Sunday, December 31, 2006

Food insecurity in Latino community

Increasing access to healthier food and to federal nutrition assistance programs could help stem growing food insecurity in the Latino community, where nearly one in five people (19.6%) have limited or no access to nutritious food each year, according to a new report released on December 20 by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S. The report is Sin Provecho: Latinos and Food Insecurity, and the executive summary can be downloaded from here.

“Lack of access to resources is forcing far too many Latino families into choices no one should have to make, such as between having a roof over their heads or putting food on the table. A lack of affordable, nutritious food also has devastating health consequences, such as increasing hunger and obesity, affecting not only the Latino community but the well-being of our entire nation,” stated Janet MurguĂ­a, NCLR President and CEO.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Healthy foods may be out of reach for many low-income and Latino communities. One study found that predominantly Hispanic communities had 38% less fresh fruit and vegetable retailers than areas with smaller Hispanic populations.
  • Many eligible Latinos are not participating in food assistance programs. Data suggest that more than three million eligible Hispanics are not participating in the Food Stamp Program. Lack of culturally- and linguistically-appropriate information and confusion about eligibility rules are common reasons why Latinos are not participating at higher levels.
  • Many Latino legal immigrants and U.S. citizens are restricted or deterred from accessing food stamps. Numerous legal immigrants are barred from participating in the Food Stamp Program. Furthermore, due to fear and confusion about program restrictions, U.S. citizen children with immigrant parents are far less likely than U.S. citizen children with a citizen parent to participate in the Food Stamp Program.

Saddam Execution

David Hirst has a good obit of Saddam Hussein in The Guardian

The Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was executed this morning at the age of 69, may not yield many general biographies - he was personally too uninteresting for that - but he will be a case study for political scientists for years to come. For he was the model of a certain type of developing world despot, who was, for over three decades, as successful in his main ambition, which was taking and keeping total power, as he was destructive in exercising it.

Yet at the same time, he was commonplace and derivative. Stalin was his exemplar. The likeness came from more than conscious emulation: he already resembled him in origin, temperament and method. Like him, he was unique less in kind than in degree, in the extraordinary extent to which, if the more squalid forms of human villainy are the sine qua non of the successful tyrant, he embodied them. Like Stalin, too, he had little of the flair or colour of other 20th-century despots, little mental brilliance, less charisma, no redeeming passion or messianic fervour; he was only exceptional in the magnitude of his thuggery, the brutality, opportunism and cunning of the otherwise dull, grey apparatchik.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Misusing Jesus

Christian Century, a leading Protestant magazine has a very interesting article "Misusing Jesus How the church divorces Jesus from Judaism" by Amy-Jill Levine is a Jewish New Testament scholar who teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
...when Christian congregants, ministers and professors do acknowledge that Jesus was Jewish, they often provide no content for the label. The claim that "Jesus was a Jew" may be historically true, but it is not central to the teaching of the church.

The problem is more than one of silence. In the popular Christian imagination, Jesus still remains defined, incorrectly and unfortunately, as "against" the Law, or at least against how it was understood at the time; as "against" the Temple as an institution and not simply against its first-century leadership; as "against" the people Israel but in favor of the gentiles. Jesus becomes the rebel who, unlike every other Jew, practices social justice. He is the only one to speak with women; he is the only one who teaches nonviolent responses to oppression; he is the only one who cares about the "poor and the marginalized" (that phrase has become a litany in some Christian circles). Judaism becomes in such discourse a negative foil: whatever Jesus stands for, Judaism isn't it; whatever Jesus is against, Judaism epitomizes the category.

This divorcing of Jesus from Judaism does a disservice to each textually, theologically, historically and ethically.

Levine critiques not only the sub rosa anti-Semitism that appears in the Palestinian theologian Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Center, but also in feminist and liberation theologians, and even more surprisingly in such mainstream Christian institutions as
he World Council of Churches press in Geneva; Fortress Press, which is connected to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; and the Catholic (Maryknoll) Orbis Books.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Eric Lee on the Edwards campaign

Eric Lee, visionary international labor activist and creator of the invaluable LabourStart website, has entry on his blog about the John Edwards campaign for President. After recommending that unions emulate Edwards use of the internet as an organizing tool, Eric discusses the importance of the Edwards campaign for American unions and the democratic left..

..a running thread in everything I have written for some years now is the question of whether the trade union movement has a future or not. You might be asking yourself what this has to do with the Edwards campaign. The answer is: plenty.

Edwards did not come out of the trade union movement; he made his millions (and they were millions) as a lawyer. He may have had working-class roots, but they appear to be behind him now. And yet in recent years, especially since his defeat in the 2004 elections (when he first ran for the Democratic nomination, and then as John Kerry's vice presidential candidate), he has made a sharp turn toward the unions.

This has been in evidence for some time now, and a quick glance at his activities over the last year or so show that he's been in the thick of the fight against poverty, and helped get several states to enact higher minimum wages than the stingy Republican administration in Washington.

This is great stuff, and combined with his constant appearances at union events and expressions of support for union causes, he did two things this week that cement the bond between John Edwards and the trade union movement.

First, in his two-minute online video, placed on YouTube (where else?), standing in front of a ruined New Orleans house, he spoke about all the great work that's been done – this was at the very end – to organize workers into unions. It was a brief reference, but it was a clear mention of Edwards' strong belief in the positive role of trade unions.

And it gets better. Today, the campaign named its manager, the man who is leading the effort to get Edwards into the White House. That man is David Bonior, a name I've certainly come across as he's also the Chair of a group called American Rights at Work -- an organization that's been around since 2003 promoting its vision of the US as “a nation where the freedom of workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with employers is guaranteed and promoted.”

If this stuff sounds mild to Europeans and others, it sounds positively radical to Americans. The percentage of American workers organized into unions has been plummeting for decades, and is below 10% in the private sector.

Studies have shown that a majority of workers in the US would join unions if they could, but they don't because of a well-grounded fear that they could lose their jobs if they do.

Every day, people get sacked by their employers for trying to join unions. There has long been a corporate reign of terror in the workplace and ever since I've been politically active (this goes back some time) unions have called for changes to the country's laws to make it easier to join unions.

So now we have a presidential campaign boosting a candidate who is the most pro-labour politician in America today, run by a labour studies professor (I'm not making this up) who until yesterday was running a workers' rights organization. This is the kind of politics we haven't seen in America for more than a generation.

It bears comparison to the nearly successful 1934 California gubernatorial campaign by Upton Sinclair, a socialist running as a Democrat, under the slogan “End Poverty in California”. It reminds one of the campaigns of the Socialist Party in its heyday, when Eugene Debs and Norman Thomas could get close to a million votes.

And on a personal level, I'm reminded of a Presidential campaign that was discussed, and then abandoned, by Michael Harrington back in 1978-9. Harrington proposed then to launch is campaign from the ruins of the South Bronx – something echoed by Edwards' decision today to launch his own campaign from still-devastated New Orleans.

None of this means that Edwards is a socialist – far from it. But I mention this to point out that there is a radical tradition in American politics, closely linked to the unions (Debs, of course, was a great railway union leader before becoming a politician). Edwards may well fit into this tradition.

The problem with that tradition is that it never came close to winning the Presidency. That may be about to change.

Today, polls in the state of Iowa, the first battleground state in the long series of Democratic Party primaries and caucuses, show Edwards in the lead – ahead of Hillary Clinton and all the others.

Edwards is running on an explicitly pro-union message, unashamed of his connections to the labour movement in his country. And he's doing so with the kind of website that every union and campaigning organization should aspire to have.

That's why his campaign interests me so much, and why I intend to do what I can to learn about it, report on it, and participate in it.

Raise Less Corn: an old slogan reborn

One of the slogans of the 19th century Populist movement was "raise less corn and more hell." It has now been reborn in an op-ed and book by George Pyle, a former editorial page editor for the Salina Journal.

From the op-ed

The USDA's own summary of the issues facing American agriculture --"Strengthening the Foundation for Future Growth in U.S. Agriculture" -- still views farming as an industrial process needing to ramp up production and increase exports.

It's a blueprint for yet another round of taxpayer subsidies that push farmers to max out their production using all the fertilizer and pesticides they can afford.

The government dropped nearly $144 billion on farm subsidies between 1995 and 2004, according to calculations by the Environmental Working Group. The bulk of that money went to an ever-shrinking number of giant companies and cooperatives.

The resulting cut-rate price of corn further encourages feedlot fattening of cattle, hogs and poultry rather than the more natural grazing. The nitrogen-heavy runoff from those massive feeding operations, combined with all the fertilizer that flows from wheat and corn fields in the Plains and upper Midwest, endangers municipal water supplies and once-teeming sea life downstream in the Gulf of Mexico.

Soil conservation is always a part of farm legislation, but a small part. In Kansas, for example, federal farm payments over the decade ending in 2004 totaled $6.2 billion for production subsidies and $1 billion for conservation. When budget hawks start looking for savings, it is the conservation plans, not the subsidies, that are on the chopping block.

And from the books description
farmers are promised a better future if they play ball with the corporations, but caught between the brutal new market and antiquated government support systems, they are forced to grow too much of the wrong crops — crops that will be fed to animals who cannot tolerate them, shipped as dubious "aid" to struggling countries, drive the farmer's take-home pay ever downward, and make us all fatter.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gallup poll of Cubans

There have been only two independent polls of Cubans since 1994. The results of a recent poll by Gallup were released just before Christmas and reported in the Miami Herald. Some interesting results

Results from the recent Gallup Poll of Cuba, conducted with 1,000 residents of Havana and Santiago portray a populace that is profoundly unhappy with its lack of personal freedom. However, the data also suggest that any changes are likely to take place within the existing political system.

When asked about the country's current leadership, urban Cubans were split fairly evenly: 47% said they approve, while 40% disapproved, and 13% did not offer a response.

Strangest Christmas Newspaper Story: Allen Ginsberg in Wichita

One of the strangest newspaper articles to appear on a Christmas must be Becky Tanner's piece on Allen Ginsberg in Monday Wichita Eagle. It's an interesting article, part of series of vingettes on Kansas history, but it just strikes me as weird for it to appear on December 25.

It seems the beat poet visited Wichita in 1966 and wrote one of his most famous poems here.

Here's the beginning:

"Thy sins are forgiven, Wichita!

Thy lonesomeness annulled, O Kansas dear!

as the western Twang prophesied

thru banjo, when lone cowboy walked the railroad track past an empty station toward the sun sinking giant-bulbed orange down the box canyon --

Music strung over his back

and empty handed singing on this planet earth

I'm a lonely Dog, O Mother!"

--Allen Ginsberg,

Wichita Vortex Sutra

Wichita was once hip with the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Beat Generation and counterculture pioneer.

A homosexual. Known to use illegal drugs. An anti-war activist.

The raw language of his poems shocked and repulsed Bible Belt America.

He came to Wichita in 1966 and wrote one of his most famous and critically acclaimed works, "Wichita Vortex Sutra," in opposition to the Vietnam War.

He read his works at Moody's Skid Row Beanery at 627 E. Douglas and Wichita State University and, when interviewed by The Wichita Eagle, told a reporter: "The city imposes a dark night on the soul of its youth."
Also check out,
Around this time, I was a junior high school student in Nashville, Tennessee and a family friend took me to a lecture series at Vanderbilt University over a period of a week or two. It has pretty heady stuff--Martin Luther King, Jr., Stockely Carmichael. and Allen Ginsberg. It all made a big impression. Monday's article made me wonder if Ginsberg might have read "Wichita Vortex Sutra" at Vanderbilt. I would have liked to think that I would have remembered a Kansas connection since that was where I grew up and went to school through the sixth grade and returned there for high school, but maybe not.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Iranian election setback for Ahmadinejad

A good round-up from Doug Ireland, despite some funky formatting.

An article on the increased cultural repression prior to the election from, a German site on dialogue with Islamic societies.

A slightly different, and less encoraging analysis from Jonathon Edelstein who warns that the electoral defeat of Ahmadinejad should not be viewed as an overwhelming popular rejection.

What does seem to be apparent from the election is a de facto "stop Ahmedinejad" alliance between the conservatives and the reformists. Khamenei continued to use the Guardians to reject many reformist candidates, but he recognized that he needed the votes of the pro-reform electorate, so he proved willing to allow them somewhat more political space than in 2004. This resulted in a modest reformist comeback on some of the larger municipal councils, as well as female trade unionist Soheila Jelodarzadeh's victory among working-class Tehran voters in the Majlis by-election.

This alliance is possibly aimed at securing Ahmedinejad's defeat for re-election in 2009, as well as ensuring that Khamenei is replaced by a like-minded successor (who in all likelihood will be Rafsanjani). As such, it might last at least through the medium term. But whatever the pragmatic accommodations that Khamenei and the reformists have reached, they must be viewed in light of the steady ratcheting-closed of Iranian political space that has occurred since 2001. As Pepe Escobar puts it in the Asia Times, Iran is steadily evolving from a schizophrenic, quasi-democratic theocracy into a clerical autocracy" run by Khamenei and his cronies, and the future looks like one in which electoral politics will matter even less than they do now.

Anita O'Day

Anita O'Day, the legendary jazz singer, died around Thanksgiving. I thought most of the obituaries I read and heard were rather cliched and not terribly well-informed. I don't recall a mention of her recording of "Let Me Off Uptown" with the Gene Krupa Band. This fantastic song featured a duet with the African American trumpeter Roy Eldridge. In 1941 it must have been a spectacularly daring, social convention challenging song.

Anita: Hey Joe
Roy: What d'ya mean Joe, My name's Roy
Anita: Well come here Roy and get groovy
You bin uptown?
Roy: No I ain't bin uptown but I've bin around
Anita: You mean to say you ain't bin uptown?
Roy: no I ain't bin uptown, what's uptown?

Anita: If it's pleasure you're about
And you feel like steppin' out
All you've got to shout is
Let me off uptown

If it's rhythm that you feel
Then it's nothing to conceal
Oh, you've got to spiel it
Let me off uptown

Rib joints, juke joints, hep joints
Where could a fella go to top it

If you want to pitch a ball
And you can't afford a hall
All you've got to call is
Let me off uptown
Roy: Anita, oh Anita, say I feel somethin'
Anita: Whatcha feel Roy? The heat?
Roy: No it must be that uptown rhythm
I feel like blowin'
Anita: Well blow Roy, blow.

(Roy's trumpet to finish)
There's video of the Krupa band performing this, but I couldn't find it on youtube. There is this video of "Thanks for the Boogie Ride" which also features O'Day and Eldridge.

A friend, a little older and originally from the West Coast, had emailed me about O'Day's passing. I got to thinking that O'Day played a larger role in his musical universe than mine because of a pre-rock/post aesthetic gulf. Most jazz fans who came to the music from 60's rock came for the instrumental giants starting with Coltrane and Davis and working back to Paker and Gillespie and beyond. We may have picked up on some vocalists, but we rarely became "fans." (Billie Holiday, being an exception, but as much for her tragic narrative as for her music). At least that's my impression.

David Hadju, music critic for the New Republic, has written a very perceptive article on O'Day which brings out another reason that O'Day was not fully appreciated.

O'Day did her greatest, most enduring, and most influential work while she was stoned out of her mind. More to the point, the music was not merely made possible by drugs; it was music of the drug experience, an expression of what it meant for its singer to be high. It remains potent, music of euphoria and abandon, and the fact that it derives its potency not simply from human gifts but from the submission of those gifts to narcotics is the treachery, the exhilarating and harrowing glory, of Anita O'Day's music.

Boredom was the one thing that was intolerable to O'Day. Her music was the manifesto of her devotion to kicks at all cost. Ecstatic, indulgent, risky, excessive, and volatile, it was drug music, improvised in a state of simulated euphoria and imagined immunity. To make such music was an act of fearlessness, though not of bravery. O'Day, pickled by dope, knew no fear; but it was Ella Fitzgerald, lucid as she willed impossible scat lines into being, who was brave.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Support Goodyear Strikers

Nearly 16,000 Goodyear employees, including over 1000 in Topeka, are facing the holidays without paychecks. For two and a half months, the United Steelworkers (USW) members have been on strike in a brutal fight for job security and a fair deal on retiree health care. They are sacrificing and fighting the fight for good jobs for all of us—and they need our support.

Please take these two steps for them:

Make a generous donation to support striking Goodyear workers and make their holidays a little happier. One hundred percent of your donation will go to the Goodyear workers and their families. Click here to donate.

Tell Goodyear to respect workers and keep its promises. Sign the petition.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hype and Hope about murder

Jill Leovy,a reporter for the LA Times, has a very intresting article in SALON--"Don't Believe the Hype about murder." She examines the extraordinarily high murde rates affecting young black males, but says that much of the conventional wisdom about gangs, teenage mothers, etc. making the problem much worse thanin the past is just plaing wrong.

The real story of black male homicide is that the historic disproportion between black and white death rates is shrinking, and it has been -- albeit unevenly -- for a long time.

The disproportion between white and black death rates reaches back deep into American history. Historians Roger Lane and Eric Monkkonen, for example, both found markedly higher homicide rates among blacks in analyzing data from 19th century American cities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Preventon began keeping statistics for blacks as a separate group only in 1950. The agency's count shows that homicide death rates for black men then were 28 percent higher than in 2003 and 12 times the white male rate. Spikes in these rates came in the early 1970s, around 1980, and again in the recession years of the early 1990s. Each spike was roughly as high as the last. But running through these spikes is a gradual long-term trend of lower rates and racial convergence.

This suggests we need to take another look at the widespread assumptions that urban violence is the byproduct of modern street gangs, single-parent black families, crack cocaine and the proliferation of handguns. These things matter. But so do deeper and more enduring factors. The reality is that blacks in 1976 were almost twice as likely to die from homicide as blacks in 2004, and the disparity between black and white rates was 20 percent higher than today.

She concludes with this observation:
History suggests that we should be wary of any claims about some unprecedented spiral into nihilism in the inner city, since such claims are perennial. History suggests that it is worth asking questions different from the ones we have been asking, and that we should take the longer view.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Photographic Reminder

The KC Star on Sunday December 10 had an article about the local branch of the national archives. It included what my friend Fred Whitehead called a "stunning photograph" which was accompanied by this caption.

Tarred and feathered: Amid the charged political climate of World War I, John Meintz, a German-American who lived in Minnesota, had joined an agrarian organization that some officials deemed disloyal. A mob attacked him, but he wore his marks of scorn long enough to have them photographed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Labor Activist's Killers Must Be Found

[From an email from US LEAP]

The 2004 murder of US trade unionist Gilberto Soto has yet to be solved. He was killed in El Salvador, where authorities have yet to adequately pursue his case and bring his murderers to justice. Please read this action alert about his case, from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters:

Labor Activist’s Killers Must be Found

On November 5, 2004, Teamsters Port Division Representative Gilberto Soto was assassinated in Usulutan, El Salvador. Soto, an American citizen, had returned to his native country to meet with Central American trade union leaders and port drivers, and to document worker rights violations.

The murder remains unsolved.

In a gruesome echo of the Salvadoran government’s response to the death squad assassinations of the 1980s, the Salvadoran Interior Minister labeled Soto’s death a “common crime” within days of his murder—and before the government had launched any investigation.

One Salvadoran official took the assassination seriously and sprang into action: Beatrice de Carrillo, the ombudsman and director of the official Salvadoran Human Rights Office. Though her office is mandated by the Salvadoran constitution, the police refused to give her access to the investigation files or the officers conducting the investigation. She predicted that the government would soon make an arrest, call the murder a “crime of passion” and then after the media attention faded, ultimately drop the case.

That’s exactly what happened. Within a week the government of El Salvador arrested Soto’s mother-in-law, claiming that she hoped to collect the Teamsters’ million-dollar life insurance policy. In fact, Soto’s policy was for only $50,000 and his children were the beneficiaries, not his wife. Fourteen months later, Soto’s mother-in-law was acquitted. The government has continued to obstruct, frustrate and harass Dr. de Carrillo. She has also received death threats because of her ongoing search for the truth.

On November 15, 2006, the International Labor Organization (ILO) issued a report that demanding that the Salvadoran government reopen the case file on Soto’s murder.

The Teamsters union has joined with labor leaders in El Salvador to demand that the true killers be brought to justice. If we allow this murder to go unsolved, labor and human rights leaders will never be safe in El Salvador. Tell Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ambassador to the United States from El Salvador Rene Leon to demand that the Salvadoran government reopen the investigation into the Gilberto Soto murder and protect and the work of
the Salvadoran Human Rights Ombudsman.

Check out the Teamsters website for more information and the sign the petition

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jay McShann, Jazz Giant, Passes

Jay McShann, a giant of jazz, passed away on December 7 at the age of 90. McShann led the last great Kansas City big band in the 1930s and early 1940s. It was with McShann that Charlie Parker cut his earlier records. (Here's a CD of early Bird with McShann that I would like to hear.) McShann's band featured the blues vocals of Walter Brown, but it was a very important band. Check out this collection of his early 1940s sides. The All Music Guide says " last of the great Kansas City swing big bands." I've read that the McShann band was far more adventurous than what was captured on disc. It is also said that the trunk carrying McShann's arrangements was lost and never recovered when he was drafted into WWII.

After the war when big band swing was out of style, McShann regrouped with a jump swing band. There are number of fine cuts by his groups on the Mercuary Blues and Rhythm Story the Southwest and West Coast.

In 1969 McShann was rediscovered and often featuring violinist Claude Williams, he toured constantly, recorded frequently, and appeared at many jazz festivals, being active into the mid-'90s.

Of his more recent recordings, I recommend Last of the Blue Devils, Man from Muskogee, and Still Jumpin' the Blues--recorded when he was 83.

I had the pleasure of hearing McShann live several times in Wichita and Kansas City.

90 Years of McShann (KC Star)

Slideshow with some McShann music--very nice!!!

KC Star story on Clint Eastwood, McShann, and Pinetop Perkins.

"I grew up listening to a record of `Hot Biscuits' by Jay McShann," Clint Eastwood said. "That and a beer was as good as it got when I was a kid."
The official Jay McShann website
NPR Jazz Profile with sound segments both interviews and music
McShann was featured, along with other KC swing giants in the 1979 documentary Last of the Blue Devils, watch an excerpt here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Look

I've decided to try a new look for my blog when I upgraded to the new beta version of Blogger. Unfortunately, this meant losing some of the formatting. Specifically, my list of links and Kansas blogs are gone. But just temporarily. I'll add them back. Maybe bit by bit.

Brownback is running

Well, it's almost official, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is running for President, or actually running for running for President. He's formed an exploratory committeee.

Jeff Sharlet, author of the devestating Rolling Stone profile of Brownback ("God's Senator"), suggest in the Revealer that "Brownback is running not so much for president, I suspect, as for the leadership of the conservative branch of the G.O.P."

I wonder whether Brownback's quixotic Presidential bid will be so embarrassing that it will severely damage his 2010 Senate re-election campaign and result in Kansas electing its first Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932.

In the latest Survey USA poll he only has 53% approval from Kansans as Senator. He only has $600,000 in his Senate campaign fund which will be transferred to the Presidential campaign. (Brownback did marry into the Staufer family which owned the Topeka newspaper and broadcasting stations so he can probably self-finance to some degree).

In 2010 there just might a Democratic candidate of stature to take him on. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius will be at the end of her second term. Congressman Dennis Moore from Kansas City/Johnson County is now solidly entrenched having won with over 60 percent. Hopefully, Congresswoman Nancy Boyda (Topeka) will be completing her second term. Attorney General Paul Morrison and Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, who converted to the Dems after having served as GOP state chair not too long ago would also be possibilities.

BTW, in 1996 Brownback's campaign did some nasty push polling against Democratic challenger Jill Docking, who had married into the famous Democratic family. Voters were asked if it would make a difference if they knew she was from an East Coast Jewish family, etc.

That and massive secret dollars from the ultra-right wing Koch family were keys to his election.