Saturday, May 24, 2008

Obama's basic goal as stated by a 9-year-old

There's a brilliant diary over at DailyKos where a father shares his 9-year-old daughter's take on Barack Obama:
Barack Obama wants everybody to work together and make things better, instead of getting angry because things are bad.

Can I ask another question?

Isn't the great historical struggle -- the task facing humanity through the ages -- to build a system based on love rather than domination? Love rather than domination in our relationships, love rather than domination in our economics, love rather than domination in our politics.

You can have a system (indeed we do have a system) based on domination. It will function, it will have its own internal logic, it will be able to perpetuate itself.

But every once in a while little glimpses of a system based on love peak through -- in our relationships, in our economics, in our politics. Isn't that what draws people to religious figures -- the hope for a world based on love rather than domination (only to be disillusioned when religion perpetuates domination, ahem Pope Benedict, in the name of love). Isn't that why people literally weep at the thought of Robert Kennedy -- the realization that a leader embodied the possibility of a world system based on love. Isn't that the struggle of all religious movements and political revolutions -- to move from a system based on domination to one based on love? Isn't that the defining struggle of our time and the defining struggle indeed of the human race?

Can I ask a question?

Yeah, it's a provocative question. That's what we do around here.

Is it possible that perhaps everything we learn in school -- music lessons and all the homework and sports and SAT tests and grades and getting in to "good colleges" -- is all just a tool to teach us domination (domination over our own bodies and domination over others)?

Isn't that what kids rebel against in school -- the fact they are being taught domination? Isn't that the point of the alienated kid in the John Hughes movie hating the jock -- the alienated kid doesn't hate sports -- he hates the fact that the jock is participating in and perpetuating a system of domination and yet isn't smart enough to realize it or own up to his participation in it. (Isn't that what the insult, "Tool!" is all about -- telling someone they are just a tool of a system of domination?) But of course the alienated kid doesn't have the words to really describe what's going on so he's just pissed all the time and doesn't know why.

Now I get that there are some schools which are really quite extraordinary and really do teach music for a love of music and really do teach history and math and all that for a love of learning. I get that there may be some schools and some teachers who really do love life and teach others how to live and love fully. But I gotta figure there aren't many of those kinds of schools.

Also to be fair (that's gonna be my new phrase for a while) life requires a fair amount of domination. Just think of how much domination needs to happen just to create a single nail -- the ore that has to be mined, the huge furnace to melt and process it, the factory equipment to press out this little piece of metal, the trucks to get that nail to the hardware store. And then think of all the nails that go into building a single simple little house. It seems that life just requires a fair amount of domination in order to survive.

And again to be fair, a world where people lack agency (which is kinda related to domination but not exactly the same thing) I imagine might be awful. Maybe it'd lead to famine and widespread suffering. Or maybe not.

Related question: Is it possible that in fact, students aren't being taught domination but rather submission to a system that requires them to dominate others?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Criminal negligence

Continuing our occasional word of the day series here at RFK Action Front... our word of the day is --

Criminal negligence: (law) recklessly acting without reasonable caution and putting another person at risk of injury or death (or failing to do something with the same consequences)

Rachel's Democracy & Health News links to an article from Science Daily, titled, "Autism Risk Linked to Distance from [Coal-Fired] Power Plants, Other Mercury-Releasing Sources." From the article:

A newly published study of Texas school district data and industrial mercury-release data, conducted by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, indeed shows a statistically significant link between pounds of industrial release of mercury and increased autism rates. It also shows—for the first time in scientific literature—a statistically significant association between autism risk and distance from the mercury source...

Dr. Palmer, Stephen Blanchard, Ph.D., of Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio and Robert Wood of the UT Health Science Center found that community autism prevalence is reduced by 1 percent to 2 percent with each 10 miles of distance from the pollution source....

Most exposures were said to come from coal-fired utility plants (33 percent of exposures), municipal/medical waste incinerators (29 percent) and commercial/industrial boilers (18 percent). Cement plants also release mercury.

Okay, so now we know there is a direct link between mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants and autism. And we know that the closer one lives to the source the worse the problem -- as the study says, "autism prevalence diminished 1 to 2 percent for every 10 miles from the source." It's a small but statistically significant effect.

So here's my question: now that we know this information, aren't any legislators who vote in favor of building a new coal-fired power plant guilty of criminal negligence? Not just in the moral sense, but also in a practical sense -- isn't it possible that a criminal prosecutor will at some point bring a case against legislators who voted in favor of coal-fired power plants even though they knew, with statistical certainty, that there is a direct link between coal-fired power and autism? Given that this scientific research in now in the public domain, by definition, isn't any vote in favor of new coal-fired power plants in fact a prosecutable case of criminal negligence?

Now it may be a tough case to prove. Heaven knows big corporations have gone to great lengths to obtain liability protection and some legislatures might even be protected against lawsuits by shield laws. And just like in the court cases against the tobacco industry -- it'll be tough to prove that this particular coal plant was the sole reason that this particular child developed autism -- maybe it was the cement factory down the street or the vaccines given to the child. But still, I gotta figure on a class action basis, given this evidence, some attorney might want to take this on.

So, if you're a legislator such as Bill Otto in Kansas, do you really want to vote for a new coal-fired power plan when in fact you KNOW that it will cause huge adverse health impacts on the residents in your community and you face the possibility that you, personally, will be sued for criminal negligence?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sweet new environmental widget

If you live in LA or NY or DC or anywhere other than Appalachia (or Wyoming) mountaintop removal mining can seem out of sight and out of mind. So the folks over at have developed this clever little widget. Just type in your zip code and the widget will tell you who your power company is and whether they rely on coal obtained from mountaintop removal mining.

Pin this badge on your site.

So for example, Los Angeles, which has no coal mines and no coal-fired power plants within city limits -- imports its energy from the Argus Cogen Plant which buys its coal from mountaintop removal operations in Utah, Wyoming, and Appalachia. So rather than being out of sight and out of mind, I now understand that Southern California is directly involved in mountaintop removal mining.

When you enter your zip code and click "Show My Connection" not only will you get info on your local power company but they also provide a link so that you can "Tell your power company to stop supporting mountaintop removal." Simple, effective, brilliant.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Cartel: a formal (explicit) agreement among firms. Cartel members may agree on such matters as price fixing, total industry output, market shares, allocation of customers, allocation of territories, bid rigging, establishment of common sales agencies, and the division of profits or combination of these. The aim of such collusion is to increase individual member's profits by reducing competition. Competition laws forbid cartels.

Picture if you will, a group of millionaire white men (mostly, some women too, and some people of color but mostly white men) who come up with a scheme whereby they organize thousands of mostly black young men in the prime of their lives into a single industry. They convince these mostly black young men (some white, latino, and asian men, and some women too) to perform in front of a huge nationwide TV audience -- with the promise that if they perform really really well, they might eventually be paid millions of dollars. But there's a catch -- these young men will work 365 days a year at their job but they are required, by the cartel, to donate all of their labor, to these white men for 4 years. In fact, 99% of them will not be paid for their labor at all (instead the white male millionaires will keep all of the earnings). The scheme promises that about 1% of these young men will become millionaires -- but as I said, the rest will get nothing. Making matters even more inhumane, the millionaire white men decide that these unpaid laborers must remain "pure" -- even if they come from the most impoverished families in the country they cannot accept ANY gifts whatsoever -- not even a ticket to a show or a trip to the dentist or else they will be kicked out of the system.

So what am I talking about here? A South African diamond mine? A pre-Civil War version of American Idol? A factory that relies on forced labor in China?

Nope, I'm talking about the National Collegiate Athletic Association better know as the NCAA. The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar cartel. For example, in 1999, CBS paid $6 billion for the rights to broadcast the NCAA basketball tournament for 11 years. $6 billion! Out of that $6 billion -- how much do the players get? You guessed it, $0. Fox is paying another $320 million for 4 years just for the rights to broadcast the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) football games. College football and basketball coaches are paid millions of dollars each year -- apparently they are not required to stay pure. Yet the players whose labor creates these billions of dollars in revenue are paid $0. (And don't go talking to me about the value of the education these men get -- we all know that graduation rates for scholarship athletes are abysmal. These "student-athletes" are used for their labor, pure and simple.) It seems to me that not only is the NCAA an illegal cartel that is breaking the law by restraining competition, they very well may be in violation of the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

From today's NY Times article about Los Angeles Lakers' forward Lamar Odom.
Odom, who lost his father to divorce at age 6 and his mother to cancer at 12, attended three high schools his senior year and signed with Nevada-Las Vegas amid rumors that he received improper inducements of cash and free dental work from a university booster.
The NCAA literally wanted to punish a young black man who was dirt poor and being raised by his grandmother from seeing a DENTIST! Meanwhile the coach of the team and the white man in the NCAA office who made up the rule, were paid millions.

NCAA President Myles Brand, multi-millionaire who makes his money by stealing the labor of thousands of young athletes. You sir have been named this week's "Worst Person in the World."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Everything you need to know about John McCain in 3 minutes

This video is incredible (even better than kitties on treadmills). Whether you are liberal, conservative, libertarian, green, or still making up your mind -- you owe it to yourself to spend 3 minutes watching this video before voting for President.

Brave New Films is doing absolutely incredible work right now. Click (here) to support their amazing efforts.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Iowa vs. Kansas

Another gem from the Omaha World-Herald (Omaha is just across the river from Iowa so they often report on Iowa news as well)...

As you know, there's been a fierce debate over the proposed construction of two coal-fired power plants in SW Kansas. Republicans in the Kansas legislature have been obsessed with trying to get these polluting monstrosities built (so that the energy can then be sent to Colorado and Texas) while the Democratic Governor has wisely vetoed the measure and twice defeated veto override votes in the legislature. The Orwellian-named Sunflower Electric Power Corp has spent nearly $1 million on lobbying to get the plants approved while local newspapers bemoaned the fact that the legislature failed to attend to much needed business (including health care proposals) because they were so fixated on the coal fight.

Meanwhile, not far away in Iowa, a completely different picture is emerging. MidAmerican Energy, since 2003, has focused on increasing its production of wind energy. The differences between Iowa and Kansas couldn't be more stark. From the article, Wind Energy Project Proposed:

A "green" project may be popping up out of the green fields of northeastern Pottawattamie County this summer.

MidAmerican Energy is looking at the area as a site to build 64 wind turbines, a project that county officials said could be worth more than $120 million and generate about 96 megawatts of electricity.

The Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors will schedule a public hearing on tax incentives for the project in the next few weeks. If the proposal is approved, construction could begin sometime this summer.

County board member Delbert King said he thought the project would be worth more than $120 million, with each tower costing about $2 million. The area being considered, King said, is outside Walnut. It would be leased from landowners....

MidAmerican Energy has been increasing the amount of electricity it generates from wind since 2003. By the end of this year, MidAmerican expects to have more than 780 wind turbines operating in the state, including the proposed turbines in Pottawattamie County.

In January, 142 wind turbines went into service, most in north-central Iowa. Another 260 wind turbines are being built near Carroll, Pomeroy and Adair, said Tom Budler, general manager of wind development for MidAmerican. They are expected to be running by the end of the year.

MidAmerican Energy expects to generate about 18 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by the end of this year...

Budler said wind energy is part of the company's portfolio and helps mitigate the rising cost of fuel and the amount of emissions. Wind energy projects are part of the reason MidAmerican has not raised rates since 1995, he said.

Important to note:

Iowa generates more wind energy than all but three other states despite being 10th in the nation in the amount of wind resource available.

By contrast Kansas is the 3rd windiest state in the nation, but it's like pulling teeth to get neanderthal Kansas legislators like Bill Otto to even consider investing in wind projects.

A few final thoughts on this:

1.) Comparing energy policy in Iowa verses Kansas shows that doing the right thing (investing in wind or other alternative energy sources) is often EASIER than doing the wrong thing.

2. ) What's fascinating about the debate in Kansas is that Republicans in the state have made coal synonymous with masculinity, Republicanism, patriotism, and nationalism. It's almost like they see the harm caused by coal as a virtue because it's macho and reminds them of an earlier industrial age of American economic might. Increasingly, voters are way ahead of politicians in understanding smart energy policy.

3.) Better politics in Iowa results in better energy solutions, less political discord, and better outcomes for residents (think about this -- farmers in Iowa are being paid to lease their land for wind turbines while Kansas farmers would get all of the pollution and none of the benefit from coal-fired plants in their state).

Bush goes to court to prevent mad cow testing

I was in Omaha, Nebraska this past weekend to celebrate my grandma's 100th birthday. I got to reconnect with family and meet some of my grandma's awesome neighbors in her town of 200 people.

I also got to read the Omaha World-Herald, which is actually a pretty decent paper. On Saturday morning I picked up the paper and read:

"The Bush Administration on Friday urged a federal appeals court to stop meatpackers from testing all of their animals for mad cow disease."

It was early morning so I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn't seeing things. I read on:

The government seeks to reverse a lower court ruling that allowed Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef to conduct more comprehensive testing to satisfy demand from overseas customers in Japan and elsewhere.

Less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows are currently tested for the disease under Agriculture Department guidelines. The agency argues that more widespread testing does not guarantee food safety and could result in a false positive that scares consumers.

"They want to create false assurances," Justice Department attorney Eric Flesig-Greene told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

But Creekstone attorney Russell Frye contended the Agriculture Department's regulations covering the treatment of domestic animals contain no prohibition against an individual company testing for mad cow disease, since the test is conducted only after a cow is slaughtered. He said the agency has no authority to prevent companies from using the test to reassure customers.

"This is the government telling the consumers, `You're not entitled to this information,'" Frye said.

Chief Judge David B. Sentelle seemed to agree with Creekstone's contention that the additional testing would not interfere with agency regulations governing the treatment of animals.

"All they want to do is create information," Sentelle said, noting that it's up to consumers to decide how to interpret the information.

Larger meatpackers have opposed Creekstone's push to allow wider testing out of fear that consumer pressure would force them to begin testing all animals too. Increased testing would raise the price of meat by a few cents per pound.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, can be fatal to humans who eat tainted beef. Three cases of mad cow disease have been discovered in the U.S. since 2003.

The district court's ruling last year in favor of Creekstone was supposed to take effect June 1, 2007, but the Agriculture Department's appeal has delayed the testing so far.

I stopped eating beef back in 2003 because the more you read about the food safety system in this country the more you realize there IS NO food safety system in this country. By contrast, Japan tests 100% of their cows for mad cow disease.

So in the last two weeks, the Bush administration has refused to keep rocket fuel out of our drinking water and gone to court to prevent responsible meat packers from trying to keep mad cow disease out of our hamburgers. Nice work guys.

Here's my question: does the Bush administration truly believe that they were elected with a mandate to force people to drink rocket fuel and eat mad cow infected meat or do they just not care anymore -- angry despots trying to squeeze every last cent out of the American people (on behalf of their corporate friends) in the waning days of their corrupt rule?

Interestingly, I checked both the NY Times and the LA Times and neither one of them seemed to have this story. Hat tip to John Amato at Crooks and Liars for flagging the AP version of the story on Yahoo (link -- definitely check out the comments below the C&L story too).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Book Review: The Bridge at the Edge of the World

I just finished reading The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability and came away mystified (not in a good way). The author, James Speth, is one of the great heroes of the American environmental movement. He co-founded the National Resources Defense Council, founded the World Resources Institute, led numerous United Nations' environmental initiatives and currently serves as Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies -- the nation's premier training ground for environmental leaders.

Speth thesis is stark: capitalism and the environment cannot co-exist. Either we change our economic system to limit the negative effects of capitalism or the planet dies. It's that simple. From the book:

How serious is the threat to the environment? Here is one measure of the problem: all we have to do to destroy the planet's climate and biota and leave a ruined world to our children and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today, with no growth in the human population or the world economy. Just continue to release greenhouse gases at current rates, just continue to impoverish ecosystems and release toxic chemicals at current rates, and the world in the latter part of this century won't be fit to live in. But, of course, human activites are not holding at current levels -- they are accelerating, dramatically.

Speth has done a voluminous amount of research and does a wonderful job summarizing and weaving together environmental and economic research to paint a picture of a world in crisis. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the debate is that he brings in the latest findings from the newly emerging field of happiness research (Martin Seligman and others) to show that after a certain point, increased income does not lead to increased happiness -- so it's silly for all of U.S. economic policy and indeed U.S. public policy to be based on increasing GDP.

But as I waded deeper into the book, I grew alarmed. The book, is almost completely apolitical. The book contains no analysis of power and how power works in society. No analysis of the actors involved, no mention of political parties, no mention of the fact that Democrats have been carrying water for the environmental movement since its inception and Republicans will do anything to serve their corporate friends. (Interestingly, there is also no mention of Yale's role in training many of these corporatists who are destroying the planet, no mention of Yale's endowment or how it is being used in ways that contribute to environmental catastrophe.) No mention of torture, or death squads, or genocide and how those violent acts are employed in the pursuit of wealth. He's literally talking about the death of the planet, and yet he refuses to name its executioners. It's a little bit like trying to tell the history of World War II without mentioning the names of the countries involved or their leaders.

It is startlingly to put The Bridge at the Edge of the World up against Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism or Derrick Jensen's The Culture of Make Believe. All three books cover similar ground (in fact, Speth borrows heavily from Shock Doctrine but never quotes Klein nor gives her any credit) but unlike Speth, Klein and Jensen show who is responsible for the atrocities, why they are doing it, and provide a bracing account of just how difficult it will be to counteract corporate power.

I get what Speth's trying to do. I really do. He's trying to gently reach out to Republicans and corporatists to try to get them to finally, eventually, correct course and do the right thing (while still basically explaining how bad things are). But by failing to speak truth to power, by pulling his punches for fear of alienating those responsible -- it seems to me that he perpetuates the very power dynamics that have gotten us into this mess in the first place. Besides, Speth's apolitical strategy isn't likely to work. Those most responsible for the planet's demise are unlike to pick up the book in the first place -- and even less likely to understand or act upon his suggestions. No one gives up power willingly. If we're going to replace the capitalist system with something better (as he recommends), it will require TAKING power away from those who have pursued wealth without conscience (which he fails to mention).

So if you're looking for some helpful data, the first few chapters of The Bridge at the Edge of the World are excellent. But if you're looking for a blueprint for what to do about it, this ain't it (I'd recommend reading Shock Doctrine instead).

Update #1: I was over at the website How to Boil a Frog (fascinating progressive environmental website) and stumbled across this brilliant quote:
The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And the people who are killing it have names and addresses. --Utah Phillips
Update #2: I read this quote today (in The Sun) "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." --Frederick Douglass. That's my problem with this book. It just never makes a demand on power.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


ESPN is so good at this:

"It's a great moment when someone has character to step up and do the right thing at the right time." -- Pam Knox, Head Coach, Women's Softball, Western Oregon

Great moment indeed.

Deep bow to Sara Tucholsky, Liz Wallace, and Mallory Holtman.

That's what you get for hiring a Republican strategist to run your campaign

Karen Tumulty of Time Magazine is out today with a post-mortem on what went wrong with the Clinton campaign (hat tip to David Kurtz at TPM for flagging it). Her analysis includes the following bombshell revelation:

Clinton picked people for her team primarily for their loyalty to her, instead of their mastery of the game. That became abundantly clear in a strategy session last year, according to two people who were there. As aides looked over the campaign calendar, chief strategist Mark Penn confidently predicted that an early win in California would put her over the top because she would pick up all the state's 370 delegates. It sounded smart, but as every high school civics student now knows, Penn was wrong: Democrats, unlike the Republicans, apportion their delegates according to vote totals, rather than allowing any state to award them winner-take-all. Sitting nearby, veteran Democratic insider Harold M. Ickes, who had helped write those rules, was horrified — and let Penn know it. "How can it possibly be," Ickes asked, "that the much vaunted chief strategist doesn't understand proportional allocation?" And yet the strategy remained the same, with the campaign making its bet on big-state victories. Even now, it can seem as if they don't get it. Both Bill and Hillary have noted plaintively that if Democrats had the same winner-take-all rules as Republicans, she'd be the nominee.

As you know, I've been highly critical of Senator Clinton's choice of Mark Penn as her chief strategist. If it's indeed true that Mark Penn didn't realize that the Democratic primaries are proportional, rather than winner take all, that would be one of the biggest blunders in political history. The fact that the Clinton campaign, even once recognizing the mistake, didn't correct for it, appears even more shocking. Now maybe this is just some campaign insider trying to throw Mark Penn under the bus (heaven knows he deserves it). But the fact that Penn spends so much time of his time working for Republican candidates and their corporatist enablers makes the rumor seem that much more plausible.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Let them drink rocket fuel

I usually don't read the LA Times (other than the Sports page to read about the Lakers and the Calendar section to read Get Fuzzy and Carolyn Hax). The LA Times seems to go through a new publisher every few months and just within the last year the paper has become increasingly conservative. Which is too bad because the LA Times used to be required reading -- especially for their coverage of Latin America and the Pacific Rim (which was much better than the NY Times coverage of those areas). Anyway.

But today, they had an important article that the NY Times seems to have missed -- so good for them.

Today I opened up the paper and read, "EPA May Decide Not to Limit Toxin." Perchlorate is a highly toxic ingredient in rocket fuel that has contaminated water supplies across the country -- including the Colorado River and aquifers near current and former military installations and defense contractors. Perchlorate is really bad stuff:

Scientific studies have shown that the chemical blocks iodide and suppresses thyroid hormones, which are necessary for the normal brain development of a fetus or infant.

Perchlorate is so toxic that just a few parts per billion has been shown to have an adverse effect on human health. So, of course, the corporate lobbyists who were appointed by Bush to run the Environmental Protection Agency have announced that they have decided they WILL NOT limit the allowable amount of perchlorate in our drinking water. Literally, the Bush administration EPA is saying that it is okay for Americans to drink rocket fuel.

If anybody wonders why I will NEVER EVER VOTE FOR A REPUBLICAN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE -- this is one of the reasons why.

Congratulations to Senator Barbara Boxer for taking corporate whore EPA administrator Benjamin Grumbles to task for his failure to protect American's children from being forced to drink rocket fuel. And congratulations to the State of California for setting its own standard for perchlorate because they got tired of waiting for the EPA to act (although at 6 micrograms/L the California standard is probably far too lax -- Massachusetts set its allowable limit at 2 micrograms/L.)

Needless to say, Benjamin Grumbles has been named this week's Worst Person in the World.


So I drank too much coffee last night and couldn't fall asleep and all of these blog posts just kept dancing through my head...

Imagine, just for a moment if George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson had taken seriously the fact that the public owns the airwaves. Imagine if they had taken seriously their role as journalists. Imagine if they had taken seriously the problems facing our country.

Imagine if instead of bringing in someone to ask a ridiculous question about a flag pin, imagine if Stephanopoulos had brought in the nation's top climate scientist to ask a question about global warming. Or imagine if he had brought in an Iraqi legislator to ask a genuine question about how complicated withdrawal from Iraq will be. Imagine if Stephanopolous had brought in a geologist to start a debate as to whether we have reached peak oil and what that will do to gasoline prices over the next 10, 20, or 30 years. Imagine if Stephanopolous had brought in a fisherman to talk about the collapse of the salmon stocks off the coast of California. Imagine if he had asked the candidates what their strategy will be for ending autism, hunger, or sexually transmitted disease or whether they have a strategy to deal with these issues at all. Imagine if he had brought in Amory Lovins to ask a question about energy policy, Maya Angelou to ask a question about race, or Saul Williams to ask a question about, well, anything.

I guess I'm saying, imagine if Stephanopolous or Gibson had acted like the presidential election actually matters (which of course everyone EXCEPT corporate media already realizes).

But of course, Stephanopolous and Gibson didn't ask any of those questions. When you really think about all the questions they refused to ask, the fact that when given the national stage they turned a presidential debate into a sideshow circus -- it really makes a serious case for firing both Stephanopoulos and Gibson. I think you could even make the case for ABC to lose their broadcast license.


Collusion: "secret agreement or cooperation for an illegal or deceitful purpose."

Over 4,000 Americans dead in Iraq.

The war will cost upwards of $2 trillion.

The U.S. is in a recession.

And last week, the U.S. corporate media dedicated 42% of their political coverage to a retired African American minister who has called the U.S. to account for its history of racism.

Never mind that the white male candidate is buddies with a white male pastor who eagerly awaits the Armageddon, considers the Catholic Church to be the Anti-Christ, said that Jews brought their own persecution upon themselves, and claims that Hurricane Katrina was god's judgment upon the city of New Orleans. Hagee received virtually no coverage last week.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Recommended reading

Traditional media usually does an awful job of documenting the intricacies of modern dating. So the NY Times did something wonderful -- they held a college essay contest on the topic of "Modern Love" and are publishing the five best submissions. The winner, "Want to Be My Boyfriend? Please Define" by Marguerite Fields, a junior at Marlboro College in Vermont was published today. Field's piece is brilliant and heartbreaking at the same time:
Sometimes I don’t like them, or am scared of them, and a lot of times I’m just bored by them. But my fear or dislike or boredom never seems to diminish my underlying desire for a guy to stay, or at least to say he is going to stay, for a very long time.

And even when I don’t want him to stay — even when he and I find each other as strangers and remain strangers until we stop doing whatever it is we are doing — I still want to believe that two people can meet and like each other well enough to stay together exclusively, without the introduction of some 1960s rhetoric about free love or other noncommittal slogans.

--from, Want to Be My Boyfriend? Please Define

Also, Angelenos know that LA Weekly food columnist Jonathan Gold is THE. BEST. RESTAURANT. REVIEWER. IN. THE. WORLD! Seriously, he's incredible. Check out, "Keep on Trucking: Notes from the taquero resistance" about the battle to save LA's beloved taco trucks. Warning, you're gonna get hungry for some tacos.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why Bobby Kennedy Matters

In 2005, I was applying to a master of divinity program to become a Buddhist chaplain. As part of my application for financial support, I had to write an essay on "Engaged Buddhism." I was casting about for material for my essay and I started watching the PBS series Eyes on the Prize that documents the history of the civil rights movement. I've read two newspapers a day since I was a teenager and was a political science major in college. Yet I was shocked to discover that I knew very little about the history of the civil rights movement. I couldn't believe that in 16 years of education I had never been told this remarkable story.

The speeches of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were unlike anything I had ever heard before. They were speaking on a moral plane that was vastly more advanced than anything in our current political discourse. I remembered hearing cartoonist Aaron McGruder say that no one had dared speak truth to power in this country since 1968. Watching King and Kennedy speak, I realized that McGruder was right -- that the political and moral development of this nation stopped in 1968 and we've been living in the shadow of a 40-year political eclipse.

I didn't end up going into the divinity program. In the end, American Buddhism put way too much emphasis on passivity for my taste.

Having been introduced to Bobby Kennedy through Eyes on the Prize I was hungry for more. I was hungry for a real political conversation in this country -- not the petulant, lowest common denominator, god-gays-and-guns pandering required by all politicians ever since. Listening to Bobby Kennedy I realized that a different world was possible. I realized that America was not just facing a crisis of political courage -- it was facing a crisis of IDEATION -- we had lost the capacity to form new ideas -- our brains had been colonized by the narrow limits of what is deemed permissible in our current political climate.

I started to wonder, what would it be like if Bobby Kennedy were alive today? What would he say? What issues would he be leading on? What would our country have been like if Bobby had survived? Where would we be as a nation today if we had been able to enjoy 8 years of a Kennedy administration followed by 8 years of a Martin Luther King administration? Picture that!!!

So I started this website, RFK Action Front. I named it RFK Action Front to pattern it after revolutionary movements in Latin America who name their struggle in honor of a fallen martyr (such as the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional in El Salvador and the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional in Nicaragua). I intentionally choose to invoke revolution because I believe we need to dismantle the oppressive economic, political, and religious structures in our country and start anew. I believe it starts with overthrowing the colonization of our own minds -- discarding the pop up messages of "no you can't /this is the way it is" and starting to dream and work towards a world of limitless possibilities again. I started RFK Action Front to try to inject Bobby Kennedy's vision back into the political conversation in this country. Sometime I live up to that challenge, other times I write about cats and pop singers.

It's been striking to see that just within the last few weeks, many people have started to talk about Bobby Kennedy again. Mostly I think this renewed interest in Bobby Kennedy is driven by Barack Obama's candidacy. For the first time in 40 years people are feeling hopeful again. For the first time in 40 years a political leader is calling on all Americans to find our moral core as a nation and to act upon our highest values. I also think we are living in a unique historical moment. We are all waking up from our collective PTSD as a result of the trauma of 1968. I think it was only a matter of time before people began to demand genuine courage and moral leadership in our country again -- and with the decline of the Republican party and the rise of people-powered publishing on the internet, that deep national yearning has been made evident. Obama is no Bobby Kennedy -- he's still young, still learning, still finding his moral core. But in many ways his campaign has picked up the conversation started by Martin and Bobby. And he's injected aspiration politics back into our political discourse and for that we own him an enormous debt of gratitude (and our votes).

Here are some of the articles that have come out on Bobby Kennedy in recent days:

"The Last Good Campaign" in Vanity Fair. Bobby Kennedy was also on the cover this month. They also have 18 photos by Bill Eppridge that will break your heart into a 1000 pieces.

Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake links to a series of videos on RFK that are extraordinary.

Also, the Washington Post did a piece today on Charles Guggenheim who designed RFK's TV commercials during the 1968 campaign. The photos and videos they compile on their website are amazing.

I believe Bobby Kennedy lives as long as we hold him in our hearts and allow him to remind us of the angels of our better nature. Long may he live.

Bobby Kennedy campaigns in Indianapolis during May of 1968, with various aides and friends, including (behind and left of Kennedy) former prizefighter Tony Zale and (right of Kennedy) N.F.L. stars Lamar Lundy, Rosey Grier, and Deacon Jones. Photograph by Bill Eppridge.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Sierra Club 1, Coal-Fired Power 0 -- Yea Kansas!

The Sierra Club and their allies scored a HUGE victory in Kansas today as the Kansas House sustained Governor Sebelius' veto of plans for two coal fired power plants. (Hat tip to Kos for the link).

A few points worth mentioning here:

1.) The coal industry and their lobbyists at Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ahem!) American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity act like they are just misunderstood. When profits are going their way they are polite and earnest and act like they'd walk your grandmother across the street if she needed help. But then, when Kansas turned down plans for two coal-fired plants in the state -- the coal industry started running full page ads in the newspaper accusing Governor Sebelius of helping Iran, Venezuela and Russia.

“Why are these men smiling?” the full-page ad asks below photos of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

See the bait and switch there? Every is nervous about oil supplies (rightly so). But oil is used to power our cars and has nothing to do with the electricity used to power our homes (which can be supplied by natural gas, solar, wind, and geothermal). But the coal thugs thought they could play on our fears about oil and terrorism and the Middle East and confuse voters into thinking that oil has something to do with electricity supplies here in the U.S. (which is doesn't).

Put money in their pockets and they are your best buds, stop the money flowing and the coal guys start running full page ads calling you a friend of terrorism. Classy guys these coal lobbyists.

2.) One of the most galling aspects of the proposed plants in Kansas is that the people of Kansas weren't even going to benefit from them. "Nearly 85 percent of the electricity [from the proposed plants] would have gone to out-of-state consumers." So Kansas would have gotten all of the pollution and none of the power -- no wonder they turned it down.

3.) 2 out of 3 Kansans opposed the coal-fired power plants and 3 out of 4 Kansans want the state to increase its investment in wind energy. If we live in a democracy, don't you think the state should act on those wishes? Kansas is the third windiest state in the nation -- yet the coal guys wanted to dig a hole and set rocks on fire rather than harnessing the free, abundant, renewable energy all around them.

4.) In the fight against coal-fired power plants, I think real estate agents could become an unlikely ally. Coal-fired power plants are kryptonite to real estate values downwind from the plant. It's interesting to note that in the vote in Kansas even some Republican members downwind of the proposed plants voted against them.

So congratulations to Governor Sebelius. I imagine she moved further up Obama's short list for VP today. And congratulations to the Sierra Club and a huge coalition of environmental groups in Kansas for their great work. I'll leave you with this quote from a Republican member of the House who voted against the coal fired power plants:

“I’m amazed at how well-educated many Kansans are on issues about the environment and energy,” she said.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Wall Street Journal tells Obama to 'smell the glove'

Okay so I saw this editorial by Peggy Noonan when it came out last Friday. (Hat tip to Blue Texan at Firedoglake for flagging it and doing a great piece about it.) But at the time, I told myself, 'just ignore it, think happy thoughts,' because really getting into the muck of what's going on with this editorial was just gonna make me mad.

Then Nascar lovin' multimillionaire newscaster Brian Williams wrote on his blog that not only did he like Noonan's editorial but he thinks Noonan deserves the Pulitzer Prize. Which caused steam to shoot out my ears so now I'm here writing a blog post instead of watching Survivor.

Let me just take a moment to break down why Noonan's original editorial is so problematic and what it says about the Wall Street Journal, Brian Williams, and the modern Republican Party.

Noonan's editorial, The View from Gate 14 questions Barack Obama's patriotism (big surprise there, given that the entire Republican noise machine apparently got the memo to try to advance that narrative this week). The centerpiece of Noonan's editorial is this:

Main thought. Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama's problem. America is Mr. Obama's problem. He has been tagged as a snooty lefty, as the glamorous, ambivalent candidate from Men's Vogue, the candidate who loves America because of the great progress it has made in terms of racial fairness. Fine, good. But has he ever gotten misty-eyed over . . . the Wright Brothers and what kind of country allowed them to go off on their own and change everything? How about D-Day, or George Washington, or Henry Ford...

Yeah because it's not enough that Barack Obama already idolizes Ronald Reagan, he also has to get teary eyed over slave owner George Washington and neo-Nazi Henry Ford -- the guy who was actually cheering for Germany to win World War II?

Look, Peggy Noonan isn't dumb. As Reagan's speech writer, she was his voice and his brain as it deteriorated over the course of his presidency. Noonan could have picked ANY Americans to illustrate her professed love of country. And she intentionally chose a SLAVE OWNER (George Washington) and SOMEONE WHO SIDED WITH HITLER (Henry Ford) to illustrate her point. Which is what exactly? That you have to be a white supremacist to be a good American? Noonan chose these examples to rub Barack Obama's nose in America's long history of racism. Noonan chose these examples, and the Wall Street Journal chose to publish this piece to tell Barack Obama, "no matter how much you love Reagan, no matter that you were head of your class at Harvard -- you'll never be part of the white establishment." Notice the pivot in Noonan's argument:

"[Obama has been portrayed as] the candidate who loves America because of the great progress it has made in terms of racial fairness. Fine, good. But..."

Noonan is going out of her way to remind Obama that this is not just the country of Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez but also the country of the Middle Passage, Jim Crow, and the KKK. This editorial is the worst kind of sneering Republican country club racism and the sort of coded dog whistle politics that white southern voters love to hear.

For Brian Williams or anyone else to praise this vile race baiting editorial as good journalism is incomprehensible.

Noonan and Williams and Rove and Atwater and Murdoch and Bush have made modern Republicanism synonymous with racism and racism synonymous with patriotism. At some point, you would think that there must be some decent Republicans somewhere who would object to this grotesque symphony of hate. But so far, crickets...

Henry Ford receives a medal of honor from the Nazis (hat tip Blue Texan writing at Firedoglake).

Also, be sure to check out Glenn Greenwald's article on this whole sordid mess.

And the crazy thing is, for all I know, Obama really does get all misty-eyed thinking about Henry Ford and vile Republican hate merchants like Peggy Noonan -- because he's an amazing human being who goes out of his way to see the best in people. But of course, Noonan's too busy telling Obama to smell the glove to notice any of that.

The Bridge at the Edge of the World

Recently I started subscribing to Rachel's Democracy and Health News and it's brilliant. Basically it's all the environmental news we'd be getting through traditional media if traditional media wasn't bought and paid for by the toxic polluters who are trying to kill us. Ohhh was that too snarky? Well seriously, read one issue of Rachel's Democracy and Health News and I think you'll also be saying to yourself, "Hey how come this wasn't covered on World News Tonight -- this is the stuff that's really important to me!"

The most recently issue has a fantastic review of The Bridge At the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. After reading the review, I went over to to buy the book and stumbled upon this brilliant little video embedded into the Customer Review by Story Clark Resor. Check it out:

It's so simple and yet really tells a compelling story.

Do check out The Bridge at the Edge of the World because the planet you save, may be your own.