Alexander Cockburn: Surefooted Mountain Goat of Radical Journalism

It is the symbol of the mountain goat that carries my astonishment and grief at news of the death of Alexander Cockburn.

“It stays at high elevations,” says Wikipedia of the mountain goat, “and is a sure-footed climber, often resting on rocky cliffs that predators cannot access.”

Such was the writing of Alex, who always leapt and clattered upon the highest and stoniest peaks. Language for him was not to be wasted in comfy meadows. He reminded readers, syllable by syllable, that human beings are good enough to expect the best from themselves and their history.

Thanks to the editorial support of Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, the Texas Civil Rights Review was able to share more than a hundred stories with CounterPunch readers. I would now and then send notes to Alex expressing my gratitude for his editorial support. He would now and then reciprocate with messages of encouragement.

“THANKS GREG KEEP ON SLUGGING,” he wrote once. So the best way I know to remember Alex is to keep on slugging away! –gm

Irma Muniz: Open Letter for Meeting with Obama

July 21, 2012

Dear Friends:

My name is Irma Muñiz and I have struggled for many years to free my husband, Ramiro “Ramsey” Muñiz from imprisonment for a 1994 conviction and excessive sentence of life without parole for a non-violent drug offense. Ramsey and our family have endured pain, agony, and nearly 20 years of suffering. Ramsey is now turning 70 years of age and we refuse to let him die in prison.

Wrong perceptions and judgment, mistakes, withholding evidence, and Ramsey’s political background contributed to his convictions. He was a community activist during the Civil Rights Movement. Ramsey raised political consciousness in Texas and the Southwest. He enabled many to gain a political voice and seek public office at local, state, and national levels. He incurred legal problems as a result of this activism.

We have fought my husband’s case for many years, but all appeals have been exhausted as the laws favor the government. I now seek an audience with President Barack Obama so that I can present my husband’s situation to him. I seek letters of support.

To send a letter of support by mail, please print and sign the sample letter and mail it to me so that I can compile it with others. See the sample letter on the next page.

To send a letter to President Barack Obama by email, go to the “submit questions can comments” section of the White House website. Copy and paste the letter and sign it or write your own.

Thank you in advance for helping me to free my husband from his wrongful incarceration since 1994. To learn about him, go to:

Very truly yours,
Irma Muñiz, Chairperson
National Committee to Free Ramsey Muñiz

Sample letter

July 21, 2012

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Meeting Requested by Irma Muñiz, wife of Ramsey Muñiz
July 21, 2012

Dear President Obama:

I write to express my support for Irma Muñiz, who seeks a meeting to discuss the case of her husband, Ramiro “Ramsey” Muñiz. This will allow her to present information about her husband’s situation and seek your assistance.

This humanitarian issue pertains to the suffering that incarceration has on families. Irma Muñiz and her family have struggled for many years to free a husband, father, and son-in-law who is turning 70 years of age.

You and First Lady Michelle Obama stress the essence of the family. As President of the United States, we ask that you grant Irma Muñiz a meeting and allow her to share one family’s perspective on suffering. Her experience can serve as an example to many who seek a means of overcoming hardship through faith and the love that God gives to all families.

Very truly yours,

A New Book on the “Texas Model” — Part I

By Nick Braune

A teacher friend raved to me about a funny but also very informative new book about this troubled state: As Texas Goes, by Gail Collins. Although I told him I would look it up, I wasn’t going to, until it clicked who Gail Collins is. I had drawn a blank momentarily because I was picturing a Texas writer, then I recognized who she is, the very clever, skewering, biting, regular political columnist for the New York Times. (Love the Times or hate it, everyone knows that its editorial writers are world-class — not everyone who wants to write for the Times gets to.)

I whisked over to Barnes and Noble to snag one: Gail Collins skewering Texas…it’s got to be good. And – let me be clear — my trip to the store was worth it. The book is fairly short, refreshing, and a real kick. It has everything, from current digs at Governor Perry’s incoherent, “oops” campaign for the Presidency to a demystified interpretation of the historic, sentimentalized, Alamo stand of Davey Crocket: Historic, maybe; heroic, maybe; stupid, stubborn and adolescent, surely. I am constantly aware that Texas is not normal, but I have lived here so long that I forget just how people outside the state look at it. And Gail Collins’ book is a brutal, friendly reminder.

According to Collins, Texas always thinks it should be a model for other states. Governor Perry, for instance, campaigned for president in 2011, touting some economic miracle which Texas could provide for the nation. But of course few people rushed to Perry’s incoherent model once they found out that Texas has very high foreclosure rates, is 49th in average credit scores, is 38th in average hourly earnings in manufacturing, and surpasses every other state except four in child poverty rates.

Twelve years before Perry was bragging about how America should model itself on Texas’ economy, George W. Bush was campaigning for president saying that Texas is a miracle model for education.

That campaign was twelve years ago and, not incidentally, Texas is still low (42nd) in the number of high school graduates going to college. Eighth graders in Texas are three percent below the national average in reading, and yet the amount of state aid per pupil is 47th in the country. Collins shows that higher education (from community colleges, on up) is also cheated by Texas: Texas only has two public institutions listed in America’s “100 Best” colleges and universities (U.S. News and World Report’s famous ranking). Two out of a hundred, and UT is ranked 45th and A&M is ranked 63rd.

Want to shudder, remembering Governor George Bush’s “Texas model” of education and how America fell for it? Get Collins’ book, which has a few chapters on education:

“Then came the 2000 elections. During the campaign George W. Bush couldn’t stop talking about education. ‘It’s important to have standards,’ he’d say, holding up his hand to indicate the setting of a bar – a gesture that seemed to indicate the standards he had in mind were about five feet high…As a presidential candidate, George W Bush wasn’t just issuing general promises to improve the schools. He claimed to have the secret recipe.”

But in actuality, according to Collins, Texas’ education testing model was phony and ill-conceived, to the extent that the Bush/Perry Republicans are now denying they ever pushed it.

The Ideals of Harry Belafonte — and Obama? — Part II

By Nick Braune

My column last week discussed the new autobiography of Harry Belafonte, who was raised in poverty and considerable misery during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and who joined the U.S. Navy at 17 years of age during WWII. He wanted to do something important with his life, as well as to escape poverty. In the autobiography — I read every word of it and studied the pictures — there is a photo of Belafonte in uniform, looking proud and really young.

With his aspirations awakened, Belafonte became disturbed as he watched how blacks were used and abused in the segregated military. (He himself was falsely accused of some infraction by a racist officer and was thrown into a cell for two weeks.) But after serving his country well and reentering civilian life following the war, he was far more mature than when he left and he viewed the poverty of those around him and the continuing racial discrimination in the country more methodically. He knew he personally had to escape poverty, but he also knew he must spend his life fighting for social justice for others. And he did.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, Belafonte became America’s most prominent black entertainer: a singer, an actor and an important civil rights activist and strategist, playing a formative role for racial justice, particularly in the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s. And he also played a later role in the fight against South Africa’s Apartheid. I was gripped by his book and his life — yes, he is still alive, almost 80, and still an activist.

I savored his comments about his decision to use his music and acting training for the liberation of mankind. He could have been a successful crooner like Frank Sinatra, but he explains clearly that he rejected singing about how the moon is blue and I ‘m in love with you. He rejected becoming either a crowd-pleasing slick operator like Sinatra or a self-effacing Sammy Davis, Jr.

I waited for Belafonte’s comments on Obama, our first Black president who might have represented the audacious hopes of the 1950s and 1960s. True, Obama in his first month of office would appoint a black Attorney General (Erik Holder) and soon would put the first Hispanic (Sonia Sotomayor) on the Supreme Court, but has Obama represented the audacious commitment to equality and justice that he seemed to promise? Not according to Harry Belafonte, one of the great living progressive figures from that decisive mid-twentieth century period:

“For all his smoothness and intellect, Barack Obama seems to lack a fundamental empathy with the disposed, be they white or black. Frankly, I would have thought the first black president would work especially hard to alleviate the plight of inner-city black Americans. I appreciate the passage of the stimulus package. I understand that a national health insurance bill helps us all. But why, I have kept wondering, hasn’t he used his power to bring more humanity to a justice system that imprisons one out of every three black males in America, giving us the largest prison population in the world? I would like Obama to say forcibly that racial problems exist. Show some heart, put some skin in the game. By tacking to the political center, disassociating himself from the left, he has all but abandoned the poor. And who else, after all, speaks for the poor but the left?”