when the dust clears

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Archive for the ‘Campaign 2012’ Category

99 Percent Spring in East Harlem

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VOCAL and Community Voices Heard held a training for the 99 Percent Spring at the Children’s Aid Society on 101st Street. By my count, 100+ people gathered in CAS’s auditorium. Many were members of established groups. Others found out through MoveOn.org.

A VOCAL member speaks at the 99 Percent Spring training at the Children's Aid Society, April 14, 2012

Spring kicked off with a letter released in February, signed by a who’s who of prominent progressives, union leaders, and community organizers. Its goals:

  1. Tell the story of our economy: how we got here, who’s responsible, what a different future could look like, and what we can do about it
  2. Learn the history of nonviolent direct action, and
  3. Get into action on our own campaigns to win change.

And that’s what I saw and heard: HIV/AIDS campaigners, advocates for domestic workers, immigrants, and low-income folks (many of whom ARE low-income folks), plus the unaffiliated of all races, ages, and orientations gathered to take the next Occupy Wall Street–inspired step.

Charles Young at Counterpunch, a left publication, calls 99 Percent Spring a “front group” for MoveOn and a Trojan horse for the Democratic Party. He claims that both aim to coopt and neuter the movement, suck all the radicalism of out it.

Young slams the effort based on an event he attended at the Goddard Riverside Community Center on the “Upper Left Side” of Manhattan.

“Inside the hall, it looked like an alumni reunion for the 1966 Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade. Almost all the 150 or so people were 55–80 years old. The ones I talked to expressed curiosity about Occupy Wall Street and enthusiasm about ‘nonviolent direct action’ but didn’t have the knees or the ears for full participation in OWS activities in the financial district,” he writes. Just a few weeks ago I attended a reading by author Fred Jerome at Goddard Riverside attended by several dozen people. At 47 years old, I was probably the youngest person in the room. Journalist Young might have considered that Goddard serves a heck of a lot of seniors, and they turn out, regardless of the event.

Will genuine direct action for social and economic justice grow out of the 99 Percent Spring? The proof will be on the streets. My bet is, after a year spent following VOCAL with camera and pen—witnessing arrests of its members at OWS demonstrations and its in-your-face protests against drug company execs—at least some of these Spring trainees will deliver.

Members of Adhikaar hold up a sketch of a model community @ 99 Percent Spring Training, April, 14, 2012

Newt Bless the Child Who’s Got His/Her Own

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Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich hands out cash at a DC school, May 16 1995

Candidate Gingrich’s recent suggestion that urban school kids would make swell janitors took me back to a May afternoon in 1995. I was a photographer at US News, blessed with the task of trailing the Speaker to a school in DC that was implementing his “Earning by Learning” program.

The event was as bizarre as it was distasteful — Gingrich bending over to hand cash to black elementary schoolers for reading books as dozens of cameras rolled and snapped.

Gingrich described the program in a speech that Connie Bruck quoted in her brilliant opus Newtus, “The Politics of Perception,” which appeared in the October 9, 1995 issue of the New Yorker. “It’s very simple; no bureaucracy, very voluntaristic. We go into public housing projects, we pay little kids — second and third graders — two dollars for every book they read…. The only money in the program goes to the child, so for a thousand dollars you have five hundred books read.”

Newt’s questionable pedagogy aside, there was another conspicuous problem with his statement: The money didn’t just go to the kiddies. Phil Kuntz of the Wall Street Journal revealed that $30,000 of the program’s $62,000 endowment went to Mel Steely, the nonchild who ran it — and who happened to be Gingrich’s authorized biographer. Gingrich was either lying or using Beltway math.

Gingrich called the article “malicious” in an interview with Bruck, another attack by the liberal media “designed to cause us pain.”

Sound familiar?

Bruck had the Speaker’s number all those years ago:

What is remarkable about Gingrich in the end is not the degree to which he dissembles but the theatricality of his outrage when he is charged with dissembling, and the self-righteous force of his counterattack. He is, of course, not original in this—history offers plentiful examples of leaders who intimidated their critics (especially the press) by charging them with bias, and these precedents are not pretty—but Gingrich is surely one of the most accomplished practitioners of this particular skill. His opponents are chameleons and demagogues, his critics are cynics and liars: it is a feat of projection amazing in its transparency, and yet, probably because it is so daring, it works.

Roughly 17 years later, Gingrich is playing the same game with the national news media, with near impunity.

Written by bxpnyc

2012/01/30 at 07:51

A useful link from the in-laws-to-be

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Jim and Janis in Blaine, WA, sent me this link to an open letter to GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum written by prominent Catholic leaders.

Here’s the letter in full. Click above to see the signatories.

An Open Letter to Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum

As Catholic leaders who recognize that the moral scandals of racism and poverty remain a blemish on the American soul, we challenge our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail. Mr. Gingrich has frequently attacked President Obama as a “food stamp president” and claimed that African Americans are content to collect welfare benefits rather than pursue employment. Campaigning in Iowa, Mr. Santorum remarked: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” Labeling our nation’s first African-American president with a title that evokes the past myth of “welfare queens” and inflaming other racist caricatures is irresponsible, immoral and unworthy of political leaders.

Some presidential candidates now courting “values voters” seem to have forgotten that defending human life and dignity does not stop with protecting the unborn. We remind Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum that Catholic bishops describe racism as an “intrinsic evil” and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans. At a time when nearly 1 in 6 Americans live in poverty, charities and the free market alone can’t address the urgent needs of our most vulnerable neighbors. And while jobseekers outnumber job openings 4-to-1, suggesting that the unemployed would rather collect benefits than work is misleading and insulting.

As the South Carolina primary approaches, we urge Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Santorum and all presidential candidates to reject the politics of racial division, refrain from offensive rhetoric and unite behind an agenda that promotes racial and economic justice.

Can I get an Amen?

I crossed paths with Rachel Maddow today

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I was bursting through the opening doors of an R train as Maddow walked toward the subway car. Like any smart and mindful commuter, she approached at a sharp angle to avoid the stream of agitated New Yorkers exploding from the train, of which, I will say proudly, I was at the head.

I was moving like a man with a double shot of espresso under his belt, which is precisely the man I was, so I didn’t have time to register much, only her furrowed brow, horn rims, and a scarf (tartan or checked?).

I climbed the stairway to Broadway imagining what I might have said to Maddow — not that I would have said anything even if I had been less caffeinated. Chatting up high-wattage celebs, even fellow journos, feels to me like star-slurping, more commonly known as brown-nosing. I’m too proud, and I doubt Maddow would have been especially inclined to spend quality time in conversation with a random subway rider.

But had I found the combination of gumption and humility to bust such a move, I might have hopped back on the train, gently introduced myself to her, and then posed a few polite and sagacious questions — with an eye toward, say, an invitation to appear on the show.

“Ms. Maddow, may I ask whether you’ll be discussing former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s smackdown of Juan Williams, to the cheers of the South Carolinian audience, at last night’s debate?”

That was an absolutely arresting moment, one I’ll point to if someone tells me that the Republican presidential race is not, at least in part (a huge part), about Barack Obama’s race. Williams could have called the former Speaker’s race-card bluff, his claim that Obama is the “food-stamp president” with facts, but he didn’t.

Participation rates in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, the name for the Federal food stamp program since 2008, rose seven out of the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency. And, according to the Department of Agriculture, which runs the program, “the large increase in the number of participants was likely attributable to the deterioration of the economy, expansions in SNAP eligibility, and continued outreach efforts.” (Be warned: This SNAP link leads to a PDF.) At the very least, this gives us two food-stamp presidents, the first who hobbled the economy by launching two wars and handing out tax cuts to the one percent, and the second who inherited those wars and has kept one going at full steam.

I might also have asked her whether she’d be tackling Rick Perry’s doubling down on his criticism of President Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and others in the administration for condemning the acts depicted in the infamous scout-sniper urinating video.

“When the secretary of defense calls that a despicable act, when he calls that utterly despicable,” Perry charged, “let me tell you what is utterly despicable: cutting Danny Pearl’s head off and showing the video, hanging our contractors from bridges, that’s utterly despicable. For our president, for the secretary of state, for the Department of Defense secretary to make those kinds of statements about those young marines, yes they need to be punished, but when you see this president with that type of disdain for our country, taking a trillion dollars out of our defense budget, a hundred thousand of our military off of our front lines? I lived through a reduction of forces once and I saw the results of it in the sands of Iran in 1979.”

First of all: Daniel Pearl and murdered military contractors? To appropriate these tragedies for his own political point-scoring is a desecration.

Secondly, “disdain for our country?” Slam Obama’s policies, but to attack his loyalty to America is simply cowardly and deceitful. The esteemed journalists on the debate panel could have reality- or morality-checked Perry. But they didn’t. And they didn’t challenge him on the facts, either.

“Adjusting for inflation, the level of funding proposed for the base defense budget in the FY 2012 request is the highest level since World War II, surpassing the Cold War peak of $531 billion (in FY 2012 dollars) reached in FY 1985.” That’s according to CSBA, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. What the administration’s 2012 budget proposes to cut, too timidly and gently in my view, is the growth rate of our alarmingly bloated military spending, which peaked in 2007, and funds spent on war, war, war.

The media inquisitors also might have quoted General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, on the incident behind Perry’s initial smear.

“I have viewed an internet video that depicts Marines desecrating several dead Taliban in Afghanistan. I want to be clear and unambiguous, the behavior depicted in the video is wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history.”

Note the verb the general, the highest-ranking US Marine, uses to characterize the actions.

Amos continues: “Rest assured that the institution of the Marine Corps will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved. We remain fully committed to upholding the Geneva Convention, the Laws of War, and our own core values.”

High standards and values. The presidential candidates and the journalists ostensibly covering them would benefit from a helping of both.

I’m not sure I would have impressed Maddow, but I would have unburdened myself of this maddening, absurd, and frightening stuff. For the moment, at least.