Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Summer camp: Getting out the youth vote

Thirty youth from around the country attend the first day of the Summer Youth Elections Camp in St Louis, sponsored by the YCL and the Youth Voter Collective. Many participants are the children of area union members.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Suicides and foreclosures

Suicide. The taking of one's own life. Unless a person is seriously mentally ill, a person has to feel absolutely miserable to do such a thing.

The current economic crisis, the foreclosures, have the power to produce such human misery.

Your home is your sanctuary, the place to where you run when the world becomes too crazy for a little while, or when you're sad, or when you are just tired and need to rest. Or when you want to be with loved ones. A person's home is full of their memories, their hopes and dreams.

Visiting my family's home in Worcester, Massachusetts, I'm often overwhelmed by memories: Here is the room where, for many years, my family would gather to celebrate Christmas, and where my sister and myself would find the gifts that "Santa" left. Here is the kitchen where my family would eat every night. Or here's the living room, where every birthday, first communion or confirmation (my mother was very Catholic), every Thanksgiving was celebrated with dozens of relatives on hand. Out on the patio are memories of many Independence Day celebrations, and the fun of making our own show of (illegal, imported from New Hampshire) fireworks. There are sad memories as well: The living room is the place where my mother lost a battle with cancer; it was the room where she was confined for months before, and where the priest came to hear her last confession. It is also the room where the whole family shed our tears at her passing.

I can't imagine how horrified I would be were the house to be taken away by some sleazy, greed-soaked mortgage company. I can understand what drove Carlene Balderrama, 53, over the brink.

Also from Massachusetts, but in the metropolitan Boston town of Taunton, she sent a message to her mortgage company saying that they'd take the house over her dead body. She then took her own life with her husband's shotgun. Her suicide note's instructions? Use her life insurance money to pay for the house.

Expert psychiatrists, according to the Boston press, say that, without the end of the foreclosure crisis in sight, there are likely to be more and more suicides as people realize they simply can't bear having their homes taken.

These financial crises, reported in business sections of newspapers as arcane financial matters, have the power to destroy people's hopes and dreams. The federal government has to do something, quickly, to fix the mess these banks have gotten us into--and in the process save a lot of lives.

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Scores of canoes join in tribes “Paddle to Quw’utsun”

PORT ANGELES, Wash.—Captain Mark Anderson, wearing the conical woven hat of the Pacific Northwest Indians, stood at the stern of the Cowlitz tribe’s handsome canoe floating just offshore the afternoon of July 23. He greeted a welcoming committee of the Lower Elwha band of the Klallam tribe waiting on Hollywood Beach here.

“We have been pulling for many hours with no relief pullers,” he said. “We are cold, tired, and hungry. It is many, many years since a Cowlitz canoe has visited these waters.”

He asked for permission to come ashore. The three young girls, with Lower Elwha Tribal chairwoman, Frances Charles, standing beside them, answered in the Klallam language, welcoming the visitors to come ashore.

The ceremony was repeated more than a dozen times as the tribes participating in the “Paddle to Quw’utsun,” arrived from Sequim Bay about 20 miles east of here. They will rest here for two days and then begin the arduous 20 mile paddle across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island for the final rally at Quw’utsun, an Indian village north of Victoria July 27. Many of the crewmembers, mostly young men and women, have been paddling for days from as far south as Quinault on the Pacific coast and as far north as Bella Bella in British Columbia.

This annual waterborne festival caught the world’s imagination with the 1989 Paddle to Seattle that involved only nine dugout canoes. Now between 70 and 100 tribal canoes paddled by hundreds of pullers participate.

Frances Charles told the World it is one of the most positive, unifying events in the lives of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. “It’s a chance for all the tribes to come together,” she said. “The young people just want it to go on and on. They are sorry when it is over.”

It is billed as “drug, alcohol, and violence free” and has a serious side to go with the festivities. Her tribe hosted “Paddle to Elwha” in 2005 in the midst of a struggle over a yard that was under construction at the base of Ediz Hook where pontoons would be built to repair the floating bridge over Hood Canal. In excavating for the yard, an ancient burial site was uncovered and thousands of artifacts of a village that thrived here 2,700 years ago. “Paddle to Elwha” became a demonstration by all the tribes in support of the Lower Elwha’s demand that construction be halted. Gov. Christine Gregoire yielded to the tribes’ demand and construction of the yard stopped.

Charles told the World that agreement was reached July 22 on a compromise agreement to return title to the site to the tribe. The tribe is still struggling to win agreement for construction of a curation facility where the artifacts will be processed and displayed to the public. There is stubborn resistance among many whites even though it would clearly become a magnet for tourism that would benefit the entire community, Charles said.

The night before, the Jamestown Band of S’Klallams hosted a dinner and celebration at the Sequim High School Cafeteria. Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman Ron Allen welcomed the crews to an evening of singing, drumming, and dancing by the Puyallup, Nisqually, Suquamish, Squaxin Island, Port Gamble Klallam, Chehalis, Cowlitz, and other tribes camped in a tent city outside on the football field. A collection was taken up to build a memorial for Chief Jerri Jack, 65, who died two years ago when his canoe capsized, spilling him and his fellow crewmembers into the frigid waters. It led to new rules that every crewmember wear a life vest and every canoe be accompanied by a motorized support boat.

Lester Delacruz, a member of the Quinault Nation is the skipper of the Squaxin Island canoe, a 36 foot dugout with 10 pullers. “This is my first year,” he told the World. “I don’t look on this as an athletic event. This is upholding our culture, our traditions, honoring our ancestors. I would hope that we’re not in need of fighting for our rights to be on the water. We’ve always been here. We lost those rights for a while, but now we’ve won them back.”

By Tim Wheeler

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Who Was That Horseman?

Visitors to the El Paso, Texas, airport find the largest equestrian statue in the world at the entrance gate. If they approach it on foot, they can see that it’s a stallion with a Spanish soldier mounted. It is 36 feet tall and contains some 16 tons of stainless steel and metal. The sculptor was John Sherrill Houser. They can read the dedications and information plaques, but they won’t find who it is or what it means. They don’t even find its name.

Those who want to know more could view the “Point of View (P.O.V.)” program on educational TV, part of which is on-line at

The man on the horse is Don Juan Oñate de Salazar, conqueror of indigenous peoples and “founder” of El Paso del Norte in 1598. Among his accomplishments were cruelty to the conquered peoples, including cutting off one foot from every potential warrior, according to some versions of the story. There’s another statue of him in Northern New Mexico, where the people took their revenge on one of his feet, the story goes.

The El Paso statue was supposed to be named “El Conquistador,” (the conqueror) and was supposed to be mounted prominently over the city. It was supposed to celebrate an aspect of the class struggle in which the stronger imperialist power asserted itself over the weaker locals. But the statue itself set off another class struggle in 2007. Local people protested the statue, and the compromise resulted in placement of the nameless and unexplained statue at the entrance to the airport.

Filmmaker John Valadez, who made the TV documentary, “The Last Conquistador,” comments on-line, “The most remarkable thing that has occurred since “The Last Conquistador” was completed back in November 2007 is that nothing has happened. People were divided over the statue when it was completed, and they are divided now.” He ends his commentary with, “I have made a lot of films during my career, but I have never made a film with this much sadness.”

Among the locals, one person told this reporter that Oñate may have been a bad historical character, but that he was no worse than others of his time, and that Spanish conquerors were not nearly as evil as the English. The Spanish wanted to get gold and force the natives into Christianity, he said, but the English wanted to exterminate them and take their lands. Another local El Paso man, driving by the statue, admitted that he had no idea who it was or what it might represent, but, “It cost a lot of tax money, man!”

--Jim Lane

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thank God for the Daily Show

I had considered writing an op-ed on why the uproar over the "racist", "offensive" New Yorker magazine cover was so completely ridiculous, but I could never say it better than Jon Stewart:

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Monday, July 14, 2008

The New Yorker Fist Bump

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's campaign is furious over a New Yorker mag cover illustration of a Muslim-garbed Obama fist-bumping his wife, Michelle, wearing an Angela Davis afro, a camo jumpsuit, and a rifle slung over her shoulder. An American flag burns in the fireplace.

Obama's spokesman Bill Burton: “The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Middle-age diplomat: 'Sex with teens OK '

Who knows when this guy got hired, but just think what else happens with our tax dollars! Pedophilia in the Bush State Department. Great family values!!! And this guy even rationalizes it's ok for a U.S. official to continue such backwardness forced upon these girls. Note that he also seemed to have a "sex for visas" scam going on.

Ex-diplomat: Sex with teens OK in foreign cultures

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — An ex-diplomat convicted of having sex with teenage girls in the Congo and Brazil and taping the encounters is asking a judge for leniency, claiming that cultural differences in those countries make sex with girls more acceptable.

Gons G. Nachman, 42, pleaded guilty in April to possessing child pornography after admitting that he had sex with 14- to 17-year-old girls while serving as a consular officer in Brazil and Congo and documenting the encounters in pictures and videos.

The judge has agreed to delay Nachman's sentencing until Aug. 22 so that he can be examined by noted forensic psychologist Stanton Samenow. Defense attorney Stephen Stine said in court papers that a psychological examination might show that cultural differences led Nachman to believe that sexual contact with teenage girls was acceptable, and that should have an impact on what kind of sentence he receives.

Prosecutors rejected the notion that Nachman's victims somehow deserve less protection because they were not born or raised in America.

"Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazil have the same inherent value as children in the United States," prosecutor Ron Walutes wrote in court papers.

Prosecutors are asking for a 20-year prison term, the maximum he could receive under the law and much higher than the term of nine to 11 years called for under federal sentencing guidelines.

In a letter Nachman wrote from jail to the director of the Foreign Service pleading with him to intervene and get the charges dropped, Nachman explained the cultural differences as he sees them.

"In the Congo, women develop quickly, both physically and emotionally, due to the substantial responsibility society places on them from early childhood," Nachman wrote. "In Kinshasa, the vast majority of teenagers are sexually active with men that are substantially older. ... Their main concern is marrying young girls to men with financial stability, a concern dating thousands of years and cutting across cultural lines."

The case has been unusual on several fronts. It includes allegations that Nachman pressured attractive female visa applicants in Brazil for sex. Nachman admitted that he had sex with two women whom he met in the visa application process, but he denied coercing them and he was never charged in the matter.

Another odd twist is Nachman's prominence in the nudist community: In the 1990s, when attending law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Nachman led several public demonstrations advocating nudity. Nachman now contends that he was targeted for investigation in part because of his well-known affinity for the nudist lifestyle.

In his letter to the Foreign Service director, Nachman says investigators knew of his interest in nudism and illegally searched his apartment with the notion of finding images that, taken out of context, could be used against him.

Nachman says in the letter that he disclosed his activism and lifestyle to the Foreign Service and had no problems receiving a security clearance. State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson declined to comment directly on whether an individual's advocacy for public nudity would be a factor in the State Department's hiring process.

Nachman's prominence in the nudist community was such that, even though his activism was more than a decade ago, some nudists feel compelled to distance themselves from him.

In an upcoming issue of N Magazine, a publication of the Naturist Society, an editorial takes a strong stance against Nachman's conduct.

"The severity of what he did is unambiguous. Although his criminal actions were in no way connected with naturism, for many readers of the international news accounts, there will be guilt by association," the society wrote.

Perhaps the strangest twist in the case was Nachman's request that the judge who will sentence him conduct a marriage ceremony for him and his 21-year-old Brazilian fiancee. He wanted to be married before sentencing since he doubted that he would be able to marry once transferred to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons.

U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Bruce Lee rejected the request.

"There is a time and a place for everything. The Court finds that sentencing is neither the time nor the place" for a wedding, Lee wrote.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Will of The People

Listen to this:

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Houston Museum Exposes Capitalist Slavery

HOUSTON – The magnificent University Museum of the Texas Southern University affiliated with the world famous John Biggers’ School of Art has outdone itself. I attended the current exhibition “Drapetomania: A disease called freedom” today and the museum staff treated me by playing recordings of Paul Robeson singing “Joe Hill” and “No more auction block for me” as well as others.

Although the photos and artifacts documenting the atrocities of slavery in this country and the West Indies delivered a hammer blow to my senses, I walked away from the experience realizing the progress that working people have made over the last two centuries. The exhibit presented the instruments used to keep slaves submissive including spiked collars, and chains and shackles. One painting portrayed “The barbarities of the West Indias” where a white man was forcibly bathing a black man in a hot tub of water and preparing to apply hot curry scrubs to his skin in an effort to maintain his dominance. Notices of slavery auctions, and the last will and testament of a woman leaving a female slave in 1823 to her descendents documented the brutality of capitalism when it transformed human beings into commodities which were bought and sold on the market. Numerous photos of enslaved children picking cotton and engaged in other work activities were heart wrenching.

The main theme of the exhibition was on the medical term coined by Louisiana physician and psychologist, Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright, drapetomania. The term is a primitive attempt to pathologize slaves’ efforts to run away from oppressive masters. The term labels runaway slaves as “mad and crazy.” The remedy, it seems, according to the doctor, was to place the slaves away from free states and to keep them in submission. The doctor maintained that submission was the God given natural state of the slave and that to allow anything else would only lead to them running away.

The exhibit also presents the accomplishments of working African Americans. Photographers and furniture makers of African descent from Cincinnati were displayed. There were photos of Frederik Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Samuel Taylor-Coleridge, Sojourner Truth and numerous other great African-Americans. Books describing the Underground Railroad and of great African Americans were on display. There was a photo of and letter from California’s only black Governor, Pio Pico. A notice opposing lynching printed by the NAACP decried the lynching of 3436 people between 1889 and 1922. Tribute was paid to the great abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who published “The Liberator” and a copy of this newspaper was on display as well.

I realized that concepts similar to “drapetomania” are still in use today. Capitalism strives to lower wages and reduce benefits of working people in order to maximize profits. In order to accomplish this, various terroristic tactics are employed to keep workers submissive. Strike breaking and union busting as well as the anti-communist witch hunts of the mid twentieth century come to mind as efforts to break the tendencies of working people to escape from unbearable working conditions. Of course, this running away from the miseries of working conditions has taken many forms. Drug abuse, alcoholism and other excessive pleasure seeking activities are pursued by people to sedate their miseries resulting from low wages and benefits and lack of dignity and respect on the job site, i.e. alienation. Working people seeking to form unions and resist imperialist foreign policies are labeled as “terrorists” by the right wing and are degraded for their efforts to improve their working conditions. Substance abuse is a negative means of running away from miseries whereas forming unions and fighting back is a positive response to the unjust nature of capitalist oppression.

It is helpful to think in terms of the progress we have made since the early nineteenth century. This fabulous art exhibit provides a great deal of evidence that human beings united in their efforts to oppose oppressors can achieve the goals implied in the great song, “We shall overcome.”

James Thompson is a psychologist and social justice activist in Houston

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Texas Agency Defies History

A fruitful way to understand the fanatical efforts of America’s right wing is to realize that they want to turn back the clock and the calendar. Their efforts are clearest within the Texas Education Agency, where crazy scandals pop up with the same embarrassing regularity as adolescent acne.

On July 2, former state science curriculum director Christina Comer announced her lawsuit against the agency for having terminated her on charges of favoring science over superstition. Specifically, she is accused of forwarding an e-mail favoring scientific evolution over religious “creationism.” TEA claims to have established an employee policy of “neutrality” on this fact-versus-myth issue, and that Ms Comer was not sufficiently neutral.

Ms Comer’s lawsuit correctly says that such “neutrality” violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S.Constitution by effectively endorsing religion. According to the Dallas newspaper, the agency intends to rewrite the standards for science classes for all Texas school children. Presently, it includes the scientific fact that humans evolved from lower forms of life.

Christina Comer’s brave battle for reality isn’t likely to create much of a stir in Texas, because it’s only one of a long string of battles in which the right-wing tries to impose its unscientific nonsense onTexas children. As far back as the 1960s, Texas text-book hearings have produced shameful attempts to conceal the truth in all types of textbooks. Texas is one of the largest and most influential textbook buyers in the world, so the stakes are high.

Another ongoing scandal from the Texas Education Agency has to do with school vouchers. By a narrow vote, the Texas Legislature decided to stop trying to undermine the public schools in this particular manner, but TEA went ahead with a program to use tax money to pay for private schools enrolling older dropouts. The teachers’ unions and progressive state legislatures are fighting the effort to bring in a voucher system “by the back door.”

Several times in 2008, scandals have broken concerning charter schools who get tax money to help them undermine public education. Even though the highly vaunted state testing system has revealed the failure of such schools as compared to public education, our “experts” at the TEA continue to advocate them. Even when some charter schools have been revealed to have cheated on their record-keeping in order to keep getting state funding, the right-wingers keep endorsing them.

In the Texas election system, TEA officials are usually far down on an overcrowded ballot; consequently, “stealth campaigns” have been successful in getting religious nuts elected to positions of influence during the ascendancy of GW Bush and the rest of the right wing. It will take a reversal of previous election trends to change the situation. Fortunately, help is nigh in 2008!

--Jim Lane

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Government orders invasion of privacy... on behalf of a corporation

That's right - The US government has ordered Google to turn over Youtube user information to Viacom Inc., in order to help Viacom in their $1 billion dollar lawsuit against "pirates." Check out this statement from our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

"The court’s order grants Viacom's request and erroneously ignores the protections of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA), and threatens to expose deeply private information about what videos are watched by YouTube users. The VPPA passed after a newspaper disclosed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video rental records. As Congress recognized, your selection of videos to watch is deeply personal and deserves the strongest protection."

So, not only will they get info about users that have posted clips of shows they own, they're obtaining private and personal information about the people that watch them!

The digital age is leading to the destruction of commodity fetishism. Viacom Inc. and it's ilk are doing everything in their power to turn back time and destroy everything that we love about the Web, which is without doubt the most amazing worldwide social advancement in human history.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Obama Controversy?

The corporate media is buzzing with the latest "controversy". Check out what Reuters has to say:

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama's presidential campaign is signalling more flexibility on his pledge to quickly pull U.S. troops out of Iraq if elected as part of a move toward the political centre.

Obama's emerging shift of nuance on Iraq, the signature issue that helped him defeat Democrat rival Hillary Clinton to win his party's presidential nomination, comes as he prepares to make his first trip to Iraq."

All right, can someone please explain to me what the controversy is? Obama is telling the world that he is willing to tweak his plan to end the war in iraq by responding to objective conditions on the ground. He's NOT saying he's not going to end the war. Maybe I'm wrong, but basically he's saying that he's not some idiot like Bush who "stay's the course" in spite of reality, reason, logic, or even the wishes of the people of his nation.

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