Saturday, April 30, 2005

May Day

May Day ought to reclaimed by American workers from the clutches of Stalinists, the ABA (Law Day) and the Catholic Church (which created a St. Joseph's Day in 1956).

Wikipedia summarizes the origins and significance of May Day

The holiday is most often associated with the commemoration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. The May 1st date is used because in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the U.S. Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday. May Day is designated International Workers Day. It is indeed a thoroughly international holiday; and the United States is one of the few countries in the world where pressure from local working classes has not led to an official holiday.

Bill Onasch, webmaster of KC Labor has an excellent column on line which gives some additional background and perspective.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions reports on May Day Plans
As workers around the world get ready to celebrate May Day, trade unionists in Zimbabwe and worker rights activists in Iran who are preparing May Day events face the heavy hand of government repression, as authorities try to stop public observance of the international workers’ day.

On 27 April, six Zimbabwean trade unionists involved in a May Day preparatory meeting in Mutare, Zimbabwe, were arrested by the authorities, using provisions of the notorious Public Order and Security Act. A further six union representatives taking part in commemoration activities for the International Day of Mourning for Dead and Injured Workers on 28 April were arrested, prompting a strong ICFTU protest to President Robert Mugabe.

In Iran, two out of seven worker rights activists arrested in for taking part in May Day celebrations last year have been ordered to appear in Court on May 1st this year. ICFTU requests to the Iranian Authorities to be allowed to observe the trial have been refused.

“Workers in countries all around the world will be taking part in festivities to mark the many achievements of the trade union movement and to show the importance of workers’ rights and solidarity”, said ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder. “But many millions of workers around the world are denied these rights, and government repression of May Day activities, in Iran, Zimbabwe and other countries, shows the lengths to which authoritarian regimes will go to stop free and democratic unions organising”.

With 2005 a major year for international decisions on tackling global poverty, the global trade union movement is using May Day to call for debt relief for the poorest countries, greatly increased international aid, and justice in the world trading system, as part of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), a coalition of trade union and non-government organisations. The ICFTU May Day Manifesto highlights this call, stressing the central importance of decent employment, trade union rights and collective bargaining in ending world poverty.
Here's the ICFTU May Day Manifesto

Today, May Day 2005, workers around the world are celebrating the proud record of achievements of more than 100 years of trade union solidarity. We pay homage to all those who throughout history have done so much to promote and defend the rights of working women and men, create social justice and fight for equality, human rights and democracy.

This year, trade unions are joining with others all around the world in the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, demanding that the grand promises made by governments at the United Nations and elsewhere should be put into action urgently. The world can no longer afford to ignore the plight of the hundreds of millions women and men who live on less than one dollar per day. Creating decent jobs for all has never been more important, as divisions between the haves and the have-nots in the global economy grow ever greater. One billion people are unemployed, underemployed or working poor: 60% of these are women. In the Global Call, we demand debt relief to the poorest countries, greatly increased development aid and justice in the global trading system.

More than 200 million children are working instead of at school, while young people who have finished their education struggle to find decent jobs in countries across the globe. Millions of working people face exploitation, discrimination and insecurity, having to accept jobs which pay too little for them, and those who depend on them, to have a decent life. Trade unions themselves face enormous pressures, as governments and employers in many countries violate workers’ rights, including outright assaults on the trade union movement. Our global action is critically important to put an end to union-busting, and to defend the rights of those, particularly women, who are the victims of the global race to the bottom.

We are confident that we can meet the challenge to change the path of globalisation. We will act across borders and across continents to help organise the millions of workers who are denied union rights, to tackle the exploitation of migrant workers and those who toil in the world’s export processing zones, and to put women and men on an equal footing in our own movement, in the workplace and in society. We will take forward the reform, strengthening and unification of the international trade union movement, to make sure that we are equal to the enormous tasks ahead of us.

We demand a better world, a secure and peaceful world where social justice, equality and fundamental rights reign supreme. We pledge to do all in our power to build this better world for future generations.

Long Live Global Labour Solidarity!

You'll find lots of reports on May Day at LabourStart. That's where I came across a really neat site, Euro May Day, organized by young contingency workers in Europe. There you can join a virtual May Day net parade with your own avator.

In Canada, there's May Week Labour Arts Festival in Edmonton which " brings together the labour movement, workers and artists to celebrate and support working class culture and the contributions of artists and workers to our society." And other events throughout the country can be found here.

"May Week’s goal is to promote the interests of cultural workers and trade unionists, and to bring working-class culture from the margins of cultural activity onto centre stage."

If you're in Kansas City, the KC Labor Party is having a picnic from noon-4 pm at Macken Park and at 1 pm Fred Whitehead is speaking on "The Cultural Heritage of May Day" at the Community of Reason, which meets in the library of the Hogan College Preparatory Academy, 1221 E. Meyer (near 63rd and Troost).

Darfur: The Man Nobody Knows

Our weekly post from the Coalition for Darfur

On February 24, 2004, an op-ed entitled "The Unnoticed Genocide" appeared in the pages of the Washington Post warning that without humanitarian intervention in Darfur "tens of thousands of civilians [would] die in the weeks and months ahead in what will be continuing genocidal destruction."

Written by Eric Reeves, a literature professor from Smith College, this op-ed was the catalyst that compelled many of us to start learning more about crisis in Darfur which, in turn, led directly to the creation of the Coalition for Darfur

For over two years Eric Reeves has been the driving force behind efforts to call attentionto the genocide in Darfur by writing weekly updates and providing on-going analysis of the situation on the ground. As early as 2003, Reeves was calling the situation in Darfur genocide, nine months before former Secretary of State ColinPowell made a similar declaration. In January of 2005, Reeves lashed out against "shamefully irresponsible" journalists who "contented themselves with a shockingly distorting mortality figure for Darfur's ongoing genocide." Reeves' analysis led to a series of news articles highlighting the limitations of the widely cited figure of 70,000 deaths and culminated in a recent Coalition for International Justice survey that concluded that death toll was nearly 400,000; an figure nearly identical to the one Reeves had calculated on his own.

Perhaps most presciently, on March 21st, Reeves warned that "Khartoum has ambitious plans for accelerating the obstruction of humanitarian access by means of orchestrated violence and insecurity, including the use of targeted violence against humanitarian aid workers." The following day it was reported that Marian Spivey-Estrada, a USAID worker in Sudan, had been shot in the face during an ambush while "traveling in a clearly marked humanitarian vehicle." The lack of security for aid workers has led some agencies to declare certain areas "No Go" zones or withdraw all together, leaving the internally displaced residents of Darfur without access to food, water or medical care.

And as the Boston Globe reported on Sunday, he has done it all while fighting his own battle with leukemia.

Were it not for Eric Reeves, it is quite possible that the genocide in Darfur would have gone largely unnoticed. We at the Coalition for Darfur offer him our support and express our heartfelt thanks for all that he has done to prick the nation's conscience on this vitally important issue. We hope that his courage and conviction will be an inspiration to others and that Darfur will soon begin to get the attention that it deserves.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Chess will bring Gorbachev to Kansas

Associated Press story in Friday's Wichita Eagle:

The former Soviet leader plans to visit Lindsborg this fall to pit himself against Anatoly Karpov, one-time world champion.
Associated Press

Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev has agreed to visit Lindsborg later this year to play chess against former world champion Anatoly Karpov, who has helped turn the small community into something of a chess mecca.

Lindsborg Mayor Ron Rolander extended a written invitation to Gorbachev through Karpov, who was in the town earlier this month to promote "Chess for Peace," a worldwide exchange program that will culminate there in 2006.

Karpov, who is a friend of Gorbachev, passed the invitation on to the former Soviet leader by telephone, which he accepted under two conditions: that Karpov is in Lindsborg when he visits, and that the two play a game of chess while he's there.

"I never thought it could happen," said Mikhail Korenman, director of the Karpov Chess School in Lindsborg. "It's very exciting."

Korenman was given the news Sunday after calling Karpov in Russia. No dates have been announced, other than it will be during Gorbachev's next scheduled trip to the U.S. in October or November.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Workers Memorial Day

I'll be attending the Wichita/Hutchinson Labor Federation Workers Memorial Day observance tonight.

The AFL-CIO reports that "Each year, nearly 6,000 people are killed at work and another 50,000 die from occupational diseases, according to government statistics. Millions more are injured on the job. Foreign-born workers, especially Latinos, are especially at risk and experience a disproportionate number of work-related fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Workplace illness and injuries total $1 billion a week in direct costs and cost the nation between $198 billion and $298 billion per year in direct and indirect costs, according to the insurance company Liberty Mutual. The Bush administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2006 budget will make matters worse. It proposes to eliminate all funding for worker safety training programs—$10 million appropriated by Congress in FY 2005.

For a really great summary of the AFL-CIO's annual Death on the Job report, see Jordan Barab's blog entry on the report, then download the report 154 pages, or at least the introduction.

And read his fantastic commentary on Workers Memorial Day.

The political issues raging in this country – over court appointments, social security, terrorism and the war in Iraq – are important, but they tend to overshadow many of the concerns of the vast majority of people who are not politically engaged. But ask people if they think that workers injured on the job should suffer economically for the rest of their lives, ask people whether the jobs and chemicals should be considered safe until we manage to count the bodies or lungs of people who prove otherwise, ask people whether they think they have the power to make their workplaces safer or whether they think there is a role for laws and government enforcement – and you’ll probably get answers that don’t line up with those who are in power in Washington (or in most state capitals) today. The challenge is to organize them into a potent political force – not just in New York city and Boston, but in Wichita, Kansas, Houston Texas, Boise, Idaho and Atlanta, Georgia.

and this

Unless and until those concerned about workplace safety make strong common cause with other progressive groups – environmentalists, womens rights groups, progressive churches, immigrant organizations and others, ours will be a difficult and ultimately futile struggle.

The American people are ready to listen. A recent poll showed that out of a variety of issues that Americans think Congress should be involved in (endangered species, gun control, gay marriage, steroids in baseball, "Schiavo" type family health cases), "Rules in the workplace that deal with health and safety issues" came out on top.

And I believe you'd get similar answers if you asked a few more questions:

  • Do you think that the health effects of chemicals should be understood and the chemicals regulated before or after workers get sick and die from being exposed on the job?

  • Do you think that 6 months in jail is an appropriate punishment for an employer who knowingly violates the law, putting a worker into a job where he is killed?

  • Do you think that OSHA standards that protect employees from exposure to dangerous chemicals should be based on the most recent scientific information, or information that was gathered forty years ago?

  • Do you think that public employees who fix your roads, work in your sewage treatment plants, care for the mentally ill, put out our fires and guard our most dangerous criminals should have the same guarantee of a safe workplace that private sector employees doing the same work have?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bush Attacks FMLA

First they went after overtime, then the right to join a union. Now Bush and the corporate elite are going after FMLA. More than 50 million American have used FMLA, 40 percent of them are men.

From the Boston Globe

Proposed changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act by the Bush administration have alarmed workplace advocates.

Enacted in 1993, the law allows US employees at companies with 50 or more workers to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for family or medical matters like taking care of a newborn, or helping an ill relative, parent or spouse.

However, proposed changes in the rules governing the law have led to protests by some groups. The changes focus on the definition of a serious illness under the law, as well as employers' requests for permission to contact doctors to check whether claims of a chronic illness are valid. Last week, opponents of the changes, which are due out this spring, protested during a press conference in Washington, D.C.

''Opponents would prefer not to have the FMLA at all,'' said Debra Ness, the president of the National Partnership for Women & Families in Washington. ''This opposition is just one way of rolling back protections and undermining the law or minimizing its availability to workers.''

She said companies would like to reduce the minimum amount of intermittent leave that a worker can take to four hours. Ness believes this could harm people who only need to be away an hour or two because they would no longer be eligible for the leave.

Employers are also seeking to restrict the definition of a serious illness to a medical condition that requires at least 10 days recovery time. Ness objects.

''What if someone is struck by appendicitis and is ready to go back to work within a week?'' she said. ''Why should they be forced to stay out 10 days when they don't have to?''

Currently, workers can invoke the FMLA when seeking medical care for chronic conditions such as chemotherapy for some forms of cancer and kidney dialysis. They can also interrupt their workday to seek such treatments.

Companies want to change that. They've asked the Labor Department to tighten the law's definition of serious health conditions. Employers maintain some workers are using these short leaves to make up the sick days or vacation time they have already used. Companies also contend that some of the health conditions are minor, and do not require two or three days' off. Lastly, they argue the changes they are seeking would not affect workers' ability to take time off for serious maladies or to assist sick relatives.

While We Were Distracted

[From the Coalition for Darfur]

In 1994, a genocide took place in Rwanda and it is probably safe to say that few of us remember hearing much about it. How was it possible, we now ask ourselves, that we could have so easily ignored the brutal slaughter of nearly one million people.

A look back to those 100 days in 1994 reveals that while we may not have heard much about Rwanda, we most certainly heard a great deal about many other things.

April to July 1994: A Timeline

On April 7, 1994 Rwandan soldiers and trained militias armed with machetes unleashed a
murderous campaign to destroy the minority Tutsi population.

On April 8, Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain was found dead in his home from a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

On April 15, an estimated 20,000 Rwandans who had sought shelter Nyarubuye Church were slaughtered by government forces and members of the Interahamwe militia.

On April 22, former President Richard Nixon died and his funeral was held five days later.

On May 5, Michael Fay, an 18 year-old US citizen, was caned in Singapore as punishment for vandalism.

In mid May, the International Red Cross estimated that 500,000 Rwandans had been killed.

On June 17, OJ Simpson led police on a slow speed chase in a White Ford Bronco.

On July 4, the rebel army took control of the Rwandan capitol of Kigali and the genocide came to an end in a country littered with nearly one million corpses.

It is widely acknowledged that the world largely ignored the genocide in 1994 and failed the
people of Rwanda. A decade later, it is worth asking if our priorities have changed.

On September 8, 2004 "60Minutes" ran a controversial story regarding President Bush's service in the Air National Guard that relied, in part, on forged memos.

On September 9, former Secretary of State Colin Powell officially declared that genocide was taking place in Darfur, Sudan.

On October 4, Romeo Dallaire, the head of the UN mission in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide warned that the world was responding to the crisis in Darfur much in the same way it responded to the genocide in Rwanda – with complete indifference.

On October 6, comedian Rodney Dangerfield died.

On January 24, 2005, Johnny Carson died.

On January 25, the UN released a report chronicling "serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law amounting to crimes under international law"; among them the "killing of civilians, torture, enforced disappearances, destruction of villages, rape and other forms of sexual violence."

On March 11, Brian Nichols overpowered a deputy, stole her gun and killed three people in an Atlanta courthouse before escaping.

On March 14, the United Nation's estimated that at least 180,000 people have died in Darfur in the last year and a half.
Ten years ago, a genocide unfolded right in front of our eyes, but themedia was more focused on the legal problems of various celebrities than it was on the deaths of tens of thousands of people in Africa.

And the same thing is happening today.

One has to wonder if, ten years from now, we'll be saying to one another "I vaguely remember hearing about the genocide in Sudan. It took place about the time of the Michael Jackson trial, right?"

We at the Coalition for Darfur ask you to join us in raising awareness of the genocide and to consider making a small donation to any of the organizations providing life saving assistance to the neglected people of Darfur.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Music: Reunions and Magazines with an appreciation of history

TWO REUNIONS

Cream (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker) will be appearing at the Royal Albert Hall on May 2,3,5, and 6. The RAH is the site where Cream played their last gig in 1968.

From April 26 to May 1 the John Handy Quintet for a series of concerts at New York's Lincoln Cetner celebrating the 40th anniversary of the band's "Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival" album, which was one of the biggest-selling jazz recordings of the '60s and is still regarded as a classic of the era. The Handy Quintet features Wichita's own Jerry Hahn, one of the most under-rated jazz guitarists.

TWO FINE MUSIC MAGAZINES

..which appreciate the history of music. One from the US and one from the UK.

Wax Poetics, is a quarterly, which says in its FAQs

Wax Poetics is like an art history course at a prestigious university.
Wax Poetics is a magazine of the highest caliber.
More specifically, it is a quarterly journal.
You may say it is a clever cross between an academic journal and a hip magazine.

Q: What is the magazine about?

Sticking to our slogan, "It's all about the beats," Wax Poetics is about beatdigging, for beatdiggers, by beatdiggers. We will put crate digging, sampling, and DJing in its proper historical context. We also intend to raise the bar on the discussion of these phenomena and treat sampling as the art that it is. Wax Poetics will dig deeper than anyone has yet to—shedding an awaited light on people, places, techniques, nuances, subtleties, poetics, politics, and polymers. Wax Poetics is about art, music, literature, and culture. We are not afraid to take the big risks. Wax Poetics will deliver interesting content.

Still confused? Wax Poetics is specifically about record collecting, and how the obsession over small snippets of funky jazz, soul, and rock led to the creation of hip-hop.

Now even though I am not much of a fan of hip hop, I picked a copy of Wax Poetics recently at Wichita's City News, my neighborhood newstand/bookstore. It definitely delivers interesting content. A profile of jazz organist Jimmy McGriff, a look at Bob Ciano record designer for the CTI label in the 1970s (lots of great album cover reproductions), Part II of a history of Wattstax (the great southern soul label which moved to the West coast in the 1970s), and "I Know a Place," a piece onMartin Luther King and the Civil Rights era in Memphis.

But what piqued my interest enough to actually buy issue #11 was an article on John Klemmer. Allmusic.com says that '90s hip hop artists have sampled the music of this white tenor sax player who recorded for Cadet, part of the Chess music empire, starting in 1967. I remembered buying two of Klemmer's LP back in high school and playing them a lot. As luck would have it they are still in my collection, though I hadn't played them in years, hadn't even thought about it. I pulled them down and put them on the turntable. They held up amazingly well. As the Wax Poetics article argues they were two of the pioneer jazz-rock fusion recordings, appartenly even predating Miles Davis' revolutionary Bitches Brew.

This time when I played Blowin' Gold I heard something that had escaped my attention years ago. Their is passage on Blowin' Gold that sounds like a key theme on Bitches Brew, if I recall correctly, "Miles Runs the Vodoo Down."

There's an interesting comment from Klemmer about how the fusion sound came to be. He says that after having recorded two typical jazz LPs, Marshall Chess steered him in a new direction by telling him to hire as sidemen some "long haired hippies"as sidemen.

Uncut is a UK monthly on "music and movies with something to say." It might remind you of Rolling Stone. though devotees of each might object to the comparison. The April issue has a cover story on the Band, which has may give you some new perspectives on the music of the 1960s and an intriguing revelation from Eric Claptonabout Cream and the Band.

And, oh yeah, Unut apparently comes with a free CD. This issue's was Across The Great Divide" Music Inspired by the Band.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Evolution Defenders Will Testify

The Wichtia Eagle reported on Wednesday

Defenders of evolution, despite earlier pledges of a boycott, plan to present three days of evidence in support of the scientific theory at hearings next month.

A science education group, meanwhile, intends to offer daily commentary when supporters of the concept of intelligent design make their case.

The stage will be two sets of hearings May 5-7 and May 12-14 in Topeka before a three-member committee of the State Board of Education. All three members favor de-emphasizing evolution as the board adopts new science standards this year.

Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka lawyer, provided no specifics about who will testify in support of standards recommended by a science education committee. He said he is representing, at no charge, that committee's majority, whose evolution recommendations were rejected by the state board.

"The majority concluded that a response is needed," he said.

This appears to be a shift from the boycott announced earlier this month by Kansas Citizens for Science. But it may be that the effort organized by Irigonegaray is an independent effort. Whatever is the case, I think KCFS is on target with these comments.

These “science hearings” will be nothing but a tax-supported showcase for Intelligent Design creationism.

The science, religious, and educational communities will not remain silent, however. The coalition is planning a number of events to present their views outside the “hearings” process. Details will be announced as they are available.

“Intelligent Design Creationism is a theological idea, which the Constitution does not allow to be taught in public school science classes,” said Harry McDonald, President of Kansas Citizens For Science. “Our young people need to learn useful science, not religiously based ideas like Intelligent Design Creationism, in science classes. The future is in bioscience, and we want our young people to be part of that future.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Darfur: Lacking the Political Will

Latest from the Coalition for Darfur

In the last few days, international donors have pledged $4.5 billion in reconstruction aid to Sudan as part of the north/south peace process. And though much if this aid is nominally contingent on Khartoum's ability and willingness to end the violence in Darfur, it remains to be seen if the international community is truly willing torisk undermining the long sought peace agreement by demanding an end to the genocide.

For a year and a half, the UN and others have tread carefully, fearful that too much pressure on Khartoum would derail the north/south peace process. And Khartoum has relentlessly exploited that fear by, for instance, warning that the recent Security Council referral to the
International Criminal Court "threatens Sudan's stability."

And while the world focuses on protecting the peace agreement, Darfur continues to deteriorate.

On April 12, the World Food Program warned that, due to lack of funding, nearly 200,000 refugees who have fled into Chad risk going hungry in the coming months. And just last week,
the WFP warned that it will be forced to cut food rations for more than one million people living in the western region of Darfur, again for lack of funds.

On April 8,UNICEF warned that an estimated four million people in Darfur will face significant
food insecurity over the next 18 months because the agricultural economy has collapsed. One million children under five year-olds are already suffering from, or will suffer from, severe malnutrition.

And one day after an United Nations human rights investigator for Sudan warned that Darfur was a "time bomb" that could explode at any time, Janjaweed militia attacked and completely destroyed the village of Khor Abeche (the attack on Khor Abeche is the focus of Eric Reeves' latestanalysis).

It seems clear that the referral to the ICC was not the remedy that many in the human rights community had hoped. At the same time, calls for an increased AU force has problems of its own, judging by CharlesSnyder's recent comment that "Nobody that wants to be on the ground is not on the ground."

Stopping the genocide in Darfur is going to require a dedicated and well-coordinated effort by the UN and the international community. As of yet, the political will to engage in such an effort does not exist. We at the Coalition for Darfur ask you to join us in raising awareness of the genocide in an attempt to force policy makers to seriously address this issue to consider making a small donation to any of the organizations providing life saving assistance to the neglected people of Darfur.

Friday, April 15, 2005

NPR Praises Lawrence Paper

NPR's Morning Edition had an interesting two-part look at Lawrence's Journal World this week.

Media watchers are paying close attention to what the local newspaper in Lawrence, Kan., is doing.

The World Co., which owns the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper, online and cable news divisions, is providing a model for how the news media may operate in the future. It's led by media-convergence evangelist, Rob Curley.

The company is winning accolades for its multiple approach to covering the local news.

Part One
Part Two

Phil Kline profiled in LA Times

The April 11 LA Times featured Stephanie Simon's profile of Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline.

He travels the state preaching from church pulpits, with a firebrand charisma that has earned him a reputation as the state's best orator. He declares that some of the laws he's sworn to enforce are repugnant to him — especially a woman's right to abortion. He says he will uphold that right, but he interprets it narrowly.
Because Kline traveling the state to preach from church politcs the state has had to hire an outside attorney Kenneth Waltz from Overland Park to represent the state in the school finance case. Gee, I thought that was what we elected Kline to do.

Goodbye Johnnie Johnson

The great blues pianist Johnnie Johnson died early Wednesday in St. Louis. Johnson is probably the most important rock musician you never heard of. That's him on Chuck Berry's early Chess recordings. In fact, Johnson may have co-written some of Berry's songs.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch obit. Allmusic bio

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Darfur vs. Martha Stewart

From the Coalition for Darfur

Eleven years ago today, the president of Rwanda was killed when his plane was shot down over Kigali. His death served as a catalyst to a genocide that quickly engulfed the country - within one month, an estimated 500,000 people had been killed and by the time the genocide
ended 100 days later, nearly one million Rwandans had lost their lives.

The authors of the essay "Rwanda: US Policy and Television Coverage" calculated that during the three months of genocide, Rwanda received a total of 278 minutes of news coverage from the likes of ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, meaning that each of these news organization spent less than 1 minute per day reporting on a genocide that was taking lives at the rate of 1 every 11 seconds.

Today, another genocide is unfolding in African and, as this recent article in the American Journalism Review makes clear, very little has changed
Serious reporting on [Darfur] largely has been absent on the networks and on cable. Last year the three network nightly newscasts aired a meager total of 26 minutes on the bloodshed, according to the Tyndall Report, which monitors network news. ABC devoted just 18 minutes to Darfur, NBC five and CBS three. By contrast, Martha Stewart's woes received 130 minutes, five times as much.
For those who are unfamiliar with what is taking place in Darfur, we encourage you to read this
piece
by Brian Steidle, a former Marine who spent six months working as cease-fire monitor with the African Union force in Darfur.

The bottom line is that nearly 400,000 people have died of disease, starvation and violence at the hands of the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militias, yet the crisis has receives barely a fractionof the coverage garnered by the legal problems faced by Michael Jackson or Martha Stewart.

We are all aware of the central role that blogs played in the "60 Minutes" and "Jeff Gannon" stories and we know that blogs have to power to propel forgotten stories into the mainstream media. The Coalition for Darfur is an effort to unite blogs of all political ideologies in an attempt to raise awareness of the ongoing genocide in Darfur and raise money for organizations doing life-saving work there.

Though the country is deeply polarized, we think that the effort to stop this genocide is something that can unite people of varying political and religious beliefs.

It is a cliché in American newsrooms that "If it bleeds, it leads." Sadly, despite the amount of blood shed in Darfur, the genocide hasreceived very little coverage. Our challenge is to force this issue onto the television screens and the front page. We ask you to join us in this effort.

Amendment Passes with 70 Percent

Wichita Eagle reported

Kansans voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, a result supporters hailed as a rousing endorsement of traditional marriage. More than 550,000 people approved the measure by more than a 2-1 ratio, making Kansas the 18th state to ban gay marriage in its constitution.

Back in January, I posted this
On Sunday January 16, the Wichita Eagle released a poll of Kansas residents....

While 71 percent disapprove of same-sex marriages, there were different results when asked what rights same-sex couples should have for legal recognition of their unions, things were different
No recognition 53%
Marriage 13%
Civil unions 31%
It seems that the fundamentalists succeeded in defining the election as a referendum on "same sex marriage," and that the opponents failed. The January Eagle poll and the mid-March Survey USA poll which showed the amendment at 54-42 seem to indicate that there was a potential for a no vote of around 40 percent. Yet the vote fell about 10 points below that. Opponents ought to be asking themselves some serious questions instead of bashing their neighbors as hopeless reactionaries and denouncing our reactionary pastors.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

New Anti-Semitic Petition in Russia

The Jerusalem Post reports Mass call to outlaw Jewish groups

Over 5,000 known public activists and members of the clergy in Russia have sent a petition to the state prosecutor's office in which they demand to outlaw Jewish groups.

In the petition, the signatories use quotes from Kitzur Shulhan Aruch, which they argue prove their claim that Judaism is a fanatic and racist religion that hates gentiles.

Among those who signed the letter, according to Army Radio, are ex-generals, artists and the former world champion in chess.

Israel's Ambassador to Russia, Arkadi Milman, called the new affair severe and said that Israel will contact Russian authorities in an attempt to prosecute those responsible for the petition.

The recent anti-Semitic petition comes two months after about 20 members of the lower Russian parliament house, the State Duma, asked Prosecutor- General Vladimir Ustinov to investigate their claims that Jews are fomenting ethnic hatred and provoking anti-Semitism.

Arguing that Jews were to blame for anti-Semitism, the authors of the letter demanded that Jewish groups be outlawed, based on legislation against extremism and fomenting ethnic discord.

However, in a 306-58 vote that hewed to party lines, the State Duma adopted a declaration saying that the 'clear anti-Semitic intent' of the letter and other appeals for government actions targeting Jews 'prompts indignation and sharp condemnation.'

The stunning calls to ban all Jewish groups comes amid concerns of persistent anti-Semitism that continues to plague Russia.

Jewish leaders have praised President Vladimir Putin's government for encouraging religious tolerance, but rights groups accuse the authorities of failing to adequately prosecute the perpetrators of anti-Semitic and racial violence.

Russia's chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, said the lawmakers were either insane or 'quite sane but limitlessly cynical' and were hoping to win support 'by playing the anti-Semitic card.'

With Putin planning to join events this week commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops, Russia's Holocaust Foundation head Alla Gerber said it was 'horrible that as we're marking the 60th anniversary of this tragic and great day... we can speak of the danger of fascism in the countries that defeated fascism.'

She said that while the Russian state itself is no longer anti-Semitic, there are 'anti-Semitic campaigns that are led by all sorts of organizations.'

'The economic situation is ripe for this, an enemy is needed, and the enemy is well-known, traditional,' Gerber said.

Echoing anti-Semitic tracts of the Czarist era, the letter's authors accuse Jews of working against the interests of the countries where they live and of monopolizing power worldwide. They say the United States 'has become an instrument for achieving the global aims of Judaism.'

'It is possible to say that the entire democratic world today is under the monetary and political control of international Judaism, which high-profile bankers are openly proud of,' the letter says.

Along with outlawing Jewish organizations, the lawmakers called for the prosecution of 'individuals responsible for providing these groups with state and municipal property, privileges and state financing.'

Monday, April 04, 2005

Marriage Amendment: Gains for Yes Vote in Poll

Survey USA released a poll on April 3 showing a swing for the Kansas marriage amendment. In an identical poll released March 21, the Amendment passed by a 12-point margin; it now passes by 25 points. Instead of a 54%-42% split, it looks like a 62%-37% split.

Survey USA says "Most of this movement comes from Amendment supporters becoming more certain to vote, rather than from voters changing their minds about the Amendment."

Since we see only the filtered results, it is a little difficult to confirm their conclusions.

Looking at the breakdown in the two polls, I see some significant changes. Support among self-identified Republicans increased from 61% to 72% and among independents from 51% to 62%. Among self-identified conservatives, support increased from 66% to 79%. Conservative opposition fell from 30% to 20%. In the last two weeks, the margin for the amendment among conservatives increased from 26% to 59%. Since conservatives were about fifty percent of the expected voters, the swing would account for almost all of the over-all shift.

If this poll turns out to be accurate, one factor is the shift is certainly that the pro-Amendment forces, thanks to out of state interests, out spent the anti-Amendment folks by a considerable margin. Another factor, and this is just my impression--not the result of an in-depth study, is that the anti-amendment message was off-target.

In defense of John Brown

Christopher Hitchens has a laudatory review of a new biography of John Brown: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds in the May Atlantic. (The entire review is available --at least currently--only to subscribers.) Here's a taste.

David Reynolds sets himself to counter several misapprehensions about the pious old buzzard (Brown, I mean, not Lincoln). Among these are the impressions that he was a madman, that he was a homicidal type, and that his assault on a federal arsenal was foredoomed and quixotic. The critical thing here is context. And the author succeeds admirably in showing that Brown, far from being a crazed fanatic, was a serious legatee of the English and American revolutions who anticipated the Emancipation Proclamation and all that has ensued from it.

It's a fascinating review, which shows that it is both simplistic and premature to excommunicate Hitchens from the left.

More importantly, it hips us to what appears to me to be a very serious argument to revise our standard view of American history.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Contrarian Views of Pope John Paul II

If you would like something beyond the usual reactions to the death of Pope John Paul II, take a look at these.

Jonathon Hari

While he was brave and tough and right in his criticisms of communist tyrannies, Cornwell shows Wojtyla has been persistently soft on fascist regimes. He refused to back the Catholic priests begging for his support in their resistance to neo-fascism in South America in the 1970s and 1980s. He has vigorously disciplined any priests inclined towards liberation theology, while relentlessly promoting Opus Dei, a group with explicitly fascist roots and a key plank of support for General Franco.

Again, Wojtyla's choice of saints reveals his underlying values. He has with great fan-fare canonised Jose-Maria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei and admirer of Franco. Yet he has refused point-blank to do the same for Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was murdered by fascist death-squads in El Salvador after his long campaign against them. The legendary American journalist Carl Bernstein even exposed in his 1999 biography 'His Holiness' that the Pope cut a deal with Ronald Reagan where he agreed not to condemn the neo-fascist Contra war against the democratically elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Hendrick Houthakker – formerly a close friend of Wojtyla - told Cornwell he has "no real appreciation of the virtues of democracy". It seems that the godlessness of Communism was more repugnant to him than its human rights abuses.

Christopher Hitchens

EPIC Questions Immediate Withdrawal Demand

I just came across this statement about the March 19 demonstrations from the Education for Peace in Iraq Center which was one of the main groups opposing US policy towards Iraq from its founding in 1998.

EPIC Expresses Strong Support for Peace Rallies, Concern over "Immediate Withdrawal" Message

U.S. veterans and Iraqi-Americans also express concern

March 18, 2005 (Washington, DC) - On Saturday, several thousand protestors will rally outside Fort Bragg, North Carolina to mark the 2nd anniversary of the Iraq war. But at least one respected peace organization will not be there.

"The call for an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq made by some of the organizers of this weekend's protest may represent a way to save American lives in the short-term, but offers no solution to the violence and instability plaguing the people of Iraq," says Erik Gustafson, the executive director of the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC).

Founded in 1998 by human rights advocates, EPIC promotes peace, human rights, and democracy for the people of Iraq. Since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq two years ago this week, EPIC has advocated U.S. and international assistance for Iraqi-led development and institution-building. EPIC questions the withdrawal of UN-sanctioned forces until Iraq is able to provide for its own security.

"The only responsible way out of Iraq is through accelerated capacity-building," explains Gustafson, who is also a U.S. Army veteran of the 1991 Gulf War. "

Other U.S. veterans, progressives, and Iraqi-Americans critical of the Bush administration's handling of U.S. policy on Iraq have joined EPIC in expressing concern about the message of the protest's national organizers.

"The Iraqi population, who suffered through multiple wars and years of sanctions, should not be abandoned to a small and violent minority which makes targets of children and civilians. Though we believe further changes are needed in our strategy in Iraq, leaving without stabilizing Iraq is not an option," said Charles Sheehan-Miles, a combat veteran of the 1991 Gulf War and executive director of Veterans for Common Sense .


Needless to say, EPIC, VCS are being attacked by our American "hard left," as is Move-On (for concentrating on domestic issues) and United for Peace and Justice (most recently, for not backing the ANSWER crowds actions which support the so-called "resistance.")

UFPJ is blamed for the small, if not pathetic, turnout at the March 19 demonstrations. The leadership according to this analysis, sold out to the pro-war Democrats and put its energy into electing John Kerry and Congressional Democrats instead of building protests and "actions."

But the drop-off was as great or greater in England, where leaders in the Stop the War Coalition have organized (along with the reactionary Muslim Association of Britain) the Respect Party to challenge Blair's Labour Party. According to Harry's Place, the turnout was
45,000 as the official figure (less than 5% of the Feb 15 total) but their reporter just said his police source had admitted that even that was a "generous" figure and that the real amount is about 20,000
In fact, the decline was world-wide.

As Bob Dylan said, "something is happening here, and you don't know what it is, do you?"

KC: Program on Social Security

April 4 th 7 pm “Social Security: A Manufactured Crisis?”
Linda Hall Library
Panel discussion, moderated by James Webb, lecturer in economics, UMKC:
- “Manufacturing a Crisis", L. Randall Wray, professor of economics
- “Just Say ‘No’ to Privatizing”, Stephanie Bell, assistant professor, economics
- “Sense and Nonsense”, Max Skidmore, professor of political science

For 70 years, the far right has attacked Social Security. In this panel, Professors Wray,
Bell, and Skidmore examine how the debate has been framed, and how supporters can
protect the social safety net.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Alternet Interview with Iraqi Union Leader

Alternet has a long and very interesting interview with Abdullah Muhsin, international representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions.

Here are some excerpts

There's no point in saying that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair were wrong about the war. And because the war was illegal, therefore now we have to turn Iraq into anarchy and chaos in order to prove Bush and Blair wrong at the cost of Iraqi people and destroy Iraq as a country. The peace movement should help us and other genuine democratic Iraqis who want to build a genuine democracy in Iraq.

Well, we don't call them the peace movement. We call them the hard left. And there is a difference between the genuine left – those who support the democrats, socialists and trade unionists in Iraq in their most difficult time – and those hard left extremists, who are still stuck in the past. They think that they are for the absolute truth and that everyone else is wrong.

[Do] you see the forces today that wage terror against Iraqis? Just stop for a minute and see who they are and what they want. To compare those waging terror against Iraqis to the French Resistance is an insult to the French national resistance that opposed fascism and Hitler. To compare them to the Vietnamese is also an insult to the notion of national liberation.

These are extremists who are indiscriminately killing innocent children and innocent people. How do you explain that bomb in Hilla? How do you explain that suicide bomber blowing himself up in a marketplace and in the process massacring 150 people? To call these people "the resistance" is beyond belief. What kind of regime do they want to build after the occupation forces leave? The closest one is the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Is this what Iraqis want? To get rid of Saddam Hussein in order to have another, more brutal regime than they had before?


Sudan Benefit in Lwrence April 6

On Wednesday, April 6, 2005, KU Amnesty International is putting on a benefit/awareness concert at Liberty Hall regarding the deplorable situation in Sudan. The bands currently lined up are:

Johnny Quest
Forth of July ["Fourth of July"?]
Chuck Berg Jazz Ensemble
Brandon Mayer
Free All Beats


The following people will speak:
Barbara Ballard (KS state representative to Lawrence area)
Bobbie-Frances McDonald (sudan action advocacy forum)
Ibraham Isabiel (former resident of Darfur)