Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Legacy Of 9/11: The Path Not Taken And The Death Of The American Dream.

How The American Right Used 9/11 To Kill The Progressive Dream.

By Frankly Speaking

After the horrific events of 11 years ago there was a brief period when it seemed as if everyone in the country was on the same page and that even though we faced some tough choices it appeared that the terrorists had united us. We had been attacked by a brutal and immoral enemy that struck us at home and targeted our fellow Americans - innocent men, women and children. We were a nation in shock. We wanted to honor those we had lost and the families they left behind. We wanted to ensure that those sacrifices were not in vain and that we would never be subject to such a heinous attack again. We wanted victory. We were not going to let these monsters divide us. There were multiple paths that we could have taken in reaction to this horrendous assault on our people, our culture and our freedoms and it felt like we were going to do the right thing and we were going to summon our better angels and rise above the evil.

Well, we didn't. We took the easier path. The path of fear, suspicion and paranoia. The path of revenge and hatred. The path of cynicism and division. The path of intolerance, hatred and exclusion. The path of mistrust of outsiders and of each other. The path of violence and perpetual warfare.

Where We Are Now:

We've allowed our government to betray the very foundations of our nation and the  freedoms that we had always held most sacred. We stood by as our personal freedoms were eroded in the name of security. We fostered a culture of suspicion. We demonized whole religions and peoples because we didn't understand them, because they were different than we were. We turned on each other: white against brown, men against women, right against left, rich against poor, Middle America and the South against the Coasts, Workers against Corporations, law enforcement against the people, Red against Blue, Christians against Muslims.

We incarcerated millions of our young, disenfranchised and minority citizens and killed thousands of people while confiscating millions of dollars of property under the pretext of the failed War On Drugs. All the while  corporate law enforcement and private prison interests, banks, politicians and even the bloodthirsty petty thugs of the cartels became obscenely rich. We watched with disinterest as those same cartels murdered thousands of innocent Mexican civilians and threw Mexico into a virtual civil war in their pursuit of profits and to feed our insatiable appetite for illegal drugs.

We armed our citizens to the teeth, passed laws that not only allowed them to carry weapons everywhere but also allowed them to assault and kill each other in public under "stand your ground" laws. We watched as disturbed people took out their frustrations and committed mass killings with military style assault weapons and we never really did anything to try to curb it.

We entered 2 wars on the other side of the world. We.were lied to about WMDs to justify a war of vengeance in Iraq and we entered the longest war in US history in Afghanistan. These wars have been paid for with the blood and lives of many thousands of our children. Wars that have left hundreds of thousands of them wounded, both physically and mentally, many of them permanently. These wars have killed additional hundreds of thousands of innocent foreign civilians and have caused deep wounds to their nations that may take generations to heal. These wars have also cost us trillions of dollars that could have been put to much better use to build our society rather than tear it, and other countries, down. These wars have also helped to enrich greedy corporate interests and have made the Military Industrial Complex more powerful than ever, all at the expense of our freedoms. These wars have also drained our national coffers and left us essentially broke and instead of doing the responsible thing and raising revenue to pay for them, we gave huge tax cuts to the rich and powerful.

Now that these wars are winding down, we are pursuing a policy of indiscriminate murder via the use of drones against suspected terrorists resulting in many civilian deaths AKA collateral damage.

Now the war drums are beating again for action against Iran.

We fostered an atmosphere of political, class and religious intolerance that encourages people to mistrust each other simply because they don't look like us, don't speak the same language, don't worship in the same way (or don't worship at all), don't make as much money as we do, make more money than we do or don't agree with us. We treated compromise as a weakness and began to view stubbornness and intransigence as strengths and as desirable and respectable values.

We have attacked social welfare programs that help the weakest in our society and the middle class while protecting corporate welfare and excusing the most fortunate from contributing their fair share. We have allowed corporate and monied interests unlimited access to our politicians and our government and given them the power to make law through their lobbyists and with their money.

All these things: The fracturing of the American People and Our Nation: Waging War on foreign countries and our own citizens: The movement away from personal freedoms and towards a totalitarian and fascist society:  Depleting our resources through war and class divisions: Abandoning the weakest among us: Eroding our education system: Allowing our infrastructure to crumble... They all weaken us.

Weren't these the goals of the people who attacked us? Don't you think that they believe that these are victories?

Where We Might Have Been:

We could have taken the admittedly more difficult journey and achieved our own victory by rebuilding our society into a nation that we could all be proud of. We could have chosen the moral highroad and committed ourselves to forging a more perfect union that lifted all of its citizens. We could have united and pledged to build a society that valued peace, courage, tolerance and inclusion. A society that worked to preserve personal freedoms and opportunities for all Americans. A society in which we moved towards more environmentally friendly communities with an emphasis on renewable energy sources and energy independence.

We could have invested in infrastructure, providing jobs for millions as we upgraded our highways and bridges. We could have modernized mass transportation and helped to ease the overburdened road system.

We could have invested in renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and geothermal power and weaned ourselves from the fossil fuel teat, becoming much less dependent on foreign energy. We could have lowered our output of greenhouse gasses as we provided good paying jobs for millions.

If we didn't rely so much on foreign oil maybe we wouldn't have felt so compelled to get militarily involved in the powder keg of the Middle East. Thousands of our youth might still be with their families and be contributing to our society instead of losing their lives and getting emotionally and physically maimed while fighting wars that exist to line the pockets of immoral and greedy men.

We could have ended Cannabis Prohibition and the War on Drugs, relieving our overcrowded prison system and overtaxed justice system of millions of  prisoners convicted of non-violent drug offenses and allowing those people to make positive contributions to society. We could treat addiction as a healthcare issue instead of a criminal one. We could give patients access to medications that have been recommended by their doctors. We could use industrial hemp for building materials, bio fuel, food, fabric and a hundred other commercial uses; providing a natural low maintenance crop for struggling farmers and millions of jobs for unemployed Americans as well as tax revenue for state and federal governments.

We could have taken real steps to make sure that all Americans would have access to preventive healthcare and to ensure that no citizen would die because they could not afford to see a doctor. We could have made sure that all American kids received a free high quality K-12 education and ensured that every American kid would have affordable access to Higher Education. We could have provided hope for all Americans.

We could have made sure that Social Security would always be there for our seniors and disabled citizens. We could have made sure that all the safety nets were available for Americans who need it and that no American child would ever go hungry.

And on and on.

That would have been a clear victory for us. We would have proved, as previous generations have, that Americans have an indomitable spirit and when we are down we work together for the greater good and lift ourselves and the whole country and build a better society for everyone.

How Did We Get Here?

The seeds of our current society were planted many years before 2001. The Progressive movement was pummeled for decades starting in '63 with the Kennedy assassination which is often cited as the moment that America "grew up".

It can be argued that the fatal blows to the Progressive movement in this country were landed in the summer of '68 when we lost 2 major Progressive voices in Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. If  RFK had lived the chances are that we would not have had Nixon's crooked Presidency and his war on drugs... which paved the way for Reagan's trickle down Presidency... which, in turn, paved the way for Bush/Cheney who tried to put the final nails in the coffin of Progressivism, and who were unpopular and were actually failing until that fatal day in 2001.

Or maybe it was the shock of Vietnam and the realization that America could be wrong and that our government was not the benevolent entity that we had hoped it was.

Regardless, after a string of defeats and setbacks, the Progressive movement seemed to have lost its appetite for the fight since the early 70s.

Since the "Reagan Revolution" in 1980, the American Right has methodically attacked and dismantled what they derisively called the "nanny state": The parts of the government which call for shared responsibility and sacrifice for the common good and to care for the least fortunate and most vulnerable among us. The parts which promoted individualism and free thought over societal and religious "norms". The parts that tried to protect the People, workers and the environment from corporate and government malfeasance and overreach.

They perfected  the art of Orwellian Doublespeak. People who were for war, the death penalty, denying people healthcare were called Pro-Life because they wanted to deny women the right to control their own bodies. The Estate Tax was renamed the Death Tax. End of life counseling was called Death Panels.

They claimed they wanted to end Big Government but their real goal was to shift the focus of Big Government to a "daddy" state. A government in which the military and law enforcement forces ruled supreme. A government which would value corporate interests over the interests of people. A government which could tell people how to act and think. A government which could keep women, minorities and free thinkers in their place. A government which could control who gets to vote.

For 3 decades American Right has been slowly  "starving the beast" using bogus supply side philosophy to dismantle the Progressive gains of the 20th century. They lowered taxes for corporations and individuals and created huge loopholes to cut revenues. They expanded Military spending at obscene rates. They deregulated business and the financial markets and rewarded reckless money traders with additional tax cuts which weren't available to people who worked to actually produce products and services. They offered huge corporate welfare programs, which they called subsidies, to corporations that didn't need them. They demonized and busted Unions so that workers had less power to control their lives.

They also demonized social programs. The idea that there was all this money that they could not get their hands on infuriated them. Their goal was to raid government departments and programs that employed millions of people and provided benefits for millions more, and privatize them so they could profit off of them.

The inevitable and predictable result was soaring debt and deficits. Once the hens came home to roost whom did they blame? They blamed Liberals.They blamed the poor, whom they claimed were just lazy. They blamed social programs, like Social Security, Welfare, Medicare and Medicaid, that they claimed fostered a culture of dependence and proceeded to try to defund them.

9/11 presented an opportunity for the American Right to hammer the final nail in the Progressive coffin and they used the anger, frustration and fears of the American People to further own political goals and finish the job they had started decades before.

"They Hate Us For Our Freedoms"

Conservatives like to frame things in stark black and white terms. Good vs Evil, Right vs Wrong, Us vs Them, there is no shade of grey, there's no middle ground.

After 9/11 President Bush said that Al-Qaeda "hates us for our freedoms". That's a snappy sound bite and it's easy to understand and get behind.

Without getting into the argument about the motivations behind the attacks, I think it's safe to say that it's more complicated than that.

This is not strictly Al-Qaeda vs The US or the West and it certainly is not a new conflict. 9/11 was just the latest event in a bloody religious and cultural war who's roots can be traced over fifteen hundred years of history to the birth of Islam in the 6th century and who's path leads pretty much uninterrupted through the crusades of the 12th through 14th centuries, the colonization of the 19th and 20th centuries and all the way to the present. Both sides have been victimized and both sides have committed unspeakable atrocities against each other over the span of this conflict. It's been mutually destructive and mutually beneficial as both sides have also used this conflict to demonize each other and to distract their people with fear, hatred and vengeful thoughts so that they can further oppress and control them. 

What is Freedom Anyway?

Progressives believe that a People's freedom and a nation's strength is directly connected to how it treats its weakest and least fortunate citizens.

We believe that a Free Society:
  •  Has a government that plays a positive role in society including helping to lift people up to give them the opportunity to exercise their rights of  "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence. 
  •  Has reasonable regulations on corporations and commerce in order to protect the people, the economy and the environment.
  • Ensures that essential services such as healthcare, education, courts and law enforcement are not run on a strictly for profit basis and that they are available and affordable to all citizens regardless of financial status.
  • Allows its people to consume what they wish and act as they wish as long as they don't cause harm to other people, the economy, the environment etc.
  • Protects the rights of minorities (be they racial, cultural, social, religious etc,) from the whims of the majority.
  • Does not have a government that favors one religion over another. (This does not mean that government is anti-religion but that it respects and protects all religions.)
  • Has a strong reasonably funded military and law enforcement community that serves to protect the people and the nation, not to protect special interests, not to control the population, not to dominate the world or invade other nations to impose our will on them.
  • Expects those who have benefited most from our society and can best afford it to live up to their moral obligation to pitch in a little more and help empower those that have been left behind.

Conservatives believe that all those ideals actually infringe on the freedom of individuals to control their wealth and lives and that true freedom is allowing unregulated commerce and economic Darwinism and letting the chips fall as they may. They believe that freedom lies in a nation that favors the dominant religion and legislates religious dogma and the behavior of its citizens based on those beliefs. They believe in a strong overwhelming military and law enforcement establishment that they can use to impose their will on the people. They believe that freedom really only needs to be available to some people and that it is appropriate to deny people or groups their rights in order to protect the beliefs and lifestyles of whom they believe have the correct political and religious views. So they try to deny women the rights to their own bodies, they try to deny Muslims the rights to worship where they please, they try to deny healthcare to the poor and disenfranchised. The result is a society divided along class, racial, sexual, political, religious and gender lines in which distracts the people and has them fighting amongst each other while the rich and corporations hold all the power. They will be the ones who determine who gets education, who gets opportunity, who gets the good jobs, who gets healthcare, who will be able to feed their children, who succeeds and who fails, who lives and who dies.

What's Next?
This is not the first time that we, as a nation have been here. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries we were in a similar economic and political situation. Corporations ruled supreme and the government bolstered that by passing laws that supported them over people. That began to change when the labor movement began in the late 19th century. In 1901 Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican and Progressive, became president after the assassination of President McKinley. Roosevelt became known as a "trust buster", breaking up huge corporate monopolies and diluting their power. Women won the right to vote in 1920 and in the '30s another Roosevelt, FDR, took over during the depression and led the country to prosperity through work (stimulus) programs and by installing Social Security and other social safety nets. In the 60's JFK and LBJ championed civil rights and LBJ declared the War on Poverty, talked about the Great Society and enacted Medicare and Medicaid.

All these presidents faced fierce opposition from the ruling class, but they did what they believed was right and they were supported by the electorate.

It takes strong, visionary leadership and an engaged electorate  to make real change. Neither of the two main presidential candidates really qualify. Romney is obviously a member of the 1% who just wants to strengthen the power of the ruling class. Obama campaigned as a Progressive agent of change, but has governed as centrist with no real stomach for the nitty gritty of meaningful change. He has also face a divided electorate and an intransigent opposition party. He isn't the answer to the problem, but he is acting as a force that slows the trend towards a plutocracy.

In this country when 50% of eligible voters actually vote, it's considered a high turnout. This means that millions of people are not exercising their right to vote. It's estimated that 90 Million eligible voters will not vote this year. The rich, seniors and educated tend to vote in large numbers and youth, minorities and poor tend not to, so our government reflects that and is stacked against the non voting public. If everyone voted, this government would not look like it does now and would be more representative of the people.

Progressives need to wake up and become active again. We need to look everywhere for champions for our cause, be it within the two parties or independents and 3rd party candidates.

I believe that the Occupy movement is a positive force, similar to the early labor movement, that is making people take a more critical look at what we want this country to look like. I would say it's not strictly a Progressive movement but, more of a Libertarian/Progressive hybrid. What it really does is illustrate to people that there is significant dissatisfaction with the status quo and that people are willing to speak out about injustice and unfairness. Perhaps it will motivate Progressives to take action.

Maybe it's just the old Progressive dreamer in me. Maybe I'm just an incurable old Hippie. I still think we have a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and set our nation back on a moral and free path.

I still believe that Freedom is better than Oppression, that Democracy is better than Authoritarianism, that Cooperation is better than Conflict, that Unity is better than Division, that Tolerance is better than Bigotry, that Peace is better than War and that Love is better than Hate.

Monday, September 10, 2012

WATCH: Bill Moyers and Bernie Sanders on Money, Politics and Democratic Socialism

"Can I prove he (Obama) is not a Socialist? Yeah, look at his record, he's not a Socialist."  Bernie Sanders answering conservative claims that the President is a Socialist.

Bill Moyers is one of the most thoughtful journalist of  the last 50 years.

This month he sat down to chat with Bernie Sanders, who is the Progressive conscience and voice of the U.S. Senate and the Federal Government..

This is a wonderful interview in which Sanders explains the Progressive approach and philosophy to fixing this nation.

Bernie Sanders: "If you ask me, Am I a Democratic Socialist? I am.

Which Means that Healthcare should be a right of all people, Which means Higher Education should be a right. Kids shouldn't graduate $50,000 in debt. Which means that we should pass legislation that represents interests of working families, not big money interests. Which means we should be aggressive in reversing Global Warming and protecting the Environment for future generations. Which means that workers earn a decent wage...

To be a Democratic Socialist is to say: 'Hey we have 15% of our people unemployed today or underemployed, that's the reality. Close to 25 million workers. We're going to have a jobs program to put those people back to work. We're going to deal with the deficit in a Progressive and fair way..."

Watch The Entire Conversation Here: Bernie Sanders On Money, Politics and Democratic Socialism

A Father's Plea: End The War On Drugs

Editor's note: Javier Sicilia is one of Mexico's most highly regarded poets and the leader of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity. His son, Juan Francisco, was murdered last year near his hometown of Cuernavaca. The Movement's Caravan for Peace crossed the border at San Diego on August 12 and is touring the U.S.. Follow on Twitter @caravanaUSA

By Javier Sicilia

(CNN) -- Why was my son murdered? He was 24, and he had never tried drugs. He didn't even smoke. He had paid half his university costs with a sports scholarship and was working as administrative staff at a cardiac clinic in Morelos, Mexico. Why then was my son suffocated by hit men from the Gulf Cartel? Why did his six friends, just like him, die at his side?

The answer, you may tell me, is obvious. "Because drug traffickers are bad, and must be stopped." The answer, however, is not that simple. If it were I would not be leading a caravan for peace across the United States. Let's pose the question differently. If Mexico's President Felipe Calderon had treated drug abuse as a question of public health rather than a matter of national security, might my son and his friends still be alive today? If instead of declaring war on drug trafficking, Calderón had pursued a bilateral agenda with the United States to decriminalize drugs and regulate their use, is it possible that they and tens of thousands of other young people killed in the last six years would be still be with us?

Declaring a war obliges one's enemy to build up defensive armies. And if the principal tactic of that war is identifying and taking out crime syndicate leaders, it leaves their decapitated, but ever profitable, organizations adrift. President Calderon went on the offensive against cartel "capos." The result was a proliferation of criminal gangs.

My son, Juan Francisco, and his friends were kidnapped, tortured and killed by one of those new splinter gangs, who did the hit for just $25,000 and two pickup trucks.

Javier Sicilia
Javier Sicilia

Javier Sicilia's last poem
The world is not worthy of words
they have been suffocated from the inside
as they suffocated you, 
as they tore apart your lungs ...

the pain does not leave me
all that remains is a world
through the silence of the righteous,
only through your silence and my silence, Juanelo.

Dedicated to his son, Juan Francisco

Why? One of the young men killed with my son had complained about a theft in the valet parking of a bar that turned out to be managed by one of the criminal gangs untethered after drug lord Beltrán Leyva was killed and his lieutenants scattered. "Comandante H," a former Beltrán Leyva confidante, was recently apprehended by authorities, telling his captors, "I was quite outraged when they murdered Sicilia's son and his friends. Murdering innocent people is not our business. Our business is drugs. But I was fleeing, and I could not do anything."

The horrific story of my son and his friends is one of thousands like it in our country. More than 60,000 people have been killed and 20,000 have disappeared because of the myopic war strategy Felipe Calderon and the Mexican security forces have pursued since 2006. Some murder estimates are even higher.

That is why I stopped writing poetry and took to the streets with thousands of other grieving Mexicans to make my son, and other victims like him, visible. Now, I'm traveling across the United States with members of dozens of families broken by violence to seek common cause with Americans whose communities, especially the African American and Latino communities who have so warmly hosted us, that have been battered by the violence and the criminalization that this same counterproductive war inflicts on the U.S. side of the border.

The path of peace must be taken by both our nations in concert. We know that President Calderón would not have declared his war without U.S. sponsorship, money and military advice.

A grieving father's peace crusade
Bodies dismembered in cartel violence
Zakaria: Mexico turning tide in drug war
Drug traffickers would not be able to fight this war without the high-powered assault weapons which, legalized in the United States, now flood over the Mexican border. Drug lords could not afford their wars without massive illegal drug profits and collusion by international banks to launder their money.
Forty-plus years after U.S. President Nixon declared the drug war, it is time to concede it hasn't worked any more than alcohol Prohibition worked back in the 1920s.

This is why, after traveling in two caravans across Mexico and, talking twice with President Calderon on live television, our movement of war victims called for a caravan across the United States. We started in San Diego on August 12th and we will end in Washington, D.C., on September 12th. With each mile traveled, we seek to raise awareness and spur the good conscience of the people of the United States, while reframing the issues of war and peace on the bilateral agenda of Mexico and the United States. We implore the governments of Mexico and of the United States to accept co-responsibility for ending the disastrous drug war.

We've been encouraged by the warmth and breadth of support we've experienced on our journey, from thousands of Americans, including grieving moms who've lost their children to drug addiction and top cops who have decided to speak out against the destruction wrought by prohibition. Yet even as we are carried forward by the momentum of this fresh dialogue, another voice echoes.

Every time I close my eyes I see my son's gaze moments before his death. He is afraid, very afraid, and behind his fear I hear a horrible question. "If drugs were legalized, and there were no weapons, would I be here, just about to die? Go, dad, leave all your things behind and tell everyone that this war is destroying more people than the drugs themselves. Tell them that no prohibition is worth the death of any person. Go tell them that we need to find peace, so that no other father will have to see his son die like this, and no son will again suffer what I am suffering."

This is why we have come to the United States. If we do not make peace together, we will never find it.

Link: A Father's plea: End the War On Drugs
Source: CNN

Sunday, September 9, 2012

You Have A Choice... Vote 3rd Party.

It's not Ross Perot's fault that Clinton won in 1992.

It's not Ralph Nader's fault that Bush won in 2000.

It's not the fault of those who voted for them either.

Third party candidates have a Constitutional Right to run for President and Voters have a Constitutional Duty to vote their conscience.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why The Death Penalty Needs To Be Abolished


After 24 years on Death Row, Michael Keenan was released yesterday after evidence that the prosecution withheld evidence that would have exonerated him of the 1988 murder of Tony Klann.
A Catholic priest who befriended D’Ambrosio in prison and was convinced of his innocence worked with lawyers to uncover evidence favorable to both defendants that had been withheld by county prosecutors at trial.
That evidence included police statements that concluded Klann could not have been killed at Doan Brook, as the prosecutors’ only eyewitness to the killing claimed.
Our court system is supposed to be a neutral player in the process of justice but there exists a perverse incentive for prosecutors to “rack up a high score” in order to get promotions and establish a legacy of being “tough on crime.” This is particularly true if the prosecutor has political aspirations. Keenan’s case is a perfect example of this; vital evidence, from the police themselves, was withheld to secure what is now, in hindsight, a highly dubious conviction. This would be bad enough in a regular trial but to do so in a murder trial is tantamount to a criminal act in itself. The Fat Smug Bastard has suggested the easiest of all solutions to this epidemic of ambition: every time a prosecutor is found to have deliberately concealed evidence or lied in court to secure a conviction, that prosecutor is to serve the same sentence their victim served, including death if they had already been executed. Sounds eminently logical and fair to me.

There are currently 33 states that have the death penalty. How many innocent people have been executed? It doesn’t really matter. One is too many. Yet we continue with executions, sometimes going so far as to cheer wildly at the body count. The system is so invested in the illusion of its infallibility that death row inmates like Henry Skinner have to fight tooth and nail to have DNA evidence tested at no cost to the state (Skinner was eventually granted the right to have the DNA test run and the results are pending).

Over 130 people have had their death row convictions overturned since 1973. That’s almost ten percent of the number of people executed since 1976. The last time I checked, the Constitution did not make the claim that ten percent is an acceptable margin of error when killing United States citizens.

Allow me to address two criticisms before they’re made, one from the right and one from the left: First, I am not the stereotypical liberal that opposes the death penalty because I treasure all life. That’s not to say that I don’t treasure life but I have no personal compunction about taking the life of a cold-blooded murderer. However, I do have a problem with killing innocent people. Once that step is taken, there’s no mulligans. We, the people, have killed the wrong man or woman and we have to live with that. The bloodthirsty throngs of Republican voters like to pretend that justice has been served and it’s worth the life of a few innocents. Lovely, until the innocent is you or a loved one. And, really, in the final analysis, it’s all about vengeance and nothing else. Capital punishment does not act as a deterrent, it does not lower crime rates, it does nothing except slake the need for payback and mollify the anger of the populace. There’s a reason that conservative red states, whose defining characteristic is, after all, anger, carry out the majority of executions.

The second criticism is that the same standard should be applied to civilian casualties on the battlefield. No, it shouldn’t and no, it can’t. We execute men and women in prisons where the state has total control. It is a deliberate and purposeful act with no possibility of killing anyone other than the prisoner. Warfare is a messy business and precision is in the eye of the beholder. Where once we firebombed the city of Dresden to destroy some factories and make a statement, killing over 25,000 civilians including women and children in a single night, now we can level a building or a house without having to destroy several city blocks. Yes, there are still civilian casualties but we can limit those if we try. That we haven’t done so in Iraq and Afghanistan is an entirely legitimate debate to have at another time.

Aside from the simple fact that we have, without a shred of reasonable doubt, executed innocent people, the corruption and imbalance of the system is manifest. Want to escape the death penalty? Kill a black guy. Or be white. But to really beat the system, be a white guy killing a black guy. There’s an excellent chance you will not get the death penalty. And it gets worse from there.
If the system is so obviously biased than it cannot be trusted to impartially and 100% accurately take a life then it is invalid on its face and it’s time to abandon the practice.

Link: Why The Death Penalty Needs To be Abolished
Source: Addicting Info

Friday, September 7, 2012

Health And Nutrition: The Debate Over Organic vs Conventional Foods Misses The Point.

Eating Fresh Local Seasonal Food Is The Path To Better Nutrition.

The debate over the merits of organic vs conventional foods has received national attention recently with the release of a new study by Stanford University that challenges the generally accepted idea that organic vegetables and meats are nutritionally superior to more conventionally produced foods.

Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy and the senior author of a paper discussing the study, told The New York Times: “When we began this project, we thought that there would likely be some findings that would support the superiority of organics over conventional food, I think we were definitely surprised.” 

The study, which looked at data from over 200 previous studies came to the conclusion that while organics contain about 31% lower pesticide residue it is not significantly more nutritious than the alternatives.

The study also found that organically grown food contains more phenol which is thought to help prevent diseases such as cancer, strokes and heart disease. Organic meat products were also found to contain less anti-biotic resistant bacteria than conventional meats.

Organic food producers and advocates argue that 31% less pesticides, more phenol and less anti-biotic resistant bacteria do count and are significant in considering the nutritional and health benefits of organic foods.

So what makes a food product "organic" anyway? Well, officially the USDA has a set of rules that govern which products can be legally labelled as organic. They govern fertilizer and pesticide use and processing practices, among other things.Unofficially most people would expect an organic food to be free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and be grown in a responsible environmentally sound way.

Anyone who has purchased organics knows that they can be significantly more expensive than conventional foods.

And thus the debate rages on about whether it is worth the extra cost to eat an organic diet.

So what's your average consumer who is concerned about health and nutrition to make of all this? Well, cutting back on processed foods and meat products seems to be the first logical step.

As far as fresh produce the debate is not as simple as organic vs conventional. I believe it is better framed as fresh, seasonal and local vs processed and imported. Much of the locally grown produce comes from smaller farms that cannot afford the USDA organic label yet but are still chemical and pesticide free and are grown in an environmentally friendly manner. A local fresh tomato bought in August is better for you than an imported organic one bought in December and they're both better than a processed food packaged in a box.

Most of us understand that the more processed a food is, the less healthy it is likely to be, even if it is labelled organic or claims to be healthy for you. They almost invariably contain too much salt and sugar (or sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners) and/or all sorts of other artificial preservatives and flavor "enhancers".

Most of us also eat too much meat and meat products. Cutting back can not only help your health and, since meat is expensive, it will also help to offset any extra expense of buying fresh nutritious produce.

As far as fruits and vegetables...

Your local grocery store has lots of fresh produce. It's shiny and looks great. It may even have an organic section. Americans can, for the most part, buy any vegetable, fruit or produce at any time of the year.

The problem is that, especially in the large chain stores, most of that produce, organic or not, is probably not direct from the farm. It has most likely been shipped from the farm to a distribution center and then shipped hundreds of miles to local stores. Out of season foods come from even farther away, some of it may travel half way around the world before it gets to your kitchen. It can take a week or more for produce to reach your store. In order to look appetizing and to keep it from spoiling, vegetables are picked before they are truly ripe and at their nutritional peak. While they will ripen off the vine, they will not add any more nutrients. Much of the conventional produce is also treated in various methods to maintain a shiny "natural" look. All this combines to give you a product that not only is less nutritional but is often less flavorful.

To get the best nutritional value from your veggies you need to buy local seasonal produce whenever you can. But where do you get it?

Many local grocery stores do have a locally grown produce section and that produce will be seasonal and likely to be fresher than the rest of the produce in the store. Ask to speak to the produce manager of your grocery store and find out where the produce is coming from. Locally owned and run grocery stores and natural food stores are more likely to have the produce your looking for. although it may be at a higher price because they aren't getting it all from a huge agro-business company or regional distributor.

Farmers' Markets are wonderful sources of local, fresh food. You'll typically find a much wider variety of fresh produce that was picked that morning or the day before and again much of it is pesticide and chemical fertilizer free, even though the small farmer has not been certified as organic by.the USDA. The produce is more flavorful and is picked at the peak of ripeness. An added bonus is that your money goes directly to the local farmer and stays in your community.

Another option is to grow your own produce. Either outdoors, in season, or indoors, year round, in a greenhouse or under artificial light. I have started a small indoor hydroponics tomato setup. I was surprised at how easy it is and I'm looking forward to eating fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter.

Michael Polan has written a wonderful book called Food Rules. It's easy reading and he has 64 simple rules to follow for healthy eating. His overall philosophy is summed up in this 7 word mantra: Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.

Local organics are probably better for you than conventional foods in that they are demonstrably lower in toxins and contain more phenols and less anti-biotic resistant bacteria than conventional food. It does take a little effort to eat more nutritious food and organic isn't necessarily always the most nutritious choice. If you increase your intake of fresh local seasonal foods and eat in moderation you'll be eating more nutritiously and you'll be healthier.

It's Time To Abandon Nixon's War On Drugs

By Laura Carlsen

It potentially affects half the U.S. population, men and women whose lives could be disrupted forever from one day to the next. It costs billions of dollars, at a time when schools are closing down and essential public services disappearing. It deepens the nation's racial divide and tears families apart. It kills tens of thousands of people, in the U.S. and abroad.

But as both major political parties lurch toward their national conventions, no one's talking about the drug war. Not even now, when policy issues that are usually ignored surface in efforts to promote or malign presidential candidates. Neither leading candidate has a coherent critique. Neither has proposals. Neither even publicly recognizes a need to stop the waste and bloodshed.

The drug war seems to have been written into the stone of U.S. politics and practice. Given its abysmal results, how did that happen?

There's nothing in the origins of the drug war model that would justify its status as immutable. Richard Nixon invented the war on drugs forty-one years ago, in 1971. His main concern was to shore up a weak presidency by making the war on drugs a diversionary tactic from the disastrous war in Vietnam. Nixon created agencies under his direct command to attack the new enemy and took the problem of drug abuse out of the hands of communities and into the federal government's.

The model focuses on enforcement of prohibition laws at home and interdiction of supply abroad. In both places it relies on soldiers and police, instead of healthcare or social workers. It defines youth as a criminal class, especially if they are poor or black or both. Health programs that used to treat addiction with compassion withered as battles between cops, who used to fight real crime, and inner-city kids became
everyday events.

To the great misfortune of humanity, Nixon's ploy to make a public health issue into a "war" turned out to be starkly prophetic. The drug war in the U.S. and beyond its borders claims more lives every day on an ill-defined battleground, where who's fighting who and why is never entirely clear.

Nixon's drug war model not only bolstered his presidency, it had a number of hidden functions that served the interests of those in power. These interests lie at the heart of why the drug war grinds on, despite its obvious failure as a public policy. They also go a long way in defining the current silence on the issue.

From the outset, the drug war cast a wide net to capture youth -- a sector that scared those in government during the Vietnam war with its newfound tendency to rebel.

Prisons were expanded to house millions of mostly African American and Latino youth on simple possession charges. Off the streets and behind bars, their legitimate protests were silenced.

Today, the spread of private prisons encourages stricter anti-drug laws to build clientele. Political motivations for incarcerating young people of color have been joined by strong economic incentives. The result is the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a 550 percent increase in the number of people in states prisons for drug offenses over the past twenty years. The FBI reports that 83 percent of drug arrests are for possession alone. The cost to society -- and the profits to prisons -- is tremendous.

Abroad, militarization under the guise of counter-narcotics efforts also serves to quell protest while extending Pentagon presence. The international drug wars provide millions of dollars in contracts to what political analyst Tom Barry calls the "national security complex."

In this hemisphere, the $7 billion-dollar Plan Colombia began as a counter-narcotics program and was later formally extended into a counter-insurgency program, adding U.S. firepower to the nation's internal conflict. The results are still-thriving drug production and trade, now run by smaller paramilitary and guerrilla organizations; five million people displaced and one of the worst human rights records in the world.

Mexico became the next drug war battleground. Since President Felipe Calderon launched the drug war with U.S. backing, Mexican has seen an explosion in violence, with an estimated 60,000 dead, thousands disappeared, hundreds of thousands displaced and a rise in lawlessness in areas where drug cartels battle for control.

Academics like Eduardo Guerrero mark the direct relationship between a militarized strategy of taking out cartel kingpins and spikes in violence. The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, led by poet Javier Sicilia, whose son was killed by drug cartels, also connects the drug war model and the brutal violence. That movement, now crossing the United States in a caravan of drug war victims and their supporters, accuses the U.S. government of contributing to the violence.

With reason. Like Plan Colombia, Mexico's colossal catastrophe has been actively supported by the U.S. government through the Merida Initiative, along with appropriations through the Department of Defense. The Initiative has poured some $1.6 billion taxpayer dollars into the Mexican quagmire, expanding U.S. presence in Mexico and security operations through the Mexico City embassy. U.S. support for highly corrupted armed forces and police has fueled violence and encouraged Mexican politicians to beef up the drug war alliance despite the domestic political cost.

The Obama administration has been an enthusiastic supporter of the drug war. In 2010, it announced support for the indefinite extension of Bush's three-year Merida Initiative and it has launched a similar program in Central America. This has soured relations with Latin America, where a growing number of leaders have called for an end to the drug war and a debate on alternatives, including legalization to regulate drugs and take the lucrative business out of the hands of organized crime. Obama remained obviously isolated in his insistence on maintaining the drug war at the recent Summit of the Americas in Cartagena.

If ever there was a time to reevaluate the drug war, the 2012 presidential elections are it. Marijuana legalization consistently tops the list of public requests for topics in Obama's twitter town halls, and the president consistently skirts the issue. Scan the platforms of the major parties and drug policy is conspicuous for its absence.

Republicans, when they mention drug policy at all, uphold the pseudo-moral arguments that consumption of illegal drugs is an individual, moral failing that should be punished by God and Society. At the same time, legal and illegal drug abuse among their staunchest supporters is rampant, with Rush Limbaugh's drug use being only the tip of the iceberg. Soon-to-be candidate Mitt Romney has claimed that the drug war "has been disappointing", but favors staying the course.

The Obama administration rode in on the "Change" banner with promises to modify the drug war model. In office, nothing effectively changed except for a decision to stop calling it a drug war -- a veneer that fooled nobody, given the lack of real change in policy and enforcement. The Democrats now have a chance to define a real change in direction that is in line with the beliefs of the majority that the drug war has failed.

The human and financial costs of the drug war are way too high to go on ignoring them. America's behind-the-scenes war kills as many if not more people than conventional wars and destroys many more lives through senseless prison terms, corruption and discriminatory enforcement. It takes courage to confront controversial issues. But a refusal to address the disastrous war on drugs and propose alternatives ignores public demands for change and places cowardice before the fundamental responsibility of creating viable and fair public policies.

This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.

 Link: It's Time To Abandon Nixon's War On Drugs
Source: Huffington Post