Saturday, December 23, 2006

Timothy's Law

From the NYT:

Ending months of uncertainty, Gov. George E. Pataki yesterday signed into law a bill requiring that commercial insurance policies pay for mental health care in much the same way they cover physical illness.

The Assembly and the Senate reached agreement on the terms of the bill in June — though they did not complete passage of it until this month — but for six months the governor would not say publicly what he intended to do with it.

The signing ceremony was a rare victory for the kind of emotional politics that rarely succeed in a government most often moved by large electoral blocs, moneyed interests and lobbyists. Many legislators credited passage of the bill to the family of Timothy O’Clair, a boy who committed suicide at 12, who campaigned relentlessly for the measure.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

One in Five

Five per cent of Hispanics in the US regularly go hungry and as many as 20% do not have sufficient access to nutritious food, a US report says.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Crimes of Omission

The New York Times,
December 18, 2006 Monday

Out of Sight

There are hundreds of children in the trailer camp that is run by FEMA and known as Renaissance Village, but they won't be having much of a Christmas. They're trapped here in a demoralizing, overcrowded environment with adults who are mostly broke, jobless and at the end of their emotional tethers. Many of the kids aren't even going to school.

''This is a terrible environment for children,'' said Anita Gentris, who lost everything in the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina and is living in one of the 200-square-foot travel trailers with her 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. ''My daughter is having bad dreams. And my son, he's a very angry child right now. He cries. He throws things.

''I'm desperately trying to find permanent housing.''

The television cameras are mostly gone now, and the many thousands of people from the Gulf Coast whose lives were wrecked by Katrina in the summer of 2005 have slipped from the national consciousness. But like the city of New Orleans itself, most of them have yet to recover.

The enormity of the continuing tragedy is breathtaking. Thousands upon thousands of people are still suffering. And yet the way the poorest and most vulnerable victims have been treated so far by government officials at every level has been disgraceful.

More than a third of the 1,200 people in this sprawling camp are children. Only about half of the school-age youngsters are even registered for school; of those, roughly half actually go to school on any given day. The authorities can't account for the rest.

A number of officials who asked not to be identified told me they are concerned that large numbers of children are remaining isolated at Renaissance Village, holed up in the trailers day in and day out, falling further and further behind educationally, and deteriorating emotionally.

Leah Baptiste, a caseworker from a local affiliate of Catholic Charities, said: ''These trailers are small. They were only meant for traveling. And you've got families with three and four children cooped up in there seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with no privacy, no babysitter, no job, no money -- there's a lot of help they need. Some people have learned to adapt, but a lot are depressed.''

The most critical needs for the trailer camp population are housing and employment. Many of the adults at Renaissance Village were working before the storm but have been unable to find work since. Even the lowest-wage jobs in the Baton Rouge area are scarce, and without cars (in some cases, without money even for bus fare) it's extremely difficult for Renaissance Village residents to get to them.

Beyond that, many of the residents have severe personal problems. ''They are afraid,'' said a woman who works closely with the population and asked not to be identified. ''They're embarrassed by their situation, humiliated. They don't know what to do. Some cannot read or write, so when the government drops off these bureaucratic forms for them to fill out, it's a waste of time.''

Nearly all of the residents are carrying scars from their initial ordeal. Many lost close relatives, and many came frighteningly close to dying themselves.

Candice Victor was about to give birth immediately after the storm and needed a Caesarean section. A stranger with a butcher knife offered to do it. ''She was going to sterilize the knife by pouring lighter fluid on it and setting it on fire,'' Ms. Victor said. Wiser heads prevailed, and the baby, a girl, was later successfully delivered.

The big story in the immediate aftermath of Katrina was the way the government failed to rush to the aid of people who were obviously in desperate trouble. What we're witnessing now is an extended slow-motion replay of that initial failed response. Thousands of people remain in trouble, but instead of clinging to roofs and waving signs at TV cameras in helicopters flying overhead, they are suffering in silence, out of the sight of most Americans.

The government could have come up with a crash program to build housing and find or create jobs for the victims of Katrina. It could have ensured that all those hurt by the storm received whatever social services they needed, including mental health counseling and treatment. It could have begun to address the long-festering problems of race and poverty in this country.

The government could have done so much. But it didn't.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Majority Loses, 1979-2004

From the NYT:

Over all, average incomes rose 27 percent in real terms over the quarter-century from 1979 through 2004. But the gains were narrowly concentrated at the top and offset by losses for the bottom 60 percent of Americans, those making less than $38,761 in 2004.

The bottom 60 percent of Americans, on average, made less than 95 cents in 2004 for each dollar they reported in 1979, analysis of the I.R.S. data shows.

The next best-off group, the fifth of Americans on the 60th to 80th rungs of the income ladder, averaged 2 cents more income in 2004 for each dollar they earned in 1979.

Only those in the top 5 percent had significant gains. The average income of those on the 95th to 99th rungs of the income ladder rose by 53 percent, almost twice the average rate.

A third of the entire national increase in reported income went to the top 1 percent — and more than half of that went to the top tenth of 1 percent, whose average incomes soared so much that for each dollar, adjusted for inflation, that they had in 1979 they had $3.48 in 2004.

Because of cuts in the tax rate, the top tenth of 1 percent did even better than their rising incomes alone would suggest. For each inflation-adjusted dollar they had after tax in 1979 they had $3.94 left after taxes in 2004.

For the bottom 60 percent, their income taxes were so small in 1979 that the cuts did little to change their after-tax incomes. While their pretax average incomes fell by a nickel on the dollar from 1979 to 2004, their after-tax incomes fell by a fraction of a penny less.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Friday, November 24, 2006

We're number 17! We're number 17!

Some bragging from our friends in Norway, although it seems it's the Swedes and the Icelanders who have best bragging rights. And a big shout out to our fellow former British colonies, Australia and Canada!

Norway fourth best democracy

Norway and the Nordic region are very highly ranked by the latest ratings from the Economist Intelligence Unit Index of Democracy.

The Netherlands and the Nordic countries took the top six places in the study, which considers 60 factors divided over five general categories; free and fair election process, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture.

The study examined the state of democracy in 167 countries, with governments grouped in four categories, ranging from full democracies to authoritarian regimes.

Norway scored top marks of 10 in three categories, 9.64 in functioning government, and lost a higher ranking by only scoring 8.13 in political culture (factors like a lack of apathy and peaceful transfer of power).

The reports singled out the USA (17th) and Britain's (23rd) poor results, partly to blame on measures adopted to fight terrorism.

"The United States and Britain are near the bottom of the full democracy category, but for somewhat different reasons. America falls down on some aspects of governance and civil liberties. Despite low election turnouts, political participation in the United States is comparatively high," the report said.

"In Britain low political participation (the lowest in the developed world) is a major problem, and to a lesser extent, for now, so are eroding civil liberties," the report said.

The lowest scores on the scale of ten were seen in Myanmar (1.77), Togo (1.75), Chad (1.65), Central Africa (1.61) and North Korea (1.03).

Best functioning democracies
1. Sweden 9,88
2. Iceland 9,71
3. Netherlands 9.66
4. Norway 9,55
5. Denmark 9,52
6. Finland 9,25
7. Luxembourg 9,10
8. Australia 9,09
9. Canada 9.02
10. Switzerland 9.02

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Eat a Little, Learn a Little

The Social Action Committee

Wurzweiler School of Social Work / Yeshiva University


Families Affected by HIV:

Service Needs, Policy Issues, Daily Challenges

Presentations by:

The Family Center / Community Outreach Program

New York, NY

Wednesday, November 29th

1:00 – 2:30

Room 921

Lunch will be served.

Everyone is welcome to attend.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Meanwhile. . . .

While the federal government defines hunger away (see below), we have this, from the NYT:

November 21, 2006

City’s Welfare Chief Concedes Need for Food Aid Is Growing

New York City’s top welfare official offered an unusually candid assessment of shortcomings in social services yesterday, vividly describing offices where caseworkers are overwhelmed by paperwork, hindered by antiquated computers and not given adequate training.

Furthermore, the official, Verna Eggleston, acknowledged that the need for food and nutrition assistance is growing in the city — so much so that some of her own employees are receiving food from charities between paychecks.

Ms. Eggleston, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, which has about 16,000 employees and an annual budget of $7 billion, made her remarks in testimony before Councilman Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn at a hearing to discuss hunger in the city.

The United States Department of Agriculture reported last week that the prevalence of “food insecurity” — a federal term for hunger — in New York State rose to an average of 10.4 percent in 2003-5 from 9.4 percent in 2000-2, though the level is still lower than the 11.9 percent reported in 1996-98.

About 1.1 million of the city’s 8.1 million residents receive food stamps, a federally subsidized benefit. Most observers believe that several hundred thousand more are eligible for the benefit but do not receive it — in part because of bureaucratic barriers, like a cumbersome application process.

Ms. Eggleston, acknowledging the criticisms, said that on Dec. 18, the agency would begin accepting food stamp applications over the Internet, in an experiment with two nonprofit groups, Food Change and the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

Under the experiment, financed by an Agriculture Department grant, Food Change employees at several food pantries and other locations will take applications and submit information electronically to the city, obviating the need for a caseworker to manually enter the information into a state-run computer system.

Ms. Eggleston also said her staff would conduct an outreach campaign during the holiday season — involving bus and subway advertising and tens of thousands of copies of a new brochure — to encourage those eligible to apply for food stamps. City employees will also “visit high-volume food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the city” and help people fill out applications, she said.

Ms. Eggleston conceded that many food stamp recipients were barely scraping by, saying that at her neighborhood supermarket she recently overheard two older people talking about how their electronic benefits transfer cards — where the value of the food stamps is automatically uploaded each month — had run out well before the end of the month.

She added, “I do think there’s an increased demand, especially when I know that many of my staff in my own agency utilize food kitchens in between pay periods.”

She said the agency would soon revive a training academy to make sure that caseworkers were familiar with updated procedures. She recalled that one employee had disregarded a new policy even though a copy of it “was literally dangling above the worker’s head.”

She said she had been shocked at conditions in one office. “I was livid,” she said, describing “workers with applications in stacked cardboard boxes.” She added, “Even though it was a back-room operation, even though a customer didn’t go there, it didn’t matter because they lacked the tools to meet the commitments that this administration had made.”

Ms. Eggleston also said, “I’ve met workers who haven’t had a computer change in 20 years, where on the other extreme, I’ve met workers who had a computer change every 11 months.”

The agency’s chief of staff, David A. Hansell, testified that the city would petition Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer, after he takes office in January, and Congress, which is to take up reauthorization of the food stamp program next year, to grant more leeway in how the program is run.

Friday, November 17, 2006

And. . . .Presto!

Well, that was easy. With a simple change in definition, now no one in America goes hungry!

Read the whole article: (click on the image to see the whole table)

Turture and Human Rights

Warning: This is hard to watch.

Monday, November 13, 2006

It's still genocide

From some friends:

Darfur Benefit Concert
On Sunday, November 19, there will be an evening of tremendous talent and stimulating speakers, featuring Caissie Levy, Neshama Carlebach, Jane Kelly Williams, and other fine singers, musicians and performers.
The concert will raise money to help meet the humanitarian needs of refugees in Darfur .
To purchase a ticket , (even if you can't attend, but would like to help support this important cause), please go to the B’nai Jeshurun Website,
If you would prefer to pay by check, you can make the check payable to Congregation B’nai Jeshurun and write "Darfur 11/19" in the Memo section of the check. Send your payment to:
Shakeara Hatchett
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun
2109 Broadway - Suite 203
New York, NY 10023-2106
Tickets are also available at the door.
You can help save a life by making a telephone call!
Since 2003, government-backed militias have been terrorizing towns and villages in Darfur , Sudan , that they believe are friendly to anti-government groups.
Americans can use their influence to save lives in Darfur .
Encourage the President to send an international force to support African Union troops in Darfur to protect civilians. Make the " Darfur Calls" pledge to call the White House twice a week and pass this information to everyone you know who wants to be part of the solution . . .
Call President Bush at (202) 456-1111 and ask him to assert U.S. leadership to create security in Darfur through an international peacekeeping force.
Continue to make two phone calls each week. Act today to help bring safety and security to Darfur .
Your phone calls can change the world.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A dash of cold water

(Scroll down for WSSW Student Government election results.)

I told friends and colleagues that I would wait 48 hours before talking about the mid-term elections since I was, well, harshing their buzz. Out of respect I waited even longer. You're welcome!

In some ways, what's happened is a mere return to the staus quo ante, in which the Congress can resume serving as a check on Executive power (almost always a good thing: power corrupts, etc.), a power central to the operations of our particular form of constitutional government that has recently been negated by the power of one-party rule (the framers, remember, were rather in denial about the power of mass parties to overhwhelm the system).

But in our unique system, change comes, by design, slowly and incrementally (the New Deal and the Great Society are the exceptions that prove the rule).

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich offers some perspective:

The Democratic Victory: Keep Your Expectations Low

Hold the champagne. Don’t expect anything bold to come out of the new Democratic House.

First, Dems don’t have enough votes to overcome Bush vetoes. Second, the new Dems are from marginal districts where they will have to be moderate-to-conservative in order to be reelected. Third, the Dem leadership has its eyes on the big prize – the 2008 presidency – and doesn’t want to do anything to scare off voters.

Barney Frank at the financial services committee will, at most, require more company disclosure of executive pay – not push for legislation barring companies from deducting from their corporate income taxes any pay over, say, $1 million. John Dingle at energy and commerce is so concerned about the auto industry he won’t try to increase auto mileage standards (he has opposed increasing CAFÉ in the past). George Miller at education and commerce will at most seek additional money for Pell grants, but there won’t be additional money unless Dems cut defense discretionary, which they won’t do.

Dems will demand that Robert Gates, the new defense secretary, keep them in the loop over Iraq, but Dems won’t push him to set a timetable. Even though Iraq figured prominently in the election, Dems have no clear idea for what to do to get out of the mess. And they don’t want to be blamed for chaos and bloodshed when the 2008 election comes around. So they’ll have lots of hearings and do very little.

In other words, keep your expectations low.

On the other hand, if Dems take the Senate, there's one huge plus: Bush's next Supreme Court nominee (should he have the chance to nominate) won't get easy passage.

This is not to say we should abandon hope for change -- it is to say that we should remain in the reality-based community, and not set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting the impossible. And do keep in mind that it's Democrats who recently brought us welfare reform, NAFTA, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the 1996 Crime Bill, and who, in very large numbers, supported the USA PATRIOT ACT and, yes, the Iraq War.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Wow! It's a whole new government!

No, no, no. Not the changing party control in Congress -- that's old news now! Sheesh. This is MUCH more important!

We are pleased to announce the results of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work's student government elections. There was a wonderful voter turnout and it was a very close race. There was a tie for member at large, so instead of four, there will be five member-at-large positions. All of the candidates received very strong support from the student body and we hope that those who were not officially elected as members of the executive board will consider taking leadership positions by serving on one or more committees.


President Concurrent - Grant Silverstein
President PEP - Daniel Sebbag

Vice President - Sherri Panikoff, Second Year Concurrent
Treasurer - Anita Kahan, Second Year Concurrent
Secretary - Erica Leibowitz, First Year PEP

Members at Large
Rebecca Leibowitz, First Year Concurrent
Erik Volper, First Year Concurrent
Jose Delgado, Second Year PEP
Isabel M. Adon, First Year PEP
Demecia Woolen Irizary, Second Year PEP

Congratulations to all!

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Scroll down for WSSW Student Government Candidate Statements. Meanwhile. . . . .

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ahhh, it's almost election day

Election day for WSSW, of course, and for, you know, almost all of the United States Congress and stuff. Scroll down for Student Government Candidate Statements. Meanwhile, to celebrate, we proudly steal images from, er, present. . . . . .

The Propaganda Remix Project:

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Whole 'Nother Kind of 'Lection

Below are Statements from the Candidates for elected positions in WSSW Student Government.

Ballots will be distributed in Practice Classes Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

Deadline for submitting your ballots is Wednesday, November 8, one day after those other elections you may have heard about.

Vote early, vote often.

Vice President Concurrent
Sherri Panikoff, First Year Concurrent Student

Hello Student Body,
I hope this school year is going well for you so far. As a candidate for Concurrent Student Vice President, I would like to assist in making your year even better. Having been a member of student government last year as well, I am very integrated into the Wurzweiler Community. I am able to work as an intermediary between you and the faculty to get your ideas and needs across. Last year I assisted in producing a large scale event on Human Trafficking. I look forward to advocating for the social issues most important to you this year by contributing to the production of more of these types of events. I am close with and work well with the Concurrent President, Grant Silverstein, and look forward to collaborating with him, the other members of the student government, and the staff to enhance your year and Wurzweiler experience.

Committee Interests: Graduation Ceremonial Committee and the Academic Issues Committee.

Vice President Concurrent
Rebecca Leibowitz, First Year Concurrent Student

My leadership experience comes from the variety of leadership positions that I held, most recently I was the student president of Rutgers Hillel. As our membership tripled, my leadership experience enabled me to develop my skill set as a group leader, activist, facilitator, and moderator. I dealt with a number of social issues on a leadership level, applying the skills necessary to create a positive and healthy working environment for the student board and Jewish community of 5,000 students. I developed a number of skills through my involvement in student organizational life including the ability to communicate effectively, to be objective in my decision making, to be empathic and to develop the interpersonal skills necessary to work with students, professionals, and faculty as well.

I strongly believe that the Wurzweiler Student Government is the mouthpiece of the student body. If elected, I plan to do everything in my power to maximize the student experience here in every way that I can. On a micro level, considering the Student government, I have experience writing organizational constitutions, and welcome this challenge, though it should be a process that involves the entire student body. Clearly stating our goals and objectives will increase the SGA’s ability to better serve the student body and I will work to ensure that your voices are heard. A serious assessment of what we have, what we can offer, and finding more opportunities and benefits for students to be educated and enlightened within the realm of social work and social action outside of the classroom is essential!

Anita Kahan, Second Year Concurrent Student

I have a vast amount of knowledge and experience gained from my positions in Jewish agencies such as Camp Director of the YM-YWHA in Clifton, Judaic Educator at the JCC on the Palisades, and the Director of Early Childhood. I have created innovative programs chaired and sat on many committees and boards throughout my career. In addition, I have worked as a professional in the field of higher education.

I had the opportunity to be elected as the treasurer during the 2005-6 academic year at Wurzweiler. This integral position on student government allowed me to use my knowledge and skills to bring about positive change within the school setting. All these experiences have given me a solid foundation to help build and enhance the student environment at Wurzweiler School of Social Work and look forward to continuing in this role during the 2006-7 academic year.

Committee Interests: Graduation Ceremonial Committee and the Academic Issues Committee

Robin White, First Year PEP student

I feel that I am qualified for the position on treasurer because I have experience in this field from high school. Even though this was a long time ago, I wanted to get involved in student government, but the college of New Rochelle at DC37 had no student government. I tried very hard to get one started. I also had experiences as treasurer in high school on many of the Theodore Roosevelt fund raisers. I would like to fundraise for guest speakers to give lectures here, and for may other activities.

As a member of the student government, I hope to help bring unification to the students at this university. One thing I would like to do is have a social event that includes the students, faculty, staff and other employees here so we can get to know one another and establish better communications between us.

Committee Interests: Lunch and learn committee, the academic issues committee and the social action/social justice committee.

Erica Lebowitz, First year PEP student

Almethia Middleton, Second year PEP student

Committee Interest: Graduation Ceremonial Committee and the Yearbook committee.

Member at Large
Erik Volper, First Year Concurrent student

There are three main reasons why I believe that I am qualified for the position of Member at Large of the Student Government Association at Wurzweiler: Leadership experience, relationships with students and faculty, and commitment to academic excellence. As an undergraduate I was a member of the student council and I was responsible for coordinating and planning activities for the entire student body. My commitment to academic excellence stems from the belief that knowledge and ethics inform skills in social work practice, therefore coursework is extremely important, and finally, I have built and maintained excellent relationships with students and with faculty, which I feel is important in order to meaningfully work together to identify and work on issues that impact students at Wurzweiler. Together, these experiences have given me the necessary background to be a committed, knowledgeable and effective member of student government.

I would like to work on reducing the feeling expressed by many students of being alienated from the larger University community. For this reason, I would like to see more events and activities scheduled at times when more students are available. I would also like to see students have an opportunity to give feedback and have more input into the material covered in some of the courses, and perhaps into the kinds of electives that are taught. Finally, I believe that many of the students have strong opinions and valuable ideas about how to further improve our school, but they believe that they do not have a forum to voice their views.

Member at Large
Isabel M Adon, First year PEP student

I have previously worked with Social Action and Social Justice Committees. I have been on the executive board of other organizations and I am committee to social change. I hope to be able to be a voice for students that are not in the school during the day. I wish to be able to represent their concerns and to bring back information that can support their experience while here at Wurzweiler.

Committee interests: Social Action/Social Justice Committee.

Member at Large
Demecia Woolen Irizary, Second Year PEP student

I have held many positions in the community and was the former chief of staff of a United States member of Congress. I would like to bring my interest in community practice to the academic setting.

Committee Interests: Academic Issues Committee.

Member at Large
Belkys Ventura, Second Year PEP student

I would like to assist the new students that come to YU and hopefully create more opportunities for second year students. I am willing and able to make a change.

Committee interests: Academic issues committee and on the Social Action/ Social Justice Committee

Member at Large
Sherry Pang, Second year PEP student

Committee interests: Graduation Ceremonial Committee and the yearbook committee

Member at Large
Mirko Kunstek, First Year Concurrent Student

Committee interests: Social Action/Social Justice Committee.

Member at Large
Jose Delgado, Second Year PEP student

Committee interests: Academic Issues Committee.

Member at Large
Cherece Simmons, First year PEP student

Committee interests: Graduation Ceremonial Committee, Social Action/Social Justice committee and the Yearbook committee.

Member at Large
Samuel Williams, Second Year PEP student

Committee interests: Social Action/Social Justice committee

Friday, October 27, 2006

One way

to do more than just vote (November 7, btw):

Community Voices Heard is deep into the third year of our Voter Power
Project - our effort to engage low-income people of color deeper into
the political process, using voting as an entry-point for involving
people in our ongoing organizing work. We're actively building a base
of low-income voters in order to show the politicians that we mean
business and that we want our issues addressed.

This electoral cycle we've been having personal conversations with folks
at their homes in East Harlem, Central Harlem, the South Bronx, and
Yonkers (CVH is moving into Westchester County!). As we near the end of
this month, we'll have a list of nearly 5,000 newly met low-income
voters...and then we'll need to recontact them before the election. For
this, we're looking for your help :)

We're planning on operating a phone bank every night from October 30th
through the election and we need volunteers to sign up for slots to help
us's a lot of calls to do on our own.


We're looking for folks to help us out during the following times:

1 - Monday, October 30th from 5:30/6PM - 9:30PM
2 - Tuesday, October 31st from 5:30/6PM - 9:30PM
3 - Wednesday, November 1st from 5:30/6PM - 9:30PM
4 - Thursday, November 2nd from 5:30/6PM - 9:30PM
5 - Saturday, November 4th from 10AM - 2PM
6 - Sunday, November 5th from 5:30/6PM - 9:30PM
7 - Monday, November 6th from 5:30/6PM - 9:30PM

We'll be operating phone banks out of our East Harlem office and another
site downtown. Please consider 1 or 2 nights that you can volunteer and
send me an email with the time slot and your location preference(uptown
or downtown). [We promise to train you well before having you hit the

In solidarity,

NOTE! CVH's electoral project is a non-partisan effort focused on
holding candidates and elected officials accountable to low-income
communities, not on getting anyone in particular elected.
Sondra Youdelman
Acting Director
Community Voices Heard
170 East 116th Street, #1E
New York, NY 10029

Tel 212-860-6001 x 108
Fax 212-996-9481

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"A blank check drawn against our freedom"

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering: A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.


Fear itself

Friday, October 20, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Listen to this interview with one of the authors of the peer reviewed Lancet study of the number of dead Iraqi civilians.

Then read this article by Paul Craig Roberts. He asks:
When does "collateral damage" so dwarf combatant deaths that war becomes genocide?

Yes, he's being intentionally provocative. But it seems to me a fair question.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wellstone! The Movie

Excerpts from the documentary here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cutting Edge

This is extraordinary, and technology I've never seen before. How to volunteer for a campaign without having to leave your chair (though I can't tell you anything about this particular candidate, except that he's got really good outreach and tech folks on staff). Expect to see a lot of this in the future, I would guess. . . .

Monday, October 09, 2006

Sunday, October 08, 2006

World Food Day

October 16. Link here. And here. And here.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Upcoming Events: Double Duty:Solutions to the Work/Family Dilemma

A talk with Ann Crittenden, award-winning journalist and lecturer, and author of The Price of Motherhood

Wednesday, October 11, 2006, 10am to noon
Lang Student & Community Center, Arnhold Hall, 2nd floor
55 West 13th Street (between 5th and 6th avenues)

Parents who combine the uncompensated work of childcare with paid employment have two jobs, yet workplaces and government have done little to accommodate their dual roles. Why is domestic work unpaid? How does the U.S. compare to other countries in terms of work/family policy? How are women across the economic spectrum—especially single mothers—affected by the American approach? And how can it be changed?

Ann Crittenden, award-winning journalist and lecturer, and author of The Price of Motherhood

featuring presentations by

  • Janet Gornick, Professor of Sociology and Political Science, City University of New York, and author of Families That Work: Policies for Reconciling Parenthood and Employment
  • a representative of Domestic Workers United


Admission is free, but you must RSVP. Call 212.229.5418 or email

Supported by the Milano Foundation

A common experience

From the Times, via The Lancet and the WHO:

"In interviews with nearly 25,000 women at 15 sites in 10 countries, researchers from the World Health Organization found that rates of partner violence ranged from a low of 15 percent in Yokohama, Japan, to a high of 71 percent in rural Ethiopia.

At six of the sites, at least 50 percent of women said that they had been subjected to moderate or severe violence in the home at some point. At 13 sites, more than a quarter of all women said they had suffered such violence in the past year.

“Violence by an intimate partner is a common experience worldwide,” the authors wrote of the findings, which are being published today in The Lancet, a medical journal in London. “In all but one setting, women were at far greater risk of physical or sexual violence by a partner than from violence by other people.”

The report says that rural areas tend to have higher rates of abuse than cities. But no area was immune.

While researchers and women’s groups have long known that domestic violence was widespread — and other, smaller surveys have supported that notion — the W.H.O. study adds an important dimension to the topic because it provides an unusual amount of quantitative, scientific data on the subject. . . "

Thursday, October 05, 2006

On Foley

From one psychotherapist:

. . . while Hastert et al. are not legally mandated to report child sexual abuse, that they could know--or reasonably suspect such an egregious violation was happening in their place of work--and not take steps to protect the victims is remarkable. That they didn't feel a moral mandate their consciences wouldn't allow them to ignore and impel them to intervene speaks volumes about their priorities and their motivations, as well as their fears.

Were I the parent or a loved one of one the pages, I would feel outraged and betrayed. Being a citizen who demands that my leaders step into their humanity and beyond self-interested politics when an issue as serious as this begs for it, I feel outraged and betrayed, yet not surprised. And, I'd be writing these same words were it a Democrat who allegedly perpetrated this abuse. Our children's safety and well-being are not the stuff of a political match. Ever.

Let's get some child abuse facts straight.

Child sexual abuse (and sexual abuse in general) usually has nothing to do with sex, but with power and control.

Child sexual abuse takes many forms and is not just about touch and penetration. You don't have to be in the same room with a child to sexually abuse him or her. Whether it is cyber, verbal or physical, it's serious and should be taken seriously. You can't possibly pretend to know how an email exchange from an older, more powerful adult will impact each kid.

Adolescents, even if on the cusp of stepping into their sexual selves or if already there, can be profoundly psychologically impacted by sexual abuse. Same with adults.

Child sexual abuse cuts across all strata of the population.

Having said that, studies show that men sexually abuse children more then women and most child sexual abuse is perpetrated by straight, not gay, men.

The majority of child sexual abuse happens not by the stranger on the street your mother tells you not to talk to, but by someone you know--a trusted family member, a neighbor, a congressman down the hall.

"No one left to supervise"

Colbert on the NLRB

From Case to Cause: I

How does public policy -- so far away, so abstract, so dry, so dull -- affect you and your clients? Does it really matter? Why should you bother with this -- you want to serve clients, not write policy papers for some think tank, right?

But perhaps understanding how the individual client sitting before you fits in with the larger policy world can actually improve your ability to serve that client, to negotiate bureacracies for them, and to even work toward making your voice heard with policy-makers so that future cleints will fare better.

With that in mind, take a listen to this two-parter from National Public Radio.

A reminder

to the Social Action Committee. We agreed that between now and our next meeting we'd all check into the site at least twice a week and post a comment, or a comment to a comment; at least once a week pass on something to CrankyDoc that might be appropriate for posting; and to review the topics and links on the right-hand column and forward suggestions to C-Doc. Think of the fun! No, seriously, think of it. Are you thinking of it? That's better.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

And presto!

The unionized workforce grows smaller. From The Washington Monthly:
In a move that surprised exactly no one, the NLRB voted along party lines yesterday to reclassify 8 million workers as "supervisors" who will no longer have any protection under U.S. labor laws.
This is no change in policy for the National Labor Relations Board, established with the New Deal's NLRA, but another in a series of decisions that continue to erode the power of workers and unions.

For some of the best data and analysis around on the topics of working Americans, check out The State of Working America, an annual or bi-annual volume that is, for geeks like me, required (and eagerly anticipated) reading. Pre-order the 2006-07 edition now!

Weighing outrage

From Reason Magazine, no bastion of wild-eyed radicalism. . . . . .

In a meadow near Windsor one fine day in 1215, King John, under pressure from disgruntled nobles, affixed his royal seal to the Magna Carta, clause 39 of which provided:
No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
The War on Terror is often framed as a clash between western champions of modernity and the medieval mindset of Salafis. Yet these days our own commitment to even medieval guarantees of due process often seems, at best, half-hearted.

At best. There's more, and it's a good synthesis of some of the key legal issues.

But: Not to diminish (now former-) Congressman Foley's actions (abuse? sexual harrassment? exploitation? what do we call it? and why are there no genuine social worker-type experts on abuse and abusers on TV discussing this?), but it is fascinating, if perhaps not surprising, to weigh the public and elite outrage and outcry over Foley against the (relative) quiescence about the virtual repeal of habeas and the continued extention of (unprecedented?) power to the Executive. Curious, no?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Registered to Vote?

Here's an easy way.

Race vs. Class?

Economist-blogger Brad DeLong:

Teaching California Teenagers About Ramadan

A week or two ago, in preparation for the virtual drinking party at the Valve next week, I was thinking about this paragraph from Walter Benn Michaels's The Trouble with Diversity:

American Prospect Online - The Trouble With Diversity: So with respect to race, the idea is not just that racism is a bad thing (which of course it is) but that race itself is a good thing. And what makes it a good thing is that it's not class. We love race -- we love identity -- because we don't love class. We love thinking that the differences that divide us are not the differences between those of us who have money and those who don't but are instead the differences between those of us who are black and those who are white or Asian or Latino or whatever. A world where some of us don't have enough money is a world where the differences between us present a problem: the need to get rid of inequality or to justify it. A world where some of us are black and some of us are white -- or bi-racial or Native American or transgendered -- is a world where the differences between us present a solution: appreciating our diversity. So we like to talk about the differences we can appreciate, and we don't like to talk about the ones we can't...

At that moment the Daily Bulletin from the sixteen-year-old's high school hit my inbox. It said, in part:

RAMADAN & YOM KIPPUR: Leadership is very interested in helping the students celebrate and/or observe the religious holidays of Yom Kippur and Ramadan. If you observe either of these and are interested, please stop by B-1 sometime and let Mr. Petrocco know. The hope is to set up some displays in the library. Be aware in the future the Leadership Class will be displaying other religious holiday materials as the holidays occur...

Now normally--in my usual mind--I am an enthusiastic supporter of what I take to be Walter Benn Michaels's central point: that we have collectively gotten ourselves off balance because we are responding to the fact that celebrating diversity is easy and doing something about upward mobility and the intergenerational reproduction of economic and social inequality is hard.

When I am in my usual mind I grumble that the $400,000 a year that we at Berkeley are about to start spending on an Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity would be better spent hiring ten full-time outreach coordinators and on-campus tutors to make the idea of equality of opportunity less of a joke, and to make the population that does attend Berkeley a little bit more like the population that could benefit from attending Berkeley--if only things had broken right for them before they reached college age.

But I must be outside my usual mind. Because my reaction right now is that we love identity not just because we don't like to think about economic and social class, but because loving identity is a genuinely good thing in a diverse world, especially for America and Americans if we are to become who we are.

Some of us are rich and some of us are poor. Some of us send our children to high schools where they will take two years of calculus. Some of us send our children to high schools where they will still be shaky on their multiplication tables when they leave. Some of us send our children to high schools where they teach five sections of AP European History to tenth graders. Some of us send our children to high schools where they don't. And as a card-carrying child of Adam Smith and company, I think that is the most important polarizing dimension in America today.

But it is also true that some of us are black and some of us are white; some of us are Muslim and some of us are Mormon; some of us have grandparents who speak Spanish and some of us have grandparents who speak Cantonese. These dimensions of difference are important also, perhaps especially so because we as a nation are pretty good at dealing with them.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

This sounds about right

From TIME:
Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006
Campaign 2006: The Republicans' Secret Weapon
You think the GOP is sure to lose big in November? They aren't. Here's why things don't look so bad to them

The polls keep suggesting that Republicans could be in for a historic drubbing. And their usual advantage—competence on national security—is constantly being challenged by new revelations about bungling in Iraq. But top Republican officials maintain an eerie, Zen-like calm. They insist that the prospects for their congressional candidates in November's midterms have never been as bad as advertised and are getting better by the day. Those are party operatives and political savants whose job it is to anticipate trouble. But much of the time they seem so placid, you wonder whether they know something.

They do. What they know is that just six days after George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, his political machine launched a sophisticated, expensive and largely unnoticed campaign aimed at maintaining G.O.P. majorities in the House and Senate. If that campaign succeeds, it would defy history and political gravity, both of which ordain that midterm elections are bad news for a lame-duck President's party, especially when the lame duck has low approval ratings. As always, a key part of the campaign involves money—the national Republican Party is dumping at least three times as much into key states as its Democratic counterpart is—but money is only the start. "Panic results when you're surprised," says Republican National Committee (r.n.c.) chairman Ken Mehlman. "We've been preparing for the toughest election in at least a decade."

Thanks to aggressive redistricting in the 1990s and early 2000s, fewer than three dozen House seats are seriously in contention this election cycle, compared with more than 100 in 1994, the year Republicans swept to power with a 54-seat pickup in the House. Then there's what political pros call the ground game. For most of the 20th century, turning out voters on Election Day was the Democrats' strength. They had labor unions to supply workers for campaigns, make sure their voters had time off from their jobs to go to the polls and provide rides to get them there.

Now, though, Democrats are the ones playing catch-up when it comes to the mechanics of Election Day. Every Monday, uberstrategist Karl Rove and Republican Party officials on Capitol Hill get spreadsheets tallying the numbers of voters registered, volunteers recruited, doors knocked on and phone numbers dialed for 40 House campaigns and a dozen Senate races. Over the next few weeks, the party will begin flying experienced paid and volunteer workers into states for the final push. The Senate Republicans' campaign committee calls its agents special teams, led by marshals, all in the service of the partywide effort known as the 72-Hour Task Force because its working philosophy initially focused on the final three days before an election. . . .

There's more. Worth reading.

Friday, September 29, 2006

We few, we happy few

Susan G, at Daily Kos, rallies the troops:

So when we've fully cycled through the necessary step of dueling "Calm the F***Down!" and "I Will NOT Calm the F*** Down!" diaries, when we've flushed the fresh shock of yesterday's legislation out of our systems, when the betrayal and grief and outrage give way to the urge for fierce and united action ... it will be time to find a candidate who stands for what we believe in and GIVE. Give money, give time, give expertise. Hit the streets, hard. Wailing, if you must, but goddamn it, hit them. Go to another district. Hell, go to another state if you have to and put in the time. And if this set of netroots candidates wins and it turns out they don't come through for us, kick them the hell out in the next election. We'll do it over and over and over again until we get it right, if that's what it takes.

That's what democracy looks like: messy and unpredictable and sometimes slow and often heartbreaking and LOUD ... but man, it's a beautiful construct and we are lucky to have it. It is OURS. This country is OURS. We will not lie down and we will not go quietly.

Get over to the Act Blue netroots candidates page and read some bios. Volunteer time. Give some bucks. Grieve with dedication, grieve with focus, grieve with fierce resolve. It's time to kick some ass for democracy.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"The president goes to Capitol Hill to lobby for torture"

An Editorial from the Washington Post

Friday, September 15, 2006; A18

PRESIDENT BUSH rarely visits Congress. So it was a measure of his painfully skewed priorities that Mr. Bush made the unaccustomed trip yesterday to seek legislative permission for the CIA to make people disappear into secret prisons and have information extracted from them by means he dare not describe publicly.

Of course, Mr. Bush didn't come out and say he's lobbying for torture. Instead he refers to "an alternative set of procedures" for interrogation. But the administration no longer conceals what it wants. It wants authorization for the CIA to hide detainees in overseas prisons where even the International Committee of the Red Cross won't have access. It wants permission to interrogate those detainees with abusive practices that in the past have included induced hypothermia and "waterboarding," or simulated drowning. And it wants the right to try such detainees, and perhaps sentence them to death, on the basis of evidence that the defendants cannot see and that may have been extracted during those abusive interrogation sessions.

There's no question that the United States is facing a dangerous foe that uses the foulest of methods. But a wide array of generals and others who should know argue that it is neither prudent nor useful for the United States to compromise its own values in response. "I continue to read and hear that we are facing a 'different enemy' in the war on terror," retired Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) this week. "No matter how true that may be, inhumanity and cruelty are not new to warfare nor to enemies we have faced in the past. . . . Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so."

Another former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and one more intimately familiar with the war on terrorism, also weighed in this week: "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," former general and secretary of state Colin L. Powell wrote to McCain. "To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts."

Mr. Powell was referring to an article of the Geneva Conventions that prohibits cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. Mr. Bush, with support from most Republican congressional leaders, wants to redefine American obligations under the treaty. Three Republican senators -- John W. Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina; and Mr. McCain -- are bravely promoting an alternative measure that would allow terrorists to be questioned and tried without breaking faith with traditional U.S. values. The Armed Services Committee approved their bill yesterday and sent it to the Senate floor.

The doubts of which Mr. Powell spoke are impeding the U.S. war effort. A president who lobbies for torture feeds those doubts even if, as we hope, Congress denies him his request.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Is it just me?

or isn't this how we got to Iraq? This is something, perhaps, to pay some careful attention to, if we find ourselves presented with "evidence" of an imminent threat from Iran. The first step toward being a full particpant in deliberative democracy is acquiring enough knowledge to judge for yourself the claims made by those with political (and economic) power. From the Washington Post

U.N. Inspectors Dispute Iran Report By House Panel
Paper on Nuclear Aims Called Dishonest

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006; A17

U.N. inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program angrily complained to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman yesterday about a recent House committee report on Iran's capabilities, calling parts of the document "outrageous and dishonest" and offering evidence to refute its central claims.

Officials of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said in a letter that the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements." The letter, signed by a senior director at the agency, was addressed to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, which issued the report. A copy was hand-delivered to Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna.

The IAEA openly clashed with the Bush administration on pre-war assessments of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Relations all but collapsed when the agency revealed that the White House had based some allegations about an Iraqi nuclear program on forged documents.

After no such weapons were found in Iraq, the IAEA came under additional criticism for taking a cautious approach on Iran, which the White House says is trying to build nuclear weapons in secret. At one point, the administration orchestrated a campaign to remove the IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei. It failed, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

Yesterday's letter, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post, was the first time the IAEA has publicly disputed U.S. allegations about its Iran investigation. The agency noted five major errors in the committee's 29-page report, which said Iran's nuclear capabilities are more advanced than either the IAEA or U.S. intelligence has shown.

Monday, September 11, 2006

From CQ

No, not GQ, CQ. Congressional Quarterly's Midday Update (not be confused with their Morning Brief: yes, CrankyDoc's e-mail box is fun-filled, day-in, day-out):

MONDAY, SEPT. 11, 2006 – 2:11 P.M.
Edited by Martha Angle
Chicago’s Mayor Vetoes ‘Living Wage’ Ordinance
As a federal minimum wage increase languishes in Congress, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley today vetoed a “living wage” ordinance that would require retail giants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. to pay escalating hourly wages and benefits.
The city council approved the ordinance in July by a 35-14 vote — enough, Reuters noted, to override Daley’s veto. But some council members may be having second thoughts. Wal-Mart is preparing to open its first store in Chicago. Target Corp. has a half-dozen stores in Chicago and is building more, but has put its plans on hold pending the outcome of this ordinance.
In his veto message, Democrat Daley said he feared the living wage measure would not help workers. “Rather, I believe it would drive jobs and businesses from our city, penalizing neighborhoods that need additional economic activity the most.”
The ordinance required retailers with more than $1 billion in sales to pay a starting salary of at least $9.25 an hour and benefits of $1.50, escalating to $10 in wages and $3 in benefits by 2010.
The federal minimum wage has remained $5.15 an hour since 1997.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Not so secret Memo

Check out this story in City Limits, and click on the link to the "Confidential" (oops) Memo from the Mayor's Commission for Economic Opportunity. The last item, "Data, Measurement, and Management," while it sounds the most dry and dull, is perhaps the most radical item. Arguably, the first step toward any meaningful, practicable program of poverty reduction must begin by abandoning the dreadfully inaccurate methods by which we measure poverty itself. For the wonkish among us, it's a means by which a new frame for problem definition can open up for consideration a broad range of better solutions. Whether anything is likely to come of this is, of course, an entirely different question.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

For Monday

Anniversaries are arbitrary moments for reflection. Why is today different than yesterday, why yesterday different than tomorrow? We add even greater significance to anniversaries divisble by 5. Arbitrary, perhaps even irrrational, or silly. And yet, and so, at least in the culture we swim in, a Fifth Anniversary is granted power. I don't feel like fighting all of American culture, at least not today.

The sense of smell, we know, is the one most powerfully linked to memory. As I write this, I can smell what the air downtown smelled like That Day. Tinny, acrid, otherworldy. That same air, lurking in the lungs of the men and women who ran into those buildings while others ran out, and in those who volunteered to separate the steel from the flesh, now kills them, slowly. It was safe, we were told, by those who knew better.

There are many ways to look back. Here's one -- words I wrote that afternoon, not prophetic, precisely, for I was merely reading what I thought to be inevitable, given the state of the political world then:

4 PM. The lighted traffic sign above the Queensborough bridge reads simply, I am told, Manhattan Closed. In fact, the whole United States is closed. By whom we do not know, though the names of the usual suspects are already being whispered.

There is an incomprehensibility about it. So much rubble and burnt flesh. How many people right now are engaged in a frantic struggle to find alive their husbands, mothers, lovers, sisters, neighbors. Mine are found, are safe. But the loss for others will reverberate like a bell, will sound a sadness that is now slowly creeping into empty spaces where once were men and women whom we loved, or whom we did not know. Into that hollow soft space will soon enough creep rage. And that terrifies me. Put the culprits before me, and I would happily, with hands only, ope them up and pull from them their hearts, such as they are. But what acts will we, not as people, but as a nation, perpetuate with these most barbaric blows as reason? What craters will we make in which cities, what slaughter of other men and women and others sons and fathers? And what slow narrowing of already narrowed liberties here at home will we justify, saying but now we have no choice, now we must, for now it is a new world.

Or, with more measured, more recent, more reasoned reflection, we have architecture critic Paul Goldberger, from the New Yorker

Amid all the squabbles and revisions, it’s unsurprising that so many people who once cared passionately about Ground Zero have simply lost track of the developments there and have stopped caring. This summer, the success of the first movies about 9/11, and acclaim for a clutch of important novels dealing with the subject, showed that the public is still hungry to make sense of the tragedy and what it means for America. But they are no longer looking to architects, contractors, and developers for answers. By the end of the day on September 11, 2001, it was clear that the terrorists’ act had enormous symbolic power in the eyes of the world, and, in the months that followed, a consensus arose that whatever happened at Ground Zero should make a powerful symbolic statement of our own—of the values that America, and New York, stand for. Five years after the terrorist attacks, the saddest thing about all the many absurdities surrounding the rebuilding—the personal wrangles and group rivalries that have obscured any sense of commonality, the pious statements masking an utter lack of conviction, the maxed-out budgets and cut corners—is that they may say a lot more about us than we’d like to think.

Lastly, while we're here, for those of you with access to iTunes, let me suggest a 99-cent investment, Lucy Kaplansky's song "Land of the Living," on the album entitled These Times We're Living In: A Red House Anthology. Lyrics below, but it's the whole song that's so powerful, so haunting, and, for me anyway, so evocative of what it felt like to be in New York on That Day, and the days after.

Land of the Living
(Lyrics by Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Litvin,
Music by Lucy Kaplansky)

Late afternoon back in New York town
Waking up as the wheels touch down
Pick up my guitar and walk away
Wish I was going home to stay

Line of taxis, I wait my turn
Tar and asphalt, exhaust and fumes
Beside the road on a patch of ground
Taxi drivers are kneeling down

Beneath the concrete sky I watch them pray
While the people of the world hurry on their way
I think they're praying for us all today
And the stories that fell from the sky that day

This is the land of the living
This is the land that's mine
She still watches over Manhattan
She's still holding onto that torch for life

Back home fire's still burning, I can see it in the air
Pictures of faces posted everywhere
They say hazel eyes, chestnut hair
Mother of two missing down there;

I pass the firemen on duty tonight
Carpets of flowers in candlelight
And thank you in a child's scrawl
Taped to the Third Street firehouse wall

There's shadows of the lost on the faces I see
Brothers and strangers on this island of grief
There's death in the air but there's life on this street
There's life on this street

This is the land of the living
This is the land that's mine
She still watches over Manhattan
She's still holding onto that torch for life

Then I got in a taxi, said Hudson Street please;
He started the meter and he looked at me
I glanced at his name on the back of his seat
And I looked out the window at the ghost filled streets

I noticed cuts on his hand and his face
And I said You're bleeding, are you okay?;
He said I'm not so good, got beat up today
And I'm not one of them no matter what they say

I'm just worried about my family
My wife's in the house and she's scared to leave;
And I didn't know what to say
I didn't know what to say
But I said a prayer for him anyway

This is the land of the living
This is the land that's mine
She still watches over Manhattan
She's still holding onto that torch for life

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Origins of Labor Day

From Ezra Klein:

Ah, Labor Day. That fine September morning when we celebrate the genius of Jonathan Labor, who first invented the barbecue on a hot, late Summer morning when he accidentally dropped some raw meat on the superheated grill of his Toyota Corolla. God bless you, Jonathan Labor. And God bless America.

You know, I wonder how many folks I could actually get to believe that story. It's not like Labor Day means anything else. It certainly isn't, as legendary AFL leader Samuel Gompers had hoped, "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."

Instead, it's a day off of work, that includes a barbecue, that closes out the Summer, that's divorced from all meaning. Labor Day actually commemorates an annual parade the Knights of Labor held in New York. Concerned by the movement to mark the Haymarket Riots in a holiday, Grover Cleveland (who brutally broke the Pullman strike), hijacked the parade date so the day would honor a less radical, less dangerous conception of labor. But we can still hew somewhat near Gompers' original vision, and take a moment between bites of burger to think a bit about labor. Here are a few recommended ways:

• Read Nathan Newman on the genius of unions.

• Read Katrina Vanden Huevel on the lessons of Labor Day.

• Buy Thomas Geoghegan's "Which Side Are You On," the greatest book ever written about anything.

• If you already own Geoghegan, check out "The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit," a biography of Walter Reuther.

• Go throw a few bucks to Wake Up Wal-Mart.

And above all remember: You've the unions to thank for this beautiful day off, just like you've them to thank for weekends, eight-hour workdays, and the fact that you weren't a cashier at age seven. And if you don't have today off, well, maybe you should think about starting a union...

Food, as they say, for thought. . . . .

Sunday, August 27, 2006

What do we owe those in need?

Michael Wines, in the NYT:

No Westerner can travel the less developed world, at least outside the lobbies of the three- and four-star hotels that now populate most major cities, and not be struck by the immense gulf between their own personal wealth and the utter destitution of the masses around them.

How to respond to it is a moral dilemma that lurks in the background of many interviews. Reputable journalists are indoctrinated with the notion that they are observers — that their job is to tell a story, not to influence it. So what to do when an anguished girl tells a compelling story about her young brother, lying emaciated on a reed mat, dying for lack of money to by anti-AIDS drugs? Is it moral to take the story and leave when a comparatively small gift of money would keep him alive? If morality compels a gift, what about the dying mother in the hut next door who missed out on an interview by pure chance? Or the three huts down the dirt path where, a nurse says, residents are dying for lack of drugs? Why are they less deserving?

In reputable journalism, paying for information is a cardinal sin, the notion being that a source who will talk only for money is likely to say anything to earn his payment. So what to do when a penniless father asks why he should open his life free to an outsider when he needs money for food? How to react to the headmistress who says that white people come to her school only to satisfy their own needs, and refuses to talk without a contribution toward new classrooms? Is that so different from interviewing a Washington political consultant over a restaurant lunch on my expense account?

If it is, which is more ethical?

Set aside, for the moment, the lazy preumption that no "Westerners" themselves face dire need. It's a good, and a difficult, question, one that surely transcends this discussion of journalistic ethics: what is our obligation, individually and collectively, to relieve the suffering of others?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Stop it. Stop this. Stop.

For those so inclined, here's a lazy-person's way of suggesting to the "Big Three" networks that maybe, just maybe, there might be more of import to report -- or to lead the newsbroadcast with (heavy sigh) -- than prurient coverage of a guy who probably had nothing to do with a ten-year-old murder. Is signing a petition the most effective way of making your voice heard? Nope. But that's not to suggest that such things do not matter, or that they cannot have influence.

On the topic of things that might matter more, again for those so inlined, there's a rally Sunday, September 17, 2:00 PM, in New York's Central Park, to (yet again) try to draw attention to the continuing genocide in Darfur. Numbers matter, and such things can, in truth, have influence, not least because the more people there are there, the more media coverage the event is likely to receive, and the more likely government(s) might feel pressured (out of electoral self-interest, if nothing else) to act.

And a fall afternoon in the park is a rather painless way of communicating to your government, and communing with your fellow citizens. Pack a lunch. Make a day of it.