December 28, 2009

Reclaiming Public Values in the Age of Casino Capitalism

Writing for TruthOut, Henry A. Giroux has penned a pretty thick piece about reclaiming the values that make America the great nation it is. In a time where so many Americans look at capitalism as a God-given right and not a privilege of a productive and healthy society, and assume that capitalism and democracy are somehow synonymous (they are absolutely not) it’s difficult for people to understand that the prosperity of the individual is immutably tied to the prosperity of the overall community. But how do we reclaim those values? How do we remember how important the community is when it comes to our personal achievements, and how much we should give back to the community when we do well for ourselves? How do we shake off this notion that when you’re successful you’ve “done it yourself” and “pulled yourself up by your bootstraps” and subsequently completely forget the people who inspired you and the places you came from or even worked your way free of?

Giroux describes the problem in eloquent detail:

This is a difficult time in American history. The American people have every right to demand to live in peace, enjoy the comforts of economic security, have access to decent health care, be able to send their children to quality schools and live with a measure of security. And yet, at a time when public values are subordinated to the rationality of profits, exchange values and unbridled self-interest, politics and the institutions and culture that support it become corrupt, devoid of agents and reduced to empty rituals largely orchestrated by those who control the wealth, income, media and commanding institutions of American society. As we have just witnessed in the debate on health care reform, the interests of the vast majority of American people for a public option and the extension of Medicare have been totally lost on a Congress that has been corrupted by power and its comfortable and shameful relations with those who control the military-industrial-academic complex. Public values, public spheres and the notion of the common good are viewed by politicians of both major parties as either a hindrance to the goals of a market-driven society or they are simply treated as a drain on the society, viewed as a sign of weakness, if not pathology. Ethical considerations and social responsibility are now devalued, if not disdained, in a society wedded to short term investments, easy profits and a mode of economics in which social costs are increasingly borne by the poor while financial and political benefits are reaped by the rich. Unchecked self-interest and ruthless, if not trivial, modes of competition now replaces politics or at least become the foundation for politics as complex issues are reduced to a friend/enemy, winner/loser dichotomies. The crass social Darwinism played out on reality television now finds its counterpart in the politics of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. For instance, the Republican Party’s only identifying ideology is that it is against anything that supports the common good and undercuts the profits of corporations and the rich. At the same time, Democrats have given up any vestige of a progressive politics and vision, aligning their ideals to conform to the interests of the lobbyists who now represent the not-so-invisible shadow government.

But how do we fix it?

Any progressive understanding of politics must challenge the assumptions that a transformative, democratically inspired notion of politics is in terminal arrest. While the conditions for such a politics may be under assault in what might be called a progressive administration, the basis for expanding and deepening democracy must be part of an ongoing struggle of engaged critique and civic courage. Critical knowledge grounded in pressing social problems offers individuals and groups an important resource for shaping the conditions that bear down on their lives, enabling them to resist those forces that want to narrow the meaning of political freedom and social citizenship. The production of such knowledge must be connected to the urgent call to revitalize the language of civic education and ethical imagination as part of a broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world. Reclaiming the connection between the political and the ethical imagination as a pedagogical act may be one of the most crucial challenges facing the American public in the 21st century. If the institutions and conditions for a critical formative culture of questioning and civic engagement necessary for thinking beyond the narrow framing mechanisms of casino capitalism, militarism and religious fundamentalism do not come into play, it is conceivable that the current economic recession will be repeated within a few short years, and American society will slip into a form of authoritarianism that will give up even its most dubious claims on democracy. The current crisis has systemic and ideological origins, and both must be addressed through a new political language in which ethical imagination couples with a sense of educated hope and the need for collective agents willing to build alternative public spheres and viable critical social movements.

We currently live in a society in which the coupling of cynicism and multiple forms of illiteracy undermine the possibility of critical thought, agency and action. Public values or the public good when they are invoked are often couched in a nostalgic discourse about the New Deal or the Great Society. Rather than viewed as a legacy that needs to be reclaimed, reimagined and renewed, visions of the public good and the public values they embody are sequestered to the historical past, put on display like a museum piece that are worth viewing, but not an ideal worth struggling over. Without an urgent reconsideration of the crucial place of public values in the shaping of American society, the meaning and gains of the past that extend from the civil rights movement to the antiwar movements of the ’60s will be lost, offering neither models nor examples of struggles forged in the heat of reclaiming democratic values, relations and institutions.

Drilled down? Education, involvement, self-determination. The American people need to be awake and informed, reclaim their values as things that aren’t bygones or movements of years past, and they need to stay passionately engaged on the public discourse in order to hold public officials accountable without hesitation. The more informed the public is, the better off our community is, and the rapidly we move in the direction of a strong society, not just a strong private sector.

[ Reclaiming Public Values in the Age of Casino Capitalism ]
Source: TruthOut

Beyond Magical Thinking: How to Really Make Change Happen

This post hit home for me pretty strongly, namely because I’ve seen a number of people who were so energized during the Obama campaign sit back and throw up their hands and claim that he’s “just like the last guy” or “so much for that change we were promised” or “none of it matters anymore.” They forget that the people are the power behind progressive change, and without those people the change only comes at the will and the pace as the people in office allow it to – which isn’t very fast at all. Additionally, when candidate Obama became President Obama, his need for the people who got him to where he is now increased, not decreased. Electing someone as President isn’t a fire-and-forget activity – you need to keep pressing that person and their aligned lawmakers to make the changes you elected them to make reality at the pace you think is realistic.

Too many people, especially young people and tech savvy people, who are used to quick results and instant gratification expected the sun to rise on January 20th and the world to be a million times better and all of the bad stuff that happened over the past 8 years to magically vanish…all without their help or without them lifting a finger outside of the one they used in the ballot box. That’s simply unrealistic, and the lure of armchair politicking is one to be resisted.

Mark Rudd, writing for CounterPunch, has some choice words for those people, and this fatalistic attitude among Americans these days:

Since the summer of 2003, I’ve crisscrossed the country speaking at colleges and theaters and bookstores, first with The Weather Underground documentary and, starting in March of this year, with my book, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen (William Morrow, 2009). In discussions with young people, they often tell me, “Nothing anyone does can ever make a difference.”

The words still sound strange: it’s a phrase I never once heard forty years ago, a sentiment obviously false on its surface. Growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, I – and the rest of the country – knew about the civil rights movement in the South, and what was most evident was that individuals, joining with others, actually were making a difference. The labor movement of the Thirties to the Sixties had improved the lives of millions; the anti-war movement had brought down a sitting president – LBJ, March 1968 – and was actively engaged in stopping the Vietnam War. In the forty years since, the women’s movement, gay rights, disability rights, animal rights, and environmental movements have all registered enormous social and political gains. To old new lefties, such as myself, this is all self-evident.

Something’s missing. I first got an insight into articulating what it is when I picked up Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out, edited by Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin and Kenyon Farrow (Nation Books, 2005). Andy Cornell, in a letter to the movement that first radicalized him, “Dear Punk Rock Activism,” criticizes the conflation of the terms “activism” and“organizing.” He writes, “activists are individuals who dedicate their time and energy to various efforts they hope will contribute to social, political, or economic change. Organizers are activists who, in addition to their own participation, work to move other people to take action and help them develop skills, political analysis and confidence within the context of organizations. Organizing is a process – creating long-term campaigns that mobilize a certain constituency to press for specific demands from a particular target, using a defined strategy and escalating tactics.” In other words, it’s not enough for punks to continually express their contempt for mainstream values through their alternate identity; they’ve got to move toward “organizing masses of people.”

Aha! Activism = self-expression; organizing = movement-building.

Until recently, I’d rarely heard young people call themselves “organizers.” The common term for years has been “activists.” Organizing was reduced to the behind the scenes nuts-and-bolts work needed to pull off a specific event, such as a concert or demonstration. But forty years ago, we only used the word “activist” to mock our enemies’ view of us, as when a university administrator or newspaper editorial writer would call us “mindless activists.” We were organizers, our work was building a mass movement, and that took constant discussion of goals, strategy and tactics (and, later, contributing to our downfall ideology).

This is a very important distinction. Anyone can be an activist – hell, I consider myself an activist, but I hardly assume the mantle of organizer. I’m not hitting the streets and pounding pavement and handing out flyers and speaking truth to power outside of the people in my sphere of influence and writing a blog like this. I like to think my words carry, but not nearly as much as those who are actually flying the flag of various causes and organizations, working in call centers soliciting donations, writing impassioned emails to followers, amd delivering petitions to lawmakers to make sure the voices of the activists behind them are heard. Those organizers, “community organizers,” if you will, are at the heart of any progressive movement, and they’re the ones who desperately need our help.

Too many people, young and old, assume that change is spontaneous and happens overnight – that one day they’ll wake up and get a news alert that something radical has changed, and if it doesn’t they get depressed. They forget that behind every dream, every speech, and every major shift in policy or view, is a team of people who worked feverishly to bring that change about. When more of those armchair politicians (myself included) get involved with those movements and become organizers and not just activists, then we’ll see the pace on those changes we want to see pick up.

[ Beyond Magical Thinking: How to Really Make Change Happen ]
Source: Counterpunch (courtesy of AlterNet)

Right-Wingers Call For Racial Profiling

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by this – we’re at the point where it’s quickly going to become an issue if you’re “traveling while non-white” in America, but with the recent attempted terrorist plot on Christmas Day, I’m surprised that the wingnuts aren’t jumping up and down claiming that all African passengers should be specifically pulled aside and screened, or people from Nigeria specifically. Don’t get me wrong – I understand the frustration here on all sides, and I understand how exceptionally difficult it can be to screen and find people who, for example, have explosives sewn into their underwear, without strip-searching every individual as they pass through security (which is absolutely unacceptable, by the way).

But to call for a “separate line for anyone named Abdul” is both counterproductive and a pretty ignorant backlash that wouldn’t solve anything and only encourage the people who already hate us to target us more. Hatred breeds more hatred, and while happiness and understanding never stopped an airline hijacking, there are plenty of constructive ideas floating about to keep these kinds of terror threats off our mass transit systems.

Let’s start with the typical right-wing mouth-frothing that’s going on right now:

The right wing’s predictable policy prescription in the aftermath of any terror incident is to impose greater ethnic profiling of Muslims. For instance, following the Ft. Hood shooting, Sarah Palin said, “profile away.” After six imams were removed from a plane in Minnesota in 2006, Ann Coulter justified profiling Muslims by arguing that it’s just like “profiling the Klan.” That same year, after British authorities revealed a terrorist plot to blow up planes headed to the U.S., right-wing radio host Mike Gallagher said, “It’s time to have a Muslims check-point line” at airports.

They’re at it again. In the wake of the failed terrorist attempt aboard a Northwest airlines flight on Christmas Day, the right wing is renewing its pleas for more profiling of Muslims:

Radio host Mike Gallagher: “There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul or Ahmed or Mohammed.” (Note: Those are some of the most common names in the world.)

Rep. Peter King (R-NY): “100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslim, and that is our main enemy today. So why we should not be profiling people because of their religion?”

Terrorism pundit Steven Emerson: “Remember, there have been so many complaints about quote, profiling, by the quote, Islamic civil rights groups, that they stopped basically profiling. And that basically led to not putting this guy onto the terrorist watch list.”

It’s kind of surprising that these kinds of ideas are coming from people who are so quick to trot out the Nazi analogies when another issue (health care) is up for discussion, when they don’t realize (or choose to ignore the fact) that it’s this kind of religion-based profiling of a group percieved to be a threat to the State that led to concentration camps in Germany. As soon as we start targeting people entirely because of their religion without any evidence of a threat (and claiming their religion is the basis of their threat), regardless of what hoops we choose to make them jump through, we’ve not only violated some of the core American values that we hold dear (as in the freedom to worship) but we march back in the direction of autocracy – the same direction we were pushing and shoving ourselves against when Bush was in office.

Broad-based ethnic profiling is counterproductive for a host of reasons. It creates a false sense of security and causes law enforcement resources to be wasted in chasing the wrong targets. Terrorists come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. John Walker Lindh was white, while Richard Reid was Jamaican and British. As the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has reported:

Terrorism profiling is a crude substitute for behavior-based enforcement. It violates core American values, including the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. It also hinders anti-terrorism efforts because it alienates people and communities that are critical to the success of the anti-terrorism effort.

Non-specific profiling of certain religions or races amounts to a witch-hunt against a class of people, creating the perception among the larger society that those individuals containing certain suspect features (skin color, foreign-sounding names, foreign-language skills, etc) are to be feared.

Yesterday, two Middle Eastern men were pulled off a flight heading to Phoenix because passengers reported they were engaging in suspicious behavior. The men were speaking in a Middle Eastern language. And on a Detroit-bound flight yesterday, a Nigerian businessman was taken off an airplane because passengers became suspicious that he was lingering in the bathroom for too long. The FBI confirmed that the individual’s behavior was due to a legitimate illness.

We need to highlight these kinds of scenarios. I understand that this is very soon after an attempted attack, but we can’t start assuming that speaking Arabic on a plane makes you a threat, and we can’t assume that being African and having diarrhea on a plane makes you a threat either. If we’re getting to that point, we’ve got problems. I can only hope that this, like the same paranoia after other attempts, fades with a little time, and we manage to get a grasp on our collective sanity. After that, we can start thinking about real, proactive, and productive ways to screen people and minimize terror threats.

[ Right-Wingers Call For Racial Profiling: “There Should be a Separate Line [For] Anybody With the Name Abdul” ]
Source: Think Progress (via AlterNet)

December 21, 2009

Health Reform Passes Key Senate Vote

Over at the Campaign for America’s Future, Terrance Heath has an excellent post wrapping up the events leading to last night’s historic vote for sweeping health care reform in the Senate.

A ton of compromises have been made to get us to where we are now – too many for my taste, but that’s a different matter – some progressives are calling for the bill to stop altogether because it’s been gutted too far, but I think that’s a horrible idea. There’s still the much more palatable House version to go into conference with, and the fact that the Republicans and libertarians would like nothing more than to see this bill die where it stands is more than enough to pass SOMETHING as opposed to nothing. That and the fact that the Senate bill bans insurance companies from discriminating against individuals for pre-existing conditions, extends health insurance to millions via federal aid, cuts prescription drug costs and overall pays for itself in 10 years – I think those are all things to celebrate, even if it doesn’t get us the beloved public option that we all wanted…and there’s still conference to go to, so if the Senate bill is the least we’ll get and the House bill is the most, I’m comfortable with something in between. Most of all, President Obama and the American people want this mandate. We all voted for it. We need and deserve this victory, even if it’s not the highest peak or the farthest we could possibly throw.

And at the very least, it’s shown us who our enemies in our own clothing really are. (I’m looking at you, Lieberman and Nelson) Even so, it looks like the American people are about to get a much deserved and long-awaited gift for the holidays come Christmas Eve:

T’was the weekend before Xmas
And all through the Senate,
There was talk of a bill
With some health care reform in it.

With Nelson and Lieberman
Both finally placated,
All that’s left, it seems,
Is for the bill to be debated.

Progressives may grumble,
But with no worries about Snowe,
Passing a bill in the Senate
Seems almost certainly a “go.”

The rest of the post is an excellent analysis of what’s left to be done (eg, conference committee, which could actually still kill legislation as opposed to help it) and a roundup of how we got to this point, what people have said, and the Republican’s unilateral opposition to not just the bill, but every bill in Congress since the President took office, and every opportunity to extend health care to Americans who don’t have it.

[ Progressive Breakfast: Health Reform Passes Key Senate Vote ]
Source: Campaign for America’s Future

Bush White House Failed to Search for Libby’s “Missing” Emails

Remember the “Scooter” Libby case back when Bush was still President? The one where the White House essentially used its office to defame a very vocal voice against the war in Iraq and then outed his wife (Valerie Plame) as a undercover CIA officer? Yeah – when that federal investigation was ongoing, numerous emails were subpeonaed from the White House in order to determine if anyone in the White House was using their office or status to break the law by defaming a public official and outing a CIA officer.

At the time, we were told that all of the messages that the investigation was looking for were “missing,” and otherwise unaccounted for. A couple of years go by, and what we learn is that the emails weren’t missing at all – the Bush Administration simply never went looking for them:

Between late 2005 and January 2006, the Bush administration tried to recover “lost” emails from staffers who worked in the Office of the Vice President (OVP), an effort centered on a critical week – October 1 through October 6, 2003. That same week the Justice Department announced it was investigating the unauthorized leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status.

But one name was missing from the list of 70 individuals whose email accounts White House technicians searched in an attempt to recover and restore missing emails: I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

According to documents obtained by government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), it appears that technicians in the Office of Administration did not attempt to recover from Libby’s account emails he either sent or received during the week of October 1 to October 6, 2003. That was a week when emails from the Office of the Vice President were missing for entire days in some instances and were unusually low in others.

It was also during this time that Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel, enjoined all White House staff members to turn over emails or other documents pertaining to Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had angered the White House by criticizing Bush’s case for invading Iraq. The directive came 12 hours after senior Bush White House officials had been told of the pending Justice Department investigation.

Now I’m more than a little familiar with enterprise IT, and the fact that one person’s e-mails were conveniently “missing” is just as suspicious as it sounds. Any off the shelf archiving product that can be run on any mail server would have caught these messages and backed them up either to archive, tape, or some other disk just like everyone else’s mail. But that’s the point – there’s a far more malicious reason why Libby’s mail went “missing,” they just never looked for it:

The search of individual email accounts was conducted after an internal investigation by officials in the Office of Administration concluded that emails from the Office of Vice President Dick Cheney between September 30, 2003 and October 6, 2003 were lost and unrecoverable.

The absence of Libby’s name on the list of individuals whose emails technicians were trying to recover from the Office of the Vice President raises questions as to whether the Bush administration fully cooperated with the criminal investigation into the leak probe, lead by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who had subpoenaed White House emails in January 2004.

In an interview, Anne Weismann, chief counsel of CREW, said she believes the documents show that “for unexplained reasons Scooter Libby’s mailbox was not searched while the mailboxes of 70 OVP employees were searched.”

“It is simply incomprehensible that Scooter Libby’s mailbox was not searched, yet that is what the documents suggest,” she said.

The rest of the story goes into some more technical detail around how it could possibly be that this one user’s mailbox wasn’t archived (as in, it’s not really possible) and how suspicious this must have been to the investigators but they could possibly have been running up against delays and lack of cooperation from the White House’s staff at the time. It’s a worthwhile read, especially if you have any interest or background in IT.

[ Documents Suggest Bush White House Failed to Search for Libby’s “Missing” Emails Subpoenaed in CIA Leak Probe ]
Source: TruthOut

Despite Losing Favor, Obama Still Trusted Over GOP

We hear a lot in the media about how President Obama’s approval ratings aren’t where they used to be, and how his popularity has come down since he was candidate Obama and has now to deal with the realities of the office – this isn’t a huge surprise, since every President has become less popular as they’ve had to wrangle with the decisions that face the nation and make choices that aren’t always popular; that makes sense.

But the tidbit that’s missing from all of this is the fact that President Obama is still trusted more in his role than any Republican that may oppose him – that’s right, as much as his approval ratings may have slipped, a new poll indicates that the American people still trust President Obama more than they trust the Republican party.

The bad news for the White House: the latest ABC/WaPo opinion poll shows President Obama with the lowest approval rating of his term. It’s net positive — 50/46, or +4 — but on domestic issues like unemployment (-1), the economy (-6), health care (-9), and the deficit (-19), it’s net negative.

The bad news for the GOP: Voters still trust President Obama more than Republicans, even on health care. The numbers: Economy, Obama +12; Health care, Obama +7; Afghanistan, Obama +12; Energy, Obama +10.

What’s the lesson? Even though Americans disapprove of President Obama’s record on many domestic policy issues, they do not see the Republican Party as a viable alternative.

Yeah, that sounds about right. I think the point here is that Americans in general are watching what was supposed to be a rapid rise back to our nation’s values and ideals from the landslide election of 2008, and here we are a year later and we’re watching the process bogged down by party infighting among Democrats, obstructionism among Republicans, and a President with a bold agenda that he’s only partially able to act on because of those previous two reasons. All in all, it makes people depressed that the change they were so hoping for and that they elected President Obama and the Democrats to make has taken longer than they had hoped.

If anyone’s really to blame for this, it’s the Democrats in the Senate – and yes, specifically the Senate – for letting their own pettiness divide their supermajority instead of standing as a progressive body for change. If they don’t get their act together, it’s going to look bad for them come this time in 2010; and the more they fight amongst themselves the more the Republicans can claim they’ve held back the tide. Not that the Republicans really need to worry – they did enough damage during their time in the spotlight that even the shortest memories are still stinging.

[ Despite Losing Favor, Obama Still Trusted Over GOP ]
Source: The DailyKOS (via AlterNet)

GOP Tech Tragedy Sends Michael Steele on Wild Porn, Bondage, Commie Ride

Oh Michael Steele – I can hardly believe you used to be the Lieutenant Governor of my state. Or that your former boss is actually seriously considering another run at the Governorship of my state. All of that aside though, it’s well known that the GOP as a party doesn’t exactly understand or embrace the whole technology thing – these are the folks who don’t understand net neutrality and why it’s important (and just views it as “more regulation,” which they’re unilaterally against) and are quick to bash the “hollywood elite” when it comes to things like climate change or social injustice but ready to take the record industry or the movie industry’s side when it comes to wanting to “remotely disable” people’s computers that may potentially have pirated material on them.

But back to point, good old Michael Steele – now the Chair of the Republican party (who is completely disrespected by his own ranks) has himself a little problem. I’ll let my friend Tana Ganeva, writing for AlterNet, explain what happened:

his week, the RNC tried to make the Internet conservative. It was not a resounding success. Instead, a series of hilarious and fairly predictable misfortunes sent a tiny, animated Michael Steele on a wild ride to a bunch of porn, bondage and Communist websites. Here’s what happened, from Wired:

As part of its new media strategy, the Republican party launched a new site called GOP.am on Monday. It’s a URL shortener designed to make it easy for conservative web surfers to exchange links to web pages.

Pranksters almost immediately began using the service to link to controversial or ironically intended websites, such as the official site of the American Communist Party, a bondage website and a webpage advertising a sex toy in the likeness of Barack Obama. GOP.am apparently started blocking such links at some point Tuesday morning, and the GOP.am homepage was taken offline.

This story was picked up by a number of tech outlets, including some that I’m pretty familiar with, and Wired, whose text is used above. The really entertaining part of this is that it shows that the GOP isn’t just not familiar with basic Web services and technology, but that they don’t think to demo or beta test their own services before they rush to get them out and claim that they’re “all about those interwebs or whatever the young folk call it these days.”

I only wish this had happened during an election cycle, to point out exactly how bad they are, on the whole. There’s a reason why a lot of right-wing news blogs look like they’re straight out of 1994, and there’s a reason Drudge can’t be bothered to make his site look anything like a legitimate news site. (other than the fact that it isn’t)

[ GOP Tech Tragedy Sends Michael Steele on Wild Porn, Bondage, Commie Ride ]
Source: AlterNet

December 15, 2009

The GOP’s Civil-Rights Problem

Bashing the Republicans and the right-wing (even the center-right) for their blindness to privilege and racial injustice is low-hanging fruit for me, but every now and again there’s more good data to share on the matter. For example, a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that during the Bush years, everything we’ve said about civil rights is absolutely true. The Bush Administration went out of its way to dilute the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and placed political appointees in places where they could obstruct the actions of career lawyers and officials who would want to take on civil rights abuses that were reported to their office.

George W. Bush was never particularly taken with the civil-rights crowd. Not that he was exactly hostile to the notion of protecting society’s most vulnerable groups. But he and his minions assumed that the time for coddling minorities had passed. So after sizing up the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice—the most powerful advocate for civil rights within the federal government—Bush’s operatives endeavored “to rip the heart out of [it],” in the words of Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP.

In dry statistics and even drier prose, a report released last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) spells out how sweeping that effort became. The Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division veered away from challenging “at-large election systems” that marginalized African-Americans and focused on language discrimination against Spanish speakers. The Employment Litigation Section moved away from so-called pattern or practice cases (suits that took on widespread or systematic discrimination) in favor of individual complaints. (“Plenty of individual lawyers can bring these individual discrimination cases,” pointed out Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, a New York–based nonprofit; but only the Justice Department can pursue certain big cases that can make a real difference.) Bush’s Justice Department was also particularly sensitive to discrimination against white males. In 2007 the division filed a suit against Indianapolis for favoring African-Americans and females over white males for promotion to police sergeant.

For Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the breadth of the changes crystallized during a meeting with Ralph Boyd Jr., an assistant attorney general for civil rights under Bush. A case filed by several women against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) was then working its way through the courts. SEPTA had instituted new physical-fitness standards for aspiring transit police. Many women had a hard time meeting the new standards, which required all new applicants to run 1.5 miles in 12 minutes or less. After being rejected by SEPTA for failure to pass muster, the women sued. The Justice Department signed on to that suit under President Clinton. Under Bush, it withdrew. Henderson tried to convince Boyd of the necessity of taking a stand against what he considered a clear case of discrimination against women. Boyd, as he recalls, responded with a lecture on how the women should exercise and get in better shape. He reduced “this case of discrimination to one of personal failings,” observed Henderson.

What really entertains me here is that not only was the Civil Rights Division hostile to minorities, they were also hostile to women. And not only were they hostile to minorities and women, they are particularly sensitive to the group that benefits the most from privilege and the old boy’s network, but seems to always feel threatened when confronted with their own prejudices and privilege. It’s absolutely stunning how scared even some so-called libertarian and centrist white males will get when they have to come to terms with their own privilege, and most of those same men will then deny that privilege exists and sputter into the tailspin of claiming that, like Bush and his minions did, the time for “coddling” minorities and women has passed and that all of this racism doesn’t really exist and is a figment of the imaginations of minorities. It’s a pretty quick jump for those particular white males, but it’s always an amusing one to watch them take.

Beyond this though, the GAO report is pretty damning, and while I’m sure things are getting better at the Justice Department and a breath of fresh air is headed through the department, it’s important to remember that it’s things like this that are relieved by having someone like President Obama in office. So while we may disagree with him or wish he were pressing harder on progressive issues, it’s important we don’t lose sight of the so-called smaller issues and positions that the Administration takes that keep our agencies of social justice in line with American values.

[ The GOP’s Civil-Rights Problem ]
Source: Newsweek

Ideology is Holding America Back from a Green Revolution

Oh, I have to let this article speak for itself. The title is strong on its own, but it’s true – it is ideology that’s holding back a green revolution in this country – there are more technologies and cottage industries and new products and businesses to count, but something is holding them back – something is keeping this entire market from breaking the surface. Let’s take a look at what it is:

American competitiveness is severely hobbled by our “free market” and anti-government attitudes. One way our competitors hold us back is by encouraging this outdated ideology. Result: other countries have national economic/industrial strategies and we don’t. So we lose.

Remember how “chips” was a major driver of the economy in the 80s and 90s? Then the Internet drove the economy late 90’s and early 2000s? The world understands that “green energy” is the next big industry that will drive the world economy. Actually, the rest of the world has understood this for some time and has been investing and inventing and innovating and building. Meanwhile over here America’s big oil and coal companies bought themselves a Presidency and an anti-government ideology and a climate-change-denial industry that has cost us 8 years and counting.

Now we’re playing catch-up, and the rest of the world is determined to keep us from taking the lead.

It’s true. I heard the CEO of a coal company in West Virginia in an interview with NPR say, when asked if climate change was real, outright say it’s fake – claiming that it, just like other so-called “scares” in the past, passed over and nothing was made of them (of course, the ones he chose are actually real – like the hole in the ozone layer, which is very much real even today, but the multinational push to stop using CFCs and other ozone depleting chemicals managed to keep it from spreading to the point where it’s a serious problem – but even so, remember that your grandparents could go out without sunscreen in the summer. We can’t.) and that if government did manage to pass climate regulations, that we all may as well “teach our children to speak Chinese.”

That’s infuriating, especially since it’s the actions of people like him that may force us to do that anyway, if you think that’s such a horrible thing (personally I think American children could do with a little multi-lingual teaching, but that’s just me – only Americans are truly monolingual.) – the Chinese, the Germans, the Japanese, and just about every other industrialized nation in the world is making a push towards clean energy and green technologies, and while they’re in no horrific hurry to turn off their carbon producing industries (although some of them are farther on the forefront than we are) they’re still developing and rolling out technologies and large-scale tests while we at home are still debating the evidence in front of us as if adding up all of the coins in the piggy bank a different way will lead to a different result.

Dave Johnson, writing for the Campaign for America’s Future, specifically points at the great lengths that the Chinese are going to in order to power and employ their massive lower and burgeoning middle classes with renewable energy, and while it’s not slowing their emissions rate, it could very easily begin to do so quickly, or wind up powering more people at an America-style rate while using a fraction of the fossil fuels we do.

If the United States doesn’t take its rightful place back at the front of the pack in science and technology, especially in the area of energy, we’ll wind up behind the curve, and in another position where we’ll have to buy tech or energy from someone who knows how to do it better than we do, and I don’t think anyone really wants that, from a security or a self-determination perspective. Instead of writing massive checks to OPEC nations, we’ll wind up writing them to the Chinese and the Germans to buy their expertise and their energy technologies.

[ Green Revolution – Ideology Holding America Back ]
Source: The Campaign for America’s Future

Do Our Children Deserve to Live?

Let’s be clear from the outset: I believe the answer to that question is yes. Which is why I am a strong supporter of environmental justice, clean air and water laws and their enforcement, renewable and sustainable energy technologies, and climate protection overall.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m also a scientist – I also believe that unless we stop having so many children as a civilization, we’ll deplete our resources and use more energy than we can sustain; and I say that meaning as a human civilization, not just Americans. But that’s what Fred Branfman, writing for the Sacramento News and Review, is saying in his article “Do Our Children Deserve to Live?”

He proposes that a “human movement” will be required to avert the a global climate crisis, and that what’s going on in Copenhagen doesn’t give him much faith that movement is going to come, or that this meeting will be the turning point. I agree, but I also admit that getting buy-in from the nations of the world takes time- as you can see at home with our own gridlocked energy and climate policies and bils locked up in Congress now.

A strange cloud envelops human civilization as its leaders fail to take the measures to protect it that they themselves endorsed just five months ago. It is oddly fitting that the latest act in humanity’s climate-crisis drama will occur next week in the city where history’s most famous Dane, brooding in his fog-enshrouded castle, failed to act decisively upon the very question hanging over the upcoming conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

It will not be on the agenda. But whether civilization is or is not to be will be the real question haunting the shadow play about to ensue at the United Nations-sponsored talks.

A child under 13 today can expect to live into the 2080s, by which time civilization as we know it will have disappeared if we continue to fail to reduce carbon emissions by 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050, according to our climate scientists. Although world leaders accept this recommendation, they are presently overseeing a steady increase projected to be more than double the maximum our climate scientists think safe.

The stark figures reveal just how much Copenhagen will fail our children, despite PR efforts to obscure them. The climate scientists’ minimal 25 percent cut would see the United States emitting 3.94 billion metric tons in 2020. President Barack Obama’s 2020 target is 4.99 bmt, only 5.5 percent lower than U.S. 1990 emissions of 5.26 bmt, or less than 1/4 of the minimum 25 percent cut urged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (The United States packages its nonreduction target as a 17 percent cut from the sky-high 2005 level of 5.99 bmt.) The Chinese, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Michael Levi, will increase their CO2 emissions by 72 to 88 percent by 2020, i.e., from 6 bmt today to more than 10 bmt. (The Chinese package their increase by pledging a 45 to 50 percent reduction in “carbon intensity,” or carbon per unit of gross domestic product, even though averting disastrous climate change requires reducing CO2 emissions, not just intensity.)

What will occur in Copenhagen thus continues a pattern seen since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Scientists I spoke with there were anguished that the treaty only sought to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. None foresaw that the treaty would be ignored and that world emissions would be 40.8 percent higher (and U.S. emissions 19.8 percent higher) in 2007 than in 1990.

Copenhagen will fail because the great publics of the world have not been involved in the great human questions underlying the technical issues the scientists discuss. It is not only that the conference will fail to protect our young, but that the rest of us will barely notice.

Pretty depressing, eh? Branfman goes into a damning critique of our modern society, and how we’re dreaming and ignoring the entire problem, which I agree with to some extent but I’m not quite as scathing about I don’t think:

We live today as if in a trance, conducting business as usual in times so unusual that they pose an even greater threat than 20th-century wars that killed more than 100 million people. It seems incredible, for example, that nonscientists barely discuss how the human climate crisis undermines so many of their basic assumptions—in philosophy, law, psychology, sociology, economics, the arts and humanities, education and health—about human beings and their society.

If a new “human movement” working beside today’s environmentalists can help more people see that we are the first adults in history to pose the single greatest threat facing our children, however, there is much reason to believe that human civilization can still be saved.

Branfman definitely subscribes to some of the most worst-case climate scenarios, but it’s important to sit up and take note that what he’s describing very well may be our global future if something isn’t done. If everything goes on the way it does now, the best case is that he’s only partially right, and the worst case is that he’s completely and totally right.

[ Do Our Children Deserve to Live? – Copenhagen Won’t be Enough. Only a ‘Human Movement’ can Save Civilization from the Climate Crisis. ]
Source: The Sacramento News and Review