February 28, 2006

Concluding Black History Month With Remembrance

As Black History Month comes to a close and schoolchildren around the country are being treated to their complimentary yearly discussion on slavery, , the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X, (without adequate treatment of other topics and players in the history of Black America) I’d like to reflect a bit on another man who I’ve always looked up to and, like some of the best and most amazing activists for social change in history, is incredibly controversial.

Paul Robeson, civil rights activist, singer, scholar, communist, and author, blazed a path for social change and social equality that left many many people on various sides of the civil rights and freedoms debate during his career in the 1930s to the 1950s stung in a way that still exists today-few teachers know who he is, and many who do still won’t talk about him because of his controversial nature. He was communist, which landed him blacklisted by several record companies in the 1950s (to which he responded by funding his own label and producing more music on his own), and to this day his detractors harp on his communism and his life-changing trip to the then Soviet Union as a method to smear his beliefs and distract attention from his formidable achievements.


February 27, 2006

Graduates Versus Oligarchs

Paul Krugman to the rescue! Paul points out that the 80/20 rationale is completely false, and that it’s not that the modest middle class American needs to pony up more to help keep America running, but that the absolute financial elite and absolute wealthiest are gaining wealth at an incredible rate and turning around and giving incredibly little in turn in taxes. It’s not middle America’s pay increases that are driving the wealth disparity, it’s the upper of the upper class. Krugman says:

I think of Mr. Bernanke’s position, which one hears all the time, as the 80-20 fallacy. It’s the notion that the winners in our increasingly unequal society are a fairly large group – that the 20 percent or so of American workers who have the skills to take advantage of new technology and globalization are pulling away from the 80 percent who don’t have these skills.

The truth is quite different. Highly educated workers have done better than those with less education, but a college degree has hardly been a ticket to big income gains. The 2006 Economic Report of the President tells us that the real earnings of college graduates actually fell more than 5 percent between 2000 and 2004. Over the longer stretch from 1975 to 2004 the average earnings of college graduates rose, but by less than 1 percent per year.

Indeed. Krugman goes on to point out:

A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, “Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?,” gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn’t a ticket to big income gains.

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that’s not a misprint.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Seriously though; Krugman makes his point exceptionally well, and it should be well heard-the point is that when politicians talk about taxation, it’s not about demonizing the wealthy, and it’s not about making them all out to be a horrific group of misers hording their money from the lower class outside their door; it’s about paying your fair share for living in this vibrant democratic society; and when your income rises 497% your contribution to the rest of the society should also rise. I’m no economist, so I dare not postulate how much, but it should certainly rise.

Full commentary is at TruthOut, who has reposted the entire editorial from the New York Times. (Times Select members can view the full article at the Times proper.)

[ Graduates Versus Oligarchs ]
Source: Truthout courtesy of the New York Times

He’s Welcome in Pakistan

Where’s Osama Bin Laden, and why, in his coming up on 5 years of “being on the run” and “being in hiding” and having his Al Queda network “crushed” or “on the ropes” or whatever other euphemism White House press officials care to shovel, has he not been captured and brought to justice?

Will it matter though? Even with Saddam’s capture, which was widely heralded as a turning point in the insurgency that turned out as being nothing more than a figurative capture that’s since turned into a fiasco of a war crimes trial and hasn’t done anything to quell the insurgency whatsoever. Will Osama’s capture quell the global terrorism that has all but become commonplace these days? Or would it perhaps make it worse?

Even so, we still have to wonder, after the Administration’s promises to bring Bin Laden to justice and make him pay for his crimes, why, after we’ve been told repeatedly that “we know where he is,” why we haven’t found him yet. In fact, the CIA has moved away quietly from it’s line of “somewhere on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” and just “in Pakistan.” And if that’s the case, then why isn’t our wonderful ally in the war on terror cracking down on him, and why are they so upset when we conduct operations on their soil?

An article in today’s Washington Post takes a deeper look at these issues, and why, after 5 years, the President’s visit to Islamabad will probably be the closest he’s ever been, and possibly ever will get, to Osama Bin Laden, and what the deal is with his “pending capture” that’s been “pending” for the past several years.

[ He’s Welcome in Pakistan ]
Source: The Washington Post

Restoring The Public Trust

Bill Moyers, President of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, shares some of his prepared remarks for a series of speeches with TomPaine.com
[ http://tompaine.com/ ] regarding issues of money and politics, and makes a compelling case and explanation for what we all know is true; the socioeconomic elite often wind up being the voices that are heard loud and clear on capitol hill because they have the money to buy the congresspeople, the money behind the lobbyists that have the access to the congresspeople, and the virtual presence in the halls of government.

Unfortunately that leaves the rest of America in kind of a lurch; the middle and lower classes without the kind of direct and unfettered access lawmakers as the wealthier Americans have. The point here, however, isn’t about demonizing the rich; and it’s not about taking anything away from them; it’s about finding ways to grant those same ideals of equal access to lawmakers and policymakers to all levels of the socioeconomic ladder-to manage to change our system such that the poor man on the street barely able to get by who desperately needs their lawmakers to hear them can be heard as much as the welathy businessowner who can afford to take their favorite senator on a golfing trip.

It is a Dick Cheney world out there – a world where politicians and lobbyists hunt together, dine together, drink together, play together, pray together and prey together, all the while carving up the world according to their own interests.

Bill Moyers asks the question of what exactly is wrong with our democracy when only those who can afford to have the ear of our government get it, and when grassroots political action has to consistently fundraise even to get a stack of petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of Americans through the doors of the White House, while a K-street lobbyist need only make a telephone call to get on the calendar of the same White House official to whom those petitions are addressed?

[ Restoring the Public Trust ]
Source: Tom Paine.com

February 23, 2006

S.D. Abortion Bill Takes Aim at ‘Roe’: Senate Ban Does Not Except Rape, Incest

Ah South Dakota. How opportunistic and backwards can you possibly be? Well; color me amazed.

Perhaps the most restrictive and invasive anti-choice bill ever presented passed into law in the South Dakota state legislature, and waits only for the signature of South Dakota’s similarly anti-choice governor. The bill makes no exceptions for incest, rape, or other sexual abuse or assault, and only allows for an abortion if the life of the mother is in immediate and impending danger. Otherwise, performing an abortion in South Dakota is a felony that a doctor can recieve prison time for. I know, it sounds straight from some kind of orwellian nightmare: “Welcome to the Theocracy. Your body belongs to the state, and we’ll let you know when and how it’s okay to live, breed, and die. If you attempt to do any of these things out of turn, you will be punished.”

What’s worse about the entire ordeal is that the South Dakota legislature knew ahead of time that the bill will be challenged in court, and they plan to take it all the way to the Supreme Court because, in the words of Rep. Roger W. Hunt, a Republican who sponsored the bill, “The momentum for a change in the national policy on abortion is going to come in the not-too-distant future.” Right. I prefer the intelligent sentiment of Kate Looby, director of Planned Parenthood of South Dakota, who’s calling BS and taking the ban to court:

Clearly, this is a devastating day for the women of South Dakota,” she said. “We fully expected this, yet it’s still distressing to know that this legislative body cares so little about women, about families, about women who are victims of rape or incest.”

Preach it. NARAL is in on the action as well:

“When you see them have a ban that does not include exceptions for rape or incest or the health of the mother, you understand that elections do matter,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “We will be very active in ’06 and in ’08 in electing candidates that represent the views of most Americans.”

And sadly, that’s the point here. Because the anti-choicers know that if they don’t do it now they won’t have a chance to do it ever, the floodgates are open to all manner of anti-abortion nonsense. The time is right for them; they have a sitting conservative majority on the Supreme Court, a republican-dominated anti-choice Congress, and a republican anti-choice President. What more could they ask for? Keenan is absolutely correct: Elections do matter. All we can do now is keep our fingers crossed and hope that common sense and intelligence prevails in the legal system, since obviously the South Dakota legislature has rejected them both.

[ S.D. Abortion Bill Takes Aim at ‘Roe’: Senate Ban Does Not Except Rape, Incest ]
Source: The Washington Post

Quick, The President is Coming! Hide Your Dead!

In a case of what some people have been referring to as “veteran cleansing,” the memorial put up to fallen soldier Andy Aviles, who was killed at 18 years old when a bomb hit his vehicle along the Tigris River, was mysteriously removed just prior to a visit to the town by President Bush on Valentine’s Day. The monument had been untouched for years, and people had been coming for years to give flowers, prayers, and well-wishes to the teenager who so proudly and bravely served his country.

However, shortly before the President’s Valentine’s Day visit, the memorial was methodically removed, not smashed or destroyed as other memorials have been. The memorial was completely and totally removed from the site before the visit and has not been seen since. But in all of this, yet another heartbroken family is left in the wake of this senseless war; but as the “patriots” would say, “freedom isn’t free,” is it?

Aviles’ Mother, Norma, had this to say:

“It is Andy there. His picture… I used to come to clean his picture, wipe his face. And it used to bring memories of wiping his face when he was a little boy.”

They came every week with flowers. But on Valentine’s Day, their hearts were broken once again. The memorial was gone. Someone had swept the place clean. No picture, no flowers, no flag, and no respect.”

What a nightmare. I pulled the story from Alternet, but the link trail goes back across a few different blogs. Head over to Alternet for their take on the story and links to other blogs where the issue is being covered and discussed. Where’s the right-wing blogosphere on this topic? Silent, of course.

[ Quick, The President is Coming! Hide Your Dead! ]
Source: Alternet

Women, Minorities Still Scarce on US Boards

This one is just a short snippet from Reuters for all of those (and sadly I’ve encountered several lately) who actually seriously believe that equal opportunity has been realized, and any disparity between racial and ethnic minorities or between genders is completely the fault of the party claiming discrimination.

It’s absolutely apalling (and telling of exactly how far we have yet to go with race relations and gender equality in America) that there are many people, usually white middle-class males, who feel more threatened by equal opportunity than challenged to ensure that it actually comes to pass at some point, so through anecdotal evidence and experiences, many have come to convince themselves that because they see heritage scholarships that they can’t apply for or affirmative action programs they can’t participate in that the problem of racism and sexism in America is solved, over, done, and in the past, and that they shouldn’t be held responsible for it. Even better was the argument I encountered that “how can minorities be oppressed? They’re breeding like wildfire,” which was an incredibly snide (and in itself-blatantly predjudiced; “breeding” to say, as if he were referring to cattle) comment about the rising population numbers of Hispanics and Latinos in American communities. Nonsensical, I know, as though population numbers are an adequate representor of socioeconomic status or power. To say so is to imply that apartheid was a figment of the imagination because after all, Black Africans in South Africa were “breeding” the whole time.

What all of these people realize is that this mentality is precisely the thing that allows racism and sexism to continue to fester in the American conciousness; without owning up to the issue of privilege and by continuing to lay out the kind of incomprehensible slander (like my favorite nonsense term, the “race card,” you’ve heard it: “oh you’re playing the race card,” “you’re just hiding behind the race card,” etc) as though racism doesn’t exist, we cannot truly address all issues of inequality, regardless of who is treating whom badly or unfairly. Racism, regardless of which race or ethnicity is being discriminated against or prejudged, still exists. Sexism still exists. We must confront these issues from the standpoint of resolving them with positive action, not by dismissing them entirely.

That being said, for those who believe that equal opportunity has already been realized and we’re all suddenly living in the promised land, I have a reality check:

[ Reuters :: Women, Minorities Still Scarce on US Boards ]
Source: Reuters

Six Months After Katrina: Who Was Left Behind – Then and Now

Now that we’re several months out from Hurricane Katrina and the event is starting to fade from the immediate conciousness of Americans while our attention turns to shady port operations deals and quail hunting, Bill Quigley writes his incredibly saddening but chilling story about who exactly was left behind during the Katrina evacuation, and why the old “they should have just left” routine often piped up by wealthier, mindless, and ignorant folks who saw the crowds in the Superdome and turned up their noses doesn’t really work.

Bill explains what happened when he got to New Orleans in an attempt to help the sick and elderly, the poor and disabled, the people who couldn’t have left the city on their own if they had tried, and their experiences in the hospital they eventually had to leave five days after the hurricane by way of a fishing boat and the kindness of strangers.

But he doesn’t stop with who was left behind during the hurricane and why, he goes on to point out that the vast majority of the population of New Orleans hasn’t returned yet and shows us that it’s not just those people who were left behind in the first place, those same people are being left behind in the rebuilding process as well. While rebuilding goes smoothly at best in other devastated areas in Mississippi, for example, New Orleans still stagnates with many areas of the city looking exactly as they did when the waters receded. The infrastructure hasn’t been rebuilt, and only recently has the federal government committed any money to rebuild the levee system, although not nearly enough to strengthen the city’s defenses for the next big one (and there will be another big one, it’s just a matter of time) and little substantive talk has come about over restoring the wetlands outside of New Orleans to provide a natural buffer against natural floods.

I, like Bill, share the notion that Hurricane Katrina gave America the opportunity to look it’s poorest people in the face and say to themselves, “that could be me,” and have a serious substantive discussion with itself on the issues of race, poverty, and class in America. My hopes hieghtened when the President himself addressed those issues in his speech from the area; his famous “whatever it takes” speech to bring the area back from the bottom of the Gulf. Those same hopes have been dashed now that it’s evident that we’re shying away from having that talk with ourselves and choosing instead to take the easy route, to allow those who can afford to rebuild go straight ahead and alienate those who are either too poor to come back, skeptical of the safety, security, or integrity of their old home to come back, and to throw aside the serious discussions and possibility for real progressive social action in favor of the same old formula: “Those who can, will, and those who can’t be damned.”

The entire story is below:

[ Common Dreams :: Six Months After Katrina: Who Was Left Behind – Then and Now ]
Source: Common Dreams

February 21, 2006

37 Million Poor Hidden in the Land of Plenty

We’ve known for a good long time that the gap between the haves and have-nots is getting wider and wider. Some people would say “well, that’s capitalism! What are you, a socialist?” when you dare to be concerned for the poor, but the fact remains-for those of us who look at the less fortunate and say “there but by the grace of God go I,” as opposed to “you want me to pay taxes for that?!” the disparity between those who can afford to get by in the United States versus those can’t get by regardless of the number of jobs they work is getting wider and something needs to be done.

Estimates say now that nearly one in every 10 Americans lives below the poverty line, and many many more have to work multiple jobs in order to simply pay their medical bills, buy prescription drugs, shop for food, or fill up the tank. And that’s not all. The line between the upper middle class and the upper class is getting farther and farther out of reach for most Americans, leaving a relatively affluent middle class and a hopelessly poor lower-middle and underclass, living in the shadow of the richest among us.

The Observer brings us the story as it is, straight from America’s heartland, and shows us how the situation has deteriorated even since the 2004 presedential elections, when no one but John Edwards dared to point out that there are two Americas. Here we have the opportunity to take a trip through those two Americas and see what life is like.

[ The Observer UK :: 37 Million Poor Hidden in the Land of Plenty ]
Source: The Observer UK

Privacy Guardian Is Still a Paper Tiger

In December 2004, the White House decided to give a little to Americans concerned that their privacy and civil liberties were being eroded in the fight against terrorism, not to mention fufill one of the reccomendations of the 9/11 panel, and create the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The board was to be tasked with making sure that civil rights and liberties were not being trodden upon in the fight against terror, and that someone was there in the executive branch to be a check against an expansion of powers that threatened the privacy of ordinary Americans.

A year later, that board has never met, exists only on paper, has never been fully funded, and has never taken any action, reccomendation, or position on anything. Par for the course for the Bush Administration, you say? Of course-the Bush Administration has absolutely no intention of committing to protecting the rights and liberties of Americans as long as they can continue to sacrifice them in the name of the unitary executive; power-grabbing is a virtue in the White House these days. But some of that might actually change. A few senators are trying to fund the Board and get it moving as an actual entity with political power.

Still, whether it’s good news or just another empty effort by the Bush Administration to make the American people think the Administration is interested in defending the rights of ordinary citizens remains to be seen. The LA Times broke the story; here’s the link:

[ LA Times :: Privacy Guardian Is Still a Paper Tiger ]
Source: The Los Angeles Times