Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is your phone progressive?

As we struggle to realize the progressive policies we hoped would finally come to be with the elections of President Obama, we are quickly finding that change doesn't come easy. There are entrenched interests everywhere that will stand in the way. And that begs the question: how did these interests get so strong, and how do that stay so strong? An oversimplified, but very important answer is: we made them, and we keep them strong.

By consuming products and services without paying much attention to the politics of the companies we are giving our money to, we have created this monster. For example, if you care about taking on global warming, you may want to avoid any company that is a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. If you care about a woman's right to chose, you should probably encourage any like-minded friends to part ways with the fitness chain Curves.

It gets to be a real pain trying to avoid companies with bad politics. Fortunately, I stumbled on one that is good. I don't just mean that they don't do anything bad, I mean that they've generated 60 million dollars for progressive causes like civil rights, environment, peace & international freedom, economic & social justice, and voting rights & civic participation.

Sound good? It is. Meet CREDO Mobile.

[A phone] service where 1% of your charges goes to progressive nonprofits you vote on, your bill serves as a progressive newsletter and your phone company as a progressive lobby.

Lets face it, 'corporate social responsibility' sells, and I am always on the lookout for companies that buy a lot of ads saying how much they care about climate change, and then spend like crazy to defeat a climate change bill in Congress *cough-Shell-cough*

I looked into CREDO Mobile a bit more - but they check out. Right down to their own enviro practices. Check out how they bill:

We're the only one that prints our bills with soy-based ink on 100% post-consumer recycled paper. We're the only one that plants 100 trees for every ton of paper we use (enough to make another ton of paper). And we're the only one recognized for our commitment to a greener world by the prominent environmental nonprofit Planning and Conservation League, which named us its Environmental Business of the Year in 2009.

They've got a nifty little slide show with more on their green practices here.

I had heard of CREDO Mobile before, but I just switched over last week. I got a new Blackberry for $20, they bought out my contract with Verizon, I'm paying less for service than I was before, and now instead of avoiding spending money that supports bad stuff, I'm contributing to progressive causes I support every time I pick up my phone.

If you like what you're reading, maybe you should make the switch.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


The first thing you should know about Stevey is that his accent is unique. I don't mean that he speaks in a way that few other people do,  he speaks in a way that no one else does. His thick scottish brogue is almost unintelligible. He made me promise to support Scottish independence if I ever become President. He threatened to throw me over the cliffs near his house if I didn't.

I met Stevey in a pub called Sweeney's in Dunloe after breaking a ladder near his house.
"So this is the fat-ass yankee bastard who owes me a new ladder."
I told him that his ladder was waiting to break and that I'd probably saved his ass if not his life.  He smiled and I bought him a pint and we were instant friends.

I learned that his thatch-roofed house didn't have plumbing or electricity.  He had developed and ingenious 12-rock system for solid human waste.  He would would instruct his guests toward the appropriate rock and gruffly steer them away from the others.  By the time a year had passed, nature would run its course and the rock would again be ready for use.

Stevey bought the house and the extensive land around it from a 'witchy' old woman who had lived in it all her life.  She know he wouldn't develop it of sell it.  He got it for something like 8,000.  It is worth at least 500,000 today if not much more.  

Apart from purporting to hate yankee bastards, he is a very kind man. He is not afraid to sound off about anything. A few years ago, his opinions caused the IRA to threaten to throw him over the cliffs.  Undaunted, Stevey assured them that if they tried, he'd take at least one of them with him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Lend Your Voice For Human Rights

The veneer of civilization is paper-thin, we are its guardians and we can never rest.
 - Tom Lantos

The only holocaust survivor to be elected to the U.S. Congress, the late Tom Lantos was a reliable champion for Human Rights.  In addition to his tireless work in the U.S. House, each year, on the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights (UDHR), Congressman Lantos would speak at the UN.  The quote above is from the prepared remarks he would have delivered the year he died.

Today is International Human Rights Day.  Observing this day requires a hard look at the state of human rights in the world.  It is not hard to see many places where the 'veneer of civilization' has been torn apart by brutal crimes.  The suffering in Darfur has not been addressed.  The people of Afghanistan still live in squalor under the constant threat of violence.  More than half of the world's population is too poor to attain the "standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family" as declared a basic human right in Article 25 of the UDHR.

Here in the United States, glaring violations of UDHR Articles 6 - 11 exist in the prisons at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Air Force Base.  To wit:

Article 6.

  •  Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

  •  All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

  •  Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

  •  No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

  •  Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

  •  (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

  •  (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

    International Human Rights Day is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to Human Rights around the world and in our own country. Today - there are two things we all can do to be faithful guardians of Human Rights.  

    1. Sign the Human Rights First petition to Close GITMO, and thereby stay in the loop an consistently speak out in defense of human rights.

    2. Share this effort on your social networks.  These links will make it easy: Facebook - Twitter.

    61 years ago today, the United States, led by Eleanore Roosevelt, played a central role in achieving the greatest declaration of hope the Human Race has ever achieved.  The UDHR sets a bold course to a world as it should be.  To the extent that we can put human rights first in our politics, our economy, and our pursuit of global and national security, we shall contribute to the advancement of humanity in the world.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Di and Danny

I'm almost finished with the complete U2.  I've been listening to it for quite a while now.  My parents and sister collaborated to get me the limited edition U2 IPod for Christmas complete with ever U2 song to date. After listening to a few songs on Christmas morning, I elected to listen to the entire U2 library straight though before listening to anything else.

It was great to strut to in Dublin.  It's almost better up here in the Northwest.  I'm surrounded by some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen.

It's sunset now and I'm sitting on some rocks being battered by a wave a few feet away.

I've been walking all day after waking up to a prepared bath and breakfast.  Di and Danny are incredibly gracious hosts.  I am in their debt.

Sliced mushrooms
Sauté 'till limp
Serve with dry wheat toast

Fresh Mussels (or clams) in a pot with
white wine
Boil 'till open, serve with lemon

Find clams by locating two close pin pricks in the sand as the tide retreats.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Slow Airs

In Letterkenny, it seems everyone who is 16 and up till around 22 goes to the bar.  Unlike the other pubs I've seen thus far, Oasis is decorated like the classic 1950's roller rink, but one that has been redone to retain the original atmosphere, but still have a modern flare - flatscreen TV's and color-changing fluorescent lights.  No matter it's class, its cheap and provides refuge from the gale that is raging outside.

After waking up late, I raced downstairs this morning, inhaled my breakfast, bid my friends farewell, grabbed my bags (all of them), and hit the street.  I made the bus, which left late anyway, only after realizing I needed to change destinations.  I wondered why everyone kept clarifying whether I meant Donegal town or county.  I decided to check while waiting for the bus to Donegal Town and discovered that Dungloe Town in Donegal County was my intended destination.

The trip was about three hours, which afforded me time to listen to a lot of U2 and reflect on the past few days.

Never tell a drunken Irishman that you play fiddle.  John insisted that I play for him.  To make a long story short, after two and a half hours of polite acquiescing, I had caused half of the band to leave, played the same song five times, and had a hell of a good time doing it.  O'Donnells is the famous pub where the Dubliners got their start.  Somehow, I think my lucky break will come from somewhere else.

O'Shea's Hot Whisky:
1/2 hot water
1/2 whisky
1 spoon sugar
1 lemon wedge
4 cloves in lemon

I am known in a small circle of Dublin musicians as 'the fella who kept playing the slow airs.'

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The AP, Lacrosse, and Rape Myths

If you were unlucky enough to read the AP story on the Sacred Heart University lacrosse player sexual assault case, you were the recipient of a huge dose of rape myths. The AP, quotes Bridgeport criminal defense attorney Wayne Keeney extensively on the case. Whether the AP did their journalistic due diligence or not, this article is a rape myth parading as news.

Rape is a violent crime. One of the surest ways to spot rape myths is the look at what is being said through the lens of a different violent crime. Doing so to the quotes from Mr. Keeney will illustrate my point.

Rape myth number 1: Boys will be boys

. . .any accusations that a sexual assault occurred in the Sacred Heart University dorm were a gross exaggeration of alcohol-fueled hijinks.

No matter how we think boys ought to behave, society gives men, particularly white college men, license to do just about whatever they want. In the context of sexual assault and rape, 'he just got carried away' or 'he was drunk and wasn't thinking straight' are common refrains for perpetrators and those who defend them.

Applying that to say, an aggravated battery, may well be true, but no one would care. So what if you were drunk, you still beat someone, and in this country that is illegal. Imagine a defense for three guys who beat the hell out of somebody saying that assault charges were 'a gross exaggeration of alcohol-fueled hijinks.'

Rape myth number 2: Women lie

"The police report itself is so confusing," Keeney said. "The whole thing just doesn't ring true."

This thinly-veiled statement is suggesting that the victim is lying, that something just doesn't add up. This is meant to play on the fact that despite progress in sex equality over the past several generations, our society still takes a man's word over a woman's.

The truth is that false allegations of sexual assault and rape occur with the same frequency as false allegations about other violent crimes. Here again, a defense attorney for someone charged with a mugging would not say that they plaintiff was lying, they would simply maintain the innocence of their client.

Rape myth number 3: Acquaintance Rape is just a misunderstanding

"I can appreciate that this young woman was put in an embarrassing set of circumstances through some sophomoric, college-boy antics, but there's no indication from what I can see or discern so far that there was any sexual assault there," Keeney said.

This statement again, artfully belittles the charges to be the result of an embarrassing prank taken the wrong way. In other words, what the victim perceived as rape, was really just a misunderstanding of 'sophomoric, college boy antics' (do you see the boys-will-be-boys myth again here?).

The point here is that a woman has a right to security of person. It is she who gets to consent to sex, or withhold that consent, and she can do that, even change her mind, anytime. If you are a woman, imagine that you are having sex and suddenly two men burst into the room. Would you just want to continue? If you don't and he - or they - force you to, that is rape. And for men reading this, what if the victim here was your sister? If she is dating some jerk, and his friends want to come in and join in, doesn't she have the right to stop that? Would you give a damn that she was drunk? Or they were? Even if you disagree with that, the law doesn't, and Mr. Keeney knows it.

A former New York Cop, Ft. Lauderdale Detective, and San Diego Prosecutor, Wayne Keeney has been around the block. Unfortunately his views on sexual assault are completely fictional (not to mention irresponsible).

from his website:

Accusations of sexual abuse are a growing phenomenon in our society. Even consensual sexual encounters between adults all too often result in criminal allegations.

It is estimated that one in six women in the United States will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. The vast majority of those rapes will be committed, not by a stranger jumping out of the bushes, but by a man the woman knows. A whopping 60% of those women will never report the assault. Of those who do, a huge majority of cases go un-prosecuted.

There is a negative feedback loop at play here. Rape myths make it hard to convict rapists. Prosecutors don't like to take rape cases because they are tough to win. Women see that a woman who comes forward is often put on trial (as opposed to the man who raped her) and is reluctant to report. Low prosecutions and low reporting reenforce myths and society's unwillingness to take rape seriously.

Rape is a crime that lives in the dark. We would all like to think of it as a rare and terrible thing. The fact is that an environment reluctant to talk seriously about rape, and recognize women as equal people, is a safe haven for rapists. All-male groups tend to form these environments, and a corresponding concentration of convicted rapists come from their ranks.

Somehow the AP story (and the version I linked to above at Huffington Post) both omit the victim's side of the story. NBC Connecticut has this:

Timothy Sanders, 19, ofAshburn, Virginia and the woman were having consensual sex at the Roncali dorm, when Sanders suddenly summoned the other two men to the room.
Nicholas Travers, 18, of Smithtown, New York, Zachari Triner, 18, of Mansfield, Massachusetts, are accused of sexually assaulting the woman while Sanders held her down.
The victim screamed and fought, police told the Post, and Triner and Travers fled. As the victim sobbed, Sanders asked the student if he could again have sex with her, police told the newspaper.

I am not familiar with the case in question, and I seek only to provide the counter-perspective that the AP failed to include in its article. I applaud the administration at Sacred Heart University for taking this case seriously. Men rape one in four women in college, and it is refreshing to see a university care enough about its student's safety to suspend accused rapists.

If you are a college woman, Title IX of the Civil Rights Act guarantees you equal access to education. If college is a place where men rape 25% of women, that is a civil right violation. Universities must take it as seriously as equality in sports. If your university doesn't, here is where you can report them.

For more information on rape in Connecticut, take a look at this.

If you'd like to call Wayne Keeney and learn why he is spreading the myths that make it easy to get away with rape, his website invites you to call '24 hours a day, 7 days a week' 203-249-8001, 203-335-2080.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Celt

The Celt is a small, intensely nationalistic pub on Marlborough Street in city center Dublin.  €5.70 will buy you a good Irish coffee.  

The Evening Herald reads like a marriage of Westword and the National Inquirer.

The sign on the door boasting live music every night seems to include a short tape on loop at high volume as 'live'.

My first night in Dublin.  No bag - no card, but fun.  Exactly as I pictured.  Its time to go sleep off the jet lag.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Colonel

On the plane from Georgia to Paris I sat next to a Colonel in the U.S. Army.  He was going back to Iraq for the third time.  He doesn't support the war, and he doesn't trust his government.  He is going to speak reason and keep his troops away from unnecessary harm.

He has no problem "killing Iraqis."

He crosses himself upon takeoff and landing.

Several of his men were killed by a shot from a pistol under the back of their helmet as they walked through crowded streets.

Why the Public Option is Good for Veterans

This week, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel Akaka succeeded in pushing through a major veterans' health services bill.  According to the committee's press release:

The bill will establish an unprecedented permanent program to train, support, and assist the caregivers of disabled veterans, improve care for veterans in rural areas, reduce veteran homelessness, improve care for women veterans; and, improve VA’s ability to recruit and retain a strong workforce and provide quality assurance at its medical facilities.

This progress is fantastic news for veterans as the bill now goes on to be considered by the House of Representatives.

There is another initiative in congress that also has the potential to do amazing things for America's veterans, and their families: the public option in the health care reform bill.

Rick Reyes, a former Infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps, said that his young daughter used to be covered by his military health care, but now that he is a civilian again, he can't get his VA care extended to cover her.  Veterans across the country are struggling to find and pay for private insurance for their loved ones, but premiums have risen so high, many can't afford it.

Unlike Reyes, many veterans don't have VA health care for themselves either.  In 2006 there were anestimated 24.4 million veterans in the United States, and 16.9 million of those, a whopping 69% of veterans received no VA health care.  With unemployment at is highest levels in decades, a huge number of veterans can't rely on employer provided health care either.  Even vets who can afford their own insurance are increasingly denied coverage for 'preexisting conditions, like those they developed in the service of their country.

The bottom line is that many veterans are finding that they and their families are unable to go to the doctor - until they are bad enough to go to the emergency room.

This situation is clearly unacceptable for a nation that claims to honor its men and women in uniform.  The public option is the most comprehensive and plausible way to address this shameful state of affairs that congress has considered in decades.   People who claim to care about the way we treat veterans, and veterans themselves, have much to gain from a public option for health care.

So if you are a vet or a supporter of our veterans, lend your voice to the effort to pass a robust public option.  Visit Public Option Please, and let your members of congress know how you feel.  Stay in the loop by becoming a fan of their Facebook group, and spread the word to fellow veterans and their allies.

Veterans have put their lives on the line for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.    Their families have made huge sacrifices for the same.  If anyone has earned the right to see a doctor, they have.  Show your support for them, and support a public option.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What The GITMO Debate Should Look Like

Friday the 13th has a reputation for being the scariest of day-of-the-week/date combinations. The Obama administration selected last Friday (the 13th of November) to announce its intention to bring 5 alleged terrorists who planned 9/11 to trial in federal court 'at the scene of the crime' in NYC. If you've seen any Republican talking heads over the past few days, or gone through the Fox News haunted house, you have heard how truly scary they think you should think this is.

There was another related event on Friday that has received much less attention. The New York Times ran an installment of its series 'Room for Debate' on the topic of the best way to try terrorists. The debate is between Jim Benjamin, a former federal prosecutor who thinks our courts are up to the task of trying alleged terrorists and Glenn Sulmasy, an national security expert, who believes alleged terrorists should not be given the same constitutional protections as American citizens and advocates creating a new 'national security court'.

Though they concern the same topic, what to do with prisoners in GITMO, the difference in these two Friday the 13th conversations is remarkable. One of them is meant to stoke fears and prevent a rational examination of facts, and the other is an intelligent and well-reasoned debate on a complex legal issue.

It is a great example of two things: #1 what a good, rational debate on this issue looks like. You won't find fear-mongering here, but you will find a counter-proposal that doesn't offend rational thinking. To wit - this is Glenn Sulmsay, the national security expert:
The Qaeda fighter is a hybrid — a mix of international criminal and warrior. The conflict we are engaging in is a hybrid — a mix of law enforcement and warfare. Since we are fighting hybrid warriors in a hybrid war, it seems logical that policy makers strongly consider the creation of a hybrid court: a national security court.
#2, this argument (and its crazier cousins) is built upon the mistaken presumption that if you grant alleged terrorists the same constitutional protections enjoyed by citizens of the USofA, they will be acquitted and go on to commit terrorist acts. It sounds reasonable enough, but there is 20 years worth of evidence to the contrary.

In the words of Jim Benjamin, the experienced former federal prosector, and co-author of the Human Rights First 'In Pursuit of Justice' Reports:
In the years since 9/11 the Justice Department has brought 119 federal court terrorism cases against 289 defendants, with a conviction rate of 91.1 percent. Although it would be naive to suggest that the 9/11 prosecutions will be simple or straightforward, there is good reason to believe that dedicated federal judges, working with prosecutors and defense counsels, can address and overcome the challenges that these prosecutions are certain to present.
Here is the full debate and it is well worth a read.

My take is that we have held people at GITMO for the better part of a decade, denying them the rights that a civil society extends to all people regardless of their crime. To paraphrase one of my favorite U2 songs, we have become a monster so the monster would not break us.

But we have never needed to. The record is clear that our courts are capable of handling international criminals like terrorists. GITMO, like Abu Ghraib before it (and Bagram to come after), is of no value to American national security, and serves a recruiting tool for the terrorists we seek to defeat.

If you agree with me, join the courageous folks at Human Rights First who are working to close GITMO, and finally put the legal, human rights, morass that the Bush Administration began, behind us. Sign the petition, and join them on Facebook. If you want to do something more, join their 'task force' and help them organize the campaign.

It is time for America to wake up and realize that the rights we grant ourselves are the legal embodiment of our aspiration for all people. Adhering to our values, particularly in the face of a new national security threat, will undercut the terrorist cause, and position the United States as the strong moral leader we strive to be.

Whatever your opinion, on how we should bring alleged terrorists to justice, I hope we can all see fear mongering for what it is, and keep this debate to the critical question that faces our nation. The world is watching.

What's missing in Obama's Agenda with the Chinese? Darfur

President Obama is spending some time with Chinese President Hu and other leaders of the Chinese Government. They certainly have much to discuss. According to a statement from the White House the agenda includes "a range of global challenges, covering economic recovery, nonproliferation issues, [and] increasing cooperation on energy issues. And the President looks forward to building on the strong, positive, and comprehensive relationship that has been forged."

Economic recovery is critically important. So are non-proliferation and energy issues. But one major global issue is conspicuously missing from this statement: The sale of Chinese Arms to the Sudanese government - arms which are supporting the genocide in Darfur.

In the United States, news of the economic crisis and the health care reform proposals in congress have dominated the airwaves, forcing issues like genocide off of the front pages, and out of the minds of most people. But that doesn't mean the killing has stopped. In March, 13 foreign aid groups were expelled from the country, ten of which were doing protection and anti-sexual violence work. A UN report released last month shows sexual violence is 'rampant' in Darfur. From the Washington Post:

"The Darfurian population continues to be victimized by the effects of attacks and counterattacks involving most of the armed movements that frequently lead to disproportionate use of force by the Sudanese Armed Forces," the report said. The panel described a government crackdown on Darfur natives that "has manifested itself in violations of a catalogue of human rights and fundamental freedoms."

Human Rights First has done extensive work on the crisis in Darfur, and pressuring China to respect the UN Security council Arms embargo should be among the Obama Administration's top priorities next week. This is obviously a politically sensitive issue as China is getting much needed oil from Sudan, and is largely unwilling to do without it. Could it be that in addition to global climate change, President Obama will raise the issue of Drafur as part of 'increasing cooperation on energy issues'? Maybe. But if you want him to, say so.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ready to Leave

New Years Day, 2005. I had graduated from college the previous year and, having saved money living at home and working a few jobs, was about to fly to Europe with no plan or purpose. I kept a journal while I was traveling, and I've been meaning to type it up for a while. I'll add one here every-so-often, and tag them with "adventure". There are a few more trips too, so this series will include the tag "Europe."

Westcliffe, CO - 1-1-05

At what point is a person 'ready' to leave for an adventure? Can one keep a broad enough perspective to keep alive the passion that spawned the idea? Pieces of April: we need each other. It's time to find out. "Nothing changes on New Years Day." What is out there, and in here to realize and uncover is, and will be, there. Who can truly find out?

I "know" nothing. I have only to expand perception.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Ghost of Glass-Steagall

10 years ago today, amid a flurry of de-regulation of the financial system, a bill repealing, Glass-Steagall, the depression-era bill that kept banks from growing too-big-to-fail was signed into law by President Clinton.  Earlier this week, a decade and a depression-scale disaster later, Senator Dodd released a discussion draft of his proposal to reregulate the financial sector.  To paint the scene of 10 years ago I turn to blogger Kevin Connor: who uncovered an amazing article in American Banker from 1999.

To mark the historic occasion, House Banking Committee Chairman Jim Leach played host to a group of his closest collaborators on the bill, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan, Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, . . . They joined staff members, lobbyists, and reporters in drinking champagne and devouring a large cake, which bore an epitaph for the Depression-era separation of commercial and investment banking that the bill undoes. It read: ” Glass-Steagall, R.I.P., 1933-1999.”

Many of the same people who are now creating proposals to reign in the financial industry were, 10 short years ago, the people eating cake as they destroyed the barn door of regulation and let the financial sector run free.  So it is critical that we take a close look at what is being proposed. The Dodd plan joins proposals from Rep. Barney Frank, Senator Sanders and the White House.  Now that all of the pieces are on the board, lets play our game.

Points are scored by the Dodd, Frank, and White House proposals for focusing on both creating a consumer protection agency to blow the whistle on banks who try to trick consumers, and for bringing previously unregulated activities into a regulatory framework.   As for too-big-to-fail? The plans all give more power to various existing and new agencies to ramp up regulation with the size of giant financial firms.

The only proposal that actually calls for breaking up the big banks is the Sanders one.  Short on specifics, the Sanders proposal directs the treasury secretary to identify who is too-big-to-fail within 90 days, and break them up within a year.  Cool.

There are valuable ideas in these proposals, but what they all seek to do is address the symptoms of a larger problem.  Regulating derivatives, creating ‘moral hazard’ for failing big banks, protecting consumers from predatory practices, and making the industry more transparent are all worthwhile and needed reforms.  And none of them will prevent the kind of abuses that destroyed our economy from happening again.

With the exception of the Sanders proposal, we are talking about addressing symptoms of the problem and not the cause.  The sheer size and power of the big dogs will make any reform that doesn’t cut them down to size hollow.  They will wait until no one is looking, buy enough members of congress (and a big enough cake) and again crash through barn door and get fat grazing on the pastures of the American people.

Join the effort to break up the big banks today.  This is only going to happen if we all get serious.  Send your friends to and sign up to take back our economy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Overly Broad Immigration Provisions Redefine Thousands of Legitimate Refugees, Asylum Seekers as "Terrorists"

We are hearing a lot of talk about unintended consequences of legislation lately. It was one of the major topics when Senator Dodd released his financial reform package yesterday, we saw it when a bill to choke off funding for ACORN would do the same for defense contractors, and maybe the end of abortion coverage in the US is an unintended consequence of the Stupak amendment (though I think that one was intended). In a new report Human Rights First is shining a spotlight on a critical unintended consequence of the immigration restrictions in the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act and the 2005 REAL ID Act.

The report, Denial and Delay: The Impact of the Immigration Law's "Terrorism Bars" on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the United States, shines light on the extent of the problem. At their core, the problems stem from an over-broad definition of 'material support' that snares a huge number of otherwise uncontroversial immigrants and asylum seekers in the category of terrorists.

Example: your father was kidnapped my a militant group in Zimbabwe and in order to save his life you had to pay his ransom. Upon his safe return you decide to seek asylum in the United States. Unfortunately, in the eyes of U.S. law the ransom is material support to a terrorist organization, and you are a terrorist.

From the HRF press release:

"These were not the people Congress intended to target," said Human Rights First's Anwen Hughes, author of the report. "In fact many of these refugees supported the same causes the United States supports, or were victimized by forces the U.S. government also opposes. But attempts to solve this problem through piecemeal "waiver" announcements are not working."

According to the report, over 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been affected by these overbroad provisions to date, and of those, over 7,500 cases remain on indefinite hold with the Department of Homeland Security. For the past four years, the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and State have been attempting to resolve this problem by granting discretionary "waivers" of the law's effects. Unfortunately, this approach has left many refugees in limbo and others at risk of deportation.

The press release and links to other materials including the report are here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Reclaiming Thanksgiving

I wrote this piece last year around this time, and it is a good thing to revisit. You can see the original post with active links at the Huffington Post. Enjoy:

As we all make plans for Thanksgiving, I want to put some food for thought on your table. As you probably know, what we consider to be the first Thanksgiving occurred round about 1621 as the newly arrived pilgrims sat down with some Wampanoag Indians for a feast to celebrate a plentiful harvest. For the record, this harvest celebration was not new but has equivalents in cultures around the world stretching back to the limits of recorded time, but, at any rate, the menu on that festive New England day likely included, cod, eel, swan, partridge, eagles, seal, flour, Indian corn, chestnuts, acorns, radishes, plums, dried currants, parsnips and of course, wild turkey. Notably, that menu did not include such thanksgiving staples as: ham, sweet potatoes - or not sweet potatoes - pumpkin pie, milk, eggs, and, believe it or not, cranberry sauce. They had cranberries, but no sugar.

Interesting as that was, my point is, they had what was local. They celebrated what was produced in their neck of the woods so to speak. In fact all the harvest festivals of all the people going back to the beginning of time did the same thing. Because that is all there was.

Now, in modern times a number of technological advancements help us, not just by adding sugar to the cranberries - and thank God for that - but by making it possible for us to have anything, from anywhere on our tables, and not just after the harvest but anytime. Fertilizers and irrigation make bad soil farmable, pesticides and herbicides increase yields, and preservatives and refrigeration make food last forever - think frozen peas and spam. And while I'm not knocking having it all, all the time, the fact of the matter is, if we keep doing what we are doing, the harvest festival is an endangered species - and so are we.

There is a cost to planting miles of the same crop year after year (coughing: corn). It destroys the soil. All of the chemicals used in pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers soak into the foods we eat, or run-off and pollute waterways, and there are real costs in terms of the nutritional value of food that is shipped from afar - not to mention the huge carbon footprint of it all. Bottom line: it isn't sustainable.

Look - I know there are a lot of different opinions about this stuff and the science isn't conclusive, different sides of this debate feel passionately, and I'm not just talking about the epic Thanksgiving battle between tofurkey and turducken - if you don't know, don't ask. But surely we can agree that buying local, sustainable food is a good thing - whether you do it to increase freshness, reduce energy use and CO2 emissions, or just support your local farmers. So this year, if you really want to celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to challenge you to enjoy feasting on what is fresh and local.

AND it has never been easier. There is a sweet website called that is your one-stop-shop for sustainable eats. There you can learn about what foods are in season at what times of year in your area and they even have a zip code search so you can find places to buy sustainable food to cook, and even restaurants that serve local, sustainable food. That website again is and I know you are online right now so I'm going to sign off so you can check it out.

Haiku I

An urge to express
thoughts and possibility.
A new blog begins.