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Archive for February, 2007|Monthly archive page

Nationwide Katrina Clap

In class warfare, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Labor, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 3:38 pm

A lot of the images America saw in the aftermath ofHurricane Katrina have faded away from the public consciousness, BUT the underlying problem is still very much present  The article below, originally published by the Independent UK,  is a good description of the poverty situation in America.  If you didn’t already know, this is real serious.

The number of Americans living in severe poverty has expanded dramatically under the Bush administration, with nearly 16 million people now living on an individual income of less than $5,000 (£2,500) a year or a family income of less than $10,000, according to an analysis of 2005 official census data.

The analysis, by the McClatchy group of newspapers, showed that the number of people living in extreme poverty had grown by 26 per cent since 2000. Poverty as a whole has worsened, too, but the number of severe poor is growing 56 per cent faster than the overall segment of the population characterised as poor – about 37 million people in all according to the census data. That represents more than 10 per cent of the US population, which recently surpassed the 300 million mark.

The widening of the income gap between haves and have-nots is nothing new in America – it has been going on steadily since the late 1970s. What is new, though, is the rapid increase in numbers at the bottom of the socio-economic pile. The numbers of severely poor have increased faster than any other segment of the population.

“That was the exact opposite of what we anticipated when we began,” one of the McClatchy study’s co-authors, Steven Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University, said. “We’re not seeing as much moderate poverty as a proportion of the population. What we’re seeing is a dramatic growth of severe poverty.”

The causes of the problem are no mystery to sociologists and political scientists. The share of national income going to corporate profits has far outstripped the share going to wages and salaries. Manufacturing jobs with benefits and union protection have vanished and been supplanted by low-wage, low-security service-sector work. The richest fifth of US households enjoys more than 50 per cent of the national income, while the poorest fifth gets by on an estimated 3.5 per cent.

The average after-tax income of the top 1 per cent is 63 times larger than the average for the bottom 20 per cent – both because the rich have grown richer and also because the poor have grown poorer; about 19 per cent poorer since the late 1970s. The middle class, too, has been squeezed ever tighter. Every income group except for the top 20 per cent has lost ground in the past 30 years, regardless of whether the economy has boomed or tanked.

These figures are rarely discussed in political forums in America in part because the economy has, in large part, ceased to be regarded as a political issue – John Edwards’ “two Americas” theme in his presidential campaign being a rare exception – and because the right-wing think-tanks that have sprouted and thrived since the Reagan administration have done a good job of minimising the importance of the trends.

They have argued, in fact, that the poverty statistics are misleading because of the mobility of US society. A small number of left-wing think-tanks, such as the Economic Policy Institute, meanwhile, argue that the census figures are almost certainly lower than the real picture because many people living in extreme poverty do not answer census questionnaires.

United States poverty league: States with the most people in severe poverty

California 1.9m

Texas 1.6m

New York 1.2m

Florida 943,670

Illinois 681,786

Ohio 657,415

Pennsylvania 618,229

Michigan 576,428

Georgia 562,014

North Carolina 523,511

Source: US Census Bureau

Colombia’s Death Squads and Another Forgotten War

In Culture of Corruption, Global War On Terror, International politics, Terrorism on February 28, 2007 at 3:30 pm

With everything going on in the Middle East, it is easy to get foreign policy blinders and neglect our approach to the rest of the world. Recently, one of George Bush’s most staunch political allies in Latin America, Colombia’s 2nd term President Álvaro Uribe, has come under fire for supposed connections to paramilitary groups and death squads operating throught the country. Considering the $4.7 Billion in aid we’ve given to the country since 2000 – not to mention all of it in the ’80s during the D.A.R.E./War on Drugs Regan years – this has our name all over it at a time when we’ve already got enough policy blunders under our belt. Columbia’s government is obviously in a state of upheaval:

“Eight pro-Uribe congressmen have been arrested for collaborating with paramilitaries, and dozens of national and regional politicians, some of whom have apparently fled the country, are under investigation. Pro-Uribe legislators, as well as the opposition, have called for special elections to “cleanse” Congress and erase suspicions that many may have won because of support from paramilitaries. A decorated colonel has been relieved of his post, and other former military officials are also under investigation.

On Feb. 19, Uribe’s foreign minister,María Consuelo Araújo, resigned after the Supreme Court arrested her brother, an Uribe-allied senator, in connection with the kidnapping of a political rival. Her father, a former governor, another brother and a cousin are also under investigation.

On Feb. 22 came the worst blow. Jorge Noguera, who served as Uribe’s campaign manager and later as head of the secret police, was arrested by the attorney general. Noguera is accused of giving a hit list of trade unionists and activists to paramilitaries, who then killed them.”

This is even more troubling when one looks at his approval ratings (in the mid 60s – 70s) among Colombia’s citizenry, and his decent progress towards peace and stability in the country. Losing a popular incumbent leader to a scandal as pervasive and ugly as this could create a serious backlash in a region already foaming with anti-Americanism, to say nothing of undermining the credibility of the Colombian government as a whole. Execution lists and subsidized murder reek of Pinochet, and though we’re not taught about these moments in our own history, be damn sure they aren’t forgotten:

“Representative William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat active in Latin American affairs, said evidence of the right-of-center government’s links to death squads ‘evokes memories of the 1980s in Central America. I think you’re going to see hearings on these issues.’

Aside from the problems in Colombia, Delahunt said that ‘what we have is a Latin America policy that is an afterthought.’ “

There really isn’t much separating this from Afghanistan, where the Taliban – remember them? – has come back in a big way even before they started takin pot shots at Cheney. I guess starting one war before finishing another has unintended consequences. Despite our financial aid and the strings holding up Mr. Karzai, neither he nor the outnumbered NATO force seem to have the muscle or authority to keep this house in order and yet another terrorist group has reaped the benefits of our folly. In Colombia’s case, it might have started as a domestic conflict between the Government, FARC and ELN, but it’s been perpetuated and escalated with our money and our War on Drugs. Plan Colombia certainly isn’t doing them any favors, and it’s ineffectiveness underscores our troubling history in the region as well as our nasty habit of starting wars but not having the ability to finish them.

Whether funded by Opium or Cocaine, it seems as though warloads and guerrillas can continue to operate well out of our reach as long as we’re tied down – militarily, financially, politically and diplomatically – in Iraq; yet another half-assed war. And just as the Afghanistan has fallen back under the thumb of the Taliban, so too is Iraq slipping more and more into the sphere of influence of Iran. If the Uribe’ administration collapses under the weight of it’s own bloody corruption, a similar power vacuum might open it’s mouth over Colombia, in which case Ahmadinejad’s best friend, the great consolidator Hugo Chavez, will be ready to make room for another country in his grand designs for domination. How many more situations like these are waiting for us? When are we truly going to know the cost of our forgotten wars?

Redistricting Prisoners

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, The War On Drugs, Urban Planning / Space, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 11:21 am

Another one that isn’t a new conversation, but good to see Schneiderman keeping it on the table…

Where prisoners are counted as population for redistricting purposes is an urgent issue for New York to deal with before 2010 Census redistricting, especially considering the Community Service Society of New York reports that,

“Approximately 80% of New York State’s prison population consists of Blacks and Latinos from New York City’s predominately Black and Latino communities, including Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side, the South and East Bronx, Central and East Brooklyn, and Southeast Queens. When released, the majority of the former prisoners return to these communities.”

This, from today’s Albany Times Blog,

Eileen Markey’s article in City Limits alludes to another parallel. The majority of our state’s prisoners come from downstate (New York City), but virtually all the state’s prisons are upstate. More importantly, those prisoners are counted as “residents” of upstate towns in the decennial census, but they are unable to vote. Thus, for the purposes of reapportionment and redistricting in NY, prisoners are like seat fillers at the Oscars: they give districts the appearance of being full, but they have absolutely no clout.

This practice has meaningful economic and political consequences. The resources diverted to districts upstate do little to aid prisoners, while the actual residents get a disproportionately large slice of the pie. In turn, less money is directed to downstate districts that already lack resources and support returning prisoners upon their release. Politically, this method has favored Republicans, who are heavily concentrated upstate. By allocating prisoners up north, redistricters respecting one-person/one-vote doctrine must create more districts upstate; these puffed-up districts have tended to elect GOP candidates.

There are simple ways to change New York’s method of counting prisoners. Some states simply do not count prisoners when redistricting. Others, including Sen. Eric Schneiderman have proposed creating a database with the last known addresses of prisoners, and counting them there. Either proposal would bring more fairness to the system and help end the current practice in NY which heaps insult onto injury: not only are prisoners being used for partisan gain, but their home districts suffer as well. Or, put another way, not only are they little more than nominees with no chance at a statue, they’re left without the coveted swag too.

Income Inequality: Income of 1.2m on top = Income of 45.5m on bottom

In class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Laws & Regulation, Progressive Politics, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 10:39 am

In case you need a good pick-me-up with your cup o’ joe, here are some tid-bits the Wall Street Journal pulled out from a recent CBO report. Nothing too new, but good to stay motivated:

…Before taxes, the bottom 40% of U.S. households got 13% of the nation’s income in 2004; after federal taxes of all sorts they got about 15%, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest estimates. Because of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a cash bonus the government offers low-wage workers, many Americans at the bottom get money from the government, rather than having to pay income taxes; they still face payroll taxes on their wages.

Before taxes, the top 1% got about 16% of income; after taxes they ended up with 14%. (Yes, you read that right: The 1.2 million best-off households got about as much income, even after taxes, as the 45.5 million worst-off.) That top 1%, by the way, pays about a quarter of all federal taxes.

…The Treasury benefits more when CEOs get bigger raises than when ordinary workers gain, and that, along with the buoyant economy, is a big reason for today’s surge in federal revenue.

Immigration Detention Centers Privatize Food (PS: Food’s top reason for rioting)

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Food Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, International politics, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Race, Terrorism, US Politics on February 28, 2007 at 10:26 am

Whew… Could turn into an underreported mess

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau has decided to hire an Alaska Native corporation to take over detention center food service work currently performed by dozens of federal employees.

Fifty-six ICE food service employees at detention centers in Miami; Los Angeles; Los Fresnos and El Paso, Texas; Florence, Ariz.; and El Centro, Calif., will be replaced by ANC workers, according to a notice posted earlier this month on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. The decision was made after the agency conducted a streamlined public-private job competition, in which officials decided after completing market research that it would be best to outsource the work.

Officials then announced in the notice early this month that, rather than soliciting proposals from all interested private sector companies, they would give the work to an Alaska Native firm. These companies are considered disadvantaged and allowed to bypass some of the normal competitive procedures required to win federal contracts.

…”ICE is not required to even show that this type of contractor is cheaper or better than federal employees, so the results of the … competition don’t matter, much less the way it was conducted,” said one person at the Homeland Security Department, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. ICE is part of DHS.

…A separate agency source predicted that officials may have a difficult time making a smooth transition to a contract workforce.

“I foresee disturbances likely to occur after the new contractors take over,” said the source, who also spoke under the condition of anonymity. “One of the primary reasons inmates [and] detainees riot is the quality of the food service. Contract employees will be held to strict time limits, [and] the quality and quantity will surely suffer as a result.”

World Bank, Caribbean Nations to Discuss Natural Disaster Insurance Fund

In Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Hurricane Katrina, International politics, International Public Health, International Trade, Land rights, US Politics on February 27, 2007 at 4:00 pm

The World Bank and Caribbean nations are exploring the creation of a new fund to insure island nations against hurricanes and other natural disasters. Representatives from 18 Caribbean countries gathered Monday in Washington to discuss the bank’s first program to offer the insurance, which would provide countries with immediate liquidity in the event of a natural disaster. Each participating country will pay $1 million (euro760,000) annually in exchange for up to $30 million (euro22.8 million) in coverage, according to World Bank officials.

The World Bank hopes to collect some $50 million (euro38 million) from donors, including the European Union, France and Canada, which will send representatives to the conference. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz [1] [2] will preside over the talks. The bank aims to make the insurance available for the upcoming hurricane season, which starts in June.

Conservapedia?

In Culture jamming, Netroots, Technology on February 27, 2007 at 3:31 pm

I’m busy at work, but could not pass this one up.  The following is taken from a post by Matthew Weaver of the Guardian News Blog.

A group of religious zealots and social rightwingers in America are taking on the might of Wikipedia. Based on their belief that Wikipedia’s liberal and secular bias is polluting young American minds, they have set up Conservapedia to put the record straight and promote creationism in “educational, clean and concise” entries.

Despite suspicions that it is a parody, the site is apparently deadly serious. It has become the laughing stock of the internet, as bloggers compete to find the most ludicrous entries.

Cosmic variance finds lots. BoingBoing is tickled by the entry on the Satanic aspects of the humble cactus. While Erikemery thinks the whole thing is “absolutely, incredibly hilarious”.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is relaxed about it, judging by comments to the New Scientist blog. But the site he created has a pretty dismissive entry on the Eagle Forum, who are apparently responsible for Conservapedia.

Meanwhile, Wonkette is amused by efforts to subvert the site with vandalised entries.

Others say the site is no laughing matter. It is “racist” and “repugnant trash”, says Jack and Jill politics. While Mike Dunford on Science blog says Conservapedia may seem funny at first but it is actually a very worrying sign of the growth of prejudice over facts. In a thoughtful post, he says: “Conservapedia is a joke, to be sure, and it’s not even a good joke … It is a mindset that is unhealthy and unacceptable, and it needs to be fought.”

 Anybody find anything good on there?

 

Givin Up Food For Funk

In Food Justice, Music, New York City, Race on February 21, 2007 at 1:09 am

This Thursday, come out to M1-5 in Manhattan for the second edition of 432 Thursdays.  This time we’re dedicating the night to James Brown, with an evening full of his performances, writings, productions, samples, and covers.  Not only was the “Godfather of Soul” one of the most important figures in all of modern music, but he also often included some important lyrics in terms of social, racial, and political commentary with songs like “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “I’m Paying Taxes, but What am I Buyin?” and many more.

We’re also taking it one step further by playing music that samples him and his affiliates, which leads us to a large selection of hip hop from the late 80’s and early 90’s – one of hip hop’s most socially concious periods.  Groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions have albums that would sound entirely different without the foundation of James Brown and the JB’s drumkicks, horn hits, guitar licks, and of course, grunts.

We’re also bringing back the food drive porion of the party, just like we had at our kickoff event.  At the first party, people donated about 3 big boxes worth of canned and dry food for City Harvest.  Let’s try to outdo that this time.  Please show up with non-perishable food items in hand and give up some food for funk (also a reference to a James Brown lyric).

soul power

Some Brooklyn News

In Housing, Land rights, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Urban Planning / Space on February 20, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Being a Brooklyn resident, I thought that I would share some information that I received from the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn newsletter.  It’s a good website for keeping up with Brooklyn development (i.e. Atlantic yards/Ratner), so go check it out.

First is a report about a recent court hearing:

Federal Judge Hears Eminent Domain Oral Arguments; Case Could Derail “Atlantic Yards”
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An overflowing crowd of Brooklyn residents and reporters (some late arrivals had to watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV in the courthouse’s cafeteria) filled the courtroom of Federal Magistrate Robert Levy on February 7th, as the judge listened to initial oral arguments in the eminent domain lawsuit filed by property owners and tenants whose homes and businesses lie in the footprint of the proposed “Atlantic Yards” development.

The hearing, in the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse, was held in response to a motion to dismiss the case, brought by the defendants, who include the Empire State Development Corporation, Forest City Ratner, former Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The defendants are fearful of the case going to trial in Federal court, where the fate of Bruce Ratner’s “Atlantic Yards” project would rest solely on the law – and with a politically independent, impartial judge.

If the case proceeds to trial – and many courtroom observers believe that Judge Levy’s demeanor and his line of questioning indicate there’s a good chance it will – it would derail Ratner’s plans to erect an arena and a superblock of high-rise buildings in Prospect Heights. If the plaintiffs win, the project will have to go back to the drawing board, or be scrapped altogether, because the arena cannot be built, nor can streets de-mapped, without the plaintiffs’ homes and businesses.

During the nearly four hours of sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-technical courtroom back-and-forth, Judge Levy seemed largely unmoved by the defendants’ arguments; at one point, he interrupted ESDC lawyer Douglas Kraus to tell him “you and I have very different ideas about the law.” For more on the courtroom blow-by-blow, we recommend the coverage at the always-excellent Atlantic Yards Report, and this story from The New York Sun.

Judge Levy is expected to make a recommendation to presiding Judge Nicholas Garaufis on the defendants’ motion in the next few weeks. If he denies the motion (and we’re optimistic he will), the discovery process will begin, leading to a trial some time in the next few months.

 

Secondly, here are some screening dates and locations for a movie about the proposed development projects and the “antics” behind them.  I haven’t seen the movie, but it looks good, and i might go try to check it out.  It’s definitely an issue that people need to understand more about.

Brooklyn Matters,” local filmmaker Isabel Hill’s documentary chronicle of the shenanigans behind Bruce Ratner’s full-court press to erect his massively scaled, massively subsidized “Atlantic Yards,” is a must-see – and it’s coming to a location near you.

“Of all the protesting voices and hundreds of thousands of words in opposition to the proposed Atlantic Yards development, nothing is as convincing as Isabel Hill’s excellent film.”
– Stuart Pertz, FAIA, former member of the New York City Planning Commission

Brooklyn Matters is a remarkable film that slowly, quietly, calmly reveals the extreme ugliness at the heart of one of the most ill-conceived mega-developments in New York history.”
– Francis Morrone, architectural historian and author

The next two Brooklyn showings are as follows:

February 21st, 7:30 p.m.
Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Auditorium
357 Clermont Avenue (between Lafayette & Greene)
Fort Greene
Presented by the Fort Greene Association & The Society for Clinton Hill
Complimentary refreshments will be served beginning at 7:00 p.m.

February 27th, 7 p.m.
Fifth Avenue Committee
621 Degraw Street (between 3rd & 4th Avenues)
Park Slope
Presented by the Fifth Avenue Committee

Both screenings are free and open to the public. The running time of the film is approximately 55 minutes.

For up-to-date information on additional screenings, and to view a trailer, please visit www.brooklynmatters.com.

Fed’l Agencies May Have to Report All Data Mining Activities

In Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Technology, Terrorism, US Politics on February 20, 2007 at 10:59 am

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this week approved language that would require federal agencies to report to Congress on their use and development of data-mining technologies.

The language, approved unanimously, is based on legislation, S. 236, co-authored by Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H. He used the bill language for an amendment to a bill, S. 4, that would implement recommendations of the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“There is a sharp distinction between the federal government looking at digital records of terrorists and other criminals, and those of law-abiding citizens,” Sununu said in a statement. “Congress has a responsibility to ensure that this technology, which can analyze vast quantities of data, does not unintentionally infringe on Americans’ personal privacy.”

NYC Grassroots Media Conference Selections

In Direct action, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Netroots, New York City, Progressive Politics, Technology on February 19, 2007 at 7:38 pm

The fourth edition of the NYC Grassroots Media Conference schedule has been released and there are plenty of great workshops. Sessions I’m eyeballing include…

Beyond Googling It: News and Government Information “Web 2.0” style

Do you feel like you have to check 50 websites just to keep up with a single news item? Do you ever hear about a pending bill, send off a letter to your legislator, and then wonder what became of the issue? Just what DO people mean when they talk about “Web 2.0”? Come explore approaches to using the Internet to monitor, track, share, and manage information. This presentation will demonstrate how so-called “Web 2.0” tools like RSS, news aggregators, and social tagging can help you get organized online and be a more effective independent journalist or community activist. Librarian volunteers from the collective Radical Reference (radicalreference.info) will give real-life examples of how journalists, researchers, community organizers, and informed citizens are using these technologies to track information from around the globe—and how you can too. Rad Reffers will give the basics of each tool, introduce websites and sources, take questions from the audience, and provide detailed handouts.

Talking to Mainstream Media

Indy media isn’t always enough—sometimes we want to look for mainstream press coverage, and sometimes they come looking for us. Be prepared!! This workshop will help you get ready to deal with mainstream news media, telling your story, and “managing” your message. It is NOT a workshop on the mechanics of organizing a p.r. campaign or how to write a press release—it WILL help you understand how the media works and what they look for in news stories, so your campaign can be successful. This workshop is back by popular demand.

The Impact of Mainstream Media Ownership on the Ethnic Press in New York

In September 2006, Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, bought out Courier Life Publications, a group of black and Caribbean newspapers in the city, including Caribbean Life, Brooklyn-Courier, Brooklyn Heights, Flatbush Life and Fort Green Courier. Two months later, an inside source said that a representative of Mr. Murdoch came to the office of Manhattan Borough community publications in the city. We can only wonder what impact Murdoch will have on the editorial content of the ethnic and immigrant communities. Chinese, Russian, Filipino, Black and Spanish-language newspapers tell their stories from their point of view. In fact, they don’t care if English speakers cannot read their papers. If Murdoch’s buy spells the beginning of a trend, what effect will this consolidation of ownership have in shaping public opinion among immigrant and low-income communities? Are the media avenues that immigrants use to air their views to policy-makers in danger? What measures can be taken to ensure that that this media sector continue to thrive? Hear representatives of the ethnic press take on these issues.

New York’s Wireless Future
New wireless technology provides an efficient and affordable way to deploy new broadband infrastructure. You can use it to turn your local park into a hotspot or to give affordable access to all of your neighbors. Across the country, local governments are considering whether to build – or to let corporations build – wireless networks that cover an entire city. New York City is just beginning this process. This is the best chance in a generation, if not a century, to come together as a community to decide what we want and need from our communications infrastructure. This panel will bring you up to speed on the discussion.

Also of note: Josue Guillen of May First/People Link will lead US Social Forum 2007 – Exploring Media Opportunities

The first ever US Social Forum will take place in Atlanta, GA from June 27 – July 1, 2007. Because it brings together so many activists from so many diverse movements and highlights different struggles that are worth covering, it will be a unique opportunity for progressive and alternative media people to meet each other, strategize together and cover a major event. This discussion will provide insights on the current plans of the National Planning Committee and challenge participants to help this event have even more impact.

So Fresh, So Clean

In Election 2008, Music, Race, US Politics on February 18, 2007 at 4:54 pm

Just to clarify something for myself and the readers, I wanted to ellaborate on the reference to Mos Def’s t-shirts that I made in my previous post.

Being somehow detached from the news and politics during the past couple of weeks (or is it months? Check the lack of posts on here from Decembr to Feb.), I missed the stories about Delaware Senator Joe Biden and his foot-in-mouth remarks about Barack Obama. Therefore, when I saw Mos Def and his band wearing shirts at a recent performance that said So Fresh, So Clean with a picture of Obama, I didn’t completely get the reference. I was just happy to see one of my favorite artists so openly supporting a politician that I like.

Anyway, I realized that I must be slightly missing something and did a little online research. One good post at I found at Open University said the following:

Who knew that all along Senator Biden was a hip hop artist? In an attempt to explain his intentions when calling Barack Obama the first mainstream African American candidate for president who was articulate and clean, Biden has now suggested, “I shouldn’t have said clean, what I meant was fresh.” What? This is almost too sad to be funny, but it must be said that Outkast, one of the most talented hip hop groups of all time, had a chart-topping single whose hook is:

Ain’t nobody dope as me I’m dressed so fresh so clean …

I am convinced that if Barack Obama wants to take the youth vote he should now declare this his official campaign song and rock it every time he hits the stump.I believe that race is serious business, but I also believe that we might finally be able to have a conversation about race in this country if we could approach it with a little humor. Although it is at the center of my research, I am consistently stunned about what white America does not know about black America. The political, social, and perceptual worlds in which black and and white citizens live are so vastly different. Biden’s comments touched an annoying and oft-plucked chord in African Americans. Although usually meant as a compliment, whites deploying “articulate” as a description are often advancing the notion that the ability to speak, reason, discern, and achieve is somehow notable and exceptional among black people. Individual black people, especially political candidates, want to be seen as unique and talented, but they do not want to be seen as an exception in their race. We know too well that our communities are full of articulate persons. In fact, it is black people that have provided some of the most important, enduring, and complex oral traditions to the world.

I think Obama would do well to highlight this fact by making one of these oral traditions, hip hop music, in the persons of Outkast, his official campaign soundtrack.

I must say, I agree and I think he should also contact Mos’ shirt designer and get a whole slew of those shirts printed up.

For another interesting article on this topic, check here

Keep the case for Sean Bell alive….

In Civil Liberties, Music, New York City, Policing, Race on February 18, 2007 at 4:33 pm

NY1 posted a story today about the end of a 50 day long vigil for Sean Bell. I wasn’t able to make it out to this vigil, but I definitely respect the cause. Everyone must keep this case, and any others like it, in the public conscious. We can’t simply let it slip away and allow things like this to continue to happen. Speaking of this, I want to express a big THANK YOU to Mos Def for mentioning Sean Bell at his concert at Brooklyn’s BAM the other night (as well as for having the entire band wear those excellent So Fresh, So Clean Barack Obama shirts, and putting on an amazing show.)

Here’s the story from NY1:

The two-month vigil by friends and family of police shooting victim Sean Bell comes to an end tomorrow.

The group, which held a rally Saturday, has been stationed outside the 103rd Precinct stationhouse in Jamaica, Queens for 50 days: the number of shots fired by officers at Bell the night he died.

They want the officers who fired the shots held accountable, and want to make sure there is never another case like Sean Bell.

Bell, 23, was shot and killed by police on November 23rd as he was leaving his bachelor party at a Queens nightclub. He was to be married the next day. Two of his friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, were also injured.

The group offered support to those impacted by police brutality, which they say has become a “nationwide epidemic.”

“We decided that it would be important to have an event like this which centered on other parents whose children have been killed by the police, coming here to the vigil, standing in solidarity with the Bell family, showing their determination for justice for Sean Bell,” said Carl Dix of the October 22nd Coalition, a group to stop police brutality.

“I feel very passionately, and I feel very strongly about the incident with Sean Bell because it could be my nephew, my son,” said another protestor, Eia Louis-Ferguson.

A grand jury is still weighing evidence in the case to determine whether police officers involved will face criminal charges.

The Music Wars: Here’s One for Their Side

In Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Misc., Music, Technology on February 16, 2007 at 5:41 pm

The International Herald Tribune reported today that Universal Music Group is narrowing in on a negotiated settlement with the website Bolt.com over – what else – copyright infringement. For those not in the know, Bolt is basically a hybrid MySpace/YouTube site that allows users to create profiles, message, and upload and share various types of media. Seems like the standard story from the last couple of years, but there are some ominous overtones nonetheless:

To pay for the settlement, which will combine cash, stock and advertising credits, Bolt has agreed to sell itself to GoFish, a smaller rival, for as much as $30 million in GoFish stock.

“This deal is economically painful to Bolt shareholders,” Cohen said. “It is setting a precedent that companies that violate copyright at minimum risk litigation.”

Universal, a unit of Vivendi, hopes the settlement will set a precedent that will help its ongoing case against MySpace, the vast social network owned by News Corp., and against Grouper, a video sharing site owned by Sony. Universal has sued both for copyright

Bolt.com had about 8 million visitors last year which accounted for a minuscule fraction of Universals potential revenue from royalties in it’s fiscal year, and that’s being overly generous. Yet by bankrupting this little no-name site, they’re gaining a powerful tool to use in future lawsuits. Once the deal is done, it’s fairly likely that we’ll be seeing more of this in the coming months and years. There is no dearth of small media sites that have neither the representation, nor the resources to defend themselves against the onslaught of litigation wrought by these multi-national conglomerates. Given any “infringement” case the sharks over a the legal departments of UMG , Warner Bros., Paramount, Conde Nast, or any large media company can basically waltz in and dictate whatever terms they see fit and waltz out with a precedent that not only would have cost them ten times the manpower if they’d have picked on someone their own size, but can also be used to deal a crushing blow to their larger enemies.

It seems that the Music “Business” has come to rely less and less on the content created by their artists while increasing its reliance on lawyers and settlements to replace their “lost” revenue. Granted, whats the point spending to produce content if it’s simply going to be stolen anyway, but did it ever occur to these people that the answer to their prayers might have something to do with their actions and not ours? Case in point, UMG is suing MySpace because their songs are on people’s pages and their not getting a piece of the action. Their resident mouthpiece, Pete Lofrumento, took it a step further:

“…copyright law doesn’t give people the right to engage in the massive infringement of our content to build a thriving business and then, after the fact, avoid exposure by saying they will prospectively start to filter.”

Where does one begin? The copyright law he invokes is actually the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which will no doubt become a defining piece of legislation of our generation. I’m not well-versed enough to speak on his legal issues, but I find it the highest kind of arrogance to believe that UMG’s content, or any mainstream media content for that matter, had a major role to play in the success of MySpace. Murdoch’s billions went to purchase an already vibrant network of DIY websites that were mostly populated by user-generated content. Not to say that there aren’t Jay-Z songs on people’s pages, there are tons of people who upload their favorite songs to their profiles. That being said, these tracks and already existing content is not the main event of anyone’s profile; they’re window dressing on an already lush environment of personal pictures, comments, music and video. Big media wasn’t giving us what we wanted so we made it for ourselves. The notion that the creators of MySpace somehow hijacked someone else’s products to create a phenomenon is bogus, as is the Major Label contention that they are somehow owed something now that the site is successful. If anything, Majors should be encouraging and facilitating access to their catalogs on MySpace, not actively working to have them removed or “filtered”. The fans are online by the millions, all craving content on an unprecedented scale. Until these suits are willing to trade old hang-ups for new money, they can shut the hell up about their royalties and keep their lawsuits to themselves.

Ricky Martin Defends Anti-War Stance

In Civil Liberties, Culture jamming, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Misc., Music, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on February 16, 2007 at 4:56 pm

I know, I know. It’s Ricky Martin. But his is an important audience to reach to continue the swell of anti-war sentiment.

Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, who was a headliner at the 2001 inauguration ball for U.S. President George W. Bush, has a message for the American commander in chief about war.

At a recent concert, Martin stuck up his middle finger when he sang the U.S. president’s name in his song “Asignatura Pendiente,” which includes the words, “a photo with Bush.” The gesture last Friday prompted cheers from thousands of Puerto Rican fans in the San Juan stadium.

On Thursday, the Puerto Rican heartthrob repeated his criticism of the Iraq war and explained his changed position on Bush.

“My convictions of peace and life go beyond any government and political agenda and as long as I have a voice onstage and offstage, I will always condemn war and those who promulgate it,” Martin said about his action in an e-mail statement sent to The Associated Press via a spokesman.

Cheney formed fourth branch of government… years ago

In Blogs we like, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:51 am

From the good folk at Free Government Information (“Because government information has to be free”):

The Office of the Vice President (OVP) is refusing to cooperate with a government directory known as the “Plum Book,” which lists government employees. Federal agencies have to comply by listing staffers in the directory, but Dick Cheney’s office claimed an exemption for itself, arguing that the “Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch.” But it’s not just the phone book with which the OVP refuses to cooperate. Evidently, the OVP is not part of the executive branch and so need not comply with ANY disclosures.

An important legal ruling is pending over Vice President Cheney’s refusal to disclose statistics on document classification and declassification activity. The Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is responsible for the policy and oversight of the government’s security classification system and declassification, has asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to direct Cheney’s office to disclose these statistics. According to Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, “for the last three years, OVP has refused to divulge its classification statistics to ISOO, despite a seemingly explicit requirement that it do so. Prior to 2002, such information had routinely been transmitted and reported in ISOO’s annual reports to the President.”

Hmmm, the OVP doesn’t want the public to know who’s working there or how many documents they’re classifying. What’s going on there?

Today’s Cartoon

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Direct action, Economic Justice, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, Immigration, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Policing, political cartoons, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on February 15, 2007 at 10:45 am

‘Osama Hearts Obama’ – Part II: Wrath of RTurbo

In Blogs we like, Culture jamming, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Media Criticism, Netroots, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 6:15 pm

In light of my posting earlier, a long-time ally pointed out a recent post on his blog Circling the Drain regarding John Howard’s uber-couth statement regarding al-Queda’s desire for Obama and the Ds to win next year:

Proving my long held suspicion that other countries are about two to three years behind the pop culture curve, the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, pulled out the ol’ “vote for the other guy and the terrorists win” card in advance of his country’s upcoming elections.

Oh, silly Prime Minister, still stuck in 2004. What’s next? Claiming that global warming is caused by Janet Jackson’s breasts? I’ll admit it is nice to see that while most American exports are plummeting, there’s still a healthy market for our bullshit.

But at least John Howard is still gung-ho on Iraq, right? He’s seen the terrible price of war in blood and resources, he’s looked at the situation on the ground and he’s realized that the costs – while high – are worth it. Hasn’t he?

I mean, it hasn’t been easy going since his decision to send troops, right? They’ve taken a lot of deaths, after all. Not as many as the three thousand plus we’ve sustained but still a few, and every death is a tragedy, after all. Hey, how many Australian troops have died in Iraq, anyway? Oh, that’s right…ZERO. No Australian troops have been killed in Iraq. Let me put this into perspective for you with a quick chart:

Number of Australian troops killed in Iraq: 0
Number of prominent Australians killed by stingrays: 1

Bold stance, John Howard! This page applauds your courageous sacrifice of your sanity for the cause of freedom.

But, since Australia gave the world AC/DC, for which I am eternally grateful, I suppose we should cut them some slack. (But not before I point out the irony that AC/DC has had more deaths in their band than Australia has had in Iraq! You really are a son of a bitch, John Howard.)

I just wish Circling the Drain would, for once,  just tell us what he’s thinking. No hesitations.

Hit the link to read more about:

– Rudy G’s cousin marrying tendencies (“And even if they could forgive Rudy for all of that, the Smoking Gun document has something even more damning than cousin-sex, than social liberalism, than ‘a weirdness factor’… That’s right…in 1972, Rudy voted for McGovern!”);

– Mitt Romney’s presidential chances (“he’ll be the first Mormon president, making him the Jackie Robinson of rich, white Christians everywhere in Utah”); and,

– Our post-Anna Nicole Smith world (“Years from now, your children will ask you where you were on 2/8 when it happened. I certainly remember what I was doing. I was praying that our country would one day live in a post-Lindsay Lohan world.”)

Jack Bauer fills post-9/11 torture void, and then some

In Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Habeas Corpus, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Policing, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Sexuality, Terrorism, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm

well put, Political Animal

GOOD GUYS vs. BAD GUYS….Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece about Joel Surnow, the right-wing producer behind 24, has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. The use of torture on the show has become so routine and so outlandish that even some Army officers are unnerved by the effect it’s having. In a scene she describes, an Army interrogator tells the show’s staff that “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”

But here’s another observation about TV torture. It’s alluded to in passing in Mayer’s article, but an LA Times piece spells it out:

From 1996 to 2001, there were 102 scenes of torture [in prime time television], according to the Parents Television Council. But from 2002 to 2005, that figured had jumped to 624, they said.

….The increase in quantity is not the only difference. During this uptick in violence, the torturer’s identity was more likely to be an American hero like “24’s” Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) than the Nazis and drug dealers in pre-9/11 days.

Pre-9/11: torture is used by bad guys. That’s one of the ways you know they’re bad guys.

And today? Actually, nothing’s changed. It’s still how you know who the bad guys are. We just seem to have temporarily forgotten that.

“Osama Hearts Obama” -Aussie PM John Howard

In Afghanistan, Civil Liberties, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Misc., Race, US Politics on February 13, 2007 at 12:33 pm

“If I was running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats,” Howard said in the interview, a swipe at the Illinois senator for proposing to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq by March of next year…

Rudd said the remarks criticizing the Democrats as the “terrorists’ party of choice” are irresponsible and could hurt Australia’s relationship with the U.S.  But Howard stated it was “absurd” to say he was interfering in domestic U.S. politics and was unapologetic for his remarks. He noted that Australian opposition politicians criticize Bush all the time…

In an unscientific poll, 82 percent of readers of the Sydney Morning Herald said Howard had “put his foot in it” when asked about their reaction to the prime minister’s comments.