The Nation Guide to the Nation

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For anyone that has traveled–or has browsed through bookstores–you’ve likely seen the large number of resources dedicated to publicizing tourist traps and offering the so-called “insider” information about any number of cities. The Nation Guide to the Nation takes that approach and highlights historical sites, projects, bookstores, and other places and events that would interest leftist travelers.

The book is divided into five sections–“Culture,” “The Media Gallery,” “Organize!,” “Goods and Services,” and “Social: Connecting”–that catalog a wide variety things pertaining to “the left” in the United States. In the introduction, the editors write that this book is for:

“People of the left-liberal-radical persuasion (the kind of people who read The Nation) who find themselves in some red state backwater hungering for kindred spirits, for community, for folks who’ll help them organize an antiwar rally or a fund-raiser or a peace march or a discussion group or a food co-op.”

That said–it certainly has the potential to deliver on its goals. Whether you are travelling and want to check out some new and inspiring projects (for example, food cooperatives, radical printers, or independent media centers) or wanting to find people in your own to work with, its resources are helpful. For the most part, they are organized logically using broad categories and then smaller categories to narrow down the listings even more. My only complaint is that it might have been easier to organize resources by state in some sections so that people could find out about new things in their own area. Nevertheless, the breadth of the listings are impressive–it contains projects of different political persuasions including anarchists, socialists, and more traditional liberals. Moreover, these projects cut across a wide variety of areas covering everything from organizing hubs to green architects. I’d say that while there are obviously some things left out that could have been added, the book largely succeeds in being a catalog of the left.

Even if you aren’t planning to go anywhere soon to check out new places, the book can be a helpful resource. It catalogs some of the best of the leftist websites on the Internet, indentifies organizations working for social change, and identifies places where you can purchase goods produced in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner. Reading about places in far away cities–or even interesting websites–could easily inspire readers to take on new projects in their own areas.

Overall, The Nation Guide to the Nation is a good introduction to left and progressive politics in the United States. From its exploration of art collectives to websites, the book lists a wealth of resources, a number of which are almost sure to be new to any reader who picks up the book regardless of how long they have been involved in leftist politics.

Richard Lingeman and the Editors of The Nation, The Nation Guide to the Nation, (Vintage, 2009).

How Many Earths Does Your Lifestyle Require?

For those of living in the global north–especially the United States–it’s no secret that we consume way more than we need. Moreover, much of this comes at the expense of others around the world.

A good way of exploring this idea is to take an “Ecological Footprint” quiz which will tell you roughly how many Earths would be needed if everyone in the world lived your lifestyle. For example, I live a pretty Spartan lifestyle–I don’t consume animal products, I try to grow as much of my own food as I can, I try to seriously limit my energy usage–yet if everyone in the world lived how I did, 1.86 worlds would be needed:


While that looks good by comparison with the averages for folks living in the United States, it’s still nowhere near being within the biological capacity of the Earth. Moreover, it’s another reminder that while I can take a lot of individual actions such as riding a bike or turning down my hot water heater–those actions can only go so far when we have an economic system that is based on the destruction of the Earth.

Headlines: Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks; Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in New York

Democracy Now Headlines: Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks; Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in New York

Headlines from, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Obama Releases Bush Torture Memos, Assures No Prosecutions for CIA Interrogators

The Obama administration has released four Bush administration memos that gave CIA interrogators the legal basis for torture at Guantanamo Bay and other foreign jails. The techniques described include waterboarding, holding prisoners in small dark boxes, bashing their heads against walls, subjecting them to insects, forced nudity, shackling and sleep deprivation. The memos also include extensive legal arguments as to why these tactics do not amount to torture under US and international law. In an accompanying statement, President Obama said CIA interrogators would not be prosecuted for following the memos’ guidelines. More on this story after headlines.

Gitmo Prisoner: “Life is Going to Hell”

Another Guantanamo Bay prisoner has come forward to back accounts of worsening torture since President Obama took office. In a letter to his attorney, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif said: “I have seen death so many times. Everything is over, life is going to hell in my situation. America, what has happened to you?” A Yemeni national, Abdul Latif has been imprisoned since 2001.

Study: Iraqi Women and Children Account for Most Victims of U.S. Air Strikes

A new study says the vast majority of identifiable Iraqi victims of U.S.-led air strikes have been women and children. According to the group Iraq Body Count, Iraqi women and children amounted to eighty-five percent of victims of known gender or age. The study covered a sample of more than 60,000 deaths over a five-year period since the 2003 invasion.

16 Killed in Suicide Attack on Iraqi Base

In other Iraq news, at least 16 people were killed in a suicide bombing on an Iraqi military base in Anbar province. Another fifty were wounded.

In Mexico, Obama Resists Call to Re-impose Assault Weapons Ban

President Obama visited Mexico on Thursday for the first time since taking office. Appearing with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Obama vowed U.S. cooperation in cracking down on drug cartels along the U.S.-Mexico border.

President Obama: “At a time when the Mexican government has so courageously taken on the drug cartels that have plagued both sides of the borders. It is absolutely critical that the United States joins as a full partner in dealing with this issue, both through initiatives like… but also on our side of the border in dealing with the flow of guns and cash south.”

Despite the talk of cooperation, Obama rejected Calderon’s key demand to push for re-imposing the Congressional assault weapons ban. Calderon says violence has significantly increased since the ban expired in 2004.

Mexicans Protest U.S. Immigration Raids, Deportations

As Obama arrived in Mexico City, hundreds of people rallied outside the U.S. Embassy to call for humane immigration reform in the United States. Leading the protest was Elvira Arellano, who was deported to Mexico in August 2007 following a year of refuge inside a Chicago church. Arellano called on Obama to impose a moratorium on immigration raids.

Elvira Arellano: “We are in solidarity with all those children who are living in fear of being deported together with their parents after raids. Raids continue to occur day after day at two, three or five in the morning. There are raids, deportations and we are asking President Obama to sign an executive order to stop raids and deportations.”

Cuba Renews Call for U.S. Talks

President Obama heads to the island of Trinidad today for the Summit of Americas. He’s expected to face calls to lift the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Appearing alongside visiting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Haitian President Rene Preval summed up the stance of most summit participants in calling for a lifting of the blockade.

Haitian President Rene Preval: “We have a wish, which is that of the United Nations. And that is that the embargo against Cuba be lifted so they can take part in this important dialogue. Cuba is a friend of Haiti’s.”

Cuba is not invited to the Americas summit. Speaking in Venezuela Thursday, Cuban President Raoul Castro repeated his call for direct talks with the United States.

3 Killed in Alleged Morales Assassination Plot

In Bolivia, three foreign nationals were killed and two arrested in what the Bolivian government called a thwarted assassination plot on President Evo Morales. Bolivian officials said a shootout broke out after police tried to arrest the suspects at a hotel in the Santa Cruz.

Russia Announces Formal End to Chechnya Operations

Russia has announced a formal end to military operations in Chechnya. On Thursday, the Russian government said it would remove the last of security restrictions that have been in place since its military invaded Chechnya ten years ago. Russia will still maintain a force of some 20,000 troops and police officers.

Israel Rejects Vague U.S. Calls for Peace Talks

The Israeli government is rebuffing mild U.S. calls for peace talks with Palestinians towards reaching a two-state settlement. On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Palestinians must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state” as a pre-condition for future talks. Palestinians have called the demand a non-starter because it would mean not just acknowledging but legitimizing Israel’s takeover of their land and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who used to live there. Netanyahu announced the demand after meeting U.S. envoy George Mitchell. Mitchell said the U.S. will insist on pursuing a two-state solution.

George Mitchell: “It is in the United State’s national interest that there will be a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, that should include settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution involving a Palestinian state living side by side alongside the Jewish state of Israel in peace, and hopefully stability and prosperity. We are going to do all we can for the rest of this visit and over the coming weeks and months to move towards that objective.”

Report: U.S. Will Impose Two-State Settlement

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronoth is reporting meanwhile the Obama administration is prepared to force the Israeli government to accept a two-state peace deal. An unidentified Jewish leader quoted White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as saying: “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister.” The Obama administration has yet to outline whether the two-state solution it favors would meet minimal Palestinian rights. Previous U.S.-backed proposals would have still left Israel in control of the large West Bank settlement blocs on Palestinian land.

Israel Rejects UN War Crimes Probe

The Israeli government has informed the UN it will refuse to cooperate with an investigation into whether it committed war crimes during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council named former international prosecutor Richard Goldstone to head the probe.

Israeli Air Strike Destroys Gaza Home

Meanwhile an Israeli air strike destroyed a home in the Gaza Strip on Thursday. It was the first Israeli air strike on Gaza in over a month.

Gazans, Journalists Mark 1-Year Anniversary of Israeli Killing of Cameraman, Youths

In other news from Gaza, journalists from around the world gathered in Gaza City to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Reuters camera operator Fadel Shana. The twenty-four-year-old Shana died on April 16, 2008 after an Israeli tank shelled his vehicle that was clearly marked “press.” Shana’s final piece of footage shows the tank firing a shell before his camera goes black. The attack also killed eight Palestinian youths aged between twelve and twenty years old. Reuters bureau chief Alastair Macdonald was among those to speak at Shana’s memorial.

Alastair Macdonald: “The grief and anguish that greeted the killing of Fadel last April the 16th at the age of just 24, was a mark not only of the affection in which he was held by his family and friends but of the reputation he enjoyed as an independent journalist determined through his work with Reuters to inform the wider world about life in a conflict here in the Gaza Strip.”

No member of the Israeli military has been prosecuted for the attack that killed Shana and the eight Palestinian youths.

Report: Somali Pirate to Be Tried in U.S.

CBS News is reporting the lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain last week will be brought to New York to face charges in a U.S. court. The pirate, 19-year-old Abdulwali Muse, surrendered before U.S. Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat.

Obama Announces New Transit Funding

Back in the United States, President Obama has announced a thirteen billion dollar plan to invest in a national mass-transit rail system. Obama unveiled the proposal shortly before leaving for Mexico.

President Obama: “There’s no reason why we can’t do this. This is America. There is no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper, and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system. And everybody stands to benefit.”

Eight billion dollars will come out of the federal stimulus package, while Obama says he will request another $5 billion over five years.

Court Rejects Troy Davis Appeal, Extends Stay of Execution

In Georgia, a federal appeals court has rejected an appeal seeking a new trial for the death row prisoner Troy Anthony Davis. Davis was convicted for the 1989 killing of a white police officer. Since the trial, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have recanted their testimony. There is no direct physical evidence tying Davis to the crime scene. And three witnesses claim another man later admitted to the killing. Despite rejecting Davis’ appeal Thursday, the court said it would extend Davis’ stay of execution pending a final appeal before the Supreme Court.

Paterson Introduces Gay Marriage Bill

In New York, Governor David Paterson has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. State Republicans defeated an identical bill in 2007, but today Democrats now also control New York’s state Senate.

Trial Begins for Anti-Transgendered Hate-Crime Murder

And in Colorado, a murder trial has opened that’s believed to be the first ever hate-crime case for the killing of a transgendered person. Allen Andrade is accused of murdering eighteen-year old Justin “Angie” Zapata after arranging a meeting online. The case has boosted calls for the inclusion of transgendered people in hate-crimes statutes on the state and federal level. Eleven states and the District of Columbia currently recognize transgendered people in hate crime laws.

Study: Media Coverage of Venezuela, Columbia Serving Washington’s Needs

Study by FAIR Finds Coverage Of Colombia and Venezuela Reflects US Foreign Policy Bias

A new study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) titled “Human Rights Coverage Serving Washington’s Needs” reviewing ten years of editorial coverage in the country’s four largest newspapers finds that the corporate media has largely saw to amplify the positions of the US government.

FAIR writes:

“Rather than independently and critically assessing the Colombian and Venezuelan records, major corporate newspaper editors, to one degree or another, have subordinated crucial human rights questions to what they see as the U.S.’s interests in the region.”

The newspapers have done this by focusing on Venezuela’s human rights record–a so-called enemy of the United States–and minimizing or ignoring human rights abuses by Colombia, an ally of the United States:

“What leads editors to discuss Colombia’s nightmarish human rights record with less alarm than Venezuela’s flawed but clearly superior record? The answer seems to lie in the relationship between the editors’ views and U.S. strategic thinking. Over the time frame of this study, U.S. officials have highlighted human rights concerns in Venezuela out of opposition to the populist policies of its President Hugo Chavez, which they see as threatening to U.S. interests. At the same time, officials have tried to diminish the gravity of Colombia’s human rights problems in order to sustain political support for a number of military, anti-drug and trade projects the U.S. shares with Colombia.”

Findings Similar to Study of Grand Rapids Press Coverage

In a 2007 study, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) found similar bias in the Grand Rapids Press’ coverage of Latin America. In an overview of its findings, GRIID wrote:

“The way that Cuba and Venezuela were reported on in this 6-month period is in line with the current US State Department’s position towards Cuba and Venezuela. Does this mean that the Associated Press does not act independently of US policy or did the Grand Rapids Press decide to run stories that were reflective of the government position?”

Coverage Reflects Chomsky’s Propaganda Model

The coverage also reflects the functioning of the propaganda model that Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman outlined in their influential book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. In a study by the North American Congress on Latin America, Kevin Young found that coverage of Venezuela and Colombia follows this model in reporting on the abuses of the Venezuelan government while ignoring those of Colombia. Young’s study looked at two issues–free speech and presidential term limits–and found that in both cases The New York Times and The Washington Post contained harsh criticisms of Venezuela but were either silent or supportive of Colombia, thereby reflecting US policy.

GRIID Offering Media & Propaganda Class

media and propaganda in the united states class

The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) is offering another one of its popular classes. This winter, GRIID will conduct the following class:

Media & Propaganda in the US

This new six-week GRIID class will examine the role of media and Propaganda in the US over the past 100 years. We will look at the origins and function of the public relations industry, the role of corporate media, a case study of government propaganda and news coverage of the US occupation of Iraq and the role that Hollywood and other popular media plays in government. We will also discuss ways to critically read/watch news and even have participants do a mini investigation of local and national media.

There are no books for this class, but we will be using some essays, articles, documentaries and news media for the class text. Classes will be Monday nights from 7-9pm at 1134 Wealthy SE, in the same building as the Bloom Collective.

Class cost is $20 and begins on Monday, January 26. For more information contact Jeff Smith or Mike Saunders

A People’s History of Poverty in America

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The newest addition to the “People’s History” series, this book follows the important work begun by Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States, by bringing to us the voices of those who have lived in poverty.

A People’s History of Poverty in America presents to readers the stories and experiences of numerous people who have been unemployed, underemployed, lived on welfare, charity and have been ignored by much of the doctrinal history written about the United States.

At times A People’s History of Poverty in America reads like a Charles Dickens novel, with gripping stories of how some people survived the harsh realities of poverty, while others were crushed under its weight. One thing that makes the stories so compelling is that the author presents numerous personal accounts in many of the chapters, often back to back, with comments from the 1880s and then the present day. Quiet often it is hard to distinguish which era the first person narrative is coming from, since many of the same realities have plagued people in poverty for the past two centuries in the US.

Other components of the book that are quite revealing are the attitudes by many whom have experienced poverty, particularly about charity and welfare. There seems to have been a great deal of contempt by those who have lived in poverty directed at people who have made charitable donations to the poor. The commentary by many people communicates the idea that people didn’t want charity and that often they were pressured to feel “grateful” to their benefactors.

The same message is conveyed in the stories of people who have received government welfare, where quite often welfare workers would not only look down on those receiving welfare, they would chastise people for not being “more responsible.” Many of the narratives also reflected a great shame in many people who received charity in some way and in many cases people denying it out of pride. Many of those who’s stories are told in A People’s History of Poverty in America often express a sense of not wanting handouts, but wanting a job, to work for their bread and shelter.

Another interesting component of the book was the contrast between those in poverty in the late 19th century or during the Great Depression era and those in poverty in more recent decades. The author notes that there seemed to be a stronger sense of community in the older almshouses and poorhouses as opposed to the shelters of today. People who stay in shelters today are generally not allowed to be there during the day, whereas in the past people could be there during the day, thus providing them with a greater sense of community.

This difference in how those who lived in poverty is reflected in how there seemed to be more sharing of resources and people looking out for each other. There also was a sense in reading the stories of people that they were constantly looking for ways to supplement their basic needs. People would share housing more often, provide free meals to strangers and people were willing to utilize the waste of society. A whole chapter is devoted to the stories of people who lived off of society’s waste, particularly by dumpster diving. Dumpster diving still exists in the US, but the population of those who engage in it now seems to be significantly different than those in previous generations.

If there are any shortcomings to this book, it would be in the area of how policy impacted poverty in the US. There is some information on laws that have been enacted over the years that punishes the poor and some analysis of the New Deal policies enacted by the FDR administration. One interesting observation made about the New Deal is how these policies impacted the South:

“…instead of the New Deal tearing down the apartheid regime and bringing more egalitarian provision of public aid, because of the South’s control over the Democratic Party and Congress itself, it shaped New Deal programs to serve the White planters’ interests.”

Where the book lacks in policy analysis it makes up for it with an excellent final chapter on how people in poverty have resisted. Entitled “Bread or Blood,” provides great stories of how people have fought against poverty from the food riots of 1775 to contemporary work of the grassroots group, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. In this final chapter of A People’s History of Poverty in America, there are stories of people running state welfare workers off their property, people organizing strikes, sit-ins, sleep-ins, marches, property destruction and examples of those in poverty taking over legislator offices. One example was a campaign by a welfare mother named Ruby Duncan, who was so disgusted with the government’s response to poverty that she organized other women with children to go into restaurants in Las Vegas, places frequented by casino tourists, order meals and then refuse to pay.

Like the other books in the People’s History series, this new book is a great addition in the tradition of providing the stories of people who have been left out of history books. A People’s History of Poverty in America is an important contribution for those who care about the rich history of struggle in the United States.

Stephen Pimpare , A People’s History of Poverty in America, (New Press, 2008).

Press Coverage of Israel’s Gaza Invasion Reflects Pro-Israel Bias of US Media

The Grand Rapids Press coverage of Israel’s invasion of Gaza is representative of the pro-Israel bias of the US media. Unlike the rest of the world where there are articles being published that are critical of the attack’s civilian toll and the disproportionate nature of the attack, the US media is largely repeating Israel’s claims and expressing support for the attack.

Over the past few days, Israel has been conducting a massive attack on Gaza. The attack–launched in retaliation for rocket strikes by Hamas according to the media narrative–has received relatively little attention in the local newspaper, The Grand Rapids Press. On the day after an attack that killed over 200 people (12/28/08), this is all The Grand Rapids Press contained:

“Israel faces Hamas attacks

JERUSALEM — Gaza ‘s deeply entrenched Hamas rulers won’t be easily toppled, even by Israel’s unprecedented bombings Saturday that killed more than 200 people, most of them men in Hamas uniform. For now, Israel’s defense minister is looking to deliver a blow to Hamas that will halt Islamic rocket attacks on Israel.”

Clearly, this brief mention is heavily biased towards the Israeli version of events. While words and phrases like “unprecedented,” “toppled,” and “deliver a blow” suggest that the assault is more aggressive than usual, there is relatively little to be learned from the piece about the scale of the attack.

A similarly short piece published two days before on December 26 also offered little information about the planned assault:

“Israel considers Gaza invasion

JERUSALEM — Israel moved closer to invading Gaza, saying Thursday it had wrapped up preparations for a broad offensive after Palestinian militants fired about 100 rockets and mortar shells across the border in two days. Israel’s foreign minister brushed off a call for restraint from Egypt’s president, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appealed to Gaza’s people to pressure their leaders to stop the barrages.”

Unfortunately, this one-sided reporting on Israel-Palestine is all too common in The Grand Rapids Press and the US media as a whole. In 2004, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) released a study titled “A Roadmap to Nowhere” that found that The Grand Rapids Press’ reporting tended to focus primarily on short “briefs” that focused on violence and described that violence largely in terms used by the Israeli government. For example, attacks on Palestinians were referred to as “targeted killings,” “regular demolitions,” “retaliation,” and “air strike.” Similarly, there was no coverage of the humanitarian plight faced by Palestinians.

In the wake of the most recent attacks, the US media has once again accepted the Israeli version of events. The US media has not delved into important questions about whether or not Israel overreacted in its attack, nor has their been much discussion of the historical context. Instead, US journalists such as David Gregory resign themselves to conducting deferential interviews with Israeli officials or simply repeating what Israel says. Outside of the US–and even in Israel itself–there is much more variety in reporting, with opinion pieces and news reports that are highly critical of Israel and the motivations for the attack.

Sadly, the reaction of the political class in the United States mirrors that of the media with politicians eagerly stepping up to express their support for Israel. While one should expect this from the Bush administration, Democrats have also been declaring their support. Obama, who has a record of speaking negatively towards Hamas, said through David Axlerod:

“Well, certainly, the president-elect recognizes the special relationship between United States and Israel. It’s an important bond, an important relationship. He’s going to honor it … And obviously, this situation has become even more complicated in the last couple of days and weeks. As Hamas began its shelling, Israel responded. But it’s something that he’s committed to.”

Just a few days earlier, Obama was quoted in Time Magazine praising the “progress” being made in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi issued a statement expressing similar pro-Israel sentiments:

“Peace between Israelis and Palestinians cannot result from daily barrages of rocket and mortar fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza. Hamas and its supporters must understand that Gaza cannot and will not be allowed to be a sanctuary for attacks on Israel.”

“The United States must continue to do all it can to promote peace in the region and a negotiated settlement to differences between Israelis and Palestinians. Humanitarian needs of all innocent civilians must also be addressed. But when Israel is attacked, the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally.”

If one wants to keep up on what is happening in Gaza, they are going to need to turn to media outside of the US. Some important sources are to keep an eye on are:

A People’s History of Sports in the United States

In the tradition of Howard Zinn’s popular “A People’s History of the United States,” Zirin’s “A People’s History of Sports in the United States” uncovers the secret history of radicalism in professional sports. Zirin shares a wealth of stories outlining how athletes have struggled for a better world, addressing issues such as race, class, and gender.

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There is an old argument in some left/progressive circles that sports are just another tool to keep us distracted from working for real change and that any time spent either playing or watching sports is a waste of time. Dave Zirin smashes that notion with his newest book, A People’s History of Sports in the United States: From Bull-Baiting to Barry Bonds… 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play.

What Zirin demonstrates in this book in that sports and politics have always been intertwined and that athletes have always been activists. People may be aware of the political stances that Muhammad Ali took during the Vietnam War, but Zirin illuminates a long tradition of sports activism starting in the mid-nineteenth century.

Baseball is the first sport that Zirin puts under his microscope. He talks about the origins of the game but frames it within the larger social context. When baseball became an official sport just after the Civil War, it had a familiar structure of owners and players. However, by the end of the nineteenth century when the country was confronted with a growing radical labor movement, Zirin points out that a guy by the name of Billy Voltz formed the first baseball players union, the national Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players. The union’s slogan was “Fire the boss!” So popular was the players union that they started their own league. The players union league resonated with so many people that players in the owners league jumped ship and joined the more egalitarian league.

When the political and economic elites of the country cracked down on the more radical elements in the labor movement, it impacted sports. Zirin points out that as a way to suppress the more radical elements in baseball, the league’s owners decided to create their own baseball commissioner, a guy by the name of Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Judge Landis was chosen because he demonstrated his loyalty to the ownership class by presiding over the legal actions against labor organizer Big Bill Haywood and about one hundred other Wobblies who were violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

In addition to class being a major catalyst in sports activism, race also played a significant role in radicalizing many athletes.

In the first part of the 20th century, African-Americans were denied the opportunity to play in the leagues of most of the professional sports. With the suppressed players league, the baseball owners decided that Blacks should not be allowed to participate in America’s pastime. Blacks were forced to form their own league known as the Negro League. However, some sports allowed Blacks to participate, particularly boxing. In 1908, Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight boxing champ, a feat that sent white supremacists through the roof. Concerned that Johnson’s status threatened their notion of white superiority, they coaxed a former white heavyweight champion out of retirement to challenge Johnson. The fight was billed as a contest against the races and all throughout the fight fans yelled “All Coons Look Alike to Me” or “Kill the nigger” and not one single Black person was in attendance. Johnson destroyed his white opponent and it set off a series of white riots throughout the country, sometimes resulting in the lynching of Blacks.

Throughout the book, Zirin offers insight and analysis of how sports was used as a catalyst for change not only in the area of class and race, but gender and sexual orientation. A People’s History of Sports in the United States investigates the courage of athletes like Martina Navratilova, Paul Robeson, Curt Flood, Jim Browm, Billy Jean King, the Rutgers Women’s basketball team, Curt Flood, Craig Hodges and the dozens of athletes who participated in the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) in the late 1960s.

The OPHR was immortalized by track and field stars Tommy Smith and John Carlos who raised their Black Power fists on the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. What most people do not know is that in addition to raising their fists, Carlos and Smith were also barefoot to symbolize poverty and wore beads around their necks to draw attention to the legacy of lynching in the US. However, the OPHR was not just about making symbolic gestures, they had a set of demands that hundreds of athletes signed on to. The demands included the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s boxing title, removing Avery Brundage (the Nazi sympathizer) as head of the US Olympic Committee, not allowing South Africa and Rhodesia to participate in the Olympics, a boycott the New York Athletic Club because of its discriminatory practices, and a call to hire more black coaches.

A People’s History of Sports in the United States is rich with these kinds of stories–stories that show how the courage of people to stand against injustice no matter how it is manifests itself. Dave Zirin has contributed a wonderful book that continues the tradition of historical work that began with Howard Zinn’s, A People’s History of the United States. Zirin’s book is a welcomed text for those wanting to discover more of the radical history of this country that those in power would rather we not know.

Dave Zirin, A People’s History of Sports in the United States: From Bull-Baiting to Barry Bonds… 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play, (New Press, 2008).

Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War

In Savage Mules, author Dennis Perrin provides a critical look at the Democratic Party and its support for a militarist foreign policy, despite its image to the contrary.

“We’re not inflicting pain on these fuckers. When people kill us, they should be killed in greater numbers. I believe in killing people who try to hurt you. And I can’t believe we’re being pushed around by these two-bit pricks.”

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This statement comes from former President Bill Clinton when referring to the United States’ invasion of Somalia in 1993 and is the opening paragraph in Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War–an excellent and timely book by Dennis Perrin.

Many people in liberal or progressive circles tend to equate the Democratic Party with an anti-war platform. Even the news media will often frame Democratic candidates as anti-war or political “doves.” However, Perrin’s basic thesis is that Democratic presidents have always endorsed war and are not “anti-war.” Savage Mules is not a scholarly book, but rather is a populist reading of the historical positions that Democratic presidents have taken in regards to war.

Starting with the founder of the Party, Andrew Jackson, the author presents an overview of every Democratic president and which wars they have started or continued. Jackson, of course, engaged in several brutal military campaigns against Native Americas, most notably the Trail of Tears. The Mexican-American War took place during James Polk’s rule of the White House and Woodrow Wilson not only got the US involved in World War I, but his administration invaded and occupied Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

FDR was a Democrat that went to war against Japan, Italy, and Germany and his Democratic successor Harry Truman not only dropped A-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but he prosecuted the war in Korea. JFK, the attractive, youthful president was the first president to send troops to Southeast Asia and after his assassination, the Democrat Lyndon Johnson escalated that war on the poor people of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Kennedy was also responsible for the initial creation of death squads throughout Latin America with his program, the Alliance for Progress.

Carter supported the Indonesian War against East Timor, backed the Shah of Iran, backed the military regime in South Korea, and backed the Afghan militia that provoked the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan. Clinton was by no means a pacifist, with his invasion of Somalia, the bombing of Kosovo, and the constant bombing of Iraq throughout the 1990s that accompanied brutal economic sanctions that led to the deaths of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children.

Recently, there has been much discussion about the failure of the Democratic controlled Congress to stop the ongoing US occupation of Iraq. However, for anyone that reads Savage Mules, it would come as no surprise that the US has not changed its position since the 2006 elections.

Perrin ends the book with a brief discussion on the idea of pragmatism, war, and the Obama campaign. It is the weakest chapter in the book and perhaps he would have been better off by ending with the Democrats’ continued backing of the war in Iraq, but beyond this chapter, the book is an important contribution to the discussion of partisan politics and war.

Dennis Perrin, Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War, (Verso, 2008).

Secret Plan to Keep Iraq under US Control Revealed is reprinting this article from The Independent because it ffers critical information both on how the United States is seeking to maintain its occupation of Iraq and how the United States seeks to deter democracy abroad. reover, its an important reminder that the United States’ occupation of Iraq will not be ended by either of the major party candidates for president. is reprinting this article by Patrick Cockburn of The Independent because it offers critical information both on how the United States is seeking to maintain its occupation of Iraq and how the United States seeks to deter democracy abroad. Moreover, its an important reminder that the United States’ occupation of Iraq will not be ended by either of the major party candidates for president.

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq – a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military “surge” began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty,” said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: “This is just a tactical subterfuge.” Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its “war on terror” in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called “strategic alliance” without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create “a permanent occupation”. He added: “The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.”

Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing.

The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.

Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.

The US is adamantly against the new security agreement being put to a referendum in Iraq, suspecting that it would be voted down. The influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to demonstrate every Friday against the impending agreement on the grounds that it compromises Iraqi independence.

The Iraqi government wants to delay the actual signing of the agreement but the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney has been trying to force it through. The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the accord.

The signature of a security agreement, and a parallel deal providing a legal basis for keeping US troops in Iraq, is unlikely to be accepted by most Iraqis. But the Kurds, who make up a fifth of the population, will probably favour a continuing American presence, as will Sunni Arab political leaders who want US forces to dilute the power of the Shia. The Sunni Arab community, which has broadly supported a guerrilla war against US occupation, is likely to be split.