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April 30, 2006

Mind-Numbing Chatter and the Loss of a Great Thinker, John Kenneth Galbraith

I used to blog about Sunday talk shows on a more regular basis. It's not that I've stopped watching them; it's that I'm less interested in what I'm watching. My original reason for tuning in was simple - the lead stories in Monday newspapers were based on what people said Sunday morning, so why not just get the news straight from the horse's mouth? Now that I've been following them for several years, my excitement has waned.

So instead of TiVo'ing both This Week and Meet the Press (when I lived in LA, where they come on at ridiculously early times like 7am), I watch half an hour of each (during the football off-season). First of all, I only have broadcast tv now. Second, the first half hour of each show is plenty of time; usually the interviews are done during that time and the rest is spent on roundtables, and in the case of ABC, gimmicky recaps of comedy / tragedy (late night shows and obits).

First I saw Ben Stein ramble in defense of SecDef Rumsfeld on CBS News Sunday Morning (a folksy show that's a good way to ease into Sunday, hosted by Charles Osgood of radio fame). Then 9 o'clock rolled around an I saw SecState Rice on This Week. She defended everything from the administration's scare-mongering re Iran to its "helpful" energy policy. I'm really bored with the company line and the mainstream press's complete inability to offer serious, hard-hitting questions to challenge their sound bites.

Next up was a debate between someone I thought was a good ol' boy Republican and a Nor'Easter Dem. Turns out the first was a retired Dem, former LA Senator Bennett Johnston and the latter was NY senior Senator Chuck Schumer. Schumer harped about record oil profits, Johnston carped that instability and disaster have tightened the supply of oil leading to the current prices. This lasted fifteen minutes, ending with them agreeing that the Western Gulf of Mexico should be opened for drilling and more money should go to researching alternative fuels.

At this point, I switched to MtP. Their roundtable on oil lasted the whole hour, but I could only stay for 30 minutes (had an appointment on ABC). Here's what I really hate about these shows: roundtables are always held between The Establishment and The Establishment. Alternative voices are rarely invited, nor are they taken seriously if they are. So this roundtable featured Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, American Petroleum Institute President Red Cavaney, commentator Jim Cramer, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and energy analyst Daniel Yergin. That's four shills for Big Oil and one mildly left of center politician discussin big oil's rape of America. Why would anyone listen? That ain't a debate, it's a convention of sycophants with one guy starting every comment with "I guess I'm the only one who disagrees." No you're not - you're just the only one invited to the party!

Something the oil shills kept saying was that big conglomerates are needed to compete with the huge national companies overseas. Tim kept spewing numbers like $400 million in compensation for CEOs. Here's a thought: what if the US joined the rest of the world and allowed energy sales to benefit the entire country instead of a few billionaires? Imagine we lived in a country where record oil profits meant more money for schools, healthcare, and other societal needs. That's what Chavez is doing in Venezuela; why can't we do it here? We're not a nation of "rugged individualists;" we're a nation fed on the lies of the ruling class that blindly accepts falling wages because we foolishly think the American dream of pullin yourself up by your bootstraps is actually attainable.

Okay, so ultimately I don't like these talk shows because they absolutely never have a credible voice from outside the halls of power on their shows. It's not entirely their fault - I was watching The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS last week and got thoroughly frustrated with the idiot speaking against nuclear power; he wasn't an idiot, he just played one on tv because he had no sound bites and he couldn't articulate his crucial points in a convincing tone.

Right, so the halls of power aren't open to imagination. Nor are they open to many women or people of color. Condi was the only one who fit either of those categories amongst the peeps interviewed. (Roundtables of pundits don't count; tokenism is much easier in the halls of rambling cranks than it is in the halls of Actual Power.)

After an hour of this nonsense, I went back to ABC for a dose of Ebert & Roepert. Shockingly, they didn't like RV. They repeated their love of Akeelah and the Bee (no word on whether this will get them free Starbucks) and Flight 93. Even though half the show repeated their reviews from last week (see aforementioned movies), it was still more engaging than the chatter boxes.

Then I saw Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakariah. Ug. The man is too ubiquitous. I think he was also on the pundit roundtable I didn't watch on This Week. And why exactly does he take on Three Topics in 30 minutes?!?! There's no chance for any substance in what he / his staff reports on. The interviews are the quickest bits of nothing. Most interesting segment was on the textile market in Ghana. 90% of ppl in Ghana buy second-hand Western clothing. It's cheaper than Ghanian clothes (until recently, to wear traditional clothing, one had to buy the cloth than pay a tailor to make the clothes; now there are a few ready-to-wear manufacturers).

The part not talked about in the brief snippet: Western excess fuels this problem; our disposable clothing and finicky taste floods the world with secondhand clothing that is practically brand-new. It's a billion dollar a year business. I think it is a symptom of the larger problem of US-backed free-trade capitalism: excess consumption of unnecessary products, fueling our dependence on the corrupt system.

This ties into the obituary I read this morning for John Kenneth Galbraith. He followed Thorstein Veblen's example. Veblen wrote "Theory of the Leisure Class," and coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption." Snippets from Galbraith's extremely significant contribution to the world of ideas and politics:

"The Affluent Society" appeared in 1958, making Mr. Galbraith known around the world. In it, he depicted a consumer culture gone wild, rich in goods but poor in the social services that make for community. He argued that America had become so obsessed with overproducing consumer goods that it had increased the perils of both inflation and recession by creating an artificial demand for frivolous or useless products, by encouraging overextension of consumer credit and by emphasizing the private sector at the expense of the public sector. He declared that this obsession with products like the biggest and fastest automobile damaged the quality of life in America by creating "private opulence and public squalor."

Anticipating the environmental movement by nearly a decade, he asked, "Is the added production or the added efficiency in production worth its effect on ambient air, water and space — the countryside?" Mr. Galbraith called for a change in values that would shun the seductions of advertising and champion clean air, good housing and aid for the arts. [...]

In 1973 he published "Economics and the Public Purpose," in which he sought to extend the planning system already used by the industrial core of the economy to the market economy, to small-business owners and to entrepreneurs. Mr. Galbraith called for a "new socialism," with more steeply progressive taxes; public support of the arts; public ownership of housing, medical and transportation facilities; and the conversion of some corporations and military contractors into public corporations. [...]

In 2004, Mr. Galbraith, who was then 95, published "The Economics of Innocent Fraud," a short book that questioned much of the standard economic wisdom by questioning the ability of markets to regulate themselves, the usefulness of monetary policy and the effectiveness of corporate governance.

He remained optimistic about the ability of government to improve the lot of the less fortunate. "Let there be a coalition of the concerned," he urged. "The affluent would still be affluent, the comfortable still comfortable, but the poor would be part of the political system."

Despite the fact that Galbraith's ideas are dismissed by the corporate ruling class, his ideas have helped shape the world, especially in other countries that are pursuing viable alternatives to the lopsided development goals of the USG. I hope he did not suffer in his final years. While the world mourns the loss of a great man, can we really expect to live much longer than 97? May his ideas continue to illuminate the world.

Article quoted: "John Kenneth Galbraith, 97, Dies; Economist Held a Mirror to Society," by Holcomb Noble and Douglas Martin, front page of today's NYT

Posted by cj at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2006

What Category is Feminist?

Best of the Web Blog Directory lists this blog under Society / Politics / Anarchism / Anarchists. Problem is, I am not an anarchist.*

Under politics, there is no feminist heading. Instead, it is listed under Society / Issues / Feminism.

The other Society / Issues categories are:
Abortion, Conspiracy, Immigration, Iraq_War, Peace, and Terrorism. FYI, there's only one blog listed under peace. Unclear why WILPF's blog isn't there.

But seriously, what's up with this artificial barrier between politics and feminists? It serves as a further barrier to hearing the feminist political perspective. I am not primarily a liberal, conservative, green, moderate, socialist, or anarchist. I am a feminist peace activist - that is my home of political action. I'm not some random issue that can be cast aside during serious debates. I dunno. Maybe I'm reading too much into this. But I'm really sick of this "putting Baby in the corner" view of feminism. I also believe the patriarchal choice of sub-categories for politics works to further silence under-represented populations.

*I did send BOTW a message about the category they placed me in. But I'm not satisfied with the possibility of having this blog moved out of the Politics category and into an amorphous Issues category. If anything, angelheaded hipster, is more appropriate in a general feminist cultural category, not this blog.

Posted by cj at 9:37 AM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2006

May Day is Almost Here

Below is an email forward I received on the history of May Day, by Chris Mahin of UNITE-HERE:

May Day and the fight for immigrants' rights:

On May 1, 2006, huge demonstrations for immigrants' rights will take place in Chicago and other U.S. cities. May 1 is an especially appropriate occasion for these demonstrations.

May 1st is May Day, celebrated throughout most of the world as International Labor Day. This holiday began in Chicago - and it began in the fight not only for the eight-hour day, but also for immigrants' rights.

On May 1, 1886, workers throughout the United States engaged in a massive strike to demand the eight-hour day. Chicago was the strike's center. At that time, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. Workers were pouring into the city from all over the United States, and from many different parts of the world. The factories of the city were being filled not only by young people being driven off the farms of the U.S. Midwest, but also by workers from England, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Bohemia, Sweden and many other countries. In those factories, the pay was low, the hours were long, and the conditions were terribly unsafe. (This was true for all workers, but especially true for immigrant workers.)

Just days after that strike -- on May 4, 1886 -- a rally was held at Haymarket Square in Chicago to protest a police attack on a group of strikers. As this peaceful rally was winding to a close, 176 cops moved in to forcibly disperse the crowd. They ordered the rally's last speaker - an English immigrant worker, Samuel Fielden - to stop. Then someone threw a bomb. It killed one police officer instantly and wounded many others. The police opened fire, killing many participants in the rally.

A wave of hysteria followed, directed at working-class organizations, revolutionary groups, and immigrant societies and publications. The police went wild, filling the city's jails with large numbers of immigrants, breaking into private homes, wrecking the printing presses of foreign-language newspapers, and arresting leaders of Chicago's emerging trade union movement (whether those leaders had been present at the rally or not.) Immigrants were accused of being terrorists; suspects were beaten and even tortured.

The extent of the hysteria can be gauged by the comments published in the respectable Albany Law Journal just 11 days after the Haymarket bombing:

"[The recent events in Chicago] have revived very strongly in us several desires long vaguely entertained, such as a check upon immigration, a power of deportation, a better equipment of the police, a prompter and severer dealing with disorder in its first overt act. It is a serious thought that the lives of good and brave men, the safety of innocent women and children, and immunity of property should be, even for one hour, in a great city, at the mercy of a few long-haired, wild-eyed, bad-smelling, atheistic, reckless foreign wretches, who never did an honest hour's work in their lives, but who, driven half crazy with years of oppression and mad with envy of the rich, think to level society and its distinctions with a few bombs. There ought to be some law. ... to enable society to crush such snakes when they raise their heads before they have time to bite. ... This state of things almost justifies the resort to the vigilance committee and lynch law. ... It seems that the penal law of Illinois would warrant treating all these godless fiends as murderers, and we hope they will be so treated and extirpated from the face of the earth."

The authorities in Chicago exploited the Haymarket tragedy to attack the emerging trade union movement in the city. In June 1886, several leaders of the Chicago union movement were put on trial, charged with being accessories to murder at Haymarket Square and with a general conspiracy to murder. Most of the defendants had not even been present when the Haymarket bomb had been thrown, but that didn't matter. They were militant leaders of the workers, and Chicago's capitalists wanted their blood.

Given the composition of Chicago's work force in 1886, it was hardly surprising that most of the accused were immigrants. Of the eight men who eventually stood trial, seven were immigrants. (One defendant - Samuel Fielden - was from Lancashire, England. Six had been raised in Germany: George Engel, Adolph Fischer, Louis Lingg, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, and August Spies.) In the late 1880s, immigrant workers were concentrated in the most exploited section of the industrial work force, so it was natural that the people who emerged as leaders of the working class as a whole were often immigrants.

Only one man among the eight individuals charged in what came to be known as "the Haymarket Affair" had been born and raised in the United States. His name was Albert Parsons. He had managed to slip out of Chicago after the bombing, and escaped to the relative safety of southern Wisconsin. There, he spent a few days on the top of a hill overlooking the peaceful countryside. Then, he decided that he could not live with himself if he let his colleagues stand trial alone. On June 21, 1886 - the first day of the trial - Albert Parsons appeared in court, telling the judge: "I have come to stand trial, your Honor, with my innocent comrades."

Tried before a biased judge and jury, the defendants never had a chance. They were convicted; seven were sentenced to hang. (An eighth was sentenced to 15 years at hard labor.) At that point, many people thought the case was closed, but they had not reckoned with Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, the wife of Albert Parsons and a leader of the Chicago labor movement in her own right. While the case was being appealed, Lucy Parsons took her two small children and traveled across the United States, speaking to anyone who would listen. In almost a year, she spoke to about 200,000 people in 16 states about the case. Her heartfelt eloquence helped spark a movement to stop the executions.

Despite worldwide protests, Albert Parsons, George Engel, Adolph Fischer, and August Spies were hanged by the state of Illinois in November 1887. (A fifth defendant, Louis Lingg, died in his cell the day before the executions under very suspicious circumstances.) On the morning of the execution of her husband, Lucy Parsons was arrested and locked in a cell with her children for attempting to see her husband one last time.

On July 14, 1889 - the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille Prison -- at the International Labor Congress in Paris, a delegate from the American Federation of Labor proposed that the Congress adopt May 1 as International Labor Day and a day to remember the "Martyrs of Chicago." This was accepted. Ever since, May 1 has been a day for the workers of the entire world to march in unison.

On June 26, 1893, Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld - an immigrant from Germany - pardoned the three living Haymarket defendants: Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, and Michael Schwab (all immigrants). Altgeld’s decision produced a firestorm of criticism. The Chicago Tribune condemned the decision with these words:

"The anarchists believed that he [Altgeld] was not merely an alien by birth, but an alien by temperament and sympathies, and they were right. He has apparently not a drop of true American blood in his veins. He does not reason like an American, not feel like one, and consequently does not behave like one."

Given all this history, can anyone doubt that the fight for immigrant rights is interwoven throughout the celebration of May Day? This year, let's honor the memory of the Haymarket Martyrs - both immigrant and native-born - by demanding justice for today's immigrant workers. Perhaps the lesson of May Day can be summed up best in the words of Haymarket defendant Oscar Neebe. The last words of his autobiography read simply: "I call on all workingmen or working women of all nationalities and all countries to unite and down with your oppressors."

amen, brother.

FYI, I've been looking for this article on the web for awhile now. Couldn't find it anywhere. But here's what I did find:

Chicago Indymedia (scroll down for May Day updates)

Labor Express, "Chicago's only labor news and current affairs radio program"

An anarchist celebration of May Day. This site offers a detailed history of the Haymarket rally and how those prosecuted / murdered by the state were really on trial for being anarchists / socialists. [Aside clarification: I am a feminist social activist who respects anarchists, but am not one myself.]

Chicago Public Library's entry for the "Haymarket Riot." Interesting history of a monument to the dead police included. (And how did I live in Forest Park for four months without knowing there was a monument out there to the Haymarket martyrs?!?)

Posted by cj at 11:28 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2006

Action Alert: Work to Stop the "Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006"

The following is an action alert from Women Challenge US Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East (WCUSP), WILPF's campaign for an end to US support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

-------------
WILPF believes in the right of all peoples to self-determination. We support the peaceful existence of both Israel and Palestine and work to support our sister sections in those countries. We applaud our sisters in Palestine for participating in a democratic election process.

We acknowledge the difficulty some might have in accepting the Hamas victory in the elections; however, we believe it is necessary and right to continue diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority. The United States government should continue its humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people and should stop promoting diplomatic, financial, and humanitarian isolation of the Palestinian people. While we do not agree with the official Hamas party platform, we believe Hamas politicians are willing to work towards peace with their neighbors. Isolating the Palestinians because of their electoral decisions will hasten the collapse of their shaky economy and increase their desperation.

WCUSP URGES WILPF MEMBERS TO TAKE ACTION: Full and Open Debate Needed on Anti-Palestinian Legislation

April 24, 2006

TAKE ACTION: Call or fax Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and urge him to allow a full and open debate on HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.

Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives
Phone: 202-225-0600
Fax: 202-226-1996

SAMPLE FAX*
Dear Speaker Hastert,

As a member of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), I urge you to allow a full and open debate on HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006.

I implore you in the strongest possible terms not to recognize any Representative to offer a motion to suspend the rules on this resolution. HR4681 would impose draconian economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Palestinian people for voting; therefore, full and open debate is needed.

Thank you for your help in this matter.

Sincerely,
Your Name

*This is an addition to the action alert based on the fax I sent. I believe in brevity, so feel free to go call Speaker Hastert now and not read the rest of this post.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION
As Congress reconvenes this week from its spring recess, there is a good chance that supporters of HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, will try to rush this legislation to a vote "under suspension", a procedure that prevents amendments from being offered and limits debate.

According to House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House, "Under the modern practice, the motion to suspend the rules is used frequently to pass reported legislative measures that are perceived to have a broad degree of support and little need for prolonged debate." Congressional Research Services notes that suspending the rules "is a procedure that the House of Representatives often uses on the floor to act expeditiously on relatively noncontroversial legislation", such as naming a post office.

However, the so-called Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act is far more momentous than the naming of a post office. It is a bill that would impose draconian economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Palestinian people for voting, including:

* Restricting US humanitarian aid and potentially eliminating entire US aid projects, such as infrastructure and small business development;

* Threatening to withhold a portion of US dues to the United Nations because it maintains bodies that advocate for Palestinian human rights and seek to hold Israel accountable to international law;

* Defining territory controlled nominally by the Palestinian Authority as a "terrorist sanctuary", thereby requiring US businesses to obtain special export licenses for most goods destined for the Occupied Palestinian Territories and gutting the provisions of the US free trade agreement with the West Bank and Gaza;

* Refusing visas to members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, even those who belong to political parties that the United States does not classify as "foreign terrorist organizations";

* Restricting the movement of PLO diplomats at the United Nations and threatening to close the PLO's office in Washington, and;

* Instructing the US representative to the World Bank to use the considerable strength of the United States in international financial institutions to vote against the continuation of humanitarian aid projects.

Only the Speaker of the House can recognize a Representative to offer a motion to suspend the rules and dispense with a full debate and prevent amendments from being offered. Don't allow Speaker Hastert to authorize this bill going forward without a transparent and democratic debate! Contact the Speaker today at:

Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives
Phone: 202-225-0600
Fax: 202-226-1996


TALKING POINTS
* It has come to my attention that supporters of HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, will try to rush this legislation to a vote "under suspension". According to House practice and precedent, this procedure is used to pass non-controversial legislation that has a broad degree of support, such as naming a post office.

* HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, is controversial and does not have a broad degree of support. Many organizations in the country have joined to protest the resolution. Despite intense arm-twisting from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), more than 160 Representatives have refused to cosponsor this resolution. HR4681 is both controversial and divisive and therefore should not be allowed to come up "under suspension".

* HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, would impose draconian economic and diplomatic sanctions on the Palestinian people for voting. Surely such a potentially momentous shift in US foreign policy should be subject to transparent and democratic debate and Representatives should have the opportunity to offer amendments to this ill-conceived resolution.


Below is a copy of a letter to Speaker Hastert delivered today by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The US Campaign urges its member organizations to send similar letters by fax to Speaker Hastert.

April 24, 2006
Speaker of the House of Representatives
Representative Dennis Hastert
US Capitol, Room H-232
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. Speaker,

It has come to the attention of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation that supporters of HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, will try to rush this important resolution to a vote "under suspension" shortly after the House reconvenes this week from its spring recess.

We urge you in the strongest possible terms not to recognize any Representative to offer a motion to suspend the rules on this resolution of far-reaching consequence.

As you are well aware, suspending the rules is a procedure used to pass non-controversial bills that have broad support. According to House Practice: A Guide to the Rules, Precedents and Procedures of the House, "Under the modern practice, the motion to suspend the rules is used frequently to pass reported legislative measures that are perceived to have a broad degree of support and little need for prolonged debate." Congressional Research Services notes that suspending the rules "is a procedure that the House of Representatives often uses on the floor to act expeditiously on relatively noncontroversial legislation", such as naming a post office.

However, HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, is both controversial and lacks broad support, thereby disqualifying it from coming to the floor "under suspension". The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has mobilized more than 300 US-based organizations in opposition to this resolution (please see the attached letter). Our supporters also have sent more than 10,000 letters to their Members of Congress against this resolution. Because of this unprecedented and diverse grassroots opposition to anti-Palestinian legislation, and despite intense arm-twisting from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), more than 160 Representatives have refused to cosponsor this resolution. In addition, two of the three committees assigned jurisdiction over the bill have not reported it out of committee, another indication that broad support for this bill does not exist.

HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, is a far-reaching and momentous resolution that would impose draconian economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Palestinian people for voting, including:

* Restricting US humanitarian aid and potentially eliminating entire US aid projects, such as infrastructure and small business development;

* Threatening to withhold a portion of US dues to the United Nations because it maintains bodies that advocate for Palestinian human rights and seek to hold Israel accountable to international law;

* Defining territory controlled nominally by the Palestinian Authority as a "terrorist sanctuary", thereby requiring US businesses to obtain special export licenses for most goods destined for the Occupied Palestinian Territories and gutting the provisions of the US free trade agreement with the West Bank and Gaza;

* Refusing visas to members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, even those who belong to political parties that the United States does not classify as "foreign terrorist organizations";

* Restricting the movement of PLO diplomats at the United Nations and threatening to close the PLO's office in Washington, and;

* Instructing the US representative to the World Bank to use the considerable strength of the United States in international financial institutions to vote against the continuation of humanitarian aid projects.

This is a substantive bill that has dramatic ramifications for the course of our country's foreign policy toward Israel/Palestine. It is the right of the people of the United States and the obligation of Congress to ensure that our elected representatives have a full, open, and transparent debate about this bill in particular and our country's foreign policy toward Israel/Palestine in general. Members of Congress must have the ability to debate this resolution and offer amendments to it. The fact that more than 160 Representatives have not cosponsored this bill indicates that many Members of Congress do not agree that the United States should impose draconian economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Palestinian people for practicing democracy, the spread of which ostensibly is one of our country's primary foreign policy objectives.

We hope that you strengthen the democratic processes of this country by allowing a full and open debate on HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, and not permitting this important resolution to be rushed to a vote "under suspension". That, more so than sanctioning the Palestinian people for voting, would be a much more effective display at home of the values that we seek to promote abroad.

Thank you for your time and consideration on this matter.

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

Posted by cj at 9:21 PM | Comments (0)

A Few Things to Write to Congress About

1. Space for Peace, not War
Women's Action for New Direction (WAND) is using their online letter-writing system to get folks to write to their Congresspeople to oppose authorization in the defense appropriation bill for a $5.7 million to fire a laser at a satellite. Click here to write to your Congresspeople via WAND.

2. Tell Congress People Should Count More Than Corporations
So Common Cause is doing an action for real ethics reform. You can sign an email to urge your Representative to vote against a piece of legislation in its current form. You can also re-write the letter. Here's how I amended (and shortened) their email to Rep. Rahm Emanuel:

The corruption and lobbying scandals in Congress threaten the heart of American democracy. I believe it is essential for the House to adopt strong, effective and comprehensive reform measures to address these scandals.

H.R. 4975, in its current form, fails to provide real and effective reform of the lobbying laws and congressional ethics rules. I urge you to vote against H.R. 4975 unless the bill is greatly strengthened on the House floor and turned into acceptable legislation.

I believe the change needed to reinvigorate our democracy is much larger than any bill or amendment. While I support the effort to defeat HR 4975 in its current form, I am more interested in your ideas to strengthen constituents' access to power and our ability to be part of the decision-making process. As long as corporations are treated as people in the eyes of the law, corruption and scandal will continue to plague the halls of Congress. It is a shame that their voice has more credibility than this email.

Click here to write to your Rep via Common Cause.

Posted by cj at 8:23 PM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2006

I'm the Decider

A sister WILPFer sent me a link to this fabulous riff on "I am the Walrus." The original song is by one of my all-time favorite bands, Oingo Boingo.

Here's the political version - "I'm the Decider (Koo Koo Ka Choo)" on Huffington Post

Boingo, btw, wrote several political songs including a few about the first Gulf War...

And re Rumsfeld - I read an insightful article in the WSJ about the disputes btwn him and the career military men. But the thing is, I just can't get behind this groundswell to kick him out. Not that I think he's that great; just that the arguments are so small-minded. The problems created by the USG's occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq are not completely caused by Rumsfeld's emphasis on small, quick-moving forces; the problems go back to the idea of occupation itself. An occupying empire cannot create democracy anywhere. And the corporations receiving billions of taxpayer money to "rebuild" Iraq will simply continue to take our money and Iraq will continue to be a more inhospitable place to live than it was during Saddam's regime.

The problems created by W.'s foreign policy cannot be fixed by turning the military over to "trusted experts." It can only be fixed by booting him out of office. And doing a 180 in foreign relations - only when the American elite / foreign policy establishment stops thinking they can mold the world in their image will the US be a helpful world leader.

Posted by cj at 3:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2006

The High Cost of Protesting

Let's be clear: while I generally believe there are better ways to make social change, I support people's right to protest. I've been encouraged by the immigrants' rights rallies that recently swept the nation.

And I'm horrified by the response of an Inglewood, CA principal: she forced elementary school students to relieve themselves in buckets inside their classrooms to "protect" them from the walk outs of nearby high school students. And the Inglewood school district continues to defend the idiot.

More info: "Campus Lockdown Appalls Parents: Some students at an Inglewood elementary school were barred from using the restroom." by Hemmy So in LAT

found via Today's Papers, by Eric Umansky on Slate

Posted by cj at 12:03 AM | Comments (0)

April 4, 2006

Murder and Disappearance on Holocaust Scale

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch legislator who made a film with Theo van Gogh which led to his murder (and has left her with 24-hour body guards), wrote a commentary today in the Christian Science Monitor on Women and gendercide. At times I find her too simplistically dismissive of cultural differences; but I agree with her core point: women must organize around the globe and demand our equal human rights. We in the West cannot take our situation for granted - we must work to increase access to education, healthcare, and jobs for our sisters elsewhere. United, we are a force to be reckoned with. Divided, we are silenced and dismissed.

One United Nations estimate says that between 113 million and 200 million women around the world are "missing." Every year, between 1.5 million and 3 million women and girls lose their lives as a result of gender-based violence or neglect. As the Economist, which reported on the policy paper, put it last November, "Every two to four years the world looks away from a victim count on the scale of Hitler's Holocaust." How could this possibly be true?
As a Jewish woman, I'm a bit sick of listening to people rotely saying, "never again," when I know many genocides have occurred and are occurring today that are just as horrifying as the Holocaust. But as an American woman, too often I forget the importance of focusing on women's rights and women's access to power because everything "seems so equal" here. There is a lower percentage of women in the US Congress than there are women in the Pakistani Congress. And Pakistan can't even keep its religious fanatics from teaching hate and terrorism in their schools. So I know that we've still got significant work to do both domestically and on a global scale.

Everyone needs to pay attention to this, not just women.
The first thing you can do is join the oldest international women's peace organization, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
And listen to women for a change - not just on Mother's Day or International Women's Day; but every day.
Recognize that a feminist future is the only sustainable future. Every political policy, every social policy, every cultural policy must include a gender perspective and must include equal input from women.

Posted by cj at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

April 3, 2006

Reviewing the Corruption and Incompetence of the USG in Iraq

Background: What Republicans Told Us About Government, Business, and War

1. Private for-profit business is always more efficient than the government.

2. It is always more efficient - in time, money, and all resources - for the government to contract out. Because without private contractors, we would have a looming, gigantic, federal workforce demanding pesky things like healthcare, job security, and real pensions.

3. We, the United States, are democratic liberators and will be welcomed with open arms wherever we go.

4. People everywhere have the desires and cultural milieu of upper-middle class Washington suburbs (e.g. Falls Church, VA).

Update: What's Happening in Iraq

1. A no-bid, no-budget contract was awarded to a California construction company, Parsons, to build 142 primary health clinics in Iraq.

2. Post-war USG contracts are no different than other "development" contracts - emphasis is on awarding American companies, regardless of their expertise in the actual location of the work. Sub-contracting is expected; no ceiling is put on how many sub-contractors are allowed. (Every sub-contractor gets a piece of the overhead budget without having to do any work besides hiring someone else to do the work.) USG contracts are awarded with the understanding that everyone, everywhere in the world works like a model American city. No concern is given to language proficiency (isn't the whole world supposed to speak English?) or culture sensitivity (who cares if no women are involved? These backward people don't let their women out of the house...besides, we don't have to deal with women in the US, so why should we have to make any effort to involve them overseas?)

3. Not only does the USG refuse to actually put a hammer to a nail, it refuses to provide any serious oversight to make sure the money they give for-profit companies to hammer the nail is actually used on hammers and nails. Instead, 40-50% of a construction budget can be used for oversight of local workers.

4. Parsons has completed 6 clinics. They were given an extension - they were supposed to be done by December 2005. Now they have through April to attempt to finish 14 more - but they don't necessarily have to finish all 14. Everything will be left in a state of partial completion. If they miraculously finish 20 clinics, that would be 14% of the original contract completed. As it stands, they've completed 4%. But they are not being penalized at all for their poor performance; they can continue their other contracts in Iraq; and they get to keep all the profits they've made on "building" health clinics in Iraq.

5. Forget the security problems in Iraq. By hiring US companies instead of doing the work through the Army Corps of Engineer, the USG wastes billions lining the profits of executives and stock holders in multinational construction companies.

6. Now remember those security problems - the primary cause is this administration's refusal to learn anything from the reconstruction of Bosnia and Kosovo. Why? Because they refuse to take anything seriously that was done under a Democratic president. Apparently, that means that diplomatic relations and post-war reconstruction must be lead by the military. The military that is not trained in diplomacy, but trained in killing. The military which lacks diplomatic language and foreign language skills. The military, which is taught to shoot first - or curse - or dehumanize - to quell any problems with the locals.

7. Remember the genocide of Rwanda? It was preceded by Western development agencies praising the Rwandan government and saying that it was a star example of the goodness of Western aid. All the economic figures pointed up. No one noticed that one ethnic group was profiting from Western aid at the expense of another ethnic group. That doesn't show up in GDP tallies. Military school doesn't teach you that the head of a village might be very respected by his own ethnic group while he tortures and kills minorities. All of these lessons were taught to the world that was listening before one American soldier stepped foot onto Iraqi soil. Unfortunately, no one in this administration listened to those warnings. And that is why there is an ethnic civil war raging in Iraq.

8. Even during a civil war, you can rebuild infrastructure. It is the only way to get the population to stop buying guns and start working together. But if you contract out national services - like electricity production and sewage treatment - in the name of the holy one, free trade capitalism - you will reap what you sow. Public utilities are public for a reason. Add profit margins, create Enron. The energy crisis in Iraq is man-made. Made in America by American companies with American taxpayer money.

9. Until we seriously counter the Republican reasoning given to justify the pillaging of our taxpayer coffers and the ravaging of foreign lands, we will never change any of the outcomes of that reasoning. We must unite with clear ideas - vision that takes us beyond protest marches and back into the seats of power. This country desperately needs re-districting on a national scale. We need a citizens' movement for real change. We need accountability at every level of government and corporation. We need to work with people's movements around the world to take back our fundamental ownership of our communities.

Deep Background* - "U.S. Plan to Build Iraq Clinics Falters: Contractor Will Try to Finish 20 of 142 Sites," by Ellen Knickmeyer in today's WaPo

*aka article that started this post

Posted by cj at 9:34 PM | Comments (0)