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This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, April 3, 2006

A Thought

What are you going to do when you meet your maker? What are you going to tell God when he asks you "What have you done with your life? What have you done to make me proud of you?" Are you going to tell God that you worked to ease the pain of those less fortunate than you? Are you going to tell God that you fought to make sure every man, woman and child was able to see a doctor when they were sick? Are you going to tell God that you went to church or synagogue or the mosque to pray that the poor people around the world would have enough food and medicine to get through another day?

Or are you going to tell
God that you prayed to stop gay marriage?

-Noah Greenberg

Today's Quote

"My reasons for believing in and supporting human rights stem from what I saw growing up in El Paso, Texas, less than two miles from the border with Mexico and Mexico's second largest city, Cuidad Juarez. Like most border cities, Juarez was filled with very poor people who had left the countryside looking for a better life. They were prey to every kind of abuse, from harassment to false imprisonment to beatings to rape to politically-motivated murder by authorities and others on both sides of the border with more power and influence than they had."
-A quote from Human Rights Web - www.hrweb.org

It is highly likely that the author is describing accurately the current and pervasive situation for the poor Mexicans.

In the persons of the undocumented Mexican and Central American workers, we are living with a massive human rights violation right here among us.

Violations of these people's human rights are endemic on both sides of the border. It seems to me that we might see this migration in the search of a better life partly of the historical legacy of colonialism and partly as our failure to extend the benefits of democratic institutions in our society.

Who is in greater need of the benefits of self-determination, political freedom and equal protection of law than people like the undocumented workers whose rights have been systematically violated their entire lives?

Given the massive scope of human misery and deprivation in Mexico, and its immediate effect on conditions in the US, it would seem to me that Mexico and hemispheric relations would be our first priority.

It seems to me that extending the benefits of democracy: voting rights, equal justice under the law, protection of the home and family, education, and guaranteed political rights should become our national mission.

Our entire hemisphere is aching for our dedication to honestly and fairly fulfilling our promises of democracy and freedom.

America's democratization of Iraq will always be seen as a mere charade as long as we hold our detached attitudes concerning Mexico's festering social problems.

-Robert Chapman

I know that sometimes I go off on tangents. What happens is that, every so often, I start writing an article, stop (after all, I do work for a living), and then pick it up a little while later in, shall we say, a slightly different state of mind. The following article is no exception:

Unions as Saviors and a Progressive Idea

It occurs to me that it would cost the US government less money to give everyone who buys any American, Union-Made, fuel-saving vehicle an additional $1,400 rebate (in addition to the rebate they get now for purchasing hybrids) than to take over GM's (or Ford's or Chrysler's) Pension Funds. First, by giving the rebate, it would encourage people to buy fuel-saving cars. Second, according to "the experts", it costs GM an additional $1,400 per car to pay for their pensions and medical plans.

I know... I used the "U" word (Union). Let me explain. Unions help take the burden off the federal government in relation to both Social Security and Medicare. It also cuts the administrative responsibilities that they (the Fed) have to participate in.

Unions have made it easier for Americans to own their own homes, retire and seek necessary as well as preventative medical care. Unions help provide their members with college assistance for their children.

What unions do mostly, however, that tick off the likes of the ultra-rich "base" containing the "haves and the have-mores" of the Bush society of life (as long as you can afford it) is collective bargaining. When one voice squeaks of unfair treatment it is simply lost like a whimper in a hurricane (or something else in a blizzard). When a union voice cries for help, other union members are there for him (or her). There is a path called a "grievance" that no business owner wants to have to deal with. A union voice forces owners to treat their workers fairly and as human beings.

Now GM is being forced to make some terrible cuts to their company. They are using the excuse that the unions are making them do it. The unions, to their credit, have offered to help save, not only their jobs, but GM itself by sacrificing. But today, when a company sees financial trouble ahead, they automatically look toward reducing payroll, and that means a lot of out of work people. GM is no different.

Think back to your childhood (I'm speaking to the baby-boomers now). Do you remember your father being able to come home at a decent hour? How about family vacations? I even remember when our whole family sat down together on a regular weekday evening for dinner. Remember when mom didn't have to work?

Now fast forward to today. Where are you going to be at 7:00 tonight? I bet, if you're lucky, you'll just be strolling in the door by then. How about vacations? How about two tired, overworked parents coming in and throwing something into the microwave?

Is this the "family it takes" (as in Senator Rick Santorum's book "It Takes a Family")?

Today I saw a headline that read "Lucent Goes to Paris". Alcatel, a French Communications company that makes less money than Lucent Technologies, is purchasing Lucent for almost $14 billion. I'll bet you that of the 8,800 jobs that are going to be lost, they're going to be lost here in the United States, not in France.

"This is a very fair and equitable deal for Lucent shareholders and Alcatel shareholders,"
-Lucent Chief Financial Officer John Kritzmacher

Fair and what? I bet the ones who'll find it "fair and equitable" are the Lucent stockholders. Chances are that most of them won't lose their jobs. Come to think of it, most of them won't have to pay taxes on it either, thanks to the lack of a real capital gains tax.

We'll "take a fair and balanced approach as we manage our way through this."
-Lucent CEO Patricia Russo

Oh... "Fair and balanced"... Got it. Ms. Russo's been watching too much Fox News Channel, if you ask me. I wonder what her golden parachute's going to look like?

Let's face it. If you were going to open up a new business today, and you choices were between France and the US, where would you decide to put it? Think of it as a business owner. If you're going to have to provide a living wage, health care and a retirement package to your employees, France would win hands down because the government provides most of those things already.

So I say let's help GM and any other auto manufacturer in the US who employs union workers. After all, they need it and so do we.

-Noah Greenberg

The Return of Bigotry

There is an amazing resurgence of racism occurring in the US and it is very strange in its manifestations.

Before I moved to Ithaca, NY, I lived in communities with high percentages of African Americans and lived in integrated neighborhoods. I have been active in neighborhood associations, PTOs and political movements that have a percentage of African American participants and I read the black press assiduously.

It is the belief among most that George W. Bush is personally hostile toward blacks and in view of his record as President and as Governor of Texas, I share that belief. Like the great southern racist governors of the past, he is expert in naming eminent blacks to highly visible and in some instances important positions. This mollifies the white base and gives them a sense of pride in their tolerance and liberality.

The test is in the second and third tiers of appointments in which blacks are conspicuously absent.

One can never forget that Bush announced the Justice Department would sue the University of Michigan Law School for its affirmative action program on Martin Luther King's actual birthday. In addition to using the federal government to attack a State that was moving to modify (if not correct) its racist practices Bush studiously added insult to injury by announcing this on the day that blacks commemorate their greatest victory.

The past six years have been one insult after injury after another for the vast majority of blacks living outside the charmed circle of the Bush faction. This of course has also been true for the rest of us, but since blacks have so much less institutional support and are so concentrated spatially and in socio-economic turns the effects of Bush's punitiveness fall on them much harder.

Since I have moved to Ithaca, I have repeatedly seen blatantly racist actions and taunting by white students directed against blacks and foreigners in a frequency and openness that I never witnessed anywhere else. I was at a shared prayer meeting with an African American congregation and a middle aged woman recounted a story of driving by a white driver and him pointing is hand in the gun and shooting her without provocation.

This is life for blacks in Bush's America.

Strangely, this racism does not spill over to Asian Americans who are very numerous here, as well.

Some people here may appear objectionable and at some point may quit contributing to Note from a Madman, or go over a line and need to be banned, but they are expressing the sentiments that many share.

I think we need to confront the new Jim Crow that is engulfing our country and to root out the new manifestations of racism. It is not enough to decry the incidents like the one in Riverhead, we need to make a major reexamination of our national commitment to racial justice, recognize the crimes we have committed and continue to commit against the black, red and brown races and take action.

Immigration from Mexico and Central America, documented or not is just the Indians coming back to claim what we stole from them.

-Robert Chapman

Media Madman
No Bid and Little Work for $200 Million (Plus)

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The contract for 142 primary health centers, awarded in the flush, early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to put quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis.

Dirty water was one of the top killers of babies in Baghdad hospitals, and the health care system was in serious decay after two decades of war and international sanctions.

Instead, after two years and roughly $200 million, the contract to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. has run out of money, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.

Parsons, according to the Corps, will walk away from more than 120 clinics that on average are two-thirds finished. Auditors say its failure serves as a warning siren for other U.S. reconstruction efforts coming due this year.
-From the Hartford Courant

Does any of this bother you? That Parsons, Inc. took all of the money and did 14% of the work? The administration will spend thousands of dollars for IRS audits to make sure that single moms living in poverty do not claim excessive Earned Income Tax Credits, but this kind of theft is allowed to continue with only a suggestion that, maybe, we ought to rethink no-bid, cost-plus contracts. I understand that by printing this kind of information, the Courant has played into the hands of the terrorists by just talking about the negatives. Surely the paper should have spent more time describing the 20 clinics that were built, and should not even mention the 122 clinics that you and I paid for, but that were never built. Is this not theft? And, what is our "tough on crime" administration doing about it?

Just a thought - do you suppose that Parsons, Inc. made any contributions to any political campaigns recently?


by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2006 San Francisco Bay Area Reporter

April really *is* the cruelest month. A real teaser. Our faves, the Villanova Wildcats not make the final four in March Madness--and CBS had the gall when they lost to Florida to make the TV news headline "Gators Eat the Wildcats."

Our sadness was assuaged, then dashed when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced during a TV press conference that the U.S. had made "thousands of mistakes" in the war on Iraq.

It wasn't like an *apology,* though. And since she made the statement on March 31st, we know it wasn't an April Fool's joke–unless she was thinking "It's already April 1st in the Pacific Rim–ha ha!"

(We've never actually heard Condi laugh, but we imagine her laugh to be just like Nelson's on *The Simpsons.")

But really, she did say it–with no sense of irony (the Bush team is way short on irony)–and then moved right on to say that the U.S. would still stay the course.

Okay: *thousands* of mistakes, but still staying the course. Now didn't Bode Miller say something like that on *60 Minutes* when he apologized for skiing drunk and then went on to totally screw up at the Olympics and lose not one but six chances to medal? Didn't *he* say that he'd made a lot of mistakes, but he was going to stay the course? That went well, too, didn't it? And somehow the giant slalom isn't quite as earth-shattering as a gazillion dead and maimed Americans and Iraqis in a war predicated on one of those thousands of mistakes.
So like any good TV moment, the announcement left us wanting more. It also left us curious about whether Madam Secretary should consider that staying the course might just be one of those thousands of mistakes.

Stay tuned.

Another big TV moment came last week courtesy of the White House when Chief of Staff Andy Card fell on his sword for the President. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld or Karl Rove (or hey, why not all three?) should have been the one(s) to go, but Card drew the short straw. It was an emotional press conference with both Card and Bush tearing up. It couldn't have been more obvious that Card *soooo* didn't want to go and Bush didn't want him to. But those poll numbers keep plunging and as the pundits from every TV news outlet explained post-press conference, Americans want to see that there's some changes being made at the White House.

So of course it made sense to interrupt the soaps (keep watching *As the World Turns*-Luke is going to come out *any minute*), stage a TV press conference and dump the guy that only ten Americans can name and whose position no one understands. Heckuva job, Bushie.

Meanwhile, here's a story guaranteed to make the Prez's popularity plummet....further. And we are certain that he would prefer you didn't know about it. Iraqi news features the following public service announcement: "The Ministry of Defense requests that civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area."

Still think there's going to be troop withdrawal in 2006, 2007, 2008? Wanna buy some swampland from Bush's brother in Florida?

Given his numbers, we were surprised that the Bush team didn't try to take credit for the release of kidnapped Christian Science Monitor journalist Jill Carroll–until we heard *her* press conference and began to see some Swift Boating references to her by neo-cons filtering across television land. One would have thought, given how the Prez is always whining that there just aren't enough good stories about Iraq being reported on by the media, that the Bush crowd would have leapt at the release of Carroll after her harrowing 82 days of being held captive and glommed onto her story.

No. Apparently Carroll's head scarf got in the way of her being considered either brave or a victim (or a brave victim, which is what she was). Carroll was one of numerous journalists to put her life on the line to try and tell the various stories of the Iraq war–all the stories, not just the ones deemed suitable by the Bush cabal. Her kidnaping underscores the danger of doing any reporting at all from Iraq. ABC reported on its March 30th newscast of World News Now that former anchor Bob Woodruff is beginning his slow recovery from severe head injuries after being hit by an IED while covering a so-called "good" story in February. And as NBC's Andrea Mitchell reminded people when she was speaking in Philadelphia at the Constitution Center last week, more than 80 journalists have been killed in the Iraq war–a number comparable, percentage-wise, she said, to the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.

Instead of lauding Carroll's courage or her journalistic abilities or just high-fiving her street cred, the right wing TV talk shows were adamant that Carroll was either a terrorist sympathizer or herself a terrorist.

Here's a sample of how slimy they get: The National Review's John Podhoretz noted, "It's wonderful that she's free, but after watching someone who was a hostage for three months say on television she was well-treated because she wasn't beaten or killed --while being dressed in the garb of a modest Muslim woman rather than the non-Muslim woman she actually is --I expect there will be some Stockholm Syndrome talk in the coming days."

MSNBC–otherwise known as FOX lite–was even more bold. Carroll had barely been released when Bernard McGuirk, executive producer and co-host of "Imus in The Morning" (a popular conservative radio show simulcast on MSNBC) said of Carroll: "She strikes me as the kind of woman who would wear one of those suicide vests."

You know–a suicide bomber.

McGuirk added, after learning how Carroll lived among the Iraqis, that "she may be carrying Habib's baby at this point."

Don Imus's sidekick Charles McCord didn't like how Carroll presented the Iraqis' experience as " a plight."

Because on right-wing TV talk, *facts* never matter.

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg, LA columnist and frequent pundit on CNN, added that, Carroll "is increasingly starting to bug me...I'm very glad she's alive, but I'm getting a very bad vibe."
So are we, but not about Carroll.

FOX news, the official TV network of the Bush Administration, had their commentary too. Only 36 hours after Carroll's release–she wasn't even out of Iraq yet–Brian Kinkade whined on "Fox and Friends" too bad they aren't smart enough over there to know that was the name of a Fassbinder film about queers; how *Brokeback Mountain* of them) that Carroll not talking to U.S. authorities was a cause for concern. The implication being she was another Moussaoui.

Meanwhile it's just like Craig Ferguson always says–they just make things up over on FOX, because well before Kinkade began spewing his hand-wringing fears of a homegrown terrorist, Carroll had already met with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad for debriefing.

Given what his friends had to say, Bush should *not* expect a bump in the polls from Carroll's release. Any patriotic American would be *appalled* at her treatment by her fellow countrymen.

ABC added another angle on the Carroll case, reporting on their April 1st broadcast of *World News Now* that since the war began 5,000 Iraqis have been kidnapped in circumstances similar to Carroll. And, noted anchor Ron Corning, no one knows what happens to these people. In Chile they used to call them *The Disappeared.*

Speaking of Zacarias Moussaoui, NBC news reporter Pete Williams made a casual reference that Moussaoui must wear a "stun belt" under his clothes–the belt is controlled by U.S. Marshals. MSNBC host Dan Abrams added some info on the stun belt (force-feeding at Gitmo isn't enough for these guys?) in the NBC exchange by querying Williams on it.

"A stun belt?," asks Abrams. "They literally have something around his waist? That they can push a button and....?"

Williams paused and said "Well..." (View the video here: http://total911.info/zacmstun.wmv or http://www.total411.info/)

It would behoove Americans to remember that the Iraqis actually have TV, too, and might find that stun belt info a little hard to take.

We rarely watch CBS's *Face the Nation* because it irritates us even more than the other talking heads fests, but we were mesmerized (possibly it was something in the Kool Aid) by last Sunday's interview with Dick Cheney.

First, we simply couldn't help thinking as Cheney went on and on about every aspect of the BushCo screw ups as if they were planned events and solid, that Cheney just sounds *so smart.* The Mephistophelean hand-rubbing is a little scary, but as Cheney just seamlessly moves from topic to topic, one cannot help but compare him to the Failure-in-Chief.

After all, Cheney can talk *off the cuff.* Muse. Ruminate. Articulate. Exposit. And what's more, he's the most facile liar since Lucifer. When Bob Schieffer asked him questions about the shooting of Harry Whittington, he turned it all back on Schieffer, as if it were the news anchor who had shot poor Mr. Whittington in the face.

If *only* the Democrats would take a page from the Cheney play book, they might get their majorities back. When in doubt, act incensed and blame the other guy. After all, didn't Whittington apologize for being shot in the face and having a minor heart attack when birdshot moved to his heart?

Cheney is the only person in America more powerful than Oprah.

Speaking of power, when the Flaming Lips were on Letterman the other night singing a good old-fashioned protest song about power, except with an Alice Cooper-esque edge to it, one guy was playing guitar in a skeleton costume and the lead guitarist/singer was wearing a prominently displayed "No Bush" button.

Subtle, but we liked it a lot.

Finally, two items barely related: ABC's mid-season sit-com *Sons&Daughters* isn't the least bit political but it sure is hilarious. It's must-see and segues nicely into the always delightful and always political *Boston Legal.* *S&D* is dysfunctionality to the nth degree. You'll be hooked immediately, as we were.

We leave you with this thought: Tens of thousands of Americans have hit the streets to protest the new proposals regarding immigration and undocumented workers. The shots on the myriad daily newscasts were amazing. It was extraordinary to see so many people rallying–and risking deportation by talking to TV reporters. If only that many people were willing to take to the streets over the war or over the incompetence of this presidency...

If only....stay tuned.


Things you never hear:
US Citizen: I hope the Mexican "Federales" don't catch me sneaking across the border into Mexico.
Canadian Citizen: I think we should scrap our health care system and get one like the US system
British Citizen: I think we should scrap our health care system and get one like the US system
French Citizen: I think we should scrap our health care system and get one like the US system
Italian Citizen: I think we should scrap our health care system and get one like the US system
Swiss Citizen: I think we should scrap our health care system and get one like the US system
German Citizen: I think we should scrap our health care system and get one like the US system
Spanish Citizen: I think we should scrap our health care system and get one like the US system
I think you get the picture

Things you'll hear more often that you'd like:
Every sixth American Citizen: I can't afford to see a doctor
US Elderly Citizen: Dog food or cat food tonight?
Another US Elderly Citizen: Groceries or medicine this week?
George W. Bush: 9/11--- 9/11--- 9/11--- 9/11... The cause of almost everything that's wrong today!

-Noah Greenberg

We Can't Make It Here Anymore

Reading Daily Kos, I came across a depressing diary from a person who was living in an automobile. I won't say it's all Bush's fault though he has been one of the worst economic hit men in American history. Sadly, the march towards globalization has been supported by both Democrats and Republicans and both parties are to blame. Many Democrats have by and large lost their Keynesian roots and have been as quick to vote for free trade agreements as Republicans. I keep hoping that the progressive causus keeps growing - they are our best hope for true reform.

These words from the songwriter James McMurthy describe the sad state of America:

There's Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign Sitting there by the left turn line Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze One leg missing, both hands free No one's paying much mind to him The V.A. budget's stretched so thin And there's more cumin's home from the Mideast war We can't make it here anymore

That big ol' building was the textile mill It fed our kids and it paid our bills But they turned us out and they closed the doors We can't make it here anymore See all those pallets piled up on the loading dock They're just gonna set there till they rot 'Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack Just busted concrete and rusted tracks Empty storefronts around the square There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere You don't come down here 'less you're looking to score We can't make it here anymore

The bar's still open but man it's slow
The tip jar's light and the register's low
The bartender don't have much to say
The regular crowd gets thinner each day
Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are workin' two jobs and livin' in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof Just try it yourself Mr. CEO See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores Bet you can't make it here anymore

-Robert Scardapane

A Final Thought

I think we should deport all those rich white men back to wherever they came from -- like the Bushes, Cheney, Rumsfield. They've caused a lot more trouble and pain for the whole world than all the Mexican immigrants.

-Pat Thompson

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-Noah Greenberg