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Inhuman Conditions

Solitary confinement

Solitary confinement (Photo credit: Chris.Gray

What people do to one another in this world is so distressing I can hardly stand it. To name just a few items aired in this morning’s news reports:

• Big celebration today as an ex-Panther was released from prison. Good news, right? Except his release came after two decades in solitary confinement. I can’t bear to hear these stories about people in solitary for so long, and it seems like recently they’re all coming to light. Why wasn’t I aware of this, if it’s been going on for 20 and 30 years? And I only just learned they throw children into the hole also! Do the powers-that-be really believe that a kid who spends any amount of time all alone in a cell is going to come out improved? Or unharmed, ready to live a full and responsible life? WTF is wrong with these people?!

drone

• Old news but they were talking about it again this morning on Democracy Now: One of Obama‘s drones attacked a group of Yemenis on their way to a wedding, killing something like a dozen people, turning what was to be a joyous day into one of grief. Apparently they believed some big terrorist was “hiding” among the wedding party, but survivors say they never heard of the guy. Even if they had—it seems we no longer believe in or practice the judicial system to which this country was once strongly devoted. No more innocent until proven guilty. And that includes YOU : Uncle Sam is also gunning down his own via the drone method. Our, ahem, liberal president looooves those drones: so neat and clean. Thus, no more messy, complicated trials. It’s just Kill Baby Kill!

cop

• Another kid was killed by a cop because he had the misfortune to be holding something in his hand. Must be a gun! This happened on the kid’s turf, in his own living room—cops came around looking for the dad who violated parole, and  burst in on a teenager playing electronic games. Startled, he raised his hand with the game’s remote in it, and one of the cops blew the kid away. Oh well, shit happens. Shit happens a lot lately.

pesticide sign

• Atrazine, a pesticide used on corn, is turning little boys into girls, apparently flooding their bodies with estrogen so they develop not only secondary sex characteristics but primary ones as well, like ovaries and the whole reproductive she-bang. The company using this stuff claims it’s harmless, and has fired the whistleblower, who’s now getting death threats—but he’s still talking. Good for him!

I know, I know: I haven’t included names, dates, links, or other details to back up any of the above, or direct readers that might want to follow up on these news items; but if I wait until I can do the research and put all my ducks in a row I won’t get to it for a long time, if ever. Besides, I really need to rant.

I might not have done research, but I did manage to fire off a few protest letters to governors and other authorities in the interest of ending solitary torture, since I can’t even think about this without feeling sick. I wonder if I have an extra empathic gene or something. Considering what goes on in this world, someone’s gotta have it.

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This American Justice

heartstitchesbrokenFor their Valentines Day program, This American Life on NPR broadcast a cluster of love stories in their usual format: people tell true life experiences, most with an odd angle or surprise ending. Some spoke of unrequited love, others about unusual breakups, and some even lived happily ever—after leaping over obstacles. One of the stories knocked me out, but not in the way you’d expect or want to be knocked out on Valentines Day. No, this story didn’t fill my heart with love unending, or give me hope and inspiration for the human race. It didn’t even make me cry. This story absolutely enraged me.

It was told by Justin, a high school senior who fell, hard, for a new girl in his school. She arrived mid-term and immediately caught all the boys’ attention with her mature (his word) good looks.  She was in two of his classes, and when he worked up enough courage to talk to her and even flirt a little, she did not discourage him.

There was something about Naomi , however, that we in the audience knew, but the hapless Justin did not: she was an undercover narc. That’s right, those clever slimy creeps at the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) came up with a scheme whereby a bevy of young, recently graduated cops fan out to schools all over the country—that is, to those states in which marijuana is still illegal—posing as students. I’d even hazard a cynical guess that they purposely chose those states with the most draconian drug laws in which to lay their evil traps. This incident occurred in Florida, where marijuana is classified as a

English: U.S. states are shown in green where ...

U.S. states in green where non-medical marihuana has been decriminalized at the state level. Note that marijuana of any kind is still criminalized under U.S. federal law throughout the entire U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has high potential for abuse and “no currently accepted medical use,” according to state statute (Fl. § 893.03). Florida also criminalizes marijuana trafficking, and possession or sales of drug paraphernalia, with a range of penalties, going up to 30 years in prison. (Fl. Stat. Ann. § 893.13.)

This American Life regularly runs long stories, but this one seemed even longer than most. Maybe that’s because I knew what was coming and my heart began cracking long before Justin’s did. He courted her for months while she strung him along, keeping him in suspense about attending the prom with him. This kid was going to graduate in a few months. He planned to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. He had good grades. He had good friends. He did not regularly do drugs. Yes, he’d occasionally used pot; who by his age has not? In California he’d be toking a doobie after lunch on the lawn across from Berkeley High. Not in Florida: in Florida the kid watched his ass—that is, until a pretty girl with a heart made of razor blades sank her claws in him.

While he anxiously awaited her decision on the prom, she casually asked him if he had any weed. He did not, but if she wanted some, he said, he’d try to get it for her. So removed was this kid from drug culture that it took him a couple of weeks and a

Cannabis whole lot of nerve to make a connection, and even more nerve to pass the stuff along to his beloved. When she handed him $25 he, like any teenage boy in love, refused to take it. He was showing off, giving her a present, trying to look like a big shot. Lest we forget, it was Naomi who’d put him in this position.

Ah, but in the state of Florida if you give someone less than 20 grams of marijuana without being paid, it’s only a first degree misdemeanor. For that the punishment is a puny year or less in jail—but selling the stuff can get you as many as 30. Naomi had to make Justin take payment. They went back and forth about it, she insisting, he refusing. Naomi, with more on the line than Justin, was the more persistent, and in exasperation he finally took the cash. Deed accomplished. Criminal apprehended. Another dealer off the street.

Justin got a three year sentence. No high school graduation. No Air Force: the US military excludes “felons.” And Justin’s reaction? With his life in ruins, his future shattered, his dreams all trashed, you’d think he’d be furious at the bitch. But is he? He is not. This poor creature is heartbroken, plain and simple. He responds as he might if she’d left him for another guy. That is the full extent of his emotions—at least as far as the program’s narrative takes us.

And Narc Naomi? No regrets, she says. Well bully for her. And bully for the U.S. of A. and their war on drugs.

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The Silver-Tongued Devil: President Barack Obama

…don’t you know he’s the devil 

Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

Hidin’ intentions of evil ….
All he’s good for is gettin’ in trouble
and shifting his share of the blame…
              —Kris Kristofferson, The Silver Tongued Devil and I

I’m starting to tune out President Obama’s voice the way I tuned out previous presidents—the two Bushies, to name the most recent. It’s a defense mechanism. Having gone through a period of rage at Obama for his actions as President, I can’t afford to expend anymore emotion on him. And yet, my outrage towards this president is greater than what I felt for the others, being aggravated by disappointment and near-disbelief. I’ve never been able to comprehend people who say one thing and do the opposite. The word for that kind of person is hypocrite, which is precisely what Barack Obama has turned out to be.

My friend Tommy never votes, about which he and I have fought bitterly. He espouses the anarchist’s point-of-view: “Don’t vote, it only encourages them.”  Larry, another friend of mine, said when Obama came on the scene, “I won’t vote for that guy—who the fuck is he?” Leftists have long cautioned us against being seduced by an apparently caring candidate who throws around jargon like transparency and extols the virtues of the working and middle classes. The theory behind this caution is that we’ll become enamored of the wrong person and believe all is well, no need to keep fighting the good (but exhausting) fight any longer. We can all go home and rest now, imagining we’re free to leave the running of the country to the paragon we just elected.

Well, guess what? Those theorists and anarchists were correct.

Artist: Barbara Jorgen Nance

Artist: Barbara Jorgen Nance

I wasn’t as gung-ho for Obama the candidate as some people were, but I admit that my heart leapt with hope listening to his rousing yet mellifluous speeches. He still talks a good line—which is why I call him The Silver-Tongued Devil—only now instead of leaping, my heart hardens and my head spins, and I wonder “How can he say that when he’s doing ——(fill in the blank)?” As I said, I have a hard time comprehending hypocrisy.

A few white people have accused voters of all races of backing Obama “just” for the color of his skin—and indeed, some voters did. But a vote for a black man as president isn’t a “just”—it’s a significant vote, and it was a significant reason to vote for Obama. I draw the line, however, with those who don’t care what he actually does in office, who think that breaking the White House ceiling is enough. Not only isn’t it enough, it’s downright dangerous: when I said the anarchists and leftists were correct, I meant that we were seduced by Obama’s silver tongue. Fortunately, many people see the disconnect between Obama’s words and his actions, and they’re making plenty of noise about it, from the Occupy movement to the Trayvon Martin travesty. (By the way, in saying he looked like Trayvon as a teenager Obama wasn’t saying, or doing, anything to alter the circumstances that led to Trayvon’s murder.)

By now you’re probably wondering, So what’s so bad about the guy? What exactly did he do? Ironically, I may have chosen the wrong time to let loose with this tirade, since the administration just announced a change in policy regarding the war on drugs that’s filled the country’s prisons to overflowing and created a whole new class of cons and ex-cons. Despite the possibility that he might do the right thing about this, I herewith present a list of five deeds—not words, but actions—initiated and carried out by the Obama administration. (And there are plenty more where these came from.)

1. DronesDrone

New American magazine  recently dubbed President Obama “The Kaiser of the Kill List.”  Obama has overseen 80,000 missions and the death of thousands by drone strike—and he has no idea how many assassinations he has approved. During his first three years in office Obama ordered five times the number of drone attacks that George W. Bush ordered during his entire two terms. (Shocking, isn’t it?)

2. Surveillance

Several months ago the world learned, via Edward Snowden of the NSA, that the Obama administration’s idea of fun is browsing through Americans’ phone bills. No need to worry, however: nobody’s listening to what we actually say on the phone, they’re only following who’s calling who so as to connect the terrorist dots. Not only is the NSA spying on U.S. citizens, they’re also snooping into the emails and calls of other governments, including those of our allies.

Edward Snowden3. Whistle Blowers.

#2 segues conveniently into #3, Obama’s attitude towards and treatment of those citizens, journalists, and others who inform the public what their government is up to, people known as whistleblowers. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks has been Ecuador’s houseguest for over a year, knowing that if he returns to the U.S. he’ll face punishment, possibly even torture. Edward Snowden was, ironically, granted asylum in Russia! for the same reason. These are the high-profile cases, but if you click on some of the links here you’ll find story after story about people who fear for their lives because they did their jobs, i.e., reported what this government is up to. The effect of these heavy investigations is to put a serious damper on journalists’ ability and willingness to keep reporting the truth.

The Obama administration has charged six government officials accused of providing classified information to the media with violations of the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law meant to prohibit “aiding the enemy.” These are more uses of the Espionage Act for that purpose than under all previous presidential administrations combined.

4. Transparencyobamastern

I never liked the word to begin with. The first time someone used it to describe intimate talk between friends I cringed: it confirmed my suspicion that transparency is just trendy rhetoric lacking any real substance. The idea of transparency in government was heavily promoted by Obama’s campaign. He and his minions swore in endless stump speeches that an Obama administration would be completely open and honest with the citizenry, that we would truly have a government of, by and for the people, something we’ve yet to behold in modern-day America. Obama began by posting all sorts of truths on his campaign website. The citizenry was elated.

Ah, but have you recently visited that website, Change.gov, first put up in 2008 (it seems a lifetime ago!)? Well, don’t bother trying—it was taken down some time around June. However, it can still be viewed at The Wayback archive for an interesting exercise in disappointment – you can see how much has not changed, or perhaps what has, only for the worse.

5.  Talk v. Action, or Hypocrisy

In 2005 then-Senator Obama gave a speech in which he expressed righteous outrage about spying by the NSA, especially warning letters sent to citizens to let them know they and their property were going to be searched, and they had no right to decline or even to call a lawyer. Apparently once upon a time Obama was against spying, but that was before he found himself in the seat of power. You know what they say: Power Corrupts.

More recently, in a speech about the NSA/Snowden affair, Obama claimed he would have been perfectly glad to see the country engaged in rational debate on these issues. If that’s true, then why didn’t he start such a debate before his back was up against the wall?

When I first chose to name these five elements of Obama’s mode of governance, I didn’t realize how much alike they are and how they overlap. Having done research on each, I conclude that all of it can be summarized by that one word: Hypocrisy. Not for the first time, we’ve got a big fat hypocrite sitting in the Oval Office, pushing buttons and having a field day playing with power. We’ve been through worse I suppose. Next time let us remember:  “The new boss is the same as the old boss” no matter how he’s packaged, and that includes the color of his wrapping.

Recommendations:

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama by Tom Junod in Esquire

Website of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

 

Post Election Post

 

 

My blog post of yesterday was probably one of the most precise expressions of my state of mind that I’ve ever written down. Like a lot of people I spent election night monitoring results on my computer, streaming PBS and watching tweets roll by, the latter endlessly amusing. A lot of journalists were tweeting; one of them noted “Florida’s giving me a heart attack.” Before he or anyone could melt down over that gun of a state, however, it was all over but the shouting: Obama was called pretty early, before 9:00 here in California. Of course, the Mitt didn’t concede right away, so I didn’t hear Obama’s speech ‘til my middle-of-the-night bathroom summons.

They’d been telling us all along it was going to be sooooo close, which got me and a lot of other people nervous. For what seemed like hours that infernal map blushed as if deeply embarrassed. Since I tend to forget that only about six people live in each of those red states, I was gnawing on my fingernails, wishing I’d done some phone calling for the Dems, worrying about yet more material deprivation in my future…and then suddenly Pennsylvania goes for Obama, and then another populous state, and Hey will you look at that! He’s Still the One!

My whole body collapsed right here in my chair. I hadn’t realized how tense I was, but when my muscles let go in relief I knew I’d been terrified about this election. Sure, we’ve had presidents as bad as Mitt Romney—Reagan, GWBush (The Nitwit)—but none of them were emboldened the way the Republicans seem to be nowadays. I might be wrong, but I suspect that a right-leaning president would do a lot more damage today than in the past. More than The Nitwit? I ask myself. Yeah. He was incompetent, but as I said, he wasn’t operating within the same toxic atmosphere; it was only just developing when he was in power.

But it’s a moot point. Not only did Obama win, he won big. The Reps are gathering in groups, scratching their heads and yelling at one another. They lost big among young people, Hispanics, and women. Doh! No young woman in 2012 is going to vote for a man or a party that calls pregnancy by rape a God-given blessing. No Latino worker is going to vote for the party that expects him to “self-deport.” These guys better get their act together or else, as their own Michael Steele and conservative think tanker Norm Ornestein are saying, they’re going to become fully irrelevant and unelectable.

 

You Must Remember This

John Nichols, a writer for The Nation, said on Democracy Now this morning that people, particularly progressives, need to understand this was a big win, and pressure President Obama to use the mandate for real change. It matters a lot, says Nichols, that he didn’t just crawl into the Oval Office or squeak through by a few lousy points. Florida’s results aren’t in yet, and neither are those of Washington State and a few other places, but Obama’s ahead mostly everywhere, and by the time the counting’s done he’ll have at least 100 more electoral votes than Romney.

How this works: The bigger a President wins, the more support he has from the voting public, and the more permission he’s been tacitly granted to implement the agenda we endorsed. As Nichols pointed out, Obama’s not a big progressive; he’s not even a liberal. He’s a centrist, on top of which he has a strong tendency to compromise. The only way he’s going to be emboldened—like a Republican in similar circumstances would be—is if the people who voted for him put on the pressure. One president, I think it may have been Lyndon Johnson, told those who voted him in that now they had to make him do their bidding. We need our leaders to lead us—and they need us to push them to lead. When they enact the policies we want, they’re not being radical or despotic: they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.  That is how it’s supposed to work. Our representatives represent us. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Meanwhile…

Happy Days Are Here Again / The skies above are clear again / Let’s sing a song of cheer again!

A bit of music trivia: Happy Days Are Here Again was written by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen in 1929 and used in the film Chasing Rainbows, as well as in dozens of other movies. It was the theme song for FDR’s 1932 presidential campaign and as a jumpy jingle became the unofficial song of the Democratic Party. In 1962 Barbra Streisand came along and rearranged it as a torch song for her first commercial success. Brilliant and beautiful. Check it out.

 

Report on the California Props :

Proposition 30: YES. Endorsed by Governor Jerry Brown, this prop temporarily increases state sales tax and income tax on individuals making over $250,000 to avoid “trigger cuts” to the state’s public education system.

Proposition 31: NO.  Would have created a two-year budget cycle for state government, allowed the governor to cut the budget in fiscal emergencies, and required performance reviews in state programs. This was a blatant anti-union proposition, and big money came from out of state to support it (currently under investigation).

Proposition 33: NO. Would have required insurance companies to set rates based on previous insurance history of drivers with better rates for drivers who had insurance in the past.

Proposition 34: NO.  Would have repealed California’s death penalty and replaced it with life in prison without parole. Death penalty will still be used in CA.

Proposition 35 : YES. Increases prison terms for human traffickers. Does a lot more than simply punish traffickers. This prop is a perfect example of the problems inherent in the initiative process. This looked good—after all, who’s not against human trafficking? But these are complex issues and the prop was written in such a way that most people did not see its flaws. While legal experts pointed them out, none  organized or gave money towards stopping its passage—because again, who’s going to come out looking like they’re pro-trafficking? So a bad law was passed by a wide margin (80%).

Proposition 36 : YES. Changed the “Three Strikes” law so that life-in-prison sentences only apply if the third conviction [strike] is “serious or violent.”

Proposition 37: NO. Would have required labeling of genetically-modified food and prohibited it from being labeled “natural.” The food industry, especially the Monsanto corporation, spent over $20 million to fight this measure. They won, we lost. Watch what you eat–if you can tell what it is!

Proposition 38: NO.  Would have hiked up state income tax for 12 years, allegedly for education.

Proposition 39: YES.  Requires multi-state businesses to pay income taxes based on percentage of sales in California.

Proposition 40: YES.  Keeps the California State Senate lines as they were drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2010.  Rep. Barbara Lee supported it.

An Immoral Budget

Posted on
Republican Primary Results.

Image via Wikipedia

This arrived in my email from moveon.org:

It’s time to sound the alarm.

This week, Congress could cut a deal on the budget. And if Republicans get their way, billions will be cut from vital programs that millions of Americans count on—while tax cuts for the richest are protected.

But most people don’t have any idea what’s at stake—and how devastating these cuts would be to their communities—even though the cuts could take effect within weeks. So we’re launching an emergency campaign to spread the word. Republicans want to gut programs with enormous public support, and hope no one notices. So it’s up to all of us to spark a public outcry before it’s too late.

The devastating impact these cuts will have on our country—and on your community—is unprecedented. Check out the list below. If we can get it out to a million people, we can start to sound the alarm and stop the GOP. Click here to post on Facebook and Twitter, or simply forward this email.
Thanks for all you do.

–Daniel, Peter, Carrie, Kat, and the rest of the team

Top 10 Worst Things about the Republicans’ Immoral Budget

The Republican budget would:

1. Destroy 700,000 jobs, according to an independent economic analysis.

2. Zero out federal funding for National Public Radio and public television.
3. Cut $1.3 billion from community health centers—which will deprive more than 3 million low-income people of health care over the next few months.

4. Cut nearly a billion dollars in food and health care assistance to pregnant women, new moms, and children.

5. Kick more than 200,000 children out of pre-school by cutting funds for Head Start.

6. Force states to fire 65,000 teachers and aides, dramatically increasing class sizes, thanks to education cuts.

7. Cut some or all financial aid for 9.4 million low- and middle-income college students.

8. Slash $1.6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, a cut that experts say would “send shockwaves” through cancer research, likely result in cuts to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research, and cause job losses.

9. End the only federal family planning program, including cutting all federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood to support cancer screenings and other women’s health care.

10. Send 10,000 low-income veterans into homelessness by cutting in half the number of veterans who get housing vouchers this year.

We’ve got to get the word out about this awful budget—right away. Please, share this with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, or by forwarding this email, today.

Sources:

1. “GOP spending plan would cost 700,000 jobs, new report says,” The Washington Post, February 28, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206357&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=6

2. “GOP budget would cut funding for public broadcasting,” The Washington Independent, February 14, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206513&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=7

3. “NACHC Statement in Response to the Budget from the House Appropriations Committee,” National Association of Community Health Centers website, accessed March 4, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206514&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=8

4.”Bye Bye, Big Bird. Hello, E. Coli.,” The New Republic, February 12, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206104&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=9

House Republican Spending Cuts Target Programs For Children And Pregnant Women
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206566&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=10

5. “Obama and the GOP’s Spending Cuts: Where’s the Outrage?” Mother Jones, February 18, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206569&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=11

6. Ibid.

7. “Deficit Reduction on the Backs of the Most Vulnerable,” Center for American Progress, March 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206518&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=12 (PDF)

8. “The GOP Budget and Cancer—Why New Research Is at Risk,” Politics Daily, February 27, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206515&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=13

“Republican Budget Cuts at Heart of Medical Research: Albert Hunt,” Bloomberg, February 20, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206516&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=14

“Durbin: Cuts to NIH put research jobs at risk,” Business Week, February 28, 2011
http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9LLSCB00.htm

9. “GOP Spending Plan: X-ing Out Title X Family Planning Funds,” Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206105&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=15

10. “House GOP Spending Cuts Would Prevent 10,000 Low-Income Veterans From Receiving Housing Assistance,” Think Progress, March 1, 2011
http://www.moveon.org/r?r=206517&id=26412-5236368-4vE641x&t=16

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