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Tidbits - January 23, 2014

Reader Comments - ACTION NEEDED - Stop Iraq Executions; Voting Rights Act; Martin Luther King and Nonviolence; Our Postal Commons; De Blasio's Election; Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA; Tuition-Free Public College Education; New Orleans Teachers and Katrina; Announcements: Muste Institute 40th Anniversary concert; South Africa Today - Online Meeting; Book Talk-Red Apple: Communism and McCarthyism in Cold War New York; Vandenberg's Role in US Global Domination

Tidbits, Reader Comments, Shorts, Announcements - Jan. 23, 2014 ,Portside

ACTION NEEDED - URGENT: Iraq kills 38 prisoners in 2 days. Al-Qahtani may be next.

Stop the imminent execution of Abdullah al-Qahtani.

There has been a horrendous, sudden spike in executions in Iraq.

Sources indicate that Abdullah al-Qahtani is once again under imminent threat of execution.

Your immediate action could spare his life.

Abdullah is one of six men who were reportedly tortured into confessing to murder and terrorism. He was initially detained for immigration violations.

Abdullah's attorneys say they have compelling evidence of his innocence. He deserves to have his evidence heard by a court in a fair trial.

Last year, after four of his co-defendants were executed, Abdullah could have been executed at any time - but his life was spared.

The 60,000 letters sent by Amnesty activists like you likely kept him alive then. We need you to rise to Abdullah's defense once more.

38 prisoners have been put to death since Sunday. Many of their sentences were based on coerced confessions and grossly unfair trials. 12 of the executions were in secret.

The hangings come less than a week after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Iraqi authorities to put a moratorium on executions.

This week, Iraq's presidency's office ratified 200 cases of people sentenced to death, paving the way for their immediate execution - and we expect executions will continue.

Raise your voice with us now to prevent the execution of Abdullah al-Qahtani.

Please don't set this aside. Take action with us today.

In solidarity,

Samir Goswami
Managing Director, Individuals and Communities at Risk
Amnesty International USA

Re: New Fix for the Voting Rights Act

John Lewis and SNCC legacy

Today is MLK Day and we refuse to have our legacy used by the Tea Party to turn back the voting rights our comrades died for.  SNCC veterans, along with freedom fighters from all civil rights organizations, are concerned today that the ultra rightwing wants our Congressman John Lewis to walk backwards across the Edmond Pettus Bridge.

For many of us the litmus test this legislation is, does it make it easier or harder to vote?  We ask movement veterans to communicate our concerns to our Brother John Lewis whose authority and power stems directly from his immense courage and leadership in the voting rights struggle.

For movement veterans this is personal as well as political.  When our SNCC chairman, John Lewis, and scores of humble citizens of my home state of Alabama were bloodied on that bridge, progressives across the nation flew into action.  Dorothy Zellner was busy organizing the New England Friends of SNCC while I was a graduate student at Brandeis University.  Hundreds of protestors closed down the federal building in Boston on Monday morning following Bloody Sunday and I received the most severe beating of many during the last fifty years.  City police bludgeoned us in Boston while State Troopers clubbed and bull whipped women and children in Alabama.

We call upon all movement veterans and supporters to let Congressman John Lewis and his fellow sponsors know what we think.  Any amendment to the Voting Rights Act that exempts North Carolina's extreme roll back of voting rights is flawed.  We trust our brother not to risk his legacy and that of SNCC.

In struggle,

Bob Zellner
January 20, 2014
Martin Luther King Day

Re: When the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Gave Up His Guns

AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps is thrilled to announce our newest initiative, the AVODAH Fellowship. Learn more about this exciting opportunity for early career Jewish professionals working to alleviate poverty in the United States.

Want to change the world -- or know someone who does? Learn about AVODAH and how to spend the next year fighting poverty in one of our four cities around the country! Watch this video and find out more at

Marilyn Sneiderman, Executive Director
AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps

Re: Saving Our Postal Commons

(posted on Portside Labor)

It is not only the United States and Canada that have faced problems with privatization of their postal services. The same forces for privatization have affected New Zealand's postal service and others around the world. The same arguments have been made about market efficiency, and the same results of degraded service have occurred. I describe some of those effects in "Becoming the Good Employer - Lessons from New Zealand?"

The lockstep march toward privatization and degraded working conditions has occurred in the US and Commonwealth countries. It's worthwhile paying attention to learn what the next neo-liberal "reform" has in store for us.

Ellen Dannin

Lyndon Johnson and the War on Poverty:  A Personal Note

During the late 1960s, I joined with many college classmates in denouncing my fellow native Texan, Lyndon Johnson, chanting, "Hey, hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today."  Now almost fifty years later and after decades of history teaching, not to mention wading through Robert Caro's multi-volume of Johnson, I recognize that the historical record of the Johnson Presidency is more complex than simply focusing upon the Vietnam War, although I must confess that it is difficult for me still not to hold LBJ responsible for the death of high school and college classmates.  On the other hand, fifty years ago on January 8, 1964, Johnson in his State of the Union message called for a war on poverty which employed the federal government to improve the standard of living for myself and my parents.

It is popular today to describe the war on poverty as a failure for the poor are still among us.  Johnson himself must accept part of the blame for this failure.  It is not so much that the Texan was insecure in his concern for poor Americans for as a young man he was deeply scarred by his own family's decline in fortune. Those of us who have gone to bed hungry at night or who were embarrassed at school because we had few clean clothes, the sting of poverty never goes away.  But crediting Johnson with sincerity does not erase the fact that Johnson allowed his war on poverty to be overshadowed by the conflict in Vietnam.  In addition, perhaps war was an unfortunate choice of metaphor for Johnson's struggle to end poverty as the cycle of poverty established over generations will not quickly succumb to a frontal assault by government.  It takes sustained effort and funding to address the complexities of poverty.  The anti-poverty programs proposed by Johnson were never adequately funded by Congress, but the President must accept blame for this state of affairs as in order to avoid raising taxes the Great Society and anti-poverty policies were sacrificed on the altar of the Vietnam War which remains the crucible on which we must evaluate the Johnson Presidency.

Nevertheless, Johnson's efforts to address poverty did alleviate the economic deprivation suffered by my family.  My first real job was with the Neighborhood Youth Corps, based upon a New Deal program Johnson had once administered for Franklin Roosevelt.  I was employed digging graves in the local cemetery of a small West Texas farming community.  This also constituted my first real experience with blacks living in the community as in the mid-1960s the public schools remained segregated.  As for eating, the family did a little better as we transcended from the commodity surplus program in Texas, which offered rather unhealthy items such as large tubs of lard, to the national food stamp program.  And the student loan program made it possible for me to escape poverty and assume a teaching career.

My father had a much more difficult time.  He had dropped out of school during the Great Depression to seek work, but with only a grade school education, his job options were limited to hard, physical labor.  He found a job with the railroad, but after suffering a massive coronary in 1968 my father was disabled for the last fifteen years of his life.  The considerable medical expenses my family accumulated would have put us out on the street without the aid of programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare; in addition to some benefits accrued from Railroad Retirement and indicative of the power organized labor has to aid poor workers.  My mother survived the death of my father by almost thirty years, and the dignity of her final days was comforted by Social Security and Medicare.  I am appreciative that an expansion of Social Security and Medicare benefits advanced by Johnson made her life and illness a little less stressful.

Perhaps it is not possible to eradicate poverty, but a reaffirmation of the principles advocated by Johnson would be a step toward improving economic opportunity, addressing economic inequality, and providing a decent foundation for all Americans.  A high lottery number allowed me to avoid Johnson's war in Southeast Asia, but his economic programs provided the impetus for a middle-class life, while both the lives and deaths of my parents were more secure and dignified than those of my grandparents.  For that I owe a degree of gratitude to Lyndon Johnson who believed that the promise of American life could be fostered by government programs addressing poverty and economic inequality.  On the other hand, I wish that those who perished in Vietnam under the Johnson Presidency might have enjoyed my opportunities.

Ron Briley
History Teacher

Re: De Blasio's Election in Historical Perspective

In his article on de Blasio/Henry George, Steve Fraser refers to the city council president, a position that has not existed in 24 years. He is referring to the speaker of the City Council. It would be good if he mentioned her by name, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and that she was an organizer for 1199 SEIU, New York's largest private sector union. 1199, along with the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY endorsed and mobilized for de Blasio before the Democratic primary.

Steven Levine

Re: Book Review: Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA

Thought the review was a good critique of a new book on socialism. Despite its weaknesses, Imagine is a useful contribution to an ongoing discussion of how we might create a socialist society that does not resemble or repeat that which we have already seen.

I appreciate the reviewer's criticisms on how a socialist economy might work and be organized. Also, the reviewer's observation, that many of the authors in a book about a socialist future devote the bulk of their contribution to a condemnation of capitalism - which MUST be condemned. But, this is not per se what socialism would be like, just that it would not be like we have in present day capitalism.

Despite these criticisms, the book reflects the times we are living in. A major publisher, HarperCollins, is putting out a book on Socialism. This should tell all of us that a discussion on the future of socialism, is in fact something that is on the minds of millions. This is the meaning of the mass slogans attacking the 1%, and those held at rallies saying "Capitalism Doesn't Work."

Jay Schaffner

Salon reprinted Fred Jerome's media chapter:
Let's nationalize Fox News: Imagining a very different media Bye, Rush! If corporate media disappeared, and the people had their voices heard, here's what it might look like

This has drawn a lot of negative attention from far-right sites. One suggested that these ideas " will no doubt make their way onto Barack Hussein Obama's teleprompter," and others froth that it would "let unions decide what's news." On a happier note, called it "a fascinating piece."

And we're the cover story in the Indypendent .

The Feminist Wire reprinted Mumia Abu-Jamal & Angela Davis's chapter.

Steve Wishnia comments to the authors
(submitted to Portside by one of the authors)

Re: Tuition-Free Public College Education Is Possible. Demand It.

Thanks. I have seen the studies on which this is based.

William Tabb

Re: Louisiana Court Rules That 7,000 Teachers Were Wrongfully Terminated

I was puzzled by Diane Ravitch's piece on the victory of the 7,000 teachers in New Orleans. I know that she purports to be an expert on education, but I hadn't read any of her work until this piece was picked up by Portside.

It was poor reporting to say the least. First, she used a lengthy quotation without indicating where it was from. Then she says the following in re Arne Duncan, who heads the government's Department of Education (I'm placing quote marks around it):

"Didn1t Arne Duncan say that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to the schools of New Orleans? Didn't he celebrate the abrupt firing of all these teachers and their replacement by TFA? Well, yes."

This appeared to be so crass a thing for Duncan to have said that I went to his actual comment, which was aired by Roland Martin at the end of January in 2010:

Duncan: I've spent a lot of time in New Orleans and this is a tough thing to say but I'm going to be really honest. The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable. They have a chance to create a phenomenal school district. Long way to go, but that city was not serious about its education. Those children were being desperately underserved prior. And the amount of progress and the amount of reform we're seeing in a short amount of time has been absolutely amazing. I have so much respect for the adults, the teachers, the principals that are working hard. I've spent a lot of time talking to students at John Mack high school there. Many who had missed school for six months, eight months, 13 months after the Hurricane and still came back to get an education. Children in our country, they want to learn. They're resilient. They're tough. We have to meet them half-way. We have to give them opportunity. And New Orleans is doing a phenomenal job of getting that system to an entirely different level.

End of Duncan's comment. Using statements out of context is the bane of good journalism.

And please, Ms. Ravitch, tell me where is Duncan's "celebration" of the firing of 7,000 teachers? And what is the TFA?

Seymour Joseph

Re: Labor Takes Historic Stride Forward as Walmart Joins Fair Food Program
(posted on Portside Labor)

Shared. Thanks portside.

Peggy Powell Dobbins
Posted on Portside's Facebook page

This Sunday Jan. 26, at 6pm: Muste Institute 40th Anniversary benefit concert

The A.J. Muste Memorial Institute invites you to our 40th Anniversary Kick-off Benefit Concert!

Sunday, January 26, 2014
6:00pm - 9:30pm

At Sixth Street Community Center
638 East 6th Street
New York, NY 10009
(between Aves B & C, F train to 2nd Ave)

Join us for an evening of radical folk music celebrating 40 years of grassroots funding for nonviolent social change, featuring:

$15 to $30 at the door, suggested donation. More if you choose, less if you can't, no one will be turned away.

We look forward to seeing you there!

RSVP on Facebook or via email to
Can't make the benefit? Donate now to honor our 40th Anniversary
Help us spread the word! Post the event link from our website
Download the event flier here.

A.J. Muste Memorial Institute
339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012
phone 212-533-4335 - fax 212-228-6193
email - website

South Africa Today - Online Meeting - Jan. 27

Discussion: South Africa Today
Monday, January 27th 9pm ET, 8pm CT, 7pm MT, 6pm PT

There has been much talk in the media about the contribution of Nelson Mandela to the struggle that led to the collapse of the racist system of apartheid in South Africa. However, little attention has been given to understanding the changes in South African economic and political life since the first free election that brought Nelson Mandela to office in 1994.  Twenty years after the election of Nelson Mandela, South Africa prepares for another election. Presentations and discussion will include assessments of the South African economic and political experience since 1994; the role of the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party,  the Coalition of South African Trade Unions and grassroots campaigns in today's context; and the implications these hold for international solidarity. Watch this interview with Ronnie Kasrils on Democracy Now

Presentations will be made by two experienced activists in South Africa and the international solidarity movement, Marilyn Albert and Bill Fletcher, and discussion will follow.

  • Marilyn Albert, founding member of CCDS, is a trade unionist who spent almost a year in the mid-90s working with the COSATU health care union, NEHAWU .
  • Bill Fletcher is a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and is former President of Transafrica Forum.

To join this discussion:

1. Go to
2. If requested, enter your name and email address.
3. If a password is required, enter the meeting password: JAN123
4. Click "Join".

To view in other time zones or languages, please click the link

To join the audio conference only

Call-in toll number (US/Canada): 1-650-479-3208
Access code:805 859 187

For Peace and Justice,
Janet Tucker,
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)

Sign up for weekly newsletter, CCDS Links.
Order Dialog and Initiative 2013
Online University of the Left

Book Talk - Red Apple: Communism and McCarthyism in Cold War New York - New York - Jan. 30, 2014

Thursday, January 30, 6pm: Philip Deery (Victoria University, Australia) will discuss his new book "Red Apple: Communism and McCarthyism in Cold War New York," which explores the international and domestic context for the persecution and imprisonment of selected victims of McCarthyism, including Dr. Edward Barsky, in charge of the medical service of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, who was imprisoned along with 10 leaders of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (which rendered aid to Spanish refugees).  

Ellen Schrecker, author of "Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America," will comment.

Thursday, January 30, 6pm
Tamiment Library on the New York University campus
70 Washington Square South, 10th Floor
(West 4th Street between LaGuardia and Greene Streets)
New York, NY 10012

Tel: 212-998-2630
For more information contact:

Vandenberg's Role in US Global Domination - Implications of US "Pivot" into the Asia-Pacific - Mar. 14 - 16

22nd Annual Space Organizing Conference

March 14-16, 2014
Santa Barbara, California

for more information contact:
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 443-9502  (blog)

Today in History - January 23, 1973 - Paris Peace Agreement signed

On January 27, 1973 the Paris Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Viet Nam (Paris Agreement) was signed. Chapter I, Article 1 of the Paris Agreement says: "The United States respects the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Viet-Nam as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Viet-Nam."

The Paris Peace Agreement led to the disengagement of U.S. ground forces in Vietnam. The end of the war in Vietnam would come later - in April 1975.

Last year Vietnam celebrated the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement. For more information read "Unity and Independence: Vietnam Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Paris Agreement" by Jerry Elmer, who was in Hanoi last year for the celebrations.

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