has come in for a lot of well-deserved criticism: for putting banks before homeowners, for lobbying for Citigroup when it wanted to buy Wachovia, for denying even the possibility of taking over failed banks, and so on. The release of his book, whatever it's called, has revived these various debates. Geithner is certainly not the man I would want making crucial decisions for our country. But it's also important to remember that he was only an upper manager. The man who called the shots was his boss: Barack Obama.

That's the theme of Jesse Eisinger's column this week. I'm on Eisinger's email list, and he described the tendency to focus on Tim Geithner—while ignoring the role of the president—as "If only the Tsar knew what the Cossacks are doing!" I wasn't familiar with the Russian version, but I've always been fond of the seventeenth-century French version. In September 2009, for example, Simon and I wrote this about the financial reform debate: