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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

Monday, May 7, 2007



"It's not worth moving heaven and earth, spending billions of dollars, just trying to catch one person."
-GOP Presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, regarding Osama bin-Laden

Looking at the GOP "Possibles" for their party's presidential nomination has become an "Follow the bad leader". For some reason, these hopefuls (at least most of them) believe they have to adopt Bush's failed strategies on all issues. McCain and Giuliani have taken over the "surge" position in Iraq and now Romney, the guy who doesn't know his own favorite book, is taking up the Bush line about bin-Laden

"I don't really think about him very much. I'm not that concerned,"
-President Bush on bin-Laden

Whatever happened to "Dead or Alive"?

-Noah Greenberg

High School Diplomacy

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is playing with the Iranian Foreign Minister. Much like two rival teenagers, the gal from "Clique A" won't speak to the guy from "Clique B" until he makes the first move. The reverse is true as well.

Welcome to diplomacy, Bush-Style.

"You can ask him why he didn't make an effort. I'm not given to chasing anyone."
-Rice, referring to a meeting which never took place with an Iranian diplomat

Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Rice met at a lunch on Thursday during an international gathering of - what shall we call them - diplomats (for lack of a better word) and barely said a word to each other. As Jon Stewart of The Daily Show put it, "she should have grabbed him by the arm, dragged him into a room and said 'We gotta talk!'" Instead Rice, much like other Bushie diplomats have done before her (including former UN ambassador John Bolton) decided to shun "our enemy" and not ask for a sit down.

And it gets worse. When Mottaki refused to sit through a female violinist's recital because he felt the red dress was too revealing - a recital which he would have sat near Rice - one of Madam Secretary's underlings had this to say:

"I don't know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state,"
-State Department spokesman Sean McCormack

Ooh... That'll teach 'em. Score one for the good guys, right Condi? Maybe we could get some adults to run our foreign policy now instead of these spoiled children?

-Noah Greenberg

Settling It

A compromise is when both sides get some of what thy want, but in the end feel as if the other side made out better than they did. When President Bush says he wants to sit down with the House and Senate leadership to "compromise", then states no time-tables or deadlines, whether they're firm or soft dates, he misses the point. You can't make a compromise when you're not willing to give in at all.

The House and Senate are practicing their oversight responsibilities and they are on the same page as a majority of the American people. In truth, the new Democratic majority could have come out really swinging and demanded a final, everybody out date by the end of this summer. They didn't because they knew that the only REAL way to get this thing - the Iraq war and our occupation - is to work on a bi-partisan basis and set realistic goals. Bush will have none of that.

It appears that the new Bush-code words are going to be "compromise" (something he hasn't yet done, not even once) and "Commanders on the ground" (that's the group he hasn't yet listened to) and "Surge" (as in "give it a chance to work - this surge will be better than all the others). In the end they all add up to "stay the course", whatever that course may be.

The Iraq war will be financed through the end of this summer, of that there can be no doubt. This recent Iraq Accountability Act, vetoed in its current form, will not get the required two-thirds super majority to get over the presidential hump. Instead, the end of summer will show, if things remain the same or worse than they are today, that more and more Republicans will join in the chorus of "Get s outta here, Mr. President!" and they will have enough votes to do it without GW.

In a reality check moment, President Bush sent aids to Capital Hill to discuss the Iraq war with Democratic leaders, proving that there is, indeed, a first time for everything.

"It has taken almost four and a half years, but it appears the president finally is willing to consider what most Americans and members of Congress have long known: we must change course in Iraq and move toward a strategy that will make our country more secure,"
-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (DEMOCRAT-NV)

We'll just see about that. From his rhetoric, I doubt that President Bush wants to hear from Congress, unless those words are "yes sir, President Bush. Anything you say, President Bush."

In a signature, hypocritical move, House Republicans sent out their DeLay-Lite Minority leader, John Boehner (REPUBLICAN-OH) (Pronounced BANER, not BONER, as it seems) to throw a monkey wrench into any thought of a compromise.

"We don't consider this a serious compromise. It will create gridlock in Washington at a time when the troops need support fast, which is the functional equivalent of the 'slow-bleed' approach Democrats started with four months ago. They appear to be moving backward, not forward."
-Brian Kennedy, Boehner's spokesman

In other words, the GOP would rather sacrifice the well being of the troops in the short term just to make sure they get their way in the long term, and the long term means never ending war. is this really how the Republicans want to support the troops? Do they seriously want to cut off the funding to teach the Democrats a lesson?

"Here we go again. The Senate is trying another way to put a surrender date on the calendar. Welcome to politics '08-style."
-White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, regarding a new bill that will be sent to President Bush soon

Funny how the White House accused all who don't agree with them as being political while, at the same time, use every office and member of their administration as a political entity. Surrender is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. Ms. Perino, if she and the other Bushies have their way, will keep our troops in Iraq until after most of us are gone and our grandchildren are being brought into the battle. How many lives does victory take? None if they belong to the GOP.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

In a week we will have a new mayor, barring any unusual circumstance such as Sam Katz returning like the aging Rocky for a fourth go-round at the mayor’s seat he could not even wrest last time from a John Street being investigated by the feds.

When we get that new mayor, who I hope will be Michael Nutter, the most important issue facing him will be the one concerning every Philadelphian: the escalating rate of murder and violence in our city.

This newspaper chain doesn’t do endorsements since new management took over. Therefore my endorsement of Michael Nutter for mayor does not reflect the newspaper’s. But it does reflect a thorough examination of the candidates as well as my solid concern for this city.

After myriad panels, interviews, ad campaigns and the like, Michael Nutter remains the only candidate who fully understands the severity of the violence in Philadelphia *and* has concrete plans for fixing the problem.

Sure, Tom Knox proposes more police. Dwight Evans says we need programs in the neighborhoods (and we do–Nutter has similar proposals–but that is a long-term project, not an immediate answer). Bob Brady wants community policing–which Nutter also proposes. Chakah Fattah wants a combination of the Evans and Brady ideas.

Last weekend I was on a panel addressing the issues of violence in Philadelphia, convened by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Co-chairs Gayle Simons and Stelle Sheller usually deal with issues related to the war on Iraq. It says something about how bad the violence is in Philadelphia that they felt compelled to convene a panel to address not just the violence of the war, but the violence on our own streets.

With me on the panel were Dr. Patrick Carr, a sociology professor at Rutgers who has done years of research on street violence and written a book on the topic,*Clean Streets: Controlling Crime, Maintaining Order and Building Community Activism.* Anna Guarneri is the Council Coordinator for the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement and Michelle Kerr Spry is a member of Mothers in Charge. Alas, the way one becomes a member of Mothers in Charge is by losing a family member to gun violence. Spry’s brother and oldest son were both killed by guns.

It was a compelling three hours of discussion, fueled by the quiet energy of Carr and Guarneri and the volubility of myself and Spry. As victims of violence (I was the victim of a sexual assault at the hands of a serial rapist in Germantown several years ago and was seriously injured in the attack, Spry and I had a good deal to say on the topic. As people dealing with the after-effects of violence and looking for ways to heal it, Carr and Guarneri provided focal points for discussion. Those attending the mini-conference also had a lot to say about the state of violence in our city.

At the end of our three-plus hours we came to the conclusion that the new mayor needs to accede to the demands of the people of Philadelphia and that the current wave of violence has many contributing factors.

The discussion made me even more committed to Nutter as a candidate, because he is the only candidate who is willing to address the state of emergency we currently face. Mayor Street has done nothing to address the escalating violence. He has not replaced the Police Commissioner. He has not caucused with the District Attorney, with whom he has an ongoing feud, despite her on-camera calls for such meetings. He has not done anything about the sudden leave-taking of the Superintendent of Schools at a period when the schools are in crisis due to gang violence. He has not petitioned Harrisburg since 2005 about implementing more stringent gun laws for the city–also as part of a state of emergency.

Philadelphia currently has the laxest gun laws in the nation. It also has more guns per capita than anywhere else in the country. Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America and also the most violent big city in America. We have more gun violence here than in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago–cities with far larger populations.

It must cease.

Each member of the panel had suggestions, but not all were feasible or practical, given the nature of the crisis. What evolved from the passionate discourse in the room at Stapley where we met, was this: Gun violence effects all Philadelphians, even if many of us are not the intended nor likely victims of it.

However, let us not be coy about some of the realities: If you are black in Philadelphia, you are five times more likely to be a victim of homicide than if you are white. If you live in a black neighborhood, as I do, you are eight times more likely to be a victim of violence.

This must change.

John Street isn’t the cause of the violence in Philadelphia. He just hasn’t presented any solutions. And he has also promoted misconceptions that are carried out into our communities.

Like the idea that gangs aren’t a problem in Philadelphia. Two members of the panel said this and I let it pass–though I shouldn’t have–because I didn’t want to take the conversation in a different direction. But Philadelphia has a serious gang problem and has had for decades. However in recent months it has escalated–particularly in the high schools.

The recent spate of violence at West Philly high school, for example, was caused by gangs. Most gun violence in the schools has been a result of gang wars, as evidenced as Olney High last winter.

So yes, we have a gang problem in Philadelphia, as anyone who lives on gang turf knows from the spray-painted gang signs everywhere. We may not have famous gangs like the Crips and Bloods of Los Angeles, but we have kids carrying guns and using them to *answer* other gangs.

We also have drug gangs, which are less visible, but more insidious.

We have guns in homes all over Philadelphia–legal and illegal. And when domestic violence reaches a boiling point, it is often answered with a bullet. Or when kids are left alone, they find guns and shoot each other.

There’s no question that Philadelphia does, in many respects, reflect the larger culture. President Bush believes in answering all perceived threats with violence. He calls it “pre-emptive.” I call it a pattern that kids emulate. If parents were concerned about their children discovering oral sex because of former President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, they should be far more concerned about their children emulating the current president’s propensity for violence. We should take as our models Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, not George Bush and Dick Cheney.

We model violence a great deal in America. It’s not just our movies and video games, it’s our way of life. The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech was also an embarrassment when Queen Elizabeth II visited there last week: How can we explain the ready availability of guns in our country? How do we explain that the Second Amendment–meant just to keep her ancestor, George III at bay–is now being used as a weapon in itself?

Fixing the violence problem in Philadelphia is no easy task. But what I like about Nutter’s plan is that it is comprehensive and all-inclusive.

I listened to Dwight Evans on May 4th on NPR discussing the violence issue. I think Evans has been a strong voice for Philadelphia in Harrisburg, and unlike others running for mayor, he has a solid record of current achievements–he’s not running on a distant past.

But everything he said was a long-term concept. When the patient is dying of a heart attack, you can’t be discussing a change in diet and an exercise regimen; you have to take immediate action.

Nutter will do that.

Some have complained–including members of the WILPF panel–that Nutter’s “stop and frisk” will be dangerous to the black community. Yet every person I have queried in *my* neighborhood–all African Americans–think it’s way overdue.

What people need to understand about stop-and-frisk is that this is merely part of an overall approach to the violence. And those stopped will not be just anyone walking down the street. This will be people already engaged in illegal or semi-illegal activities, and in high-crime areas.

One of the worst crime corners in Philadelphia, for example, is Erie and Germantown Avenues. Stop and frisk would be employed there if needed, but not necessarily at Germantown and Mt. Airy or Greene and Chelten. Stop and frisk presents no problem for anyone who isn’t carrying an illegal weapon. But every illegal gun taken off the street does indeed benefit all of Philadelphia.

A few weeks ago I got into an argument with one of my students. I teach college writing courses and had assigned gun violence as the topic. This student wrote that it wasn’t her place to address the issue because although she lives in a black neighborhood where someone was shot at the corner of her block, because she is white, it isn’t her issue.

This is the attitude the entire city seems to have taken on gun violence–that it doesn’t effect us all.

It does.

A few years ago a former colleague of mine from the Philadelphia Inquirer was shot and killed outside the Wawa in Chestnut Hill.

No place is safe from gun violence.

I have a list of demands for the new mayor. If it’s Michael Nutter, as I hope it will be, he has already made the same list. But if it’s Tom Knox or one of the other candidates, he must attend to what the people of Philadelphia need.

We don’t need more cops–we need more community policing. When was the last time you saw a police car in Germantown or Mt. Airy that wasn’t parked outside a Wawa? And yet I see police cars everywhere in Center City–but that’s not where the guns are being fired.

We need more community relations between police and neighborhoods. When substations are available, crime goes down. That’s a statistical fact.

Dr. Carr made an important point at our conference: Communities in which violence is rampant also fear police, even though they express that the only thing that will help with the violence is more police. We have to change this dichotomy. We have to make the police the friends of the community, not the enemies. And the police must do that–we can’t do it for them.

We need to keep gangs of boys and young men, regardless of color or neighborhood off the streets. Testosterone is real–it lowers impulse control and it raises the proclivity for violence. When boys and young men are hanging out with nothing to do and nowhere to go and no money in their pockets, trouble is not very far behind. We need to work on making it safe for boys to be together by activating programs where they can hang out in constructive, not destructive ways.

Men in our community–black, white, Latino, Asian–have to step up. There are far too few fathers and far too many fatherless boys in our communities. Boys need role models. When fathers are absent, the drug dealers and gun runners and gang leaders move in to become the role models.

We need re-entry programs for boys and men being released from incarceration. If such a large percentage of boys and men between the ages of 15 and 30 are in prison, what are we doing to make sure their re-entry into society doesn’t lead them right back to prison? If we do nothing, the liability to the society as a whole becomes huge.

We need to enforce laws already on the books. Curfew and truancy must be addressed. It’s young men between 15 and 21 who are most likely to be both the perpetrators and victims of gun violence.

The majority of the violence in Philadelphia is black-on-black violence. Do you think if 406 blacks had been killed by whites last year instead of by fellow blacks that people would still be wearing t-shirts that read “Don’t Snitch”?

I think not.

Chakah Fattah has said that the violence in Philadelphia isn’t really the purview of the mayor. Well, he’s both right and wrong. It’s not *solely* the purview of the mayor. All of us must do our parts. But the mayor must lead.

As a community, we have to be vigilant. We need to call police when violence is brewing. We need to respond to police inquiries when someone has been shot. We need to take back our streets for ourselves and our children from the drug dealers and gun runners and gang leaders. We need to demand no less from ourselves than we demand of our elected officials–and we need to demand more of both.

All across Philadelphia people are renting out their cars and their guns for drive-by shootings. Do the police and public officials even know this is happening? For years guns have been sold out of the backs of cars on the avenue. Are the police doing anything to stop it?

We need to ask ourselves why we should tolerate a city that mimics the wild west or Grand Theft Auto. We need to demand of the new mayor that he clean up not just city hall, but the blood splattering our streets.

I don’t want to meet any more women like Michelle Kerr Spry, women for whom Mother’s Day will forever be a day of mourning, not celebration. I don’t want to hear any more stories from mothers like her who are outliving their 18-year-old sons whose lives were full of promise until someone pulled out a gun and shot them and no one came forward to say who did it. I don’t want to shed any more tears over little girls shot in drive-bys or mothers of three killed on Sunday afternoons by stray bullets.

Philadelphia is literally dying for new leadership. Please–get everyone you know to the polls on May 15th and take back our streets from the bloodshed.

NRA opposes bill to stop gun sales to terror suspects

So... it's OK to keep a terror suspect at Guantanamo Bay without being charged with a crime.

But it's OK to let that terror suspect buy a gun once he's back on the streets?!?!?!

"In a letter this week to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, NRA executive director Chris Cox said the bill, offered last week by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, "would allow arbitrary denial of Second Amendment rights based on mere 'suspicions' of a terrorist threat.""


-Eddie Konczal

Evolve Already!

It's hard to believe thirty percent of the Republican candidates don't believe in evolution. But then they open their mouths and you wonder if maybe they are right not to.

-Victoria Brownworth

It was embarrassing to watch those guys! It makes you realize that evolution leaves some folks behind - these were part of the group that barely made it out of the trees.

-David McReynolds

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-Noah Greenberg