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What Activists Can Learn From ‘Selma’

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Selma‘s resonance with current events — its inherent commentary on the ingrained hatefulness of American racism, on our country’s tradition of protests for civil rights, and on aggression by law enforcement towards black Americans — will clearly be a hot topic of discussion for weeks to come. I watched the stunningSelma as a sometime-activist and a longtime reporter on activist movements. And one of the qualities that particularly made this depiction of a sliver of Civil Rights Movement history feel so real and urgent to me was its lens on the organizing process: its debates, its pitfalls, the internal questioning, the way the leaders were jockeying with the press and trying to reach sympathetic ears in places of power.

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RIP MAYA ANGELOU

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Black Harvard Students Take a Stand #ITooAmHarvard

Black America Web

A group of black students at Harvard are making a powerful statement about the institutional racism they say they have experienced through an eye-opening photography project.

“Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned,” their website, itooamharvard.tumblr.com, says.

“This project is our way of speaking back, of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: We are here.”

i too harvard monica 660i too harvard basically whitei too harvard twerk

[ione_media_gallery id=”223821″ overlay=”true”]

(Photos itooamharvard.tumblr.com)

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Please Excuse Davontaye, He Suffers From Povertenza

Our Legaci

Povertenza

Dear Judge,

I know that Davontaye’s actions caused the deaths of four people. But please don’t give him life in prison. He suffers from Povertenza. You may not know about this condition but Povertenza is an illness that people from impoverished socio-economic backgrounds have.

Due to the inability to access quality education and employment, Davontaye’s development has been stifled. This leads to poor decision making and I would further argue that since his neighborhood sees so much death and destruction, that he may even suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in addition to Povertenza.

Judge, it is clear that Davontaye can not be held responsible for his actions. He needs rehabilitation, not prison. Prison would only worsen his mental condition. 

Sincerely,

J.A.M.

This defense obviously doesn’t work for black  and poor youth. Yet, news outlets are spiraling about 16 year-old  Ethan Couch who caused the deaths of 4 people by…

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Gun Control after Newtown

The United States has too many guns. Guns are too easy to get. There are guns for sale to the public that have no other purpose other than homicide.

While we cannot say definitively that making deadly weapons a bit more difficult to acquire (at least more difficult than a car!) would put a stop to tragedies like the one in Connecticut, they can at least make them a bit more difficult to plan and less lethal when they do occur.

If the killer had to work a little harder to buy the guns or steal them maybe there would have been time for someone to notice something. If a mental health professional could officially determine that he is potentially dangerous, he would at least have to get the guns illegally which would involve greater expense and more risk. If the guns held less ammunition there likely would have been less killing.

None of these measures remove the need to make mental health treatment more available. Nor do they deter legitimate gun owners from exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.

The point is we can take significant steps to minimize this kind of violence. What is required is the political will and a public willing to stand up for politicians who do the right thing, and against the gun lobby.

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The UN Vote on Palestinian Status – Why it Does Not Matter

Well it happened as expected. The UN General Assembly voted to grant the Palestinian Authority Non-Member Observer status, a step toward UN recognition of a Palestinian state. Not surprisingly there was much celebration at the UN, and among Palestinians and their supporters. In fact however, nothing has changed.

It is already well known that most of the world, particularly the developing world sides with the Palestinians and that voting record of the UN General Assemble demonstrates that Israel is wildly unpopular in the UN. This vote is simply another example.

The restrictions on basic liberties that make Palestinian’s lives so difficult remain. The checkpoints in the West Bank and the military ring around Gaza are still there. The small everyday insults that go unreported in the global press will not stop.

Last Thursday’s vote will not reduce the level of fear among Israelis that causes them to impose draconian measures against the Palestinians and to elect the most hard-line, violence prone factions in Israeli politics.

The vote does not legitimize Hamas‘ violence against Israel, nor does it make any less foolish the Hamas tactics which do nothing to change Israeli policy while strengthening the violence-prone government still in power and weakening anyone in Israel prone to negotiation or sympathetic to the Palestinian plight.

Settlements in the West Bank continue. It was reported Friday Nov. 30 that Israel is planning to build housing for 3000 settler families in the West Bank. Yes, one day the Palestinians might maneuver to have them declared illegal by the International Criminal Court, but that will not end the settlements. Only a negotiated agreement between the two parties—with the encouragement/pressure from the international community (this means you US, Quartet, Arab League!) will make a meaningful difference on the ground.

The vote does not change the fact that peace will not come to the region until Palestinians and Israelis figure out how to share that little piece of land that they both have a good case for calling home.

We actually like the tone and substance of Ambassador Rice’s statement explaining the US vote. http://usun.state.gov/briefing/statements/201226.htm

We however believe that the US should have abstained. Abstention would emphasize how little the vote matters to the reality on the ground and at the same time implies the even handed posture we should maintain toward the region.

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An open letter to President Obama

 

 

Dear Mr. President:

 

Congratulations on your decisive re-election victory last week. I am pleased at the nation’s affirmation of your approach to governing. I am also glad that your victory was made possible by such a broad, multicultural cross section of grass-roots America.

 

This is the first of an occasional series of notes in which I respectfully suggest approaches in dealing with some of the key issues facing the nation.

 

With the so-called fiscal cliff looming the budget is the most immediate issue and therefore the subject of this first message.

 

My view is that while it is critical that we address our nation’s fiscal situation, it is not an immediate crisis. Getting the economy growing and creating jobs is the most immediate concern. Not only is job creation and economic growth the most immediate priority, success in that issue would make it easier to control spending. Thus I favor a grand strategy that focuses on job creation now and then pivots to a determined deficit reduction mode that would make the Concord Coalition proud.

 

The pivot to deficit reduction should occur upon the achievement of a significant growth milestone. What that milestone is would be subject to debate and negotiation. Examples:

  • 3 consecutive quarters of real economic growth exceeding 2.5%.
  • 3 consecutive months of unemployment below 7 percent with at least 200,000 net new jobs per month.

 

You get the picture. When the time comes to pivot I suggest that you

1) Follow the money. Deal with Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and defense in that order. Significant progress on these would reduce the need for cuts in discretionary social spending that have little budgetary impact but big social impact.

2) Use Bowles-Simpson as the starting point for beginning negotiations. You’ll have the spirit of compromise built in. Rep Schakowski will pull in one direction, Rep. Ryan in the other. Hopefully we’ll end up with something sensible.

 

I would like to offer one approach, based on the broad recommendation in Bowles-Simpson and some possible deficit reduction measures listed by the Congressional Budget Office.

 

Bowles-Simpson proposes $200 billion in spending cuts including a 15% reduction in defense spending and a 10% reduction in the federal workforce. Bowles-Simpson also adds $100 billion in revenue by imposing a $.15/gallon fuel tax and eliminates several deductions including mortgage interest. Thus Bowles-Simpson results in about $300billion in deficit reduction.

 

The CBO presents a long list of potential deficit reduction measures, some of which are quite drastic in my view and take a lot of money out of average workers’ pockets. I have selected several which have significant budget impact:

 

 

 

SPENDING REDUCTIONS
Mandatory Spending
Raise Medicare eligibility to 67 30
Reduce Floor on Medicaid Fed matching 20
Add Public Plan to exchanges 15
Link Social Sec to prices instead of earnings 30
Raise full retirement age in Social Security 30
Raise earliest eligibility age of Social Sec. 30
Total Mandatory Spending 155
   
Discretionary Spending
Defense appropriation per Bud. Control Act 75
   
Spending Reductions 230

 

REVENUE ADDITIONS
High income tax cuts expire, keep estate tax 110
Increase fuel tax 25 cents a gallon 30
Repeal domestic production deduction 20
   
Revenue Additions 160
   
Total Deficit Reduction 390

 

That’s almost $400 million in deficit reduction. If you really want to make positive change and reduce the deficit even further you could more aggressively cut defense spending. Bowles-Simpson’s 15% would be larger than the CBO number. You could phase out wasteful market distorting subsidies in energy and the farm sector. Finally—and this needs to happen for a number of reasons—please finish what you started in the 1st term’s dramatic reform of healthcare. We must bring down the cost. I know you’ve all read Gawande and understand the damage done by the fee for service model. If you can reduce healthcare’s share of GDP, you can reduce Medicare even further and perhaps preserve benefits for recipients.

 

These are tough choices to make and I don’t envy you having to make them. But the approach and significant measures I’ve put forth will take a bi slice out of the deficit, with a minimum of economic pain. Yet there are plenty of places to split differences and compromise where necessary. It shows the world and the financial markets that we’re serious while leaving room for you to implement your other policy priorities.

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