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The Powell's Playlist | June 18, 2014

Daniel H. Wilson: IMG The Powell’s Playlist: Daniel H. Wilson



Like many writers, I'm constantly haunting coffee shops with a laptop out and my headphones on. I listen to a lot of music while I write, and songs... Continue »

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jgeneric has commented on (27) products.

A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom (New Press People's History) by David Williams
A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom (New Press People's History)

jgeneric, October 31, 2007

For a long time, the American Civil War became a war of valiant white Southerners fighting for "their way of life". History was re-written to be not about slavery or profits, but about "state's rights" against the government. Such figures like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis became heroes in the post-war South, while the people who fought the war were largely white-washed. Movies like "Gone With the Wind" or "Birth of a Nation" romanticize slavery and the ruling planter class. More importantly, dissenters against the war, especially in the South, were nearly written out of history. Only in the last 50 years has the swing back to the war being about slavery and a rich man's war, where nearly a million people lost their lives.

"A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom" does a superb job of explaining why the Civil War happened, as well as the struggles of all people, not just the politicians or generals during the war, and the major reasons for the defeat of the South beyond just plain military reasons. To every war, there is multiple reasons. The Southern Plantation owning class feared race war if their African slaves ever became free, then poor whites and poor blacks might unite against them. Throughout the 1850s and especially in the months prior to the start of the war, numerous bouts of paranoia of abolitionist plots to spark slave revolts appear in Southern Press (which the militant John Brown used to fan the fears of the planters.) The planters believed that their control of the South would be safer in a Slaveholder's republic than compromise with Northern industrialists. In the North, wealthy industrials and emerging capitalists feared losing access to cheap Southern cotton and agriculture, and therefore pressed their government not to let the Southern states leave. In that, they had a stake in continuing the slave system. Copperheads and pacifists throughout the North opposed the war, but were routinely shut down by Lincoln's government, who suspended habeas corpus.

Williams explores the hidden history behind the war which has seemingly been erased from history, such as the incredible amount of dissent against the war on both sides, but especially in the South where whole regions were strongly pro-union (especially poor white farmers who hated the ruling plantation owner class), in parts of the South like East Tennessee, West Virginia, North Alabama, West North Carolina, North Louisiana.) Nearly 500,000 Southerners ended up fighting for the union side, both in the US Armies and as guerrillas struggling against the Confederates. It is noted that the Confederates were both fighting the union armies and anti-planter guerillas, destroying the notion that the American Civil War was a regional war and not a true civil war.

The role of women deviates as well, exploring how Southern women actually helped end the war. In the South, most men were away in armies, leaving women behind to tend the crops and other such work by themselves. They felt the starvation of the war first hand, as the Plantations of the South, a supposed breadbasket, continued to produce cash crops such as cotton and tobacco instead of food like corn and wheat. The first to demand bread from the government were women, and Williams documents several big bread riots in the South by women. He also documents several cases of female spies and nurses, women who dressed as men to serve in the armies, and women openingly telling men to desert the war effort.

There are also chapters of the struggles of the soldiers themselves, who deserted on mass near the end of the war in the South, Blacks who refused to work and fled for the union lines whenever they could get a chance (despite the very cool reception Union soldiers, generals, and politicians gave them), and Indians who continued to fight the centuries old war against white people theft of their land. I fully recommend it for anyone looking to get a sense of how the war actually effected people, and why the ruling classes still came out on top after the war's end, even if chattel slavery was abolished as a result of the war.
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The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia by Benjamin Dangl
The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia

jgeneric, October 31, 2007

Things across Latin America look like they've heating up in the last five years to the breaking point. After decades of military rule, right-wing forces, banana republics, and domination by foreign companies, governments in Latin America crushing left-wing movements and people fighting the old orders of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, it really looks like those days are through. Social movements are no longer an isolated thing. From the autonomous movements in Argentina, to the Landless People's Movement in Brazil, to even (to some extent) charismatic left-wing rulers like Hugo Chavez, to the Zapatistas and their supporters in southern Mexico, it looks like from this vantage point in the mid-atlantic region of the United States, that Latin America has some really big things going on right now. Bolivia is no different.

"The Price of Fire" explores struggles and movements in Bolivia, focusing on the last five years. The book's title refers to what many of the struggles there are tied around: the simple price of fire, or gas for heating. Dangl talks about many different issues going on there, and especially issues like the coca trade, access to water after the government privatizes the water and begins billing people for it, and the community mobilization across the country in response. These uprisings are called "wars", like the Water War and the Gas War, for very good reasons.

One interesting aspect is that the coca leaf is used as a symbol of resistance. Coca can be processed into cocaine, but it's also a main ingredient in coca-cola and is used locally as medicine. Because of the US insistence as a part of the "War on Drugs", the government and sometimes US Forces, regularly bomb, destroy, and prosecute coca farmers. Indeed, sometimes the soldiers themselves sent to destroy the crops are chewing coca leaves as they burn coca plants. The military also murders farmers who refuse to plead guilty to drug trafficking. In response, at the city of Chipiriri, the cocaleros formed a coca farmers union, and set up a tightly controlled market to sell their goods, while forbidding any drug dealing or usage at the market.

Two major uprisings, the Water War in Cochabamba of 1999 and the Gas War of 2003, are vividly described in the book. After three years of pressure by the World Bank to either privatize its water or face losses of billions of dollars in loans, the Bolivian government relented and pushed for the water of the nation to be places into corporate hands in 1999. This totally enraged the population of Cochabamba, which has around half a million people and is growing rapidly, after costs skyrocketed, distribution failed, and the poorest were completely cut off from water at all. Road blockades, huge street demonstrations, and occupation of the water company offices forced the government to act, and they made the company public.

On September 19th 2003, the Gas War starts in Cochabamba, and quickly escalates as cocaleros join in huge road blockades, made even more popular by events in Argentina as a form of protest. The issue is on whether to export natural gas to foreign countries when there is a shortage for the very poor in Bolivia. Large popular assemblies gather, and unions, community groups, and other organizations unite around this issue, which eventually brought down the President. An anarcha-feminist group, Mujeres Creando, agitates for the end of patriarchy and women's submission in their center "The Virgin". Neighbors in the neighborhood El Alto also emerge at the head of the mobilization. At the end, a left-wing President, former coca-grower and indigenous Evo Morales is elected, with the understanding that if he does not stand up against International Companies and the World Bank, that he can be forced out of office as well.

This book takes a wide view of the situation in Bolivia, as the author worked as an independent journalist throughout Latin America, writing for a variety of left-wing magazines like Z Magazine, The Nation, and the Progressive. I recommend that if you have read Marina Sitrin's Horizontalism, you read this one right afterwards. The two fit together like a hand in a glove, one focusing on Argentina and one focusing on Bolivia, but seemingly talking about the very same thing: poor people, indigenous people, and women rising up againstcorporations and the rulers of their lands. A lot of theory andanalysis makes you want to jump off a cliff with how depressing it is; books like this and Sitrin's fills you with hope and examples of how
people are organizing and fighting back.

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Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America by Tiny Gray Garcia
Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America

jgeneric, October 31, 2007

Struggle and hope. That's what I thought of this May the 1st of 2006, when seemingly millions of people across the US, mainly Latinos, rallied to support so-called illegal immigrants. These immigrants have literally spent a long time struggling both in the nations they came from and here in the US as business people get rich from their labor. But that day there was hope. In this day of globalization where corporations have the ultimate freedom to cross borders at will in the search for higher and higher profits, while workers cannot without becoming "illegals", it was a day that seemed to signify that "Si, se peude!" They stood up to a government punishing its own people trying to escape a poverty created by the economic policies created by that very government.

What exactly is going on at the US-Mexican border? It seems so far away to me, but in a town I grew up near, you can see the backlash and blame on immigrants for US citizens losing jobs to what is really that fault of neo-liberal attacks like NAFTA. In Hazleton, PA (about 45 minutes from my native Carbondale), some of the most draconian laws against immigrants ever passed sailed through recently. But it all comes back to the border. It turns out that Mexican immigrants are not so docile after all,and that they, just like any people who have been wronged over and over, will stand up for themselves. David Bacon, a labor journalist who works for the Nation, illustrates this well in "The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U. S./Mexico Border".

Bacon looks at what exactly is happening on the border. He starts by exploring the grape pickers of Southern California. Most had come to the US to seek higher wages than they could have possibly gotten in Mexico. But after NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association), the companies at which they had won better wages after decades of fights with the Caesar Chavez's United Farm Workers (UFW), many suddenly found that they lost these jobs as they moved to Mexico's Mexicali Valley where they could pay those workers as much as a third less than the mainly Mexican immigrants in the US. In the Mexicali Valley, farmworkers (who often bring their children to the fields since there is no affordable school or daycare) could barely afford to pay their bills or get groceries, leading to many families sharing homes in order to pool their resources.

Along this same border has risen the infamous Maquiladora (duty-free and union-free factories) industry, which is now a global term but originated as a term for clothing manufacturers along the US-Mexico border. These have swelled since NAFTA, and one of the allures is that it is very hard to form an independent union in Mexico. However, Bacon illustrates that over the past decade of NAFTA Mexico, several independent unions have arisen in the face of a hostile ruling PRI, and then PAN, governments. At the same time, US unions have begun to pull away from their former cold-war, anti-communist sentiment and have slowly recognized that American workers and Mexican workers both lose because of NAFTA and that they must work together in order to survive, The UE, (United Electrical), an independent union, sent the first support to the new independent unions and conducted co-campaigns on the border to organize Maquiladoras into unions to demand better conditions and wages. Interestingly enough, it also began the question of shifting their tactics, since while US unions usually pressure companies until they can win or get some of their goals, Mexican unions usually see the government as their main enemy since the Mexican government maintains industry control over wages and will often not let companies raise wages if it will effect an entire industry (another reason US companies like moving to Mexico).

Some of the stuff in this book honestly was shocking how far 1st world companies would go to crush 3rd world workers. There are countless stories in "Children of NAFTA" of brutal beatings of union organizers. They (factory managers) shipped in temps in many stories to vote for the company government-sanctioned union in factory-wide elections, which too seemed many times to galvanize Maquiladora workers against the management. Black-lists, revenge wage-reductions, and brutal attacks on factory workers' pro-union demonstrations almost made reading it unbearable. However, as the labor organizers learned to deal with NAFTA, the one thing I came away from is that the only hope that we human beings fighting for a better future for our children have is that we can never turn our backs on anyone in a struggle. If global corporations can be everywhere, labor unions must be too. While we engage in these struggles locally, our minds must think globally, as the phrase goes.
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The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border by David Bacon
The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border

jgeneric, October 31, 2007

Struggle and hope. That's what I thought of this May the 1st of 2006, when seemingly millions of people across the US, mainly Latinos, rallied to support so-called illegal immigrants. These immigrants have literally spent a long time struggling both in the nations they came from and here in the US as business people get rich from their labor. But that day there was hope. In this day of globalization where corporations have the ultimate freedom to cross borders at will in the search for higher and higher profits, while workers cannot without becoming "illegals", it was a day that seemed to signify that "Si, se peude!" They stood up to a government punishing its own people trying to escape a poverty created by the economic policies created by that very government.

What exactly is going on at the US-Mexican border? It seems so far away to me, but in a town I grew up near, you can see the backlash and blame on immigrants for US citizens losing jobs to what is really that fault of neo-liberal attacks like NAFTA. In Hazleton, PA (about 45 minutes from my native Carbondale), some of the most draconian laws against immigrants ever passed sailed through recently. But it all comes back to the border. It turns out that Mexican immigrants are not so docile after all,and that they, just like any people who have been wronged over and over, will stand up for themselves. David Bacon, a labor journalist who works for the Nation, illustrates this well in "The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the U. S./Mexico Border".

Bacon looks at what exactly is happening on the border. He starts by exploring the grape pickers of Southern California. Most had come to the US to seek higher wages than they could have possibly gotten in Mexico. But after NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association), the companies at which they had won better wages after decades of fights with the Caesar Chavez's United Farm Workers (UFW), many suddenly found that they lost these jobs as they moved to Mexico's Mexicali Valley where they could pay those workers as much as a third less than the mainly Mexican immigrants in the US. In the Mexicali Valley, farmworkers (who often bring their children to the fields since there is no affordable school or daycare) could barely afford to pay their bills or get groceries, leading to many families sharing homes in order to pool their resources.

Along this same border has risen the infamous Maquiladora (duty-free and union-free factories) industry, which is now a global term but originated as a term for clothing manufacturers along the US-Mexico border. These have swelled since NAFTA, and one of the allures is that it is very hard to form an independent union in Mexico. However, Bacon illustrates that over the past decade of NAFTA Mexico, several independent unions have arisen in the face of a hostile ruling PRI, and then PAN, governments. At the same time, US unions have begun to pull away from their former cold-war, anti-communist sentiment and have slowly recognized that American workers and Mexican workers both lose because of NAFTA and that they must work together in order to survive, The UE, (United Electrical), an independent union, sent the first support to the new independent unions and conducted co-campaigns on the border to organize Maquiladoras into unions to demand better conditions and wages. Interestingly enough, it also began the question of shifting their tactics, since while US unions usually pressure companies until they can win or get some of their goals, Mexican unions usually see the government as their main enemy since the Mexican government maintains industry control over wages and will often not let companies raise wages if it will effect an entire industry (another reason US companies like moving to Mexico).

Some of the stuff in this book honestly was shocking how far 1st world companies would go to crush 3rd world workers. There are countless stories in "Children of NAFTA" of brutal beatings of union organizers. They (factory managers) shipped in temps in many stories to vote for the company government-sanctioned union in factory-wide elections, which too seemed many times to galvanize Maquiladora workers against the management. Black-lists, revenge wage-reductions, and brutal attacks on factory workers' pro-union demonstrations almost made reading it unbearable. However, as the labor organizers learned to deal with NAFTA, the one thing I came away from is that the only hope that we human beings fighting for a better future for our children have is that we can never turn our backs on anyone in a struggle. If global corporations can be everywhere, labor unions must be too. While we engage in these struggles locally, our minds must think globally, as the phrase goes.
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I Cried, You Didn't Listen: A Survivor's Expose of the California Youth Authority
I Cried, You Didn't Listen: A Survivor's Expose of the California Youth Authority

jgeneric, October 31, 2007

The author of this book states that he wrote it while in solitary confinement. It's a trip into his childhood, where he came of age in California's Juvenile system. It takes place throughout his childhood years, beginning with an early stay at age 6 (along with a rape by a counselor). The rest is his teenage years spent trying to survive the brutal system of rape, violence, and sadistic counselors (also known as prison guards).

It's very chilling. I couldn't peel myself away from this book, even though it has graphic descriptions of rapes and brutal fights between gangs of boys not even old enough to shave. The fact that the author even survived that system, which incidentally took place in the 1960s, impresses me. When I was a teenager, a few friends of mine ended up in a juvenile drug rehab center at Horsham, PA, and afterwards they were extremely shaken up. It turned out later they had been raped. Not much has changed in the last 40 years.

Abbott and his companion quickly rise to the top of the ruling prison gang, which he uses to attempt several escapes. Each time, he nearly makes it. It's amazing that he goes for his parents, who are totally excluded from being able to help their boy. He forms a love relationship with his companion which he must hide in order to survive. The counselors maintain the order by daily beatdowns and shake-ups, and when it comes down to it, the boys are treated exactly like adults. The prison system makes people have to fight for their survival almost daily, or be pushed to a fate of worse than death.

It makes the reader wonder why anyone thinks that prisons can reform any person. Trapping someone in a room and punishing them for years with the most sadistic people doesn't seem like a good way to reform anyone. In the end, prison, for adults or kids, really just sweeps the problem of emotional disturbance underneath the carpet. Nowadays, a few million reside in United States prisons, the largest such population in the world (even more than China, which has 5 times the population). We're at a time when the ruling classes think it's better to completely separate millions into boxes than to even give a carrot to oppressed communities.

Dwight Abbott remains in jail today, and he says he wouldn't be there unless the Juvenile Youth Authority had twisted him as a human being to the point where the only place he could exist was in a prison. They destroyed him as a teenager at a critical point in any human being's development. Why? If you want a window into how a person can be destroyed, read this book. At the same time, if you want to see how a person can keep some amount of love and hope for a better day (away from the prison), read this book as well.
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