Monday, April 30, 2012

Occupy May Day

Eric Drooker
 By Sarah Van Gelder, cross-posted from Yes Magazine

If the mainstream media was confused about Occupy Wall Street in its early days in Zuccotti Park, they’re bound to be completely befuddled this May Day.

May Day already has a lot piled on it. In pre-Christian Europe, May Day was a time to dance, light bonfires, sing, and carry on in celebration of the changing seasons. May Day also marks the anniversary of the 1886 Haymarket massacre, which occurred during a Chicago strike for the eight-hour work day. Also called International Workers’ Day, it’s a holiday in more than 80 countries.

And most recently, the U.S. immigrants right movement has used May 1st for massive street demonstrations and strikes aimed at reforming laws and policies that result in imprisonment, deportation, and discrimination against undocumented people.

This May Day, the Occupy movement is getting involved, calling it “The day without the 99 percent.” What will May Day look like with so many traditions riding on it?

May Day Collaborations—from Bike Caravan to Free University

The way plans are shaping up, in at least some locations around the United States, it could be big, festive, and importantly, include elements of all the May Day traditions. And it could be profoundly different than the big days of action we’ve seen in the past. In the weeks leading up to May Day, various movements have been collaborating. And people will not only be protesting, they’ll be liberating spaces for education, the arts, general assemblies, and teach-ins.

There will be marches, of course. Some permitted, planned, and predictable. Others will be spontaneous, possibly disruptive. In spite of all the police planning (and collaboration with Wall Street private security forces) law enforcement will be kept guessing.

There will be fairs, free food, teach-ins, music, bicycling, marches, and fiestas.

In New York, occupiers are leading up to May Day by organizing 99 pickets in support of workers around the city, from jazz musicians to taxi drivers to laundry workers. The LGBTQTSGNC (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit and Gender Non-Conforming) contingent will be out in force. They’ll be a “Guitarmy” marching from New York’s Bryant Park to Madison Square Park, with 1,000 guitars.

At Madison Square Park, there will be a Free University, organized by students fed up with tuition hikes and a student debt burden that’s now reached $1 trillion. Educators will bring classes to the park, there will be skill sharing and workshops.

At Bryant Park, they’ll be a “free” market—where everything is actually free— as well as public art and “opportunities for action.”

In Los Angeles, bike and car caravans will travel to the city center from the four cardinal directions. Along the way, there may be union strike action, and there will be “flash occupations,” free food, and direct action along the way, targeting the foreclosure crisis. Tuition hikes, income inequality, immigrant rights, police violence, the criminalizing of the homeless—the Los Angeles caravans each will focus on some combination of these topics.

In the San Francisco Bay area, nurses and social workers have declared a strike. Bridge and transportation workers and occupiers will attempt to shut down the Golden Gate Bridge. There will be “flying pickets” to shut down banks and business associations.

In Seattle, the group Hip Hop Occupiers to Decolonize is inviting artists, families, and the general public to a day of music, dance, live art, and speakers. There will also be marches of immigrants, occupiers, and workers.

Seattle occupiers will be serving free breakfasts to get the day off to a good start, something that can get you fined in Philadelphia, where the mayor has made it illegal to feed the hungry in city parks.
In Portland, occupiers plan to occupy a vacant home and hold a block party.

In Kalamazoo, Mich., they’ll be camped out on the sidewalk in front of the Bank of America, and there’s a good chance they’ll be doing civil disobedience to stop the auction of public land for hydraulic fracking.

The list goes on and on, from small towns in Wyoming to the place where it all started, lower Manhattan.

This broad range of topics and tactics may bewilder mainstream pundits, but it reflects a transformation in activism as profound as anything that’s happened in social change over the past decades. People are moving out of their isolated interest groups and causes. They’re coming together in a shared analysis, demonstrating their agreement about sources of some of our biggest problems—the overwhelming power of Wall Street and big corporations and our society’s continuing struggle with exclusion of people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc. And they’re developing shared ambitious goals and bold strategies that add up to real power and real possibility.

As often happens in the planning of a big event, some of the most important work began well before the actual day, with undocumented workers, union organizers, occupiers, and students coming together to plan events. They’re mixing it up across races, ages, backgrounds, and interests.

It’s a day without the 99 percent, say organizers. No work. No school. No housework. No shopping. No banking.

Even more than what people won’t be doing on May 1, though, the day is about showing up and protesting, but also building the world we want.

Roberts Court Being Shaped By An Unwieldy Scalia

By Jeremy Leaming, cross-posted from American Constitution Society

DonkeyHotey
For what feels like decades, reporters, pundits, and ideologues, mostly on the right, but some on the left, have lauded Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for his wit, pointed oral argument questioning and allegedly brilliant writing. But those plaudits, in light of the justice’s performances during oral argument in cases challenging health care reform and Arizona’s racial profiling law, are wobbly at best, bordering on delusional.

In reality Scalia increasingly has difficulty, as The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank recently noted, containing his rabid partisanship. It’s unbecoming. During the Affordable Care Act oral argument it appeared, at times, that his only preparation involved reading right-wing blogs railing about the slippery slope to regulations mandating purchases of broccoli and gym memberships. At oral argument in Arizona v. U.S., regarding challenges to several portions of the state’s anti-immigrant law, Scalia “left no doubt from the start that he was a champion of the Arizona crackdown and that he would verbally lacerate anybody who felt otherwise,” Mibank wrote.

Milbank continued, “Scalia’s tart tongue has been a fixture on the bench for years, but as the justices venture this year into highly political areas such as health-care reform and immigration, the divisive and pugilistic style of the senior associate justice is very much defining the public image of the Roberts Court.”

And it’s not a flattering image. Not only does Scalia come off as a ringleader of right-wing hacks in robes, he increasingly comes off as clueless or heartless. During the health care oral argument, questions from Scalia and some of the other right-wing justices prompted a string of commentators to question whether the justices understood the health care insurance market.

As former Mich. Gov. Jennifer Granholm pointed out the justices with their lifetime appointments “will never have to worry about health care personally,” and will “never be forced economic bystanders to the health insurance market.” But there were numerous briefs filed in the health care case, many of which explained the inefficiency and exclusivity of the health care insurance market. Scalia’s embrace of the simplistic broccoli argument, however, suggests he either doesn’t get it, or had not yet taken the time to understand the reality of the market.

Similarly, as Nathan Pippenger notes in a piece for The New Republic, Scalia’s questions during oral argument in the S.B. 1070 case revealed that the “leader of the Court’s” right-wing bloc might not have “a very sound grasp of our country’s immigration policies.”

Scalia, Pippenger writes, seemed not to appreciate the complexity of the federal immigration policy. Federal lawmakers must “take account of geopolitical considerations when deciding which undocumented immigrants to target for deportation.”

The solicitor general tried to explain this to the high court, but “Scalia seemed to recognize none of this; but he did have policy suggestion of his own,” which was essentially simply deport all “these people ….”
Does Scalia really believe it practical and realistic for law enforcement officials to try and deport 11 million hard working undocumented immigrants, or was he grandstanding. Either way he was far from brilliant.

[Related posts: Scalia Shills For The Tea Party; Scalia's Revisionism Won't Help Us "Get Over" Bush v. Gore]

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cooler Still

The New Yorker has a Talk of the Town piece about Walt "Clyde" Frazier, the former New York Knicks star, and his new restaurant "Clyde Frazier's Wine and Dine," at which he arrived for a menu tasting "wearing shoes of lizard skin and lapels a shade brighter than a legal pad."

Some things never change.  Here's the piece I wrote about Frazier last year:

Still Cool

"Everyone has a certain rhythm that he dribbles to."  -- Walt Frazier
One of the great things about growing up on Long Island was the ability to ride the LIRR with friends to Penn Station at a relatively young age, go upstairs to Madison Square Garden, and watch a Knick game.  When I was a kid, in the late 60s-early 70s, the Knicks were an amazing team, and going to the Garden was truly magical.  The Knicks won two World Championships (1970 and 1973), and revolutionized the game by emphasizing the importance of team play and defense ("Dee-Fence").  The team included some remarkable personalities -- Dollar (later Senator) Bill Bradley, Earl the Pearl Monroe, Willis (The Captain) Reed, Dave DeBusschere, and my all-time favorite player, Walt "Clyde' Frazier.

Clyde was one of the greatest defensive players in basketball history, often dramatically stealing the ball while the opposing player appeared to be dribbling past him.  But he was an offensive force as well, a great passer and a clutch scorer.  His greatest performance was probably Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals.  While an injured Willis Reed made his iconic, inspirational appearance, it was Frazier who took control of the game, scoring 36 points with 19 assists, to lead the Knicks to their first World Championship.

Clyde defined what it meant to be cool.  On the court he couldn't be ruffled, he never showed emotion, he was cool.  Off the court, he was completely different -- outrageous and flamboyant -- but that was also cool because of his complete confidence in expressing who he was.  He was nicknamed "Clyde" because of his wide-brimmed hat which looked like one Warren Beatty wore in Bonnie and Clyde.  He drove a Rolls Royce, wore full length mink coats and flashy suits.  

In 1974, he published a book which I still cherish:  "Rockin' Steady:  A guide to basketball and cool."

It was mostly about basketball, but also included his wardrobe inventory (with such categories as knots, kicks and lids) and had "a general guide to looking good, and other matters," in which he revealed grooming secrets, demonstrated how to catch a fly (with techniques for when the fly "is in a sitting position" and in midair), and stressed the importance of "being your own man." All things a 14 year old needed to know.


And, of course, there were the sneakers:  "Puma Clydes"










The New York Times' just published a profile on Frazier, who is currently an announcer for the Knicks.  (Walt Frazier -- Always in Style.)  It is wonderfully reassuring that after all these years, Walt Frazier has a "menagerie of 100 or so suits that hang on five racks and with patterns of tiger stripes and leopard spots; designs of bold plaids and checks; and colors of yellow, red, salmon and orange," including the one pictured above, a polyester cow-print suit with brown-and-black splotches.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Stephen Colbert's Iconic Influence

I've written before about Stephen Colbert's subversive brilliance.  In 2006, at the height of George W. Bush's popularity, Colbert literally spoke truth to power at the White House Correspondent's Dinner.  Staying in character, he courageously and hilariously skewered the President and mocked the all-too-compliant national press.

And this preposterous election season he has demonstrated like no one else the destructive consequences of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision by creating his own Super PAC without much trouble.  During his very brief run for the presidency, he gave up control of the Super PAC, on the air, legally transferring it to his close friend and Comedy Central cohort, Jon Stewart, and renaming it "The Definitely Not Coordinated with Stephen Colbert Super PAC."  Among other things, this bit of political theater demonstrated how the rules which prohibit coordination between the candidates and their Super PACS are so transparently ineffectual.

Last week, at the gala celebrating TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people, at which he was so honored as an "icon," he lit into David Koch, one of his co-nominees, as only Colbert can -- with biting irony laying bare the destructive influence of money in politics -- especially Koch Brothers money.
Of course, all of us should be honored to be listed on the TIME 100 alongside the two men who will be slugging it out in the fall:  President Obama, and the man who would defeat him, David Koch.
Give it up everybody.  David Koch.

Little known fact -- David, nice to see you again, sir.

Little known fact, David's brother Charles Koch is actually even more influential.  Charles pledged $40 million to defeat President Obama, David only $20 million.  That's kind of cheap, Dave.
Sure, he's all for buying the elections, but when the bill for democracy comes up, Dave's always in the men's room.  I'm sorry, I must have left Wisconsin in my other coat.

I was particularly excited to meet David Koch earlier tonight because I have a Super PAC, Colbert Super PAC, and I am -- thank you, thank you -- and I am happy to announce Mr. Koch has pledged $5 million to my Super PAC.  And the great thing is, thanks to federal election law, there's no way for you to ever know whether that's a joke.

By the way, if David Koch likes his waiter tonight, he will be your next congressman.
While the mainstream media focuses on the horse race -- who is ahead in the polls and whose rhetoric is scoring the most political points -- we have come to rely more and more on comedians like Colbert to bring to the fore meaningful issues that have real influence on our national well being.

Ten Things To Know About CISPA

DonkeyHotey
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, known as CISPA passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 248-168 vote, and now goes to the Senate.  The ostensible goal of the legislation is "to help companies beef up their defenses against hackers who steal business secrets, rob customers' financial information and wreak havoc on computer systems."  It does this by making it easier for the government and private industry to share information about cyber threats.

But it raises legitimate civil liberty concerns. The ACLU warns that the bill is "dangerously overbroad."   Reporters Without Borders notes that "the bill would negate existing privacy laws and allow companies to share user data with the government without a court order."

ThinkProgress tells us what we need to know:
CISPA’s broad language will likely give the government access to anyone’s personal information with few privacy protections: CISPA allows the government access to any “information pertaining directly to a vulnerability of, or threat to, a system or network of a government or private entity.” There is little indication of what this information could include, and what it means to be ‘pertinent’ to cyber security. Without boundaries, any internet user’s personal, private information would likely be fair game for the government.
  
It supersedes all other provisions of the law protecting privacy: As the bill is currently written, CISPA would apply “notwithstanding any other provision of law.” In other words, privacy restrictions currently in place would not apply to CISPA. As a result, companies could disclose more personal information about users than necessary. Ars Technica writes, “if a company decides that your private emails, your browsing history, your health care records, or any other information would be helpful in dealing with a ‘cyber threat,’ the company can ignore laws that would otherwise limit its disclosure.” 

The bill completely exempts itself from the Freedom of Information Act: Citizens and journalists have access to most things the government does via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a key tool for increasing transparency. However, CISPA completely exempts itself from FOIA requests. The Sunlight Foundation blasted CISPA for “entirely” dismissing FOIA’s “fundamental safeguard for public oversight of government’s activities.” 

CISPA gives companies blanket immunity from future lawsuits: One of the most egregious aspects of CISPA is that it gives blanket legal immunity to any company that shares its customers’ private information. In other words, if Microsoft were to share your browsing history with the government despite your posing no security threat, you would be barred from filing a lawsuit against them. Without any legal recourse for citizens to take against corporate bad behavior, companies will be far more inclined to share private information. 

Recent revisions don’t go nearly far enough: In an attempt to specify how the government can use the information they collect, the House passed an amendment saying the data can only be used for: “1) cybersecurity; 2) investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crimes; 3) protection of individuals from the danger of death or physical injury; 4) protection of minors from physical or psychological harm; and 5) protection of the national security of the United States.” This new version still “suffers from most of the same problems that plagued the original version,” writes Timothy Lee. Because terms like “cybersecurity” are so vague, the bill’s language could encompass almost anything. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Palate Cleanser: Jack White

Love Interruption by Jack White from his new release Blunderbuss.

Hope And Climate Change

"Celebrated every April 22 for the past forty-two years, Earth Day is showing its (middle) age. Instead of rallying public pressure for far-reaching reforms, Earth Day is becoming, at least in the United States, a bland, tired ritual that polluters and politicians have learned to ignore or co-opt. . . . Frustrated by such cynicism, some environmentalists have called for abolishing Earth Day. But that would be throwing the baby out with the polluted bathwater. Instead, why not recall the real history of Earth Day and revive its original—and much more demanding—vision?"-- Mark Hertsgaard, "Save Earth Day," The Nation

 Mark Hertsgaard has covered politics, the media and the environment for 20 years for leading publications around the world.   He is The Nation's environment correspondent and the author of six books, including most recently, “HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth."  Hertsgaard is one of the leading voices on climate change and environmental justice, and he needs to be heard and his advice needs to be heeded.

Wen Stephenson at The Roost, a blog for The Thoreau Farm, interviewed Hertsgaard at length about the politics of hope, how parents can get active in the climate fight and why giving up is not an option.  (The interview is worth reading in its entirety, as are those Stephenson does with David RobertsBill McKibben, and others.) 

Hertsgaard talks about parents as "probably the single most under-organized constituency on climate change."  He and some colleagues are working on “Climate Parents,” to give a voice to parents who understand that climate is frightening but don't know what to do about it and so they practice "soft denial"
It’s a different kind of denial than the nonsensical, economically or ideologically based denial that we’re so familiar with. Soft denial is when people know perfectly well what’s going on — and are scared about what it means, both for them and especially for their children or grandchildren — and yet they continue to carry on with their lives as if it’s not this five-alarm fire that is about to burn down their kids’ house.
A National Day of Action will be coming soon:
The news hook is the new national science education standards for K-12 that are being promoted this year by the National Research Council, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, and the pushback from the Heartland Institute types, who want their nonscientific curricula put forward. And we are going to try to get parents to support the national science standards, as a first step to get them moving on this issue.
Hertsgaard contends that the reality that we are already locked into a significant amount of climate change, does not mean we shouldn't be looking for ways to slow it down, particularly on the food side of the climate dilemma:
We have an enormous opportunity to extract carbon, and store it in plants, and especially the soil. That is one of the few, few tricks we still have up our sleeves, with things like bio char and ecological agriculture. And the irony is, there’s all this talk about carbon capture and sequestration in the coal and energy field, billions of dollars being promised or even invested in it, and we don’t know whether it will work. Compare that to the fact that in agriculture, we know perfectly well that it will work: it’s called photosynthesis. And we know it works, but we have to figure out ways to bring it to scale.
Clearly, this is not enough, and even under an optimistic scenario, there does not appear to be any way to avoid "at least three feet of sea-level rise."
But how soon that comes is going to be very, very important. If that doesn’t come for a hundred years, that’s something we can prepare for. If it comes in fifty years, which is a kind of, not worst-case but very plausible scenario, that’s a lot harder. 
While Hertsgaard understands the despair of those who believe it is too late to do anything, he fervently believes in the "politics of hope," which he learned from Vaclav Havel:  "Hope is not some silly, light-hearted feeling that you maintain just to keep going.  Hope is an active verb."

Hertsgaard has long understood that environmentalists need to "stop being a special-interest group and to start connecting with other people, and realize that their struggle is other peoples’ struggle."
I’ve said that environmentalists needed a jobs program, or I would go even further and say an antipoverty program. Because that’s the main thing I’ve learned from traveling around the world — most people want to save the environment. They understand, at an intuitive human level, that we can’t survive without the world around us. But because of the way that the world economy is structured, and other reasons, they’re faced with the more immediate task of putting food on the table that night for their kids.So if environmentalists wanted to make progress, they needed to have a jobs and antipoverty message, that could attract more supporters, because the people who are opposed to progress are the big corporations who make their money from the way things are.  
This is a lesson that environmentalists are beginning to learn as reflected in the recent victories of the Beyond Coal campaign and over the Keystone XL Pipeline.

In Hertsgaard's piece for The Nation, he  reminds us of real history of Earth Day -- that after 20 million people took to the streets, President Nixon, hardly a tree-hugger, felt politically compelled to pass what remains the most ambitious environmental legislation in the world.  And this is the key:  "America’s first and biggest environmental victories were won after mass grassroots activism persuaded an otherwise indifferent president that he had to deliver or risk losing his job."

So, let's get to work.

R.I.P. Beunka Adams

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On April 26, 2012, Texas executed Beunka Adams for the murder of Kenneth Vandever during a convenience store robbery.  Two women working at the store were shot but survived.  Adams was 19 at the time.  His accomplice, Richard Cobb, who was 18, was sentenced to death after a separate trial.

Legal challenges included a claim that Adams' trial counsel unreasonably failed to present evidence of Cobb's confession to shooting Vandever.  A federal district court had issued a stay of execution to consider claims that his trial and appellate lawyers provided ineffective assistance with regard to several issues.  The stay was lifted  by the federal appellate court and the Supreme Court refused to intervene.

This is the 17th execution in the United States this year, and the fifth in Texas.

R.I.P. Thomas Kemp

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On April 25, 2012, Arizona executed Thomas Kemp for the kidnapping and murder of Hector Soto Juarez in 1992.

Several states are changing their lethal injection protocol from a 3-drug "cocktail" to use of one drug -- pentobarbital -- due to the shortage of one of the three drugs as well as concerns that the combination, which includes a paralytic, may mask excruciating pain.  Arizona has gone to the one-drug procedure without adequate testing or analysis, and there are serious issues surrounding this method, which will be revisited after Kemp's execution, in which he began to "shake violently" when injected with pentobarbital.

This is the 16th execution in the United States this year, and the third in Arizona.

The GOP's Death Wish

Why Republicans Can't Stop Pissing Off  Hispanics, Women, and Young People

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

What are the three demographic groups whose electoral impact is growing fastest? Hispanics, women, and young people. Who are Republicans pissing off the most? Latinos, women, and young people.

It’s almost as if the GOP can’t help itself.

Start with Hispanic voters, whose electoral heft keeps growing as they comprise an ever-larger portion of the electorate. Hispanics now favor President Obama over Romney by more than two to one, according to a recent Pew poll.

The movement of Hispanics into the Democratic camp has been going on for decades. What are Republicans doing to woo them back? Replicating California Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s disastrous support almost twenty years ago for Proposition 187 – which would have screened out undocumented immigrants from public schools, health care, and other social services, and required law-enforcement officials to report any “suspected” illegals. (Wilson, you may remember, lost that year’s election, and California’s Republican Party has never recovered.)

The Arizona law now before the Supreme Court – sponsored by Republicans in the state and copied by Republican legislators and governors in several others – would authorize police to stop anyone looking Hispanic and demand proof of citizenship. It’s nativism disguised as law enforcement.
Romney is trying to distance himself from that law, but it’s not working. That may be because he dubbed it a “model law” during February’s Republican primary debate in Arizona, and because its author (former state senator Russell Pearce, who was ousted in a special election last November largely by angry Hispanic voters) says he’s working closely with Romney advisers.

Hispanics are also reacting to Romney’s attack just a few months ago on GOP rival Texas Governor Rick Perry for supporting in-state tuition at the University of Texas for children of undocumented immigrants. And to Romney’s advocacy of what he calls “self-deportation” – making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants and their families that they choose to leave.

As if all this weren’t enough, the GOP has been pushing voter ID laws all over America, whose obvious aim is to intimidate Hispanic voters so they won’t come to the polls. But they may have the opposite effect – emboldening the vast majority of ethnic Hispanics, who are American citizens, to vote in even greater numbers and lend even more support to Obama and other Democrats.

Or consider women – whose political and economic impact in America continues to grow (women are fast becoming better educated than men and the major breadwinners in American homes). The political gender gap is huge. According to recent polls, women prefer Obama to Romney by over 20 percent.

So what is the GOP doing to woo women back? Attacking them. Last February, House Republicans voted to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. Last May, they unanimously passed the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” banning the District of Columbia from funding abortions for low-income women. (The original version removed all exceptions – rape, incest, and endangerment to a mother’s life – except “forcible” rape.)

Earlier this year Republican legislators in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Alabama pushed bills requiring women seeking abortions to undergo invasive vaginal ultrasound tests (Pennsylvania Republicans even wanted proof such had viewed the images).

Republican legislators in Georgia and Arizona passed bills banning most abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. The Georgia bill would also require that any abortion after 20 weeks be done in a way to bring the fetus out alive. Republican legislators in Texas have voted to eliminate funding for any women’s healthcare clinic with an affiliation to an abortion provider – even if the affiliation is merely a shared name, employee, or board member.

All told, over 400 Republican bills are pending in state legislatures, attacking womens’ reproductive rights.

But even this doesn’t seem enough for the GOP. Republicans in Wisconsin just repealed a law designed to prevent employers from discriminating against women.

Or, finally, consider students – a significant and growing electoral force, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. What are Republicans doing to woo them back? Attack them, of course.
Republican Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s budget plan – approved by almost every House Republican and enthusiastically endorsed by Mitt Romney – allows rates on student loans to double on July 1 – from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. That will add an average of $1,000 a year to student debt loads, which already exceed credit-card debt.

House Republicans say America can’t afford the $6 billion a year it would require to keep student loan rates down to where they are now. But that same Republican plan gives wealthy Americans trillions of dollars in tax cuts over the next decade. (Under mounting political pressure, House Republicans have come up with just enough money to keep the loan program going for another year – safely past Election Day – by raiding a fund established for preventive care in the new health-care act.)

Here again, Romney is trying to tiptoe away from the GOP position. He now says he supports keeping student loans where they were. Yet only a few months ago he argued that subsidized student loans were bad because they encouraged colleges to raise their tuition.

How can a political party be so dumb as to piss off Hispanics, women, and young people? Because the core of its base is middle-aged white men – and it doesn’t seem to know how to satisfy its base without at the same time turning off everyone who’s not white, male, and middle-aged.

 Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.  He writes a blog at www.robertreich.org.  His most recent book is Beyond Outrage.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Senate Passes Expanded Violence Against Women Act; It's Now The House's Turn

The Violence Against Women Act provides critical funding and training to curtail domestic violence, including funding for police training to handle cases involving sexual assault.  The legislation became law in 1994, and since then incidents of domestic violence against women have dropped by over 50 percent.

The Senate has voted to reauthorize a bipartisan version of the Act that will extend its protection to the LGBT community, undocumented immigrants and Native Americans.  House Republicans, however, are opposed to expanding protections to these groups.

As reported by Laura Clawson at Daily Kos:
Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 68 to 31. The bill had reached 61 cosponsors, including eight Republicans, well before the vote; the further Republican votes have to be seen as a tribute to the effectiveness of the campaign Democrats waged in favor of the bill, including its protections for undocumented immigrant, LGBT, and Native American victims of abuse. Republicans tried and failed to remove those protections, and whined extensively about the politicization of the law as a result of their failure.

The House has yet to take up a VAWA reauthorization, but Republicans there are standing against those expanded protections for groups of people they don't like.
Send an email to your member of the U.S. House of Representatives, telling him or her to pass the expanded, bipartisan Senate reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

Why Does It Seem Everything Republicans Say And Do Is A Trick Or A Lie?

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

DonkeyHotey
In today's Progressive Breakfast: Republicans say student-loan interest rates are high because of "Obamacare." House Republicans are trying to block the Violence Against Women act, using a ruse. They oppose the Dream Act and offer a false compromise to make it look like they support the concept. And that's just from today's news.

Why is there so much deception, propaganda, misdirection, distraction and general subterfuge coming from Republicans? Maybe its because they understand what We, the People would do if we understood their real agenda.

Some Of The Most Repeated Deceptions

Here are a few of the most-repeated deceptions that corporate conservatives and Republicans indoctrinate,m saturate and bombard us with:

Tax cuts increase revenue? This one has been around for a long time, and is completely false. Republican tax cuts have always caused deficits. This is the point, the plan, to force the government into debt and then claim we need to cut the things democracy does for citizens. This is why Bush said that it was "incredibly positive news" when his first budget took the country from a huge surplus to a huge deficit. (Yes, that is in quotation marks because it is a quote)

Obama tripled the deficit? (Bush's last budget had a whopping $1.4 trillion deficit - Republicans -- Fox, etc. -- tell people this was Obama's.) (Please click through.)

Obama made the recession worse? Mitt Romney has been repeating this one. These Three Charts To Email To Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law show clearly how Obama's policies stopped the downward spiral where we were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month and and brought us back to (not nearly enough) job-creation.

A Long, Long List

How long would this list be? How many lies and deceptions can you think of, even just off the top of your head? Actually you'd go crazy trying to gather examples of all the deceptive propaganda we are subjected to on a daily, hourly, even minute-by-minute basis.

They are very good at it. They can afford to pay professionals to come up with stuff that really twists people's thinking. They can afford the best pollsters and focus groups to help come up with the best-sounding phrases that resonate with people's core understandings of things. And they can afford the constant repetition that actually forms people's core understanding of things to begin with.

What's a few hundred million spent on creating and disseminating deceptive propaganda, when you get back billions upon billions through tax breaks, wage cuts, offshoring jobs, gutting pension funds, privatizing public assets, killing efforts to get us off of oil and coal, and the rest of the plutocrat 1% agenda?

Why The Lies?

Why are they using deception, distraction, misdirection instead of honest, open, transparent, fact-based ? Why are we constantly bombarded with this nonsense? There is a simple answer: Republican policies are designed to help the 1% at the expense of the 99%. It takes a lot of effort to talk a blue-collar worker into accepting wage cuts and giving up a pension so the 1%'ers can buy a yacht and a private jet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Happy 95th Anniversary Of Ella Fitzgerald's Birth

Ella Fitzgerald was born 95 years ago today (she died in 1996).  The rap on Ella was that she couldn't sing the blues.  Maybe not, but she was probably the greatest interpreter of what has come to be known as the Great American Songbook.

Here's some proof:



:  



This is what I wrote about Ella a while back when I was doing profiles of fifty jazz albums:
The Songbook series of recordings is essential listening; her live albums are remarkable, especially the classic Ella in Berlin, and the albums in which she is paired with Louis Armstrong are fun.  But when I feel like listening to Ella, my go-to album is Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie.  In a small combo setting (piano, guitar, bass, drums), she swings, scats, and settles down for some lovely ballads too.  Highlights include, but are definitely not limited to, A Night in Tunisia, Stella By Starlight, Jersey Bounce and The Music Goes Round and Round.
 Enjoy!

Now There Are 17!

From Amnesty International:
Five states have abolished the death penalty in the last five years, and 800,000 voters in California have endorsed a ballot initiative, which, if successful this November, would repeal capital punishment in the nation’s largest state. A majority exists in the Maryland State Legislature to repeal the death penalty and one legislative chamber in both Colorado and Montana have passed bills to repeal capital punishment in recent years. In Oregon, the governor has declared a moratorium on all executions.

Two-thirds of all nations (141) have rejected the death penalty. Amnesty International’s 2012 annual global death penalty survey placed the United States among the top five countries that continue to execute prisoners, with China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

The shift in U.S. public opinion on the death penalty is reflected in opinion polls and in jury rooms. The latest Gallup poll shows public support for the death penalty at its lowest since 1972, and death sentences have plummeted nationwide over the past decade.

Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International USA’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign, said: “Not only is the death penalty the ultimate human rights violation, but it is bad public policy. We are better off redirecting public funds and energy to solving the vast number of cold cases and providing greater support to the victims of violent crime, rather than wasting funds on maintaining this enormously expensive and inhuman practice.”

Jamming Too Slow On Student Loans

"I'm President Barack Obama, and I too want to slow jam the news."
You've probably seen this already -- President Obama's appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon during which they "slow jam the news" on the need for Congress to prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling (Congress must do so by July 1, or rates will go up from 3.4 to 6.8%):



At this point Republicans are predictably against extending the current rates, and their presidential candidate, Mr. Etch-a-Sketch, used to be with them.  Remember when he said students shouldn't count on the government's help:  “It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that . . .  And don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

But Romney is beginning to understand how potent an issue this is, and this week conceded that he would support an extension of the current interest rates on Stafford-loans, although as Amy Davidson points out, "there was no musical component to the announcement."

His fellow Republicans in Congress obscure their opposition to having the government assist students with their debt by claiming they don't object to extending the lower interest rates (although the Ryan Budget that passed the House doesn't do so) but are concerned with how to pay for it.  As Greg Sargent points out they are floating various ways to pay for the extension that seem likely to get shot down by the Democrats.

And while Democrats are merely trying to maintain the status quo, it is worth making the important point, as Robert Borosage does, that they should be building the groundwork for more progressive reforms to help students, such as 0% loans and/or free tuition at public colleges.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Judicial Activism: Right Wing Edition

Judge Janice Rogers Brown
Whatever disappointments the left may have with President Obama, it must be understood how devastating a Romney Presidency would be in terms of the Supreme Court (and lower federal courts) and the preservation of fundamental rights, liberties and democratic principles.  (See Supreme Court Matters; Romney Gets Borked.)  

Janice Rogers Brown was an extreme right wing justice on a very right wing California Supreme Court from 1997 to 2005, when she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by President Bush, where she currently sits.  Rogers Brown, who has been known to trumpet Ayn Rand and decry Supreme Court decisions upholding the New Deal as "the triumph of our own socialist revolution," is precisely the kind of judge likely to be nominated by the next Republican president.  Professor Adam Winkler cites a recent Brown opinion to illustrate why this should scare us into action.   -- Lovechilde

Startling Conservative Judicial Opinion Should Motivate Progressives

By Adam Winkler, cross-posted from American Constitution Society

The age of judicial activism - err, I mean "judicial engagement" - is upon us. Having realized that they don't always win with voters, leading conservatives are abandoning their traditional emphasis on judicial restraint and respect for the decisions of democratically elected officials. After years of berating liberal judges for overturning laws in the name of controversial constitutional principles, conservatives are now embracing the notion of an active, "engaged" judiciary.  Only they want one that aggressively protects those rights conservatives prefer: property rights, rights of religious expression, the liberty of contract, the right not to buy broccoli - regardless of decades of established case law.

For evidence of this trend, one need not look further than startling concurring opinion by D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown in Hettinga v. United States. Brown, who is often mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee in a Republican administration, used her opinion to audition for a leadership role in this new movement. The time has come, she wrote, to end the pernicious practice of allowing legislatures to regulate the economy. "America's cowboy capitalism was long ago disarmed by a democratic process increasingly dominated by powerful groups with economic interests antithetical to competitors and consumers. And the courts, from which the victims of burdensome regulation sought protection, have been negotiating the terms of surrender since the 1930s." The proof? The "Supreme Court allowed state and local jurisdictions to regulate property, pursuant to their police powers, in the public interest, and to adopt whatever economic policy may reasonably be deemed to promote the public welfare."

Besides Brown’s Bizarro world premises in which things like consumer protection laws harm consumers, her ode to the Lochner era reminds us of the importance of judicial appointments. For decades, Republican presidents have used the lower federal courts as a farm team for the Supreme Court, smartly filling positions with potential stars to see how they perform. This is a smart strategy, though one Democrats haven’t followed. Instead, Democratic presidents have tended to name competent, diverse people who aren’t likely to be controversial. But in the current political climate, even these clear consensus nominees are held up in the Senate, leaving the federal courts with a critical number of vacancies and a troubling imbalance in our courts. To counter the newly “engaged” judicial conservatives like Brown, legal liberals need to be fighting for judges, particularly those judges with the intellectual fortitude to go toe-to-toe with the leading lights of conservative constitutionalism. Respect for our Constitution and settled precedent demands nothing less.

It's Official! The Initiative To Replace California's Death Penalty Qualifies For The November Ballot

The SAFE California Act, the initiative to replace California's multi-billion dollar death penalty with life in prison with no possibility of parole, has qualified for the November ballot.  This is epic.

With a death row population over 720, it is undisputed that California's death penalty system is broken beyond repair.  Despite over 30 years of sentencing more and more people to death, only about 1% of them have actually been executed –  a total of 13 executions since 1978, and none since 2006. It is a costly (an exhaustive study concluded that "California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion), time-consuming, unreliable and unworkable system that serves no useful purpose. Meanwhile, it drains judicial resources and diverts much-needed funds from truly effective public safety programs.

When it passes, SAFE California will require those convicted of murder to work and pay restitution to victim families through the victim compensation fund. And it sets aside $100 million in budget savings for local law enforcement for the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases. Because while we spend time and resources on those already tried and convicted, in an average year, 46% of murders cases in California remain unsolved and 56% of reported rapes.

Recent polls show California voters are ready to replace the death penalty, and join a nationwide trend.  (Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the fifth state in five years to replace the death penalty, following Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.)  Both the Public Policy Institute of California and Field Poll have found that when given the option, more California voters opted for life in prison without the possibility of parole over the death penalty.

As Jeanne Woodford the former Warden at San Quentin State Prison, and current Executive Director at Death Penalty Focus, put it, this is a "game-changer of massive proportions."
SAFE California is a historic campaign that will change California forever – for the better. Once we replace the death penalty in November, we will save millions in public safety dollars and California will never again risk executing an innocent person. We’ll soon have the opportunity to use  hundreds of millions of dollars in budget savings to improve personal safety for families across our state.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Graphic Of The Day

Mitt Romney has been running for President for so long that it is easy to forget how little actual experience he has working in government -- one term as governor of Massachusetts.   Steve Benen created a graphic documenting the years of experience in public office or active-duty military service for all of the recent major-party nominees, which shows that "Romney has less experience in public service than any modern presidential candidate."

(Purple = active-duty military service; red = state executive; green = mayor; gray = state legislator; light blue = U.S. Congress; orange = presidential Cabinet or in a cabinet-level position; dark blue = president or vice president.)

Locking Down An American Workforce

Prison Labor as the Past -- and Future -- of American “Free-Market” Capitalism

by Steve Fraser and Joshua B. Freeman, cross-posted from Tom Dispatch

Sweatshop labor is back with a vengeance. It can be found across broad stretches of the American economy and around the world.  Penitentiaries have become a niche market for such work.  The privatization of prisons in recent years has meant the creation of a small army of workers too coerced and right-less to complain.

Prisoners, whose ranks increasingly consist of those for whom the legitimate economy has found no use, now make up a virtual brigade within the reserve army of the unemployed whose ranks have ballooned along with the U.S. incarceration rate.  The Corrections Corporation of America and G4S (formerly Wackenhut), two prison privatizers, sell inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM.

These companies can, in most states, lease factories in prisons or prisoners to work on the outside.  All told, nearly a million prisoners are now making office furniture, working in call centers, fabricating body armor, taking hotel reservations, working in slaughterhouses, or manufacturing textiles, shoes, and clothing, while getting paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day.

Rarely can you find workers so pliable, easy to control, stripped of political rights, and subject to martial discipline at the first sign of recalcitrance -- unless, that is, you traveled back to the nineteenth century when convict labor was commonplace nationwide.  Indeed, a sentence of “confinement at hard labor” was then the essence of the American penal system.  More than that, it was one vital way the United States became a modern industrial capitalist economy -- at a moment, eerily like our own, when the mechanisms of capital accumulation were in crisis.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Paper Or Plastic? How About Neither?

Mel Brooks had a great bit as the 2013-Year-Old Man in which he declared that Liquid Prell Shampoo was the greatest invention of mankind (comparing it and its unbreakable tube favorably to the heart-lung machine which, of course, could break if it fell out of your medicine cabinet). 

In honor of Earth Day, I'm going to nominate Neato's, a reusable, machine-washable storage bag that comes in various sizes and easily replaces plastic bags and baggies.  We use them for sandwiches, snacks, veggies in the fridge, cosmetics on the plane, art supplies for the kids.  To paraphrase Brooks, I love this product.  (Disclaimer:  the creator of Neato's, Rachel Ostroy, is a dear friend).

Neat-os are made of FDA certified food-safe materials.  All materials have been certified as bisphenol-A (BPA) free, phthalate free, PVC free, lead free and non-toxic.  The fabric is a cotton canvas that was designed for chefs and is coated in food safe plastic, that can withstand high temperatures and is non-abrasive, making it easy to clean lots of different ways.

Reusing this durable product instead of disposable plastic bags is such an easy way to go a little greener.  One bag can replace hundreds of plastic baggies, not only from being thrown away, but from being produced.  Neat-os are also made in the USA eliminating the CO2 emitted by shipping baggies across the seas. And from your purchases they give to 1% for the Planet.  (Click here to check them out.)

Rachel reluctantly applied for the Sustainable Business Council of Los Angeles Achievement Award, and ended up being one of twenty-one finalists.  Although she didn't win, here is part of what she would have said in her acceptance speech:
This award is cool, not because I won, but because it exists. We are all working towards the same cause and the achievement is the collective effort and the impact of the collective effort. We have to work on all fronts, not only to switch from our disposable habit, but to change our building design, create new energy sources, change our farming practices, change our eating habits, change our dependency on oil, the list goes on and on. But it’s not the parts, but the whole that make this fight attainable.
Indeed.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday To Fenway Park

One of the charming things about baseball is that, unlike other major sports, no two fields are alike.   Every football field is 100 yards long and basketball courts have precise measurements, but baseball parks are all different from each other.  There must be 90 feet between the bases and the pitching rubber has to be 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, but otherwise the dimensions of each one only has to conform to whatever space it happens to inhabit with its own signature characteristics and quirks.  Fans hope to visit as many baseball stadiums as possible (see below) but you don't hear that from fans of other sports.

Whether you love or hate the Boston Red Sox, you've got to admit that Fenway Park, which opened on April 20, 1912, and is the oldest stadium in the Big Leagues, is uniquely special with the Green Monster (the massive 37-foot high wall in left field, only about 310 feet from home), Pesky's Pole (the right field foul pole named after 1940s infielder Johnny Pesky), and 100 years of history.

My first game at Fenway, in September 1981, gave me plenty of time to take it all in as it turned out to be the longest game in Fenway Park history.  I was so excited to be there and loved the first few hours.  But the game was tied after nine innings and then neither team scored for another ten, and I must confess my relief when the game was mercifully suspended at 1 o'clock in the morning, after 19 innings, so we could go home.  (We didn't make it back the next morning for the completion of the game, and therefore didn't see the Sox lose to Seattle in the 20th inning.)

Last summer, you may recall, my friends Farnaz and Paul embarked on a two-month long road trip, stopping at major- and minor-league ball parks and writing about their experiences.  To celebrate Fenway's 100th birthday, I am re-posting Paul's piece about their visit there, originally posted on May 22, 2011:

Double Header

I. Bleachers

Boston for two days. Tigers lose to Red Sox 4-3, Chicago loses to Boston 15-5. That's seven games in a row the Red Sox have won. They've moved up to second in their division, 1/2 game behind Tampa Bay after an awful start that had the Red Sox nation howling about the apocalypse. We see Beckett v Verlander, and then Lester v Doug Davis. Beckett and Lester are off their game, but good enough: they get men out when they need to. Lester gives up 12 hits and 5 runs (not all earned), but the Cubs are awful. Soriano makes one of his classic Sorianos, letting a routine single bounce by his outstretched glove to the wall for a double. The Cubs leave 10 men on base in the first 7 innings. Maybe 10,000 Cubs fans are at the game, wearing regalia, cheering on their flatfooted warriors. The huge screen in Fenway's center field periodically declares the park "the most beautiful in baseball," and in the team store you can buy a green t-shirt that declares: "No ivy grows on our walls."

This is an historic event: the first time Chicago has played a game in Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series, 93 years ago. Fenway and Wrigley Field are the touchstones of old school ball: Fenway opened in 1911, Wrigley in 1914. Until 2004, both teams were the perennial almosts, victims it seemed of their own frustration as they struggled to win a World Series. Both are spendthrifts, though Boston seems to use its money more wisely. It's fun to be here, out in the bleachers surrounded by disappointed Cubs fans; fun to go back to our hotel and sit at the bar beside more Chicagoans, in town for this once-in-a-century event.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Racial Justice In North Carolina

Judge Finds Racial Bias In Death Penalty Sentencing

By Keith Kamisugi, cross-posted from Equal Justice Society

Just days before the 25th anniversary of McCleskey v. Kemp, a North Carolina judge today ruled that racial bias impacted the death penalty conviction of Marcus Robinson and re-sentenced him to to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

This was the first case applying the historic and ground-breaking Racial Justice Act, enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Bev Perdue to reject the influence of race discrimination in the administration of the death penalty. The RJA represents a landmark reform in North Carolina, a state which has long been a leader in forward-thinking criminal justice policies.

As reported by The New York Times, Judge Gregory A. Weeks of Cumberland County Superior Court said that “race was a materially, practically and statistically significant factor in the decision to exercise peremptory challenges during jury selection by prosecutors” at the time of the trial of the inmate, Marcus Reymond Robinson. The disparity was strong enough, the judge said, “as to support an inference of intentional discrimination.”

Judge Weeks found that prosecutors deliberately excluded qualified black jurors from jury service in Robinson’s case, in Cumberland County, and throughout the state.

Rob Thompson, one of the prosecutors in Cumberland County, said in his closing arguments: “They do not have evidence of purposeful discrimination. They do not have some secret society of prosecutors maniacally plotting to remove people from juries. They do not have any of that because there is no such evidence. It doesn’t exist. They have numbers.”

This prosecutor’s argument demonstrates the importance of EJS’s goal to replace the intent standard of the Fourteenth Amendment with a disparate impact standard. Instead of having to prove intent, criminal defendants could use statistical evidence of racial bias – the “numbers” referred to by the Thompson.

From the ACLU Blog of Rights: “The Robinson decision is really the first significant win since the Supreme Court dealt a blow to fairness in the death penalty 25 years ago this Sunday, ruling in McCleskey v. Kemp that statistical evidence of systemic racial disparities could not be used to overturn death sentences because such disparities were ‘inevitable.’ Today’s decision, and the RJA itself, stand as a powerful rebuke to the Supreme Court’s defeatist view of discrimination.”

To observe this tragic anniversary of McCleskey on Sunday, April 22, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the Equal Justice Society (EJS) joined with organizations across the country – including the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, the Capital Litigation Communications Project, the Center for Death Penalty Litigation Inc., the Death Penalty Information Center, Equal Justice USA, the Innocence Project, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Proteus Fund – to raise awareness of how this landmark decision fundamentally threatens equality and opportunity in this country.

Together, we launched mccleskeyvkemp.com, a website that provides information about the ongoing crisis of race in criminal justice and offers information about specific activities that individuals and organizations can take to repeal the death penalty and ameliorate the racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

The site includes publications and reports, media articles, links to take action, as well as information about the LDF/Columbia Law School Symposium, “Pursuing Racial Fairness in Criminal Justice: Twenty Years After McCleskey v. Kemp,” which was held in March of 2007 to mark the 20th anniversary of the McCleskey decision.

Join us in the effort to raise awareness of this landmark decision that every day threatens the ideals of equality and opportunity in this country. Visit mccleskeyvkemp.com to learn more.

2,4-D Corn: Another Bad Creation

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

Spring has sprung, and farmers across the country are preparing for planting season. One of their biggest headaches will be dealing with the millions of acres of cropland that have been infested with superweeds and new generations of superbugs.

These superpests have evolved as the direct — and inevitable — consequence of Monsanto’s aggressive promotion of its genetically engineered “RoundUp-Ready” and insecticidal seed packages over the past 15 years.

I’d like to be able to say that help is on the horizon, and that USDA is preparing to launch a full-scale effort to enable farmers to transition off the failing pesticide-GE treadmill once and for all — onto cleaner, greener methods of farming more suited to the 21st century. But alas, the reverse is true.

At this moment, USDA is on the verge of approving Dow Chemical's new 2,4-D resistant corn, the first in a pipeline of “next generation” herbicide-tolerant crops that the Big 6 pesticide/biotech companies — including Dow, Monsanto and BASF — are planning to bring to market over the next couple of years. This is industry’s response: more of the same. Except that the next generation is even worse: crops designed to be used with higher volumes of older and deadlier weedkillers.

Weed scientists are calling this chemical arms race a losing battle with evolution. And farmers too are up in arms; already 2,000 outraged farmers and food companies have joined the burgeoning new Save Our Crops Coalition to protest these unwanted products. 

Growth engine of the pesticide industry

Simply put, 2,4-D resistant corn is a bad idea. It will drive a massive increase in pesticide use, placing the burden of increased costs and health risks on farmers and local communities. The big winners will be the pesticide/biotech companies. They stand to benefit from the sustained increase in herbicide sales that will coincide with the widespread adoption of these new herbicide-tolerant GE crops.

Imagine if we could have stopped Roundup Ready in its tracks 15 years ago. American agriculture now stands at another, equally important crossroads. Do we speed up the GE-powered pesticide treadmill, or do we transition off of it?

Take Action » We have just one more week to tell USDA that we want off the GE-pesticide treadmill. The dangerous and antiquated herbicide 2,4-D shouldn’t be on the market, and we certainly should not be giving Dow license to profit from driving up its use by introducing 2,4-D resistant corn.

This was originally posted on Rodale Voices

R.I.P. Shannon Johnson

Roman Colosseum lit to protest an execution
On April 20, 2012, Delaware executed Shannon Johnson for the murder of Cameron Hamlin in 2006.  Johnson was permitted to waive his appeals, and thus was executed without full review of the fairness of his trial or the reliability of his death sentence.   

A district court judge had stayed the execution to consider arguments by the Federal Public Defender that Johnson was mentally incompetent to waive his appeals and that his sister should be allowed to argue the issue on his behalf.  Federal public defenders also argued that there was overwhelming evidence that Johnson suffered from an intellectual disability making him ineligible to be executed.  The court of appeals lifted the stay and Johnson was executed minutes before a 3:00 a.m. deadline. 

This was the 15th execution in the United States in 2012 and the first in Delaware.

Why "We're On The Right Track" Isn't Good Enough

And What Obama's Plan Should Be For Boosting The Economy

By Robert Reich, cross-posted from his website

President Obama’s electoral strategy can best be summed up as: “We’re on the right track, my economic policies are working, we still have a long way to go but stick with me and you’ll be fine.”

That’s not good enough. This recovery is too anemic, and the chance of an economic stall between now and Election Day far too high.

Even now, Mitt Romney’s empty “I’ll to it better” refrain is attracting as many voters as Obama’s “we’re on the right track.” Each man is gathering 46 percent of voter support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS poll. Only 33 percent of the public thinks the economy is improving while 40 percent say they’re still falling behind financially — an 11 point increase from 2008. Nearly two-thirds are concerned about paying for housing, and one in five with mortgages say they’re underwater.

If the economy stalls, Romney’s empty promise will look even better. And I’d put the odds of a stall at 50-50. That puts the odds of a Romney presidency far too high for comfort. Need I remind you that Romney enthusiastically supports Paul Ryan’s wildly regressive budget, and as president would be able to make at least one or possibly two Supreme Court appointments, and control the EPA and every other federal agency and department? 

The Obama White House should face it: “We’re on the right track” isn’t sufficient. The President has to offer the nation a clear, bold strategy for boosting the economy. It should be the economic mandate for his second term. 

It should consist of four points:  

First, Obama should demand that the nation’s banks modify mortgages of homeowners still struggling in the wake of Wall Street’s housing bubble — threatening that if the banks fail to do so he’ll fight to resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act and break up Wall Street’s biggest banks (as the Dallas Fed recently recommended). 

Second, he should condemn oil speculators for keeping gas prices high — demanding that the oil companies allow the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation to set limits on such speculation and instructing the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute oil price manipulation.

Third, he should stand ready to make further job-creating investments in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, and renew his call for an infastructure bank. And while he understands the need to reduce the nation’s long-term budget deficit, he won’t allow austerity economics to take precedence over job creation. He’ll veto budget cuts until unemployment is down to 5 percent.

Finally, he should make clear the underlying problem is widening inequality. With so much of the nation’s disposable income and wealth going to the top, the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power it needs to fire up the economy. That’s why the Buffett rule, setting a minimum tax rate for millionaires, is just a first step for ensuring that the gains from growth are widely shared.

The President can still say we’re on the right track. But he should also say he’s not content with the pace of the recovery and will do everything in his power to quicken it. And he should ask the American people for a mandate in his second term to make the economy work for everyone, not just those at the top.

Such a mandate can be put into effect only with a Congress that’s committed to better jobs and wages for all Americans. He should remind voters that congressional Republicans prevented him from doing all that was needed in the first term, and they must not be allowed to do so again.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley.  He writes a blog at www.robertreich.org.  His most recent book is Beyond Outrage.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm (1940-2012)

Levon Helm, as aptly described in the New York Times, "helped forge a deep-rooted American music as the drummer and singer for the Band."  In his drumming, "muscle, swing, economy and finesse were inseparably merged," as in those three thumps on the bass drum that introduce "The Weight," one of the Band's greatest songs.  Some of the more memorable tunes on which he was lead vocals include “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Up on Cripple Creek,” and "Ophelia," songs in which "lyrics turned to myths and tall tales of the American South."

Back in 1984, he described the “right ingredients” for his work as “life and breath, heart and soul.”  And while his solo career was somewhat uneven, in later years he recorded a couple of really excellent albums, in particular Electric Dirt, released in 2009, which won a well-deserved Grammy Award (as did his prior release in 2007, Dirt Farmer).

Helm died today after a battle with throat cancer.

Here's he is on Letterman in 2009, performing a cover of the Grateful Dead's Tennessee Jed, which appears on Electric Dirt:



And here's a classic from The Last Waltz, one of the great concert films/albums of all time:

Death Penalty Proponents Lose Another Argument

Those of us representing defendants who have killed understand the utter fallacy of the argument that the death penalty deters killing.  It is nonsensical to think that when one is suffering from whatever disturbed state of mind that leads him or her to intentionally cause another's death they carefully weigh beforehand whether to do so based on what ultimate punishment they may receive (i.e., "Yes, I will kill because the worst that could happen is I get life without parole.")

Indeed, while it has long been argued by death penalty proponents that capital punishment is necessary to deter crime, it has never been conclusively proven to have a deterrent effect.  In fact, it has long been true that the states with capital punishment also have the most crimes of violence.

Albert Camus’ essay against the death penalty, Reflections on the Guillotine (1957), includes a refutation of the deterrence argument that remains salient today.  Camus, citing an earlier study which described pickpockets plying their trade at the public hanging of other pickpockets, goes on to explain that  the complexity of human nature is not so easily controlled by law: “When law ventures, in the hope of dominating, into the dark regions of consciousness, it has little chance of being able to simplify the complexity it wants to codify.”

And now we have more proof - - or lack of proof.  As reported in the Los Angeles Times, a panel of independent experts convened by the National Research Council released a report finding that the studies on the alleged deterrent effect of the death penalty contain fundamental flaws that render them meaningless.  For example, the studies fail to consider whether other forms of punishment, such as life without parole, may also act as a deterrent. The studies don’t “consider how the capital and noncapital components of a regime combine in affecting the behavior of potential murderers.”

More fundamentally, the research underlying deterrence studies is based on the assumption that those who kill can or even try to accurately calculate their risk of being executed if they were convicted.  But, as the chairman of the committee acknowledged, "nothing is known about how potential murderers actually perceive their risk of punishment.”

It  has become increasingly clear that capital punishment is not a productive tool for fighting crime and, indeed, undermines personal and public safety by draining needed resources from more effective methods.

Many people who have devoted their lives and careers to law enforcement, public safety and victims' rights, including former San Quentin Warden Jeanne Woodford, former Los Angeles D.A. Gil Garcetti, Supervisor Ron Briggs whose family created California's death penalty law, and Don Heller, who wrote it, have come to realize that the death penalty is counterproductive, that the old arguments in favor of its continued use no longer apply, and that the time has come to replace it.

The SAFE California Act is about to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.  If it passes it would replace California's multi‑billion dollar death penalty with life imprisonment without parole and require those convicted of murder to work and pay restitution to victim families through the victim compensation fund.  It would also set aside $100 million in budget saving for local law enforcement for the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases.

Click here for more information on the SAFE California campaign and on how you can join the effort to replace the death penalty and enhance our personal and public safety.