Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Just Don't Understand Republicans

By Fuzzyone

So while they are okay with sexual harassment, Republicans draw the line at extramarital affairs.  So naturally they are dumping Herman Cain for Newt Gingrich?

What Has Occupy Accomplished

By Fuzzyone

A friend with whom I have been debating the merits of the Occupy movement asked me what I thought about this New Yorker Talk of the Town piece by Jane Mayer.  In it she discusses the campaign that led to the delay, and one hopes eventual abandonment, of the Keystone XL pipeline.  At the end of the piece she has a condecending reference to the Occupy Movement:
Yet the Occupy movement could do worse than to learn from the pipeline protest. The difference between the focussed, agenda-driven campaign fought by the environmentalists and the free-form, leaderless one waged by the Occupiers, the historian Michael Kazin says, is that the environmentalists grasped the famous point made by Dr. King’s political forebear, Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
But Mayer, of whom I am generally a fan, misses a fundamental point. She notes that on November 6 12,000 people encircled the White House to protest the pipeline.  The turn out exceeded expectations and was far more than participated in earlier protests at the end of August.  Mayer does not explain the difference and while she rightly lauds Bill McKibben for organizing the anti-Keystone actions, she neglects to mention this: before the November protest McKibben sought the support of the Occupy Movement and that the very environmentalists leading the protest were also aligned with Occupy.  (A McKibben piece on the issues appeared right here back in October.)

This is, in part, the impact of the Occupy Movement.  It has awakened, energized and empowered people who are frustrated by the way in which big money has shut them out of decision making in this country and that awakening has the potential to revitalize activism in this country.  Energy may need direction to have its fullest effect, but first you have to create it.

Palate Cleanser: Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff, with The Roots, performs The Harder They Come on "Fallon."  (Cliff has just released an EP, Sacred Fire, produced by Rancid's Tim Armstrong and which includes a great cover of Rancid's Ruby Soho. You can download that tune here.)

The White House Doesn't Get It On Contraception Coverage

Will the Obama administration succumb to pressure from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on the new policy requiring health insurers to cover birth control and allow exemptions for religious-affiliated hospitals and other institutions if they have religious or moral objections?  At yesterday's press briefing, Obama's press secretary was hardly reassuring.  You can sign Planned Parenthood's petition here which urges the President to stand strong.

By Jodi Jacobson, cross-posted from RH Reality Check

Jed Lewison, writing at Daily Kos, nails it when he underscores what's wrong with the reasons the White House is now giving as it considers caving to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on coverage of birth control.

Lewison notes that at a press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to a question by ABC's Jake Tapper as follows:
JAKE TAPPER (ABC):    I’ve heard from a lot of Democrats in the last few weeks who are concerned about President Obama possibly granting an exemption to Catholic churches, hospitals and universities from the requirement that all insurance plans cover contraception.  I’m wondering if you could shed any light on this decision.  I know the President has not yet made a decision, but I think these Democrats, a lot of them in the abortion rights community, are concerned that this is even being discussed.  Could you explain why the President is considering an exemption, and what’s going into his decision-making?
JAY CARNEY (WH Press Secretary):  Well, part of the process, Jake, as you know, was seeking and receiving public input before the guidelines that were announced by the Secretary of Health and Human Services would go into effect.  That process did result in public input, as well as resulted in numerous comments from various folks who have concerns about this issue.
The President has -- this decision has not yet been made.  You can be sure that we want to strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs.  And that’s the balance that will be sought as this decision is made.
Lewison notes that "if you didn't know any of the background, Carney's answer seems perfectly reasonable. He makes it sound just like any other open decision, and promises that President Obama will come down on the side of balance."
But, as Lewison points out, "The problem is, the decision has already been made."
In August, the administration announced new rules requiring all new insurance plans to cover birth control and emergency contraception by 2013. At an early October fundraiser in St. Louis, President Obama himself hailed the rule. And when President Obama appeared before the U.N. in September, the administration touted the contraception rule as an example of America's commitment to women.

Republicans Are Sabotaging The Economy

By Roger Hickey, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

Republicans have slashed public investment and blocked the President's American Jobs Act. With 14 million Americans officially unemployed and many millions more having given up finding jobs, you would think Republicans would support two measures they have backed in the past that would help middle-class Americans. But will they?

Today we're asking our supporters to sign this petition at that tells the Republican leadership in the Senate and the House of Representatives to “stop sabotaging the economy.”

It’s time to demand Republicans vote to extend long-term unemployment benefits – one of the most effective ways to put money in the pockets of people who will certainly spend it, and by doing so spur employers to hire more people. And many Republicans this week are arguing against extending the payroll tax cut, which is expected to come up for a vote this week in the Senate. The payroll tax cut provides at least some cushion to the strapped middle class. But Republicans are continuing to demand more tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires—even as they seem willing to allow taxes to go up for middle-class workers.

The temporary payroll tax cut is far from a magic elixir to heal the economy. What is really needed is massive investment in infrastructure, clean energy, education and youth job initiatives. And we need millionaires and billionaires to contribute their fair share, with higher income taxes and financial transaction taxes. But the payroll tax and the benefits for the long-term unemployed are among the few wisps of stimulus that we have left in the wake of the nonstop obstruction of the Party of No.
Here is the petition that the Campaign for America’s Future is asking activists to send to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner:
We the undersigned urge Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to quit trying to sabotage the economy, and support the extension of the temporary payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment insurance without spending cuts that would negate the stimulative effects. This is the bare minimum Congress can do to keep the economy from sinking into a double-dip recession. Already, you have sought to sabotage the economy for political reasons, by blocking the American Jobs Act and cutting critical public investments. It is long past time to put politics aside and put jobs first.

Poster Child For California's Broken Death Penalty

David Murtishaw
Death row inmate David Murtishaw died Tuesday of a heart attack.  He was sentenced to death 32 years ago for the 1978 murder of three USC film students.  Had the crime occurred just nine months earlier, before the re-institution of California's death penalty law, the enormous costs attendant to capital punishment, both financial and otherwise, would have been avoided.

The California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice (CCFAJ), after its extensive study of the state's death penalty system, concluded that with extremely rare exceptions, death sentences are unlikely ever to be carried out.  Former Chief Justice Ronald George acknowledged this when he testified before the CCFAJ and described it as "dysfunctional."  Indeed, the process for reviewing death sentences is “plagued with excessive delay” in the appointment of post-conviction counsel and a “severe backlog” in the Court’s review of appeals and habeas petitions.  CCFAJ's report found that it would be excessively costly to even attempt to make the system workable.  The reality is that California's death penalty is broken beyond repair. 

David Murtishaw's is a case in point.  Three trials.  Three state appeals. Three state habeas petitions.  One round of federal habeas proceedings.  Thirty-two years under sentence of death only to die of a heart attack.  (Since 1978, while there have been 13 executions, 55 condemned inmates have died from natural causes, 19 have committed suicide, six died from other causes.) 

In Murtishaw's first trial, serious errors by the trial judge, the prosecutor and Murtishaw's lawyer undermined the fairness of the verdict.  In 1981, based on one of these errors -- a prosecution expert's unreliable prediction of Murtishaw's future dangerousness -- the California Supreme Court reversed the death judgment, but left the underlying murder convictions in place. 

Rather than allow imposition of a sentence of life without possibility of parole, the D.A. sought and obtained another death sentence.  Murtishaw was tried and the jury was instructed, however, under the wrong death penalty statute, one that did not exist at the time of the crimes.  This time the California Supreme Court rejected Murtishaw's claims on appeal, but upon review in federal court the death sentence was again reversed, twenty years after it was overturned the first time.

The D.A. took Murtishaw's case to trial again in 2002, and once again Murtishaw received a death sentence.  The California Supreme Court affirmed the judgment just this past February, almost ten years later.  Other state remedies were still pending when Murtishaw died. 

Three trials.  Three state appeals. Three state habeas corpus petitions.  One round of federal habeas proceedings.  Thirty-two years under sentence of death only to die of a heart attack.

This is madness.

A study released in by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon found that California's death penalty system is currently costing the state about $184 million per year.  Further, "since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions."

If we replaced the death penalty with life without possibility of parole, then instead of decades of costly litigation that does nothing to make us safer, we would have more resources for investigating unsolved crimes.  (46% of murders and 56% of rapes go unsolved in California every year.)

It is crazy to continue to spend $184 million every year to perpetuate a system that is broken and beyond repair.  Join the effort to replace the death penalty by clicking here:  SAFE California.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Occupy Our Homes

The Occupy Movement Focuses On Foreclosures

By Alan Jenkins, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

As the Occupy movement enters its third month, it is moving into a new phase. Colder weather in the north, combined with aggressive push back from city officials around the country, is requiring the movement to adopt new, innovative approaches that include, but transcend, public presence as protest.

Pundits are wondering aloud whether Occupy is through. But this young movement is just getting started. An exciting piece of evidence to that effect is a new focus on foreclosures.

Alongside its call for job creation, corporate accountability, and relief from crushing student loan debt is a growing demand that Wall Street and Washington make right the disaster that their greed and neglect respectively caused. The movement has deemed December 6th a National Day of Action to Stop and Reverse Foreclosures.

The new “” website describes the stakes and the problem well:

“Everyone deserves to have a roof over their head and a place to call home. Millions of Americans have worked hard for years for the opportunity to own their home; for others, it remains a distant goal. For all of us, having a decent place to live for ourselves and our families is the most fundamental part of the American dream, a source of security and pride.

In 2008, we discovered bankers and speculators had been gambling with our most valuable asset, our homes—betting against us and destroying trillions of dollars of our wealth. Now, because of the foreclosure crisis Wall Street banks created with their lies and greed, millions of Americans have lost their homes, and one in four homeowners are currently underwater on their mortgage.”

These Americans are joining many others, particularly in communities of color, who were victimized by predatory lending and lax enforcement for decades. A new report by the Center for Responsible Lending, for example, shows that African Americans and Latinos were consistently more likely than whites to receive high-risk loans. While an unacceptable 12 percent of White Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure or are delinquent, a staggering one-quarter of Latinos and African-American borrowers are in the same position.

Fortunately, there are a range of solutions that can save homes, restore communities, and rebuild the American Dream of fair and sustainable homeownership. They range from mandatory mediation of foreclosure proceedings, to pre- and post-purchase counseling, to principal reduction and bankruptcy reform. Also important are approaches like own-to-rent programs, community land trusts, and improved fair housing enforcement. And when Congress again takes up the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it will be crucial to maintain a government role that keeps homeownership accessible and sustainable for working Americans.

The Occupy movement and its allies have been criticized, unfairly in my view, for failing to articulate solutions. As their attention turns to addressing foreclosures, it is clear what they are working for.

Herman Cain Is Not Ready For Prime Time But Is Likely To Get A Prime Time Gig

The fact that a significant segment of Republicans support for president a man whose economic plan is a slogan that makes no economic sense and who makes it a point of pride that he knows nothing about foreign affairs says far more about the sorry state of the GOP than about Herman Cain. 

In the wake of the latest firestorm surrounding allegations of an extra-marital affair, Cain is reportedly reassessing his candidacy.  But it has long been obvious that Cain was never a serious candidate.  He never developed a national organization or any kind of infrastructure in key states or raised enough money to sustain the campaign.  And he must have known that the sexual harassment allegations and his long-time affair would surface at some point.

Which all leads to the conclusion that Cain never intended on becoming the Republican candidate for president.  What he has done, thanks to the insanity of the Republican nominating process and  a gullible and compliant media, is become another right wing celebrity. 

So what's next for Herman Cain?  A lucrative book deal and a job as a pundit with Fox News, or maybe CNN. 

Mission accomplished. 

Restore The Basic Bargain

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

For most of the last century, the basic bargain at the heart of the American economy was that employers paid their workers enough to buy what American employers were selling.

That basic bargain created a virtuous cycle of higher living standards, more jobs, and better wages.

Back in 1914, Henry Ford announced he was paying workers on his Model T assembly line $5 a day – three times what the typical factory employee earned at the time.

The Wall Street Journal termed his action “an economic crime.”

But Ford knew it was a cunning business move. The higher wage turned Ford’s auto workers into customers who could afford to buy Model T’s. In two years Ford’s profits more than doubled.
That was then. Now, Ford Motor Company is paying its new hires half what it paid new employees a few years ago.

The basic bargain is over – not only at Ford but all over the American economy.

New data from the Commerce Department shows employee pay is now down to the smallest share of the economy since the government began collecting wage and salary data in 1929.

Meanwhile, corporate profits now constitute the largest share of the economy since 1929.

1929, by the way, was the year of the Great Crash that ushered in the Great Depression.

In the years leading up to the Great Crash, most employers forgot Henry Ford’s example. The wages of most American workers remained stagnant. The gains of economic growth went mainly into corporate profits and into the pockets of the very rich. American families maintained their standard of living by going deeper into debt. In 1929 the debt bubble popped.

Sound familiar? It should. The same thing happened in the years leading up to the crash of 2008.

The latest data on corporate profits and wages show we haven’t learned the essential lesson of the two big economic crashes of the last seventy-five years: When the economy becomes too lopsided – disproportionately benefitting corporate owners and top executives rather than average workers – it tips over.

In other words, we’re in trouble because the basic bargain has been broken.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Just Say No To Indefinite Military Detentions

This week, and as early as tonight, the Senate will vote on the 2012 Defense Authorization Bill, which includes a truly awful provision that would permit indefinite detention.  If the bill becomes law, Congress will have given the President the power to order the military to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world.

Chris Anders of the ACLU explains:

The power is so broad that even U.S. citizens could be swept up by the military and the military could be used far from any battlefield, even within the United States itself.  The worldwide indefinite detention without charge or trial provision is in S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act bill, which will be on the Senate floor on Monday. The bill was drafted in secret by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and passed in a closed-door committee meeting, without even a single hearing.
While the Obama Administration may ultimately veto the legislation, the only way to ensure the bill doesn't pass is for the Senate to approve the Udall amendment, which would strip the detention provisions and require Congress to use an orderly process to consider whether any detention legislation is needed at all.

It is not too late to contact your senators and urge them to vote YES on the Udall Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

Food Stamp Challenges

The idea behind the Food Stamp Challenge -- to live for 1 week on the average food stamp allotment -- is to call attention to the crisis of hunger and income inequality in the United States, to dramatize just how difficult it is to live on $31.50/week, and to send a strong message to  Congress -- especially House Republicans -- that cuts to funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, are unacceptable.

Several members of Congress and other public officials have taken the challenge.  Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, only those who already oppose cuts to SNAP have done so.  Gluttonous conservatives who are in willful denial about poverty and seek to weaken the safety net even further in favor of tax cuts could stand to take the Food Stamp Challenge.  But they would never consider participating in an experiment that risks highlighting the difficulties faced by poor people, much less go hungry for a week.  God forbid they would have to forgo seven days of being wined and dined by lobbyists.   

The rest of us are being encouraged to take the challenge as well.  Our family is planning to do it, although I must admit it feels a little gimmicky.  While I think it should be a prerequisite for those in Congress planning to vote for cuts to Food Stamps, I'm not sure how meaningful it will be to those of us who already know the heart-breaking and inexcusable numbers -- 15.1% of Americans below the poverty line; 16.2 million hungry children -- and staunchly believe there should be more not less funding for social programs.  But hopefully it will provide a more tangible sense of the compromises and hardships that low income people have to endure when buying food and give us a renewed sense of urgency to do something about it.

Laura Clawson's excellent piece below discusses some of the lessons she learned from taking the Food Stamp Challenge and some of its limitations. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Neocon Nightmare At The GOP Debate

David Addington
First the GOP audience cheered for executions, then for letting the uninsured die, and then for waterboarding.  At the most recent debate, they applauded panel member David Addington -- the alleged mastermind behind the Bush Administration's most extreme positions on executive power and the use of torture and other human rights violations.  Have they no shame?  And what about CNN?  Have they given up all pretense of being a mainstream media operation?  CNN refused to raise critical questions when these guys were running amok in the Bush Administration, and now they treat this sorry collection of discredited neo-conservatives, including Addington, Paul Wolfowitz, and, for old times sake, Ed Meese, as "experts," perfectly qualified to ask potential presidential candidates questions on national security.  Never mind that it is they who should be asked questions -- but in the dock, not on CNN.  RJ Eskow has the gory details below.  -- Lovechilde

Rogue's Gallery: CNN's Ideologically Rigid, Scandal Tainted, Ethics-Investigation-Haunted GOP Debate "Panel"

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

The story just won't die. People keep commenting on the near-Stalinist level of ideological purity displayed by CNN"s choice of "expert" questioners at last week's Republican national security debate. The network's Neocon Politburo then dutifully proceeded to interrogate the GOP candidates about their devotion to the Cause.

It was an emotional moment, a kind of Big Chill for the Project for a New American Century gang. After all, these characters hadn't been seen in public together since the Bush Days. It wouldn't have been surprising to see Ahmed Chalabi carrying a tray of hors d'ouevres.

Time and time again the neocons were proven spectacularly and tragically wrong. Remember "We'll be welcomed as liberators"? Or the claim that Iraq will be a "cakewalk"? Nobody has believed a word they've said since 2005. Nowhere on Earth are their words given an ounce of credence.
Nowhere, that is, except CNN. We haven't seen national security commentary with so little credibility since Judith Miller interviewed "Curveball."

People are understandably outraged by CNN's ideological extremism, and by its willingness to discard even the thinnest veneer of journalistic objectivity. But there's another cloud over this panel: a cloud of scandals, criminal investigations, and ethical lapses.

David Addington. Paul Wolfowitz. Ed Meese. It's a Rogue's Gallery of government officials gone wild, a motley crew of the short-sighted, the benighted, and the nearly-indicted.

Or, as CNN calls them, "experts."

Home Run Bandages

Randy Medina, who writes the Onion-style Mets blog, The Apple, came across these Home Run Bandages at the Mets Store at CitiField, and wrote: 
Where do you even begin to break down this $7.99 box of band-aids? Let's start with "Home Run Bandages".  I realize that Mets history is a little light on great sluggers but I'm pretty sure we could have chosen a guy with more than 68 career homers. Only 42 of those came as a member of the Mets. Heck, Todd Hundley and Carlos Beltran have each almost hit that many in one season.

I know the picture is a little blurry but the box basically acknowledges that they couldn't find someone better when it says under Shamsky's name "Moments In Baseball History".  Not "Great Moments" mind you, just "Moments"
This is a reminder, as the Mets approach their 50th Anniversary celebration, how few really great players the Mets have had over any prolonged period.  They signed a number of stars that failed to pan out, as I wrote about here, and so, we are left with a list of greatest All Time Mets that looks like this.

Art Shamsky, a left-handed outfielder, who played for the Mets from 1968-1971, a key member of the '69 team, hitting .300 as a platoon player, and beloved by Jewish Met fans, does not make the cut. 

America Is Not "Over," But America Of 1945 Is

 Only Washington Is Clueless

By Andrew Bacevich, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

In every aspect of human existence, change is a constant.  Yet change that actually matters occurs only rarely.  Even then, except in retrospect, genuinely transformative change is difficult to identify.  By attributing cosmic significance to every novelty and declaring every unexpected event a revolution, self-assigned interpreters of the contemporary scene -- politicians and pundits above all -- exacerbate the problem of distinguishing between the trivial and the non-trivial.

Did 9/11 “change everything”?  For a brief period after September 2001, the answer to that question seemed self-evident: of course it did, with massive and irrevocable implications.  A mere decade later, the verdict appears less clear.  Today, the vast majority of Americans live their lives as if the events of 9/11 had never occurred.  When it comes to leaving a mark on the American way of life, the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have long since eclipsed Osama bin Laden.  (Whether the legacies of Jobs and Zuckerberg will prove other than transitory also remains to be seen.)

Anyone claiming to divine the existence of genuinely Big Change Happening Now should, therefore, do so with a sense of modesty and circumspection, recognizing the possibility that unfolding events may reveal a different story.

All that said, the present moment is arguably one in which the international order is, in fact, undergoing a fundamental transformation.  The “postwar world” brought into existence as a consequence of World War II is coming to an end.  A major redistribution of global power is underway.  Arrangements that once conferred immense prerogatives upon the United States, hugely benefiting the American people, are coming undone.

In Washington, meanwhile, a hidebound governing class pretends that none of this is happening, stubbornly insisting that it’s still 1945 with the so-called American Century destined to continue for several centuries more (reflecting, of course, God’s express intentions).

Here lies the most disturbing aspect of contemporary American politics, worse even than rampant dysfunction borne of petty partisanship or corruption expressed in the buying and selling of influence.  Confronted with evidence of a radically changing environment, those holding (or aspiring to) positions of influence simply turn a blind eye, refusing even to begin to adjust to a new reality.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Paul Motian (1931-2011)

The legendary jazz drummer, Paul Motian, died on November 22nd.  He was best known for his time in Bill Evans' great trio, from 1959-1964, along with Scott LeFaro and then Chuck Israels on bass.  He later played with Keith Jarrett, most notably in Jarrett's 1970s quartet which featured Dewey Redman on saxophone and Charlie Haden on bass.  Motian worked with other noteworthy musicians from Thelonious Monk to Joe Lovano, and was a composer and leader in his own right.  According to Ben Ratliff, Motian was "one of the most influential jazz musicians of the last 50 years."

As jazz critic Nat Hentoff observed: "Anybody who was the drummer for pianist Bill Evans was absolutely someone who did more than keep the jazz time, which means keeping the pulse of the music."  Motian was "a very inventive, subtle, lyrical melodist" and he and Evans "both were masters at harmonic inventiveness."

Super Committee Out Of The Way -- Now Back To Reality?

By Dave Johnson, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

Let's hope that the failure of the "super committee" quest to take money out of the economy clears the media mist for a minute, so people can focus on real issues that matter to real people. What are the chances of that? Will our government now focus on creating jobs, reducing inequality, fighting climate change, providing health care, increasing justice, balancing trade, increasing education, enabling small business to compete against the multinational?

Real Issues

People are in the streets across the country, demanding that the government start addressing real issues that matter to real people. But the increasingly irrelevant Congress has instead focused on things like blocking the government from making school lunches more nutritious.

Create Jobs

We have millions of people out of work. And we have millions of jobs that we have been putting off getting done.

And, guess what, as of today we can get the money to hire those millions of people to do those millions of need-to-get-done jobs for the lowest cost in history. That's right, the US government can borrow money at the lowest rates ever. Marketwatch: U.S. sells 5-year debt at record-low yield,
The Treasury Department sold $35 billion in 5-year notes on Tuesday at a yield of 0.937%, the lowest level on record and below where traders expected the sale to come.
That just puts the lie to any claim that the world is concerned about our deficits, and that we "don't have the money" to spend on maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure. "The markets" are so confident in the US that they are offering to lend money at the lowest rate ever.


Maybe it isn't in the news like it was, but the problem of global warming and resulting climate change is just getting worse and worse, and may be reaching the "tipping point." AP: Greenhouse gases soar; no signs warming is slowed,
Heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are building up so high, so fast, that some scientists now think the world can no longer limit global warming to the level world leaders have agreed upon as safe.
New figures from the U.N. weather agency Monday showed that the three biggest greenhouse gases not only reached record levels last year but were increasing at an ever-faster rate, despite efforts by many countries to reduce emissions.
Did you get that? It turns out that the worst-case scenarios we heard about, back when we were hearing about it, were not as bad as what it turns out is really happening. The operative words here: really happening.

That is reality. So where is the government? Where is the media?


Why can't we get anything done for the people of the country anymore? Because our Congress and government is almost completely "captured." Watch this segment of 60 Minutes, in which convicted Congress-briber Jack Abramoff explains how it's done, Jack Abramoff: The lobbyist's playbook - 60 Minutes - CBS News

You let a Congressional staffer, or agency regulator, or even a member of Congress know that there is a "job" waiting for them later, and you get what you want.

Regular people don't have this kind of money to dangle in front of government and elected officials. It isn't just campaign contributions, it's lucrative jobs after you leave government, that is corrupting our system. It is corporate money, being used to enrich the 1% at the expense of the rest of us. The solution is not just to ban corporate money from our politics, it is to ban the use of corporate money for any purpose other than running the corporation. Otherwise it will just leak out and be used to corrupt the system -- and us.

I'm sounding like a broken record.

Friday, November 25, 2011

California, Like Oregon, Has A "Compromised And Inequitable" Death Penalty System

I do not believe that those executions made us safer; certainly I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society.  -- Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber

When John Kitzhaber previously served as Oregon's Governor (from 1995 to 2003), he presided over the executions of Douglas Franklin Wright in 1996, and Harry Charles Moore in 1997.  Kitzhaber, who was again elected Governor last fall, admitted “they were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years.”  There hasn't been an execution in Oregon since.

Gary Haugen was scheduled to be executed on December 6.  Haugen had given up his appeals and volunteered for execution to protest what he described as the arbitrary and vindictive nature of the death penalty.  (Wright and Moore had also waived their appeals.)

Kitzhaber granted a reprieve to Haugen on Tuesday, and announced he would not allow any executions to go forward as long as he is in office.  “I am convinced we can find a better solution that keeps society safe, supports the victims of crime and their families and reflects Oregon values,” he stated. “I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer."

With 37 inmates on death row in Oregon, many of whom have been there for more than 20 years,  Kitzhaber decried an “unworkable system that fails to meet basic standards of justice.”  Despite the wide sense the death penalty process is flawed, he maintained the state has “done nothing; we have avoided the question.”

Here in California we have strikingly similar problems only on a far larger scale.  We have over 700 men and women on death row, with an average wait of well over 20 years.  There have been 13 executions since the re-institution of the death penalty in 1977, and none since 2006. 

One difference from Oregon is that California's scheme has been extensively studied and its dysfunction conclusively established.  In 2008, the bi-partisan California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice (CCFAJ) issued its report which found California's death penalty is “plagued with excessive delay” in the appointment of post-conviction counsel and a “severe backlog” in the Court’s review of appeals and habeas petitions.  According to CCFAJ's report, the lapse of time from sentence of death to execution constitutes the longest delay of any death penalty state.

With the largest death row in the country, CCFAJ reached a well-documented conclusion that common-sense already tells us:  “most California death sentences are actually sentences of lifetime incarceration.  The defendant will die in prison before he or she is ever executed.”  Indeed, “the backlog is now so severe that California would have to execute five prisoners per month for the next twelve years just to carry out the sentences of those currently on death row.”

A study released in June by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon found that California's death penalty system is currently costing the state about $184 million per year.  Further, "since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty system that has carried out no more than 13 executions."

There are sixteen states without the death penalty, and another seven, like Oregon, which have not used it for over ten years.  As Gov. Kitzhaber noted, the last three that repealed their death penalty statutes  – Illinois, New Jersey and New Mexico – recognized the serious flaws and high costs of maintaining it.  California's death penalty, similarly, is costly, arbitrary, discriminatory, and unworkable.  It serves no useful purpose while diverting needed resources from true public safety programs.

The only way to end the death penalty in California is by a ballot initiative, and the statewide signature‑gathering effort to place such an initiative on the November 2012 ballot is well underway.  Over 100,000 signatures have been obtained but 500,000 are needed.  Join the effort by clicking here:  SAFE California.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Occupy Alice's Restaurant

By Fuzzyone

First off I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read my musings here over the past year.  I also want to send a big thank you to our host, lovechilde, for giving me this forum and for his kind words earlier today.

For me, you can't have Thanksgiving without Alice's Restaurant.  I was driving to the store for some last minute items with my kids earlier today and the song came on the radio.  We ended up sitting in the parking lot for ten minutes so we could finish listening to the song.
I could not help thinking that the final section is as relevant today as it was when Arlo first wrote it (except, happily, for the end of discrimination against gay and lesbian service members):
And the only reason I'm singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if your in a situation like that there's only one thing you can do and that's walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in say "Shrink, You can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant." And walk out.You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement. And that's what it is, the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come's around on the guitar.
Of course, that could never work, just like a bunch of people taking over public spaces all over the country, and indeed the world, could not change anything.  Except it has.  In Tunisa, Egypt, Syria, and other countries it is changing governments.  In the United States it has at least changed the national conversation, and I personally think it was part of what prevented the Democrats from their usual ignominious surrender in the Super Committee.  The last line of those songs have not yet been written, but I am thankful to all those who have given their time, effort, and money and risked arrest and the totally out of control and brutal response of police to bring needed change to this country and countries around the world.

So this Thanksgiving start a movement.  Do something, give your time to a local food bank, shelter, or other organization helping those in need, if you can, give money to help the occupy movement or to feed those in need, or call or write those who represent you and let them know that this country needs to change and that change needs to start with the richest among us paying their share and with laws and law enforcers who will punish those who brought down our economy with their fraud and greed.  Talk to your friends and neighbors and get them involved.  And while you are at it, don't forget to be thankful for what you have and to tell those you love that you are thankful for them.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Occupy Thanks Giving

Giving Thanks -- For the Occupation, For the Intensity, For the Innocence

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

It's like the old-timers always said: Don't quit before the miracle happens.

While the Arab Spring showed that people can still accomplish the impossible, Our political debate was frozen in corporate cynicism. Now everything has changed. For the United States, spring came in autumn. Who says miracles don't happen?

Like a Prayer

A few months ago I prayed for something. Granted, it wasn't the kind of prayer that's sanctioned by any ecclesiastical authority. And, okay, maybe it wasn't exactly a "prayer." I guess the technical term for it would be "blog post." But trust me, it was a prayer.

I'd been asked to write something for the Fourth of July, and I wrote we have to fight a new war, a "war of independence from corporate politics." To be honest, those words felt Utopian even as I wrote them. Still, I never doubted them. The words were born out of the desperate sense that so many of us shared, a sense that our society is collapsing. And that it will keep on collapsing unless we change the way we think.
I wasn't arguing for any particular policy or platform. "The problem isn't just with politicians, or even the system," I said then. "The problem is dependence itself."

Oh, come on. How starry-eyed can you get? Stop depending on politicians? Declare psychic and political independence from celebrity-driven politics and media-made leaders? I'd always considered myself a realist, but this was almost embarrassingly idealistic.

Except for the fact that it happened.

Giving Thanks

One of the core reasons for creating Fair and Unbalanced was to try to elevate the level of discourse on politics, social justice, the death penalty and other compelling issues of the day.  It soon became clear that I didn't have the time, skill or breadth of knowledge to do this myself.  Luckily, I have been able to draw upon some wonderfully incisive and insightful voices, including friends and cyber-friends, colleagues and collaborators, and a host of others who have generously permitted me to re-post their work or the articles on their sites.  So, to the contributors to the first 1000 posts, my deepest thanks and appreciation for all you do and for letting me share a piece of it.  As you can see, this is quite an impressive list:
Fuzzyone, Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Lonnie Lazar, Locke Bowman, Robert Reich, Norman Solomon, Robert Borosage Richard (RJ) Eskow, Dave Johnson, Mark Hertsgaard, Peter Miller, David Onek, Eva Paterson, Keith Kamisugi, Reggie Shuford, Timothy Silard, Arcelia Hurtado, Allen Hopper, Steve Bright, Ty Alper, Natasha Minsker, James Clark, Judy Kerr, Stephen Rohde, Richard Dieter, Virginia Sloan, Sasqi (aka Farnaz Fatemi), Paul Skenazy, Dan Siegal, Andrea Lampros, Bob Ostertag, Naomi Klein, Rick Perlstein, Laura Clawson, Laurie Penny, Jeff Pozmantier, Matt Kaiser, Charlie Cray, Christine Meuris, Tom Engelhardt and Tom Dispatch, Anthony Barnett and openDemocracy, Nicole Flatow and American Constitution Society, Jodi Jacobson and Rh Reality Check, Campaign for America's Future, Center for American Progress, and Vast Left. And badly-needed comic relief from Jake Barlow and Randy Medina. 

Civil Society At Ground Zero

You can crush the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring  -- Alexander Dubcek
By Rebecca Solnit, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

Last Tuesday, I awoke in lower Manhattan to the whirring of helicopters overhead, a war-zone sound that persisted all day and then started up again that Thursday morning, the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and a big day of demonstrations in New York City. It was one of the dozens of ways you could tell that the authorities take Occupy Wall Street seriously, even if they profoundly mistake what kind of danger it poses. If you ever doubted whether you were powerful or you mattered, just look at the reaction to people like you (or your children) camped out in parks from Oakland to Portland, Tucson to Manhattan.

Of course, “camped out” doesn’t quite catch the spirit of the moment, because those campsites are the way people have come together to bear witness to their hopes and fears, to begin to gather their power and discuss what is possible in our disturbingly unhinged world, to make clear how wrong our economic system is, how corrupt the powers that support it are, and to begin the search for a better way. Consider it an irony that the campsites are partly for sleeping, but symbols of the way we have awoken.

When civil society sleeps, we’re just a bunch of individuals absorbed in our private lives. When we awaken, on campgrounds or elsewhere, when we come together in public and find our power, the authorities are terrified.  They often reveal their ugly side, their penchant for violence and for hypocrisy.

Consider the liberal mayor of Oakland, who speaks with outrage of people camping without a permit but has nothing to say about the police she dispatched to tear-gas a woman in a wheelchair, shoot a young Iraq war veteran in the head, and assault people while they slept. Consider the billionaire mayor of New York who dispatched the NYPD on a similar middle-of-the-night raid on November 15th. Recall this item included in a bald list of events that night: “tear-gassing the kitchen tent.” Ask yourself when did kitchens really need to be attacked with chemical weapons?

Does an 84-year-old woman need to be tear-gassed in Seattle? Does a three-tours-of-duty veteran need to be beaten until his spleen ruptures in Oakland? Does our former poet laureate need to be bashed in the ribs after his poet wife is thrown to the ground at UC Berkeley? Admittedly, this is a system that regards people as disposable, but not usually so literally.

Two months ago, the latest protests against that system began.  The response only confirms our vision of how it all works. They are fighting fire with gasoline. Perhaps being frightened makes them foolish.  After all, once civil society rouses itself from slumber, it can be all but unstoppable. (If they were smart they’d try to soothe it back to sleep.) “Arrest one of us; two more appear. You can’t arrest an idea!” said the sign held by a man in a Guy Fawkes mask in reoccupied Zuccotti Park last Thursday.

Last Wednesday in San Francisco, 100 activists occupied the Bank of America, even erecting a symbolic tent inside it in which a dozen activists immediately took refuge. At the Berkeley campus of the University of California, setting up tents on any grounds was forbidden, so the brilliant young occupiers used clusters of helium balloons to float tents overhead, a smart image of defiance and sky-high ambition. And the valiant UC Davis students, after several of them were pepper-sprayed in the face while sitting peacefully on the ground, evicted the police, chanting, “You can go! You can go!” They went.

Occupy Oakland has been busted up three times and still it thrives. To say nothing of the other 1,600 occupations in the growing movement.

Alexander Dubcek, the government official turned hero of the Prague Spring uprising of 1968, once said, “You can crush the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring.”

The busting of Zuccotti Park and the effervescent, ingenious demonstrations elsewhere are a reminder that, despite the literal “occupations” on which this protean movement has been built, it can soar as high as those Berkeley balloons and take many unexpected forms. Another OWS sign, “The beginning is near,” caught the mood of the moment. Flowers seem like the right image for this uprising led by the young, those who have been most crushed by the new economic order, and who bloom by rebelling and rebel by blooming.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On Service Learning In Hyderabad

My lovely and brilliant cousin, Samantha, is, among many other things, a high school English teacher in Brooklyn.  For the past six months, she has been in Hyderabad, India, through a fellowship for The Modern Story, "a not-for-profit organization that bridges the technological and narrative divide by introducing digital skills and storytelling practices to youth and educators around the world."  In this post, she talks about the inspiring and empowering work she has done with her students in Hyderabad.

By Samantha Love, cross-posted from The Modern Story

Through our various experiences in the classroom, we all develop a unique pedagogy as educators. I think this is one of the most fascinating parts of the job – the fact that no two people will have an identical approach, that everyone must find their teaching “style” and align it with systems and strategies that enable you to be as effective as possible. I still consider myself a novice, my pedagogical philosophy is still developing as I imagine it will continue to shift and evolve throughout my career, but one thing I do know from my experience as both a teacher and student, is the tremendous impact of service learning.

What could be more empowering and instructional than designing a project to ameliorate the social and environmental problems we learn about in school? What is a more pertinent example of the purpose of education to create an informed and active citizenry which will act on their knowledge in the best interest of the community? The applications for service learning are endless. I was first drawn to The Modern Story because of the emphasis on service learning, teaching the students to “become change makers in their community.” I watched videos created by previous fellows where students had partnered with community organizations to bring attention to issues that they wanted to change and felt inspired. I set a goal for myself to complete a similar project if selected, and I am proud to be writing nearly six months later about service learning projects that we are wrapping up at two different schools.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Right Wing Spin Machine: Pepper Spray Is Just A Food Product

I suppose the protesters just needed a little seasoning to spice things up.  According to the blowhards on the right, pepper spray is merely a food product and when used to disperse protesters was probably diluted anyway.  But wait, I thought the right wingers are against untoward government intervention? 

This seeming hypocrisy is explained at Vast Left:


The Real Public Nuisance

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

The First Amendment Upside Down.  Why We Must Occupy Democracy

You’ve been seeing this across the country … Americans assaulted, clubbed, dragged, pepper-sprayed … Why? For exercising their right to free speech and assembly — protesting the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

And what’s Washington’s response? Nothing. In fact, Congress’s so-called “supercommittee” just disbanded because Republicans refuse to raise a penny of taxes on the rich.

MVP Does Not Stand For Most Valuable Pitcher

MVP-worthy Jacoby Ellsbury
Justin Verlander was the dominant pitcher in the Majors in 2011.  He led both leagues with 24 wins and 250 strikeouts, had the lowest ERA in the American League (2.40 ERA), pitched a no-hitter, and helped lead the Detroit Tigers to a division title.  Last week he easily and deservedly won the Cy Young award as his league's best pitcher.  He has also just been awarded the AL MVP, the first pitcher since relief ace Dennis Eckersley won it in 1992, and the first starting pitcher to win it since Roger Clemens in 1986.

Verlander, as a starting pitcher, appeared in 34 of his team's 162 games, winning 24 and losing 5.  He played a key role in the Tigers' success although, as I wrote last year (Winning Isn't Everything), the number of wins credited to a pitcher is not the most important statistic in assessing a player's value.  (Verlander, for example, was greatly helped by a team that supported him with five or more runs for 14 of his wins and a bullpen that didn't blow a lead for him all season.)

Using the more modern metric, WAR (wins above replacement), Verlander's 7.0, was less than worthy non-pitchers, including Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson.  Verlander's impact on his team simply was not comparable to some of the position players who took the field every day.

As  you can probably tell by now, I take the minority view that with very rare exceptions, the MVP should go to a position player and not a pitcher.  Pitchers already have their own award -- the Cy Young.  And a great non-pitcher is usually more valuable than a pitcher who plays every fifth day.  At minimum, it is difficult to compare their relative worth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy Hope

Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the iconic Barack Obama "Hope," has created a new poster to show his "support for the Occupy movement, a grassroots movement spawned to stand up against corruption, imbalance of power, and failure of our democracy to represent and help average Americans."

Fairey still has hope for our President.  He continues to "see Obama as a potential ally of the Occupy movement if the energy of the movement is perceived as constructive, not destructive" and that "we need to use all of our tools to help us achieve our goals and ideals."  He argues that "idealism and realism need to exist hand in hand."
Change is not about one election, one rally, one leader, it is about a constant dedication to progress and a constant push in the right direction. Let’s be the people doing the right thing as outsiders and simultaneously push the insiders to do the right thing for the people.

Super Committee Headlines You'll Never See

By Richard (RJ) Eskow, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

Discussion of the "Super Committee" debacle continues to misguide and misinform the public in an all-too-familiar way. Once again the consensus in the media and among political leaders reflects the misperceptions of an insular Washington culture, rather than the economic or political realities of most Americans.

The Republican and Democratic co-chairs said today that "we end this process united in our belief that the nation's fiscal crisis must be addressed." That's how this exercise in misplaced priorities ends: With a "bipartisan" statement about the urgency of our "fiscal crisis" - deficits - rather than our massive and much more immediate economic crisis of jobs and stagnating wages. And with that, the media onslaught begins. Now we'll see hundreds of new headlines screaming that the Committee "failed."

What we won't see are headlines explaining what really happened: That this failure was inevitable; that it reflects the wishes of most people, Republicans as well as Democrats; that Occupy Wall Street played a large part in the outcome; that Republicans never intended to compromise and Democrats shot themselves in the foot; that this "failure" will be good for most businesses - and for the rest of us too; or that a misguided and right-leaning consensus turned leaders of both parties into cheerleaders for ill-timed budget cuts even as the economy continued to burn down all around them.

Here are seven more accurate - and more eye-catching - headlines you won't see in your major media outlets.

Unpopular 'Supercommittee' Deal Stymied by Popular Opinion
Democrats tried. They really tried. They were ready to accept deal points that the polls - and their hearts - should have forced them to refuse: Benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare. A permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. A deal that was heavily weighted toward spending cuts, rather than revenues, even during an economic crisis.

They might very well have done it, too, except for one thing: The Occupy movement has changed the subject from the Washington-driven theme of deficits to the economic hardships faced by most people in this country. Sure, the Tea Party is getting credit (yes, I said "credit") for killing a disastrous deal, and it's true that it played an important role.

But so did the Occupy movement. There was talk of occupying Congress, and even occupying the "Super" meeting's meeting space in the now-infamous Room 200. A march and rally is scheduled for tomorrow, and an Occupy group walking from Wall Street to Washington is scheduled to arrive the day after tomorrow.

Democrats who signed on to this deal were going to feel the wrath of the 99%, and there's no way they couldn't have known it. People who have spent the last two years wishing that they had a Tea Party of their own, one that would pressure Dems the way the Tea Party pressures Republicans, can now rest easy. It's here. And it's changing things.

The moral for Democrats? Embrace jobs and growth, not cuts and austerity. You'll thank yourself next November. Some Republicans will probably thank you, too ...

R.I.P. Paul Rhoades

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On November 18, 2011, Idaho executed Paul Rhoades, for the murder of 34-year-old schoolteacher Susan Michelbacher and Stacy Baldwin, a 21-year-old convenience store clerk, during a methamphetamine binge.  He was also serving a life sentence for the killing of a second clerk, Nolan Haddon.

Rhoades was convicted and sentenced to death in 1988.  In his clemency petition, he said:  "Over the past 24 years, I learned that repentance is the only positive way to express my guilt and remorse . . . I try to make amends by helping others move from anger toward reconciliation."  Indeed, as noted by Amnesty International, "former and current inmates, from death row and elsewhere, have submitted letters to the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole describing the difference they say Paul Rhoades has made to their lives by persuading them to turn away from violence or helping them in other ways."

In a sworn statement in support of clemency, a psychiatrist  noted that "Rhoades’ genetic and social history created a perfect storm of risk factors for drug addiction,” including a childhood marked by physical, psychological and emotional abuse, and a family history replete with serious mental health issues, including substance abuse, depression, and suicides.  As Amnesty concludes, "the judges who imposed the death sentences did not have the full picture about Paul Rhoades’s background and severe drug addiction. Nor could they have known what subsequent research has shown about methamphetamine’s highly addictive nature, how it changes the brain and that it is highly correlated with homicide."

This was the 42nd execution in the United States in 2011, and the first execution in Idaho in 17 years.

Finally, A Constitutional Amendment For The 99%

By Greg Colvin, cross-posted from Campaign For America's Future

[On Friday], Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) offered the strongest constitutional amendment introduced in either House of Congress so far to rectify the imbalance of power between the corporations and the people in our democracy.

As the struggle in the streets intensifies, and Occupy Wall Street refuses to remain silent, it’s good to know there are champions in Congress who have stepped up to the challenge of amending the US Constitution. It’s called OCCUPIED: Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy.

The Supreme Court, in the 5-4 Citizens United decision of January 2010, declared that corporations have free speech rights like human beings and invalidated the ban on corporate election spending that Congress had enacted. Since then, a grassroots movement has emerged to generate popular support for a constitutional amendment to reverse that decision, including months of work by Move to Amend, Free Speech For People, Public Citizen, People For The American Way, Common Cause, and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Rep. Deutch’s amendment is a blend of the best ideas.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

UC Davis And The Militarization of Campus Police

By Bob Ostertag, cross-posted from Huffington Post

Yesterday [November 18th], police at UC Davis attacked seated students with a chemical gas.

I teach at UC Davis and I personally know many of the students who were the victims of this brutal and unprovoked assault. They are top students. In fact, I can report that among the students I know, the higher a student's grade point average, the more likely it is that they are centrally involved in the protests.

This is not surprising, since what is at issue is the dismantling of public education in California. Just six years ago, tuition at the University of California was $5357. Tuition is currently $12,192. According to current proposals, it will be $22,068 by 2015-2016. We have discussed this in my classes, and about one third of my students report that their families would likely have to pull them out of school at the new tuition. It is not a happy moment when the students look around the room and see who it is that will disappear from campus. These are young people who, like college students everywhere and at all times, form some of the deepest friendships they will have in their lives.

This is what motivates students who have never taken part in any sort of social protest to "occupy" the campus quad. And indeed, there were students who were attacked with chemical agents by robocops who were engaging in their first civic protest.

Since the video of the assault has gone viral, I will assume that most of you have seen the shocking footage. Let's take a look at the equally outrageous explanations and justifications that have come from UC Davis authorities.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi sent a letter to the university last night. Chancellor Katehi tells us that:
The group was informed in writing... that if they did not dismantle the encampment, it would have to be removed...  However a number of protestors refused our warning, offering us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.
No other options? The list of options is endless. To begin with, the chancellor could have thanked them for their sense of civic duty. The occupation could have been turned into a teach-in on the role of public education in this country. There could have been a call for professors to hold classes on the quad. The list of "other options" is endless.

Supporting Israel Means Advocating For A Two-State Solution

By Jeff Pozmantier, cross-posted from Bumpspot

Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Peter Welch (D-VT) deserve accolades for their Congressional letter encouraging President Barack Obama and Congress to work together to prevent cutting U.S. assistance to the Palestinians.

They correctly note that aid to the Palestinians is not a favor to the Palestinians, nor is it something that should be withheld as punishment for their statehood efforts at the United Nations. Continued assistance is actually in the strategic interest of the United States, Israel and Palestine, because it bolsters security and strengthens Palestinian governance.

Supporters of the letter are far from left wing anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian peaceniks. The Shin Bet, Israel’s F.B.I, has noted that U.S.-trained Palestinian Authority security forces are a primary reason that 2010 was the most terror-free year in the last decade. U.S. and Israeli experts also connect the dots between U.S. assistance and improved security.

But only 44 members of Congress chose to put their name on the letter.

Quizas, Quizas, Quizas

The omnivorous jazz saxophonist David Murray released an album, “David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole en Español,” in which, together with a group of young Cuban musicians, Murray reworks Latin classics recorded by Nat King Cole on two records, Cole Español and More Cole Español.

As Gary Giddins describes in the liner notes for the album:  "The result is one of Murray’s most purely pleasurable albums. It demonstrates a tremendous leap in his approach to a world of music that has long fascinated him. The arrangements are imaginative, compelling, and wily, especially in the integration between winds and stings. The band is as tight as a fist. And there is a stunning feature for David Murray the improviser, a sensational tour de force and high spot in his massive discography."

So, here's Nat King Cole singing Quizas, Quizas, Quizas:

And here's Murray's version:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nourishing the Roots Of Food Justice

By Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, cross-posted from PAN's website

What a week! PAN and over 1,000 food movement activists from around the country have just wrapped up the Community Food Security Coalition’s 15th Annual National Conference, Food Justice: Honoring our Roots, Growing the Movement, which filled five days with stimulating field trips, workshops and discussion in Oakland and around the Bay area. As Jim Embry of Sustainable Communities Network in Kentucky observed, “More than 1,000 kindred folks from USA, 1st Peoples Nations, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Kenya and all in between attended. The conference held near Occupy Oakland was a blessing. The healing (between groups) was so needed and inspiring!”

A smaller number of us capped the week by participating in the 1st National Assembly of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance, a post-conference gathering of over 70 activists from the family farm, worker and food justice communities along with allied organizations working to build a grassroots-led food sovereignty movement in the U.S. 

Farmers & farmworkers speak out

Highlights for me last week included hearing the stories of farmworkers from Florida and family farmers from Iowa, Montana, Wisconsin and Maine, who spoke to students at a community event that PAN co-organized with National Family Farm Coalition, hosted by San Francisco State University professor, Kathy McAfee. The panel, Farmer and Farmworker Voices from Across the Country: Fighting for Justice on the Farm, sparked animated questions from the students, after they heard how farmworkers and farmers are organizing for their rights and for their very survival.
We have a problem. It’s called the extraction of wealth. — Joel Greeno, Wisconsin dairy farmer, speaking to President Obama.

To a spellbound audience, Joel Greeno (dairy farmer and leader of the farmer tractorcade during the Madison protests) described his late summer meeting with President Obama, who walked into a workshop on rural issues, sat down and asked if anyone had anything to say. While everyone else (mostly industry lobbyists) froze in their chairs, Joel didn’t miss a beat. “We have a problem in Wisconsin”, he told the President. “It’s called the extraction of wealth. All you need to do to fix the situation and put people back to work is to pay farmers a living.” When Joel finished speaking, the entire room had gone completely silent. Even Obama — caught like a deer in the headlights —had not a word to say in response.