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A Step Forward for Democracy in D.C.

By: Scott McLarty Tuesday September 16, 2014 11:59 am

“The capital of the nation is the last plantation!” “Free D.C.!”

A sculpture of a red hand labelled "51" and "Give Me A Vote"

“Free D.C.!”

For decades, residents of “America’s last colony” have clamored for the same irrevocable rights as other citizens of the United States.

The movement to bring democracy to the District of Columbia took a step forward on Monday, September 15, when local political leaders and representatives of pro-democracy groups testified in favor of statehood for the nation’s capital city before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

The subject of the committee hearing, which was led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), was the “New Columbia Admissions Act” (S. 132; with counterpart bill H.R. 292 in the U.S. House).

Among those testifying were D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who holds a nonvoting seat in the House, and Mayor Vince Gray. The hearing is unlikely to lead to passage of the two bills any time soon, given Congress’s ongoing gridlock and Republican hostility to D.C. statehood.

But the hearing represents an advance for the statehood movement because a new unity behind the goal of statehood was on display.

Until recently, many of the same officials who now seek statehood preferred another goal, “D.C. voting rights,” which meant a single voting seat for the District in the House of Representatives. Ten years ago, Del. Norton and other Democratic leaders who favored D.C. voting rights tried to discourage D.C. democracy advocates from demanding statehood. Endorsement of statehood was removed from the Democratic Party’s national platform in 2004 and still hasn’t been restored. The promotion of D.C. voting rights legislation led many people to confuse voting representation in Congress with statehood.

This was a mistake. Self-determination and self-government, not representation in a legislature, are the true measures of democracy. Colonies in Africa and Asia and conquered European nations like Ireland held voting seats in the legislatures of nations that ruled over them, even while they suffered exploitation and oppression. Many of these colonies, like Algeria, a French possession until 1962, became free only after violent revolutions.

Our own Founding Fathers and Mothers in the thirteen colonies fought for independence, not voting rights. Patrick Henry never said “Give me a vote in Parliament or give me death.”

The D.C. voting rights legislation went nowhere, and not only because of Republican contempt for the rights of D.C. residents. Even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, most recently in 2009 and 2010, no meaningful expansion of the rights of D.C. residents has taken place after limited Home Rule was granted in 1973. Legislation to grant statehood to D.C. was defeated in the U.S. House in 1993 by a vote of 277 to 153.

Statehood advocates (those not distracted by D.C. voting rights) have always understood that the lack of voting representation in Congress is just one of several reasons for statehood, and that self-government and full equality under the U.S. Constitution for the District with its black majority remain part of the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Movement. (For a more thorough history of the D.C. democracy movement, see “The D.C. Statehood Papers: Writings on D.C. Statehood & Self-government” by Sam Smith.)

Until D.C. becomes a state, Congress holds the power to veto locally passed decisions and impose unwanted laws, policies, and budgets on D.C. residents. Congress threatens to nullify a local marijuana legalization measure: in July, 2014, a Maryland Republican Representative inserted an amendment into the District’s 2015 Appropriation Bill that would stop decriminalization of marijuana from taking effect and remove the initiative from the D.C. ballot in November. In June, House Republicans blocked funding for a law passed by D.C. Council that would eliminate the threat of jail time for marijuana possession. In 1998, Congress overturned a ballot measure for medical marijuana (Initiative 59) that had passed with a 69% majority.

Congress has imposed zero-tolerance laws and a charter-school program; outlawed needle exchange in D.C. to prevent HIV transmission; and prohibited District government from taxing commuters, a source of revenue for all other cities. Congress members have tried to enact the death penalty, impose a school voucher program, and deny benefits for same-sex couples. In 2001, Congress, through an appointed Financial Control Board, ordered Mayor Anthony Williams to dismantle D.C. General Hospital, the District’s sole full-service public health facility.

In the only public referendum on the issue, over 60% of D.C. residents voted in favor of statehood in 1980.

Groups that have consistently advocated statehood, like the Stand Up! for Democracy in D.C. Coalition, the D.C. Statehood Green Party, D.C. Statehood — Yes We Can, and Neighbors United For D.C. Statehood are encouraged that Democratic leaders have seen the light and embraced the call for genuine democracy in the form of statehood.

Weaving a New Star

The New Columbia Admissions Act is consistent with arguments by statehood advocates that statehood for the District can be achieved by an Act of Congress (requiring a 51% simple majority), without a constitutional amendment (requiring ratification by 2/3 of states). In 1846, an Act of Congress removed Arlington from D.C. and ceded it to Virginia, proving that Congress can legally alter the District’s borders.

 

If ISIS Were Really a Movie

By: David Swanson Friday July 1, 2011 10:44 am

Rewrite!

ISIS has created a movie preview for the coming war, a war it eagerly wants Washington to take part in. The White House and Congress would like to oblige, as long as the movie can be a short one, on the model of Libya. Here’s the plot: Evil force arises out of nowhere; United States destroys it; credits roll. If Libya-The-Movie had begun with years of support for Gadaffi or ended with the disaster left behind, the critics would have hated it. Framing is everything.

Kathy Kelly published an article on Wednesday describing her visit some years back to a U.S. prison camp in Iraq where Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai spent four years under the name Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi before becoming the leader of ISIS.

Imagine a Hollywood-like movie that began in that camp. An opening scene might show Baghdadi and his fellow prisoners paraded naked in front of female soldiers and forced to say “I love George Bush” before they could get their food rations. We’d see them sleeping on the ground in the cold, cursing their captors and swearing every last drop of energy and instant of remaining life to that highest of all Hollywood values: violent revenge.

Cut to the present and a scene in a small house in Iraq with 500-pound U.S. bombs exploding just outside. Baghdadi and his gang of loveable heroes look horrified, but — with a twinkle in his eye — Baghdadi gathers the others to him and begins to smile. Then he begins to laugh. His comrades look bewildered. Then they start to catch on. “You wanted this, didn’t you?” exclaims Sexy Female Rebel. “This was your plan, wasn’t it!”

“Hand me the ultimate weapon,” Baghdadi says, turning to a future nominee for best male supporting actor. BMSA grins and pulls out a video camera. Baghdadi raises the camera over his head with one hand. Turning to Sexy Female Rebel he says “Go on the roof and look north. Tell me what you see coming.”

Cut to view through binoculars as music swells to high enthusiasm. Countless oceans of people on foot are making their way over the land with burning U.S. flags on sticks leading the way.

Of course, even Hollywood, which made Avatar, wouldn’t make exactly THIS movie. The White House is going to have to make it. But who’s directing? President Obama is hunting around for a name for this war, while ISIS has already released one in its video preview. Even the U.S. public seems increasingly interested in the full-length feature. “How does this end?” they want to know. “This was begun by Bush” they say, depending on their partisanship.

What if the script were flipped, not to portray the Iraqi as protagonist, but to abandon the religion of violent revenge?  What if Washington were to say to ISIS this:

We see that you want a war with us. We understand that you would gain local support because of how deeply we are hated. We’re tired of being hated. We’re tired of taking direction from criminals like you. We’re not going to play along. We’re going to make ourselves loved rather than hated. We’re going to apologize for our occupations and bombings and prisons and torture. We’re going to make restitution. We’re going to provide aid to the entire region. It’ll cost us a lot less to do that than to keep dropping bombs on you, so you can forget the plan to bankrupt us. We’re going to save trillions of dollars in fact by ceasing to arm ourselves and the rest of the world to the teeth. We’re going to announce a ban on shipping weapons to the Middle East. And since we ship 80% of them, not even counting our own military’s, we’re already off to a huge start. We’re going to prosecute any oil company or country that does business with your organization. But we’re going to hold no grudges against anyone who abandons your organization and seeks peace, just as we ask you to do what you can toward overcoming grudges against our past barbarity.

What would happen? You might be surprised. Gandhi-The-Movie brought in over $50 million in 1982.

Changes to MyFDL

By: Jane Hamsher

When we first opened MyFDL several years ago there was no existing software that allowed us to do what we wanted to do — open up a blog where the entire FDL community could post. So at that time we had to do a lot of adaptation to the WordPress system we run on in order to make it work.

This meant that each time we needed to upgrade WordPress, we had to re-write our own software too, which to be perfectly honest was problematic from the start and has caused a lot of our technical problems over the years.

We find ourselves in a place where we can’t do the needed upgrades to the WordPress system that the entire site runs on and reprogram MyFDL at the same time due to cost and the sheer enormity of the task. So starting tonight at 10 pm ET we are going to be taking MyFDL in its current state offline and replacing it with a more limited community blog that operates on standard WordPress, at least until we can get the rest of the site upgraded.

What does that mean for MyFDL bloggers? For regular MyFDL bloggers, not much. The Over Easy gang and many of the people you see here regularly will have logins and posting privileges on the MyFDL blog, which will function on standard WordPress like any of the other FDL verticals (News, The Dissenter, Just Say Now, etc.).

But MyFDL now has some 33,000 people with diarist permissions, and WordPress in its native form was simply was not built to handle that kind of volume. So much to our sadness we won’t be able to import all of those 33,000 authors to the new blog. We hope that everyone who may find themselves unable to post diaries for the time being will continue to bring their insights and their research to the community in the OverEasy or Late Night threads, because it is your continued participation that makes the community so rich.

We thank everyone for their forbearance while we try to get our system upgraded, and we hope that in the not-too-distant future we’ll be able to solve our programming challenges and be able to create a space that will be both more functional and more suited to the needs of the community.

If you have questions please leave them in the comments section, we’ll be around today and tomorrow answering them.

Over Easy

By: Ruth Calvo Wednesday March 28, 2012 8:50 am

Over Easy

The community that began with Southern Dragon’s Lakeside Diner continues. Today we collect news from outside the usual, and renew the discussion.

We can’t take a personal look at the Antarctic ice cap without taking a ship to the area so most of us are not aware of another dark side of climate change and its effects: the actual darkening of the ice.

The ice pack in Greenland this year is black. Reports Slate’s Eric Holthaus:

‘There are several potential explanations for what’s going on here. The most likely is that some combination of increasingly infrequent summer snowstorms, wind-blown dust, microbial activity, and forest fire soot led to this year’s exceptionally dark ice. A more ominous possibility is that what we’re seeing is the start of a cascading feedback loop tied to global warming. [Climate scientist Jason] Box mentions this summer’s mysterious Siberian holes and offshore methane bubbles as evidence that the Arctic can quickly change in unpredictable ways.

This year, Greenland’s ice sheet was the darkest Box (or anyone else) has ever measured. Box gives the stunning stats: ‘In 2014 the ice sheet is precisely 5.6 percent darker, producing an additional absorption of energy equivalent with roughly twice the US annual electricity consumption.’

Voters in Scotland have been casting their ballots on the independence of that country, with prediction of disaster and of new and heady powers balancing each other to nearly even predictions as to the results. The state of the U.K. has alienated many in the country it rules; ‘Some see the U.K. as stuck in a postimperial, postindustrial crisis in which marketization threatens the very fabric of the society, imperiling its finest institutions, such as the National Health Service and British universities. ‘

A Panelbase poll released earlier on Wednesday, which was not carried out for any media outlet, suggested support for independence was on 48%, with 52% support for Scotland staying in the UK, once undecided voters were excluded.

The Pope will meet with Argentine president de Kirchner Saturday, with vulture funds’ court decisions part of the agenda, as well as the governance of the embattled country, a Vatican spokesman confirmed.

‘He is Argentine and has lived what we all have. He supports the democratic process, that means watching for Cristina (Fernández),’ Karcher said in statements to media this morning ahead of a meeting between the pontiff and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to be held in the papal residency of Santa Marta this weekend.

Regarding the meeting’s agenda, the monsignor considered the scope of issues the heads of state are expected to discuss ‘very wide’ with ‘no matter being excluded,’ leaving a door open for both leaders to address Argentina’s legal dispute against vulture funds. Pope Francis, Karcher said, ‘is critical of any position that does not favour the people.’

Never.Give.Up.

Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday September 17, 2014 8:15 pm

 

A woman in a flowing white skirt stands in the doorway of a stone building.

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino invoke the traditional music and dance of Italy’s Salento region.

Tonight’s music video is “Nu Tu Fermare” by Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino.

Formed by writer Rina Durante in 1975, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino is regarded as Italy’s leading and longest-standing traditional music ensemble, hailing from the Salento, the heel of the Italian boot, in Puglia.

Italy’s fascinating dichotomy of tradition and modernity come together in the music of CGS: the seven piece band and dancer are the leading exponents in a new wave of young performers re-inventing Southern Italy’s Pizzica musical and dance traditions for today’s global audience.

The tens of thousands who often congregate for this Lecce-based band’s concerts in Italy know: Bandleader, fiddler, and drummer Mauro Durante and company can make an audience shimmy with the energy of the ancient ritual of pizzica tarantata, said to cure the taranta spider’s bite with its frenzied trance dances. CGS shows are a life explosion: full of energy, passion, rhythm and mystery, they bring the audience from the past into modernity, and back.

Like Dwayne Dopsie and Tsuumi Sound System, this is another band that played at Satuday’s International Accordion Festival. Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino are “traditional” in a way that reminds me of groups like Dead Can Dance — using ancient melodies toward a modern aim. They were the last act at the Festival, closing out the day in the darkness with the lights of San Antonio behind them. Their music emphasizes string instruments and traditional percussion, and as they wailed and hummed into the night I could close my eyes and feel myself carried somewhere very far from Texas, to a place that seemed both timeless and long ago. I don’t know how I would have discovered the haunting music of this ensemble without this event; I really hope the San Antonio City Council continues to fund the Festival for many more years.

Jeff Wilson, a professor at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas, has moved into a 36-square-foot dumpster as an experiment in designing simpler livingThe Atlantic profiled his project:

Professor Wilson went to the dumpster not just because he wished to live deliberately, and not just to teach his students about the environmental impacts of day-to-day life, and not just to gradually transform the dumpster into “the most thoughtfully-designed, tiniest home ever constructed.” Wilson’s reasons are a tapestry of these things.

Until this summer, the green dumpster was even less descript than it is now. There was no sliding roof; Wilson kept the rain out with a tarp. He slept on cardboard mats on the floor. It was essentially, as he called it, ‘dumpster camping.’ The goal was to establish a baseline experience of the dumpster without any accoutrements, before adding them incrementally.

[...] Wilson, known around town as Professor Dumpster, recounted in another recent interview that he now owns four pairs of pants, four shirts, three pairs of shoes, three hats, and, in keeping with his hipsteresque aesthetic, “eight or nine” bow ties. (That’s an exceptional bow-tie-to-shirt ownership ratio.) He keeps all of this in cubbies under a recently installed false floor, along with some camping cooking equipment.

Customization of the space really began in July. Wilson asked Twitter what was the first thing he needed, and the response was almost unanimous: air conditioning. In the Austin heat, the dumpster was getting up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. On some nights it did not fall below the high 80s. So on his six-month anniversary of living in a human-sized convection oven, Wilson procured a modest air conditioner.

[...] With the weather station now strapped to the top, Wilson tracks his personal climate in real time. Pulling up data on his computer from inside his centrally cooled office as we spoke, he announced that the dumpster was currently 104 degrees. During the spring, when Austin was a little cooler, he was able to pass some daytime hours in the dumpster. With the arrival of summer, that became unbearable. ‘But some interesting things happened because of that,’ he explained. He spent a lot more time out in the community, just walking around. ‘I almost feel like East Austin is my home and backyard,’ he said.

[...] ‘What does home look like in a world of 10 billion people?’ the project’s site implores, referring to the projected 40 percent increase in the human population by the end of the century. ‘How do we equip current and future generations with the tools they need for sustainable living practices?’

Read the full article for more information and some great photos.

Good News from Sweden — Sort Of

By: Deena Stryker Tuesday September 16, 2014 5:05 pm
Swedish Flag against a blue sky

“Sweden’s victorious Social Democratic Party stressed its inclusive policy toward immigrants.”

If I often write about fascism, it’s because it is the lynchpin of current events. Fascism comes in many stripes and colors. The old fascism, which revolved around anti-Semitism, is still represented by Ukraine’s Right Sektor and its wolfangel-wearing associated thugs. With the new fascism, Israel is officially Washington’s junior partner, in practice often wagging its tail. Europe’s centuries-old anti-Semitism has been reinvigorated by Israel’s attitude toward the Palestinians, while a more recent one targets immigration.

As ISIS’s thirty thousand strong army — a ridiculous number compared to the approximately 150,000 that the U.S. had in Iraq — continues to take and hold territory, beheading Westerners along the way, today’s fascism piece is inspired by the Social Democrats’ win in Sweden that was accompanied by a rise in its anti-immigrant party, putting Sweden in league with France and Greece. Sweden’s ‘Democrats’ garnered 13%, a figure similar to those of other European extreme-right parties that marked take-offs soon boasting a fourth of the electorate.

It’s certainly good news that the party that pioneered the Nordic welfare state in the early twentieth century (yes indeed!), is back in power after ten years of despicable center-right rule  by the people who accused Jullian Assange of sex crimes and refused to guarantee that he wouldn’t be extradited to the U.S. for Wikileak’s revelations. (Assange’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that he expects to soon leave the Ecuadoran Embassy in London where he has been holed up for over two years may have been inspired by his anticipation of this election result…)

The far-right parties original supporters come overwhelmingly from the center-right, but their ascension is typically marked by defections from the left. They are defined by their anti-immigrant stance, hence the title of this article: this particular fascism that we see spreading across Europe is centered on the ‘threat’ posed by an on-going flux of immigrants, mainly from Islamic and Black Africa. When I was living in France in the eighties and nineties, I had already remarked that these parties’ followers had failed to do the simple math: with Europe representing about 300 million inhabitants at that time, Africa counted about 800,000. Now an enlarged Europe has 500 million, while Africa tops 1.1 billion, the second growing faster than the first, (while China is leveling off at over 1.3 billion, having been just under 1.3 billion in the nineties…).

These figures should give anyone pause. But Europeans apparently believe that their centuries of culture evidenced as well in their well-tended landscapes as in their monuments, guarantee a superiority that ‘barbarians’ will never be able to challenge. By the time they wake up, it will be too late, and that is where the significance of the Swedish vote comes in.

Responding to the rightward drift of the electorate, the victorious Social Democratic Party stressed its commitment to Sweden’s ‘inclusive’ policy toward immigrants. The Nordic countries have for decades had a robust pro-Third World stance that staffs UN development organizations as well as NGO’s on the ground. But devotion to the idea of equity between black, brown and white in what has always constituted a minority of the world’s total population is unlikely to affect an overall rightward drift. The North’s technological and cultural achievements will continue to blind it to the fact that the Caucasians are a minority in the world, which with each passing day becomes more ‘absolute’.

Agency Requests Underscore Wisconsin’s Budget Challenges

By: WI Budget Project Tuesday September 16, 2014 2:11 pm
A dollar being cut with scissors

Wisconsin agencies need more money, but the state budget faces serious shortfalls.

Most state agencies have submitted their budget requests for Wisconsin’s upcoming 2015-17 budget. These requests are worth taking a look at because they can give some insight into Governor Walker’s priorities for the next budget. The requests can be found here, on the Department of Administration’s website.

Back in July, Governor Walker told state agencies that their 2015-17 budget requests should assume that there will be zero growth in General Purpose Revenue (GPR) appropriations. (He did carve out a few exceptions to that rule.) But nearly all the major agencies that have submitted requests so far requested at least modest increases in funding. The growing tab for these requests helps illustrate the significant challenge of balance a budget at a time when the state is expected to needs almost $1.8 billion of revenue growth just to provide flat funding.

One agency, the Department of Health Services, has indicated that it will require a big boost in spending to pay for health care for people with low incomes: $760 million over two years. Part of the added cost comes from the fact that the federal government  decreases the share it pays of the state’s Medicaid program as Wisconsin’s economy improves.  It’s unclear from the DHS document whether they are seeking a $760 million increase in General Fund spending or plan to make  to make very large Medicaid cuts to offset the increased costs.

The new Medicaid cost projections make it clearer than ever why Wisconsin should accept the federal funding for expanding BadgerCare coverage, which the Fiscal Bureau estimated could save as much as $300 million in the next budget period.

Other budget requests include:

  • No increase in GPR for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state’s lead economic development organization;
  • An increase of 1.9% GPR, or $45 million, for the Department of Corrections, with few large new initiatives proposed;
  • A 6.1% increase in GPR for the Department of Justice;
  •  $95 million in new GPR for the University of Wisconsin, to “fund a new plan to create jobs, boost graduation numbers, and deal with a tuition freeze;” and
  • A 10.1% increase in GPR for the State Public Defender Board, which includes funding for a pay raise for public defender attorneys, and an increase in the rate paid when the agency contracts with outside attorneys for services.

Not all state agencies have submitted their complete budget proposals at this point. In particular, the Department of Public Instruction has submitted a budget request that covers school safety and technology, but doesn’t plan to submit the request related to school funding until later this fall. DPI’s initial request asks for money to support a new school safety center, which would provide guidance to schools on school violence and emergency preparedness. DPI has also asked to provide additional funding directly to districts to support programs and activities that prevent school violence and protect students.

Jury Selection: The Most Important Part of Michael Dunn’s Retrial

By: Masoninblue
An artist's drawing of a jury box with 12 jurors in it

“Jury selection will be the most important part of the Michael Dunn retrial.”

Jury selection will be the most important part of the Michael Dunn retrial, which is scheduled to start next Monday. To have any chance to convict Michael Dunn of murdering Jordan Davis, the prosecution must screen for, identify and exclude any prospective juror who believes that it’s reasonable to assume that:

  1. a black 16 to 21-year-old male who likes to listen to loud rap music is an angry thug;
  2. a black 16 to 21-year-old male who lips off at an adult white male who orders him to turn down the volume is an angry thug;
  3. a black 16 to 21-year-old male who cranks up the volume after being ordered to turn it down is an angry thug;
  4. it’s reasonable for an adult white male to assume that an angry black thug who confronts him is armed and intends to kill or seriously hurt him; and
  5. it’s reasonably necessary for an adult white male to use deadly force in self-defense to prevent an angry black thug from killing or seriously injuring him.

The best way to determine if any prospective jurors hold these views is to ask them a series of hypothetical questions to discover if they fear black 16 to 21-year-old males.

For example, if you were walking down a sidewalk by yourself and saw a black 16 to 21-year-old male walking toward you, would you,

  • continue walking toward him and ignore him;
  • continue walking toward him and greet him;
  • cross the street and walk down the other side; or
  • turn around and walk the other way?

The use of hypothetical questions is the best way to uncover racial prejudice.

Can you think of any other hypothetical questions that you might ask during voir dire?

Finally, if you were a prosecutor, would you rather try this case to a judge according to the procedure followed in South Africa?

Would your answer change, if you were defense counsel?

The most important disputed questions of fact in the case are whether Jordan Davis was armed or had something that looked like a weapon in his hands, and if he was attempting to get out of the back seat of the SUV when Dunn squeezed off multiple shots at him.

FYI: Judge Healey denied a defense motion for a change of venue, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach to see if the extensive publicity about the shooting and the first trial has made it impossible to seat a twelve-person jury that can fairly and impartially decide the case (i.e., jurors have already formed an opinion about what the outcome should be). Once chosen, the jury will be sequestered.