Friday, December 30, 2005


So another year draws to a close. A time where some of us take personal inventory.

I'm one of those who does that and I'm not really sure what to say in "big terms" about 2005 because I think we covered it in the roundtable at The Third Estate Sunday Review.

So here's my own reflecting.

Three years ago, the woman I was engaged to got a job in Europe. Of course the relationship didn't last. Was she the one? Last year dating was a pain in the butt. This year, there were actually a few nice women. So in terms of relationships, where am I?

I'd say I'm finally over what couldn't be and ready to appreciate the right one if she comes along. Now the way life goes, that probably means she won't come along in 2006.

Family wise, everyone still with us is healthy so knock wood that stays the same. My youngest cousin is finally leaving his gangsta rap period and the whole family is breathing a collective sigh of relief. He went from ghetto fabulous to gansta and now he seems to be on an information kick which hopefully means he'll get back in college.

Common Ills members will know that I have huge respect for and enjoyment of rap but I don't listen to gansta rap and doubt I will. Watching my cousin try to imitate the lives of a bunch of men who should have known better, so should my cousin, was enough to turn me off of that crap. He went from being this straight arrow, overachiever to a college drop out who just wanted to grab a 40 and hang with his "posse" that went from slackers to hoods in a matter of months. That caused my grandmother tremendous pain so, whether he goes back to college or not, I hope he's serious about straightening his life out.

Work wise I like my job. I get to help people and that makes me feel good. I've got job security and I can pay my bills, do my church tithes, help out family that's not doing as well, so I have no complaints there.

Soul wise, I think I'm doing okay. Normally, I'd write more than that but, to be honest, seems like there's a lot of pandering to prove the center and the left is religious ("too!"). I saw a bumper sticker on the back of a truck today. I have no idea what the statement was supposed to be but it said "I SUPPORT THE TROOPS MORE THAN YOU DO!" Religion's not a competition and I feel like in 2005 that was a trend we saw as people competed to be more religious than thou. If you are religious, whomever you worship is the one who will determine whether you are religious or not.

Church wise, since Keesha e-mailed wondering how the choir's performance went last Sunday, we did a really good job. We don't have a lot of empty seats on most Sundays to begin with, but we were packed Sunday with a lot of people sitting in folding chairs and some standing. That's because the megachurch in our area felt a day of worship is something you skip on Christmas. That still offends me.

I think my church is doing a great job reaching out to older members in the community and that's what I'm most proud of in 2005. Not just my part in that but everyone's. A place of worship, my opinion, should be a place where people come together and it should be about more than a nod on Sunday or a hello in the church parking lot. I'm really proud of my church's efforts to reach out to members, especially older members who find themselves in the area they grew up in while their children have moved on (usually due to economic reasons).

This summer, I had four really wonderful friends. Now I have three. Vern was a really great man with a lot of wisdom and I'm glad I was able to get to know him and learn from him. I'm really glad that Three Cool Old Guys are my friends.

If you're stumbling upon this entry and wondering what I'm talking about, as part of my church's outreach, I agreed to spend time with four of older members who are in a nursing home. It was the best thing I could have done. Not for them, I hope it's good for them, but for me. It was a real honor to know Vern and I'm really honored to be able to call Three Old Guys my friends. They're a trip and then some. If you know someone in a nursing home and you could be visiting but aren't because you're thinking "What will we talk about?" take a chance and visit because I bet you'll find that the problem is not having enough time to talk instead of having nothing to talk about.

I want to thank Rebecca, Kat, C.I., Elaine, Ty, Mike, Betty and Jess for helping me deal with Vern's death. And Kat and C.I. for listening, at all hours, when I called to read them what I was reading at Vern's funeral. I rewrote that thing over and over and everytime they were willing to listen. The day of the funeral, at two in the morning, I woke up C.I. with one phone call and then Kat with another asking them for one more listen. They'd told me beforehand to call when I got the final draft done and read it. That was nice of them and if I hadn't felt that I really needed to say something worthy of him, I would have just thanked them for their offer. Instead, I took them up on it.

Again, if you're stumbling in blind, Vern was pretty much alone except for his friends at the nursing home. His kids didn't come by, his grandkids didn't. (He had one granddaughter who called.) I wanted to talk about how he was still this incredible guy worth spending time with even at the end because he was. But a lot of time, people end up in a nursing home and end up being forgotten. I'll save the speech there for another time.

So what does that leave?

I guess that leaves politics. 2005? It was a big change for me. I voted in elections and sometimes I donated some money to a candidate but that was really it. In March, I went to my first protest rally. It was against the war. In September, I went to D.C. for the big anti-war protest there. I'm proud of taking part in The Third Estate Sunday Review's "'Why Are You Here' and 'What's Changed'" which is us sharing the voice of a hundred people present. You didn't get that from the mainstream media. (You did get real coverage from Democracy Now!)
And "us" was:

The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and Jim, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty who was on the verge of starting Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man and C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review. This time we're joined by Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, Ruth of Ruth's Morning Edition Report and her granddaughter Tracey.

That's who worked on the voices feature. And if a hundred voices seems like a lot to anyone, we all interviewed a lot more. We had to narrow down our choices and then explain why we were wanting our final picks highlighted. Also there were Gina and Krista who do the gina & krista round-robin. Seth and Wally weren't blogging then. It's kind of weird to think about that now. Mike interviewed me for his site and we knew that two members were about to start their own site but we couldn't figure out who they were? That seems like a lifetime ago.

So I'm someone who never went to a protest or a march and I took part in three in 2005, in March, in September and the World Can't Wait in November. That's been a big change. I think when you come together with others to stand up and be counted, it changes you in some ways. You really get the sense that you're not alone and that just because the mainstream media wants to act like you're some minor fringe, that's not true.

In 2004, if you'd told me I'd be taking part in protests, I would've rolled my eyes.

The other thing that changes, or changed for me, is that I found when I'd be back at work, people would want to talk about it. They'd bring it up. They'd say, "I saw a few seconds on the news, what was it like?" C.I. said something, in D.C., about how this was important but what I'd see was that I'd be carrying "seeds" back with me and I really didn't get it then but I do now. The youth group at my church wanted a full report and I was happy to give that. But at work, with friends, with family, everyone wanted to know about it.

I feel like I'm more aware of the world around me. I don't feel like I'm an expert on anything but I feel like I'm tremendously more informed. I'll thank The Common Ills for that. This time last year, I was nervously writing an e-mail for the year-in-review at The Common Ills and hoping C.I. would include it but thinking it wouldn't be included. It got included. I was making a music choice and just that made me nervous. C.I. deserves a lot of credit for The Common Ills but it's also true that it's member driven. And I'm really amazed at how large the community has become. Not just in terms of everyone doing their sites and Gina and Krista doing their newsletter, but . . .

I'm really not sure what to say. It's just a really supportive community and we all get to share and learn. Democracy Now! is a must for me now. I didn't even know about it until I saw it highlighted at The Common Ills. And there are writers that I never knew of or, if I had, it was in the dismissive way that the mainstream media treats them.

I don't think I'd be where I am now if it weren't for that community. I might not have met my friends at the nursing home. My outlook used to be, just keep my head down and my nose clean. People like Cokie Roberts never said anything on TV or radio to make me feel like I had a right to say anything about this country. (Especially people like Cokie Roberts who thought the first Gulf War was a benefit for my race since she believes wars always better things for African-Americans.) People like that exist to say, as she did about members in Congress against the war, "none that matter." I knew I mattered in my family. I didn't think anyone else cared or that I could make much difference.

Now I know there are people who think we shouldn't be in Iraq or that we should have universal health care or pick any issue and there are people out there who think the same way but never get on Good Morning America or NPR. That's really powerful, to find brave voices speaking out. I think it gives us all courage.

For the country, I think 2005 was a disaster as Bully Boy got sworn in and things went even further down hill. But for me personally, 2005 was like an awakening and I bet there are other people out there who feel the same way.

About my site, how do I rate it? Well, I think it's better than the old site. This was meant to be a "big mix" and really a blog report for the community originally but that's not the case now. I'll probably pick two days a week in 2006 to blog. I can manage that. I'm pleased with a few things I've done here like this and that.

I'm pleased with a number of things I've gotten to take part in for The Third Estate Sunday Review and along with the voices feature I noted earlier, I'm probably most pleased with the editorial "War Got Your Tongue?" I'll also thank C.I. for pulling a number of us together to work on headlines twice this year.

I think I'm a better blogger than I was when I started. So that's good. And that's come from doing it and from sharing the experience with others.

My goals for 2006 include becoming more informed and becoming more active.

So that ends the self-inventory.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Add some news to your diet

Hope everyone had a happy holiday (or, for those who celebrate Kwanza, that they are having a happy holiday). If you're stuffed on sweets and turkey, here's some news to add to your diet.

"News roundup including did Bully Boy break the law?"
Did Bully Boy break the law by authorizing spying on American citizens and circumventing the FISA courts? If so, how many years can someone be sentenced to for that crime? We'll highlight a radio discussion on that issue, but first, news on Iraq, Morocco, Afghanistan, the Phillipines, Russia, Chile, Israel, activism and more.

As reported on The Daily Iraq Wire, December 25th wasn't a day of peace in Iraq. Two bombs went off in Iraq injuring seven Iraqis. In addition, a reported al Qaeda group in Iraq announced Sunday that they had kidnapped and killed four Arabs who had been "working with the US authorities and the Iraqi government in the fortified Green Zone in central Baghdad."
Monday violence and unrest continued.
Deepa Babington, reporting for the Irish Examiner, notes that Baghdad saw five explosions today killing eight and wounding thirty-eight. Outside of Baghdad, there were attacks in Falluja where a suicide bomber killed himself and two police recruits. In Dhabab, five Iraqi soldiers were killed.

Reporting for IPS, Gareth Porter reports today a "looming confrontation" between Shi'ites in Iraq and the American officials who are urging the disbanding of Shi'ite paramilitary groups. American officials fear groups may have close ties to Iran. The "looming confrontation" emerged when American officials decided to make an issue of the "torture houses" run by Shi'ites. "Decided?" Major R. John Stukey and others first reported the existance of "torture houses" in June of 2005. From June to November, US officials remained silent.

As of Monday, US military fatalities in Iraq stand at 2169, official count with 56 of those fatalities for the month of December. Iraq Body Count, which gathers totals by following media reports, estimates that as few as 27,592 and as many as 31,115 Iraqis have died thus far since the invasion.

In other war news, Agence France-Presse reports the American military is claiming that "very soon" the number of troops serving in Iraq will drop from 19,000 to 2, 5000.
In activism news,
NOW is calling for action on Samuel Alito, Jr.'s Supreme Court nomination:

There is work to be done, both in Washington, DC and throughout the country. As a part of Freedom Winter 2006, NOW and Feminist Majority Foundation are working together to bring grassroots activists to DC between January 3 and January 20. We're also encouraging activists to organize in their communities.

More information can be found online at NOW as well as online at the Feminist Majority Foundation. In related news, Ms. Magazine has compiled "the top ten news stories for women in 2005." Topping the list, Sandra Day O'Connor's announcement that she will step down from the Supreme Court bench. Planned Parenthood has also compiled a look back at the year 2005. Their look back begins with a listing of the five best and five worst places to get birth control prescriptions filled:

Brooks/Eckerd Corporation

Rite Aid

In international news, Al Jazeera reports that Augusto Pinochet will finally stand trial for the deaths and disappearances carried out under his dictator regime as the head of Chile. Chile's Supreme Court, in a three to two vote, ruled that Pinochet is fit to stand trial. The BBC reports that charges will be filed Tuesday against four US marines for rape. The four are currently at the US embassy in Manila and "it is unclear whether it will hand over the marines." Abdul Rahman Khuzairan reports, for Islam.Online. net, that on Sunday a sit in was staged in Casablanca by Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Forum "to protest the mass grave found recently with the remains of 82 people." Canada's Star Phoenix reports that Monday in St. Petersburg, shoppers in one store were exposed to a mysterious gas: "Boxes containing timers wired to glass vials were discovered at the scene of the attack and three other stores in the same chain in Russia's second-largest city." And in Tut-tut Tuttle news, the Finanical Times reports that car dealer and contributor of $70,000 worth of donations to the GOP in 2004, Robert Tuttle continues to stumble in his post as US ambassador to England. For the second time, Tuttle has been forced to issue a correction to the BBC following an interview. Embassy work, not as easy as moving cars off a lot.

"Have we made poverty history?" asks The Independent of London? The debt relief in 2008 will go not to Africa but to Iraq and Nigeria. In addition the United States is backing off from it's earlier committments. Also reporting for The Independent, Maxine Frith notes that charities and aid workers believe that Live 8, and those involved in the concerts, "hijacked" the effort and gave the world a false sense of resolution when the problems of world poverty contine. Meera Selva reports from Africa that the people supposed to benefit from the concerts in London's Hyde Park have seen little difference in their lives. One woman tells Selva, "We have problems in Africa, big problems. What can plastic bracelets and pop concerts do to solve them?"
Reuters reports Israeli helicopters firing three missiles into Gaza. This comes as Al Jazeera reports that the Israeli government has announced intentions to build an additional 200 homes on the West Bank. The BBC reports, in other news from the region, that Ariel Sharon has been urged to "curb his appetite" by doctors as he awaits sugery "to close a small hole which doctors found in his heart after he had a minor stroke."

For The KPFA Evening News Anthony Fest spoke Monday evening to Christopher Pyle, "a consultant to Congress in the drafting of the surveillance act, today he teaches political science at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusettes." (What follows is a rough transcript, use the link to listen to the archived broadcast.)

Pyle: The Church Committee was set up because during the Watergate era we had discovered extensive domestic surveillance operations by a number of agencies including the FBI, military intelligence, the CIA and, the largest intelligence agency of all, the National Security Agency. It does electronic intercepts worldwide. It has stations around the world. It picks up communications off of statellites. It picks them off of landlines and it searches them with a dictionary of watch words. And during the 1970s, we discovered that the National Security Agency had maintained files on about 75,000 Americans and they particularly targeted political activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, the folk singer Joan Baez, and the anti-war protestor Dr. Benjamin Spock. We sought to end that massive surveillance, which had no judicial authority what so ever, by passing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. That law said that if the government, when the government wanted to monitor electronic communications it had to go to a special court to gain a national security authorization, a speciall warrant. And for a number of years, it appears that the government did go to the special court and was able to conduct its monitoring with special warrants. But three years ago, the Bush administration decided that this was inconveinent for some reason that's not fully understood. And they just ignored the court and began collecting, uh, information rather broadly. The law itself says that it's the exclusive method by which monitoring may take place and that anybody who violates the law is guilty of a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Fast: So there's no leeway for interpretation here, it's uh, it's black and white that if you don't go through the FISA court, you are in violation of the law?
Pyle: Exactly. So what we have here is the rather extraordinary situation of a president who has admitted to committing a felony. Now he says that Congress excused him by passing the resolution against al Qaeda but that says nothing about electronic surveillance. And then he says that the Constitution excuses him because the Constitution places him above the law. There's actually a secret memo produced by the Justice Department to justify torture that says that a war time president can ignore the criminal law of the United States. There's no basis for this in law, there's no basis for this in the history of Constitutional law and Constitutional interpretation and that's of course why the memo was kept secret because if it had ever seen the light of day it would have been laughed out of court. Well now it's seen the light of day and assertions based on that theory have seen the light of day and we're not laughing because we realize the government is really out of control.
Fast: Doubtless the techonology of surveillance is incrompably more powerful today than it was in the 1960s. Is there any indication yet exactly how wide, how wide a net the NSA was casting or how many people had been surveilled?
Pyle: No. The initial reports by the New York Times were that up to 500 people at a time had been targeted but perhaps thousands had been intercepted. And if they were, let's say, monitoring all e-mails and searching all e-mails in the United States for certain code words or phrases then it would be probably hundreds of thousands or millions of people who would have been monitored, not simply 500 people targeted at any given time. But we really don't know. But what we know is that the judges on the FISA court are extremely upset. One of them has already resigned because of this. The others want to know particularly whether this warrant-less spying was being used to then produce probable cause for specific warranted spying. In other words, infecting the very process with illegaly obtained information.
Fast: Since the administration was apparently conducting surveillance that was more in the nature of data mining then watching individuals is there any legal grounds under which they could conduct that kind of operation?
Pyle: No, that is what was known in the common law as a general search. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution forbids general searches. The second clause of the Fourth Amendment says that the warrants must be obtained that specify the place to be searched and and the things to be seized. The FISA warrants specify the persons who are the targets of the intercepts. There has to be specifity. There can't be a great dragnet collecting everything and then sorting it by computer and putting everybody under suspicion.

Did Bully Boy break the law? Better question, after trotting out Vicky Toe-Jam in print and on TV to put forward false claims about the Congessional act passed in the 80s to prevent the outing of CIA agents, why has the mainstream media been so reluctant to pursue people who helped with the drafting of the FISA act?

The above is news you may have missed and was compiled by Wally, Rebecca, Mike, Kat, Jim, Jess, Ty, Cedric, Elaine, Betty, and C.I.