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Archive for the ‘Progressive Politics’ 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.

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.

Obama Doubletalk on NAFTA?

In Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, International politics, International Trade, Progressive Politics, US Politics on March 1, 2008 at 1:24 pm

MSNBC News report says that Obama’s campaign called the Canadian ambassador last month to warn that NATFA would “become part of the debate in the democratic primaries, and that Obama would take some heavy swings at the trade deal, but told the ambassador: ‘Don’t worry, its just plain rhetoric. Its not serious.'”

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.

Ted Kennedy backs Obama

In civil, Election 2008, Progressive Politics, Race, US Politics on January 28, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Kennedy’s seniority and force as a legislator will be a huge gain for Obama, whose primary weakness in this race may be a lack of Democriatic party connections as compared to the Clintons. Even if he wins the popular vote, the pimary could be decided by “superdelegates,” members of the democratic party who are not required to pledge their vote to any specific nominee. These delegates have been surveyed to support Clinton more than two to one over Obama, and if the race turns out to be a tight one in the state primaries, they could be the deciding factor in the final nomination. (For a breakdown of how the delegate system works, see CNN’s delegate explainer)

This makes Kennedy’s endorsement critical, as his seniority will put him in a position to sway some of the unpledged delegates who have favored Clinton over Obama. The Clinton’s had encouraged him to remain neutral, knowing his influence, but he has decided to be an active supporter of the Obama campaign.

From the International Herald Tribune:

[Kennedy] intends to campaign aggressively for Obama, heading West this week, followed by appearances in the Northeast. Strategists see him bolstering Obama’s credibility for the office and providing particular benefits with union members and Hispanics, as well as the party base. […]

After Obama won the Iowa caucuses, associates to both men said, Kennedy concluded that Obama had transcended racial lines and the historical divisions the Kennedy family had worked to tear down. […]

“For somebody who, I think, has been such an important part of our national imagination and who generally shies away from involvement in day-to-day politics to step out like that is something that I’m very grateful for,” Obama said.

Thanks again, Dennis

In civil, Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Freedom of Information, Laws & Regulation, Media Criticism, Misc., Progressive Politics, Technology, US Politics on January 17, 2008 at 1:33 am

American politics is so dirty and that it is usually a downer, but every time Dennis Kucinich makes the news he gives us something to smile about. Not long ago, he introduced a proposal for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. More recently, he managed to see past himself enough to urge his supporters at the Iowa caucus to move to Obama’s corner if he didn’t make the 15% required to be counted in a dictrict. And a few days ago, he asked for a recount in New Hampshire. Now I’m not saying I think New Hampshire was miscalculated, stolen, etc. But in light of certain questionable electoral maneuvers over the past decade (i.e. 2000, florida and 2004, ohio), I have come to the conclusion that asking for a recount can only be a good thing, and that it should be done more often. Candidates have to pay a fee to have a recount done, and Kucinich has chosen to pay for it from his own pocket: beautiful. This, mind you, is a hand recount, meaning that even the votes taken by computerized voting machines will be counted by hand, from the vote printouts they produce.

From TheHill.com,

The lawmaker said he does not expect his own vote count to be significantly affected by such a recount but he added that it is “imperative that these questions be addressed in the interest of public confidence in the integrity of the election process and the election machinery.”

In his request for a recount, Kucinich alleges that there have been “unexplained disparities between hand-counted ballots and machine-counted ballots.” […]

“This is not about my candidacy or any other individual candidacy,” Kucinich said. “It is about the integrity of the election process.”

Let me just be one to say: Thanks again, Dennis!

New Philly Mayor has some Game

In Election 2008, Music, Progressive Politics, US Politics on January 10, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Newly elected Mayor Mike Nutter celebrated his new job with a fairly impressive rendition of the Sugar Hill Gang classic “Rapper’s Delight” during his inauguration party. Not bad to have ?uestlove on the decks, either. After a spotty start, he locks it in around 1:00. Enjoy.

Obama’s Mistake

In Culture of Corruption, Election 2008, Media Criticism, Progressive Politics, US Politics on January 9, 2008 at 1:00 am

Obama just lost the New Hampshire primary when he should have won it.

Why should he have won it? Because he has better policies, more charisma, and more intelligence than Clinton. Additionally, he has the benefit of having an opponent who is alternately nasty and sacharine, and that is never truly appealing.

In the last debate, though, he commited a fatal mistake. Clearly angry at Clinton for leveling unfair attacks at him, he defended himself artfully, with help from Edwards. Later, Gibson’s guest moderator referred to the “double team” Clinton had faced earlier, in which Edwards and Obama both suggested that Clinton represented the “status quo,” and was a force opposing change. Clinton responded oddly, and seemed to be looking for assurance. Here’s the exchange I’d like to highlight:

SPRADLING: My question to you is simply this: What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight who see a resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue, where they seem to like Barack Obama more?

CLINTON: Well, that hurts my feelings.

(LAUGHTER)

SPRADLING: I’m sorry, Senator. I’m sorry.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: But I’ll try to go on.

(LAUGHTER)

He’s very likable. I agree with that. I don’t think I’m that bad.

OBAMA: You’re likable enough, Hillary.

CLINTON: Thank you…

(LAUGHTER)

What Obama doesn’t get is that this is war. Hilary is treating it like one, and she has shown that she is not above getting nasty to win. Obama was not being called upon to speak at this moment, Clinton was floundering, and silence from his corner would have left her to respond without assurance. This is something Obama should have left her to.

By alleviating the gravity of the situation with this little utterance, Obama moved away from his own frustration, which would have provided a platform for some powerful statements towards the end of the debate.

You will say, “but this is so insignificant.” Yes, deceptively so. The real outlines of a situation between people are in these small gestures. Obama is trying to be all things to all people, even a friend to Hilary. That is fine, but I think there were some beefs to settle first, which Obama ignored in favor of social grace. By doing this, Obama gave Clinton a platform that she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

It is worth noting that Obama did not make a very strong showing towards the end of the debate, and Clinton seemed to find her voice a bit more.

For comparisons, see Kerry’s response to Bush’s aggression in the Town Hall debate in ’04, when Bush refused to let a question go when his time was up. Kerry replies to what Bush is saying, but skirts the more effective (and necessary) approach of taking Bush’s aggression head on and calling him out in it. Does anybody else see any parallels between the Obama-Clinton battle and the Bush-Kerry battle in ’04? I do.

Aggression tends to win the day in American politics, and Obama will have to learn not to lose sight of the realities of his opponent if he wants to win this race. Softening to create a contrast is not a good option here. The American public tends to prefer the aggressive side of that contrast. There is no need to be nice when the other guy would gladly bash you to kindgom come. That’s not to say he should go negative, but that he shouldn’t forget that Hilary has done so.  She is serious about it and will take every pawn left unprotected. This is not about friendship for her.

Food Shortages, Ethanol and Mike Gravel

In civil, Consumerism, Direct action, Election 2008, Environment, Food Justice, International politics, Misc., Progressive Politics, US Politics on December 19, 2007 at 4:52 pm

A disturbing article in the International Herlad Tribune appeared a couple days ago, and has gotten little, if any traction in the domestic press. According to the UN, on top of everything else going to shit on this planet, our food supplies are running dangerously low.

In an “unforeseen and unprecedented” shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels, the top food and agriculture official of the United Nations warned Monday.

The changes created “a very serious risk that fewer people will be able to get food,” particularly in the developing world, said Jacques Diouf, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

There – of course – some seriously alarming numbers backing these claims:

The agency’s food price index rose by more than 40 percent this year, compared with 9 percent the year before – a rate that was already unacceptable, he said. New figures show that the total cost of foodstuffs imported by the neediest countries rose 25 percent, to $107 million, in the last year.

At the same time, reserves of cereals are severely depleted, FAO records show. World wheat stores declined 11 percent this year, to the lowest level since 1980. That corresponds to 12 weeks of the world’s total consumption – much less than the average of 18 weeks consumption in storage during the period 2000-2005. There are only 8 weeks of corn left, down from 11 weeks in the earlier period.

Prices of wheat and oilseeds are at record highs, Diouf said Monday. Wheat prices have risen by $130 per ton, or 52 percent, since a year ago. U.S. wheat futures broke $10 a bushel for the first time Monday, the agricultural equivalent of $100 a barrel oil

….

high oil prices have doubled shipping costs in the past year, putting enormous stress on poor nations that need to import food as well as the humanitarian agencies that provide it.

There are several reasons for all this:

On the supply side, these include the early effects of global warming, which has decreased crop yields in some crucial places, and a shift away from farming for human consumption toward crops for biofuels and cattle feed. Demand for grain is increasing with the world population, and more is diverted to feed cattle as the population of upwardly mobile meat-eaters grows.

Ironically, our own prosperity is driving our demise. Worse yet, our attempts at combating global warming may be deepening the problem.

In the lead story in last week’s Economist, The End of Cheap Food, the British authority pointed their fingers squarely at America:

But the rise in prices is also the self-inflicted result of America’s reckless ethanol subsidies. This year biofuels will take a third of America’s (record) maize harvest. That affects food markets directly: fill up an SUV‘s fuel tank with ethanol and you have used enough maize to feed a person for a year. And it affects them indirectly, as farmers switch to maize from other crops. The 30m tonnes of extra maize going to ethanol this year amounts to half the fall in the world’s overall grain stocks.

There is no doubt that many of the politicians – and subsequently businesses – pushing for ethanol have overlooked this fact in a nakedly political attempt to curry favor in Iowa while looking serious on climate change and American jobs. Sugar cane-based Ethanol produced in Brazil is cheaper and more efficient than our domestic flavor, especially considering the fact that the amount of energy needed to turn corn into fuel is so high that it offsets any environmental gain; but that won’t win you a caucus in Des Moines. It looks as though these concerns are actually being considered as there is an Energy Bill close to ratification that will expand funding and production quotas for non-corn Ethanol.

All this being said, we are still looking at a fundamental challenge to our way of life, something far more serious than terrorism or Iran getting the bomb. Who cares if we defeat the Jihadists if a loaf of bread ends up costing $500 and you can’t afford to feed your family? Emerging countries have been yearning for the protein-filled, doggy bag taking, dangerously obese lifestyle we’ve pioneered in America; and if the devastating droughts we’ve seen in Australia and our own South-East continue, it’ll be impossible to grow enough for everybody.

There will obviously be plenty of initiatives put forth by Governments, NGO’s, think tanks and the myriad brain trusts we have set up to find answers to problems like this. Nothing will be done, though, unless we as a people can control ourselves. People will always be hungry, but they don’t need to be fat. I’ll start with my own country. It is difficult to consume less in a culture and economy that is solely devoted to that very action, but if this crises deepens (which it likely will) eventually we’ll have to realize that resources are finite and the more we take, the less we leave for the rest of world. Steaks are dope, but not necessary every night of the week and gigantic meals are meant for celebrations, not necessarily lunch.

I’m not advocating a hunger strike or anything, and far be it from me to point fingers, but it seems ridiculous to expect progress without sacrifice. If we are concerned about these problems, we must not only be the first to act, but also be capable of accepting the consequences.  It is well and good to want to feed others, but to be willing to give part of your meal, that’s something else entirely.  The same goes for global warming.  It is fairly easy to rationalize that hybrid SUV, but why not demand better public transit and save $34,000?  Want to get rid of illegal immigration?, then go ahead and work in a strawberry field for $5 and hour and demand higher pay.  Do you support better health-care and education for all?, then pay more taxes.  These are somewhat extreme, but we must realize that we are not powerless to effect change.  The success we seek is only sustainable if we’re all willing to work for it.

Mike Gravel’s candidacy might not be remembered too far past January 3rd, but he had moment of brilliance during a recent debate on NPR. When asked to describe an issue he does not know the answer to, the former Senator from Alaska responded immediately:

“I wish I knew how to convince the American people that they are the answer to these problems, not the politicians. I wish I knew how to make that argument.”

Amen, sir.

 

 

 

Vietnow

In Children and Youth, Direct action, Misc., Music, Progressive Politics, US Politics on August 2, 2007 at 11:57 pm

I bought an advance pre-sale ticket almost 3 months beforehand, and at the cost of $105 dollars, I felt it a bargain (one of the few times Ticketmaster had ever given me this experience). The line-up for Rock the Bells – Pharohe Monch, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jedi Mind Tricks, Public Enemy, the Roots and Wu-Tang amongst others – was in itself an impressive menu, and they all put on great performances. However impressive their sets were, though, there was an undeniable feeling that the entire festival was little more than a 9-hour waiting game for the headliner, Rage Against the Machine. The mosh pits started opening up during Cypress Hill’s set, a good two hours before Zack and the rest were slated to come on. After the sun finally set and Wu-Tang left the stage, the chants for “Rage” began echoing throughout the crowd. Cheers rang out when the stage crew began hoisting the enormous red star back-drop behind the stage during sound check. It began to hit everyone then, I think, that this was real, and in a few minutes we’d be able to see them for the first time in seven years. The anticipation was palpable, everyone impatiently willing the lights to drop.

They opened with Testify and everything exploded. The crowd became a seething, incoherent mass of destruction; bodies careening into, around and through each other in a frenzy of insatiable angst. The next 15 or 20 minutes were spent simply fighting for my life as the band followed up with punishing renditions of Bulls On Parade and People of the Sun. I saw a few people who had gotten hurt, went to the first aid tent and came back to the floor – bandages and all – to continue throwing down. A few unfortunate crowd surfers tumbled off supportive hands and onto the concrete floor a few feet below, while others rolled and kicked their way across the horizon. There was hardly time to catch your breath between songs and the little air there was available felt like it had already been in someone else’s lungs, feeble relief against the sweltering heat. Leaning over with my hands on my knees, dripping sweat by the pound, I realized I had missed this almost as much as the music. Despite the hurtling chaos, there was still that pick-you-up-if-I-knock-you-down camaraderie that you can’t really find anywhere else.

Between the incessant shoving and jumping, though, I was able to catch glimpses of the band: the erratic jerking motions of Tom Morello, guitar strapped high against his chest; Brad Wilk striking the cymbals from 3 feet above; Tim Commoford’s completely inked out shoulders. And then there was Zack. His dreads had flared out into more of an afro since I’d last seen, but everything else was just as mesmerizing as I remembered. During the verses, he stalked like a tiger from one side of the stage to the other with that measured, rhythmic gait, spitting each lyric with eyes piercing the far reaches of the crowd. When time came to open the flood gates, he was out in front with that amazing energy. After spending the past few years in relative anonymity, it was good to see the man out and about, finally back where he belonged.

Once everyone calmed down, though, I could tell the sound was a little off. The mix on the enormous sound system was uneven at times, detracting a little from the experience and it felt like the signal they heard had problems, too. The band wasn’t as tight or together as I thought they’d be. I learned to play electric bass on many of their songs, and my inner nerd cried out at missed riffs and drum fills. Their tempo also seemed slow for a portion of the set, but still, it was well worth the money to hear them live again. Songs I hadn’t heard in far too long – Vietnow, Down Rodeo, Township Rebellion, Wake Up – all finding their legs in a new decade. The subterranean growl of Commoford’s bass and authoritative, aggressive drumming from Wilk formed the foundation for the samplified and other-worldly noises only Morello can conjure up; and many times his solos simultaneous slashed and soared over the crowd. Zack’s machine-gun lyrics cut as deep as ever, and his amazing scream hasn’t lost an inch of force. Like all good showmen, they saved some of their strongest efforts for the encore, a medley of Freeedom and Bullett in the Head that sounded just as fresh, and maybe more important, than it did when I first heard these songs. When all pistons were firing, the band was truly impressive.

The high point of the performance, for me at least, came during Guerilla Radio. After Morello’s solo, the band dropped out and along with Zack, the capacity crowd of 80,000 rose up and screamed “It has to start some place, it has to start some time. What better place than here, what better time than now?”. The people, it seems, are still hungry for something better. Whether angst or politics, they spoke to that part of us that yearned for change and autonomy by any means necessary. There hasn’t really been any another act that can move people with such a sense of urgency towards direct action, or at least one that supports and represents those who do, and that is something that has been sorely lacking over the past few years. The re-emergence of not only the music, but of this voice is what gave their reunion such importance.

But their ideology is also a source of great frustration for me as a dedicated fan. There wouldn’t be a Rage show without a diatribe from Zack, and this one even made it into the New York Times:

On Saturday night Mr. De La Rocha responded. He attacked the “fascist” Fox News pundits for “claiming that we said that the president should be assassinated.” As the crowd shouted its approval, he continued, “No: he should be brought to trial as a war criminal and hung and shot. That’s what we said.” Despite the insistence on due process, this still isn’t a position any mainstream politician would endorse. But that’s precisely the point: At a time when unimpeachable causes and pragmatic endorsements are the norm, it’s nice to be reminded that rock stars can get political without sounding like politicians.

Though it is great to finally hear these words being spoken with the blunt aggression that befits the band, the fact of the matter is that they come at a time when Bush’s approval ratings are in the 20s, he’s leaving office on his own in a little more than a year, and the Dixie Chicks said they were ashamed of the man back in 2003. It felt like Rage was a few years too late for the train. They spent their careers preaching against evils like jingoism, the military industrial complex, corporate greed, exploitation of immigrants and the poor, using every album, every show as a scathing indictment of our government and the capitalist system at large. But these were completely useless in the 90’s. A decade of peace, prosperity and inaction across all facets of our country, where the biggest scandal of our day was a blow-job, was not a climate where this kind of message can gain traction. As soon as they broke up in 2000, though, the shit hit the fan: Bush steals the election, 9/11, the War, Katrina the list can go on and on. And where the hell were they?

 

Zack was busy working on a solo album that will never see the light of day, it’s even rumored that a track he did with Trent Reznor was so bad that Trent wouldn’t allow it to be released. The rest of the band was tied up in the half-baked super group, Audioslave, forsaking any political leanings in order to support Chris Cornell’s tan and perfectly groomed facial hair. How, in the face of everything going on in this country and around the world, could they have stayed apart? Imagine if they had been at any of the anti-war protests leading up to the invasion, or in New York during the RNC convention in ‘04 like they were at the Democratic one in 2000. Granted, they might not have made a monumental impact, but they were meant for these times. They represented themselves as people who stand up and tell these opportunistic fascists to go fuck themselves, to demand justice and inspire others to action. But when the opportunity came to do so , they could not find a way to resolve their differences. I’ve played in plenty of bands and am no stranger to the personal issues that break them apart. I must ask, though, how does it take this long to respond in the face of such disastrous times?

 

Don’t get me wrong, I would pay another $1,000 to see them again without thinking twice and I’m not alone in hoping that this is the wake-up call we’ve been waiting for and the tour leads to a new album in 2008 (just in time for one of the most interesting elections in our history). But they do have to answer these questions if they decide to make another run, or at least grow enough artistically and politically to justify such an absence. Other bands can get back together, do tours, make shitty albums, a ton of cash and be forgiven by their fans. But goddamnit, Rage Against the Machine stands for something, for me at least, and I’m gonna hold them to a higher standard. Though their philosophies might be considered anarchist, radical and inflamatory by most, it is – at least – much more substance than most rock bands are able to present these days. They were revolutionary in thought and aesthetic when they went triple platinum with their first album and over the course of their career, they did huge tours and donated part of the profits to activist organizations. The thought of something like this happening at such a critical time, that they might influence another generation the same way they influenced me, it makes me want them back even more. But they must be careful to not ruin what they’ve already built. After 9/11, Clear Channel banned a great deal of songs from the radio that they deemed contained “questionable lyrics”, putting together a list that was forwarded to most stations around the county. Rage Against the Machine was the only band that had every song they released put on that list. How does anyone top that?

The Way Forward

In Afghanistan, Election 2006, Election 2008, Global War On Terror, Iraq War, Misc., Progressive Politics, Terrorism on April 5, 2007 at 5:27 pm

I’ve been trying to avoid writing about the War since I started contributing to this blog a few months ago, but comment on a recent post has forced my hand. Much talk has been made on the fact that America must stay in Iraq until is has “acheived victory”, and that “surrender”, “cut and run”, or any option otherwise is paramount to failure. This argument, though, always makes me laugh, while at the same time noding my head, reflecting the intrinsic duality of our mission and our goals in this shattered country.

In many ways, “victory” is no longer America’s to acheive, it’s Iraq’s. When the occupation began in 2002, we dissolved – entirely – any semblance of statehood and public works the country had in a vain hope that we could re-shape it into something more palatable to the West and Iraqis at large. However bad they were, though, the Baathists could at least keep the lights on and the water running. But since we dismissed all public employees and replaced state offices with private contractors, maintaining necessary services became a little tough. The police and army – well-armed, well-trained personnel – were also given their walking papers, making idle hands truly the devil’s plaything. These mistakes, made by acting Pro-Consul L. Paul Bremer, and the administrations desire to deploy half the troops needed to secure a country of this size, helped speed Iraq towards disaster.

We created an immense power vaccum in Iraq which forced it’s people to revert to the only kind of law and order they had left – tribal councils and ethnic divisions – which lead us to the country’s current state of chaos. Though the Maliki government – elected with all of those inked fingers so long ago – has been unable to quell the seething violence throughout it’s country, there is no gaurantee our troops have or will be any more sucessful. If anything, our presence undercuts any authority the government has and intrinsically calls into question its autonomy. High rates of unemployment also fuel both the insurgency and the sense of hopelessness in Iraq. Take away the hundreds of over-fed American corporations “rebuilding” towns and business, give potential insurgents a steady job and a proper wage and see how many are willing to put down their guns for a shovel. We have taken so much from these people, it is time that their home be put back into their own hands. In this way, our vision of Iraq as a stable, legitimately soverign nation will never come to fruition until we leave.

But yet, the omnipresent issue of security surrounds every choice being made, and rightfully so. The fact of the matter is that our men and women sit in the midst of a growing civil war that has the potential to engulf the rest of the region in bloody ethnic cleansing; and the Maliki government is both unable and unwilling to bring the violence to an end at the cost of compromise with their former oppressors. As more and more countries from our “coalition” pack up and leave, the greater our responsibility is to protect Iraqi’s from themselves. It is clear that without our presence, the bloodshed will possibly escalate to ugly proportions, making us neither liberators, nor occupiers, but rather enablers: the country that turned it’s back on the mess it made and allowed it to fester into a horrific genocide. With all these circumstances, though, it is difficult to promote a continuation of a war that has brought to view the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians, unprecidented financial misappropriation, the formation of a private mercenary army of over 25,000 that operates outside any jurisdiction and enough tortue and human rights abuses to take the Hague’s present staff into retirement.

One of the most interesting plan I’ve read on constructive disengagement from Iraq came from former Senator and ’72 Presidential candidate George McGovern. In a lenghty, detailed, and amazingly level-headed piece in Harpers magazine last year, George presents a multi-faceted, responsible alternative to a “troop surge”. Though removal of our forces is a key element to this plan, he proposes to replace them with services that would probably prove to be much more effective than our previous efforts. A multi-national security force will be put in place of our military and will include personnel from muslim nations who – unlike us – speak fluent Arabic. Instead of pouring money into Haliburton, we will give our billions directly to established Iraqi government funds for reconstruction, reparations, and the continuing development of State and local government at large, all while being monitored by third party auditors to ensure transparent and responsible spending by both sides. In addition, McGovern encourages the establishment professional training programs for doctors, lawyers, social workers, and more, filling the desperate needs of a country that has experienced a drain of mental capacity along with everything else.

Though my paraphrasing is not doing his plan justice, McGovern’s concept is far more important. Since taking power in the House and Senate, the Democrats have been fervently seeking to withdrawl our troops and finally challenge the administration in an attempt to execute the percieved will of the people. All the while, Republicans have continued to counter their time tables and budget points with shouts of treason and failure. Both parties are desperately trying to make up for their past mistakes and making bold statements to try to carry political favor – Democrats with immediate ends, Republicans with redoubled efforts. Neither, though, is the responsible course of action. The myriad consequences from the abhorrent mishandling of the war cannot be undone by a temporary influx of over-worked troops. And though the sight of these troops coming home is an invaluable photo-op for any Dem who signed their tickets, it must be done in a responsible, methodical, and well planned manner. A quick-fix deadline motivated by political ambition is reminiscent of our “Mission Accomplished” carrier jamboree (case in point, Afghanistan). The point of this horribly long rant is that the issues and consequences involved with Iraq are far more complex than we have been led to believe, and there is no single solution to the war. “Victory” will require compromise between our own warring houses, and will most likely look much different than we have been led to believe. We have been pushed towards dangerous extremism over the last few years, so much so that we have begun to see everything in absolutes. The question before us should not be merely fight or flee, there is a middle ground that must be occupied in order for the country to survive. We must stay in some capacity in order to keep some semblance of security, but we can’t continue such invasive combat operations as the only ones walking the beat. Troops and weoponry must not be the only reflection of America’s presence in the region, either. The surge proposed by the Republicans can have a tinge of bleeding-heart Liberalism if we send an enlarged contingent of benign civilian and financial aid to help heal what we’ve destroyed. For too long, we have represented a single-minded absolutist nation. The way forward must utilize all aspects of American foreign policy, not just the ones that go boom.

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.

Dime Bags of Viagra: Follow Up

In Consumerism, International Public Health, Laws & Regulation, Misc., Progressive Politics, The War On Drugs, US Politics on March 7, 2007 at 1:40 pm

A post I put up a few days ago (Dime Bags of Viagra) described a report by the UN Drug Control Board stating that abuse of prescription drugs is surpassing abuse of illicit/street drugs. I placed some of the onus on multi-national drug corporations and their questionable marketing techniques, and commented on the fact that the NY Times didn’t carry a story on the report. An article in yesterday’s paper makes me feel pretty good:

The chairman of a House committee has asked two medical device companies and three drug makers for documents as part of an investigation into product safety and marketing practices.

Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, asked Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson for information on their drug-coated stents to treat clogged heart arteries, citing concerns about the safety and off-label use of the devices.

Off-label use of medical devices and drugs occurs when doctors use the products to treat ailments other than those for which they are approved by regulators.

Mr. Waxman also sought information about allegations of inappropriate marketing by the drug makers Eli Lilly & Company, AstraZeneca and Cephalon.

Despite my argument that our perception of drugs is at the root of out abuse problems, I am very glad to see some level of governmental oversight finally making inroads in these kinds of issues, regardless of the motivation. These are merely letters at this point, and it will be interesting to see the amount of disclosure these companies will be willing to give and the amount of push back from the House if they don’t get the answers they want. In many ways, this may become reflexive on the progress of “ethics reform”, one of the key issues in the Democrat’s 2006 platform. If this is as far as the story goes, or they enact some toothless legislation after an ineffectual investigation, one can assume that Drug money is still alive and well on the Hill. As I wrote before, this is a big issue facing the health and well-being of millions of Americans, hopefully we’ll see some action from our elected officials.

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.

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.

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.

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.