Thursday, February 14, 2008


Folks, I have to take the next couple of days off to catch up on my life...See you Monday.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Activists in Austin, Texas are heading toward the office of Sen. John Cornyn (rated by the non-partisan National Journal as the fourth most conservative US senator)this Friday to lay down the law. They have good reason.

The Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), Austin Chapter points out:

Senator Cornyn’s voting record demonstrates a frightening disregard for the lives and welfare not only of Americans, but of people throughout the world. The senator has a history of disregarding his constituents, and voting lock-step with President Bush, even as the President and his agenda have become overwhelmingly unpopular. As he runs for re-election in 2008, Senator Cornyn will struggle to defend his record:

On the war in Iraq: five years after the invasion, almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers and over 655,000 Iraqis have died, and a majority of Americans polled are ready to bring our troops home. Yet, Sen. Cornyn continues to vote for war funding, and resists any legislation which would set a timetable for withdrawal.

On torture: Sen. Cornyn was one of only nine senators who, in Oct. 2005, voted against the McCain amendment, which banned the use of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment against anyone in US government custody.

On children’s health insurance: In Aug. 2007 Sen. Cornyn voted with the minority against expansion of the State Children’s Insurance Program to cover 9 million currently uninsured children.

On domestic spying: Also in Aug. 2007 Sen. Cornyn voted for the “Protect America Act” which, likely in violation of the 4th amendment, allows U.S. intelligence officials to monitor, without a warrant, ‘suspicious’ communication originating inside the U.S.

Among his largest contributors are J. P. Morgan Chase, Exxon Mobil and the Bass Brothers Enterprises (oil money, classmates and long time financiers of Bush). These big contributors get good value for their money. Cornyn voted against including oil and gas smokestacks in mercury regulations; against factoring global warming into federal project planning; against banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; against reducing oil usage by 40%, rather than by 5%; against removing oil and gas exploration subsidies, despite the fact that the oil industry was making record profits year after year.

If you happen to be in the Austin area, the OD suggests you join in the fun.

The following is from IndyMedia via A-Infos.

Austin Brings Out The Dogs

Protesters Mix Politics, Theater At Offices of Sen. John Cornyn --- Austin, TX -
February 13, 2008. This Friday, February 15, at 5 p.m. Austin’s Movement for a
Democratic Society (MDS/Austin) is “bringing out the dogs” in a theatrical
demonstration at the offices of U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R, Texas) who has been
called “lap dog to the President.” --- The canine-themed event will take place
5-6:30 Friday, Feb. 15, on the street outside Sen. Cornyn’s Chase Tower offices
at 221 W. Sixth St. (between Colorado and Lavaca) in Austin. Citizens have been
invited to participate in the theater by bringing their dogs or coming costumed
as dogs. ---- The event’s stated purpose is to “Curb the Corn Dog.” (“Corn Dog”
is President George W. Bush’s pet name for the junior senator from Texas.) The
organizers intend to shine a light on Sen. Cornyn’s special tail-wagging support
of the president on such issues as the War in Iraq, torture, civil liberties and
bringing affordable health care to children.

According to event organizers, the demonstration will be “lively and colorful,
but the message will be as serious as a riled-up pit bull.”

The event is scheduled to correspond with the Iraq Moratorium’s monthly “Third
Friday” demonstrations against the War in Iraq. It is being organized by
MDS/Austin, a multi-issue progressive organization associated with the
revitalized Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Official co-sponsors are
CodePink, Texas Labor Against the War, Iraq Moratorium National Committee,
SDS/UT Austin and The Rag Blog.

This is not a campaign activity supporting any candidate, but, according to
organizers, is meant to focus on the political record of George Bush’s faithful
pet senator, whose standing in the community, as backed up by numerous polls,
“is lower than a parcel of puppy poop.”

To learn more about MDS/Austin, go to To contact


People in Paraguay are making a unique demand today. They want the Yellow Fever vaccine and they want it now.

On 15 January 2008, the national health authorities of Paraguay reported their first confirmed cases of Jungle Yellow Fever. More cases have been found since then and the people are afraid.

As well they should be.

The clinical manifestations of infection from the yellow fever virus can vary greatly, from asymptomatic or subclinical forms with non-specific symptoms, to hemorrhagic fever, which develops in 15-25% of infected patients and which presents a case fatality of around 50%, but which can go as high as 75%.

"We are in the middle of investigating outbreaks of yellow fever, and we are also intervening to destroy vectors in the towns where they have been detected, including spraying, fumigation and vaccination," said Health Minister, Oscar Martinez.

Though a vaccine has been available for the past 60 years, a vast majority of the population of Paraguay is not immunized.

Paraguay has requested neighboring countries 100.000 emergency vaccine doses, since an original shipment of 600.000 doses from Brazilian manufacturers has been delayed.

They're still waiting.

Paraguay declared this week an epidemics alert following the confirmation of five cases of the mosquito-borne viral yellow fever.

Concern in Paraguay has been growing since Brazil reported several fatal cases of yellow fever in the last two months, including one in an urban area for the first time since 1942.

One outbreak of the disease in neighboring Brazil was detected 200 kilometers north of Asunción the capital.

Experts believe that the outbreak can be tracked to fires last year which destroyed thousands of hectares of rain forest forcing the migration of monkeys and mosquitoes that could be responsible for taking the jungle yellow fever to rural and urban areas.

The fires, by the way, are a symptom of global warming. Scientist have warned for years that as the earth heats up so will outbreaks of mosquito borne diseases.

Today demonstrators took to the streets of the capital and demanded to be vaccinated. They complained the government had been caught short of doses and demanded a major vaccination campaign against the mosquito-borne disease. Hundreds of people lined up this week at hospitals around Paraguay, demanding vaccines that were unavailable.

The cases of yellow fever were detected in Paraguay at a time when authorities were in the midst of a campaign to prevent dengue, which caused 17 deaths and infected 27,000 in last year's outbreak.

The following is from Canadian Press.

4,000 block highway in Paraguay to demand yellow fever vaccines

ASUNCION, Paraguay - Some 4,000 people demanding vaccinations against yellow fever blockaded a highway near the capital Wednesday, a week after the disease made its first appearance in Paraguay in 34 years.

The blockade snarled traffic for hours on a major route near Asuncion before authorities negotiated a peaceful end to the demonstration. There were no reports of violence.

Paraguayan health officials last week announced five confirmed cases of yellow fever that originated in a remote farm community, but no deaths.

The outbreak prompted South America's second-poorest country to urgently request 600,000 doses of vaccine from international health authorities.

Demonstrators demanded a major vaccination campaign against the mosquito-borne disease. Hundreds of people lined up this week at hospitals around Paraguay, demanding vaccines that were unavailable.

The last reported case of yellow fever in Paraguay was in 1974.


The town of Danbury, Connecticut has found itself embroliled in the All American issue of immigration.

The city's business and citizens are up in arms over a proposal championed by the mayor and the town council to partner the town with federal immigration police.

Under the recently passed proposal, police officers will receive training through the 287(g) program, which will give those officers the ability to enforce federal immigration law.

And without a doubt engage in a little racial profiling.

Surely, you'd think, the town's elected leaders would pay a little attention to the uproar the proposal has caused in their town.

But then as the OD has noted time and again those local authorities whom John McCain touts never seem all that inclined to listen to the residents on whose behalf they are supposedly working.

While ye olde mayor says the plan isn't to round up undocumented workers, no one outside maybe his immediate family believes him. Immigrants are fleeing the city in droves and business on main street is drying up.

The New Times reports at the tiny Galapagos Restaurant on Ives Street, owner Claudio Regaldo says business is dead.

"Customers are coming into my restaurant, shaking my hand, saying, "Thank you for your service, thank you for all that you have done, but we are leaving Danbury,'" Regaldo said.

He said his customers are moving to other nearby more tolerant towns.

Carmine Cohen, a U.S. citizen who has owned I C Video & Music on White Street for 10 years, began to weep Friday while discussing the ICE program. Her ethnic customers are scared.

"I'm Jewish. I can't sleep. I feel this stuff that is going on is like the Nazis," she told the New Times.

Emanuela Lima, whose family owns Tribuna newspaper points out a downtown full of empty stores hurts everyone.

"This measure will impact everyone in Danbury, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, document and undocumented," Lima said. "There is a much more organized front because of that."

Celia Bacelar wrote in the Tribuana:

"If approved, it is not hard to envision what it [287(g)] will do to the local economy."

Fear of the unknown and the unpredictable will keep people inside their homes, preventing them from going to local businesses such as restaurants, retail stores, supermarkets, and so on."

In terms of public safety, the fear of having their immigration status checked will stop residents from cooperating with and, more importantly, trusting local police. They likely won’t come forward to report criminal activity in their neighborhoods, or they might hesitate to offer information that might help prevent or solve a crime."

And this will compromise the safety of the whole population."

Think about the vulnerability of the individuals who clean your houses, mow your lawns, paint, built and renovate your properties, that – if stopped for a simple traffic violation – could have their legalization process compromised by the 287(g) program."

Immigrants are part of the daily life and social fabric of our city. Most make great contributions to the economic growth and well-being of our population through their businesses, self-employment services and volunteerism."

Those who pushed the council to pass the measure say they are concerned about crime and the like...or so they say. However, Wilson Hernandez, VP of the Ecaudorian Civic Center of Greater Danbury, pointed his finger right back at them, "What's really a threat to the community are those who are disseminating anti-immigrant sentiments, either because they are xenophobics, either because they are racist or just because they are intolerant of people who are a "threat" for this community, for Connecticut, for United States or for the world."

On Feb. 6, as the Council met to discuss the program a crowd of 5,000 immigrants and allies rallied outside.

The crowd was much larger than expected. It was one of the largest immigrant rights demonstrations in the city's history. In addition to thousands of people from the immigrant community in Danbury, buses traveled from Hartford and many carpools came from all over the state. The local Brazilian and Ecuadorian communities mobilized heavily for the demonstration.

Immigrant-owned businesses all over Danbury also shut down for the day to protest the vote on implementing 287(g).

Despite it all the Council voted overwhelmingly to seek a partnership with U.S. immigration and customs enforcement.

It's high time these anti-immigrant yahoos get over it. It's high time our great leaders (local and national) listen to someone but the Minuteman types, people who live thousands of miles from the border in towns full of happy white people (living in fear of everyone but themselves), and, of course, Lou Dobbs. Maybe if they'd talk to people who live in places with large populations of immigrants (and, oh my gosh, undocumented workers), or those who live along our borders they would hear a different story. Maybe if the debate wasn't focused on the right to drive but on the right to be a human being...maybe, maybe, maybe...

The following is from the Fairfield County Weekly News (Connecticut).

Impetus On Main Street

It was literally written on the walls.

More than 150 businesses on and around Danbury's Main Street were darkened, empty and plastered with pink signs, reading This store will be closed on Wednesday, Feb 6 in protest of the 287(g) proposal in Danbury.

It was not so subtly suggested in a television/YouTube spot featuring $20 bills falling into a fiery abyss, from the Danbury Businesses for a Better Community Coalition, which organized the Main Street shutdown.

It was on the minds of the 4,000 protesters who swarmed City Hall in sharp objection to the Common Council's 287(g) proposal—which passed last week by a 19-2 vote and allows federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to train and deputize local police. "We pay taxes! We pay taxes!" was a rallying cry. It was made evident by the prominence of business owners and labor unions at the rally.

The citywide battle over undocumented immigration now has a distinctly economic edge to it.

"The emotional arguments are not always cutting it," said Emanuela Lima, editor of the trilingual newspaper Tribuna. "Money will talk a lot louder than 3,000 voices," she says, a reference to the head count at previous rallies.

Beyond the dominating theme of economics, attendees interviewed by the Weekly also brought up all the usual political points and ideological arguments:

"As a result of the actions of the mayor, Danbury is ahead of the country in anti-immigrant sentiment," said Stamford attorney and organizer Philip Berns.

"This is a waste of resources.?... Why don't they go after the people in the housing projects who are selling crack and abusing the system, instead of people who are here to work hard and can't even access that system," said Dave Eldritch, a former Shelton police officer.

"I came here from South Africa in 1962 to get away from a place where the police would come in the middle of the night and round up people who were working hard for their families," said 36-year Danbury resident Patricia Weiner.

But the leaders of the thunderous rally were the members of Danbury's business community, who brought a nearly unanimous message: Immigrants are leaving Danbury or locking themselves in their homes, and that's bad for business.

Melilenia Torres, owner of the Main Street Diner, said, "I believe this new law will hurt business really bad. In the last month, it went down 50 percent. I know a lot of people who have said they had to get out of town."

Business owners all say that their costumers are leaving, heading back to Brazil or Ecuador in some cases, or trying their luck in Bridgeport or New Haven in others.

"Danbury is not New York City; it is not a place with tourists. People just come here and work" said Luis Bautisia, owner of a restaurant and two rental properties. "I have two vacant units. I don't have money to pay my mortgages if I don't rent."

The terms "Main Street" and "immigrant business community" can be used somewhat synonymously in Danbury. While a few banks and insurance companies remain downtown, ethnic restaurants; exotic gift shops; media outlets specializing in foreign CDs and DVDs; travel agencies; and beauty salons, tax agencies and medical offices that have bi- or trilingual staff have carved a niche for themselves in the area that the Danbury Fair Mall dried up in the late-'80s.

"Ten years ago, this place was a ghost town," said an owner of a 30-year downtown staple who preferred not to be named. "They are upset because they worked for this, and fear it could be a ghost town again."

Mayor Mark Boughton says it's all one big misunderstanding. He has pointed out that in previous protests, many of those who have stood in front of City Hall have been activist kids bused in from area colleges. "That's fair in America," he told us, "but they don't show the sentiment of Danbury."

Those buses again made the trip on Feb. 6; organizer Jean Hislop says at least two came down from Hartford. But the new segment of interlopers were union members, the traditional demonstrators for bread and butter issues.

Marty Goodman of the United Transit Workers says there "isn't enough pressure coming from the outside" into Danbury. The Manhattan resident says "as the economy gets worse, there will be more scapegoating, and once the employers separate the supposedly legal and supposedly illegal, they will have won."

The United Healthcare Workers Local 1199 unveiled a banner at the march. "Many of our workers come from the islands, like Haiti," said union spokesperson Deborah Chernoff. "We feel a responsibility to keep our communities safe and welcoming as a matter of underlining ideology."

The schism between City Hall and the immigrant community was perhaps made official when Tribuna, Danbury's biweekly, trilingual newspaper since 2000, dropped its support of Boughton on the day of the 287(g) vote.

Last November, despite his alignment with a Republican Town Committee campaigning on 287(g), Tribuna endorsed Boughton, as did the Danbury News-Times, the city's English-only daily—and for many of the same reasons.

"We thought he had the strongest plans for the economy, building and infrastructure," says Lima, the paper's editor in chief and executive director. "It's not just immigration issues that we care about. We are Danburians, and we look at who has the best plan for all of Danbury."

Lima says the editorial board "drew a line in the sand" when Common Council hearings focused on "all the good things this would supposedly bring to the city without studying it much deeper."

The paper will "no longer support a mayor who would pass a plan that would also deport immigrant workers, who came to this country legally and don't have a green card because they are waiting for the conclusion of their legalization process. A plan that could take children away from good parents, divide families and close businesses owned by honest people who have contributed greatly to this city," it stated in an editorial.

"If I got all the misinformation that comes from activists and is printed in a few biweekly newspapers, I'd be pretty upset too," says Boughton.

He reiterates his usual defense of the 287(g)/ICE ACCESS program: It won't be used for wholesale raids, will not target day laborers and average workers and will empower two detectives who'll be after violent criminals.

He has "no idea" if people are leaving Danbury over this. And the "big economic issue is the [national] economy. We're at all time low in issuing building permits."

Boughton's Dec. 14 State of the City Address indicated a rosy economy, noting that "While the downturn in the residential real estate market has impacted many areas, Danbury continues to be a desirable place to raise a family. Our business community continues to enjoy a positive economic climate and a positive outlook."

"That was before the housing crash," Boughton says; foreclosures, he adds, have since increased in and around Danbury.

Moreover, he says, "If you tailor your business to a small segment of the population, it's going to be at risk. This is a chance for these businesses to expand and adapt and reach a broader audience."

As for Tribuna's decision to drop its support: "They are under a lot of pressure from people who are against this; advertisers have dropped out because of it."

Categorically not true, says Lima. "We may have had one or two people who have stopped taking out ads because they can no longer afford to," she says. "We're doing this because most of our staff are immigrants, and because we know how hard it is to come here. We don't forget that."

"It's two police officers who will go after violent criminals," says Breno da Mata, editor of the Portugese-language Comunidade News. "That is my understanding, and that is what we've been reporting."

He added "I doubt Mark Boughton reads Portuguese so maybe someone mis-translated it for him, but I think this is a matter of politics...

"People are scared because they don't trust Mark Boughton," da Mata adds, "not because they read my newspaper or misunderstand what the police and city say."

Boughton, who plans to organize a committee to try and quell the uproar over 287(g), seemed reflective when asked if there was more that his office could have done to explain the program to all the people who are against it: "You know, we can always do more."

Manuel Bataguas, president of the Danbury Businesses for a Better Community Coalition and publisher of the newsletter The Immigrant, says he's been harsh against the program in editorials but that he too understands it's two officers after dangerous criminals, "or so that's what they say."

He explains the disconnect between Main Street and City Hall this way: "They do not understand what it is like to be fearful, and they do not represent all of the people; only fifteen percent of the people in Danbury voted last election."

Well, whose fault is that?

"Yes, that is a good point" said Bataguas. "This is the first time the people are acting together as one. We will use this to build a permanent coalition."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


In my humble opinion, which you are probably sick of hearing, with John Edwards out of the race for President we are in for another battle between corporate favorites (be they white, black, male or female).

Still, I will vote simply because who could stand another four/eight years of the GOP - not me, not the country, not the world.

But voting is hard. Not the casting of a ballot, (although getting your ballot counted is another matter), just working up the energy every four years to vote for the candidate of someone else's choice.

I mean I envy those enthusiastic Obama supporters. They look so happy, so excited, just thrilled to death. That would be fun, but...

The guy who wrote the letter below asks Joe if Obama is like McGovern. Joe says no, but I think I know what that fellow is implying.

I remember 1972 (thirty six freaking years ago). There was all this enthusiasm by many just to the right of the far leftist like yours truly for this so very progressive anti-war candidate (us real radicals knew that only the revolution could save us all - those were the days, my friends). They were out with their buttons, their bumper stickers and their wide eyed enthusiasm for this strange white guy from South Dakota (who I can't quit remembering whined every night on the news, "Mr. Nixon, can you honestly say your agents did not bug...). George McGovern was calling for America to "Come Home" and like Obama's "Time for Change" who really knew what that meant. It didn't matter. He was against the war and...that was enough his followers needed to know (earlier they'd pretty much felt the same way about Gene McCarthy). George ran through those primaries, racked up those delegates, and got himself nominated at one of the more bizarre Democratic Conventions you'll never see again. He gave his acceptance speech well after midnight when virtually all of the country had long ago gone off to bed.

And he proceeded to lose in a huge landslide to Richard Nixon.

I wondered then what would become of his young enthusiastic following. Me, I just shrugged. I knew, or thought I did anyway, how things worked and I knew, or thought I did, what we had to do to change the country, and I knew it didn't involve voting. But what happened to those just to my right who were also sure that they had known.

So when many of my friends, people who I respect, tell me that the big reason they now are Obama supporters is they love the way he brings out all that love and enthusiasm from today's young people or from people who never vote, a couple of things bother me.

Back in those 60s which lots of folks like to say Barack somehow brings back memories, the young people like me weren't all agaga about political candidates. We didn't think then a movement based on Gene McCarthy or Robert Kennedy was THE MOVEMENT. No, our movement was in the streets, it was us. We were turned on by the Black Liberation Movement, by the likes of the Black Panther Party, by Malcolm X, by Marin Luther King, by those who put it all on the line marching across the South, not by a black politician. There is a difference folks. We saw LIBERALS as co-opting us. They weren't our heroes.

There were certainly those folks, others from my generation, who were "Clean for Gene" and who were all out for McGovern, but they weren't us. They were the good kids. They were never who we were.

Anyway, I have this deep seated fear that if Obama is the guy and if he goes down what happens to those people, the good kids? Do they go on to be like the good kids of the McCarthy and McGovern campaign and go into business or into the democratic party?

And then I wonder, too, what if Obama wins and what if I happen to be right for once and he turns out to be not all that different that all those democrats before him...what happens to all those people who wanted that "real change."

And above I've been mostly talking about white folks.

What about African Americans? It's not for me, a white guy, to speculate. I'll just say Obama quotes Martin Luther King, but he ain't Martin Luther King. There is a difference between an Alabama primary and an Alabama jail.

And then I wonder if anyone will notice when REAL CHANGE doesn’t happen? We're pretty much trained these days to only notice the drama on TV. It'll be eight years before we notice that we don't have universal healthcare.

Hillary Clinton won't disappoint anyone much I suppose. We can be pretty sure she is what she appears to be. Maybe that is a good thing; maybe it is a bad thing.

Maybe I've become way too cynical.


The following comes from one of my more favored web sites, Joe Bageant's "Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War." Joe is, of course, the author of the book by the same name. What appears below is an exchange with a blog site reader.

Greeting card platitudes from Obama

Dear Joe,

Let me first say how enjoyable Deer Hunting with Jesus was. Very. For someone of a younger generation like myself, it is very heartening to know some of those elders who avoided the mind trap of growing up in society are still freeminded. Do you see Barack Obama's campaign as in any way analagous to George McGovern's campaign in 1972 (ignoring the different Republican candidate)? Hope? Idealism?

Much respect,



Dear Claude,

You are too kind in your assessment regarding my supposed escape from the mind trap of America's crude media driven consumer society. You are talking to a guy who lies around on the couch in his under shorts, eats corn nuts, drinks cheap beer, and watches crime shows fer god sake. ;-)

But no, I don't see any resemblance in Obama's campaign to McGovern's. McGovern was what he appeared to be. Like any other politician, Obama's every move, word and nuance is extremely calculated and orchestrated in ways that were not possible, or even imaginable, in 1972, Same with all American candidates today.

The business of local and state politics is the business of turning virgins into whores. The business of national politics is polishing up whores to look like virgins. Of course some whores are nicer than others, but one does not get to play the back room high stakes game of presidential poker by being idealistic. One comes to the table with a lot of dough, a good cover story and a knife stashed in the boot. And even if you win, the guys running the game still own the country. Hence, while a guy like Obama, who presumably does not take corporate campaign dough, may win, you'll never hear him call for the dismantling of the rapacious big corporations who own our every breath, such as big pharma and big food (which are now starting to merge), big med, big finance (mortgage, credit cards, etc.) and even our consciousness and awareness of our nation and the world, such as big media, upon who he must ultimately depend to gain access to the public at all.

As long as Obama can buy ads and deliver greeting card platitudes that have a sort of righteous sound, he has entertainment, emotional and dramatic value to us liberal couch taters out here in the Nembutal republic. As long as Hillary still has the the riotously titillating Bill Clinton blue dress scandal in the background. Frankly, I think it would be cool if she wore Lewinsky''s blue dress on American Idol and sang "A Man Ain't Nothin' But A Man" as a campaign stunt, or maybe delivered Lady Macbeth's "Out damned spot!" lines in an episode of American Housewives.

Anyway, as Lady Macbeth said, "Hell is a murky place." American politics is even more so. The capability for a president to make big progressive changes is nil in this country, although the capability to fuck things up remains boundless -- to wit, Sparky the Chimp Bush. If all of Congress cannot effect change because they are owned by big money, no candidate sucking down corn soup on the Iowa campaign trail is gonna either. And besides, America is dead broke and in hock up to her eyeballs. Even little changes in this country cost big money because there must be big profit in it for -- you guessed it -- big corp. Or big dough to slosh around inside big government bureaucracy. For instance, a Katrina victim reader of mine, who happens to be a cost accountant, tells me that it cost the U.S. government $38,000 NOT to get his family into one of those emergency FEMA trailer homes (hundreds of which are still sitting in storage areas unoccupied). He moved to Nicaragua and swears the quality of life there is better and with far less hair pulling.

I dunno. Come November '08 I'll be casting a vote for the manufactured candidate of my choice. And assuming I don't get cut from the voter list through fraudulent voter caging tactics (not too likely, since I am white) I'll be punching a touch screen voting machine with no accountability, and with no recount possible. Also, my vote will legally be reduced a set of digits that instantly become the intellectual property of Diebold.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that I just don't get a hard-on over U.S. presidential elections anymore. I just vote and go home, turn on the TV, and wait to see if the well groomed illusionary candidate of my illusionary choice won the stake race.

You folks watch out down there. Australia, near as I can tell, is at least half-way down the pike to the same sort of system we have.

Meanwhile, I've been reading about your drought in the Aussie newspapers online, Can I send you a quart of water?

In art and labor,



An estimated 2,000 members of Hungarian and international neo-Nazi groups gathered in downtown Budapest Saturday. Neo-Nazi skinheads from Hungary, Germany, and other European countries lined up in a military-style formation inside a metal cordon built around Budapest's Heroes Square and erected a wooden cross with the words "Blood and Virtue" written on it.

The growing fascist movement in Hungary is a threat to many, but is of particular concern to the nation's Roma community.

The extreme right Jobbik party's paramilitary Magyar Garda or Hungarian Guard (pictured here) is leading the assault on the Roma. The Guard was formed last year and has about 700 members. Its uniform has elements which resemble those used by the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi, World War II militia. The Hungarian Guard has staged regular demonstrations against "Gypsy crime," including a uniformed march through a Roma-majority village. Last month they rallied in the Hungarian capital of Budapest to protest what it said was a rising crime rate, but which critics said was a veiled attack on the country's Gypsies. State President László Sólyom called the Hungarian Guard's (Magyar Gárda) demonstration "anti-Gypsy" and rejected the "Nazi ideology" expressed by a speaker from Jobbik, the far-right party behind the guard, which formed at the end of this past summer.

In the past few days, the chief prosecutor in Budapest made a court application for the banning of the Magyar Garda. One of the reasons such an application has just now been made is a recent statement from Csanad Szegedi, the group's founder and vice-president of the Movement for a Better Hungary, who said, "The Magyar Garda will be the gendarmerie of the 21st century." This was seen as a challenge to the functioning of a state based on the rule of law. The prosecutor also points out that the Garda's open anti-gypsy sentiment is in violation of the Constitution and numerous international agreements.

Prosecutors Office spokesman Attila Morvai told Magyar Hírlap that the Magyar Gárda had originally been registered as a society to preserve culture and tradition and in the opinion of the Prosecutors Office, Magyar Gárda's activity violates the Association Act, which states that the exercise of rights must not curtail the rights and civil liberties of others. Speakers at the rally at Tatárszentgyörgy violated the ban on racial discrimination, human dignity and elicited fear, according to the Office.

Another, perhaps related group, calling itself the Hungarian Arrows National Liberation Army takes a more militant bent yet. For example, on Sunday they claimed responsibility for several petrol bomb attacks on the homes of MPs of the ruling Hungarian Socialist Party. In an e-mail message sent to Hír TV, the group said "Let the early Friday morning flames remind all traitors of where the No button lies." The group first became known in December, when it said it had brutally beaten Hir TV anchor Sandor Csintalan for supposedly being a "Jewish hireling."

There are an estimated 600,000-800,000 Roma among Hungary's population of 10 million. They are among the poorest and least educated citizens. While there are no official statistics, U.N. Habitat, a humanitarian agency, estimated that up to 60 percent of male inmates in Hungarian prisons are Roma.

The anti-Roma fascist movement is on the rise again in Hungary.

The following is from AXcess news.

Hungary's anti-Roma militia grows
By Colin Woodard
Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Budapest, Hungary - The far right is on the march in Hungary, literally.

In recent months, hardly a week has gone by without a rally being held by the Magyar Garda or "Hungarian Guard," their members decked out in black boots and uniforms bearing nationalist symbols last employed by Hungarian fascists during World War II.

Their target: Romani (gypsy) criminals and those who want to integrate Romani children into the country's schools. Their rallies usually take place in communities with a large Roma population, where they style themselves as protectors of ethnic Hungarians.

"Roma criminality is a huge problem in Hungary that's been swept under the carpet," says Zoltan Fuzessy, a spokesman for Jobbik, a far-right political party whose leader, Gabor Vona, is also the leader of Magyar Garda. "The number of our supporters is growing day by day."

Their opponents are growing as well. Budapest's public prosecutor has called for the group to be banned, while Mayor Gabor Demszky has called on municipal officials across the country not to attend its events. Hungary's president, Laszlo Solyom, has described its rallies as "immensely damaging," while Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany calls it "the shame of Hungary."

"It is really Nazism and it is serious and becoming more and more so," says Viktoria Mohacsi, a Roma leader and a Hungarian representative in the European Parliament. "Many [Romani] organizations are calling on me to join secret meetings to organize ourselves the way the Hungarian Guard has. If this happens, there will be killing; there could be civil war."

Istvan Rev, a historian at Central European University, agrees. "The Roma are the open target and they have a basis to be frightened," he says. "If they have no other choice than to react, then everybody has a firm basis for being concerned."

Others take Hungary's center-left government to task for failing to address the root cause of the tensions Magyar Garda exploits: the appalling social and economic situation of the Roma, who account for between 8 and 10 percent of Hungary's 10 million people.

Although Hungary is part of the European Union, many of its Roma live in conditions comparable to Sub-Saharan Africa. Romani activists estimate adult unemployment at 70 percent, and official figures show that fewer than 5 percent of Romani children complete high school.

"After [the end of Communism], Roma were the first who lost their jobs," says Roma activist Agnes Daroczi, a sociologist at the Hungarian Institute for Culture and Art. "To be frank, there are many of us who are stealing. But when you deeply analyze the situation you see that there aren't any jobs, any possibilities for these people."

"The gypsies are living worse than 10 or 20 years ago because of unemployment and lack of education," adds Janos Simon of the Hungarian Institute of Political Science. As a result, crime increases - and with it, support for Magyar Garda, with their promise to defend Hungarians. "The government doesn't want to resolve these social problems; they'd rather wait for Magyar Garda to march and then say, 'Look at the primitive antigypsy chauvinists,' and try to use it to their political advantage. It's a dirty game."

Magyar Garda was founded last August with a ceremony at the gates of Buda Castle which was attended by Lajos Fur, who was defense minister in Hungary's first post-Communist government. Fifty-six uniformed members were inducted in that ceremony, and another 600 at a gathering at Budapest's Heroes' Square in October.

The group has held dozens of rallies to "defend Hungary," most in villages with large Roma populations. Its members wear shields and carry flags with the red-and-white Arpad stripes, a symbol of medieval Hungary used by the notorious Arrow Cross Party, which deported or executed a half million Jews and over 50,000 Roma during World War II.

Its political agenda isn't limited to confronting Roma crime. The group's declared aims include revising the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which stripped Hungary of two-thirds of its pre-World War I territory and set its current borders. Any effort to do so is anathema to Hungary's neighbors, particularly Slovakia, whose entire territory was ruled from Budapest prior to Trianon.

Magyar Garda also seeks to build itself into a military force, an army outside the control of the government. "Basically there is no army in Hungary at the moment," explains Mr. Fuzessy, who says force reductions have left it impotent. "If the worst happens and there was no one to defend Hungary, it is the aim of the Hungarian Guard to be the foundation of our national defense."

For her part, Ms. Mohacsi says that if the courts banned Magyar Garda, it would send a constructive signal. "There are many people who ... felt that maybe it wasn't good to say publicly that they don't like gypsies, but now with Magyar Garda maybe they feel it's OK for them to do it," she says."

"An official decision would show to the public that this is not acceptable," she adds. "Such decisions always make people change their minds. If they like or don't like Romani people, maybe they'll keep their opinion to themselves."

Monday, February 11, 2008


Elementary school students are rallying in Birmingham, Alabama today trying to keep their school from closing. The district Superintend says it’s necessary for financial reasons. The students’ and their parents don't want any of it.

I don't have any kids in school largely because I don't have any kids period, so I've never been personally affected by neighborhood school closings. I note, however, that often such closings raise tempers to a fever pitch. And why not? Schools are the life of many communities, and small schools are good for children. We know that small classes are good for learning, and that schools in neighborhoods are good for families and for children.

One of numerous reasons the Alabama State Department of Education's plan to close 18 Birmingham neighborhood schools is drawing fire is that as on so many local issues nobody bothered to consult the locals.

The decision to close schools was been made without public input and largely on the basis of something called the “Guide Management Report.” Guide Management is a construction management company with no expertise in school planning, and discrepancies have been found in the report. So parents and neighborhood activists have some real questions they'd like to have answered. Last Monday was the first time they had a chance.

“Is this plan to close and consolidate and merge schools academically sound?” asked
Citizens for Better Schools' Executive Director Ron Jackson. This last Saturday Jackson urged Birmingham City Schools students to consider a walkout to grab the attention of school officials in Montgomery, he said at a meeting with some concerned parents Saturday.

Brenda Bell and Cheryl Kennemore, who have children in Wenonah Elementary School, said parents should help try to save their neighborhood schools. Bell said Wenonah Elementary has more than 300 students and should not be closed.

"I feel like we need a walkout, especially at Wenonah Elementary," Bell said. She said she heard the school would be leveled to make way for a parking lot for the new Wenonah High School's football stadium. "Taking away education for a parking lot? That's not acceptable."

Someone always wants to build a parking lot.

Mayor Larry P. Langford isn't thrilled with what the state is up to either. “Schools are first. Schools are built around communities, not vice-versa. What law gives the state the right to close our schools - Who built them?” Langford told school board members as he announced his intention to ask the Birmingham City Council to “put up a $15 million letter of credit to help comply with the requirement to develop and maintain one month’s operating reserve fund” for Birmingham schools.

State education officials have given Birmingham school leaders a March 1 deadline to submit a plan to raise a $20 million reserve fund to comply with school financial accountability laws, recommending closing 18 city schools to do so. One month’s operating costs for city schools is about $20 million.

FYI, the school district has eighty percent (80%) of its students eligible for free or reduced price lunches and overcrowded classrooms.

Parents, students and neighborhood leaders in Birmingham have been here before. And they remember.

“They came up with the same crazy scheme in 2003, close schools, fire teachers, bus drivers, and lunchroom workers to ‘balance’ their budget.” Germaina Park neighborhood president William “Bill” Gains said. “What happened? They were back in operating deficit in 2006-2007, and with an even bigger defect in 2007-2008. It not that we’ve had decline in enrollment; these people (Mims and school board members) can’t manage! We have a top-heavy administration, and over-paid staff - the finance director keeps getting raises while his revenue projections never hit the mark,” Mr. Gains added.

Just firing administrators excess baggage at the school board will save million a year says Dr. Ron Jackson of the Better Schools group.

And in fact, a report from the Council of the Great City Schools commissioned by the Birmingham Board of Education says the Birmingham city school district is hampered by a bloated administration. The report recommends reorganizing top management around four departments: Instruction, finance, human resources and operations and eliminating
entire layers of management. It doesn't recommend closing schools or firing teachers.

The Birmingham News says that for more than a decade there have been complaints, within the school system and from outside, of too many administrators, support workers and layers of bureaucracy in the central office, especially for a dramatically shrinking system.

Citizens for Better Schools have analyzed school district operating costs for all city schools. Director Jackson , said, “...small neighborhood schools controlled operating costs better than Birmingham’s large schools, and some even returned money to the school district, operating under their allocated budgets. It is, and always has been, a myth that small schools are too costly to operate economically. We have yet to find a school district that has improved academic achievement and controlled cost by closing schools and firing teachers."

Yet that is the state's plan and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

Richard Franklin, a special education paraprofessional at Birmingham's Huffman Middle School said, “We are already short on staff; students whose IEPs (Individual Education Plans) require aides can’t get them because of last year’s cuts. What are we to do with fewer schools and more students in classrooms that are already overcrowded; are we to ‘Make Bricks without straw.”“ (I didn't know you made bricks with straw, but that's a whole other story).

The following is from WBRC TV in Birmingham, Alabama.

Rally Attempts to Save Wenonah Elementary

A group of Wenonah Elementary School students plan a major rally later today to protest a plan to close the school. Wenonah Elementary School is one of the 18 schools on the shutdown list in Birmingham. Superintendent Stan Mims says it is a necessary cost cutting move, but the parents organizing this rally say their school should not be on the closure list. They say there is an ulterior motive beyond saving the money mandated by the state board of education. Organizers of the rally plan to host the protest after school today. They say they hope a strong parent turnout will send a message to the school board.


Two days after practices of Burger King and Austin-based Whole Foods Markets were targeted in the keynote address at the 28th annual Student Conference on Latin America hosted by the Institute of Latin American Studies Student Association students and workers in Austin took to the streets to protest the treatment of tomato pickers in Imokalee, Florida.

Floridian farm worker and human rights activist Lucas Benitez (pictured here), co-director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, delivered the address Thursday, initiating the three-day event.

"Farm workers in Florida would have to pick two-and-a-half tons of tomatoes a day just to make minimum wage," Benitez said.

In Florida immigrant fruit and vegetable pickers work six days a week, 12 hours a day, for about $13,000 a year. Florida's growers have invested millions in a campaign to stop them from getting just one penny per pound more for the crops they pick.

Last month federal authorities indicted six people from Immokalee on slavery charges. The Palm Beach Post reports prosecutors claim that Antonia Zuniga Vargas and five members of the Navarette family - Cesar, Geovanni, Jose, Villhina and Ismael - held more than a dozen Guatemalan and Mexican workers against their will. The defendants, who collectively face charges that could imprison them for decades, are accused of making the workers pick produce and then sleep in trucks and shacks. The migrants had to pay for food and showers and were threatened with beatings if they tried to leave. The abuse allegedly goes back three years.

The case came to light in November only because three workers, with fresh bruises from their beatings, were able to break out of a truck and tell their story to Collier County deputies. A dozen other slavery cases have surfaced in Florida during the past decade, but none with as many victims.

The arrests validate the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers that has exposed a half-dozen slavery cases.

The following is from the Daily Texan (University of Texas).

Group protests Burger King labor policy
By: Nathan Batoon

Crowds gathered in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on the UT campus Saturday afternoon and marched to Burger King on Guadalupe Street in protest of tomato pickers' rights in Immokalee, Fla.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers organized the protest against Burger King to help stimulate recognition for the farm workers in Immokalee. The organization fights for fair wages and rights for laborers, a majority of whom are Latino, Haitian and Mayan Indian. The workers want a penny more per pound of tomatoes they produce and pick in Immokalee. This protest was part of a five-day event that included UT's Student Conference on Latin America.

The statue of Martin Luther King Jr. loomed over Lucas Benitez, co-founder of the coalition, as he spoke over a bullhorn to rally protesters for the rights of farm workers.

"Give us the dignity and respect that we deserve as farm workers in America," Benitez said.

Benitez organizes protests at universities and in churches to get the youth involved, he said.

"I've been to over 100 protests around the country at universities. In the student community, we create more awareness about farm workers," he said. "These campaigns helped get McDonald's and Taco Bell to change their policies regarding their labor force; we fight to get Burger King to change its policy, too."

People from all over the U.S. gathered to support the organization's cause. Shannon Gorroes traveled from Kansas to march in Saturday's protest.

"I'm here to march in solidarity with my Immokalee brothers," Gorroes said.

Omar Berrios, an aspiring documentary filmmaker from Puerto Rico, came with a group of San Antonians to support Benitez' cause.

"The way big business in America treats its workers affects the world economy; it affects everyone," Berrios said.

Meghan Cohorst, a coalition board member who organized the protest, said she believes this type of grassroots demonstration is part of a greater movement for all oppressed people.

"Protesting is part of direct action, and the gain from protesting translates to all workers - not only workers in Immokalee, but those in industries where the abuse of labor runs rampant," Cohorst said. "Protesting is just one of the steps in the process for change," she said.

Five police units were called to the protest at Burger King, but the demonstration remained peaceful. Burger King employees did not come out of the restaurant and refused to comment about the protest, but they told protesters to "get off the Burger King lot," through a loud speaker.