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Archive for the ‘Civil Liberties’ Category

The War on Terror

In Afghanistan, Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Disaster Relief, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Environment, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, Housing, Immigration, International politics, Iraq War, Media Criticism, Misc., New York City, Progressive Politics, Terrorism, US Politics on March 21, 2013 at 11:36 am

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Growing up in Virginia, I have fond memories of the shooting range.  My father even gave me a turn with his .44 magnum which did in fact kick like a mule.  The violence followed me to New York with 9/11, and where I was fortunate to try to give blood and wait things out in my dorm, many others who I’d grown up with or befriended back in VA were suiting up to go and fight, first in Afghanistan, then to Iraq.  A couple days ago, I caught this letter on a friend’s Facebook Feed – which is starting to make the rounds – and at first, I couldn’t read it.  It had been comforting in a way to forget about Bush and the Axis of Evil, of all the squandered potential we poured into the sand.  But as we’re reminded so often in this endless war, we must never forget.  We cannot hide unpleasant things in the shadows.

And yet, for two years after the attack and ten more after our invasion – the two defining moments of our time – we seem content to do just that.  My relationship to guns came into focus in Millbrook, NY where – eating lunch with my band after playing our first funeral – we saw the horrors of gun violence laid bare on the diner’s TV screen.  CNN’s coverage of Sandy Hook still fresh,  our waitress remarking, “That’s a half-hour from here.”  A member of the jazz community in NYC lost their daughter and even Joe Biden says nothing will be the same.

Except it is.  Exactly the same.  After hearings and meetings and press conferences and statements, there will be no assault weapons ban, no reduction in the capacity of magazines, no new safegaurds against the armed-and-mentally ill.  21 children are dead for absolutely no reason, and for all our wails of grief and shock, no one is willing to really do anything about it.  The 1.4% of us who are NRA members must be fairly satisfied by this.

Immigration is looking a little more hopeful, with real-ish players talking about real-ish solutions – path to citizenship, guest worker visas, living wages?? – but if the current legislative process holds true, which it will, we can expect exactly none of these to make it to any real legislation, no leadership or dialogue will take place.  Just as we have come to expect, as we have chosen to remember.  So on we go with stopping people for their papers, exploiting them with unscrupulous employers and siphoning resources away from the state without putting any tax revenue into – or getting any real value from – the community they’re living in.

The current tally on this War on Terror is coming in to around $6 trillion, with about $4 trillion of that going towards the Iraq war, which I think is over at this point.    No further attacks have been made on the home front, and aside from a few pesky revolutions throughout the region, we haven’t had World War III yet, so, mission accomplished.  But this war isn’t being fought by “America,” it’s being fought by less than 1% of America.  The backlash and destruction caused by what we want is being felt by them, not by us, which makes it easier to saber rattle as the threats continue to pop up in far-flung places all over this hostile world.  It is easy to hide the unpleasantness of war, and that much better to remember all the glory and victory, when only a few have to bleed.

We were lied to.  We were lied to and believed in it so much that we lied to the world.  We remember the attack, the victimization we felt at that moment, but we choose to forget – every day – the reaction that has set us on this path.  Something horrible happens, but the real cause is too scary, too political, too much to bear, so we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves, and talk really loud about something else.  Something that makes us feel good, or empowered and that lasts just long enough for the next crisis to come, and the next cycle to start, and nothing, nothing, nothing is ever really done.

But this is politics, this is Washington, this is Gridlock and Sequester and Special Interests and this is out of our control.  It is also quite uncanny to a nervous breakdown.  As a country, we first experienced trauma then threw ourselves into deeper and deeper trauma’s with no discernible solution or responsibility, which eventually lead us to unearth, then ignore, all the skeletons we’ve amassed inside our closet.  Guns, war, immigrants, health care, economy, housing, the list goes on.

But you can’t make guns safer by talking by talking about “freedom.”  Nor can you keep healthcare prices low by invoking “liberty” or create jobs by claiming to be the victims of “class warfare.”  We can’t claim to be a “nation of immigrants” while installing xenophobic laws, nor can we claim to be “pro-life” and fight against affordable health care.  These are things both the right and left have been guilty of doing – or are at the very least both complicit in – and the apathy/isolation of the electorate has enabled these madmen to hijack trillions of dollars every year and immense power around the globe with little accountability.  We are lied to every day and believe the lie so much, we lie to each other, we lie to ourselves.

During the campaign in 2008, I was reading The Argument by Matt Bai and the quote I wrote with then still rings true now:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

There is no magical elected official or working group someplace that will be able to fix all of this shit, but this does not divorce government – federal, state and local – from their responsibility in implementing solutions.  We have to decide, all of us, what the fuck we want, what the alternative is going to be.  We have to build it, prove it works, then demand, in no uncertain terms, that it be given to us better, faster and cheaper by those with the money and resources – e.g. government, business, that guy you know – to do so.  Occupy Wall Street accomplished exactly none of it’s goals, BECAUSE IT HAD NONE – and no, press coverage/raising awareness isn’t enough on the world stage.  We have to be able to confront all of those demons on that list, turn the lights on and get right with everything in honesty before we can expect respect from the dilettantes we’ve been ruled by.

Until then, the government will have no problem treating us the way in which we’ve grown accustomed, and we’ll have no problem taking it.  Never forget what we’ve been through.  Never forget that we deserved – and still deserve – so much better.

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New Politics

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Global War On Terror, International politics, Iraq War, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, Terrorism, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

People usually can’t tell what I am by looking at me. My skin is white, like my mom’s, but some tints of my dad’s Filipino heritage peek through, making me look equally Cuban, Puerto Rican, Italian, anything but Asian. I’m lucky enough to have never really had any allegiance to a certain race or identified with any specific notions of it. I often joke with my friends about these things, usually bringing up all kinds of offensive, inappropriate comments about certain groups to get a cheap laugh, most probably because it’s more complicated for me to get the same treatment. But being a man without a team – a free-lance race(er), if you will – I have few preconceived notions about them myself, allowing me to find a lot of humor and joy in the differences we have and how they effect our interactions and shape our perceptions. I kid because I love. I love diversity, I love that my children will have roots on 3 different continents and I love this country for giving me, my family and countless others like them a place in the sun. Obama’s speech last Tuesday was given from this perspective, which is probably why it inspired and impressed me more than anything I’ve seen in politics. That something has finally spoken to me in this way has also engendered quite a bit of resentment towards the reaction to it.

He is a politician, one trying to contain a damaging scandal that speaks to the very heart of his campaign, a scandal so grievous that it caused Hillary Clinton to overtake him in national polling for the first time in months. He is a candidate who often gets by on looks and charm, his silver tongue paving the way through a rather charmed candidacy. The allegiance to Wright and Trinity were undeniably instrumental in Obama’s acceptance in the black community of Chicago and subsequently by the national black community – a voting block that has been crucial in many of his primary victories over a white woman. These are all things we knew before he stepped to that podium and it was impossible to forget while listening to his words. Perhaps it is because I support him, because I am a racial mutt same as he, because I have been seduced by that aforementioned silver tongue, but I didn’t care about any of it.

If my Catholic upbringing has taught me anything, it’s that if you look hard enough at anyone, you will see faults, you will see sin – they even make you apologize for it first thing Sunday morning. All any of us can do is mitigate these as best we can through good works and faith in eachother, neither of which come easy or without failure. Barack didn’t hide behind his press secretary or some other surrogate, he didn’t throw out some half-baked sound-byte of appeasement in hopes things would blow over by the next news cycle, he stood there for 30 minutes and talked to us like adults. He told us things we all know, but never hear. He made no accusations, but rather placed responsibility equally among all of us, himself included. He asked us to stop raising our voices and start listening to eachother. If you don’t believe me, watch the speech or read the transcript in its entirety. The motivations behind these words are unimportant to me. Sure, he could’ve been trying to divert our attention to save his own ass, but I don’t care. I don’t care why he said what he said, just that someone finally did so.

A black man running for President put his campaign on the line, stepped up to the plate and spoke about race in a way no other politician has ever done, but you would have never guessed by reading about it. A great deal of reaction and coverage was spent haggling over details. He didn’t go far enough to denounce a man who baptized his children, he didn’t explain how many times he heard these statements or the ways in which he tried to stop a preacher from preaching, he made us feel guilty for slavery and that was mean. It is as if we are at a beautiful restaurant in front of a gourmet meal but no one is eating because they don’t like the fold of the napkins. Obama’s mistake wasn’t that he stood by his preacher, it was that he assumed people would actually pay attention.

Politics is a dangerous game, not just for the candidate but for those who support them. We pin our hopes and dreams on certain people every couple of years and when they fall by the wayside, so does our resolve. We allow these candidates to paint themselves as the magic bullet, as the only answer to our problems; and so in their defeat lies ours. The one thing that really made me jump into this campaign was that Obama asked us, the people, to work for what we wanted, to help him reach our goals. Part of this is obviously tactical. You can’t fight the Clintons with the establishment, they are the establishment. The most powerful political machine cannot be undone from within, so he was forced to look elsewhere for his support. His relative inexperience and lack of accomplishments give him less to run on by himself, so he needs more help and faith from the outside. He has no record, so he forgoes specific policy items in favor of meta-themes. It is also, though, an undeniable return to history.

In his incredible book, The Argument, Matt Bai put much of the focus on the Democrat’s search for a post-Clinton identity. But he also provided amazing insight into political movements at large:

The story of modern politics was the story of popular movements molding their candidates, not the other way around. Roosevelt didn’t create progressive government; the progressives of the early twentieth century created him. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy, while they despised eachother, both derived their essential arguments about social justice from the equality movements of the late fifties and early sixties. Ronald Regan would not have existed without the movement conservatives who offered him a philosophical anchor. These were great and preternaturally talented leaders, men who had the charisma and the intellect to synthesize the arguments that each of these movements had made, to persuade voters of their urgency, and to adapt them to the realm of policy making. But they were merely conduits for change, and they would never have emerged as public visionaries had others not laid the intellectual foundations for their arguments.

Barack has often been chastised for a lack of clarity, rhetoric instead of results. But perhaps this is because his movement, his base, has not yet codified their beliefs or their goals. Regardless of why, Obama has caused a progressive awakening in a generation that faces monumental challenges, my generation. One who has grown to see the prosperity of the 90’s – our formative years – become destroyed by forces outside our control: fanatical terrorism, global warming, economic instability. Those in power attempting to fix these problems are not the ones who live with the consequences. It is my friends who are getting laid off, who go to the emergency room for physicals, who are sent off to fight in the desert. We are the most diverse, best educated and technologically advanced generation this nation has ever seen and we must begin to take ownership of it. We can’t afford to be distracted by the horse race, but rather be enlightened by the message. Say what you want about Barack, but you cannot deny that his calls for a recognition of shared responsibility speaks to the best in us, that a house divided against itself cannot stand. If it takes inflammatory remarks by a preacher for us to take stock of our treatment of one another, so be it. If an opportunistic, ambitious politician can dupe us all into working for eachother instead of against, we are the better for it.

But we cannot expect one man to do it all. Elections are not the realization of change, they are the beginning of it. If he loses the nomination, if he loses the general election, we cannot retreat into the background in defeat. If he becomes our President, it is our responsibility to hold him accountable and help to fulfill the promises of his potential and our own. Obama has outed us. The success of his platform and the goals he has set will only be met through the efforts we make. The themes he has brought to bear since his introduction of Senator Kerry in 2004 cannot be ignored, especially as we descend into an ever bloodier campaign season. Hillary – an impressive public servant in her own right – has undoubtedly inspired many young women to pursue ambitious careers. John McCain has given credence to sacrifice and centrism in a party that has been known for anything but. Obama’s message challenges us to recognize the nobility in our foes, to respect differences and approach challenges with optimistic pragmatism instead of cynical ideology. His candidacy might fade, but these ideas must not.

Many have belittled the thinking man in these times, but the consequences of looking tough and acting stupid are keeping us from what we can become. Harsh crime legislation and unyielding drug policy have stopped neither and added non-violent, first time offenders to the ranks of the incarcerated, now accounting for 1 out of every 100 of our citizens. Elliot Spitzer’s demise at the hands of a call girl might have been cheered by the Wall Street firms he savaged as Attorney General, but considering the greed and deception they perpetuated to bring down our economy – with no jail time in sight – one wonders who really got off and who got screwed. If we could have seen the facts in Iraq for what they were, free from agenda, fear or spin, we would have $1.3 Trillion more in our pockets, we would be without 29,000 wounds and be able to hold over 4,000 of our sons and daughters that have been lost to ignorance. We are waging war against an ideology instead of a nation, so it must be considered that our ideas and culture can and must fight as effectively as our military. If we continue to distill these complex issues down to sound bytes and slogans, deny the due process of debate and discussion and pigeon-hole the myriad points of view into mere black and white we run the risk of turning into the same fanatics that seek to destroy us. If we cannot decide the proper course of action through argument, we must find a way to do so through conversation. Obama or Hillary, Democratic or Republican, we all share the same fate. If there is one thing I hope this Presidential race will teach us, it is that there are more important things than winning elections.

Impending Florida Mail-In: Let the Clusterfuck Begin

In Civil Liberties, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 13, 2008 at 2:19 pm

Ever the beacon of our fair, balanced and uncorrupted representative democracy, Florida is at it again. There are several reports hitting the wire that the state “government” is day or so away from annoucing their “plan” to administer a re-vote via mail-in ballots. Here is the plan as detailed by the States Democratic Party chair, Karen L. Thurman:

Under her timetable, fundraising and a public comment period would begin today and end April 12, about when ballots go to production. Overseas and military ballots would be sent out April 19. Fifty temporary election offices would be set up May 1 in poor areas to ensure access to voters with mail difficulties. On May 9, the bulk of the ballots would be shipped out, and the election would officially be on June 3, a day shared with Montana and South Dakota.

The counting will be done by an outside contractor using optical scanning devices and signature confirmation and other validation will be done by state and local election officials. Considering the extremely tight timetable, officials argue, this is the best way to get an accurate vote, thereby representing their electorate honestly.

What a bunch of horse shit. Firstly, the “fundraising” period will inevitably include a good chunk of soft money contributions that have been banned in federal elections, making this process suspect from day one. Secondly, there are no gaurantees with the USPS and even if they were iron clad in their delivery, people have moved, they might be out of town, any number of scenarios can interrupt people actually getting the damn things. Not only this, the opportunities for fraud are as plentiful as fanny packs at Islands of Adventure. The verification process happens only when the ballots are received by government officials, allowing for any number of incidents to occur along the way. Buying ballots, hoarding ballots, soaking mail, the possibilities are endless. And most importantly, IT’S FLORIDA. We’re talking about people who got absolutely confounded by hanging chads, who had to go to the damn Supreme Court to tell them how to count and now they think that they can pull this completely new system out of the bag with 3 moths to go? (Here’s a more professional critique)

I have nothing against Floridians on spec, and they absolutely deserve to have their voices heard like the rest of us. But these rules were established by the DNC MONTHS AGO, in full view of the public, and they went ahead and broke them anyway. Citizens could have told their party leaders not to risk a penalty and representatives should have known better, so they have no one to blame but themselves. I undertsand the frustration of having Iowa dictate terms to the rest of the party. Such a small, rural state having this much influence on a nation as complex as this is a little ridiculous, but you don’t change the guidelines by pretending they don’t exist. That the race is so close, so hotly contested and getting so many’s passions boiling is reason enough to try something drastic, which is exactly why this shouldn’t happen.

No matter the outcome, people have to believe that the process is fair above all else, they have to feel that the election happened by the book and that their choice wasn’t hijacked by someone more connected or a favorable circumstance benefitted one group at the expense of another. Every one of Florida’s House Democrats – whether supporting Hillary, Barack or neither – don’t want any part of this because it simply cannot be trusted. 318 delegates can’t be thrown around on spurious information, and if this goes through, there will be no end to the arguments, litigation or controversy, further deepening the democratic impasse and inflaming hostilities on both sides; regardless of the outcome, no one wins this thing. Floridians are complaining that they don’t want to be disenfranchised, but that ship has sailed. You already voted. You were told – in no uncertain terms – that it wouldn’t count and you went ahead and did it anyway. You were disenfranchised from the day you moved your primary, from the moment you broke the rules and that can’t and should not be changed at the 11th hour by some hair-brained scheme. Since you can’t bring yourselves to obey the law, you get to sit and wait for this thing to play out, the same way the rest of the country did in 2000. When the decision is made, you’re gonna have to eat it the same way the rest of us did in Bush v. Gore.

Maybe Dean can cut you a deal and seat your delegates at the convention 50/50 or some other formula determined after the rest of us are through. Maybe you can come to some reconciliation yourselves and relax at the beach until November. But one thing is for sure: you don’t get to decide this race if you don’t follow its rules. Florida wants their voices heard at the expense of the rest of country, and they shouldn’t get to screw us again.

A 7 Mile March to the Polls in Texas (2008)

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, class warfare, Culture of Corruption, Direct action, Economic Justice, Election 2008, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, New York City, Progressive Politics, Race, religion & politics, US Politics on February 20, 2008 at 4:05 pm

An incredible story popped up on Crooks and Liars today describing a beautiful answer to a disgusting act in an escalating primary battle:

Early voting starts today in Texas. In Waller County, a primarily rural county about 60 miles outside Houston, the county made the decision to offer only one early voting location: at the County Courthouse in Hempstead, TX, the county seat.

Prairie View A&M students organized to protest the decision, because they felt it hindered their ability to vote. For background, Prairie View A&M is one of Texas’ historically Black universities. It has a very different demographic feel than the rest of the county. There has been a long history of dispute over what the students feel is disenfranchisement. There was a lot of outrage in 2006, when students felt they were unfairly denied the right to vote when their registrations somehow did not get processed.

1000 students, along with an additional 1000 friends and supporters, are this morning walking the 7.3 miles between Prairie View and Hempstead in order to vote today. According to the piece I saw on the news (there’s no video up, so I can’t link to it), the students plan to all vote today. There are only 2 machines available at the courthouse for early voting, so they hope to tie them up all day and into the night.

Yes, we’re talking about this election – 2008 – where black students are forced to these lengths to exercise their rights and draw attention to these abuses. This is early voting in a primary, mind you, I can’t wait to see what these kids will do for the general election. By the way, don’t think Yankees are invulnerable to this, either. A little publicized story in the New York Times has uncovered a drastic underreporting of Obama votes in several counties in New York’s primary – in some cases, not registering a single ballot cast in his favor. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an Obama man, but these are problems that have persisted since the clusterfuck of the 2000 election. No matter who you’re voting for, your vote deserves to be counted and no one – not Obama, not Clinton, not McCain and certainly not appointees to local election boards – should be allowed to destroy or steal them. Federalism has its place, but shouldn’t there be some sort of standard in national voting and election oversight? Shouldn’t we at least use the same machines and meet the same requirements to use them? How can the world’s most successful democracy tolerate these kinds of problems? If there are aspects I am ignoring, please, educate me.

The Music Wars: Damning the Streams in the New Frontier

In Blogs we like, Civil Liberties, Consumerism, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Media Criticism, Misc., Music, Technology on April 20, 2007 at 12:34 pm

The accomplished Talking Heads frontman and activist, David Byrne, recently posted a blog about the insidious new licensing rates and policies being propogated by the Copyright Royalty Control Board, a government panel of appointees tasked with regulating ever more influential copyright issues. At the root of the new policies is a substantial increase in royalty rates – fees a broadcaster pays to the copyright owner for each time their composition is played – that will greatly impact the way business is done for thousands of independent webcasters. Not only are the rates retroactive, but they also happen to be in line with a proposal submitted by SoundExchange, basically the “non-profit” face of RIAA advocacy. You can read their press release here.

Considering that the RIAA’s lawyers have litigated the pants off those downloading free Mp3s and the services making them available, it seems only natural that they now turn their attention to purveyors of webstreams and podcasts. Instead of going head to head in court, though, they’re trying to circumvent the system and pre-emptivelty install legislation that works in their favor by increasing their revenue. Byrne breaks it down for us:

With the proposed changes the royalties [for Webcasting] can no longer be based on a percentage of revenue, but on a fee for each listening hour — how many folks are listening and for how long — and there will be a minimum fee per radio “channel”. Also, above a certain aggregate listening hour amount, non-profits have to pay the same per-listening hour rates as commercial broadcasters. So now there will be no distinction between a large-scale non-profit station (like KCRW or WXPN) and Z100.

These changes are estimated to increase average costs about 20% accross the board, taking money directly out of the pockets of webcasters and into the hands of the 4 remaining major labels. And as I said before, since the law is retroactive starting from 2006, there will be a ton of money “owed” to these multinationals in addition to their increased projections:

For NPR stations it is a different story as they have wider listenership than I and would pay the same royalty rates as commercial broadcasters. KCRW estimates roughly that as this ruling is retroactive they would owe $130,000 in additional fees for 2006 and $237,000 for 2007. WXPN in Philly estimates $1,000,000. In some worlds this is not a big deal but as one can imagine many of these stations barely eek by as it is, so this could very likely shut down the webcasting side of many of them. That would be a shame, as these stations are the only source of, well, good music, alternative sounds and innovative and informative programming in the U.S. It would be a loss for, well, democracy, as democracy depends on availability of many points of view untainted by commercial concerns and pressures. A truly informed populace, in other words. It points to another victory for the oligarchs — the big 5 record companies and the media companies that own them. Count one more for the big guys. The reasoning that it’s for the benefit of the artists rings a little hollow as most artists heard this argument re: cracking down on file sharing, and most never see money from their record companies anyway — so the line about “we’re doing it for you” is pretty suspect.

They don’t charge these kinds of rates to terrestrial broadcast radio, either. They can’t. Despite the homogeonzing effect Clear Channel has had on playlists through it’s absorption of radio stations, it is still nearly impossible for anyone to determine if an audience is listening. ASCAP and other performing rights organizations determine royalty payments via Billboard rankings, applying some assinine, archaic formula to determine who gets paid what in a given week. Internet radio is different in the fact that servers and ISPs keep exceptional records of everything associated with any web-based service, allowing for more accurate tracking of audiences, effectively allowing these companies to see exactly how much money they’re “losing” to internet radio.

This argument is – for lack of a better word – bullshit. Every major label record deal removes about 10%-15% of an artist’s sales revenue for what are called “Free” or “Promotional” materials; this includes T-shirts, posters and, of course, CDs given away to press, radio and other media outlets to promote the act. A considerable amount of money also goes to “marketing consultants” who basically bribe stations with fabulous cash and prizes to gaurantee radio play – termed “Payola”. So, I ask, what the hell’s the problem with factoring internet radio into this equation? Anyone with any kind of business acumen can see this makes a shit ton of sense. Not only are you reaching more consumers in new and fashionable ways, but you don’t have to produce any additional product or incur any further cost to do so. You can email MP3s to scores of stations for free, track the feedback far easier and more accurately than broadcast radio, and hone in that much more effectively on your key demographics, thereby streamlining your promotional schemes for similar artists in the future. The shit actually SAVES you money in the long run.

This is not about money, though, and don’t let the RIAA tell you different. Every case of piracy and royalty infringement in the past, and the future, is about access and control. The real power in the current music business structure does not come from producing content, but rather by regulating how that content is distributed and consumed. Radio, concerts and CDs are the conveyance of their property, and Labels charge tolls – be they concert tickets or retail prices – to access them. The internet represents a new frontier that is no longer controlled by the establishment, it is controlled by the people. There are no more dams or gates restricting the flow on content, and the only true regulation is quality – talented bands who work and tour to develop their own following are able reap the benefits of their work with the help of organic, grassroots support structures. True, this creates a far more decentralized business model that is harder to predict and difficult to conquer. But it also encourages smaller, more agile businesses – like local radio – who understand their niche audience and are genuinely engaged in satisfying their specific tastes, putting these lumbering multinational corporations at a marked disadvantage against their independent counterparts. Litigation for copyright infringement and the tripling of licensing rates represent the last ditch efforts by these majors to exert their only real advantage: money. Increase costs of starting and running an independent outlet, and more and more will go outta business forcing fans back into the mediocre mainstream. With access denied to their audiences, bands will have to fight even harder for increasingly rare and exploitative record contracts. The possibilities we should be given by this new age will be denied to us, but at least Universal’s stock can move up a couple of percentage points. For everyone out there who loves music, variety and choice, please get involved with the links below.

Future of Music Coalition

Save Net Radio

Pay Your Debt to Society….With Your Kidney!

In Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform, Misc., Progressive Politics on March 11, 2007 at 3:18 pm

This has to be one of the strangest news stories I’ve read in a while. An article in The Post and Courier from Charleston, S.C., describes new legislation that might give prison inmates time off their sentences for donating organs, bone marrow, or other highly valued human tissue:

The measure approved by the Senate Corrections and Penology Subcommittee would set up a volunteer organ and tissue donor program in the state Corrections Department to educate inmates about the procedures and the need for donors. The incentive bill on which lawmakers want legal advice would shave up to 180 days off a prison sentence for a donation.

Firstly, if I ever go back to school, I think I’m gonna have to get my PhD in “Penology”. Wonder how much time they take off for sperm donation? At the very least, this poses all kinds of medical and ethical questions. As always, lets turn to our government officials for perspective:

“People are dying. I think it’s imperative that we go all out and see what we can do,” said the bills’ chief sponsor, Sen. Ralph Anderson, D-Greenville. “I would like to see us get enough donors that people are no longer dying.”

Enlightening, Ralph. Despite the decidedly simple language the Senator chose, and all of my quips aside, the issue itself is no less serious:

In South Carolina, 636 people are on a waiting list for organ donations, mostly kidneys. Last year, 291 people received organ transplants – 90 percent of them from dead donors. About 50 people awaiting transplants die each year, Blevins said.

Nationwide, about 6,700 people on organ waiting lists die yearly. More than 95,300 Americans are awaiting an organ transplant, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

7% is a fairly high mortality rate, and given that it took 90% of the states’ donors to die in order to live up to that little heart on their license, it seems difficult to find new ways to close the gap. It takes an extraordinary amount of altruism to volunteer a piece of your body for the good of another, and if anyone has ever gone through major surgery, you’ll understand why. Here is a sample of the immediate aftermath of a 2-3 hour donation surgery (from the University of Maryland Medical Center):

You will wake up in the recovery room feeling groggy and a little uncomfortable. You will have an oxygen mask on and a catheter will be draining urine from your bladder into a collecting bag. It is important for the medical team to make sure your kidney is producing plenty of urine. The catheter usually stays in overnight so that your urine output can be measured.

You will receive nourishment and fluids through your IV until you are able to take liquids by mouth….

When you go home, your activities will be limited. You should not lift anything heavier than 20 pounds for the first six weeks. You may find that you need frequent naps for the first few weeks.

I guess the thinking here is that since normal people are averse to these kinds of things, why not try a more “captive” audience? Medically speaking, it’s actually not that bad of an idea. There are a battery of tests and screenings – both physical and psychological – one must pass in order to be considered a candidate for donation. And though the Yard obviously shouldn’t be one of them, if the inmate is healthy and ready to lay down on the table, there really aren’t that many reasons to deny a sick patient that much needed organ.

On the other hand, THEY’RE INMATES! Using our ever-growing prison population as an organ farm is an ethical disaster, only compounded by the incentives given in return. It’s not as though officials are forcing them to give up their innards outright, but I’m sure if you’ve spent time in the general population of any major prison, having any kind of time off dangled in front of you can make you do crazy things. And what about the decree of the judge? If this program is ever implemented, oversight about who merits the time off will lead to an array of moral quandaries. What crimes are worth a decreased sentence and why? And plus, where does one draw the line? If we already use them on chain gangs, to make license plates, to donate organs, why not gladiator-style royal rumble entertainment? How about medical testing? A year off to inject you with this green stuff sounds good. There are already enough people coming after your organs in prison, except they’re scalpels are sharpened from toothbrushes and they don’t wash their hands first. The government doesn’t need to add another pair of hands.

Iraq and Immigration Meet in Mass.

In Children and Youth, civil, Civil Liberties, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Global War On Terror, Immigration, Iraq War, Labor, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 8, 2007 at 7:35 pm

Two festering cancers of America’s policy collided yesterday at a New Bedford, MA manufacturing plant. A small army of Immigrations and Customs Enforcements agents (ICE) executed a massive raid at a Michael Bianco, Inc., netting 327 illegal workers – out of 500 overall – and the company’s management. Though they are now prosecuting the company, our government had also awarded Bianco in the neighborhood of $90-$100 Million in contracts to manufacture quality goods for our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; this includes around $8.5 Million and $36.1 Million for backpacks and portage equipment in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Many words came to mind when I first read about this, and it will probably take a few paragraphs to get to them all, so please, bear with me.

There are many victims in this story, but I’d like to start with the innocent ones. The majority of the workers at Bianco were women, and while they were being handcuffed a rounded up with helicopters for working a $7 an hour job, their children were left stranded. From the Boston Globe:

About 100 children were stuck with baby sitters, caretakers and others, said Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts. The state Department of Social Services found at least 35 children whose families were affected, authorities said.

“We’re continuing to get stories today about infants that were left behind,” she said. “It’s been a widespread humanitarian crisis here in New Bedford.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that no children were stranded and that authorities released 60 detainees for humanitarian reasons, most related to child care issues. Spokesman Marc Raimondi said that the agency coordinated with the state officials Monday afternoon, and that those still in custody were given the option of letting their children stay with a guardian or putting them in state care.

“We had an agreement in place,” he said. “We are not aware of anyone who had any children that weren’t being cared for.”

Social service officials said they were working with local authorities and community activists to help families.

Since their parents – all but the 60 the ICE mercifully released – spent the night detained in a nearby Army Base, one wonders just exactly where these children were and what kind of care they were given. It is important to note that most of these children are, by birth, American citizens, and as such, are entitled to care in this country. Despite this, a majority of deportees choose to leave with their children, preferring to keep the family together in uncertain poverty rather than burden the state and tear their lives in two. The former, though, will most likely be difficult if not impossible to accomplish given that these workers are now in custody and caught in the unrelenting tide of bureaucracy on their way out of the country. Just what kinds of rights they are granted during processing – most specifically phone calls to loved ones and legal consel – is also suspect:

At Fort Devens, federal agents began a second round of interviews with detainees, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said.

He said the majority will be flown to detention facilities outside of Massachusetts, where they will appear before an immigration court judge for deportation proceedings.

Depending on the judge’s decision, the detainees will either be deported to their home countries or allowed to return to New Bedford, he said.

The length of stay at the detention facilities depends on where the immigrants are from, Mr. Rocha said. Deportation to Mexico is quicker than those to other countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, he said.

This effectively puts these estimated 100 children in indefinite limbo for doing absolutely nothing. Give me one Minute Man who says this is justice, this is American values, and I’ll write in George Bush on my next Presidential ballot.

The second tier are the workers themselves. Whatever, your opinions on immigration are, it is important to understand the conditions in which these people work:

Investigators said the workers toiled in dingy conditions and faced onerous fines, such as a $20 charge for talking while working and spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.

“The whole story will come out, and at that point it will be a very different scenario,” said Insolia’s lawyer, Inga Bernstein.

I’m sure it will, Inga. The pay they received – $7 an hour – and lack of benefits is, unfortunately, not that much different than many low-skilled jobs US citizens are forced into these days. But the simple fact that these people are without rights negates any inkling of fair, honest, and even humane treatment by their employers as they risk imprisonment and deportation for reporting mistreatment. I say again, whatever your thoughts on this issue, the plain fact is that these people risk life and limb to come here and be exploited all so that their children can escape the burdens they endure. We are also led to believe, over and over, that these people come to this country to do the jobs American’s won’t. An excellent Op-Ed piece from a local paper stated that the raid happened “on the same day that the state reported that the city’s unemployment rate was the highest in the commonwealth and just one day after a historic copper company founded by patriot Paul Revere announced it will close its historic plant in New Bedford” When a big time factory can beat it’s competitors while still keeping it’s local work-force in unemployment, it’s a Red-Letter day for American business. With the closing of any plant, fingers start pointing all over the place over who is responsible for the lost jobs. Is it the fault of the immigrant for working the sub-standard wage, or the employer for offering it?

The most unnerving thing, in my opinion, is that all this was done with the full knowledge, if not complicit action of the government. Not just the Department of Defense, who awarded them the contract, but several government agencies turned the other way to continue the flow of cheap goods Bianco dolled out to our troops. From the Op-Ed piece:

As early as February 2002, the Social Security Administration found that there were problems with the paperwork of nearly one in four of Bianco’s 83 employees. Over the next several years, state and city police stops turned up Bianco employees who said they had purchased fraudulent documents.

And report after report, filed over a four-year period, to Social Security found wholesale problems with Bianco Inc.’s work force, including Social Security cards whose numbers matched those of dead people.

And yet, the company was awarded more than $100 million in federal contracts to manufacture gear for U.S. soldiers. To meet the demands of the federal contracts, Bianco quadrupled its work force from 151 in February 2005 to 646. The company even received tens of thousands of dollars from Massachusetts, apparently to train illegal immigrants how to do taxpayer-supported jobs for the U.S. military that should have gone to U.S. citizens.

Most of what we eat, be it livestock or produce, has been given off the back of illegal labor for years, so I guess it was only a matter of time before the government stopped riding shotgun and started actively working to engorge American business with cheap labor. While we were being pummelled with the “debate” on these issues going on throughout the halls of government, while walls and fences were being built to keep these dastardly illegals out of our country and rhetoric flew like electrons from our elected officials, hundreds of workers – just counting Bianco, mind you – were being ignored if not encouraged to keep quiet and meet their quotas. The Senate felt it appropriate to demonize these workers while ignoring the employers that brought them here in the first place; these captains of industry who supplied Mexicans, Brazilians, Guatemalans and Jamaicans – just to name a few – with false identification and denied them any rights whatsoever in order to avoid the labor laws and civil rights that come with a legitimate workforce. But hey, that crap’s expensive and we live in a global economy. However encouraging it is to see Francesco Insolia, Bianco’s owner, and the rest of the company’s management being led away in the same cars as the their victims, it is merely window dressing when compared to monumental task at hand. It will take much more than raids to cure the culture of corruption we have let infect our economy through lax oversight and an unwillingness to face the issues at hand. It will be curious to see if the new Democratic leadership will be able to cut the bullshit and find a solution, be it amnesty or prosecution, to this festering problem. There are many who believe that they would rather wait out this supposed lame-duck administration and deal with the problem on their own terms come ’08 instead of working with Bush to solve it, thereby reinvigorating his languishing term. How many millions of workers will be prosecuted from now until then? What will be the human cost of all of this useless politcal posturing?

The fact that many of our troops are now equipped with the products made by this company is nothing short of poetic irony. At the very least, corners have been cut and rules have been bent in countless ways to keep this war afloat. The complete and total lack of responsible oversight and accountability that has been so well documented in Iraq has finally been revealed to us at home, and one can only wonder how much more of our military is being supported by these illegal and unethical companies. We have been told that we wage this war for the people of Iraq to have a taste of the freedom we take for granted here, that it is our job to cast away the darkness of oppression with the enduring light of liberty. Yet here we are, oppressing our own people with unemployment and foreigners with much worse, supplanting the equipment our troops deserve with that which is cheapest and orphaning scores of children without any consideration to their future, all in the broad daylight of this liberty we take for granted. My mother was born of Polish and Czech immigrants who arrived here at the turn of the century and my father came here from the Philippines in his twenties, which makes immigration a very personal issue for me, and probably why I’ve written more of a manifesto than a post. Most immigrants don’t come here for themselves, they do so for their families and their children, seeking to spread the apparent overflow of prosperity upon those they love. This was the founding principal of our nation, it was the reason why George Washington didn’t want to pay his taxes and why Jose’ worked 3 jobs with no insurance, they both wanted to be citizens of the United States. Should people come here legally? Yes. Regulating this, though, must start within our own borders by prosecuting the companies perpetuating it. The fact remains that there are millions of people who have spent year after year toiling in sheer exploitation that deserve, if not the name, at least some of the rights guaranteed by citizenship. By instead putting them in shackles and tearing apart their families, we relive another notorious and shamefull period of our history. If we cannot enforce our laws equally across tax brackets, guarantee the well being of our citizens and the humane treatment of those who are not, we scar the traditions that built this country. If we can’t fulfill our promises here, how are we supposed to fight and die to fulfill them elsewhere?

Bush Continues Anti-Regulatory Efforts with Industry Nominee to CPSC

In Civil Liberties, Consumerism, Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, Election 2008, International Trade, Laws & Regulation, Misc., US Politics on March 7, 2007 at 11:37 am

Just another re-post

In nominating Michael E. Baroody Mar. 1 to be chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), President Bush demonstrated yet another example since the 2006 elections of his efforts to slow down or roll back government regulation. CPSC is the independent regulatory agency charged with protecting the public against injury and death from a wide range of consumer products.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Baroody currently serves as the executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), an industry trade group which often works to ease regulations on manufacturers of consumer products. Baroody has been at NAM since 1990, except for a year when he worked for the Republican National Policy Forum. While at NAM, Baroody built a powerful lobbying and communications arm, which has had a very strong anti-regulatory agenda. He appeared to be next in line to get the top job at NAM until former Michigan governor John Engler was appointed president and CEO…

The Los Angeles Times reports that, for example, Baroody fought against ergonomic standards that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration recommended in 2000, and he spoke on behalf of NAM when the Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted constitutionally when it issued air pollution limits in 2001. Baroody’s nomination goes to the Senate Commerce Committee where Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has vowed to scrutinize the nominee…

As we watch our nation’s inability to respond to a range of challenges, whether it’s regarding the quality of our national parks, our veterans’ health care quality, the readiness of the National Guard, Hurricane Katrina, or the regulation of our food supply, Bush continues to nominate people not to govern the country, but to achieve ideological ends and protect corporate interests.

HIV-positive soldiers no longer to be forced from Mexican army

In Civil Liberties, HIV/SIDA, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Policing on March 1, 2007 at 7:33 pm

From Upside Down World:

Mexico’s Supreme Court has reversed a law that allowed the military to force HIV-positive soldiers out of the armed forces. 11 members of the military brought the case to the court after more than 300 HIV-positive soldiers had been fired in the last 13 years, judged ‘‘useless’’ by the military. Five of the members may be reinstated.  Two died before the ruling, but their families could be helped by receiving benefits formerly denied to them by the former law. The decision was approved 8 to 3 on February 27…

Prison Babies

In Children and Youth, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice / Prison Reform on March 1, 2007 at 7:06 pm

West Virginia is considering whether or not it should join the ranks of States that have programs for incarcerated mothers of infants to be able to care for their babies while in prison.

According to the West Virginia Gazette:

Some newborns could spend the first 18 months of their lives behind bars in West Virginia, under a bill passed by the Senate.

The idea of allowing female inmates to live with their infants in special prison housing is to encourage such a strong bond between mother and child that the mothers clean up their acts to avoid returning to prison.

Still, prison nurseries are rare. West Virginia would become only the sixth state to offer such a service. But as the national female prison population grows at record rates, experts say, other states will soon be looking at similar plans.

States that already have prison nurseries — New York, Ohio, Nebraska, California and Washington — tout reduced recidivism rates among their inmates.

In New York, the recidivism rate among women who raised their babies in prison between 1997 and 2001 was less than half what it was among the general female prison population, according to a study by the New York Department of Correctional Services.

“We really believe in the value of the program,” said spokeswoman Linda Foglia. “You’re going to have better behavior so you can continue to have that relationship with that baby.”

The numbers in Ohio, which started its prison nursery in 2001, have been even more promising, according to Elizabeth Wright, assistant to the warden at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Of the 123 women who have completed the program, only eight have been convicted of subsequent felonies, a recidivism rate of 6.5 percent, compared to 30 percent in the general population.

In West Virginia, the bill before the House of Delegates would allow women to keep their newborns with them in a minimum-security unit at the Lakin Correctional Center for Women near Point Pleasant. Like almost all the other prison nursery programs, only nonviolent offenders serving short sentences would be eligible.

Women could have their newborns with them for up to 18 months. If the mother’s sentence runs longer, the baby would be placed with family or social services.

The women and their children would live in one of three specially designed units already built at Lakin for minimum-security inmates. The units have bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and laundry area, and can be occupied by other prisoners if there aren’t enough pregnant inmates to fill them……

While I do strongly believe in the importance of the bond between mother and child, as well as the life changing effects that the bond can have, I have some questions to raise about this program.

1) Considering the large amount of physical and emotional disease and problems that many prisoners face, what is being done to ensure a safe environment for the babies? Given the track records tht prisons have in these areas, I don’t know that i would trust their discretion in creating baby development-friendly environments.

2) Considering the above mentioned stresses related to prison life, how does the added stress of caring for and raising a child effect the psychology of the mothers?

3) How does the stress of prison life compare to the emotional stress of a child being separated from its mother (both long term and short term) on both the child and mother?

These are just some questions that i came up with off the top of my head.  I’m sure there are many more.  I can definitely see the positive potential for a program like this, but at the same time i don’t know that I trust the U.S. prison system to pull it off in a good way.

Dime Bags of Viagra

In Civil Liberties, class warfare, Consumerism, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., The War On Drugs on March 1, 2007 at 1:43 pm

It looks as though there has been a paradigm shift in drug use. According to the United Nations Drug Control Board, abuse of prescription drugs will surpass use of street drugs for the first time in history. An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette brings it home:

“Prescription drug abuse already has outstripped traditional illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine and Ecstasy in parts of Europe, Africa and South Asia, the board said in its annual report for 2006.

In the United States alone, abuse of painkillers, stimulants, tranquilizers and other prescription medications has gone beyond ‘practically all illicit drugs with the exception of cannabis,’ with users increasingly turning to them first, said the group, based in Vienna, Austria.”

For many, many years, we’ve been told that weed is the quintessential “gateway drug”. It has been the pillar of our narcotic education since the 80’s, but it looks like the herb’s gonna have to move over:

“The prescription and heroin addictions are often linked, Dr. Capretto noted, because abuse of OxyContin has led many addicts to heroin for economic reasons. While an 80-milligram OxyContin pill can sell for up to $80 on the street, a stamp bag of heroin has dropped to $10, even as purity levels have reached 90 percent.

‘Someone spending hundreds of dollars a day on OxyContin can buy heroin for one-third, one-fourth that amount now,’ he said. ‘You have suburban kids who never thought they’d stick a needle in their arm shooting up.’

Richard Goldberg, Allegheny County deputy district attorney in charge of the narcotics unit, agreed that OxyContin users are turning to heroin because dealers of both drugs are reacting to market forces of ‘supply and demand’ in a price war.”

It should be no surprise that “good” drugs and “bad” drugs are being dealt by the same people. Chemically speaking, Heroin and Oxy are both Opioids containing essentially the same active ingredients, though prescriptions are derived synthetically instead of from the evil Poppy plant. Prescriptions are far more potent than street drugs as well, so the risk of harm is usually much higher. This kind of frank discussion about drugs, though, has never and probably will never occur in this country, this “drug free” America where I can be locked up for 15 years for a bag of weed but can easily write away for a free sample of pills to enhance my genitals – not that they need enhancing, necessarily, but Pfizer wants me to know that it’s on the table. My father was an Anesthesiologist for decades, doling out the Dolodit and other high powered medications to needy patients, so I am well aware that they’re both needed and helpful. Drug companies – like gun makers – can’t really be held responsible for the misuse of their products. While watching TV the other weekend, though, my Dad was incensed by the countless advertisements for drugs clogging up the nightly news. “People shouldn’t be diagnosing themselves,” he said. And, as he likes to say, he was absolutely right.

It’s not that advertisements like these promote drug abuse, but they do soften the seriousness of drug use. It seems drug companies can no longer make back the hundreds of millions they pump into R&D by simply selling things people need, they have to cater to what they want: Getting to sleep, staying awake, paying attention, the aforementioned genital enhancement and a wide array of sexual assistance are just a few examples of unnecessary medication being pushed on us at every turn. The ambiguous ads are my favorite: “What is Xenoxoprol? Take it and find out!”. Because they don’t actually describe what the hell the thing does, they don’t have list the many ugly side-effects – “Gaseous Oily Discharge” – that you’ll most likely experience. Is this any different from getting your fix from a dude in the alley? No. But it’s more profitable to keep us all thinking that it is. It affords us billions of dollars for a misguided War on Drugs and keeps many English majors in the green by writing copy for Xanax.  These inequalities underline class issues as well.  Crack and cocaine are basically the same substance, but since one is bought by poor minorities and the other by rich socialites, we treat them differently.  Working poor don’t have the money to buy Vicodin, let alone the healthcare to get the prescriptions.  Lets see how often we see Anti-Drug campaigns for designer pills.

Drug abuse and addiction is a serious problem, but it won’t get better through legislation or prosecution. Until we change our perception of drugs that are “good” and “bad” by realligning them to reality, regulation in any form will fail. Interestingly, this story was not picked up by the NY Times or CNN, despite the fact that it affects the lives of millions of Americans. It looks like denial is still our opiate of choice.

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.

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.”

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.

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

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.

Who’s a Rat.com: List Police Informants and Undercover Agents

In Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information, Freedom of Speech, Laws & Regulation, Technology, US Politics on December 21, 2006 at 5:30 pm

An interesting piece:

Is it legal for a website to publish the names and photos of persons its users claim are criminal informants (often referred to as “rats” or “snitches”), or undercover police agents? A website called “Who’s a Rat” says it is doing just that.

While it’s understandable that judges and the police are outraged by the site, the site appears perfectly legal – and it seems it will remain so, unless it ever were to actually threaten informants or undercover agents.

Absent such a threat, the content of the web site is protected by the First Amendment. In this column, I’ll explain why – drawing upon a key precedent relating to speech online that may be linked to potential real-world violence.