Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolution

By Janet Biehl On December 16, 2014

Post image for Impressions of Rojava: a report from the revolutionIn early December an international delegation visited Rojava’s Cezire canton where they learned about the ongoing revolution, cooperation and tolerance.

From December 1 to 9, I had the privilege of visiting Rojava as part of a delegation of academics from Austria, Germany, Norway, Turkey, the UK, and the US. We assembled in Erbil, Iraq, on November 29 and spent the next day learning about the petrostate known as the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), with its oil politics, patronage politics, feuding parties (KDP and PUK), and apparent aspirations to emulate Dubai. We soon had enough and on Monday morning were relieved to drive to the Tigris, where we crossed the border into Syria and entered Rojava, the majority-Kurdish autonomous region of northern Syria.

The Tigris river channel was narrow, but the society we encountered on the far shore could not have been more different from the KRG: the spirit of a social and political revolution was in the air. As we disembarked, we were greeted by the Asayis, or civilian security forces of the revolution. The Asayis reject the label police, since police serve the state whereas they serve society.

Over the next nine days, we would explore Rojava’s revolutionary self-government in an old-fashioned state of total immersion (we had no internet access to distract us). Our delegation’s two organizers — Dilar Dirik (a talented PhD student at Cambridge University) and Devriş Çimen (head of Civaka Azad, the Kurdish Center for Public Information in Germany) — took us on an intensive tour of the various revolutionary institutions.

Rojava consists of three geographically non-contiguous cantons; we would see only the easternmost one, Cezire (or Jazira), due to the ongoing war with the Islamic State, which rages to the west, especially in Kobani. But everywhere we were welcomed warmly.

Rojava’s Third Way

At the outset, the deputy foreign minister, Amine Ossi, introduced us to the history of the revolution. The Syrian Ba’ath regime, a system of one-party rule, had long insisted that all Syrians were Arabs and attempted to “Arabize” the country’s four million Kurds, suppressing their identity and stripping those who objected of their citizenship.

After Tunisian and Egyptian opposition groups mounted insurgencies during the Arab Spring in 2011, rebellious Syrians rose up too, initiating the civil war. In the summer of 2012, the regime’s authority collapsed in Rojava, where the Kurds had little trouble persuading its officials to depart nonviolently.

Rojavans (I’ll call them by that name because while they are mostly Kurds, they are also Arabs, Assyrians, Chechens, and others) then faced a choice of aligning themselves either with the regime that had persecuted them, or with the mostly Islamic militant opposition groups.

Rojava’s Kurds being relatively secular, they refused both sides and decided instead to embark on a Third Way, based on the ideas of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader who rethought the Kurdish issue, the nature of revolution, and an alternative modernity to the nation-state and capitalism.

Initially, under his leadership, Kurds had fought for a state, but several decades ago, again under his leadership, their goal began to change: they now reject the state as a source of oppression and instead strive for self-government, for popular democracy. Drawing eclectically from sources in history, philosophy, politics, and anthropology, Öcalan proposed ‘Democratic Confederalism’ as the name for the overarching program of bottom-up democracy, gender equality, ecology, and a cooperative economy. The implementation of those principles, in institutions not only of democratic self-government but also of economics, education, health and gender, is called Democratic Autonomy.

A Women’s Revolution

Under their Third Way, Rojava’s three cantons declared Democratic Autonomy and formally established it in a “social contract” (the non-statist term it uses instead of “constitution”). Under that program, they created a system of popular self-government, based in neighborhood commune assemblies (comprising several hundred households each), which anyone may attend, and with power rising from the bottom up through elected deputies to the city and cantonal levels.

When our delegation visited a Qamishlo neighborhood (Qamishlo being the largest city in the Cezire canton), we attended a meeting of a local people’s council, where the electricity and matters relating to women, conflict resolution and families of martyrs were discussed. Men and women sat and participated together. Elsewhere in Qamishlo, we witnessed an assembly of women addressing problems particular to their gender.

Gender is of special importance to this project in human emancipation. We quickly realized that the Rojava Revolution is fundamentally a women’s revolution. This part of the world is traditionally home to extreme patriarchal oppression: to be born female is to be at risk for violent abuse, childhood marriage, honor killings, polygamy, and more.

But today the women of Rojava have shaken off that tradition and participate fully in public life: at every level of politics and society. Institutional leadership consists not of one position but two, one male and one female official — for the sake of gender equality and also to keep power from concentrating into one person’s hands.

Representatives of Yekitiya Star, the umbrella organization for women’s groups, explained that women are essential to democracy — they even defined the antagonist of women’s freedom, strikingly, not as patriarchy but as the nation-state and capitalist modernity. The women’s revolution aims to free everyone. Women are to this revolution what the proletariat was to Marxist-Leninist revolutions of the past century. It has profoundly transformed not only women’s status but every aspect of society.

Even the traditionally male-dominated strands of society, like the military, have been profoundly transformed. The people’s protection units (YPG) have been joined by the YPJ — or women’s protection units — whose images by now have become world famous. Together, the YPG and the YPJ are defending society against the jihadist forces of ISIS and Al-Nusra with Kalashnikovs and, perhaps equally formidably, a fierce intellectual and emotional commitment not only to their community’s survival but to its political ideas and aspirations too.

When we visited a meeting of the YPJ, we were told that the fighters’ education consists not only of training in practical matters like weapons but also in Democratic Autonomy. “We are fighting for our ideas,” they emphasized at every turn. Two of the women who met with us had been injured in battle. One sat with an IV bag, another with a metal crutch — both were wincing in pain but had the fortitude and self-discipline to participate in our session.

Cooperation and Education

Rojavans fight for the survival of their community but above all, as the YPJ told us, for their ideas. They even put the successful implementation of democracy above ethnicity. Their social agreement affirms the inclusion of ethnic minorities (Arabs, Chechens, Assyrians) and religions (Muslims, Christians, Yezidis), and Democratic Autonomy in practice seems to bend over backwards to include minorities, without imposing it on others against their will, leaving the door open to all.

When our delegation asked a group of Assyrians to tell us their challenges with Democratic Autonomy, they said they had none. In nine days we could not possibly have scoured Rojava for all problems, and our interlocutors candidly admitted that Rojava is hardly above criticism, but as far as I could see, Rojava at the very least aspires to model tolerance and pluralism in a part of the world that has seen far too much fanaticism and repression — and to whatever extent it succeeds, it deserves commendation.

Rojava’s economic model “is the same as its political model,” an economics adviser in Derik told us: to create a “community economy,” building cooperatives in all sectors and educating the people in the idea. The adviser expressed satisfaction that even though 70 percent of Rojava’s resources must go to the war effort, the economy still manages to meet everyone’s basic needs.

They strive for self-sufficiency, because they must: the crucial fact is that Rojava exists under an embargo. It can neither export to nor import from its immediate neighbor to the north, Turkey, which would like to see the whole Kurdish project disappear.

Even the KRG, under control of their ethnic kin but economically beholden to Turkey, observes the embargo, although more cross-border KRG-Rojava trade is occurring now in the wake of political developments. But the country still lacks resources. That does not dampen their spirit: “If there is only bread, then we all have a share,” the adviser told us.

We visited an economics academy and economic cooperatives: a sewing cooperative in Derik, making uniforms for the defense forces; a cooperative greenhouse, growing cucumbers and tomatoes; a dairy cooperative in Rimelan, where a new shed was under construction.

The Kurdish areas are the most fertile parts of Syria, home to its abundant wheat supply, but the Ba’ath regime had deliberately refrained from industrializing the area, a source of raw materials. Hence wheat was cultivated but could not be milled into flour. We visited a mill, newly constructed since the revolution, improvised from local materials. It now provides flour for the bread consumed in Cezire, whose residents get three loaves a day.

Similarly, Cezire was Syria’s major source of petroleum, with several thousand oil rigs, mostly in the Rimelan area. But the Ba’ath regime ensured that Rojava had no refineries, forcing the oil to be transported to refineries elsewhere in Syria. But since the revolution, Rojavans have improvised two new oil refineries, which are used mainly to provide diesel for the generators that power the canton. The local oil industry, if such it can be called, produces only enough for local needs, nothing more.

A DIY Revolution

The level of improvisation was striking throughout the canton. The more we traveled through Rojava, the more I marveled at the do-it-yourself nature of the revolution, its reliance on local ingenuity and the scarce materials at hand. But it was not until we visited the various academies — the women’s academy in Rimelan and the Mesopotamian Academy in Qamishlo — that I realized that it is integral to the system as a whole.

The education system in Rojava is non-traditional, rejecting ideas of hierarchy, power and hegemony. Instead of following a teacher-student hierarchy, students teach each other and learn from each other’s experience. Students learn what is useful, in practical matters; they “search for meaning,” as we were told, in intellectual matters. They do not memorize; they learn to think for themselves and make decisions, to become the subjects of their own lives. They learn to be empowered and to participate in Democratic Autonomy.

Images of Abdullah Öcalan are everywhere, which to Western eyes might suggest something Orwellian: indoctrination, knee-jerk belief. But to interpret those images that way would be to miss the situation entirely. “No one will give you your rights,” someone quoted Öcalan to us, “you will have to struggle to obtain them.”

And to carry out that struggle, Rojavans know they must educate both themselves and society. Öcalan taught them Democratic Confederalism as a set of principles. Their role has been to figure out how to implement it, in Democratic Autonomy, and thereby to empower themselves.

The Kurds have historically had few friends. They were ignored by the Treaty of Lausanne that divided up the Middle East after World War I. For most of the past century, they suffered as minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their language and culture have been suppressed, their identities denied, their human rights overruled.

They are on the wrong side of NATO, where Turkey is permitted to call the shots on Kurdish matters. They have long been outsiders. That experience has been brutal, involving torture, exile and war. But it has also given them strength and independence of mind. Öcalan taught them how to reset the terms of their existence in a way that gave them dignity and self-respect.

This do-it-yourself revolution by an educated populace is embargoed by their neighbors and gets along by the skin of its teeth. It is nonetheless an endeavor that pushes the human prospect forward. In the wake of the twentieth century, many people have come to the worst conclusions about human nature, but in the twenty-first, Rojavans are setting a new standard for what human beings are capable of. In a world fast losing hope, they shine as a beacon.

Anyone with a bit of faith in humanity should wish the Rojavans well with their revolution and do what they can to help it succeed. They should demand that their governments stop allowing Turkey to define a rejectionist international policy toward the Kurds and toward Democratic Autonomy. They should demand an end to the embargo against Rojava.

The members of the delegation in which I participated (even though I am not an academic) did their work well. Sympathetic to the revolution, they nonetheless asked challenging questions, about Rojava’s economic outlook, about the handling of ethnicity and nationalism, and more. The Rojavans we met, accustomed to grappling with hard questions, responded thoughtfully and even welcomed critique. Readers interested in learning more about the Rojava Revolution may look forward to forthcoming writings by the other delegation members: Welat (Oktay) Ay, Rebecca Coles, Antonia Davidovic, Eirik Eiglad, David Graeber, Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Johanna Riha, Nazan Üstündag, and Christian Zimmer. As for me, I have much more to say than this short article allows and plan to write a further work, one that incorporates drawings I made during the trip.

Janet Biehl is an independent writer, artist, and translator living in Burlington, Vt. She previously edited The Murray Bookchin Reader and is the author of Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin, forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

 

http://roarmag.org/2014/12/janet-biehl-report-rojava/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

We need to talk about death

Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse

It’s a universal human experience. So why do we act like we need to confront it alone?

We need to talk about death: Why ignoring our darkest fears only makes them worse
(Credit: P_Wei via iStock)

“I don’t want to die. It’s so permanent.”

So said my terminally ill grandmother, a kick-ass woman who made life-size oil paintings and drank vermouth on the rocks every afternoon.

This isn’t an anecdote I’d be likely to mention in regular conversation with friends. Talk about ruining everyone’s good time. (“Ick, that’s so morbid,” everyone would think.) But earlier this month, the New York Times released its 100 Notable Books of 2014, and among the notables was not one but two – two! – nonfiction titles about death. This seemingly unremarkable milestone is actually one that we should celebrate with a glass of champagne. Or, better yet, with vermouth.

Right now our approach to death, as a culture, is utterly insane: We just pretend it doesn’t exist. Any mention of mortality in casual conversation is greeted with awkwardness and a subject change. That same taboo even translates into situations where the concept of death is unavoidable: After losing a loved one, the bereaved are granted a few moments of mourning, after which the world around them kicks back into motion, as if nothing at all had changed. For those not personally affected by it, the reality of death stays hidden and ignored.

For me this isn’t an abstract topic. There’s been a lot of death in my life. There was my grandmother’s recent death, which sent my whole crazy family into a tailspin; but also my dad’s sudden death when I was 20. Under such circumstances (that is, the unexpected sort), you quickly discover that no one has any clue whatsoever how to deal with human mortality.

“Get through this and we’ll get through the worst of it,” someone said to me at my dad’s funeral, as if the funeral itself was death’s greatest burden, and not the permanent absence of the only dad I’ll ever have.

Gaffes like that are common. But insensitivity is just a symptom of much deeper issues, first of which is our underlying fear of death, a fear that might only boil to the surface when we’re directly confronted by it, but stays with us even as we try our best to ignore it. It’s a fear that my grandmother summed up perfectly when she was dying — the terror of our own, permanent nonexistence. Which makes sense. After all, it’s our basic biological imperative to survive. But on top of that natural fear of death, there’s another, separate issue: our unwillingness, as a culture, to shine a light on that fear, and talk about it. And as a result, we keep this whole huge part of the human experience cloistered away.



“We’re literally lacking a vocabulary to talk about [death],” said Lennon Flowers, a co-founder of an organization called the Dinner Party, which brings together 20- and 30-somethings who have lost a loved one to discuss “the ways in which it continues to affect our lives.”

That lack of vocabulary is a big problem, and not just for people who directly experience loss. It’s a problem for all of us, because it means we each grapple alone with the natural fear of our own expiry. We deny the fear, we bury it under an endless stream of distractions. And so it festers, making us all the more invested in keeping it buried, for how painful it would be to take it out and look at it after letting it rot for so long.

But why all the self-enforced agony? Maybe it’s because a more honest relationship with death would mean a more honest reckoning with our lives, calling into question the choices we’ve made and the ways we’ve chosen to live. And damn if that isn’t uncomfortable.

Of course, if there’s one thing our culture is great at, it’s giving instruction on how to live. There are the clichés — “live each day to the fullest” and “dance like no one’s watching” — and beyond them an endless stream of messages telling us how to look better, feel better, lose weight, have better sex, get promoted, flip houses, and make a delicious nutritious dinner in 30 minutes flat. But all of it is predicated on the notion that life is long and death is some shadowy thing that comes along when we hit 100. (And definitely not one minute before then!)

To get a sense of how self-defeating each of these goals can be, consider this chestnut given to us by a Native American sage by the name of Crazy Horse:

“Today is a good day to die, for all the things of my life are present.”

No, today is not a good day to die, because most of us feel we haven’t lived our lives yet. We run around from one thing to the next. We have plans to buy a house or a new car or, someday, to pursue our wildest dreams. We rush through the day to get to the evening, and through the week to get to the weekend, but once the weekend comes, we’re already thinking ahead to Monday morning. Our lives are one deferral after another.

Naturally, then, today isn’t a good day to die. How about tomorrow? Probably not. What number of days would we need to be comfortable saying what Crazy Horse said? Probably too big a number to count. We preserve the idea of death as an abstract thing that comes in very old age, rather than a constant possibility for us as fragile humans, because we build our whole lives atop that foundation.

What would we gain from finally opening up about death? How about the golden opportunity to consider what’s really important, not to mention the chance to be less lonely as we grapple with our own mortality, and the promise of being a real friend when someone we love loses someone they love. Plus it would all come back to us tenfold whenwe’re the ones going through a loss or reeling from a terminal diagnosis.

Sounds like a worthy undertaking, doesn’t it?

And that’s where there’s good news. Coming to grips with death is, as we’ve already established, really hard. But we at least have a model for doing so. Let’s consider, for example, the Times notable books I mentioned earlier. One of them, the graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” provides an especially honest — and genuinely funny — account of author Roz Chast’s experience watching her parents grow old and die. The other book, Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” reveals just how much even our medical establishment struggles with the end of life. Doctors are trained to treat sickness, of course, but often have little or no training in what to do when sickness is no longer treatable.

What both of these books do especially well is provide a vocabulary for articulating just how difficult a subject death can be for everyone — even the strongest and brightest among us. As a universal human experience, it isn’t something we should have to deal with alone. It doesn’t make a person weak or maladjusted just because he or she struggles openly with death. And what Chast and Gawande both demonstrate is that talking about it doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable, because these are anxieties that all of us have in common.

It’s a common refrain that what distinguishes humans from other animals is that humans can understand, on a rational level, the full magnitude of our mortality. But what also distinguishes humans is the richness of our relationships and the depths of our empathy — the ability we have to communicate our experiences and support those around us. Death is a deeply unsettling prospect, no matter who you are. But it doesn’t need to be a burden you face alone.

The following is a list of resources for those looking for an organized platform to discuss the topic of death:

  • Atul Gawande serves as an advisor to the Conversation Project, a site that encourages families to talk openly about end-of-life care — and to choose, in advance, whether they want to be at home or in a hospital bed, on life support or not — in short, to say in unequivocal terms what matters most when the end is near.
  • Vivian Nunez is the 22-year-old founder of a brand-new site called Too Damn Young. Nunez lost her mom when she was 10 and her grandmother – her second mother – 11 years later. “Losing someone you love is an extraordinarily isolating experience,” she said. “This is especially significant when you’re talking about teenagers, or a young adult, who loses someone at a young age, and is forced to face how real mortality is, and then not encouraged to talk about it.” She founded Too Damn Young so that bereaved teenagers will know they’re not alone and so they’ll have a public space to talk about it.
  • The Recollectors is a groundbreaking project by writer Alysia Abbott, that tells the stories of people who lost a parent to AIDS. She’s exploding two big taboos – death and AIDS – in one clean shot.
  • Get Your Shit Together is another great one, a site launched by a young widow who learned the hard way that everyone should take some key steps to get their financial matters in order in case of an untimely death. “I (mostly) have my shit together,” the site’s founder says. “Now it’s your turn.”
  • There’s also Death Cafe, dedicated to “increasing awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives.” And Modern Loss, a site that’s received coverage from the New York Times and the Washington Post, shies away from nothing in its quest to tell stories about end of life and living with loss. “Death Cafe and Modern Loss have attracted a loyal following,” said Nicole Bélanger, author of “Grief in the Rearview: Three Motherless Years.” “They offer the safe space we crave to show up as we are, without worrying about having to polish up our grief and make it fit for public consumption.”

Perhaps these communities will start to influence the mainstream, as their emboldened members teach the rest of us that it’s OK, it’s really OK, to talk about death. If that happens, it will be a slow process – culture change always is. “Race and gender and myriad other subjects were forever taboo, but now we’re able to speak truth,” said Flowers of the Dinner Party. “And now we’re seeing that around death and dying.”

If she’s right, it’s the difference between the excruciating loneliness of hiding away our vulnerabilities and, instead, allowing them to connect us and bind us together.

These Are Lies The New York Times Wants You to Believe About Russia

  WORLD  
Our sanctions caused Russia’s downturn. They protect Big Oil and make the world more dangerous.
Vladimir Putin 

You can look at the Russian economy two ways now and you should. So let’s: It is an important moment in the destruction of something and the construction of something else, and we had better be clear just what in both cases. The world we live in changes shape as we speak.

Truth No. 1: Russians are besieged. Sanctions the West has insisted on prosecuting in response to the Ukraine crisis — Washington in the lead, the Europeans reluctant followers — are hitting hard, let there be no question. Oil prices are at astonishing lows, probably if not yet provably manipulated by top operatives in the diplomatic and political spheres.

Truth No. 2: Russians are hot. With an energetic activism just as astonishing as the oil prices, Russian officials, President Putin in the very visible lead but with platoons of technocrats behind him, are forging an extensive network of South-South relationships — East-East, if you prefer — that are something very new under the sun. Some of us were banging on about South-South trade and diplomatic unity as far back as the 1970s; I have anticipated the arriving reality since the early years of this century. But I would never have predicted the pace of events as we have them before us. Stunning.

Holiday surprise: There is a Truth No. 3 and it is this: Truth No. 1, the siege of the Russian economy, is proving a significant catalyst in the advance of Truth No. 2, the creative response of a nation under ever-mounting pressure.

Timothy Snyder, the Yale professor whose nitwittery on the Ukraine crisis is simply nonpareil (and praise heaven he has gone quiet), exclaimed some months ago that Putin is threatening to undermine the entire postwar order. I replied in this space the following week, Gee, if only it were so.

Already it seems to be. But miss this not: Russia is advancing this world-historical turn with a considerable assist from its adversaries in the West, not alone. For all the pseuds who pretend to know Schumpeter but know only one thing, the creative destruction bit, how is this as a prime example of the phenom?

Details in a sec, but this thought first: We are all bound to pay close attention to these events because they matter to everyone, whether this is yet obvious or not. Probably in our lifetimes — and I had it further out until recently — we will begin to inhabit a different planet.

And it stands to be a better one, if you accept that equilibrium, interdependence, cooperation and all those other notions Washington is frightened to death of will make for a more secure world than our lopsided primacy, incessant confrontations, drone murders, waterboarding, nuclear arsenals and the National Endowment for Democracy’s subversions will ever deliver for us.

How much more capable, equally, will be a human community that addresses its problems with the wisdom not of one civilization, which happened by historical circumstance to modernize in the material sphere before others, but with the smarts and imaginations and perspectives of many?

Those details come in flurries now and fall into two files, destruction and construction. To the former first.

The economics ministry in Moscow has just forecast a swoon in its outlook for 2015. On a dime, it shifts from a prediction of 1.2 percent growth to 0.8 percent contraction. The math is easy: This is a rip of 2 percentage points right out of Russia’s middle. No sentient American should have any difficulty understanding what these numbers will mean to many millions of ordinary Russians.

The ministry’s report is the first to anticipate the consequences of the several rounds of sanctions imposed this year, the 34 percent drop in the ruble’s value this year and the collapse in oil prices. The last are now far below what Russia needs — about $105 a barrel — if the petroleum sector is to contribute to national revenues. As detailed in this space a few weeks ago, there are ample grounds to question whether price patterns in global oil markets are the consequence of American manipulations.

As to the ruble, we saw this coming months ago as reports of “silent sanctions,” as financial services people call them, began to come through. Off-the-books sanctions is the better term. A few at a time — HSBC, Lloyd’s — banks began denying credit to Russian enterprises; as documented, these decisions were at the  Treasury Department’s informal urging.

Reflecting the creep of interdependence in the global economy, financing from Western banks is vital to Russian corporations of all sizes. At this point, my sources in the markets tell me, the spigot is off: Credit and all customary loan rollovers are virtually unavailable across the board.

This is the anatomy of much suffering that is about to get done. Is the course wise? Is there a point? Is it other than ridiculous to posit some “net-positive” justification for this?

I see nothing good in this whatsoever. I see recklessness.

Think of it this way, as an old friend from Asia days suggests. Currency speculators abandoned the Thai baht en masse in 1997 and before we knew it Thailand had dragged all of East Asia into prolonged crisis. Remember? Now consider the size of the Thai economy — tiny in the scheme of things, and heavily agricultural still.

Now consider the size of the Russian economy. It is the world’s No. 2 producer of natural gas and No. 3 producer of oil. In terms of nominal gross domestic product — standard measure — Russia’s economy, at $2.1 trillion, is slightly larger than Italy’s. Another measure, purchasing power parity, values Russia’s economy at $3.5 trillion, but never mind: Even by nominal GDP, Russia is the world’s No. 8 economic power.

Comfortable now with the sanctions regime, are we?

The cliques in Washington are because the U.S. trades very little with Russia and they have no grasp of limits of any kind. This is cynicism made flesh when you consider Europe’s vulnerabilities. The contagious economic and social crisis is already spreading to nations near Russia’s borders.

As Germans and other Europeans understand, take down this beast and the blood will spatter everywhere. Now you can see, maybe, why one consequence of the Ukraine crisis is a serious deterioration of relations between America and those known as “the allies,” a term that has masked many complications since the Cold War’s onset.

As to the point of it all, it gets bitterer the more we learn of Ukraine and its arriving future.

Long ago, an English diplomat in Tokyo wrote to his Foreign Office in London, “The Japanese can neither love the Americans nor endure being loved by them.” It is dead on the fate of Ukrainians so far as one can make out. All signs are they are in for the suffocating embrace. Here comes the neoliberal order. It will be very weird to watch.

My jaw hit the corner of my desk when I read last week that Ukraine’s new finance minister, one Natalie Jaresko, is 1) an American citizen, granted a Ukraine passport simultaneously with her cabinet appointment, 2) a former State Department officer, 3) recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in that $5 billion Victoria Nuland famously bragged of spending in State’s effort to yank Ukraine westward and 4) a participant in apparently extensive insider dealing via the investment management company she co-founded after leaving State.

Get this:

Jaresko served as president and chief executive officer of Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development with $150 million to spur business activity in Ukraine. She also was co-founder and managing partner of Horizon Capital, which managed WNISEF’s investments at a rate of 2 percent to 2.5 percent of committed capital, fees exceeding $1 million in recent years, according to WNISEF’s 2012 annual report.

Her title at Horizon Capital must be CCIO, chief conflict of interest officer.

Full credit, given with gusto: The above passage is from the long exposé of this sordid business by Robert Parry, whose work on Ukraine is invaluable. Read this piece here: a riveting read covering a tangled web. Parry, in turn, cites John Hellmer, a former Moscow correspondent who recently explored Jaresko’s story as State Department official (and diplomat in post-Soviet Kiev) turned recipient of USAID funds.

Surely this is the right person to regulate Ukraine’s financial markets, counter corruption with archangelic purpose and negotiate with Washington, the Europeans and the IMF in behalf of Ukrainians’ interests. No wonder the parliament in Kiev erupted when Jaresko’s appointment was announced.

Footnote here: That $150 million fund State handed Jaresko has lost more than a third of its value since the Ukrainian economy tanked. As she steps into office, Kiev’s foreign reserves are down to $10 billion and shrinking, while inflation roars at 22 percent.

My jaw has been bruised, to be honest, since, as the Ukraine crisis got hot, Vice President Biden’s son, R. Hunter, was named to the board of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s No. 1 producer of natural gas. I cannot make out who is the chief conflict of interest officer here, Joe or the boy.

News comes of our Hunter, it turns out. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that he was bounced from the U.S. Navy Reserve earlier this year after a positive drug test. If the 44-year-old were Ukrainian (or any other nationality) and had been so charged, he would not be allowed into this country. This is the kind of person America is now happy to send abroad.

More substantively, Burisma announced last month that it will now commence drilling near Slavyansk, where Ukrainian troops have been dodging bullets while installing the company’s hydraulic fracturing equipment. Slavyansk, alert readers will recall, was the object of three months’ sustained bombing and artillery shelling prior to this announcement.

Overseeing all this is Jaresko and — second of three foreigners named to a new cabinet — Aivaras Abromavicius, a Lithuanian and a partner in an asset-management firm called East Capital. He will be the incoming economy minister, such as there is an economy.

Why these foreigners? In my read, Biden is a straight-out emissary sent to shepherd American corporations into the resource game via joint ventures or what have you, we will have to see, and the others are roughly the equivalent of compradors — in effect, bought-off locals.

Here is a tableau worth a moment’s consideration: Over here, Vicky Nuland stands before a Chevron plaque as she explains to business executives how well the $5 billion was spent. Here we have Hunter Biden doing Burisma’s legal work. Over here we have a small-town mayor in Romania who is run out of town for selling Chevron a fracking lease. (This you can read of in the Times.) And over there, also in the Times report, we have the Lithuanians forcing Chevron to abandon a shale-drilling project after widespread demonstrations opposing it.

You want to know why I hold the neoliberal agenda and those who advance it in contempt? This is why. We watch a corporate shark-feed. It has nothing to do with democracy. There is nothing in this for Ukrainians. They are about to hear their first lectures on the virtues of “austerity.”

I have three remarks.

One, the greed at the cost of human life and society is so brazen here it causes me to stop typing to reread the sentences. Can market-consciousness have brought us this low?

Two, please count the number of times you have read the words “Chevron,” “Burisma” or “shale-gas interests” in any account of Ukraine by correspondents covering it. I can find no mention of any from those in the field. This is “the power of leaving out,” as I often put it, in spades. I rest the case (for now).

Three, there is a deeper tragedy. Ukrainians live between East and West. This is not only a matter of geography: There is among them a mix of Eastern consciousness and Western consciousness. Accordingly, they had a chance to stand as the very best the new century offers us, a planet whose old divisions could be erased in favor of a more fulsome idea of the successful society and its potential.

This chance is now all but lost — destroyed by those who resisted it.

What I find remarkable now is that Moscow does not seem to be taking Ukraine’s misfortune and the West’s aggressions against Russia itself passively — or even negatively, for that matter. So we pass from the destructive file to the constructive.

Neil MacFarquhar, a standout in the New York Times’ Moscow bureau for his full-frontal prejudices, gave as negative an account as he could when he covered Putin’s year-end address. I had another read. This guy is bloodied, O.K., but he is not bowed, and I would advise against waiting for it.

I did like the Times’ head, parenthetically: “Putin, Amid Stark Challenges, Says Russia’s Destiny Is at Hand.” Without going histrionic, that is likely to prove precisely what is at hand. My favorite MacFarquhar sentence: “Mr. Putin enjoyed ever-greater support from March to August, but in the months since, as sanctions began to bite with inflation, support began to erode — though his approval ratings remain in the 80s.”

You have to love a paper that will publish this. Somehow.

Look at Putin’s foreign agenda this past year: Latin America just as the sanctions came in — an intentional finger in Washington’s eye, as I read it — then China, China again recently, Turkey more recently, India just now. He has not been to Iran, but there, as in all these other places, he has forged or reiterated promising relations. The deals cut are too numerous to list.

A couple are worth mentioning. The twin gas deals with China, worth nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars, are historic all by themselves. In six years’ time China will be buying more gas from Russia than the latter now sells to Europe. And do not miss this: My sources tell me that this gas can be priced such as to crowd the U.S. at least partially out of the Asian market.

Other side of the world: Putin has just canceled a planned pipeline to southeastern Europe, the South Stream. This is the defeat Western media put it over as, surely: Russia loses some customers. But two points: One, it was soon enough clear that the Europeans, having used South Stream as leverage in the sanctions game, probably overplayed their hand. The day following the announcement they were struggling for composure so far as I can make out.

Two, Putin stunned everyone with his decision from Ankara, where he stood with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to announce that South Stream would be rerouted to serve the Turkish market. Think about this: It is more than a new deal; there are significant political and diplomatic implications in this, given Turkey’s traditional alliances, its EU aspirations and so on.

This is the way the world changes shape, the way new worlds get built. Think of these new ties in terms of the old trade routes. Many things other than goods traveled along them. As then, the traffic will run in both directions, making our latest globalization the two-way street it should have been from the first.

One could say it is not the West’s world any longer, and I called it “post-Western” in a book several years ago. This is not quite so. It is ours, but only to the extent that it is destined to be everybody’s, if I read history rightly. As an American, my biggest regret on this score — apart from all the suffering caused in our names — is  that my country seems bent on doing almost everything it can to lose out on a great deal of what would be its share in the arriving era; this in the name of prolonging a time that is no longer.

 

Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications.

 

http://www.alternet.org/world/these-are-lies-new-york-times-wants-you-believe-about-russia?akid=12570.265072.dvZbyy&rd=1&src=newsletter1028563&t=14&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Stirring portrait of aging drag queens at the last gay bar in the Tenderloin

12.08.2014


Donna

San Francisco has changed both rapidly and radically over recent years. As it’s become more appealing both for cosmopolitan urbanites and the exploding tech sector, gentrification has blessed The City by the Bay with the most expensive one-bedroom apartment in America, even surpassing New York. Many mourn the loss of an earlier San Francisco and its formerly affordable counterculture and queer subculture, while San Francisco documentary photographer and filmmaker James Hosking manages to actually catch some of the twilight.

For his series, Beautiful by Night, Hosking documents the lives of three senior drag queens Donna Personna, Collette LeGrande and Olivia Hart, performers at aunt Charlie’s Lounge, the very last gay bar in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The notoriously seedy Tenderloin has managed to mostly resist gentrification on the merits of its reputation and a concerted effort by inhabitants. Still, without the surrounding culture of a former San Francisco to sustain it, the once vibrant queer scene has faded.

Hosking’s photographs are intimate and unflinching, but the mini-documentary is also an amazing portrait of three drag foremothers. Their reflections and reminiscing are complex but disarmingly at peace, and their performances and beauty rituals are (as expected) hypnotic.


Olivia


Collette LeGrande


Olivia


Collette


Olivia talks to shopkeeper


Gustavo at home


Gustavo/Donna


Gustavo/Donna


Collette performs Ke$ha’s “Tik-Tok”


Donna backstage between sets


Via Feature Shoot

 

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/stirring_portrait_of_aging_drag_queens

Could Greece be on the verge of another social explosion?

by Jerome Roos on December 5, 2014

Post image for Could Greece be on the verge of another social explosion?The hunger strike of an anarchist prisoner and the reaction on the streets are rekindling long-standing conflicts in Greek society going back to 1944.

The Greek streets have been relatively quiet of late. After four years of devastating economic depression and continued state repression, the revolutionary zeal that once animated the spectacular mobilizations of the early years of the crisis has since given way to a widespread sense of despondence. This may now be changing. Students and anarchists have been mobilizing in force in recent weeks to show their solidarity with Nikos Romanos, the anarchist prisoner who has been on hunger strike since November 10.

Both Nikos’ struggle and the response on the streets are laden with symbolic significance and historical resonance. In fact, the month of December has long brought out the best in the Greek resistance; and the worst in terms of the state’s reaction. Six years ago, on December 6, 2008, two special police officers rolled into the neighborhood of Exarchia — the well-known anarchist stronghold of Athens — and, following a brief altercation with a group of teenagers, murdered the 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos with a fatal shot through the heart. Fate has it that Nikos was there that night. Alexis was his best friend. He died in his arms.

The murder of Alexis sparked a month of intense rioting on the Greek streets. Schools, universities and empty buildings were occupied across the country as popular assemblies popped up in the most unexpected places. The establishment newspaper Kathimerini referred to the December 2008 riots as “the worst Greece has seen since the restoration of democracy in 1974.” An ominous prophecy was scribbled onto an Athenian wall in those days, one that was to portend the intense social unrest and mass demonstrations that were to follow in the 2010-’12 debt crisis. It simply read: “we are an image from the future.”

That dystopian future is now. On Saturday, it will be exactly six years since Alexis’ murder — and Alexis’ best friend Nikos Romanos, if he is lucky, will be spending it in hospital. Nikos stopped eating on November 10 in protest against the authorities’ refusal to grant him his legal right to educational furlough. His doctors warn that he is in critical condition and could succumb from heart or kidney failure anytime. The government has given hospital staff the order to force-feed him, but the doctors have refused. As Nikos’ health steadily deteriorates, the streets are becoming ever more combustible — especially in anticipation of the annual commemoration march for Alexis on Saturday.

On Tuesday night, fierce riots broke out in downtown Athens after more than 10.000 people marched through the city in solidarity with Nikos and four anarchist comrades who recently joined him on his hunger strike. The images of burning cars in Exarchia led many to wonder if a replay of 2008 might be in the cards if the state does not give in to Nikos’ demands soon. Riot police responded with the usual teargas and baton rounds, but what was truly worrisome were later reports that at least 10 detainees had been hospitalized with heavy injuries, including broken limbs and ribs. Two Syriza MPs who rushed to the police headquarters found the sixth floor of the building “covered in blood.”

In a further historical resonance, Tuesday’s clashes once again centered on the entrance gate to the Athens Polytechnic in Stournari street — the exact site of the 1973 student uprising that eventually led to the fall of the military junta. Back then, the dictatorship sent in a tank to ram down the university gates and positioned snipers on the rooftops who subsequently opened fire on the protesters down below, killing dozens. Many of today’s students and unemployed youth have parents who participated in the Polytechnic uprising, and there is a widespread sense that the new generation needs to “rise up to the challenge of our times” like their parents did in the 1970s.

But the historical origins of today’s state repression and creeping fascism can be traced back even further, to another fateful December — the Dekemvriana of 1944. This week it was exactly 70 years ago that violence broke out in Athens following the orders of the British commander Lt Gen Ronald Scobie and provisional Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou (father of ex-Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou and grandfather of ex-Prime Minister George Papandreou) to disarm the partisans of the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), who had just liberated the country from the German occupier.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE), with at least 50.000 men under arms in the countryside, constituted the most important part of ELAS, and the British feared that the Communists might march on Athens, take state power, and align Greece with the Soviet Union — threatening British imperial interests in the Mediterranean. So when 200.000 citizens poured into the streets to protest the decision to disarm the partisans, British troops conspired with Nazi sympathizers to open fire on the peaceful crowds, killing at least 28 unarmed civilians. In the next month, thousands of leftists were killed and 12.000 more deported to internment camps on Greek islands and across the Middle East.

Needless to say, the year 2014 is neither 2008 nor 1973 nor 1944. But the echoes of the past resound into the present to create, once again, an ominous image of the future. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, the Greek state was never truly purged of Nazi sympathizers after the war. This set the stage for the bloody civil war that lasted until 1949 and that in turn laid the groundwork for the military junta a generation later. The scars of the junta and the civil war still run through Greek society today, constituting the main fault line of political conflict along which the intense animosity between left and right continues to play out.

Even today, the descendants of Metaxas, the Nazi sympathizers and the Colonels retain control over a lingering deep state, with a heavy fascist presence in the police, the army and the judiciary. In this sense, as Ed Vulliamy and Helena Smith just pointed out in an investigation for The Observer, the youthful rebels of 2008 were really the children of the students of 1973 and the grandchildren of the partisans of 1944. And so the long-standing struggle against state repression and creeping fascism is carried over into the crisis-ridden Greece of 2014. No one can predict if the seismic frictions will once again cause the fault lines to erupt into a major social explosion. But a wave of occupations is already spreading through the country and the government — eager to stoke the tension — has banned demonstrations on Friday and part of Saturday.

This weekend will tell how far the mobilization can go, but one thing is clear: the relative quiet on the Greek streets cannot last forever.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JeromeRoos.

 

http://roarmag.org/2014/12/greece-nikos-romanos-protests/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Jerry Lee Lewis on touring with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins

“They knew, even then, they were seeing the greatest thing”

Cash, Perkins, Jackson — they were all legends, they were all young, and the early tours were unforgettably cool

Jerry Lee Lewis on touring with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins: "They knew, even then, they were seeing the greatest thing"
Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, December 4, 1956 (Credit: HarperCollins/Getty/Michael Ochs Archives)

Jerry Lee Lewis did not know where he was, precisely, just somewhere in Canada. The caravan thundered down highways that were barely there, the roadbed eaten by permafrost, the gravel flying like buckshot against the bottoms of the big cars. There was a long Lincoln Continental, a Fleetwood Cadillac, a mean-looking Hudson Hornet, and a brand-new Buick Supreme; it was new for only a thousand miles or so, till the potholes got it. The big sedans might have been different colors, once, but now they were all a uniform gray, the color of the blowing dust. Jerry Lee rode in the passenger seat of the Buick, sick of this great distance between crowds and applause, six hundred, seven hundred miles a day. “I didn’t drive. . . . I was paid to play piano and sing. Stars don’t drive.” Instead, he read Superman, or used a cigarette lighter to fire up one cherry bomb after another and flung them out the half window to explode under the trailing cars.

“That first tour was me, Johnny, and Carl, and Sonny James, Marvin Rainwater, Wanda Jackson. We put eighty, ninety thousand miles on that Buick, across Canada, across everywhere . . . throwing cherry bombs the whole way.” Sometimes he missed high and the cherry bombs exploded against windshields or on the hoods, and Johnny and Carl would curse him mightily, curse unheard, but one time he misjudged and the cherry bomb bounced off a window frame and into J. W.’s lap, and J. W.’s screams echoed inside the Buick for a good long while, longer than was seemly for a man. They could have used a chaperone, all of them, or a warden. The lead car was jammed with drum kits, guitar cases, and sharp-cut jackets and two-tone shoes. The only other provisions they packed were whiskey, cherry bombs, and comic books.

He cannot really remember all the little cities and towns they traveled through, not even the names on the road signs, only the vast, empty spaces in between. They would go two hundred miles or more and not see a café or a motel. “We’d stop at a store and get some Vienna sausages and bologna and bread and pickles and mustard, and pull over to the side of the road and have a picnic. . . . Calgary, that was one of the places. Quebec. They went crazy in Quebec. Pulled their dresses up.”



To the owners of the motels and truck stops, it must have seemed like the lunatics had wandered off the path, had stolen some good cars, and were terrorizing the countryside. “Johnny came in my room and saw this little bitty television in there, and he said, ‘You know, my wife’s always wanted one of them.’ And I told him, ‘Fine, go steal one from your own room.’ ” And it went that way, eight hundred, nine hundred miles a day, half drunk, pill crazy, larcenous, and destructive and beset by loose women and fits of temper, and it was perfect.

“We had some good fights,” says Jerry Lee. “A good fight just cleared the air.”

Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash had begun the tour as headliners. They were still the big names at Sun then and, Sam Phillips believed, his best moneymaking ventures. The problem was this newcomer, this blond-haired kid, who did not know his place and had no governor on his mouth, and in such close proximity, they could not tune him out and could not run away and could not kill him, either, though they considered it. He even had the gall to suggest, as the days wore on, he should close the shows, him with just two records cut and shipped and not even one yet on the charts. Who, they wondered aloud, did that Louisiana pissant think he was?

They were starting to call the music “rockabilly” now, but the kid refused to label himself as that, to endorse any kinship with that hillbilly-heavy blues that sold so well in any town with a tractor dealership on its main drag. To Jerry Lee, the word was denigrating, something imposed on these country boys and their music by the outside world. “I wasn’t no rockabilly,” he says, “I was rock and roll.” Carl was pure rockabilly—“Blue Suede Shoes” was the music’s anthem—and Johnny, the storyteller, was more country than most young rock and rollers aspired to be, though his “Get Rhythm” rocked out good and strong, as Jerry Lee recalls. The audience loved all of it, bought tickets by the handful and just moved to it, man, because it made old, traditional country music seem like the record player was too slow, and in town after town they lined up, hungry. But increasingly, as his stage presence swelled and swelled, it was Jerry Lee who created the excitement, who got them dancing, and so he demanded more and more of the spotlight. It was, he believed, only his due.

More than one music fan, more than one historian of rock and roll, have wished for a time machine, just so they could travel back to this one time, this one tour, to wedge into those packed auditoriums on the vast plains and in the Canadian Rockies, to see it all happen the way it did, to see Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, young and raw and wild, singing into big Art Deco microphones that looked like something that shook loose off the hood of an Oldsmobile, on stages scarred by a million metal folding chairs, in auditoriums where next week the featured attraction would be a high school production of The Merchant of Venice.

* * *

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, from Maud, Oklahoma, it’s the Queen of Rockabilly, Wanda…” And before the announcer could even get it out, the crowd was hollering and hooting—with here and there a wolf whistle or two—as Wanda Jackson came out from the wings in high, high heels, hips swinging free and easy like she walked that way going to the mailbox. She had not a made a sound yet, and already the loggers, drillers, and insurance men were beginning to sweat. This was no cowgirl. Her dresses were fringed, to accentuate her flying hips, and low-cut, to accentuate something else, and her legs were slim and perfect and her waist was so tiny a big man could encircle it with his two big hands. Her big hair was dark brown and flowing, and her big eyes were framed by a starlet’s arched eyebrows; she was a goddess with a voice like a beast, and she growled as she sang that a hardheaded woman is a thorn in the side of a man.

That was hard to follow. But here came Sonny James of Hackleburg, Alabama, striding out in his Western suit, a thin, dark-haired man who had survived the Korean War, singing a love song of the ages. “Young Love” was the song, and it wasn’t the words that made it lovely but how he did it, like smoke on velvet.

Next came that good-looking Marvin Rainwater, who wore a fringed buckskin shirt and a headband onstage, because he was one-quarter Cherokee. He sang in deep baritone about how he was “gonna find him a bluebird, let it sing all night long.” He was a mellow singer, a balladeer, and smoothed out the crowd before the real headliners came on, the boys from the land of the rising Sun.

First came Carl Perkins, in his too-tight pants and pointy sideburns, and he let it rip:

Well, it’s one for the money

Two for the show . . .

Through force of will, Jerry Lee had climbed up the bill and over and straight through Carl, till now there was only Johnny Cash, in his elegant, somber black, hovering just above him on the marquee. That night, there had been the usual argument over who would close the show. Johnny, with the bigger name and a song on the charts, had the promoters on his side: he got top billing, which meant he had to follow Jerry Lee. But first Jerry Lee had to surrender the stage.

The stage had become a kind of laboratory for Jerry Lee, and he was the mad scientist. Onstage he mixed and matched songs and versions of songs, stitched together some parts and discarded others; because he was Jerry Lee, he did what he felt like in the moment, in a set that was supposed to be four or so songs, but he ignored that, too. He gave them “Crazy Arms” one minute and “Big-Legged Woman” the next, and they clapped to one and stomped and howled to the other. His show got wilder and increasingly wicked on that tour, and the audiences bellowed for encores. He had heard that Canadians were earnest, reserved people, but he must have heard wrong. More and more he was beginning to understand that, while the music was at the core, that was just the start of it. Putting on a show was like flipping the switch on Frankenstein’s monster, then watching it show the first twitching signs of life. “You got to dress right, act right, carry yourself right; it all had to come together.”

The good-looking part, well, God had handled that. But you had to use it. His hair, by now, had become almost like another instrument. Under the lights, it really did shine like burnished gold, and at the beginning of a show it was oiled down and slicked back, and he looked respectable, like a tricked-out frat boy or preacher’s kid. But on the rocking songs, he slung his head around like a wild man, and that hair came unbound; it hung down across his face, and that just did something to the women—and their screams did something to the crowd, and things just got kind of squirrely. As it came unbound, the waves turned into tangled curls and ringlets, and it seemed to have a life of its own, a wicked thing, like Medusa herself. Sometimes he would whip out a comb onstage and try to comb it back under control, but it was too wild to tame. “I was the first one in rock and roll to have long hair,” he says, thinking back to that night, “and I did shake it.”

These were the biggest crowds he had seen or heard, and he can see and hear them still.

“More!”

“More!”

“More!”

He did one encore, then two, and at the end he did “Shakin’,” in pandemonium.

“They wouldn’t let me off the stage.” By the time he finished, the people were out of their seats and the constables were looking antsy. Jerry Lee swaggered off the stage, one arm held stiffly in the air, a salute more than a wave. “And I left ’em wondering who that wild boy was.”

Johnny Cash stood there, sweating and almost white, as the crowd screamed for more. As Jerry Lee remembers it, “he was like a statue. He never said a word.”

In the auditorium, a woman had fainted in the aisle.

Jerry Lee walked right on by Johnny. “Nobody follows the Killer,” he said over his shoulder.

The crowd was still yelling “Jerry Lee! Jerry Lee!” as Johnny came out onstage.

They quieted, respectfully, as he sang “I Walk the Line.”

I keep a close watch on this heart of mine.

I keep my eyes wide open all the time.

They loved Johnny in Canada, but it was like a lull after the storm. “Johnny wouldn’t follow me after that, said he wouldn’t never follow me again,” says Jerry Lee. “He said, ‘When he’s through, it’s done.’ Can’t nobody follow me.” That night, after the show, the girls came by not one or two at a time but in a crowd. “It was unavoidable, too,” says Jerry Lee. “The girls come by in the evening, even before the shows sometimes, when the sun went down. And I just told ’em to go on,” and then he smiles at that, at even the possibility of such a thing happening, of his sending away a beautiful girl.

“My gosh, what a time.”

Some legends begin like that, in great drama, and others are purely accidental. Somewhere on the road, in another place he cannot really recall, he got sick and tired of playing sitting down while everybody else in the place was on their feet, so he just rose up to play standing. He loved the piano, but it did anchor a man and give him feet of clay. But as he rose, the piano bench was in the way. “So I decided I would just take the heel of my boot and push the piano bench back just a little bit, to make some room, but my boot got caught and I gave the bench a flip across the stage, and man, it tore that audience up. And I said, ‘Well, so this is what they want.’ ” If they liked it when he just tumped it over, what would they do if he hauled off and kicked it across the stage? So he did, and they howled and hooted and the women screamed, so he had to do it every time now, every blessed time.

“Oh, yeah,” says Jerry Lee, “I was a little bit out of control.”

Performers came and went on the tour, but Jerry Lee spent most of his time with Johnny and Carl despite the tension between him and the other two. It seems almost sweet now, to think of them as a fraternity of young men playing jokes and scuffling in the dirt and acting like spoiled children on the road, as they hammered out their craft. But the road was a good bit darker than that. Everyone was addicted to something. Carl drank hard, most nights and some days, and Johnny was hopelessly hooked on pills, always talking about deep things like man’s inhumanity to man, and prisons, and whether or not pigs could see the wind. And there was Jerry Lee, flying high on all of it and running hot.

“I liked Carl,” says Jerry Lee. “He became my friend. He was a great talent. He could sing, had a real good voice, and he could play that guitar. He could play all over that guitar.” His feelings about Cash are more complicated. “Johnny, well, I just didn’t think he could sing. Wrote some real good songs . . . but let’s just say he wasn’t no troubadour.” He and Cash would be friends off and on and even record together as older men, but in the cold northern spring of ’57, the man in black was one more obstacle in his way.

Oddly enough, when things finally boiled over, it was not Cash he had to fight. One night, in a town he cannot really recall, he and Carl Perkins sat in some lounge chairs outside a small motel, just cooling it in the chill air. Springtime temperatures in the Canadian mountains were about zero some days, but they hated being cooped up in the tiny hotel rooms. At some point in the evening, there had been a quart bottle of brown liquor in their proximity, but no one could remember exactly where it went.

“Carl was pretty well drunk,” recalls Jerry Lee, “and I was just drinking, a little bit.”

That night, Perkins was wearing a fancy shirt from Lansky’s in Memphis, where Elvis got his clothes. “Does this shirt look good?” he asked Jerry Lee.

Jerry Lee did not care if Carl was wearing a burlap sack tied together with fishing line. He only cared what he looked like, and he knew he would be elegant standing in a mudhole.

“Don’t I look good?” Carl asked.

Jerry Lee felt like spitting. He snarled, “You an’ Elvis, always walking around in these fancy clothes, always worried about how you look . . .”

Jerry Lee may have been slightly more drunk than he recalled. “Carl come out of that chair ready to fight, and the next thing I knew we were fighting across the trunk of that Buick.” It was not, he says now, an epic battle. “I wasn’t throwing no good punches, and Carl wasn’t, either.” He does remember getting in one good backhand, and then it was over, and they were friends again, but the jealousy would continue. “It was unavoidable. I would get encores in front of twelve thousand people, two encores, three encores. . . . They knew. They knew, even then, they were seeing the greatest thing.”

He played one stage that was built on a giant turntable that spun slowly around as he played. “I didn’t like that. I liked to stay in one spot, so I could keep my eye on certain people.” He would lose sight of a pretty girl, he said, if he was spinning, spinning. “And then I just had to get my eye on ’em all over again. I could always spot my girl then. Wasn’t no problem, finding a beautiful girl. Look, I’d say to myself, there’s a couple. I’d say, Look, there in the third row.” In Quebec, he almost fell in love. “They pulled them dresses up, and I hollered, ‘Pull it up a little bit higher, baby,’ and they did. Man, they just laid it on you. And they kept on just layin’ it on you, night after night, city after city.”

He was still married, of course, to the volatile Jane, who was still in Ferriday with his son and his parents’ family, but the truth is that he tried not to think about her that much, anymore. It had been a marriage of necessity, and it seemed less necessary two thousand miles away. “I was living the dream,” he said, even if the reality it was based on was, for the time being, more than a little thin.

They drove on for nearly two months, doubling back for even more shows in more remote places, wide-open during the day, wide-open at night, smelling of sweat and whiskey and gunpowder. He was off his leash completely now and, it seemed to some people, almost a little out of his mind. He had taken to playing the piano sometimes with his feet, his size 9½ loafers, and the crowd roared for that, too. “I played it with my feet, in key. It can be done, if you know what you’re doing. It wasn’t just no stunt. I played it.” He was showing off and showing people up, and the crowd was in love with all of it, and by late spring his lightning was bouncing around the airwaves, just weaker and more distant than he would have preferred.

The musicians who played with him remember any encounter with him as a kind of validation, a kind of certificate of authenticity. Guitarist Buzz Cason would later write how he walked out of a theater in Richmond and saw Jerry Lee, the great Roland Janes, and Russ Smith, his pint-size touring drummer, dancing after a show on the roof of a ’58 Buick, just dancing, because the time onstage was never quite long enough. He remembers traveling with Jerry Lee to Buffalo, and that Jerry Lee wanted to make a side trip to Niagara Falls. He stood on a wall overlooking the great cascade, his blond hair whipping in the wind, and stared down into the abyss for maybe thirty seconds, then jumped to the ground. “Jerry Lee Lewis has seen the Niag-uh Falls. Now let’s go home, boys.”

Once on a swing through Texas, he saw two singular-looking individuals sitting at a table in a big nightclub. One was his onetime piano hero, Moon Mullican. The other was the homely but melodic Roy Orbison, another Sun artist. “It was in Odessa, Roy Orbison’s hometown. Roy, his point was, he wanted to borrow fifty dollars from me, so he could get out of that town. . . . He said he knew he could cut a hit record if he could ever get out of that town. And I said, ‘Well, I’ll be glad to loan you fifty dollars.’ ” Orbison quickly grew jealous of Jerry Lee at Sun, believing that Sam Phillips was devoting too much of the label’s energy to one man. It wouldn’t be the last time that happened. “He got a little upset,” says Jerry Lee, but at least he got out of Odessa.

“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was finally on the radio, not just in Memphis but nationwide, and according to Billboard, “taking off like wildfire” in country, rhythm and blues, and pop. By the time he got back to the South, it had become a constant on Memphis radio. “They were playin’ it in all the hamburger joints,” he says, and he would ride down the streets of Memphis in his red Cadillac with the top down and hear his own genius wash all around him and into the almost liquid air that is Memphis in summer. Sometimes he’d take his cousin Myra, who made goo-goo eyes at him under her dark-brown bangs.

Excerpt of “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story” (C) 2014  JLL Ferriday, Inc. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Stop calling the Keystone pipeline a job creator! It will create 35 jobs.

Keystone will not create tens of thousands of jobs. The actual number? 35

 

The Keystone myth that refuses to die: Stop calling the pipeline a job creator!

(Credit: MSNBC)

Of all the reasons one might have to support the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline (like, say, a last-minute gambit to save one’s Senate seat), arguing that it’s going to create jobs is the least sensical — because, as the State Department itself determined, it will create only 35 permanent jobs.

Even with the 15 other, temporary jobs the project will create, for inspections and maintenance, that’s still not enough even to employ the 60 senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., needs to pass through approval of the pipeline when it comes to a vote Tuesday evening.

And yet the argument that Keystone will lead to jobs upon jobs upon jobs is perhaps the most pervasive, and fundamentally incorrect, myth surrounding the pipeline controversy.

Only an extremely skewed reading of the job projections could lead Fox News Host Anna Kooiman, for example, to claim that “there would be tens of thousands of jobs created” if the president approved of the pipeline, a claim that Politifact rounded down to “mostly false.” While it’s true that the State Department estimates that 42,100 jobs — many only tangentially related to the pipeline — will be created during its two years of construction, they’re almost all temporary, and include 10,400 seasonal positions that will only last for four to eight months. When you look at that over the course of two years, Politifact explains, that only comes out to 3,900 “average annual” jobs. Most of the construction jobs in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas, through which the pipeline will pass, will rely on specialists brought in from out of state.

TransCanada’s CEO, Russ Girling, further stretched the truth into an outright lie on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday morning, claiming that the State Department called those 42,000 jobs “ongoing” and “enduring.” Again, Politifact corrects the record, explaining that, for the reasons above, those adjectives only apply if you have an incredibly short-sighted definition of “ongoing and enduring” (read: two years or less).



But if you really want to get an idea of how hard the jobs myth is to squash, look no further than lefty news channel MSNBC, where host Joe Scarborough propagated that same false narrative. Questioning a potential decision to delay the pipeline, he laughed: “Their own State Department says it’s going to create 50,000 new jobs.”

Again: not.

You know what already did create tens of thousands of jobs, in nearly every state? Renewable energy, which according to a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs created almost 80,000 of them in 2013 alone. The main thing holding back future growth, that same report found, is “ongoing regulatory uncertainty,” most notably with wind energy tax credits. It’s worth checking out, especially if you happen to be a politician who’s legitimately looking for a way to grow the economy.

Those other persuasive arguments for approving the pipeline, for the record, don’t hold up much better: The part of the State Department review finding that Keystone would have a negligible impact on the environment, for one, is made extremely suspect by the multiple conflicts of interest surrounding it. The local impacts of leaks and the global impacts of emitting any more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would suggest otherwise; another study evaluating the State Department’s analysis concluded that the report downplays the pipeline’s environmental significance.

Studies have established that the pipeline isn’t going to reduce the United States’ dependence on foreign oil. And over at the Washington Post, Philip Bump has the ultimate explainer for why it isn’t going to lower gas prices in any straightforward way — it some regions, in fact, it could even raise them. What he boils it all down to: “The most direct beneficiaries of Keystone XL won’t be consumers.”

Here’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on CNN, trying to wrap his mind around the idea that approving the pipeline would make any kind of sense whatsoever:

Oh, and one other job pushing the pipeline won’t be able to ensure? Sen. Landrieu’s, as voters don’t seem to have been swayed by her pro-Keystone rhetoric. Although, as Salon writers Luke Brinker and Joan Walsh have both pointed out, we can expect to see a brand-new position with the oil lobby created just for her once this is all over.

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.