April 30, 2007

A May Day Treat

As blogged below, the action tomorrow, in the U.S. anyhow, is going to be the continuing battle of immigrant workers. While you're waiting (I hope) to take part, here are a poster and a photo from earlier May Days to get your blood pumping.

They are courtesy of Izquerdia PuntoInfo, the online daily of an Argentinian Trotskyist outfit whose staff has assembled a eclectic, heartening and non-sectarian collection of May Day posters and photos here.

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A May Day Surprise?

Tomorrow is May Day, the international working class holiday. Last year this global celebration saw its most important observation in the United States since the 19th century. Millions of immigrant workers left their jobs, closing down tens of thousands of workplaces, joined by students who left empty schools across the country. May Day, 2006 was part of the great levantimiento of last spring. The outpouring of immigrant workers demanding justice and recognition totally blindsided the US ruling class and the mainstream media.

I rather expect that's going to happen all over again tomorrow. My friend John, who works as a building contractor in Wisconsin, wrote me last week:

I just had a contractor call me and tell me he would not be working May 1 on one of my jobs-- because he was joining the walkout that day. (It was a hesitant..."I don't know if you're aware of the walkout that day...")

I told him I was, and was planning to be there, too.

What are you hearing?

[crossposted at DailyKos, where there are a couple interesting comments about Arizona]

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April 28, 2007

Mo' Music

Since I managed to figure out how to mount YouTube cuts here earlier this month, I admit the music videos I've slapped up have mainly been a bit offbeat--grumpy Finns, first wave Indonesian rockabilly aces, British seniors doing "My Generation." Well, I'm not ready to go mainstream yet.

Here's my current addiction, "Thou Shalt Always Kill" by Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip. It's been knocking around as an audio cut for a while, but the video is great. I'm momentarily of the opinion that it's even better than Prince Buster's early ska "Ten Commandments (From Man To Woman)" and the answer song by Princess Buster, but time will tell.

Whaddaya think?

{h/t Patrick Rex at FDL]

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April 27, 2007

Is Fascism On The Way?

There's a reasonably good chance you have already come across the article that triggered this diary, "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps" by Naomi Wolf. The sucker is all over the left and liberal Internet. In the three days since it was published in the British paper, The Guardian, its Google hits have pyramided to well over 200,000. I found it in my inbox from 3 or 4 different sources by Wednesday, the second day it was out.

The original can be read here. A shorter Wolf is simple enough to produce. She demonstrates how the Bush administration is following what she identifies as a time-tested, 10 step plan to install fascism. The steps are:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

According to Wolf, the steps have been taken and the danger is imminent, and it is recognized only by a handful of civil libertarians.

For aging movement veterans like me, who have since the '60s seen the revolutionary left identify the onset of fascism at least as often as the start of the next Great Depression, the tendency may be to say ho-hum. For serious feminists, Wolf's credentials as a thinker may appear questionable. For younger radicals subjected to some groups' vociferous alarums about "Christian fascism," this may seem another diversion from the tasks at hand.

But it is a dangerous error to assume that because things have been going a certain way for a long time, that they will continue in the same direction. It is the interest with which this article has been greeted as much as its content that makes it worth thinking about.

So, dear reader, howzabout a couple quick answers if you've the time.
Is Wolf's piece (or other warnings of imminent fascism) getting play among people you work or hang with, and why?
If you had to respond in a couple of sentences, what would you say?
What questions does her argument raise for you?

[This was posted yesterday on an old school (technically speaking) email list, and so many interesting comments came in that it seemed a worthwhile experiment to open it up in the easier to discuss and debate format of a blog. With the permission of the writers, I will be posting each of the responses as a separate comment below.]

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Take Five: Tom Morello's Favorite Revolutionary Songs

[Take Five. Every Friday, at least in theory, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

Well, I do call it Take Five, but I wasn't actually planning the "Take" to signify outright larceny. This list by Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave fame, now recording solo as The Nightwatchman) of his five favorite political tunes comes from a worthy general music site called Spinner with the usual combination of news, free downloads and kicky features. One of the latter is called Count Five (which, speaking of larceny, seems to have been inaugurated this month, considerably after Take Five).


1. 'Biko,' Peter Gabriel: I think this might be the greatest song of all time. 'Biko,' which concerns the martyrdom of Steven Biko, who was killed in a South African jail by security forces, is about a specific instance. But it has a timeless quality where hope and anger collide, and how the death of this great man could be the spark to overthrowing that racist regime. That's quite a thing to capture in three and a half minutes of music.

2. 'Imagine,' John Lennon: It's a song couched in such a beautiful melody that people don't realize it's about anarchist revolution. It's a song that, woven into the lyrics, has the hope for a just world of peace and harmony. But implied in the lyrics is that it will take a complete overthrowing of the status quo to get that -- and Lennon spoke of that in some of his writing. That song was often misunderstood.

3. 'This Land Is Your Land,' Woody Guthrie: Another great misunderstood anthem of protest, it's probably the most subversive song ever written. And it is no accident that when you learn the song in third grade they leave out the three class-war verses that make the chorus of that song resonate so true. The song was written as an answer to Irving Berlin's 'God Bless America,' which Guthrie thought was sticky-sweet patriotism and missed the point of what this country should be about.

4. 'White Riot,' The Clash: There are a number of Clash songs I could name, but 'White Riot' was probably the kickoff. There's a stanza I wrote on my refrigerator, and I used to look at it to gut-check myself every day. It was, "Are you taking over, or are you taking orders?/Are you going backwards, or are you going forwards?" The Clash and Joe Strummer -- heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics combined with such ferocity and unapologetic truth that it really felt like anything was possible in music and on the streets.

5. 'Redemption Song,' Bob Marley: Marley would have been a hero to billions whether he was Irish or Jamaican or Japanese. But he happened to be from Jamaica, so reggae music was the conduit for his genius. Yet there is no musical artist in the history of the world who is as important globally as Bob Marley. From frat parties at Stanford to teens in Kenya, 'Redemption Song' is sung, and it is certainly the spiritual content of the lyrics, the uplifting message and ... whatever that guy was channeling it's just true, and it's just beautiful. That guy is number one, and his number-one jam is 'Redemption Song.'

Okay, friends, name your top five!

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April 24, 2007

Check Out The Erase Racism Blog Carnival!

Last week I blogged here about the Erase Racism Blog Carnival. Blog Carnivals are an impressive development in blogospheric self-organization, wherein once a month a host blog (generally a role rotated among a number of blogs) collects submissions from other blogs of recent diaries on a given topic and curates and posts a whole set, which can be categorized, excerpted, commented on and, of course, linked.

The one I got turned on to was the Erase Racism Carnival which examines white supremacy and white privilege in our society. A couple of days ago the April edition came out, hosted by the two bloggers who run the aptly named Double Consciousness blog.

I want to recommend that anybody interested in issues of white supremacy and white privilege give this month's Carnival a run-by. (Full disclosure: they were kind enough to link to a post on "sundown towns" I had at FotM and DailyKos.) The categories Jack and Carlo used will give you the flava: Fighting Oppression Within the Movement; Racism, The Subtle Everyday Occurrence; and Whiteness and Other Issues.

One of the most fascinating things for me, as one who has been dealing with these issues since the days of the Civil Right Movement, is how many young folks, people of color and the melanin-deficient alike, are thinking and writing about this stuff, some on blogs dedicated entirely to the issue. What's more, some are activists and some don't seem to be deeply involved in social movements at all. I'm not going to single any out, but encourage folks reading this to really give the whole thing a once-over.

Among the intellectual stimulation and first hand accounts there was some trenchant social criticism, too, and some first rate snark. Without the Erase Racism Carnival, I doubt I ever would have found MADtv's take on the recent boom in feel-good movies starring the likes of Hilary Swank and Michelle Pfeiffer, which propound the thesis that the cure to the problems of kids in inner-city schools is to be found in the form of a Nice White Lady.

And before signing off, the obligatory plug for the great new book, The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism. Get it and read it!

[crossposted at DailyKos.]

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April 23, 2007

This Is A Goddamn Outrage!

Workers and all oppressed people, rise up and defend chocolate from an insidious new attack by the big bourgeoisie!!

(And if you have a narrow approach--"Chocolate gave me zits in high school, and nobody would go to the prom with me so I haven't eaten it since"--be warned that many other foods will be adulterated, or further adulterated, under this attack.)

Let's get the ritual stipulations out of the way here first. Capitalism sucks. The regulatory agencies of the capitalist state aren't here to defend the masses. Their main functions are to 1) adjudicate disputes between various capitals, and 2) to make sure they have a workforce healthy enough to keep cranking out surplus value and numerous enough to keep labor costs down. Republican administrations, especially this one, are more naked and more venal in promoting the interests of big capital, but the Dems are different only in degree, etc., etc...

But I find this news story eyepoppingly outrageous. The banner has been taken up by Cybele May, who reviews candy here (I love the blogosphere) and whose op-ed piece on the subject has been carried by the LA Times, Newsday and other MSM outfits. In short, the Food and Drug Administration is

entertaining a "citizen's petition" to allow manufacturers to substitute vegetable fats and oils for cocoa butter.

The "citizens" who created this "petition" represent groups that would benefit most from this degradation of the current standards. They are the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Snack Food Assn. and...other food producing associations.

Let's unpack what these "citizens" are after. Their "petition" calls for the FDA to "Adopt Regulations of General Applicability to all Food Standards that would Permit, within Stated Boundaries, Deviations from the Requirements of the Individual Food Standards of Identity." In other words, to make it easier to ignore regulations and, among other crimes, allow the substitution of new ingredients for the ones traditionally used in a food and keep the food's name the same.

In the case at hand, big candy makers don't like paying for the cocoa butter in the goodies they manufacture, because it costs four times as much as other vegetable fats. Now, not only is cocoa butter a natural product of the cacao bean, the source of all chocolate, but as Wikipedia points out:

Cocoa butter is one of the ingredients used to make real chocolate. It has a melting point of around 34 to 38 degrees Celsius (93 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit), rendering chocolate a solid at room temperature that readily melts once inside the mouth.

Cocoa butter is one of the most stable fats known, containing natural antioxidants that prevent rancidity and give it a storage life of two to five years.

Big Choco want to replace this tasty and nutritional substance with whatever greasy transfat they can find cheap, and they want to call the resulting horror Chocolate.

I imagine that there is an anarcho or ultra-left take on this which might contend that chocolate is a drug that the proletariat uses to self-medicate and make bearable the suffering and meaninglessness of late capitalism or, contrariwise, argue that if chocolate is debased by the plutocracy, the masses will be stirred to revolt. I say, reject this "the worse, the better" thinking and hammer out an email to the FDA using this form.

And do it now! The public comment period ends April 25!

Remember, after all, that what they can do to chocolate today, they can do to beer tomorrow.

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April 20, 2007

Take Five--My Generation and 1965

[Take Five. Every Friday, at least in theory, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

The biggest video on YouTube this week is a version of the Who's classic song "My Generation," done by a bunch of elderly people in Britain. The group, recording as The Zimmers, are subjects in a forthcoming several-show documentary about how hard it is to get old under late capitalism.

I found incredibly--I was going to say moving, but I think disorienting is more apt. I still haven't figured out all the ways it hits me, but I hope that others reading this, both of my era and from other generational cohorts, will jot down a sentence or two in the comments section about how it strikes you.

Part of the sense of dislocation comes from the fact that "My Generation" was one of a series of remarkable songs that erupted from the radio in 1965, generational declarations of alenation, or independence, or perhaps even war. These songs made explicit for the first time some of what was latent in the drive and chaos and longing of rock and roll in the first place.


Consider that 1965, one single year, gave us:

"My Generation" The Who. As Keith Moon's drums banged and clattered loudly in the foreground, Pete Townsend was so overcome by his anger at the contempt of the larger society and so determined to have his say that he was reduced to stuttering, as he snarled, "Hope I die before I get old."

"We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" The Animals. This one beats out "It's My Life" by a nose, mostly because it became the theme song for the grunts in Vietnam. Both were written by New Yorkers in the tiny hit factories of the Brill Building and purchased by producer Mickey Most for The Animals, and the anger that was written into both was underlined and amplified by the working class kids from the North of England who made up the band.

"Eve Of Destruction" Barry McGuire. Even when I was fifteen this was a guilty pleasure. It is a protest song, I guess, but it protested everything author P.F. Sloan could think of, indiscriminately. And the real anger and fear about the state of the world that roared through it couldn't quite redeem lines like, "Yeah, my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin.'" Still the sucker went to number one, the first non-wimpy protest song to do so.

"Like A Rolling Stone" Bob Dylan.
Ol'Bob himself had already moved well past protest songs in the traditional sense, but this talked about how it felt to be young in that amazing time in a way that won him a far wider audience than he had had up until then.

"Satisfaction" The Rolling Stones. Saving the best for last.

There was more going on in 1965. Greasers in the US and rockers in the UK fought losing rearguard actions to defend rockabilly and doowop. James Brown's musical revolution announced itself in "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" and the Black Liberation Movement pushed onto the charts in Sam Cooke's posthumoous "A Change Is Going To Come" and The Impressions "People Get Ready." New forms arose and old ones were revamped.

Most of all, though, I would argue that 1965 was about that eruption of baby-boomer anger and confusion and alienation, an eruption which redefined what the early rock and roll era had been about and pointed out where we were headed.

So, what do you think of the Zimmers?

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April 16, 2007

The Rose And The Thorns

Boy, there's an awful lot of good thoughtful people out there in the blogosphere critiquing the system of white supremacy and white privilege. A recent click-by run at the esteemed Yolanda Carrington's The Primary Contradiction steered me to a site called Double Consciousness. These folks who run it are, some time in the next couple of days, hosting something I (clueless newby that I am) learn is called a blog carnival.

The idea is that every month a new blog owner volunteers to take on the task of assembling (and curating) a set of recent posts around a particular theme or topic volunteered by the original bloggers. In the case of the Erase Racism Carnival, the posts deal exactly with white supremacy and white privilege. So once a month, around the 20th in this case, the great all-enveloping swamp of the blogosphere opens out onto a clearing, a patch of higher ground where bloggers of various nationalities, political views, class backgrounds, ages and so on have laid out their recent thinking on these crucial matters.

I like the idea, a "socialist new thing" in terms of the self-organization of the blogosphere and the archived month or two of the Erase Racism Carnival I've had a chance to peruse include some fascinating material. I kicked in a couple of recent pieces from FotM and am waiting to see if I make the cut. Will this supplant forms like the Day of Blogging Against White Supremacy kicked off earlier this year by Nelson Hawkins at Pottawatomie Creek? I don't see that it necessarily should, but time will tell in this rapidly evolving intellectual/social space...

When I went back to Double Consciousness today, they had a new post which tended, as the time-honored folk saying hath it, to harsh my mellow. It is a video, not a music video, just a little slice of everyday life in which a young Mexican sister gives us, close up and live, an unsolicited testimonial to the power of white supremacist and heteronormative hegemony in this society. I could write pages about this clip, but instead, I will just kick it to you, dear reader (with a hat tip to Carlo Montemayor at Double Consciousness).

Whew, hunh?

In a forthcoming post I hope to look at another good news/bad news scenario around white privilege, this one related to the invaluable new book, The Cost of Privilege.

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April 15, 2007

How The Dutch Learned To Rock And Roll (Without Any Black People To Speak Of)

This nifty little video is the Tielman Bothers, shot in 1960, and it's a classic of a too-little known genre called Indo-Rock. I urge you to watch the whole thing, a first rate rockabilly raveup.

To really appreciate it, a little historical background is helpful. Indonesia won independence from the Netherlands in 1948, as Europe's colonial empires began to crumble. A bunch of Indonesians stayed in or chose to move to the Netherlands, despite the racism they faced.

Something funny happened when US rock and roll hit Europe in the mid-50s. There were precious few Black people in the Netherlands, and even fewer whites from the rural South of the US. Who, then, was going to make this exotic new music?

Answer: exotic young Indonesians and kids of mixed marriages. They stood out, tending to have slighter builds and darker features and hair than the chunky blond Dutch. And they came from an eclectic musical culture. Portuguese colonialists had introduced the guitar in the early 1500s and it became the main instrument centuries before it did in, say, the US. This "traditional" music, Krontjang, meant that Indonesians had been readily able to incorporate elements of country and Hawai'ian music they heard on American radio stations based in the Philippines and Australia.

Starting in 1957 with The (Real) Room Rockers, Indo-Rock groups blossomed all over the country, shaking up Dutch youth to their core. They specialized in guitar instrumentals, like the Ventures in the US and the Shadows in Britain, and were more likely to sing in English or Indonesian than Dutch. Many of them made their living playing across the border in German bars (where the hunger for rock was great and people of color were so scarce that Liverpool bands like the Silver Beatles also found it easier to make a living than on their home turf).

The Tielman Brothers, who became the best known of them all, didn't even leave the Indonesia, where they played as The Timor Rhythm Brothers, until 1957, and hit it big the next year with a fill-in gig at the "Hawai'ian Village" section of the Dutch Pavilion of the Brussels World Fair. Can you imagine the good burghers and their families leaving the grass huts of the "African Village" section of the Belgian Congo pavilion, falling by the "Hawai'an Village" and catching this?

One final note. All those reggae stars with the adopted mobster names and the gangsta rap types like Irv Gotti are just Vinny-come-latelies. Indo-Rock outfit The Alcapona's were recording in Gouda (one of them later went on to the Cheese Town Jewels--ya gotta love it) in 1960!

[Above, the Alcapona's, circa 1966.]

Meanwhile, am I alone in thinking it weird that the only way that live rock & roll could break through in the Netherlands was when performed by people of color, even ones who had nothing culturally to do with its roots?

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April 14, 2007

A Brzezinski Gem For Your Study Group

Here's a goodie for your next study group on imperialism:

"To put it in a terminology that harkens back to a more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together."
That's Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State and general US foreign policy bigshot for the last four decades. He first said it in his 2004 Global Chessboard, but he's so fond of it that he quotes himself with evident delight in his brand new Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower.

He does so, incidentally, to rip Bush 43 for having made a complete goatfuck out of US foreign policy. The book itself is a critique of W and Clinton and Bush 41 (all three of whom Zbig is much smarter than, as he takes pains to let us know). More importantly it is intended as a salvo in a debate about what global strategy the US imperialists should adopt to replace W's hopelessly fantasist and completely failed National Security Strategy of the United States of America.

Please kick in any observations you might have on this developing debate in the ruling class in the comments section below.

h/t Rust

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April 8, 2007

Phil Ochs, RIP

31 years ago tomorrow (aiyah! 31 years) Phil Ochs took his own life. Anybody who was a part of the great upsurge of the '60s can't help but feel a pang when his songs are played. There are some YouTube versions of "I Ain't A-Marchin' Anymore" that feature a younger Phil, circa 1965, but I like this anthem better.

That's not to say it's not problematic. It's essentially Phil's bid to write a "This Land Is Your Land." As such, it raises interesting and troubling questions about how revolutionaries look at the US and American culture. As you leap to its defense, consider that it was recorded by fucking Anita Bryant, the chirpy Christian gay baiter from the '70s (since, I am pleased to say, fallen on hard times).

Phil may be 31 years gone (sorry to keep repeating that, it's like a sore tooth I can't help touching with my tongue), but his legacy has been kept alive by younger musicians right up to the present day. Here to demonstrate his reach is a Spanish version, recorded last year by Transportes Hernández y Sanjurjo, of "Love Me, I'm A Liberal."

What's your favorite Phil Ochs tune? Your favorite Phil Ochs cover by someone else?

To comment or to view comments, go to the post immediately below this one. A crude hack. Sorry.

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April 7, 2007

Phil Ochs Comments [See Post Above]

It turns out that posting a YouTube video, as opposed to just a link, inside one of these blog entries disabled the damn comments feature. I am far from being able to resolve such an issue technically myself, and disinclined to make one of my techie friends leap through hoops around this, so in response to some gripes from folks who wanted to comment on the Phil Ochs piece from last weekend, here's a workaround.

Just post your comments under this one. Simple, hunh...?

And to answer my own questions:

favorite Ochs tune--"Draft Dodger Rag"

favorite Ochs cover--"Cross My Heart" by Jim & Jean
(bonus question: What did Ochs have to do with this recording of his tune?)


G. Frohman has pointed out, in a comment below, the respect with which They Might Be Giants regard Phil Ochs, I thought it only fitting to pop in the video of their version of Phil's "One More Parade."

Hey, G., I know it's only a cover, but nobody remembers the original anyhow...

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April 2, 2007

Mumia: One Hearing Away From Execution...Or A New Trial

[In recent years, the struggle to free unjustly imprisoned revolutionary Black journalist Mumia Abu Jamal has faded from consciousness, even on the left. This is a Bad Thing. Now his case comes before the Appeals Court on May 17 and we have precious little time to mobilize to publicize it and try and affect the outcome.

Please read this article by photojournalist Hans Bennett and spread it widely. Send it to email lists you are on, post on blogs you run or take part in, etc.]

On May 17, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case of internationally renowned black death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. The court will consider four different issues that it has already certified for appeal. It will then decide to either grant a new trial, affirm the life sentence, or re-instate the death sentence.

Immediately after this date was announced last week, supporters of Abu-Jamal around the world began mobilizing to support Abu-Jamal at the hearings. Explaining the urgency, Pam Africa (coordinator of Abu-Jamal's support network) says that "Mumia can still be executed. Further, since the Supreme Court is unlikely to hear Mumia's case, this is realistically his last chance to get a new trial. As the history of his case shows, we need public pressure to ensure the court's fairness."

"We're asking people to come to Philadelphia and show that the whole world is watching these oral arguments," said Africa. "I believe Mumia is innocent and am personally calling for his immediate release," Africa said. "However, I'll work with anyone supporting a fair trial. By demanding a new trial, we can work with those who know the trial was rotten but are unsure of Mumia's innocence."

Abu-Jamal's attorney, Robert R. Bryan doubts that his client will appear in court because of a rule that the defendant is not brought in for oral arguments. Africa is upset about this rule because she feels that Abu-Jamal's presence will help to ensure fairness. She asks, "these people are arguing about his life, and he's not allowed to be there to make sure everything is done right?"

Africa is also concerned about the limited time given for the presentation of oral arguments. While the 3rd Circuit Court has granted 45 minutes total, Abu-Jamal's attorney is arguing for at least an hour. Africa argues that "in order to argue this case, you need much more time than that."

A New Trial?

In 1982, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in a trial that Amnesty International has declared a "violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty."

Calling for a new trial, supporters around the world feel that the original one was tainted by racism, prosecutorial & judicial misconduct, coerced witnesses, suppressed evidence, and a denial of Mumia's constitutional right to represent himself.

His case has attracted activists around the world organizing against racism, poverty, corporate media censorship, mass incarceration, political repression, and the death penalty.

Activist Noam Chomsky argues that "Mumia's case is symbolic of something much broader...The US prison system is simply class and race war...Mumia and other prisoners are the kind of people that get assassinated by what's called 'social cleansing' in US client states like Colombia."

Still on Death Row

In December, 2001 Federal District Court Judge William Yohn affirmed Abu-Jamal's guilt but overturned the death sentence. Citing the 1988 Mills v. Maryland precedent, Yohn ruled that sentencing forms used by jurors and Judge Sabo's instructions to the jury were confusing. Subsequently, jurors mistakenly believed that they had to unanimously agree on any mitigating circumstances in order to be considered as weighing against a death sentence.

Mumia's case is now in the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals. DA Lynne Abraham is appealing the death penalty ruling while Mumia is appealing the guilty verdict.

If the penalty ruling is overturned, a new execution date will be set for Mumia. If his ruling is upheld, the DA can still impanel a new jury to rehear the penalty phase, which could then sentence Mumia to death—regardless of the 3rd Circuit ruling.

Because the DA appealed Yohn's death penalty decision, Mumia has never left death row, and is still unable to have such "privileges" as full-contact visits with his family.

The Four Issues Being Considered

In December, 2005, the 3rd Circuit announced the beginning of deliberations and shocked many by agreeing to consider two claims not "certified for appeal" by Yohn in 2001.

Mumia's attorney Robert R. Bryan declared it to be "the most important decision affecting my client since his 1981 arrest, for it was the first time there was a ruling that could lead to a new trial and his freedom." The courts are now considering the following four issues:

#1. Whether the penalty phase of Mumia's trial violated the legal precedent set by the US Supreme Court's 1988 Mills v. Maryland ruling. This issue was Yohn's grounds for overturning the death sentence and is now being appealed by the DA.

#2. "Certified for appeal" by Yohn in 2001, the Batson claim, addresses the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges to exclude Blacks from Mumia's jury. In 1986, the US Supreme Court ruled in Batson v. Kentucky that a defendant deserves a new trial if it can be proved that jurors were excluded on the grounds of race.

At Mumia's trial, Prosecutor McGill used 11 of his 15 peremptory challenges to remove black jurors that were otherwise acceptable. While Philadelphia is 44% black, Abu-Jamal's jury was composed of ten whites and only two blacks. From 1977-1986 when current Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell was Philadelphia's District Attorney, the evidence of racism is striking: from 1977-86, the Philadelphia DA struck 58% of black jurors, but only 22% of white jurors.

#3. The legality of McGill's statement to the jury minimizing the seriousness of a verdict of guilt: "if you find the Defendant guilty of course there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final."

In 1986 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against McGill in another case (Commonwealth v. Baker) on the same grounds. When Abu-Jamal addressed this same issue in his 1989 appeal with the State Supreme Court, the court reversed its decision on the legality of such a statement—ruling against the claim for a mistrial.

Incredibly, just one year later, in the very next case involving this issue (Commonwealth v. Beasley), the State Supreme Court flip-flopped and restored the precedent. However, this would not affect the ruling against Mumia, because the court ruled that this precedent would only apply in "future trials." This suggests that the rulings were designed to specifically exclude Mumia's case from its precedent.

#4. The fairness of Mumia's 1995-97 PCRA hearings when the retired, 74-year-old Judge Sabo was called back specifically for the hearing. Besides the obvious unfairness of recalling the exact same judge to rule on his fairness in the original 1982 trial, his actual PCRA bias has been extensively documented.

During the 1995 hearings, the mainstream Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that the "behavior of the judge in the case was disturbing the first time around—and in hearings last week he did not give the impression to those in the courtroom of fair mindedness. Instead, he gave the impression, damaging in the extreme, of undue haste and hostility toward the defense's case."

Concluding the PCRA hearing, Sabo rejected all evidence and every witness presented by the defense as not being credible. Therefore, Sabo upheld all of the facts and procedures of the original trial as being correct.

"I'm Going To Help Them Fry The Nigger"

In 2001 another witness—Terri Mauer-Carter—challenged Sabo's integrity, but the State Supreme Court ruled against the defense's right to include her affidavit in their current federal appeal. Mauer-Carter was working as a stenographer in the Philadelphia Court system on the eve of Mumia's 1982 trail when she states that she overheard Judge Sabo say in reference to Mumia's case that he was going to help the prosecution "fry the nigger."

Journalist Dave Lindorff recently interviewed Mauer-Carter's former boss, Richard Klein, who was with Mauer-Carter when she states she overheard Sabo. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge at the time, who now sits on PA's Superior Court, Klein told Lindorff: "I won't say it did happen, and I won't say it didn't. That was a long time ago." Lindorff considers Klein's refusal to firmly reject Mauer-Carter's claim to be an affirmation of her statement.

The State Supreme Court ruling was an affirmation of lower-level Judge Patricia Dembe's argument that even if Maurer-Carter is correct about Sabo's stated intent to use his position as Judge to throw the trial and help the prosecution "fry the nigger," it doesn't matter. According to Dembe, since it "was a jury trial, as long as the presiding Judge's rulings were legally correct, claims as to what might have motivated or animated those rulings are not relevant."

Organizing for May 17

Before the May 17 date had been set, Abu-Jamal supporters had already been organizing events for April 24—Mumia's birthday. The event in Philadelphia will show the film Framing an Execution (narrated by Danny Glover), which analyzes the biased presentation of Abu-Jamal's case by Sam Donaldson on ABC's 20/20 in 1999. Afterwards, the forum will discuss new evidence of innocence.

On the same day in France, Abu-Jamal's international supporters will be joined by a US delegation defending last April's naming of a street for Abu-Jamal in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.

"In 2001, when Judge Yohn affirmed Mumia's conviction, he said there was no evidence to show that Mumia is innocent. That is absolutely not true, but Yohn could get away with saying this because the mainstream media did not hold him accountable." Pam Africa argues that independent journalism and aggressive media-activism are urgently needed to challenge the mainstream media to report accurately about the upcoming oral arguments. "Deceitful mainstream media coverage since November has not presented the extensive evidence of Mumia's innocence, and this dishonest coverage makes Mumia seem like a cold blooded killer. Only independent media has been putting the truth out about Mumia."

Among the many stories about Abu-Jamal in the independent press, Africa highly recommends reading about the important new evidence presented in German author Michael Schiffmann's new book on the case—especially the new discovery of crime-scene photos that expose police manipulation of evidence at the scene.

If supporters are unable to travel to Philadelphia on May 17, Africa encourages people do something in their hometown to publicize the oral arguments and hold the mainstream media accountable in their coverage of the case. "Mumia's case represents all that is wrong with this system. We must take action now before it's too late."

For more information, check out
mumia.org (Philadelphia),
freemumia.com (New York City ),
freemumia.org (San Francisco), or
emajonline.com (Educators for Mumia).
For the latest on Abu-Jamal from the independent media, check out Bennett's new "Voice of the Voiceless" series on Abu-Jamal being published in the months leading up to the oral arguments.

Hans Bennett (insubordination.blogspot.com) is a Philadelphia-based photojournalist who has been documenting the movement to free Mumia and all political prisoners for more than 5 years.

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April 1, 2007

World Beat (FotM Goes Video)

If this puppy works, you'll be seeing a lot of cool music up here. Some of it will be political, some (like this) with a political flava, and some just excellent! Thanks to Ajamu at Sankofa Meets the Future for inspiring me to start posting music with his continuing series of great jazz videos...

As ever, comments welcome.

(h/t echidne at atrios)

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